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Former 4Kids CEO on helping to bring Pokemon west, English name, anime, and success

Posted on August 5, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

Back in the day, 4Kids Entertainment played a large role in Pokemon’s distribution outside of Japan. Al Kahn, who was formally CEO of the company, took a business trip to the country when he stumbled upon the franchise. He then pitched the idea of bringing the IP west to Pokemon’s owners (including Nintendo). While that was met with reluctance, Kahn felt it could become a hit and was able to gain the rights to the game and anime outside of Asia when he offered money to get the franchise released overseas.

Pokemon is known as Pocket Monsters in Japan. However, Kahn “didn’t like the name” as it felt similar to other monster games. “I wanted the name to be more Japanese-y,” he told The Washington Post.

With the cartoon and series, some changes needed to be made. “There are some things kids like in Japan that they don’t like out of Japan,” according to Kahn. Scripts for the show were rewritten, and new music was introduced. Although some changes were controversial, it was thought they were necessary to better fit with viewers in the United States. That meant elements like references to Japanese history, customs and some food were modified.

Initially, television stations were reluctant when it came to airing Pokemon. This prompted Kahn to syndicate the show and sell it one market at a time to 200 stations in the United States in 1999. Many stations put the show on at 6 AM, but stations soon reported that children were waking up early to see it. In fact, in some instances, there were more viewers compared to after-school hours.

And then Pokemon skyrocketed towards incredible success. Kahn said:

“The card games started to sell like crazy, and it started to really just blow up. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of it, full-throng — holy mackerel! You’re swamped. It was — and is — one of the most exciting things I have ever been with.”

Kahn isn’t involved with Pokemon these days, but the franchise continues on. It’s seeing revitalized growth thanks to the likes of Pokemon GO, which he’s happy about. At the same time, he credits Nintendo and The Pokemon Company for the original ideas.


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