If something is a success, rip it off. That’s a mantra that has guided many a company to shamelessly copy Pokémon again and again over the years — even decades after the original series first took the world by storm. This ranged from wholly original anime, created in the wake of Pokémon‘s success, to shows or franchises that predated the Pocket Monsters fad and were then repackaged or redistributed to take advantage of the trend. One such title, Fighting Foodons, recently found its way onto anime streaming service, RetroCrush. Years later, this bizarre series still has to be seen to be believed.
Fighting Foodons, conceptually, is a very weird anime. The series focuses on a world where food is given sentient life and power thanks to magic cards, making the resulting Foodons a race of magical, combative culinary fiends. (The king, many argue, was high on nutmeg at the time…) The series primarily focussed on Zen/Chase (depending on whether you watched the original series or the 4Kids dub), a ten-year-old chef-in-training trying to be a Pokémon Master… er, Master Chef, we mean. He believes he has what it takes to beat King Gorgeous Gorge and his top-ranking evil chefs. But to do this, he needs to challenge the many chefs under Gorge (Glutton Gormandizers), his Elite Four (King Gorge’s Big 4), an evil cat chef, and finally the King himself.
This series is based on a two-volume manga published in 1998, which is the same year the Pokémon anime hit it big. The series also owes an enormous debt to Pokémon for doing the groundwork as a primer: not only does it have a card-centric, monster-collecting story, but the conflict with the Glutton Gormandizers and Big 4 sounds remarkably similar to how trainers challenge Gym Leaders before fighting the Elite Four in Pokémon.
While Pokémon can be strange at times, Fighting Foodons is just absurd. It is telling that 4Kids, the same dubbing studio behind Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, tried to pitch it to audiences as its next big hit. However, the show proved too weird to draw in the same crowd. For many, it became the epitome of something trying too hard to copy Pokémon. Still, with such a memorable angle, can it truly be considered the absolute worst Pokémon rip-off? These other, lesser-remembered titles beg to differ.
In Shadow Star (Narutaru, in Japan) 12-year-old Shiina acquires an adorable monster known as a dragonet, which draws the attention of other select individuals who have dragonets of their own — and not all of them are what you’d call “good” people. Things fall apart very quickly, going from cute to nightmarish.
Shadow Star is to Pokémon as Neon Genesis Evangelion is to Mazinger Z. Like Evangelion, this dark deconstruction of the monster-collecting genre infamously contained some profoundly disturbing visuals. Many pages of the manga were heavily censored when first released in America, like Aki’s assault on Hiro with the test tube and, later, her karmic death.
However, while the series is certainly memorable for its violence, is there anything else to it? The anime is based on the manga by Mohiro Kitoh (Bokurano) while the anime was written by Chiaki Konaka (Serial Experiments Lain and Digimon Tamers) and Shadow Star is both of their weakest work. Take away all the gore and violence, and you’re left with remarkably little content or storytelling value.
A meteor crashes down, scattering magic cards that summon dinosaurs for fighting. A group of preteens encounters a group of evil, time-traveling bad guys… so they fight! This is the gist of the plot of Dinosaur King, one of the weaker, less memorable rip-offs of Pokémon.
There are plenty of Pokémon-inspired games and anime that gained some degree of popularity due to arriving at the right time, despite being fairly unremarkable mimics. Monster Rancher and Duel Masters, for all their problems, gained a degree of success because they arrived at the right time. Dinosaur King, on the other hand, is an example of a series that arrived too late and, as a result, feels incredibly tired and generic.
Dinosaur King, based on a SEGA game of the same name, hit the airwaves in 2008 — about a decade after the Pokémon craze really kicked off. By that point, monster-collecting and monster-battling already felt stale — made worse by the fact that there was precious little this series added to this niche. Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon and many others also already had dinosaur-like monsters in their roster of creatures. Dinosaur King just felt like a downgrade from the usual, made worse by the weak antagonists and little drive to the plot.
Spider Riders is led by the protagonist, Hunter Steel, an 11-year-old boy who has descended into the deep dungeons of the Earth to find monsters. He ends up bonded to a gigantic spider and delves further into the regions of the Hollow Earth, fighting to liberate the subterranean country of Arachna from a race of insect people. This involves, as the title suggests, pitting their eight-legged crawlies in combat.
The series is unique in that it was actually based on a series of Canadian sci-fi novels for children, rather than manga, which was then turned into an anime and then adapted into English and distributed by Funimation. Over the course of the adaptation phase, Spider Riders became more and more like Pokémon and Digimon whereas before it was a more distinctive epic, adventure story.
Despite this, it is also reminiscent of the original concept behind Pokémon: creator Satoshi Tajiri’s desire to share his childhood love of bug collecting. However, in the midst of all the changing hands — from novel series to anime to Funimation localization — Spider Riders lost its spark, becoming a dull copy of what came before.
Pokemon has spawned a lot of copycats. Fighting Foodons is one of the most notoriously terrible — but it's far from the worst of the worst.