When Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue first hit the scene in America in the late ‘90s, people were going absolutely insane for the little guys. By the end of September 1998, both the anime and the video games had been released, and the card game came at the top of 1999. Pokémon fever was hot. The way they advertised the games in the states was…aggressive. I want to focus on one commercial in particular, as watching it now seems to have a very different meaning that I remember growing up.
THE BUS DRIVER WITH SOME SERIOUS ISSUES
For context, here is the commercial.
So, obviously, we have some breaking down to do here. It opens with a surprisingly good panning shot of the bus doors opening. We then snap zoom to the bus driver’s face as he asks, “Hey little buddy! Wanna ride?” We reveal Pikachu, the electric mouse we all know and love, and he obviously responds positively, but you’ll notice immediately that it’s not the voice we all know and love. This tended to happen a lot in early Pokémon promotional videos, with the voice sounding more like a weird Stitch/Gollum hybrid. The bus driver’s reaction of, “Yeah, whatever!” with creepy, ominous music rising in the background, should be the first indication that something is not right here. He then FLOORS it down the road as Pikachu attempts to find a seat among many other Pokémon mainstays, such as Squirtle, Charizard, Bulbasaur, and Meowth.
I’d like you to take a moment here to notice where Pikachu was picked up.
See the green grass, nice flowers, trimmed bushes, and generally well-lit area? Remember this, as mere seconds later, after presumably taking about one turn, we enter a war-torn city where only mayhem and destruction are allowed. I don’t understand what the layout of this fictional city is, but it absolutely goes from normal to UH OH very quickly. Seriously, look at this.
There’s even a trashcan fire going! How did we get here? It happened so fast! Is this a factory? WHO KNOWS. The bus driver’s face becomes mad with hunger as he swerves around the magic corner to the hellscape he presumably frequents daily. He stops the bus and says, “I’ll be right back!” in a way that only a fool would believe to be true. He exits the bus, passes a window where we see more soon-to-be-famous faces like Koffing and Ekans, before he opens a latch and smashes a giant red button. This switch then activates two giant slabs of concrete that slowly stagger forward with the ultimate goal being to crush the entire bus full of living Pokémon.THE FEAR IN THEIR EYES…BUT DON’T WORRY, IT’S JUST A GAME BOY!
THE FEAR IN THEIR EYES…BUT LMAO DON’T WORRY, IT’S JUST A GAME BOY GAME!
As all of that is occurring, a voice over narration says, “Where can you catch all 150 Pokémon? On your Game Boy, that’s where!” The bus driver looks so insanely happy about his misdeed that you almost want to root for the guy! Look at his excited face!
He’s really ready to catch ‘em all! After seeing the terrified faces of several Pokémon as the walls of their collective lives close in on them, the concrete torture device moves back to reveal the bus has been compressed down into a Game Boy, with the animated Pokémon all trying to escape the screen. The bus driver quickly moves to grab it after saying “Got ya!” like a true madman. “Pokémon for Game Boy is here! With both packs, you can catch ‘em all!” the voice over narration guy says, adding to the wonderfully beautiful mantra that would stick with the series to this day.
The bus driver, now sitting in some dingy warehouse with machinery and stacks of tires behind him, blissfully plays the game while laughing manically as the commercial comes to an end. Does he LIVE here? Did he murder those poor creatures? Did he digitally insert them into the Game Boy á la The Matrix? Did he abandon his job? The world will never know, but thank the stars we can still view this delightful horror/comedy commercial forever. Nintendo used to really go wild with these ads. I hope they bring that back someday.
Also, if anyone knows who this lovely actor is playing the bus driver, please message me. I’ve got so many questions for him!