Electric Soldier Porygon incident
Dennō Senshi Porygon (でんのうせんしポリゴン Dennō Senshi Porigon, translated as Computer Warrior Porygon, although more commonly known as Electric Soldier Porygon) is the thirty-eighth episode of the Pokémon anime's first season. Its only broadcast was in Japan on December 16, 1997. In the episode, Ash and his friends find that there is something wrong with the Poké Ball transmitting device at the local Pokémon Center. To find out what is wrong, they must go inside the machine.
The episode is infamous for certain repetitive visual effects which induced photosensitive epileptic seizures in a substantial number of Japanese viewers, an incident referred to as "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック Pokemon Shokku) by the Japanese press. 685 children were taken to hospitals, with 2 remaining hospitalized for more than two weeks. Due to this, the episode has never been rebroadcast worldwide and is one of the very few episodes of the show to be banned globally, along with "Battle of the Quaking Island! Dojoach (Barboach) vs. Namazun (Whiscash)!" and "Team Rocket vs. Team Plasma! - Parts 1 and 2", which were banned out of respect for the victims of the 2004 Chūetsu earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. After the incident, the Pokémon anime went on a four-month hiatus and would not return until April 16, 1998, thus making the episode perhaps the most controversial episode of the entire Pokémon series. Since then, the episode has been parodied and referenced in cultural media, including The Simpsons, Drawn Together, South Park and the novel So Yesterday.
Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu discover that the system used to transfer Pokémon from one Pokémon Center to the other is malfunctioning. At Nurse Joy's request, they go to Professor Akihabara, the one who created the Poké Ball transfer system. He tells them that Team Rocket stole his prototype Porygon, a digital Pokémon that can exist in cyberspace, and are using it to steal trainers' Pokémon from inside the computer system.
Akihabara sends Ash, Misty, Brock, Pikachu and his second Porygon into the system to stop Team Rocket, whom they learn have set up a blockade that stops Poké Balls from traveling through the network. Porygon is able to defeat Team Rocket's Porygon, but Nurse Joy, monitoring the situation and unaware that Ash and the others are inside, sends an anti-virus program into the system to combat what she thinks is a computer virus. Pikachu uses a Thunderbolt attack on the program, which manifests as "vaccine missiles", and causes an explosion. The group and Team Rocket successfully escape the computer, and with Team Rocket's blockade removed, the system returns to normal.
People pointed fingers at a scene about twenty minutes into the episode in which Pikachu stops a barrage of "vaccine missiles" with its "Thunderbolt" attack, resulting in a huge explosion that flashes red and blue lights. Although there were similar parts in the episode with red and blue flashes, two anime techniques, "paka paka" and "flash", made this scene extremely intense. These flashes were bright strobe lights, with blinks at a rate of about 12 Hz for approximately six seconds.
At this point, viewers started to complain of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea. Some experienced seizures, blindness, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Japan's Fire Defense Agency reported that a total of 685 children – 310 boys and 375 girls – were taken to hospitals by ambulances. Although many victims recovered during the ambulance trip, more than 150 of them were admitted to hospitals. Two children remained hospitalized for more than two weeks. More people experienced seizures when parts of the episode were rebroadcast during news reports. Only a small fraction of the 685 children treated were diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. This phenomenon was later called "Pokémon Shock".
Later studies showed that 5–10% of the viewers had mild symptoms that did not need hospital treatment. 12,000 children who did not get sent to the hospital by ambulance reported mild symptoms of illness; however, their symptoms more closely resembled those of mass hysteria rather than a grand mal seizure. A study following 103 patients over three years after the event found that most of them had no further seizures. Scientists believe that the flashing lights triggered photosensitive seizures in which visual stimuli such as flashing lights can cause altered consciousness. Although approximately 1 in 4,000 people is susceptible to these types of seizures, the number of people affected by this Pokémon episode was unprecedented.
An article in USA Today reassured parents that "American children aren't likely to suffer seizures provoked by TV cartoons", because U.S. networks "don't air the graphic Japanese cartoons known as 'anime'" with their "fast-paced style of animation", although anime has become more prevalent on American television since then. The incident, which was referred to as the "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック Pokemon Shokku) by the Japanese press, was included in the 2004 edition and the 2008 Gamer's Edition of the Guinness World Records book, with the honor of holding the record for "Most Photosensitive Epileptic Seizures Caused by a Television Show".
As a result of the incident, Porygon and its evolutions never appeared in the anime ever again; this is because, although Pikachu was the one who caused the seizure-inducing explosion, Porygon was given the "scapegoat treatment" since Pikachu is the series' mascot. They have only appeared in cameos during the "World of Pokémon" segments of the movies. Additionally, the anime went on a four-month hiatus before returning with an hour-long special that was preceded by a short segment titled "アニメ ポケットモンスター問題検証報告" ("Problem Inspection Report on the Pocket Monsters Anime"), in which host Miyuki Yadama explained how TV Tokyo, its affiliate networks, professional doctors, the Japanese government and the United Kingdom's Independent Television Commission had come together to ensure that this type of incident would not happen again.