I remember that in Pokemon’s early days, there was another monster battling franchise that came along and grabbed the attentions of gamers everywhere. That franchise was Digimon.
The two franchises were similar enough that it was very difficult to avoid comparing the two. Many did, many claimed that their favorite game was the better of the two, and many heated playground fights and nerd battles broke out. And heated they were.
Many introduced to Digimon after the popularity of Pokemon really took off have guessed that, because the two were so similar, Digimon had to be some Pokemon rip-off. Then some started saying that, because the Digimon Tamagotchi Pets came to America first, Pokemon had to have been a rip-off of Digimon.
If such a statement were true, it would have been outrageous! It would have meant that Pokemon, for how imaginative it seemed and for how popular it was, would have owed inspiration to some other franchise! How scandalous that would have been!
Many have accepted that to have been true, without looking much into it. Even so, Digimon faded into obscurity while Pokemon had a bit of a decline, though Pokemon would later explode into popularity again.
Does Pokemon owe it’s inspiration to Digimon, or was Digimon attempting to copy Pokemon’s popularity? Considering Digimon’s relative obscurity, one might not give it much thought. However, even today, Digimon fans continue to passionately defend it. Because of this, I decided to do some research to find an answer, and with it perhaps a resolution to so many playground battles.
Many who insist that Digimon came first point to Digimon’s earlier arrival in the United States. For many people, their introduction to Digimon was to the Digimon anime, Digimon Adventure, which aired in the States beginning August 1999, nearly a year after the debut of the Pokemon anime the previous year.
However, the first Digimon product that would see it’s debut in America was the Digimon Virtual Pet. This made it’s debut on June 26, 1997 in Japan. The exact date of it’s American debut is unknown, but it is known for sure that it arrived on American shores in the year 1997. This was the year before the Pokemon anime made it’s debut on American television, with English versions of Pokemon Red and Blue coming shortly afterward.
The Tamagotchi Digimon Virtual Pet, the first Digimon product
So, a Digimon product arrived in America before Pokemon made it’s debut here. Does that mean that Digimon came first?
Not so fast. Just because a product arrived first on American shores does not mean that it “came first” in terms of originality. The question as to which franchise came first cannot be sufficiently answered unless one were to consider their global debuts. To answer the question as to which franchise truly came first, one should know which one was first to debut in any form anywhere in the world.
Both Pokemon and Digimon made their debuts in Japan. The first Digimon product was the Digimon Virtual Pet, and as mentioned above, it made it’s debut in Japan on June 26, 1997.
The first Pokemon product to be released was Pokemon Red and Green for the Game Boy on February 27, 1996. This was about 16 months before Digimon’s debut as a Tamagotchi virtual pet. In the time between the debut of the first Pokemon games and the arrival of the Digimon Tamagotchi, the Pokemon Trading Card Game made it’s debut with the Base Set and starter deck, as well as the Jungle and Fossil expansions, and thirteen episodes of the Pokemon anime were broadcast on Japanese TV.
Pokemon Green version. This came way before the Tamagotchi Digimon Virtual Pet.
So that’s it. Pokemon came first. In fact, the Pokemon Anime and Trading Card Game, two well-known facets of the Pokemon franchise, debuted before there would be a Digimon product of any sort. This matter is resolved, right?
There are some stray arguments related to this that I would like to answer, so let’s examine them.
Sometimes, a Digimon fan may claim that because Digimon was a Tamagotchi, Digimon had to have come first. That really doesn’t work, because even though Digimon was originally a Tamagotchi product, Digimon was distinct from Tamagotchi in several ways. It doesn’t work to say a product came first because it’s predecessor came before it. Besides, the Tamagotchi made it’s first debut in Japan on November 23, 1996, nearly nine months after the debut of Pokemon Red and Green. Thus, Pokemon came before Tamagotchi.
Sometimes, someone in a discussion involving Pokemon and Digimon will point out that Godzilla involved monsters fighting. Apparently, the idea in bringing this up is an attempt to defuse the argument by suggesting that they both had to have taken inspiration from something else. However, this is like comparing sea sponges to nitrous oxide. Pokemon and Digimon involve young characters making monsters battle while commanding them to use certain attacks. The Godzilla series involved giant monsters fighting each other, caring little about how many young characters they step on or blow up in the process. Pokemon and Digimon made their debut about 16 months apart, with one of them (namely Digimon) making obvious changes to emulate the success of the other.
Sometimes, I also hear that Pokemon wasn’t originally called “Pokemon”, but changed it’s name from “Pocket Monsters” in some attempt to copy Digimon. You probably see in the picture above that Pokemon Green was originally called “Pocket Monsters Green”. It’s true that Pokemon was originally called Pocket Monsters, however, it’s name wasn’t changed in an attempt to emulate Digimon in any way. Pokemon was originally a fan name for the Pocket Monsters franchise. The Japanese love nicknames and shortening names, and Pokemon was another example of how the Japanese did this. This fan name became so popular, that when Pocket Monsters made it’s American debut, Nintendo decided to call it what the Japanese called it. Pokemon wasn’t officially accepted as the name for Pocket Monsters in Japan until the debut of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, and by then, Digimon had already declined as a franchise. Besides, why would GameFreak want to change the name of their franchise to emulate a less-popular one?
EDIT: There is another argument that’s been coming up recently, that Pokemon is somehow copying Digimon with the recent addition of the mega evolution mechanic to the sixth generation games. A similarity mentioned is the temporary nature of mega evolution, which seems similar to how digimon typically revert to a previous form after a battle in which they digivolve. It seems the main reason people make this assumption is due to the use of the word “mega”. In the original Japanese version of Digimon, the mega stage was actually called “ultimate”. Later, when Digimon was released in America, the “perfect” stage was instead called “ultimate”, so when the ultimate stage was revealed, it was called “mega” instead. It would seem that the only similarity is that mega pokemon revert after a battle is over, but even then, mega pokemon weren’t the first to do this. Cherrim and Castform have been doing it for a while. It would seem that similarities between mega pokemon and mega (actually “ultimate”) digimon is coincidental. But at this point, it hardly seems relevant, considering that Digimon has very little media presence anymore, and less popular franchises are scarcely chosen for emulation. (This topic is explored further in this article.)
So, that’s it. Pokemon came first. That seemed obvious to me for a long time, but the question kept coming up on message boards, so perhaps someone could benefit from seeing it explained here.
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