Toon that triggered Tokyo illness returns

'Monsters' back to screen, U.S. to receive show

TOKYO — TV Tokyo’s popular animation series “Pocket Monsters” will return to the air in April after it was pulled from broadcast in December when hundreds of viewers nationwide contracted mysterious video induced seizures, TV Tokyo sources said.

“Pocket Monsters” (also called Pokemon) was TV Tokyo’s top rated children’s program before broadcast was suspended and the network took a major revenue hit because of its absence from its program lineup.

TV Tokyo selected the April date because the National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters, an industry group of Japanese networks, is likely to complete a set of guidelines for video production some time in April. The new guidelines set by the industry group were a condition set for rebroadcast by TV Tokyo in December.

The network also plans to broadcast a special program in April about its investigation into the “Pocket Monsters” illness that explains the new guidelines.

In December, about 700 people went into convulsions and 200 landed in emergency rooms after watching an episode of the popular program.

The trouble started about 20 minutes into the broadcast of “Pocket Monsters.” Monster “Pikachu” exploded. The screen flashed red, then blue, then red then blue for five seconds. Then the calls for emergency help flooded rescue lines in 30 of Japan’s 48 prefectures or states, as ambulances started taking victims to hospitals.

The victims, ranging in age from three to 58, had symptoms such as convulsions, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Dr. Yukio Fukuyama, an expert on juvenile epilepsy, said that the bright flashes of light and color could have triggered a phenomenon known as “television epilepsy.”

“Pocket Monsters,” based on a Nintendo video game, will come to U.S. TV screens in September through a deal reached with Summit Media. The series, without the offending show, will hit the air a few months after Nintendo brings an Americanized version of its Pocket Monster video game to the North American market.

In Japan, the series has been a merchandising megahit, sparking a business for items ranging from video games to yo-yos to instant noodles.