Anime Underground The Shocking Story Behind Dennō Senshi Porygon: The Pokémon Episode That Caused Seizures  

Anna Lindwasser
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When you think about Pokémon, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't the episode of Pokémon that causes seizures. Known as the Pokémon Shock Incident, the hysteria occurred on December 16, 1997, when 4 million people all across Japan tuned into "Dennō Senshi Porygon," the 38th episode of one of the best anime for kids. The Pokémon episode depicted bright, flashing lights which triggered seizures and other neurological problems in 685 children across the nation. Rushed to hospitals in droves, all of the victims survived, though some were left with permanent neurological problems. 

For a less popular franchise, this might have been the end, but Pokémon came roaring back after a mere four-month hiatus. How? The seizure-inducing episode of the anime was banned and studied. It sparked a remodeling of the rules for broadcasted animation on television, which helped future programs avoid causing the same problem. To learn more about the Pokémon Shock incident, read on below!

The Episode Put Hundreds Of Japanese Children In The Hospital


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"Dennō Senshi Porygon," which was seen by over 4 million people across Japan on December 16, 1997, caused a variety of medical problems, including nausea, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, it caused seizures. 685 children were taken to the hospital - 375 girls and 310 boys. While most children recovered within minutes, some stayed in the hospital for days or even weeks, and some were diagnosed with epilepsy. 

The Cause Was Likely A Quick, Strobe-Like Animation Using Blue And Red Colors


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Photo: OLM

Why did this happen? The prevailing theory is that it was due to problems with the animation techniques used by the studio. In the episode, Pikachu fires a thunderbolt attack at a series of missiles. Becasue this takes place in a virtual world, the animators used rapidly strobing blue and red lights. While this did make the explosion look "virtual," it was also responsible for the massive medical emergency that occurred that day. 

It Sparked Some Major Changes In The Pokémon Franchise


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Photo:  OLM

After the incident, which became known as Pokémon Shock in Japan, the Pokémon anime was immediately pulled from network television and remained off the air for four months. During that time, the Atago Police Department investigated the anime's production team at the behest of Japan's National Police Agency. In the meantime, Nintendo's stock value fell by almost 5%.

New Guidelines Were Created For Animated Television Broadcasts


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Photo:  OLM

Medical professionals teamed with Japanese television broadcasters to create new safety guidelines for animated televised shows. The guidelines included the following:

"Flashing images, especially those with red, should not flicker faster than three times per second. If the image does not have red, it still should not flicker faster than five times per second. Flashing images should not be displayed for a total duration of more than two seconds. Stripes, whirls, and concentric circles should not take up a large part of the television screen."

When the Pokémon anime finally returned to television, a service announcement explaining the situation and thanking fans for their support aired before the episode played. The Pokémon theme song was also altered to reflect the new guidelines.