Episode 1 - I Kid Mew Not
Date Released: August 24, 2019
The development of the original Pokemon games began all the way back in 1990.
Mew was the first Pokemon to be officially submitted for trademark by Game Freak.
Mew, a secret to most who had worked on the game, was added into the game only after the game had been checked for bugs. This was a very risky move.
A contest to receive Mew was outlined by Coro Coro Comics in 1996. Despite only picking 20 winners, over 78,000 readers entered.
Eventually Nintendo gave out 100,000 Mews to attendees of Space World ‘97.
Mew is one of the only Pokemon who is tied to a real-world location — Guiana.
Mew’s legendary status helped promote the Pokemon anime and the series’ first movie.
Note - The following transcript has been cleaned up a bit to make the presentation of subject matter more coherent.
Ben: I am the expert on this very first episode. And for our initial episode, our pilot, we're going to talk about this very underground, indie title, that you've probably never heard of — it's called Pokémon.
Push: Oh, I've never heard of that.
Ben: You never heard of that one, Push?
Push: Nope, never.
Ben: Of course not. So Pokémon, for those of you who don't know (and it's weird if you don't, but that's fine) is basically a series of games for the Nintendo handheld systems developed by Game Freak, where you catch monsters, you trade them, you battle them, you try to earn gym badges, and you go on magical adventures.
So, Push, what's your background with Pokémon? Did you play the games right from the start? When did you jump on the bandwagon?
Push: So I'm the type of Pokémon fan that lots of Pokémon fans hate. I have a lot of experience with the Kanto region, the very first one, I think they're Red, Blue, and Yellow (in Japan it was Green). Then I kind of stopped playing Pokémon for several years and I didn't get back to Pokémon until Black and White. So I had that huge gap of knowledge with Pokémon. I got back into it partly because they were pandering to the Kanto region fans, like myself. And then I played a little bit of Sun and Moon. Oh, and X and Y too.
Ben: I kind of had that lull too. I was huge into Red and Blue when they first launched in America, and then Gold and Silver. I was way into those and then I kinda lost interest a little bit after that with… I think it was Ruby and Sapphire. The Game Boy Advance era. I think I've played every main series, you know, at least one of the entries, since it initially began.
And I mean, right off the bat with Pokémon, with the original craze — I was like patient zero at my elementary school. I'm pretty sure I was the first one to introduce Pokémon cards and probably the reason why they got banned from the school. And in an unfortunate accident, I taped over my little brother's ultrasound with an episode of Pokémon.
Push: Oh no!
Ben: That was not on purpose! I just grabbed a tape and I said, “This looks blank enough!” and I put it in. I distinctly remember it because my mother was extremely angry with me (because you know, that was like a one of a kind thing), but also because it was the episode where Pikachu fights Raichu. Which is very iconic, right?
Push: It's a very good episode.
Ben: So Pokémon, it was kind of this huge… I mean, it is the biggest media franchise in the world.
So let me set the scene here for the start of this, because you know Pokémon is not a story that people don't know. It's a pretty common one. But I feel like there's one Pokémon that stands out. One that people don't know as much about as they maybe think they do.
Again, let me set the scene — Tokyo late 1980s and there's a new magazine coming out by these avid video game fans. It's called Game Freak, and this is the start of Game Freak the development company. They began as a magazine. They had hand drawn pictures and it's kind of like you're going to run down to Kinko's to make a couple of copies and sell them at the local bookstore. That kind of thing. They eventually become an actual secondary development company, obviously, you know, for Nintendo. Do you know what year the development of Pokémon actually began?
Push: I know it's way longer than it was thought, because it was in “development hell” for such a long time. I think it was like 1991?
Ben: Close. 1990.
It's one of the very first projects that they got into, this thing that they called Capsule Monsters. They pitched it to Nintendo. Nintendo was like, “No, that won't sell. We don't want that.” So the original two games (Red and Green), they came out in February of 1996, but the planning and development for the series actually began all the way back in 1990. This was right after the commercial release for the GameBoy itself, which was in the spring of 1989. So [Game Freak] was like, “Oh! There's this hot new toy that's out and we're gonna take advantage of it.” And then it takes them six years. Like you said, they were stuck in “development hell” for a long time.
Even their original release day was supposed to be in December of 1995 and they didn't hit that. So the people at Game Freak were, for lack of a better term, freaking out, because they thought that the Game Boy was kind of passe. Like, “No one is going to want to play this anymore. This is outdated tech. We've waited too long!” And then the original two games came out and… they did okay. For the first few months they weren't some grand slam, out of the gates, amazing hit that we know them as today.
The biggest thing the games had going for them was basically that there was this co-op type of feel, because of the two versions where you had to trade and battle if you wanted to get the full experience. What was your color of choice at the beginning, Push?
Push: I had Blue.
Ben: Oh man. I had Red, so it's perfect, you know? We could trade and we could get all 150.
What was your favorite Pokémon from the original generation?
Push: It's a tie between Jolteon and Mew.
Ben: My favorite is Snorlax.
Push: Oh really?
Ben: Yeah. I don't know why. I think I like his attitude of laying around and sleeping all day. Even though I've never been a very hefty person. I just like his swagger.
Push: I love the icons for Snorlax over the games. Like they’re sleeping and then standing up, right?
Ben: Yeah. He started out on the ground in a very lethargic position and slowly he's getting to his feet. It just took him, you know, 15 to 20 years. I can relate. That's how I feel every morning.
You said your favorite Pokémon was Mew, and Mew was the 151st Pokémon. It was the hidden one.
If you were going to describe what Mew looks like to someone who had never seen it, how would you describe Mew?
Push: Kind of like a cat.
Ben: Like an alien cat. A space cat.
Ben: So back in those early days, you know 1990, when Game Freak was developing this Capsule Monsters or Pocket Monsters game, they were trying to apply trademarks to everything. They didn't want people to steal their intellectual property and the very first Pokémon to ever be submitted for an official trademark was… I want you to guess.
Push: Was it Mew?
Ben: It was Mew. And Mew is the Pokémon that I want to talk about today, just because, I guess a lot of people don't realize how far back Mew goes and how it was so influential in helping Pokémon.
Before they even registered Pocket Monsters, the title, or Pikachu, or Jigglypuff — there was Mew. From the very start. This little, cuddly, pink space cat with huge eyes.
Mew is pink, right?
Push: Mew is pink… I believe.
Ben: I'm color blind, so I just wanted to double check. I've made that mistake in the past, assuming that I knew what colors things were.
So basically, back when Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was the big wig, the guy in charge… and I will say right now, I’m terrible at pronouncing Japanese names.
Push: That's why I'm here.
Ben: That's why you're here. You're my translator guy.
So [Iwata] sat down with [Tsunekazu] Ishihara, I believe it was (who's the CEO of the Pokémon company), and [Shigeki] Morimoto, and they talked about the initial launch of Red and Green. How it was so hectic. Ishihara said in a quote that there's no denying that Mew’s existence played an extremely significant role in the launch of the series. Basically what happened was, they had gone through and they had this debug mode that was on the cartridge. They knew that there was going to be space when they took it off because they're not going to leave that on there for the consumer. So they had these 300 bytes of free space and they thought, "Oh, you know what, let's secretly slide this extra Pokémon onto the cartridge without telling people.” Nintendo didn't know. Most of the developers at Game Freak didn't know. It was just a handful of people who were like, “Hey, this is a good idea!” which was completely reckless. Nowadays if you went through, debugged the game, and then you dropped an extra bit of content on there, that could be catastrophic.
Push: Yeah, without testing it.
Ben: Exactly. That's a terrible, terrible idea, because it could go horribly wrong. So they dropped [Mew] on there and all three of them basically said it was more of like an inside joke. They didn't even think they were actually going to be able to use it. It was kind of like a prank. Like, “Hey, guess what? We put this in there. We didn't tell you guys, but it's on there.” And they thought it would stay a secret and be hidden from the players. But what happened was when the games launched and eventually some games glitched. People wandered into some weird areas and Mew somehow became available. And so they thought, “Okay, we're going to admit that we know that this thing exists.” And in the April, 1996 edition of Coro Coro Comic, they said, “Okay, we're going to give 20 people this awesome legendary Pokémon. If you win, you send us your cartridge, we put it on there, and we send it back to you.” Which was such a weird and novel idea at the time.
How many people do you think entered that contest? They're saying, “Hey, we have 20 of this special Pokémon.” How many people do you think entered to win?
Push: Probably a thousand?
Ben: 78,000 people.
Ben: …or children or adults who were super into Pokémon. Which is the thing. Pokémon, like I said, it kind of had a slow start. So at this point it was picking up momentum, but it was this, this contest, that stated, “You can have this specific thing that no one else can have! (Well about 20 other people in the world are going to have it)” So at that point, Pokémon takes off thanks to Mew and this contest. It makes the news and all of a sudden it's like Pokémon is the game to have.
Do you know the background of Mew in the original games?
Push: Mew gave birth to Mewtwo in February I believe.
Ben: Yeah. So basically Mewtwo (which is just such an original name) is the second Mew. But the weirdest thing about the description for Mew is that even in the game it says Mew was discovered in the jungles of Guyana — which is a real place. As far as I can tell, as far as my detailed Pokémon research has found, there's not any other Pokémon that's linked to a real world location. Which is pretty significant, because I've always imagined that Pokémon its own world. It’s its own thing. Kanto is based on an actual part of Japan. Right?
Ben: And then there's regions based on France and America.
Push: New York City.
Ben: Yeah. That kind of thing. But where is Guyana? Where does it fall within the Pokémon world? Is it the same as our Guyana? It's just very strange that South America also somehow exists in this world.
Push: Have you ever read that fan fiction about how Pokémon takes place after a huge war?
Ben: No, I haven't. What's the general overview on that?
Push: Basically there was a nuclear Holocaust, and a huge battle that wiped out a lot of people. This is why there's so many people without fathers in the Pokémon games, because they just all died in war. And Pokémon are the result of mutation from the atomic bombs.
Ben: Oh, so Pokémon are mutants?
Ben: Okay. I mean, when I look at a Machoke, I think, “That used to be a dude, right?”
Push: That's probably Ash's dad.
Ben: No, I think that's Mr. Mime, right? Isn't that the fan theory?
So Mew is is launched and has this weird background. When [Pokémon] comes to America, people are obviously reading about it and they know that Mew exist. But once again, there is no magazine giveaway at that point. Mew is just some legendary thing and Pokémon has always been a series where people think, “Oh, if you did this, if you walk this way and turn and then fly. It's like the Missingno glitch. There were rumors if you pushed the truck next to the SS Ann you would get Mew.
Push: I do have a confession. The first website I started was actually a Pokémon website, and it was called Thunder Punch (after Electibuzz's move). I would write those rumors. I wouldn't make them up. I would post a collection of them. Like, “This is how you get the Pokégods!”
Ben: I distinctly remember someone did a Photoshop of a bunch of Starmie or Staryu together and it was like, “If you want to get Starus…” and I thought, “Starus!? Whoa. What an amazing name.” I can't remember what amazing thing you had to do to get Starus or… Pikablu was another one.
Ben: Can't forget about Mewthree. I'm still surprised that there's not a Mewthree yet. That seems like something Nintendo would have done by now, or Game Freak, I should say.
So even before Pokémon comes out in America, in the January ‘98 issue of Nintendo Power… Nintendo used to have a thing called Space World, if you remember. It's basically their own little E3. And so they're showing off Zelda 64 and Super Mario RPG 2, and the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive. You know, the future of entertainment here. There were only two Pokémon they mentioned by name. One was Pikachu and the other was Mew, but they spelled it differently than it is spelled today. They spelled it M-Y-U-U.
Push: And the reason that it's M-Y-U-U for that event is because that's how it's spelled in Japanese.
Ben: Oh, okay. Well that makes sense.
Ben: At this point Nintendo was like, “Okay, 78,000 people who wanted mew, we're going to give you a chance here. And there was a 100,000 Mews given away as Space World ‘97. Which is insane, because that means people had to actually come up with their cartridge and put it into the special Mew machine and then they gave it to them. But it was like a mecca. “We're going to drive to Space World!”
Push: I do have a random factoid about the Space World Mew event. Do you know the the trainer name for those Mews?
Ben: The trainer name? No, I do not. Like, the one that shows up in the Pokedex?
Push: Yeah. It'd be like Yoshi and Mario, I think.
Ben: Oh really? That's pretty fun. I guess that would be a nice little nod.
Did you watch the Pokémon a cartoon series when it came out?
Push: Yeah, I watched it when I was growing up.
Ben: I bet you remember those first opening drum beats. “I want to be the very best!” and you saw Mew and Mewtwo fly through the sky. They used Mew and Mewtwo as a big pull even though Pikachu was the face of it. Even for the very first Pokémon movie. Pokémon: The Movie comes out in 1999, and this is the same year Nintendo is finally like, “Okay, people who live in… not Japan, we're going to give you the chance to go get Mew.” And they did a Toys R Us thing where you could come and get Mew on a special day at certain Toys R Us. I think there was a Nintendo Power giveaway and there was even some traveling Pokémon training league tour that offered Mew to select winners. Looking back, I never thought Mew was like that big of a deal. I wanted Mew, and at some point I went down a very dark path in my life and I use a Game Shark to get Mew. I felt so bad about it that I immediately just traded it away to someone else who wanted it.
Push: I did a use a Game Shark to start off with a Mew one play through. I did three or four play through on Pokémon Blue.
Push: So this was when you were a kid? Not later on in life?
Push: Yeah, when I was a kid. Pokémon Blue with one of my favorite games and I had a Game Shark, so I was just like, “I'm just going to start off with a Mew and go through the whole story like that.” And that was pretty fun.
Ben: Yeah, I can imagine. Although I bet that Mew was pretty powerful.
Ben: Oh yeah. It could learn any move.
Ben: Brock and Misty stood no chance.
Ben: So that's the skinny on Mew. This adorable monster that was there from the very beginning and was added into the games at the last second, pretty much as a literal inside joke. Mew helped build hype around Pokémon in the early days and kept the craze of catching them all alive for quite some time after launch with appearances in shows and movies and card games.
Push: I guess you could say of all the legendary Pokémon, Mew is probably the most legendary.
Ben is a games journalist, author, and full-time teacher currently residing in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Push is a freelance writer, translator, and the founder of All Source Gaming. He currently lives in Japan.