Pikachu is widely recognized through the animated series “Pokémon”. Since its inception on April 1, 1997, “Pokémon” has emerged as one of TV Tokyo’s esteemed programs. However, few are aware that this highly acclaimed and widely embraced cartoon nearly encountered a fleeting demise of five seconds unexpectedly.
On December 16, 1997, an otherwise ordinary day took on a slightly altered hue due to the update of “Pokémon”. Surveys indicate that more than half of Japanese children eagerly awaited the timely release of each episode of this animated series. Yet, on that particular day, an accident transpired while airing the 38th episode of “Computer Warrior 3D Dragon”. In the storyline, the protagonist’s team faced imminent missile impact. At the crucial moment, Pikachu employed its 100,000-volt skill, preemptively detonating the missile and effectuating a smooth escape. In an effort to convey the “discharge” phenomenon accompanying the explosion, the animators employed a rapid alternation of red and blue hues. Within a mere span of five seconds, the television screen flickered at a frequency of 12 frames per second. It was during this brief interlude that grave consequences unfolded, and this event subsequently became known as the “3D Dragon Incident”.
Between 6:50 and 7:30 that evening, a total of 615 individuals in Japan were transported to hospitals by ambulance due to symptoms of dizziness, blurred vision, and nausea following the viewing of this particular episode. The vast majority of these affected individuals were children. Once news of the incident spread, an even larger audience sought to watch this episode of the cartoon. Ultimately, 685 patients were admitted to hospitals. Although most individuals recuperated during transit, 150 individuals required hospitalization, with two enduring stays exceeding two weeks prior to their recovery. In light of this occurrence, experts and scholars embarked on a quest to unravel the underlying causes, with two studies yielding significant impact.
In the 1998 edition of the Annals of Neurology, a research team discovered that, among children in Yamaguchi Prefecture, 12 previously unaffected children developed spasmodic symptoms, of which 11 were diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. Intense flashes of light can trigger nerve spasms in the brain and, in severe cases, induce a state of coma. Thus, it was concluded that epilepsy triggered by rapidly alternating colors accounted for the hospitalization of nearly 700 individuals. Subsequent investigations revealed that the degree of light sensitivity induced by alternating red and blue hues with discernible color contrast far surpassed that of alternating flashes of a single hue at the same frequency. Consequently, this factor, in conjunction with flash frequency, duration, and other variables, contributed to the incident. These findings established photosensitive epilepsy as the prevailing explanation for the “3D Dragon Event”.
However, American writer Benjamin Redford and Robert Bartholomew from James Cook University in Australia contend that photosensitive epilepsy is not the sole culprit behind this incident. A significant number of individuals affected during the second wave experienced symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision, which deviate from typical signs of epilepsy and instead resemble manifestations of mass hysteria. Hysteria denotes mental disorders stemming from various factors, including stress and suggestion. Such psychological elements can propagate contagiously when individuals interact, giving rise to mass hysteria. Redford and Bartholomew posit that this phenomenon constituted the primary cause for the second wave of hospitalizations.
Furthermore, Redford questioned the exclusive attribution of the incident to photosensitive epilepsy, citing a previous study conducted on the British population. The study reported an epilepsy prevalence rate of 1%, whereas 3% of individuals exhibited photosensitive epilepsy. This incongruity struck him as illogical, yet compelling evidence to substantiate his claim remains insufficient. Given the considerable passage of time, ascertaining the underlying reasons behind this phenomenon proves challenging. Nonetheless, its impact on the animation industry at large remains palpable, prompting numerous countries to enact stricter regulations concerning potentially visually stimulating content in animated productions.
Following a four-month hiatus, “Pokémon” resurfaced in the public consciousness in April 1998. Although the specifics of Pikachu’s “discharge” gradually faded from memory, the five-second sequence vanished forever.