Here’s a fun thing to do: play the original POKÉMON theme song in a room filled with college kids. Take a step back. See what happens.
In my experience, there’s a lot of excited, incoherent screaming at the first few notes. Then some excited, slightly more coherent screaming as everyone tries to sing along. Point is, everyone knows the POKÉMON theme song. Everyone loves the POKÉMON theme song. But when was the last time any of us actually watched POKÉMON?
Maybe a few of you kids rewatched a season or two recently for nostalgia’s sake. But I’m willing to bet most of us, save for a stray episode here and there, haven’t really watched it since elementary school. After all, why would we? POKÉMON is first and foremost a kids’ show.
And that’s the key phrase here: kids’ show. Remarkably, a kids’ show that left such an impression on all of us that we still feel such a rush when we hear its opening. Why is that? How is that?
Before we begin, here’s another story for you.
A Tale from the Past
A couple days before I left for my second year of college, my cousin arrived from Indonesia. She would be staying at our place for a night, so my dad and I drove to the airport to pick her up. As I helped load her luggage into the car, I asked her how her flight was.
“It was good,” she told me. “Slept a little. Watched some stuff.” Then, with a small smile, she added, “They had the latest CONAN movie.”
Ah, DETECTIVE CONAN. My old friend. Better known as CASE CLOSED in the West, the manga serialization began in 1994, and the anime in 1996. More than two decades later, both series are still going strong.
My cousin and I had dabbled in it as children. But I’d moved on to bigger and badder anime pretty soon, and she’d left anime behind almost entirely before long. I hadn’t thought about Conan for years until she mentioned him at that time.
But then, I, ever the sentimentalist, decided it would be a blast to try rereading it and see what I thought of it now.
So Riddle Me This
Would you believe that I became absolutely hooked on it?
Honestly, I thought I would get tired of its simple, repetitive plot pretty early on. But as I write this, I’m 350 chapters into CASE CLOSED. I pick it up whenever I can and I speed through pages wondering just how Conan will solve his next case (even if it’s suspiciously similar to the one a hundred or so chapters ago.)
Naturally, CASE CLOSED isn’t the only addicting series from my past. A lot of us surely remember the fond days of shows like SAILOR MOON and POKÉMON. Not to mention YU YU HAKUSHO, INUYASHA, DRAGON BALL… the list goes on and on. Even now, I’m almost certain that you could mention any of the aforementioned titles to someone, whether they currently watch anime or not, and they would at least roughly know what you’re talking about. These are all old shows, kids shows, but iconic ones. They’re shows that became such core brands of their eras and paved their ways into children’s hearts. And now that those children have grown up… somehow they still remember and love them just as much as they did years ago.
Why is that? Why am I, a perfectly respectable college kid, still so entranced by a manga series targeted at an audience that is a decade younger than me? What makes POKÉMON so appealing and memorable to my peers? Why does my cousin, who’s the same age as me and otherwise has absolutely zero interest in anime now, still like to watch CONAN movies and attend SAILOR MOON events?
What exactly keeps us so attached to the titles of our childhood? How come even those who completely outgrew anime and manga, those who wouldn’t even touch a new series today, still remember such titles so fondly?
Of course, there are a lot of different answers to this. People have various reasons, and no one’s experience is the same. I can only speak for myself here, and hope that others can at least find my experiences relatable.
That said, for myself, I have three answers: nostalgia, escapism, and connections. Let’s get into them.
Why We Remember Them
Nostalgia is probably the easiest answer. We love kids shows because they remind us of simpler days. Back before exams and deadlines and the growing uncertainty of the future, all we had to worry about was whether or not Ash would win his next gym battle.
I hear the POKÉMON theme now and remember first grade, when I could talk to all my classmates about it without shame. I remember getting my first POKÉMON game, watching POKÉMON movies with my friends, collecting POKÉMON cards for no reason other than how gosh darn cool they looked. They say a person is the sum of his/her memories, and for a lot of us, childhood titles form a bulk of those memories.
(Of course, that could also just be me and my lonely sibling-less life.)
But what I’m getting at is, shows that help us recall happy memories make us happy in turn. When we hear the familiar notes of an old favorite, we can’t help but smile and turn to our friends excitedly. We try to relive them by singing out loud. This doesn’t change whether we stuck with anime since our POKÉMON days or not. We like remembering things that make us smile and feel good, and kids’ shows are definitely a core part of that.
Why We Continue Them
Nostalgia’s a key part of the overall answer, but at the same time it’s only one piece of the formula. After all, it’s not only nostalgia that’s keeping me reading over a thousand pages of a series.
I think a lot of the charm comes from the simplicity of it all. Round, cartoonish designs, low-stakes twists, the knowledge that no matter how dire the situation no one will get off without much more than a scratch…. Plus, everything gets resolved within an episode or two. If only real life was like that, too.
Reading CASE CLOSED, I realized, is entertaining because of its repetitiveness. It follows well-worn beats — sometimes it even copies itself — and you know what? I’m into it! I love how simple everything is, because it’s one of the only things I see now that are that simple. When all else fails, I know I can count on Conan to figure something out in a couple chapters and move on to the next case with only a thread of continuity.
Kids’ shows don’t try to be anything more than they are. They present things at face-value because the kids watching them will take them at face-value. That kind of directness has its expected effectiveness on children, and maybe a more surprising one on older audiences. After all, after a long, tiring day, isn’t it nice to kick back and relax with something relatively mindless?
But this isn’t to say, of course, that the charm of kids’ shows comes entirely from their mindlessness.
Why They Matter to Us
True story: recently, during lunch, I was reading CASE CLOSED as usual. Then, another girl came up to me for the sole purpose of telling me that she loved DETECTIVE CONAN and read it all the time as a kid. She doesn’t follow the series anymore, she admitted, let alone any anime or manga, but seeing me read it had excited her so much that she wanted to tell me.
Imagine that! Making college friends in 2017 over a series that started in 1994. We talked over characters, plot twists, horrific dub name changes (originally, Jimmy was Shinichi, among other name switches.)
The fact is, kids’ shows stick with you long after you stop being a kid. Fondness for the past keeps you from forgetting them; simplicity keeps you enjoying them. And most of all, love for kids’ shows help you connect and thereby grow to love them even more.
It’s thrilling to find out that someone else watched and enjoyed the same shows you did. Especially when it’s a show you hadn’t thought about for a long time. Once, I heard someone talking about how much she’d loved DIGIMON back in the day, and I nearly tripped over myself trying to tell her, “SAME.”
Talking about DIGIMON and CASE CLOSED with new people, watching SAILOR MOON with my cousin, singing old theme songs with friends — engaging in something I love and meeting other people who love it too only serves to deepen my own feelings. We want to share what we love, and we want to be validated in what we love. It’s in our nature as human beings. And honestly, what better way to do so than through recounting fond memories and relating through common interests?
A Sense of Magic
My cousin doesn’t watch anime anymore but the moment any SAILOR MOON-related news comes out, she’s on it in a heartbeat. I have friends in college who haven’t even looked at POKÉMON since fourth grade, but boy did we belt out that theme song. It’s all a little incredible, in a way.
There’s a certain sense of magic to kids’ shows, I think. You can grow older, but you never really grow out of them. Kids’ shows are as much a part of us as anything. For our generation especially, they were such an integral part of our childhood that you can’t really forget them, no matter how many years pass.
Just look at the joy people took in seeing Brock and Misty again in the latest POKÉMON SUN AND MOON episodes. Heck, people are still celebrating DRAGON BALL and INUYASHA through those Facebook screaming events!
That’s the thing about these shows. We all watched them when we were kids, and even those who moved on surely smile when they think back on them. For nostalgia’s sake or anything else, kids’ shows will always have a place in all of our hearts. I may not remember my second grade teacher’s name, but you bet I remember acting out silly POKÉMON scenes with my friends that year.
And with all that said, I only have one more question for you: what were your favorites back then?
Featured image from Viz.