WTF Is Up with Detective Pikachu?

I have some concerns about this whole Detective Pikachu thing. It seems like a fun, weird idea, and I’m all about fun, weird ideas. But it also feels like Nintendo and the Pokemon Company tried to make a thing out of it, had seconds thoughts, dialed back, then had third thoughts and are trying again. Or, ramping up to try again anyway. The problem is the timing feels all off now, and it may be too late. Can the backing of a large movie studio and a known actor, combined with a late, but still somehow timely video game release bring Pokemon back to wide release movie theater territory? Or will I still have to catch a one-day Alamo Drafthouse show to watch some dang Pikachu cartoons?

If you have no idea what the hell any of the above even means, here’s a quick refresher. In 2016, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company dropped Detective Pikachu, a 3DS eShop-exclusive game that saw players, taking on the role of a little anime child, solving mysteries with a talking Pikachu. Detective Pikachu is notable in that he has a Sherlock Holmes hat, and a distressingly deep, manly voice. The game was announced, people on the Internet freaked out about it, then nothing happened because it seemed destined to stay in Japan. Months later, out of nowhere Legendary Entertainment (Batman Begins, Kong: Skull Island) announced it acquired movie rights.


Fast forward to 2017, and production on the Detective Pikachu movie, a mixture of live action and motion-captured CGI, begins. Legendary is a pretty secretive company, but word eventually gets out that Detective Pikachu himself is most likely going to be played by Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds. Then, a few days after that, news breaks that a PEGI (Eurpoean equivalent of the ESRB) rating for the 3DS game quietly appeared on the organization’s website. What a twist! So the eShop game is likely facing localization, which will probably be timed around some stage of promotion for the movie, which will in turn likely see some degree of wide release. Meanwhile, the most recent Pokemon anime film, I Choose You, was strictly a limited run affair.

I have a feeling that if, a year ago when all this was going down the first time, perhaps a timely localization could have ensured Detective Pikachu would truly become a thing. Get the game out while the announcement hype was hot, see if it’s a success, then build that into a big, fun movie for kids and weirdo adults like ourselves. Maybe a Pokemon spinoff finally becomes popular on a level one has yet to achieve.

But now it feels off. In the time between then and now, Nintendo is moving on to the Switch, and soon enough the next generation of Pokemon. An eShop game on the old handheld, one relegated to outsourced Nintendo joints like Hey Pikmin and a Mario Party minigame collection might not be able to stick as well. Sure, the install base is there, but it’s a risk now. The iron doesn’t feel hot anymore for Detective Pikachu. This could, in turn, hurt the box office for the movie, as there’s already precedent for Pokemon and box office not getting along.

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That said, this is a more family-friendly affair, being made by a western team with that live action/CGI hybrid stuff that the generic moviegoing audience seems to go for over and over. Just like Illumination, the studio behind Minions, nailed the rights to Super Mario, Legendary could be preparing to make some serious bank. Pikachu is still an icon, with presence even at the 2017 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Maybe parents just don’t like anime. Who can blame them, really?

Either way, it’s interesting seeing something so weird happen in real time. Usually when something stays in Japan, it stays in Japan. Coming back a year later is almost unheard of, especially with a big movie production ahead of it. Usually a property has to be successful before Hollywood starts biting. Perhaps the delay was on purpose, with movie rights negotiations being a part of the plan all along. Regardless of how it shakes out, Pokemon fans will have something new and strange to be excited about, and everyone else will get to enjoy the novelty of Ryan Reynolds’ voice coming out of a Pikachu.

Lucas White
Lucas White

Writing Team Lead
Date: 12/15/2017

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