On January 25, The Pokémon Company took to YouTube and uploaded the commercial it'll be showing during Super Bowl 50. So you don't have to watch the Big Game to see it, nor do you even have to wait until game day. What an interesting and convenient age we live in.
The commercial, which boasts the tagline "Train On," garnered over 2,800,000 views in about 24 hours. That's a lot of pairs of eyeballs -- and if the all-knowing "Like / Dislike" bar is anything to go by, people overwhelmingly love what The Pokémon Company has put together.
It is, in all honesty, a very likeable commercial that cements Pokémon's place in our greater culture. This isn't a spot that blatantly says, "Hey! Buy Pokémon games and toys!" Instead, it effectively examines Pokémon's far-reaching influence in the space of a minute.
Is it silly to appreciate a multi-generational, cross-culture tribute to a video game series? The warm fuzzy feeling I have after watching it offers a resounding "Nah."
This is a franchise that doesn't adhere to boundaries set by culture, gender, or even age. Adults still love Pokémon (as our own Kat Bailey can attest to). The father who whispers "You can do that" to his child at the end of the commercial has obviously been around Kanto region a few times, and he wants his kid to get out there and be the very best, like he once was.
Pokémon's far-reaching appeal isn't hard to pinpoint. Despite its chubby, rosy-cheeked mascot, Pokémon games are incredibly deep thanks to the monsters' nuanced battle stats. If you wander into a tournament without a well-built team, you'll get creamed. Have you ever visited Smogon University? You can get lost for hours reading up on battle strategies.
At the same time, Pokémon isn't simply The Art of War starring cute animals. Two seven-year-olds can have a grand old time throwing Squirtles and Cubones at each other. Playing Pokémon can be as simple as taking in an episode of Sesame Street, or as complex as orchestrating a battle strategy.
Another interesting point about the commercial is that we see Pokémon on a real-world battlefield towards the end. This is purposefully prophetic. Pokémon fans have dreamed of seeing the critters enter the physical plane since Charmander was naught but a splotch of pixels on the Game Boy's screen, but we're still a long way from petting a real Arcanine because scientists think curing diseases is more important, or something.
However, The Pokémon Company has been bridging the gap between the digital world and the real one with some of its recent games and apps. Pokémon GO aims to make Pokémon "real" by letting us hunt them down via smartphones and AR technology. Also, an upcoming Japanese Nintendo 3DS release, Detective Pikachu, is an adventure game about a Pikachu who solves crimes in a big city alongside a young man. The Pikachu even speaks human in the rich tones of an adult male.
Will Detective Pikachu make friends with English-speaking Pokémon fans sometime in the near future? He'd better.
We're still ages away from having real Pokémon friends, but if that Pokémon 20th anniversary commercial is any indication, people's love for the franchise may endure long enough for that day to come around somehow, some way.
In the meantime, we'll make do with catching Pikachu on our smartphones and battling rival trainers with our handhelds.
(Sidenote: That commercial is packed with tons of clever subliminal references: The Nidoking chess piece, the football players with "19" and "96" on their jerseys, and a flash of news about a "Roadblock on Route 12." How many others can you spot? Catch 'em all!)