The Pokémon Club was like Fight Club, only with less human pugilism and a lot more Pikachu admiration. With the threat of social seclusion perpetually looming, a loose network of trainers furtively formed- meeting in secret to trade training trips for Pokémon Red and Blue. As the group grew, we realized we needed a consistent time and location for our meet-ups. The obvious suggestion was on Saturday mornings, as the Kids WB network has begun broadcasting episodes of the animated Pokémon series. Before long, watching the show grew to be just as important as trading Pocket Monsters, swapping licensed Burger King toys, or exchanging tips on how to beat Team Rocket. Looking back, the clandestine Pokémon Club provided some of the most salient, enriching extracurricular moments of my college career.
Had the recently released Pokémon Visual Companion been published during this late ‘90s era, the book would have surely become our bible. Undoubtedly, the club would have poured over every page, admired each vibrantly entry, and securitized every detail for accuracy. Although the occasional factual error or inconsistent art quality would have sparked conversation, I’m certain everyone in the group would have paid twice the MSRP to own this charming and indulging compilation of Poké-lore.
Venturing into the first chapter of the 9.3 x 7 inch hardcover tome, readers will discover a few notable organization details. Intended to complement the animated series, the Pokémon Visual Companion shirks the type of detailed statistical data and evolutionary charts which might aid gamers. As well, the books makes no attempt to provide a synopsis for each show in the series’ fifteen year legacy. Consequently, mention of the sixteen Pokémon films and numerous TV specials are omitted, presumably planned for a future compilation.
The initial chapter- entitled, “The World of Pokémon” is an effective primer- especially for those with only a passing familiarity of the anime. From exhibiting the evolving look of Ash Ketchum, a list of his essential Pokémon, and showing the different variations of Pokédexs and Poké Balls, each page strikes a solid balance of visual and textual elements. Here, readers will also find answers to common questions, with the book describing what can happen to traumatized Pokémon Eggs or explaining the two types of communicative behavior exhibited by Pocket Monsters. One of the chapter’s most interesting elements is a pictograph which compares the size of a number of Pokemon- from a diminutive Joltik to the colossal Zekrom and Reshiram. If Brady and DK Publishing ever produce a follow-up, it would be great to see more visual comparisons like this.
The Companion’s subsequent seven chapters are structured by territory and chronology, tracking Ash’s journey through Kanto, the Orange Island, Johto, Hoenn Sinnoh, and finally- Unova. Beyond offering brief descriptions of rival trainers and professors met in each region, these sections catalogue the Pokémon met in each area as well as provide a summary of gym battles. Echoing a sports commentary, the authors regularly delve into the tactics behind each badge competition, which is certain to stir the memories of series fans.
Unsurprisingly, a précis of over 800 episodes are going to include a few omissions and errors. Fortunately, the Pokémon Visual Companion’s transgressions are forgivable- at worst, failing to provide a bio on Jigglypuff and erring in the chronological order of a gym battle. Less forgivable is the book’s varying aesthetics. Although Pokémon are all well rendered and region maps are detailed, humans don’t always get the same treatment. Professor Ivy’s and Sakura’s likenesses look they were culled from an old VHS videocassette, and incorporated screenshots from the anime are of middling quality. The book’s other flaw is only listing Pokémon in the glossary. Reading hoping to glean more information about Professor Oak will have to search through the book.
While the Pokémon Visual Companion isn’t flawless, a few lapse in accuracy and artistic consistency hardly mar the book’s impact. For anyone who devotedly watched the anime, the text does an admirably job of encapsulating fifteen years of Pokémon history. Viewers who missed the series’ early seasons would particularly enjoy the Companion, as it adeptly summarizes the key events of each region. Best of all, Brady and DK Publishing have replicated the affordability of their Capcom 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia, establishing an affordable MSRP of $16.99. Online retailers like Amazon have cut that even further, selling the book for $10.19 USD.