Symptoms of Americachu

How far has the Pokemon craze spread?

To date, the industry has sold 12 million GameBoy cartridges, 400 million trading cards and more than a million compact discs.

In Japan, a summer movie starring the tiny critters led by relentlessly adorable Pikachu, who zaps enemies with a 10,000-volt blast even bumped off hometown boy Godzilla to take over the box office its first week.

The digitized runts made their formal American debut in September and sold more than 200,000 copies in the first two weeks. Nintendo, the critters’ creator, say those figures make it the fastest-selling portable video game in U.S. history.

Nintendo has been unabashed about its aggressive incursion into America. Eileen Tanner, a Golan/Harris publicist for Nintendo, freely refers to the marketing campaign as an “invasion of the United States.”

To launch the product, the company held a giant carnival in Topeka, Kan., renamed “Topikachu” for the day. One hundred Pokemon characters parachuted from a plane.

Other marketing strategies:

  • The cartoon show that, ironically, is best-known to Americans for sending 700 Japanese children to the hospital after a flashing strobe-like scene induced illnesses that ranged from “car sickness” to epilepticlike seizures. Since then, the show has toned down its special effects. It scored as the No. 1 show in its time slot during the November sweeps.
  • Two versions of GameBoy come in red and blue, each with different monsters. Players can trade by plugging their machines together.
  • The critters’ Web site, www.pokemon.com, gives species updates.
  • During the first week of November, six runners carrying an exercise-happy virtual pet Pikachu ran 500 miles along the California coast. Nintendo donated $10,000 to the Special Olympics.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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