Today, February 27, is the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Pokémon games in their native Japan. In honor of that feat, here’s the classic Bizarre Baseball Culture look at “The Double Trouble Header”, an episode about baseball fandom and the world of Pocket Monsters.
In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.
In a first for Bizarre Baseball Culture, we’re going international to look at one of the more strange appearances of baseball in Japanese culture. To be more exact, we’re looking at an old episode of the Pokémon anime, entitled “The Double Trouble Header”.
Okay, are you done laughing/rolling your eyes? Good. Now go below the jump for this installment, which has been weeks in the making:
For anybody who has been asleep since the late nineties: Pokémon is a multimedia empire created by Nintendo and Game Freak, originally as a video game but later branching out into basically every other facet of entertainment and culture, most notably anime (Japanese Animation) and trading cards.The basic premise is that in a world of superpowered animals, the competitive nature of both the animals and the humans that catch and train them are unleashed in battles- sometimes for sport, sometimes to protect loved ones, and sometimes in an effort to catch more Pokémon. It briefly was a major fad around the turn of the century, but even today it remains one of the most profitable franchises in the world, especially the video games. Not surprisingly, the video games are also by far the most complex and mature of the various Pokémon products, containing a rather deep system of strategies and skills.
Anyway, back to the episode at hand: “The Double Trouble Header”. The episode actually isn’t that much about baseball in itself so much as it is about being a baseball fan and never giving up.
Speaking of not very good, the same could be said for this episode. I mean, even when I was a kid, I knew it was basically a half-hour commercial, and that it was a translation from Japanese. But now I realize that it was even worse than that, and based on what I’ve read the dubbing-team was really bad too, removing some of the more violent content and some of the jokes that would be over some kids’ heads. It still has a certain nostalgic charm to people who were young back then, but it hasn’t aged well at all.
So, now, without further ago, here’s the Bizarre Baseball Culture analysis of “The Double Trouble Header”, first aired in America on October 21, 2000 (fittingly enough, that was the day that that year’s World Series started).
Some last-minute context here: This was early in a season dealing with/trying to sell the video game Pokémon Gold and Silver, introducing a new region of the game world and about a hundred new monsters to catch, so by this point the main character, Ash Ketchum, had already basically gone through a game’s worth of adventures and something like two seasons worth of experience, and has gone to the new region, Johto (loosely based off the Kansai region of Japan) in order to gain more acclaim and catch more Pokemon. Okay, now, anyway…
We join our heroes (main protagonist Ash Ketchum, water-based trainer Misty and rock-based trainer Brock) as they travel toward Violet City in order to challenge that city’s gym leader (basically an elite Pokémon trainer). But then, mere seconds after they mention that that they hadn’t seen a Chikorita, they come across a girl dressed in yellow and black baseball gear who is using a Chikorita to catch a common Rattata, spouting off baseball cliches all the way and even using the traditional Asian high-leg kick pitching delivery to throw her Pokéball at the Rattata.
And then, not knowing that the three heroes are watching her, she then monologues about how she (Casey- which is probably as good a name as you can give to a baseball-loving character) had gained another team member, at which points she breaks into a fight song for the Electabuzz baseball team. This is very, very, strange. And even stranger is when she turns around, sees Ash’s Pikachu, and squeals like a little girl about how it’s yellow and how she’s always wondered what it would feel like to be shocked by one… which Pikachu happily obliges her when she calls him a rat.
That’s quickly water under the bridge, though, as they soon are getting to know each other. It’s revealed that the reason she likes yellow things is because that’s one of the main color of the Electabuzz baseball team, who Ash quickly points out always finish in last place, bringing an angry protest from Casey, who predicts a series victory. Ash then mentions the Magikarp and Starmie are the favorites to win, which leads to this… uhh… immortal exchange:
Feel free to use these slights against crummy teams all season long, folks.
Anyway, that pisses Casey off, so she just outright challenges Ash to a Pokemon fight right there and then, despite the fact that Ash points out he’d wipe the floor with her. And, what do you know, he does, throwing out his Charizard, who promptly defeats all three of Casey’s Pokemon in one move each (this, by the way, is probably the closest the show ever got to accurately depicting how a fight between a veteran and a rookie would go in the video games). Casey runs off and cries, has a flashback to her family, but then realizes that since the Electabuzz never give up despite their many defeats, neither should she. It is then that she is met by the inept villains of Team Rocket, who tell her that Ash uses dirty tricks and breaks unwritten rules to win games.
So, enraged, Casey goes and challenges Ash at a conveniently located baseball stadium (complete with a hand-operated scoreboard!). However, the battle is interrupted by Team Rocket, who send in a bat-wielding robot to hit Pikachu and Chikorita over the the fence (122 meters to center) and into their clutches. After a baseball-themed introduction, they unleash a group of pitching machines, sending baseballs at the heroes, leading Casey to announce she gives up. That is, until Ash reminds her that, like in baseball, it’s not over until the final out!
At which point Ash gets a fastball straight into the nose. Twice. I know somebody who was hit in the face by a baseball, and let me just say that if this was anything close to realistic, the next two episodes would probably have had him rehabbing in a hospital. Still, it does the trick, and Casey, newly inspired, grabs a baseball bat and starts hitting the balls back at the evildoers, and with the help of some Pokémon, they send Team Rocket blasting off (again).
And so, after some brief talk about how, like the Electabuzz, Casey won’t give up until she’s able to beat Ash in a future encounter, the episode ends. The moral of the story: Never give up. This, by the way, is basically the moral of the whole damn series- well, other than “buy our games and toys!”
A retrospective introduction to Japanese Baseball
When I was a kid, I probably liked it (since kids really have no taste of what’s good or bad) but I found it kind of weird how Casey behaved. She seemed more like a college football fan or a peppy cheerleader than a baseball fan. I mean, look at her:
Now, besides the purpleish hair and short-shorts, she’s got that uniform and hat on, and she’s carrying a weird cross between a bat and a megaphone (an ouen bat, according to Patrick Newman). And she cheers by singing songs and doing hand motions that are far more elaborate than just “We want a hit!” I can’t find a YouTube clip from “The Double Trouble Header” that features the Electabuzz theme, but there are clips from other episodes that Casey showed up in (…crud, I’m going to have to do those too eventually, aren’t I?) Like this one, for example, which while different from the one in this episode, basically gets the point across:
So, anyway, I thought this was kind of weird when I was a kid, but now I realize that, in Pokémon’s native Japan, it wouldn’t be that strange. Oh, it’d probably be weird for somebody to just do this spontaneously on the street, but, as anybody who’s seen some of the home Asian fans in the WBC would know, this is basically what they do. Take a look at these fans of the Hanshin Tigers celebrating a win:
See? Flags, singing, little megaphone/bat/noisemaker-things, jerseys that are yellow and/or striped…
Wait, hang on… jerseys that are yellow and/or striped? That seems awfully specific, almost as if… THE ELECTABUZZ AND THE HANSHIN TIGERS ARE MEANT TO BE THE SAME TEAM!
I mean, let’s go over the evidence, shall we?
The Electabuzz, as far as can be ascertained, are a team with loyal fans, have yellow and black colors, aren’t very good, have a pinstriped uniform, and seem to be located in the Johto region. Their opponents include the Starmie and the Magikarp.
The Hanshin Tigers are a team with loyal fans, have yellow and black colors, aren’t very good (they’ve won a grand total of one Japanese Series title, despite existing since the league’s formation), have a pinstriped uniform, and are located in the Kansai region… which is the region that Johto is based on. Their opponents include the Yokohama BayStars and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Oh, and take a look at what Koshien Stadium (home of the Hanshin Tigers) looks like, and then look at where the final battle in “The Double Trouble Header” takes place. While it isn’t as big or modern looking, it’s scoreboard placement and all-dirt infield definitely calls to mind Koshien.
In other words, to somebody in Japan, Casey would have been an almost explicit reference to the Hanshin Tigers. In fact, it might have been even more explicit. According to a website that is basically about the differences between Pokémon in Japan and in America (further proof that EVERYTHING is on the internet), in the original Japanese version, Casey (called Nanoko there) had a accent from the Kansai region, the fight song incorporates elements lifted directly from the Hanshin Tiger fight song, and Team Rocket, instead of claiming that Ash broke the rules, instead suggest that he donated his winnings to a team implied to be the Yomiuri Giants, the Tigers’ eternal rivals and the “Yankees of Japan”.
This changes the moral of the story a bit. Instead of simply being about not giving up, it is also about being the fan of a crummy sports team. It is a tale no doubt familiar to anybody who roots for a team like the Electabuzz or the Hanshin Tigers- your Cubs fans, your Bills fans, your fans-of-basically-any-team-in-Cleveland. And that tale is, basically: “Wait until next year.” And, in a way, this episode suggests that, for all the pain that being a fan of a crummy team gives you, it teaches you some good life lessons, like never giving up, always trying to hang in there, and always appreciating what success you can find. And, ultimately, that makes you a better person sort of like how Casey’s constant belief in the Electabuzz has instilled into her a will to never give up.
Or maybe I’m just reading into it way too much. Either way, this concludes another installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture.