The design of Pokemon’s Pikachu character played into Japan’s wider drive to export pop culture in the 1990s, according to Joseph Tobin, editor of the 2004 book “Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon.”
He said, “The corporate strategy as a nation was — we want ‘our’ mouse to compete with Mickey Mouse. So I think the fact that Pikachu is a mouse-like creature is not coincidental, but (the character) was made to be hyper-cute — cuter than Mickey or Minnie.”
There were, however, fears that Japan’s “kawaii” aesthetic wouldn’t resonate with kids elsewhere. Superheroes in Western markets were, at the time, often sharper and more muscular than their Japanese counterparts.
Ahead of the game’s US release, late Nintendo boss Hiroshi Yamauchi was reportedly shown a beefed-up alternative version of Pikachu, though the company’s American subsidiary stuck with the original designs for its 1998 launch.