TV Tokyo to investigate 'Pocket Monster' panic
Yomiuri Shimbun 18 December 1997TV Tokyo said Wednesday it would investigate the cause of nationwide seizures brought on by Tuesday night's episode of the cartoon "Pocket Monster."
Network officials said about 10 people would analyze the episode, broadcast by the network, to discover what elements of the flickering images caused more than 650 people, mostly children, to become ill.
The station is considering inviting psychologists to participate, the officials said.
Iwate Menkoi Television Co. of Morioka, which airs the program one week behind TV Tokyo, said it would suspend "Pocket Monster" for four episodes, including the one that caused seizures, in response to viewer concerns.
Iwate officials said the four episodes would not air due to "unusual circumstances." They said the continuation of the broadcasts would depend on actions taken by TV Tokyo.
The cause of the mass outbreak of seizures and other symptoms is still unclear, but many victims pointed to a scene of flickering bright colors.
An official of the production company that created the animated show expressed puzzlement, saying that similar effects had been used in earlier episodes.
The program, which airs each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., recorded a 16.5 percent audience rating according to a survey by Video Research.
TV Tokyo ran an apology from public relations manager Hiroshi Uramoto during the "News Wave" program that aired at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday.
"We apologize for the fact that many children felt nauseous and had to be hospitalized after watching 'Pocket Monster,'" he said.
The network combined the apology with expert commentary for a five-minute segment that was broadcast twice on Wednesday.
TV Tokyo also said it would suspend the "Pocket Monster" segment of the "Kids' Morning Show," which airs each weekday morning at 7:05. The segment dedicated to "Pocket Monster" included a tongue-twisting song that incorporated the names of all 151 monsters.
Takaaki Kii, deputy general manager of the television planning department at Shogakukan Production Co., which produces the cartoon, said Wednesday that other programs have used similar effects.
"We have no idea why this particular episode caused seizure-like symptoms," he said. He also apologized for harming members of the audience.
Experts felt there were problems with a scene about halfway through the episode in which a character gets hit by a missile and explodes.
Govt launches probe of 'Monster' cartoon
Yomiuri Shimbun 18 December 1997The Posts and Telecommunications Ministry and the National Police Agency on Wednesday launched an investigation into the epileptic seizures suffered by hundreds of children across the nation who watched a TV cartoon on Tuesday evening.
As of 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 735 children had been sent to hospitals, some in ambulances, of whom 196 were hospitalized, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun investigation.
The children showed symptoms including convulsions, temporary blindness and vomiting of blood while watching the "Pocket Monster" cartoon, which was aired by TV Tokyo from 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The 30-minute program was broadcast across the nation through related TV stations.
The ministry and the agency have questioned employees of TV Tokyo about the program.
The ministry's Broadcasting Bureau on Wednesday summoned Tetsuo Tamura, a managing director of TV Tokyo. Tamura told ministry officials that TV Tokyo would set up an in-house investigation team to study the cause of the problem.
Masato Shinagawa, head of the bureau, told reporters later in the day that the ministry was taking a serious view of the incident.
"We will closely follow TV Tokyo's investigation," Shinagawa said.
Acting on instructions from the National Police Agency, officers from Atago Police Station in Minato Ward, questioned the program's producers about the contents of the program and the production process, according to police sources.
The Health and Welfare Ministry held an emergency meeting Wednesday, gathering information from hospitals that treated the children and listening to medical experts' opinions, officials said.
The ministry is to discuss whether to issue a warning about the show, the officials said.
Experts suspect that the children suffered epileptic fits resulting from hypersensitivity to light because Tuesday's episode included a series of flashing lights.
Victims' families reported that children passed out during the broadcast, went into convulsions and vomited.
Following reports on those cases, major video game makers began in 1993 to put warnings on game machines and software urging users who had experienced muscular spasms or lost consciousness to consult a doctor before playing the games.
"I suspect the cases were most likely epileptic fits due to hypersensitivity to light, but I am not sure about the cases in which children just felt sick," said Dr. Yasushi Maeda of a children's hospital in Fukuoka. Maeda wrote a report in 1987 on epileptic fits caused by video games.
"Grown-ups are occasio nally susceptible to fits, too. Similar cases have been reported since 1952, but cases have never been reported in such a large number as this," he said. "A sudden, strong light is likely to trigger epileptic fits, especially if the light is red or white."
TV Tokyo said its six network stations broadcast the show Tuesday night. Officials said 31 stations across the country that buy the cartoon for airing later would not show the episode, and that it would make a decision on next week's episode after the incident has been explained.
The eerie seizures brought on by Tuesday night's broadcast of "Pocket Monster" were the talk of the schoolyards Wednesday, including Shohei Primary School in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
One of the school's 186 children did not show up Wednesday because, as his parent explained to the school, "his pulse is a little fast on account of last night's cartoon."
"Pocket Monster" is a cartoon adored by children, who have nicknamed it "Pokemon."
Although no one else was absent due to the broadcast, teachers treated the incident seriously and asked children how many of them had felt ill while watching the program before the start of the first class.
They found that three children felt ill during the cartoon, including one who passed out. More than 80 percent of the children from the first to the fourth year said they watched "Pocket Monster."
"I felt a little dizzy toward the end of the program," a third-year student said. "I was perfectly all right, but I'm a bit unhappy that it caused so many problems. I'd be sad if I could not watch the program anymore."
A first-year girl complained of severe headaches.
"I like Pokemon very much. I want to go on watching it, but I don't know what I would do if I had another headache," she said anxiously.
Meanwhile, The Yomiuri Shimbun fielded a number of calls Wednesday from distressed mothers whose children had become sick while watching "Pokemon."
"My daughter, in her sixth year at primary school, suddenly began to cry. She said her eyes hurt," a 42-year-old mother said. "She complained of feeling dizzy and sick. I thought she had a cold, but this morning I learned it was caused by television. My daughter was disappointed, saying 'I may not be able to watch Pokemon anymore.' I want to know what happened."
Psychiatrists seek animation probe
Yomiuri Shimbun 19 December 1997Psychiatrists on Wednesday called for a study into the possible negative effects of television images, saying the seizures suffered by many children watching a TV cartoon on Tuesday were not uncommon.
The number of children reported to have experienced fits, nausea and other symptoms while watching the popular cartoon "Pocket Monsters" on Tuesday evening stands at 11,870, according to investigations conducted separately by 15 local boards of education and The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The Kawasaki Municipal Board of Education investigated all public kindergartens, primary and middle schools in the city, saying that 50,714 students, or 55 percent of the whole, watched the program on TV Tokyo. Among them, 3,325 complained of headaches and nausea, the board said.
More than 700 of the children were treated at hospitals. Doctors said the convulsions were triggered by a brightly colored explosion and a strobe-light flashing of a character's eyes about 20 minutes into the program.
But the problem was not confined to that program, according to experts on child health. Takehiko Yoshikawa, of the Health and Welfare Ministry's National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, said the children went into temporary convulsions because their brains have yet to develop fully.
"Although there are differences in the degree and kind of symptoms among the victims, those who suffered from the fits cannot be categorized as unusual," Yoshikawa said. "It is no wonder such a large number of children developed the symptoms (in response to the vivid stimuli)."
Yoshikawa said TV Tokyo, the television network that aired the program, should have known better than to broadcast a children's program containing vivid colors and rapidly flashing lights.
"The broadcasters cannot evade their responsibility by just saying 'We weren't aware of the risk,'" he said.
The network has announced that it will suspend broadcasts of the show until next year.
Kazuichi Yagi, of the National Sanatorium in Shizuoka Prefecture, said he believes 5 percent to 10 percent of all children are prone to temporary seizures when exposed to intense, flashing lights.
Meanwhile, a research group of about 20 psychiatrists and pediatricians held a meeting Wednesday to watch the 30-minute cartoon and discuss the possible problems.
The Electronic Screen Games and Seizures research group--whose members are studying the relationships between video games and seizures due to hypersensitivity to light--will investigate the precise cause of Tuesday's mass illness based on data collected at 12 hospitals treating the victims.
At a news conference, group leader Masakazu Kiyono pointed out that the program had all the conditions necessary to trigger seizures.
One out of 4,000 people are hypersensitive to light, said Takeo Takahashi, director of a Sendai clinic. He added that children aged 12 to 14, and girls in particular, are the most susceptible to light-induced fits.
In the early 1990s, a series of cases were reported across the country in which children developed temporary seizures while playing TV and computer games.
In response to the reports, game manufacturers and health experts began studying the causal relationship between video games and light-induced seizures.
TV Tokyo to set cartoon guidelines
Asahi Shimbun 19 December 1997Television Tokyo Channel 12 (TV Tokyo) officials said they are drawing up guidelines for cartoon broadcasts that they hope will help prevent triggering the kind of mass seizures that sent almost 700 people, mostly children, to hospital after watching an episode of the hit program "Pocket Monsters" Tuesday.
The officials, who said they would begin checking all cartoons ahead of broadcasts, indicated that the guidelines would include a requirement for reduced brightness in some shows. The cartoon program, "Hare-tokidoki-Buta," went on the air with reduced brightness Thursday, they said.
Meanwhile, despite warnings from station officials people avoid watching taped versions of Tuesday's "Pocket Monsters" program, Internet sites and communication networks posted signs that a brisk trade in tapes of the celebrated show was going on.
Tsutaya, a nationwide chain of rental video shops announced Thursday that it has decided to withhold renting "Pocket Monsters" video cassettes. Chain officials said they would wait for an explanation of the incident from TV Tokyo and the health ministry before putting the videos back on the shelves.
The hugely popular "Pocket Monsters" cartoon, based on the hit Nintendo portable video game, is being blamed for triggering convulsions, headaches and vision problems in nearly 700 people, most of them school children, after Tuesday's broadcast.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday that they were establishing a study team to look into the cause of the mass seizures. The group plans to conduct surveys and submit the report to the ministry by March, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan held a meeting and agreed to look into the case. NHK would cooperate in the process, officials said.
NHK also set up its own investigation team. The station officials said that they were especially concerned because they have learned from viewers that a program broadcast by the station in March triggered at least four children in Shizuoka Prefecture to suffer similar symptoms.
NHK officials said the program was about space travel, and contained segments with flickering colors.
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