‘Japanimation’ causes mass seizures in kids

Not since godzilla stalked out of Japan to terrorize U.S. movie-goers did an imported peril promise such terror close to home. But now it looks as though U.S. youngsters — and, so, their parents and your schools — face a whole new specter of fear.

It sounds like a bad B-movie:

Hundreds of Japanese kids are sitting innocently in front of an animated cartoon when pulsating red beams of light shoot out of the eyes of one of the characters — Pikachu, the rat — causing convulsions and vomiting in a mass epileptic-like seizure of the young audience.

Upon learning of this startling episode, parents and advocacy groups in Japan reacted with fresh concerns about the erosion of health in the techno-age. The Japanese broadcast industry pledged to draw up new safety guidelines.

But that was far away and of small concern on this side of the Pacific.

It was that is, until word arrived that the same cartoon, known as a “Japanimation” in some quarters — might be aired in the United States next fall. The announcement caused considerable excitement among American health organizations.

An overreaction? Perhaps. But the episode actually serves as a reminder that some children are especially sensitive to flickering emissions of light. The phenomenon has been known to affect children using computer programs and CD-ROMs that incorporate intense visual effects, as many instructional software does nowadays.

But technology is not necessarily the culprit. Experts say that biking fast down a tree-lined street or picnicking by a sparkling lake can pose the same dangers as afflicted those Japanese schoolchildren.

More than 700 viewers of the popular cartoon “Pokemon” — most of them children — were rushed to hospitals after they experienced convulsions, vomited blood, and even fell unconscious after viewing the four-second scene, which flashed blue and red lights at 20 “flickers” per second.

“We haven’t seen [Pokemon],” said Ann Scherer, a spokeswoman for the Epilepsy Foundation. “But the cartoon is intense.”

Promoters of the series said the version to be released in the U.S. wouldn’t contain the flashing lights thought to have provoked the seizures.

Scherer said that the foundation would be watching.

There never has been a similar large-scale reaction to a televised event in this country, Scherer said. What happened in Japan, Scherer said, was “very unusual” and probably caused by a combination of the colors and action of the cartoon, the “flicker rate” of Japanese television, and the way children watched the program.

Investigators in Japan are still looking into the incident. In his testimony before the Communications Committee of Japan’s House of Representatives, TV Tokyo President Yutaka Ichiki admitted that the network was aware that video games — but not television programs — could induce seizures.

“We deeply regret having aired it,” Ichiki told the lawmakers. “I apologize from my heart to the many people whose health was affected by the program, particularly any inconvenience caused to children.”

It’s been known for years that certain bright lights can trigger epileptic reactions in people with certain photosensitivities. But the occurrence is thought to be rare among the general population. People with epilepsy are more likely to have photosensitivities — about 3 percent of those with epilepsy, or about 9,000 Americans, are sensitive to certain kinds of visual stimuli.

The Epilepsy Foundation


Recommendations on avoiding photosensitive reactions, National Council for Education Technology (UK)


Review of the Nintendo-produced Pocket Monsters game from Nintendojo.


eSchool News Staff

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