A couple days ago I talked about how I like the idea of broad interpretations of video games for film and TV adapations, citing examples such as Tekken, Super Mario Bros, and Pole Position. But soon after making that post, I realized that I forgot probably the best example of taking necessary liberties with a video game property in order to adapt it into some kind of narrative media. That game is Pokemon.
Although the series stays true to the basic premise of Pokemon, a young kid goes out to capture and battle with monsters of which there are at least 150, it also plays around with and introduces a lot of ideas. As it would be difficult to write a long show without giving our hero Ash (Satoshi) some traveling companions, the writers took the first two bosses of the game, the “Gym Leaders” Misty (Kasumi) and Brock (Takeshi), and made them into supporting characters. They even went as far as to revise their outfits to be more suitable for travel. In case you forgot or just never knew, Misty originally wore a two-piece swimsuit and Brock was shirtless.
The Team Rocket in the show consisting of Jessie (Musashi), James (Kojirou), and Nyarth (Meowth) are entirely the product of the anime. Instead of having recurring antagonists in the form of faceless foot soldiers, the show saw it fit to give their primary representation of Team Rocket distinct looks and personalities. And just like Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series, they were popular enough to be introduced into the original source material after the fact.
Then there’s the Pokemon themselves. In the video games, they made digitized sounds meant to be perceived as cries and roars, but that sort of thing can’t really fly in a TV show, so they introduced the concept of Pokemon talking by saying their names over and over again. And now it’s the way we think Pokemon talk. The show, especially early on, also modified the idea of the “Pokemon Battle,” converting the turn-based battles of the game into something more dynamic. They often played fast and loose with the rules, with ideas like a Bellsprout that knows kung fu, Whirlwind as an offensive technique, even outright ignoring the game’s type weakness chart by having it be possible to “super charge” Pikachu to the point where it could overcome the Ground type’s immunity to electric attacks.
Speaking of Pikachu, it might very well be the greatest liberty taken of all by being Ash’s starter Pokemon. The starting Pokemon in the original games were Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle, but in order to keep kids from thinking that their own personal pick for their first Pokemon was somehow “wrong,” they picked a neutral Pokemon. Actually, at first they planned to use Clefairy, but found Pikachu to be more popular.
So think about how much of Pokemon comes from outside of the games, and once again consider the possibilities of adaptation.