Cursed chapter, 25 years ago the episode of an animated series left hundreds of Japanese children hospitalized and became a legend

It was 6:30 in the afternoon on December 16, 1997, 25 years ago today. Millions of Japanese kids sat in front of their home televisions to watch a chapter of the most successful series of the moment: Pokemon. The chapter in question was called Denno Senshi Porygon (in Spanish, Porygon Computer Soldier) and was about to go down in history.

At minute 20 of the episode, one of the Pokémon involved, a Porygon, fires several rockets at the enemies, the Team Rocket. The famous Pikachu then launches one of his electric attacks to stop the projectiles and the screens of all the televisions are transformed into a dazzling burst of blue and red lights thrown at high speedwhich saves the protagonists of the series but sends hundreds of flesh-and-blood Japanese boys and girls to the hospital with seizures and symptoms of an epileptic seizure, while many others suffer from blurred vision, dizziness and nausea.

Many of the 4 million homes in Japan addicted to the series were scared to death that day (the program was the most watched of its time slot and had an average of 12 million viewers) although luckily all the boys finally recovered. the cursed chapteror it was obviously lifted and was not reissued anywhere in the worldbut ended up becoming both an object of scientific study and a phenomenon of anime and pop culture.

This was Pikachu in 1997, when it first appeared on television. Archive The Nation. PA

“I was terribly scared when I saw how my daughter suddenly lost consciousness –the mother of one of the girls affected told the Tokyo press, who called the incident the “Pokémon shock”-. She only breathed again after I patted her on the back.” Another mother reported that she had to massage her son’s heart to start resuscitating him and the doctors who treated him said that the minor did not remember having seen the program.

The episode was the 38th of the first season of the series and is still circulating in bootleg form. over the network thanks to anonymous Internet users. In this episode, Ash and his friends learn that the Pokémon Center’s transfer system is malfunctioning, and they head inside the machine to repair it and embark on an adventure through cyberspace.

The problem arose in the battle inside the Poké Ball, when Pikachu uses his lightning to destroy several of the Porygon’s missiles, and in the rapid successions of strong lights witnessed by viewers who were attached at the time to the TV Tokyo television network. . The strobe effect sequence, which alternated powerful red and blue lights, projected 54 shots in five seconds and disaster immediately ensued..


The raw figures indicate that 685 children (310 boys and 275 girls) suffered blurred vision, dizziness and nausea. Those who had it worse went on to have seizures, loss of consciousness and, in some cases, even momentary blindness. The chronicles of the Japanese press of the time state that the vast majority of the children recovered in a short time and in some cases it was speculated that only a small part suffered what is called “photosensitive epileptic seizures” and that many of the cases could be attributed to the collective hysteria of the moment.

The truth is that TV Tokyo, in addition to making the episode disappear, suspended the series for four months and managed to Porygon was removed from the anime, as if the poor character was to blame for the mistakes of the producers. Stocks also fell Nintendo (creator of the franchise Pokemon) and his manager had to come out and clarify that the video game had nothing to do with the series and that, unlike it, it was in black and white.

Over time, the cursed episode gave for much more, even for the absurd. In 1999, in the last chapter of the tenth season of The Simpsons, it was called Thirty minutes over Tokyo, Homer and his family suffer a hilarious seizure when they watch an anime in a hotel in Japan. In 2020, also the official account of Pokemon He allowed himself to joke about the subject by recalling the incident and declaring Porygon innocent, who would have borne the consequences of Pikachu’s action: “Porygon did nothing wrong,” they tweeted.


At the time, however, the incident was a disaster for Pokemon Y Nintendo, and a great enigma to solve both for the producers of the series and for health professionals. Japanese public opinion directed its criticism at the producers, who defended themselves by arguing that the special effects that had been used in the episode were the usual ones in cartoons (the animation technique known as paka paka, very common in Japanese anime and especially shrill and brilliant in the designs of Pokemon). The police also began an investigation into the production on suspicion of professional negligence. TV Tokyo, for its part, summoned doctors, psychologists and cartoon experts to figure out why the show had such a devastating effect on so many kids.

Among the scientific explanations for the incident, an article from the University of Washington details that the explosion designed for the episode was made up of blue and red flashes that were emitted in a 12-hertz radius for four seconds, partially, and for two seconds more, occupying the entire screen, a visual stimulus that could cause an alteration of consciousness associated with photosensitive epilepsy.

Another Spanish study, published in the journal Neuroimaging, relates the phenomenon to the summative effect of two kinds of brain waves when viewing images and shows that neurons can acquire epileptic behavior when exposed to stimuli of certain frequencies. Many specialists also agree that rapid light/dark changes and alternating patterns of high-contrast images cause nerve cells in the brain to fire electrical impulses more quickly than usual, and that this effect, in people with a history of Related to photosensitive epilepsy, may lead to muscle convulsions or loss of consciousness.

The truth is, From the appalling impact of the episode, a worldwide debate began about the consequences that these special effects could have on children. and anime first entered Japan in some space subject to doubt. Let’s remember that animation is an important part of the culture there and that Japanese cartoons, which are broadcast on all channels, are a bastion in the entertainment industry and a million-dollar business.

For now, before resuming the transmissions, the producers of the series had to make some changes and adopted concrete measures to avoid the “Pokémon shock”, among them that the blinking images should not shine more than three times per second, that they should not they have to stay longer than two seconds and that visual games should never take up the entire screen space. Already before the episode, specifically since August 1992, Nintendo publishes a warning on game consoles it exports to Europe and the United States: “People with epileptic tendencies should consult a doctor before playing this game.”

Shortly after the “Pokémon shock”, official networks and industry executives predicted that, regardless of the changes that were implemented, Japanese society is so addicted to cartoons that the entertainment industry would not suffer long-term consequences. term. They were not wrong.

Pokemon neither suffered major consequences. The popular saga born in February 1996 with a game for the iconic portable console game boy of Nintendo it has evolved since then on various platforms, always successfully. It is estimated that from birth Pokemon He has sold more than 368 million video game units in the world, also starring in television series, comics, and movies, and managing to integrate into the popular culture of many countries around the world.

People dressed as Pikachu. Archive The Nation
People dressed as Pikachu. Archive The NationAFP

Pokemon has released more than 30 major games on the market for five different consoles, plus almost 30 other games, including the hugely successful Pokémon Go for mobile phones, launched in 2016 and in less than three years it exceeded one billion downloads. Launched last month Pokemon Scarlet and Purplethe latest title in the franchise and the most anticipated game of the year.

Shortly after his birth, Pokemon they had to do with the rumor that the kids who enjoyed the series or played on the console were in danger because they received subliminal messages, nothing less than the devil himself. Shortly after was the “Pokémon shock” and, even so, the franchise continues to enjoy the fervor of children’s audiences to this day.

Around the world, millions of kids sit down every afternoon after school in their living rooms, hypnotized in front of the screen, to drink milk with Pikachu and co., while their parents take a breather. Can there be anything safer?

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Cursed chapter, 25 years ago the episode of an animated series left hundreds of Japanese children hospitalized and became a legend

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