Five Things Children’s Shows Taught Me (That I Didn’t Realize Until I was Older)

ash and pikachu

As we all know, parents’ jobs became easier with the invention of the television and the Saturday morning cartoon. They didn’t have to read to their children anymore or tell them fairy tales with morals like staying away from strangers or not breaking into the home of a family of bears. They need only turn the dial to children’s programming, and voila! Mommy and daddy could drink and fight, and little Timmy wouldn’t even need all those years of therapy later.

It’s no secret that the shows we watched as kids (90’s, I’m looking at you) were way more awesome to watch as kids than they are now. Before you march to my home with torches and pitchforks bent on crucifying me for saying that, take a minute to watch a few episodes of Pokémon or Power Rangers. Our nostalgia fuels our continued love for what once was, but in the back of our minds, we know these shows were corny, silly, and most definitely aimed at children.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t paramount to our social development, which is great since mommy and daddy are drunkards.

5. How to Make Friends and Build Relationships

yugi joey battle

As seen in Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Ball Z

We humans are social creatures. Even the most reclusive, misanthropic individual needs some sort of human contact. So it’s important that we learn how to connect with people and build symbiotic relationships with them. Otherwise nobody will have our backs when we inevitable piss off that one guy in school our older brothers warned us not to cross.

In each of these series, we saw a hero venture away from home alone on a quest only to accumulate countless friends, allies, and admirers. Except for Yu-Gi-Oh! If you start in the first season of the American version, Yugi already has a handful of friends. But in the real beginning, he doesn’t.

Ash “borrows” Misty’s bicycle, and she follows him since he owes her after totaling it. While that’s not the best way to begin a friendship, we do get to see their relationship develop through the Kanto and Orange Island story arcs.

In DBZ, Goku easily befriends former rivals and enemies on a regular basis. Bulma shot at him when they first met, Yamcha, Oolong, and Krillin were all individuals Goku had to knock sense into before befriending them. Tien, Chiaotzu, Piccolo, Vegeta, 18, and hell, even Majin Buu kind of.

It was because of shows like these and Boy Meets World that I thought the friends I had in grade school would remain close through high school and college. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, but I don’t think it does any good to recognize the impermanence of relationships at the beginning of them. Otherwise, why bother?

4. Having Faith

yugi hand smiley

As seen in Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!

Over and over, battle after battle, Ash and Yugi never falter in the faith they have in their friends, their Pokémon/deck, and themselves. Ash has set out to be the very best like no one ever was, and Yugi must rescue the world. Without faith, Ash would have run back to Pallet Town with his lightning bolt-shaped tail between his legs, and Yugi would undoubtedly be stuck in the Shadow Realm.

Ash relies whole-heartedly on his Pokémon to win badges and overcome obstacles, and since he has that faith, they never fail him. He may not win many league tournaments, but he succeeds in other ways. On more than one occasion, Pikachu has risen to defeat opponents it has no business fighting—like Brock’s Onix and Lt. Surge’s Raichu. Charmeleon, and later Charizard, both came to Ash’s aid when he needed it most. Had Ash acted arrogantly around Charmeleon, I doubt it would have evolved to save Ash when Aerodactyl abducted him.

Yugi appeals to the heart of the cards when he’s stuck in a bad situation. Since strategy doesn’t really come into play a lot in his world, faith is all he has. And with half a deck of cards to go, Yugi draws literally the only card that would allow him to beat Kaiba’s Blue-Eyes White Dragons—the final piece of Exodia the Forbidden One. Yugi also has faith in his friends who literally follow him to the edges of the world.

3. Responsibility

power rangers

That guy in green? I have his autograph.

As seen in Pokémon, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!

The Spider-Man revelation holds true: “With great power comes great responsibility.” None of these would-be heroes is employed to keep villains at bay. Well, the Power Rangers are sort of commissioned with the responsibility, but each of them has the right to refuse, and they don’t. No one ever tells Ash to fight Team Rocket or Goku to take down the Red Ribbon Army. They just do. Yugi’s situation is different in that there are others who put some responsibility on him for fighting those who use Duel Monsters for evil.

But by and large, no one is forcing these heroes to save the world. Ash, Yugi, Goku, and the Power Rangers all have the power to do so, and each is arguably the best at what they do in their own mythos, and they elect to do what we would call “the right thing.”

2. Sacrifice

goku cell sacrifice

As seen in Dragon Ball Z, YuYu Hakusho, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!

And that responsibility often becomes sacrifice. Heroes must give up their own lives, their own will in order to do what they do.

Goku and the other Z-Fighters give their lives multiple times to save innocent lives. I believe two of the most powerful moments in Dragon Ball Z are when Goku dies to spare the Earth from Cell and when Vegeta expels all his energy in a last-ditch effort to eliminate the evil Majin Buu. Goku was always selfless, but Vegeta had never done anything like that before. What makes those moments even more moving is that both sacrifices were mostly done in vein. Goku spared the planet, but Cell didn’t die. Vegeta’s effort did literally nothing but buy a little time before Majin Buu regenerated.

Yusuke also gives up his life on two occasions—once to save someone he didn’t even know and who he later learned would have survived with only very minor injuries.

Ash spent more time releasing Pokémon than he did catching them. But he did so for the greater good, allowing Butterfree to find a mate, leaving Pidgeot to guard a flock of Pidgey and Pidgeotto from an angry Fearow, etc. Ash did it for the greater good. He was able to set aside his desires to do what was best for his Pokémon. At one point he even tried to send Pikachu away for its own good. But Pikachu was (thankfully) having none of Ash’s shit.

So while I don’t imagine I’ll be giving up my life for the greater good anytime soon, I am compelled to do what’s right even if it’s not exactly what I want to do. Sometimes.

1.  How to Have an Adventure

lapras

As seen in almost everything.

From all of the action/adventure shows I’ve already discussed to Rugrats, I’ve been conditioned to think of everything as an adventure. Even something as mundane as walking to the gas station on the other side of campus can become like a trek from The Lord of the Rings with enough imagination.

Whenever I want to do something with someone, I start by asking if they’d like to go on an adventure with me. It makes everything so much cooler. To me, at least. They probably still just see it as taking the trash out.


  • I love this. I always thought that my love of pets was heavily influenced by how much Ash loved Pikachu and took care of him. Also Arthur and Pal. You didn’t have that pair on your list, but thought I’d point it out.

  • Brian

    Awesome. I really love the adventure bit, too. I do that when I’m out with my friends, but now I’m going to imagine everything as an adventure. ‘Cause that’s what it really is, isn’t it?

    The shows of our childhoods were undeniably love. And corny. But we wouldn’t have them any other way. ^^ Thanks for posting this.

  • Gemini

    This is totally awesome. There’s just one mistake that I can’t let go:Charizard did not evolve to save Ash from Aerodactyl. It evolved because Aerodactyl was taunting it, and it wanted to be able to fly after it to fight. The fact that Ash was saves was an accident, if you watch the episode carefully.
    Sorry, I hate being obnoxious like that, I just…I can’t help it!!

  • Gemini

    *Saved

  • lilymoncat

    Amen to the last one. I walk to work a lot of the time, and my walks are always filled with worlds and adventures in my head. I maybe wandering the fields with a Snivy by my side and a song in my heart as I seek new friends, or save the universe alongside Commander Shepard or duel with the Heart of the Cards (and a well loved Dark Magician of Chaos :))

    And then I hear or see modern cartoons where the only moral is ‘rip off your friends if you think you can get away with it!’ or ‘Every man for himself!’ and shake my head at the fact that people wonder what is wrong with the world today.

  • Nari

    After all these years I just realized that stupid thing they drew on their hands in Yu-Gi-Oh was a fricken smiley face….. thanks for posting and solving the mystery for me.