Pokémon Red and Blue (and Green in Japan) were highly successful. They are quality games that are well loved, but there was another factor that undeniably bolstered the success of the games and helped skyrocket the franchise to the juggernaut it is today. Our focus while visiting Game Freak in Japan was to learn the history of the video games, but we did have a few questions about the anime for Junichi Masuda.

Our discussion began with a simple question: why is Pikachu so popular? "Probably thanks to Pikachu being in the anime and being Ash’s partner," Masuda says. It wasn't Game Freak's decision to make Pikachu the face of the brand, he just sort of fell into it. It was the production company, OLM Inc., that made the anime who recognized the adorable electric rat's potential. "That was a decision, or rather a suggestion, from the company that made the anime," Masuda says, "They originally came to us with the idea that they wanted to feature Pikachu, because Pikachu at the time was really popular amongst kids in school. It is a hard-to-find Pokémon, so kids knew about it."

The idea of the Pokémon speaking their own names is an idea that can also be attributed to OLM Inc., and Game Freak was hesitant about it at first. "They actually had [Pikachu's] voice actress, Ms. Ikue Ōtani, do a take on the voice and they showed us a clip of it and we listened to the sound of it saying its name over and over in a really cute way," Masuda says, "We weren’t really sure about it, but it worked out." Game Freak came up with the idea for Team Rocket (they were in the games after all) but the characters Jesse and James can also be attributed to OLM, Inc..

The anime premiered in Japan in 1997, and Game Freak made sure to watch. "We definitely watched it together," Masuda says, "We were very excited to watch it." They did not, however eat popcorn, "[Laughs] We didn’t have any popcorn. We’re Japanese."

The anime made its way to North America in 1998, and quickly found an audience. The first Pokémon movie, appropriately titled Pokémon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back, actually held the record for highest grossing opening for an animated film until it was beaten by Toy Story 2 two weeks later. The anime is still going strong today with adaptations of every mainline game and a new movie, recounting the events of the beginning of the anime, coming to American theatres in November.

For more on the history of Pokémon, you can check out the latest issue for a 12-page feature covering the franchise’s history, as well as online features and interviews linked below.