Cartoon-based illness mystifies Japan
December 17, 1997
Web posted at: 1:42 p.m. EST (1842 GMT)
TOKYO (CNN) -- A Japanese television network called in
doctors, psychologists and animation experts to find out why
a popular cartoon triggered seizures in hundreds of children
More than 700 people, mainly school children, were rushed to
hospitals Tuesday after suffering convulsions, vomiting,
irritated eyes and other symptoms after watching "Pokemon," a
popular cartoon based on Nintendo's "Pocket Monsters" video
Two-hundred people, from age 3 to a 58-year-old man, were
still in the hospital Wednesday with epilepsy-type symptoms
more than 24 hours after the showing, the Home Affairs
The network said it plans to cancel next week's show if the
cause of the incident remains unclear.
The show is Japan's most highly-rated program in its 6:30
p.m. time slot. Tuesday's episode, "Computer Warrior
Porigon," featured characters fighting each other inside a
Most of the children developed the symptoms about 20 minutes
into the program after a scene depicting an exploding
"vaccine bomb" set off to destroy a computer virus. It was
followed by five seconds of flashing red light in the eyes of
"Pikachu," a rat-like creature that is the show's most
Some other children were stricken later, when watching
excerpts from the scene in TV news reports on the earlier
TV Tokyo programming division manager Hironari Mori said the
offending section passed inspection before broadcast, but in
hindsight "we believe there may have been problems with
presentation and production technique."
TV Tokyo imposed a health warning on future episodes,
telling viewers that watching installments of "Pokemon" could
cause fainting and nausea.
"I must say that as an adult that part made me blink, so
for a child the effect must have been considerable," Mori
Mori added the network was considering compensation for the
Other TV networks said they were studying their cartoons to
see if they posed a similar risk of "Pocket Monsters"
Dr. Yukio Fukuyama, a juvenile epilepsy expert, said that
"television epilepsy" can be triggered by flashing, colorful
lights. Though the phenomenon was observed before television,
photosensitive epilepsy, as it is also called, has become far
more common as TV has spread. The same symptoms have also
been observed in children playing video games.
Fukuyama says parents should be made aware of the danger.
"The networks should definitely think of issuing a health
warning beforehand," he said.
Psychologist Rika Kayama, author of a book on video games and
health, said that "there is the possibility of photosensitive
epilepsy or group hysterics."
"The children must have been totally immersed in the
program," Kayama said.
A Nintendo spokesman told Reuters that the only link between
its games and the cartoons was the characters.
"We don't expect the incident will have any immediate impact
on our business in the Christmas season, since the television
program and game are different," the spokesman said.
Nintendo's games carry a health warning.
Reuters contributed to this report.