Pokemon and I: An ethnographic journey

During this experience I have sought to use autoethnographic to systematically analyse my personal experience of Pokémon and further my understanding of the Japanese culture. Here my experience of exploring and creating my own Pokémon fan art, in the hopes to explore larger political and social issues encapsulated within this experience.

Over the last few weeks I have explored my engagement with Pokémon, remembering the past and reflecting on how this text has impacted the trajectory of my life, and analysing my experience with the text. In doing so it also created the opportunity to study Japan’s cultural practices and history, “reflecting on common values, beliefs and shared experiences” (Ellis & Adams&  Bochner, 2011, p. 7) in order to help other outsiders better understand aspects of the Japanese culture.

Through my blogs I aimed to make my reflections evocative thus brining the readers into the scene, using emotions and a narrative voice to allow the audience to experience my past, through a memory (Ellis & Adams&  Bochner, 2011, p. 4). The process of writing this time around has been really therapeutic for me; I have made sense of myself and some of my experiences, while also trying to make sense of my experience of the Japanese culture through the exploration of Pokémon fan art.

Reflecting on my experience of Pokémon has brought up some nostalgic longing for my home back in South Africa, something that has been popping up a lot for this subject, and was not expected. This examination of my own longing and belonging when viewed from a distance has allowed me to change my own perspective as I connect with Asian culture (Alsop  2002, p. 10).

My interaction with Pokémon was so precious to me in three ways; firstly I had always loved Asia ever since watching Mulan, secondly in South Africa the connection between humans and nature is strong. Lastly after 2004 with tensions running high after the increase in white genocide my playtime outside decreased significantly as it became too dangerous for Anglo-Saxon kids to play outside, or even ride our bikes. Thus Pokémon became a digital reconnection with nature, one that I could do in the safety of my house. The Nintendo 64 device bridging the gap between the social conditions of my factual home and wonders of the fictional word of Pokémon.

For the purpose of this assignment I wanted to explore Pokémon, I just didn’t know what aspects, while going through last years Digc330 students I came upon a project that dealt with Pokémon fan art. The project was by Ellara Rainnie who examined the practise of Pokémon fan art and even also indulged into making her own fan art. While our projects are similar I wanted to take a slightly different approach to her, while she focused on the power ‘Kawaii and soft power’ and fan community platforms like Deviant art and Tumbler.

I wanted to look more into the hierarchy of a fan within these communities, and the relationship between participation culture and copyright within Pokémon’s fan community. So in order to do this I chose to recreate Pokémon Yellow’s intro sequence, aiming to duplicate the intro as closely as possible but in the from of an stop motion, using origami and paper elements versus the pixelated and digital of the original.

The video aiming to paying homage to the traditional method of creating anime via placing drawings in a sequence, as well as engaging with tradition of origami for the Pikachu. I wanted to see how fans would respond and if the project, the third aspect that would follow the commencement of this subject.

Firstly I wanted to know if engaging in creating fan art or contributing to the fan community meant that you were a bigger fan than those that are just passively consuming the commercial products. Secondly what was the role of copyright in these communities was the Pokémon brand endorsing and encouraging these forms of engagement with the Pokémon universe or punishing fan’s creative expression.

Firstly to understand the levels of a fan I turned to Fiske’s Tripartite model as an analytical tool
to explore the hierarchy of a fan, here I found that there was 7 different levels ranging from the passerby, simple fan, enthusiast, advantageous enthusiast, maker, leader to the connector. Before my engagement with fan art I was shifting between the simple fan (who views content and shares), to the enthusiast (subscription to forums and content on other platforms and purchasing merchandise), to the advantageous enthusiast (willing to pay extra for premium content). However it wasn’t until I started making content that I move to the higher levels of fan engagement (Emmanouloudis 2015, p. 24; Mannifold 2012, p. 39), here I was a maker, the creator of content, engaging in textual productivity.

Emmanouloudis (2015) states that by increasing ones level of engagement past that of the simple fan towards higher levels, there is a noticeable increase in level of devotion. Here Emmanouloudis (2015) argues that, the deeper the level of engagement and participation of the user in the fandom the more substantial the connection to the brand and its products. Thus one might say that these individual who engage with Pokémon through user-content generation can be considered “valuable participants”, as they add to the brand and seek to translate their experience of the brand into a visual language, an artistic form of expression of their adoration.

Some examples of Fan art:

043_oddish_by_hiugo-d376fko 060_poliwag_by_hiugo-d38undr 116_horsea_by_hiugo-d39aka5

Companies and brands have in recent years begun to understand the power of user-generated content and encouraging participation culture with their brands, even going as far as incorporating this into their branding strategies (Manning 2010, p. 37). They have noticed how communities have emerged around freely distributed, user-generated material online and how fans have used a vast array of online tools to create, narrate and spread these types of content (Russo & Watkins, 2005, p.7).

While I feel that the Pokémon brand’s promotes community building and bond strengthening with customers through their encouragement and facilitation of produsage, some academics like Iwabuchi (2010) see fans only as “consumers rather than possessing any collective capability of belonging” (p. 91).

 Aim of marketers has been to extend and expand this emotional relationship into more and more vistas of commodifiable existence. – (Allison, 2003, p.384)

So I wondered just how far the Pokémon brand would go in facilitating this level of engagement and where they would draw the line between appropriation and fan art and what they constitutes as illegal use of their copyrighted material.

What I found was that Asian brands were simultaneously promoting and censoring engagement with their brands, on one-hand companies sought to encourage this “audience­focused cultural interactive experiences” (Russo & Watkins 2005, p. 10) which promotes “information literacy, a necessary skill required to use digital technologies to engage in both cultural consumption and production” (Chin & Morimoto 2013,p.96), and assists in distributing Asian cultural content to the broader audience.

While on the other hand punishing fan’s that commercialised their fan art, claimed their content to be the original, the standard copyright issues (Bailey 2010 ; ArtsLaw 2015). One form of censorship and copyright that I encountered while researching was the censorship of popular Japanese fan-made mange called ‘doujinshi’, which can only be described as an illustrative comic version of fan fiction stories, which have to follow the law just as commercially published manga.

Examples of Doujinshi:

pokemon_doujinshi__p_1___read_right_to_left__by_starmallow-d5518jo pokemon_doujinshi_chapter_1_page_1_by_ginnydafox-d5fv51j

In Japan fans are able to freely create in private but when publishing their works have to self – administer sensor bars or mosaics to anything that may be seen as ‘obscene’ according to the premise of the obscenity act or face penalties (Rebaza 2014). With most of the characters in Anime and Manga being children there has been several cases of ‘virtual child pornography’ amongst these works with western media criticizing Japan’s refusal to criminalize this behavior. Australia has extended their pornography laws to include the representation of fictional children (McLelland 2013).

These laws can and do have a very direct impact on what fans can make and distribute, while most cases go untouched it is often when major texts that hold transcultural and commercial properties are concerned that these cases get taken more seriously (Chin & Morimoto 2013, p.98). Take for example the 1999 case where a the creator for a sexually explicit doujinshi for the popular children’s game and anime series Pokemon was arrested for what Nintendo claims as ‘copyright infringement’ (Rebaza 2014).

Through the exploration of Pokémon fan art I was able to connect with Fiske’s tripartite model (level of fan), Jenkin’s notion of participatory culture, the notion of the ‘prosumer’, as well as the issue of censorship and copyright legislation in Japan. Using Pokémon fan art as a framework to engage with these complex issue exploring aspects of Japanese culture as I searched deeper through these underlaying issues. Through my digital artifact I hope to further engage with the participant culture and explore just what makes a fan spend hours to craft meticulous artworks, is it the fame, the adoration, what makes these Pokémon ‘prosumers’, do what they do. I hope to find out in the upcoming weeks as I finish off and share my creation with the world.


Allison, A. (2003). Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokémon as Japan’s new global power. Postcolonial Studies, vol.6, no.3, pp.381-395.

Manifold, M.C. 2012, “From Amateur to Framauteur: Art Development of Adolescents and Young Adults Within an Interest-Based Community”, Studies in Art Education, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 37-53.

Russo, A, & Watkins, J 2005, Digital Cultural Communication: Enabling new media and co-creation in Asia. International Journal of Education and Development, vol. 1, no.4, pp. 4 – 17

Emmanouloudis, A 2015, You Are Not Alone. The Emergence Of Fan Communities Around User-Generated Content: 
A Comparative Analysis, PhD thesis, University of Amsterdam, pp. 1 – 64

Manning, P 2010, The Semiotics of Brand, in Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 39, pp. 33 – 49

Iwabuchi, K 2010, ‘Undoing inter‐national fandom in the age of brand nationalism’, Journal of Mechademia, vol. 5, pp. 87‐96.

Svelch , J 2013, The delicate art of criticizing a saviour: ‘Silent gratitude’ and
the limits of participation in the evaluation of

fan translation, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into
New Media Technologies, vol.
19, no.3, pp. 303-310

Chin, B & Morimoto, L.H 2013, Towards a theory of transcultural fandom, Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, vol.10, no.1, pp,92 – 108

McLelland, M 2013, Ethical and Legal Issues in Teaching about Japanese Popular Culture to Undergraduate Students in Australia, in Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 13, no.2, accessed 1 October 2015, http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol13/iss2/mclelland.html

Bailey, J 2010, The Messy world of Fan art Copyright, accessed 2 October 2015, https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2010/05/13/the-messy-world-of-fan-art-and-copyright/

Rebaza, C 2014, Censorship Problem Faced by Anime and Manga fans, accessed 3 October 2015, http://transformativeworks.org/news/censorship-problems-faced-anime-and-manga-fans

ArtsLaw 2015, Fan Art, Copyright and Moral Rights, accessed 22 September 2015, http://www.artslaw.com.au/articles/entry/fanworks-copyright-and-moral-rights/

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1., pp. 1 – 15, accessed 15 August 2015,  http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Alsop, C.K 2002, ‘Home and Away: Self Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol.3, no.3, pp. 1- 14 http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf


One thought on “Pokemon and I: An ethnographic journey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s