What Happened To The "Watch This Program In A Well-Lit Room" Warnings?
by Justin Sevakis,
Back in the day, after that infamous episode of Pokémon gave viewers seizures, many anime would start with an on-screen warning to watch with the lights on and at a safe distance from the TV. A bunch of my late-90's / early-2000's DVDs have their own distinct warnings, including His and Her Circumstances and Kaleido Star. But I haven't seen one of these in years. Are they still a thing on Japanese TV, and they're just not on home releases anymore, or have they fallen by the wayside? And were these ever required by law, or just a voluntary response to the Pokémon crisis?
It's true, these days the little "please watch this anime in a well-lit room and sit far away from the TV" warning really only gets displayed with shows meant for young children, rather than all of the anime being broadcast. The warning was pretty much voluntary, added by TV broadcasters after the Pokémon incident, which I'll get to in a minute.
The incident in question, which became known in the Japanese press as "Pokémon Shock," made international news back before anybody outside of Japan knew what Pokémon was. Near the end of episode 38 of the original Pokémon series ("Electric Soldier Porygon"), Pikachu stops some "vaccine missiles" inside of a computer with his Thunderbolt attack. The big explosion that followed was animated with a red and blue strobe effect.
The combination of Pokémon being a new, hot kids' property, and the visual of kids in hospitals whipped the Japanese press into a lather. Schools rounded up their kids, asked them "who saw Pokémon last night, and if so, are you feeling sick? If so, you can go home." The show's producers were interrogated by police, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare held an emergency meeting, Nintendo's stock price dove 5%, and the show was yanked off the air for four months. Video stores also yanked everything Pokémon off shelves for a time.
Which isn't to say that TV Tokyo and the show producers overreacted. The episode did send 685 kids to the hospital, although only a small number ended up diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. Regardless, the anime industry met with doctors and other experts and ended up with a few new guidelines: First, flashing images that were red could only flash a maximum of 3 times per second, and only for two seconds total. (Non-red images could go up to 5 times per second. The Pokémon Shock effect was 12 Hz for six seconds.) The industry also steered clear of filling the screen with things like concentric circles, stripes and whirls. The warning screen you noted also began cropping up at this time. Pokémon's return to TV was preceded by a documentary special to calm down nervous parents, and also to show that kids really missed the series.
All of these precautions were not legally enforced, mostly because the show's producers (and the anime industry at large) were really going out of their way to show everybody how seriously they were taking the problem. But that was 1998. Today most TV anime isn't even aimed at kids (it's late night content, after all), and with no other incidents occurring in the last 15 years, it seems that the TV networks have relaxed a little bit. However, to this day, if there's concern about a particularly action-filled shot causing problems, it will get dimmed in the broadcast version of that episode. (The home video releases are generally as-intended.)
In case you're interested, 4Kids did dub that episode (and slowed down the flashing to make sure it wouldn't cause a problem) but Nintendo insisted that it not be released again. It hasn't seen the light of day since.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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