Pokémon Forever

Matthew Mastricova

Here’s the kind of kid I was: On the last day of first grade, my teacher said that she knew to never again refer to Pokémon as Pokéman. Now I spend too much time watching videos of people draw them from memory. The artist I watch the most starts her videos with, “Hi dad,” and her approximations are always endearing: close enough to be known but far enough to be funny. I was a serious child in first grade. I once commandeered our class computer for a week to write Pokémon fanfiction. I imagined it as a grand adventure running novels upon novels but by the end it was barely a paragraph. I saw the breath, even then, between what I wanted and what I could have. On the day Pokémon: The First Movie came out on VHS, my mom pulled me out of school early to buy a copy. I had promised her that it was the only movie I would ever need. I would never ask her to buy me another because I would just re-watch this one. Only Pokémon, forever. I realized my mistake after watching it at home. I liked it, but even then I knew I couldn’t live too long in this world. There were translation errors — I had noticed them when I saw it in theaters, but now they were glaring. Laziness, a lack of care. I loved the movie the first time I saw it, and even before then. I was just as excited for the short that aired before the movie, Pikachu’s Vacation, which I had already seen armfuls of times because my dad used to bring home pirated VHS tapes, and one day he had brought home a subtitled copy of the short film. I remember this being months before the American trailer was released. It must have been a fansub; I never found another copy like it. He told me it was a gift from his boss, and it took me years to realize that this was probably not true. I think of this, sometimes, my dad walking down the streets of the Upper West Side in a black suit and briefcase, seeking a vendor hawking hand-cammed videos his gremlin boys would like. Or scouring the airport bookstore on his return from the annual Wichita sales meeting for a new book to gift me, a new hat for my brother. On the weekends, when my mother drove to Queens to manage a restaurant with her ex-brother-in-law, we belonged to our father. Trips to Toys R US, the Disney Store, KB Toys, aisles of bright plastic begging for our favor. Gifting has always been my father's love language, or maybe mine reflected. An attempt by my dad to reach me on my level: I once had to make a tapestry of gratitude for art class and all I drew were Pokémon. My brother never got into Pokémon the way I did, although in most other ways we were the same person translated across two bodies. We were pissed off and bad at sports and devoted to Nintendo. We were not the children my father dreamed of raising, vocalized no language for most of the first four years of our lives and after that, English, yes, but severed from our dad’s Bronx-bent speech. None of us understood what the characters in Pikachu’s Vacation were saying. We had to read the subtitles that some stranger had shaped from the dialogue. They even translated the cries of the Pokémon. I still don’t know for sure where those words came from, if they were present in the original or if this person listened to the idioglossia of these creatures and loved them deeply enough to know them in that way. In the English dub, the Pokémon were not translated, and this enraged me. I did not remember the exact subtitles used in the pirated VHS; I had to imagine my own dialects for them. Each choice I made reminded me there would always be a more correct option, always a tense shifted or a letter malformed by the distance between us. I did not know how to bridge the gulf between us. I did not know to be satisfied with the same type of love that raised me.


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