Definitions

blinks at

Dennō Senshi Porygon

is the thirty-eighth episode of the original Pokémon anime and is banned worldwide. It was aired on Japanese television in December 16, 1997 and is notorious for using visual effects that caused seizures in a number of Japanese viewers, an incident referred to as the by the Japanese press.

Synopsis

Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu discover that the system used to transfer Pokémon from one Pokémon Center to the other is malfunctioning. On Nurse Joy's request, they go to Professor Akihabara, the one who created the Pokeball transfer system. He tells them that Team Rocket stole his prototype Porygon, a CG Pokémon who can exist in cyberspace, and is using it to steal trainers' Pokémon from inside the computer system. He then sends them into the computer system to stop Team Rocket with his second Porygon. Porygon is able to defeat Team Rocket's Pokémon, but Nurse Joy, monitoring the situation, has sent a vaccine into the system to combat what she thinks is a virus. Pikachu uses a Thunderbolt attack on the vaccine (causing the flashing red and blue lights that caused the seizures), and the group and Team Rocket are able to escape the computer.

Controversy

About 20 minutes into the episode, there was a scene in which Pikachu stops some vaccine missiles with its Thunderbolt attack, resulting in a huge explosion that flashed red and blue lights. Although there were similar parts in the episode with red and blue flashes, an anime technique called "paka paka" made this scene extremely intense, for these flashes were extremely bright strobe lights, with blinks at a rate of about 12 Hz for approximately 4 seconds in almost fullscreen, and then for 2 seconds outright fullscreen. At this point, viewers started to complain of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea. A few people even had seizures, blindness, convulsions and lost consciousness. Japan's Fire Defense Agency reported that a total of 685 viewers (310 boys, 375 girls) were taken to hospitals by ambulances. Although many victims recovered during the ambulance trip, more than 150 of them were admitted to hospitals. Two people remained hospitalized for over 3 weeks. Some other people had seizures when parts of the scene were rebroadcast during news reports on the seizures. Most of them were not diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. Later studies showed that 5-10.4% of Pokémon viewers had mild symptoms that did not need hospital treatment. 120,000 children reported mild symptoms of illness, however their symptoms more closely resembled mass hysteria than a grand mal seizure. A study following 103 patients over three years after the event found that most of them had no further seizures.

Scientists believe that the flashing lights triggered photosensitive seizures in which visual stimuli such as flashing lights can cause altered consciousness. Although approximately 1 in 4,000 people (0.5–0.8% of children between 5–13 years old) are susceptible to these types of seizures, the number of people affected by this Pokémon episode was unprecedented.

A Pokémon website, Pokémon Press Battle, made the following observation:

This event was briefly mentioned in a Ripley's Believe it or Not! book and a Guinness World Records book, and the Gamers Edition of Guinness World Records 2008.

Aftermath

After the airing of "Dennō Senshi Porygon", Pokémon went into a four month hiatus. TV Tokyo discontinued some program specials that were supposed to air around the end of December. After the hiatus, the timeslot changed from Tuesday to Thursday. The opening theme was also redone, and black screens showing various Pokémon in spotlights were broken up into four images per screen. Before the seizure incident, the opening was originally one Pokémon image per screen. A new episode titled "Pikachu's Goodbye" was also produced, and was introduced into the airing order, creating a schedule differing from that before Dennō Senshi Porygon's airing.

Before the beginning of the reairing, was shown. Broadcast in Japan on April 11, 1998 and April 16, 1998, a woman named Miyuki Yadama went over the circumstances of the program format and the on-screen advisories at the beginning of animated programs.

Despite the negative press netted by the incident, this was, for many people in the United States, Europe and Australia, the first exposure to Pokémon, which would become a major franchise in those areas.

Many Japanese television broadcasters and medical officials got together to find ways to make sure this never happened again. They established a series of guidelines for future animated programs, including:

  • Flashing images, especially those with red, should not flicker faster than three times per second. If the image does not have red, it still should not flicker faster than five times per second.
  • Flashing images should not be displayed for a total duration of more than two seconds.
  • Stripes, whirls and concentric circles should not take up a large part of a TV screen.

Japanese broadcasters also began broadcasting an on-screen advisory at the beginning of animated programs. Some example warnings:「テレビを見る時は部屋を明るくして離れて見て下さい」

"When watching TV, please brighten the room and sit at a distance from the TV."
(as seen on TV Asahi broadcasts of Ichigo 100% and Steel Angel Kurumi, Steam Detectives, also during the first opening of Kamen Rider Kabuto pilot.)「テレビアニメをみるときは、部屋をあかるくして近づきすぎないようにしてみてくださいね。」
"When you're watching anime on the TV, please brighten the room and don't sit too close."
(as seen on TV Tokyo's anime broadcasts from then on.'')「犬夜叉からのお願い…テレビアニメを見るときは部屋を明るくして画面からはなれてくださいね」
"A request from Inuyasha... When you're watching anime on the TV, please brighten the room and sit away from the screen."
(as seen on Nippon Television broadcasts of InuYasha)
In Hayate The Combat Butler, before every episode, Hayate picks up Nagi and moves her away from the T.V. she is watching, while turning on the lights, telling the audience to watch in a well lit room from a safe distance.
In Onegai My Melody,the beginning of every episode before the theme song starts with My Melody saying "Everyone, please turn on the lights and sit away from the TV screen. Onegai! (Please!)"

The episode itself has never been broadcast again in any country. It was reportedly not sent to 4Kids Entertainment for translation, though voice actor Maddie Blaustein claims that the episode was dubbed and altered to slow down the flashing, but never broadcast. The Japanese master copy of the episode is rumored to have been destroyed. In an effort to put the event out of the public's minds, the anime has not featured Porygon in any subsequent episodes (though it did appear briefly at the beginning of the fifth Pokémon movie). Its second-generation evolution, Porygon2, is the only second-generation Pokémon to never make an appearance in the anime.

Cultural references

There was a reference to Dennō Senshi Porygon in an episode of The Simpsons, entitled "Thirty Minutes over Tokyo". Bart is seen watching a cartoon featuring robots with flashing eye lasers, and asks "Isn't this that show that causes seizures?" The flashing eyes proceed to give him a seizure moments later. Soon everyone in the room is having a seizure, except Homer, who comes to the room, sees everyone having seizures and just plays along with them. The show is revealed to be Battle Seizure Robots. The show interrupts to the commercial and everyone stops having the seizures, but after the show goes back everyone, including Homer, this time having real seizures, falls to the floor having seizures again.

In the South Park "Chinpokomon", Kenny McCormick suffers from a seizure playing a Chinpokomon video game.

In the pilot episode of Drawn Together, Ling-Ling, who is a parody of Pikachu, states that his goal in the Drawn Together house is to "destroy all, and give children seizure". There follows a scene with flashing lights, a direct reference to this episode.

This advisory notice was parodied in the first ending sequence of Sonic X where Sonic is reprimanded for watching TV in the dark and sitting fairly close to the TV.

In So Yesterday, a novel by Scott Westerfeld, this episode is mentioned and shown to one of the characters. The flashing red light that caused the seizure is also used in the story telling elements.

In the rock band Dream Theater's concert DVD, "Live Scenes From New York", drummer Mike Portnoy references the seizures in the DVD's commentary during a sequence in which there are many flashing strobe lights.

YAT Anshin! incident

In March 29, 1997, a 25th episode of an anime called YAT Anshin! Luxury Space Tour had a similar incident when reportedly four children were taken to hospitals by ambulance after watching a scene with rapidly flashing red and white colors. After the "Pokémon Shock" incident it was noted that the YAT Anshin! incident was similar. Ironically, later broadcasts of this episode were edited so the flashes weren't so fast, unlike the Pokemon episode, which was completly banned.

References

External links

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