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Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo of J.C. Smith courtesy of The Pokémon Company International

As it turns 25, the hit Pokémon franchise is booming, even as it grapples with the challenges of an expanding fanbase.

Why it matters: Pokémon, which generated $5.1 billion in revenue in 2020, has come a long way from sending parents into a panic.

  • "We are in a position now where the parents don't say, 'What is that?' And, 'It's suspicious!''' the Pokémon Company's director of consumer marketing, J.C. Smith, told Axios Gaming.

The details: 25th anniversary efforts have involved a Katy Perry music video, an album, midyear hit game "Pokémon Unite," and this month's Nintendo Switch remakes of 2006's "Pokémon Diamond" and "Pearl."

  • More unexpected: a run on Pokémon trading cards in the spring that caused Target to temporarily stop selling them, citing safety concerns.

The signature yellow critter Pikachu remains Pokémon’s most recognizable character "by far," Smith said.

  • But recent fan polls have named the likes of Greninja and Dedenne as the favorites, with Pikachu not even making the top five.
  • That partially demonstrates the fandom’s widespread interest, which ranges across eight so-called generations of characters and games. 
  • Smith notes that the company chooses which Pokémon to market based on character feel (cuddly vs. fierce, for example). 
  • He adds that they try to "make sure that all the generations are getting some attention" and are represented on modern gaming platforms.

Fans have flocked to the series' games, even after initial skepticism, as was the case with "Unite," but an undercurrent of negativity does flow through online discourse.

  • In 2019, some fans complained in a movement called "Dexit" that the first major Switch "Pokémon" game broke from series tradition and did not include prior generations' characters.
  • Smith says fans are clear about what they want. "But there's also a vision for what the creators want to provide, and it's [a matter of] finding that delicate balance throughout."
  • Pressed on how the company considers some of the angrier feedback it gets, he said, "We have a group of creators and professionals working at the Pokémon Company that have been through a lot — seen, heard [a lot]. They have thicker skin than many people do because they’ve heard it."

What’s next: Yet another big "Pokémon" game release, the experimental "Arceus" is set for January.

  • As the fanbase gets older, there have been requests for more-sophisticated Pokémon games and storylines for a more grown-up crowd. "We hear it," Smith said. "And I think the creators definitely understand that there's a desire for maybe something."
  • "But we try to focus on making the core accessible to everyone."

Go deeper

Inside Trump's hunt for "disloyal" Republicans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump and his associates are systematically reshaping the Republican Party, working to install hand-picked loyalists across federal and state governments and destroy those he feels have been disloyal, sources close to the former president tell Axios.

Why it matters: If most or all of Trump’s candidates win, he will go into the 2024 election cycle with far more people willing to do his bidding who run the elections in key states.

45 mins ago - Politics & Policy

CPI: The new jobs number

Grocery shoppers in Washington, D.C., last month. Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Consumer Price Index has replaced the jobs report as the most anticipated data drop by the U.S. government.

Why it matters: Rising prices tend to lower political fortunes. Washington and Wall Street are now waiting for the CPI number to flash at 8:30am ET around the 10th day of each month. This month's report — due Friday morning — will give a reading of how hot inflation ran in November.

COVID cases and deaths are on the rise

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising all across the U.S. even before the Omicron variant takes hold.

Why it matters: The holidays — and the inevitable spread of Omicron — will only heighten the risks that unvaccinated Americans face from COVID, in all its forms.