Pokemon is, fundamentally, a game produced by Nintendo that is popular among boys and teenage boys (mostly) all over the world. For them, much of the ‘spinoff’ trade of the Pokemon phenomena- the plush dolls, the Pokemon figures, the Zuken figures- is quaint but not particular relevant to their main quest, which is to win the game by becoming a champion. For gamers, the interest and concentration lies in a totally different part of the psyche than it does to a young fan. Their concentration is on strategy and technique vis-a-vis a computer interface, not on the particularities of the characters themselves.
There is a whole different group of aficionados though who love the Pokemon themselves and probably wish nothing more than that the Pokemon were actually real, much in the way I wished dinosaurs were real when I was a boy. These are the kids that go crazy over the Pokemon animation and manga, not the gamers. These kids like to immerse themselves into the mythological fantasy of a Pokemon world. These are also the kids that are most likely to go crazy over the Pokemon dolls known as plush dolls (Pokemon Black and White is the big seller at the moment), the Pokemon black and white figures, and just about anything with a Pokemon figure stamped on it.
Another group of kids, again, for the most part boys, for one reason or another end up attracted to the Pokemon card game. For them, the emphasis is on socializing, winning, and getting hold of rare cards such as some of the legendary Pokemon cards, the holofoil cards, promo cards, and shiny raikon. Maybe these kids, usually elementary school students, don’t have access to or are not allowed to a game console, are prohibited from playing computers, or (what I imagine) are much more inclined to be with their friends in real interaction than solitarily playing a computer game. In any case, cards are inexpensive and easy to play anywhere.
But back to the title and to the popularity of soft, cuddly Pokemon toys, is it not odd that children would be attracted to mutated monsters with awesome and destructive powers and take to the stuffed dolls almost like teddy bears? Pikachu looks cute but you would never want to be on the receiving end of that 10,000-volt electrical charge. Pokemon are scary, aren’t they?
Japan has shown a cleverness and expertise in infusing cuteness into its merchandising over the years. It is so good at it with the Pokemon that even the most ferocious among them are defused to the extent that even a three year old could be attracted to them. With more devious kids, they just know that beneath the Pokemon’s benevolent looking exterior lies a hidden formidable punch. In short, Nintendo has marketed Pokemon both ways- and won.