Afternoon outdoor games weren’t part of my routine. I never even learned how to ride a bike. But dull summer days didn’t last long. My Tatay came home from his New York trip and unearthed in his suitcase the greatest pasalubong I have ever received to this day—a blue box, designed with Pokéballs and Pikachus all over it. It was a special edition of Nintendo 64.
Tatay told me that he entered the store with no idea what to get me as a gift. When he asked the saleslady what American kids were crazy about in those days, she had an immediate answer: Pokémon. Being a probinsyana, I didn’t even know what a Pokémon was until I started to play with my Game Cube. The console came with only one game cartridge, and back then it was the only game I needed to play. I’d like to think “Hey you, Pikachu!” was the forefather of today’s virtual reality game “Pokémon Go.” It didn’t require you to walk outdoors, but it was loads more fun since you could actually talk to Pikachu, and he understood about 200 English words—like you had a real connection. My Tatay thought that the game was a good buy. It had a unique feature that allowed you to talk to the franchise’s most popular character, in the process helping practice my English and widen my vocabulary. It also had a bunch of mini games that a six-year-old could easily figure out. It likewise made Manila more welcoming with my new Pokémon friends.
There no longer was a reason to go out and play, as my good old’ Nintendo 64 offered different adventures every day. We would go on picnics with Bulbasaur. The leafy Pokémon had meals in mind and would send me and Pikachu on an errand to find these dishes’ ingredients. Pikachu would take note by drawing them with crayons and paper before we headed off to the Viridian forest. We had a limited time to find the ingredients; some of them were on trees, where Pikachu needed to use the Thunderbolt to knock some fruits down. The ingredients we found were then transported back to Bulbasaur by Magnemites that only Pikachu was able to summon. On other days we went fishing. I had to cheer on Pikachu as he reeled in water Pokémon double, even triple his size, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to catch them. We caught Seakings, Poliwhirls, Starmies, Seadras and Dratinis, and the goal of the trip was to get bigger-sized Pokémon with stats that would beat our previous fishing records. The more unique the water Pokémon we were able to catch in a day, the higher our score was. We also went on trips to the marsh to rescue lost Poliwags, while Haunter spooked us to get distracted (he was like Peeves in the Harry Potter games), or water Oddishes, to help them grow into Glooms and Vileplumes. We also got to explore the sea with the help of Lapras, as it carried us on its back. Pikachu and I then went on treasure hunts on deserted islands or played piñata on Venasaur’s beach. As a player, I had limited commands. I could only pick up and throw items. But other than that, it was all up to Pikachu and how he understood and interpreted my voice commands. None of my peers knew of the console or remembered playing the same game, making me think it was just a memory I made up. My days with Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Oddishes and Poliwags would probably be a weird childhood memory to share, and my talking about it so passionately might freak out some people. Talking to Pikachu? It seemed like a game that was way ahead of its time. But I remember the game clearly. And I remembered it even more as I saw Pikachu mascots walking, waving hello, dancing and skating right in front of me during the Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama, Tokyo. The Pikachu Outbreak was first introduced in 2014, and has since brightened up Yokohama summers, with Pikachu shows scheduled every weekend starting July to mid-August.
Sprinkled or soaked
This year, the festival’s theme was Splash, and everyone expected to be sprinkled—if not soaked—with water as we had all our eyes on the bubbly, bright and adorable electric mouse Pokémon as it took on the different stages set up all over Yokohama’s landmarks. The shows had no English translations, and one could only understand the universal language: Pika-pika-Pikachuuuu! The shows also began with a review of the Pikachu dance. It started with three claps, and the rest of the routine was too much for a person with two left feet, like myself, to remember. The first show I was able to catch was the most memorable one. It was called the Stomp Show, and with performers either tap dancing, beatboxing or banging on metal sinks and drumming on metal cups, they seemed like part of the musical “Stomp,” but dressed in casual sailor outfits. Three Pikachu mascots, also dressed as sailors, were part of the show, and showed off their tap dancing skills. One even did his moves in a basin of water, with every kick and jump ending with a splash, giving smiles to both the performers and audience. Other than bobbing their heads and wiggling their thunder-shaped tails, the cutest thing these Pikachus could do was move their ears to the music—and that was exactly how they ended the Stomp Show, their ears rapidly moving from side to side and their small arms raised as high as they could go. As they prepared to exit, I readied my phone camera to take a selfie with the three Pikachus in the background. One Pikachu stayed long enough to be captured within a single frame, and stayed even longer for me to be able to hug it. It made me ecstatic that one Pikachu lingered, making it seem like it remembered all those afternoons we spent together on picnics, fishing trips, treasure hunts and other field trips when I was a young girl. I hate to admit it, but I shed a couple of tears when my Pikachu encounter ended. It was so kawaii that I wanted to pinch its cheeks, cuddle it and bring it home—but I knew I couldn’t. If I had totally forgotten I was with the rest of the Pokémon press, I would’ve bawled like I did whenever Pikachu and I failed a mission back in 2000.The Outbreak was quite an experience. Seeing those Pikachu mascots dancing in front of children warmed my heart, as I realized that a new generation will have a good childhood with Pikachu to look back on.