The Pokémon Company recently had a talk with POLYGRAPH, the graphic designer behind the Pokémon151 Collection of T-shirts available in the Pokémon Center.
Japanese designer POLYGRAPH has produced some of the most iconic Pokémon clothing ever made. The Pokémon151 Collection showcases Pokémon in unique ways and styles that have been wowing Pokémon fans in Japan for nearly a decade. Now, the collection has made its way to the Pokémon Center in the United States in limited quantities.
The Pokémon Company had an opportunity to ask POLYGRAPH about the collection and the inspirations that went into creating each T-shirt. Read on to get insight into his process and the series itself.
When did you first start working on the Pokémon151 Collection in Japan?
I was first contacted about working on this line in September 2007. Then, after creating sample designs and presenting them, the first batch of shirts in the series was released in June 2008.
Can you explain the concept of the Pokémon151 Collection?
Over 10 years had passed since the release of the first games in the Pokémon series (Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green in Japan), and even though the fans who had been following Pokémon since then were all grown up, there weren’t a lot of items targeting adults at the Pokémon Center at the time. So the basic concept I was given when my services were requested was that The Pokémon Company wanted to create for those fans “Pokémon T-shirts that adults could use as daily wear,” with the motif of the 151 Pokémon that appeared in the first games.
On the design side, I was conscious to not only use the art for the characters as a base for the design, but to incorporate the background of each character as well. Also, to unify the overall series more, I made sure to always work the Pokémon’s Pokédex number into the design.
How were the characters chosen?
Other than Ho-Oh and Lugia, who were chosen to accompany the release of Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver, I picked the characters to use as design motifs myself. But I wasn’t really thinking “let’s prioritize Pokémon that are popular” or “let’s shine a light on some Pokémon that are less popular” as much as I was simply choosing things that inspired me and made me feel that “this would make an even better shirt” when I looked at the character’s shapes and the content of the Pokédex text.
Naturally, I also wanted to make some designs using Pokémon that I like, such as Mewtwo and Cubone (laughs), so I think I ended up finding a good variety of Pokémon that didn’t favor major or minor characters too heavily.
How did you come up with each design?
I liked Kakuna’s form because it also looks like a spaceship, so I emphasized that 3D aspect of it in the design. The pose where it’s standing completely still, as if it’s being protected by two branches, was expanded from the image described in the Pokédex text: “While awaiting evolution, it hides from predators under leaves and in nooks of branches.”
The image of the “Watch for falling rocks” sign came from the text of Graveler’s Pokédex entry: “Be careful while hiking on mountain trails. Graveler may come rolling down the path without slowing.” I thought how the Pokédex number, which as I mentioned before I always made sure to include, was worked into the design beautifully as a route number indicator.
Cubone’s Pokédex entries feature its mother’s death, so I made the motif of the shirt its mother’s skull instead of its own body. To keep the image of the shirt from coming off as too hard with the skull and crossbones, I added a ribbon intertwining between the bones to give the design a little softness.
At first, I was planning to put the English word “lonely” on the ribbon, but for various reasons, I put in the Roman characters for the Japanese word for lonely, “kodoku.” [Ed. Note: Cubone’s category is the Lonely Pokémon.] Kakuna’s “Cocoon” [“sanagi” in Japanese] was used for similar reasons, but I really like how these strange elements turned out.
I chose Tangela because I thought if I really emphasized its tangled bits, it would make for an interesting design. I used thick lines to give it a bold treatment for a street-fashion style. By the way, of all the Pokémon151 Collection shirts, this is the one I wear the most often.
POLYGRAPH-designed T-shirts, including the Pokémon151 Collection line, tend to be large-scale designs. I felt at least one shirt in the series should be a one-point design, so I designed this shirt. This design was based on the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire.
By the way, in the original version, the Articuno, Tangela, and Lugia shirts used a navy background. I always create a design with the background color of the shirt in mind, so changing the shirts to a black background was a difficult decision. But I guess you could say, in a sense, these are rare items (laughs).
If I remember correctly, Mewtwo was the first shirt I produced for the Pokémon151 Collection line. Mewtwo had the image of being the strongest and the king, so I gave the design the feel of a medieval European coat of arms to express its regality and power. The original Pokémon151 Collection T-shirt had a mix gray body color variation as well.
I thought the easiest way to age up animation-style goods is to use the Pokémon’s silhouette as a motif, so I personally wanted to avoid doing that. But it turns out the clearest way to represent Mew in a way that really speaks to its being a Mythical Pokémon is to use its silhouette. To make the silhouette even more mythical, I arranged angled, ridged lines into Mew’s shape, removed the outline of the silhouette, and added a black foam print treatment to the black body. This shirt’s greatness might not come through until you see the actual item in your hands.
I personally feel this Pokémon has a regal feel, just like Mewtwo. This is the largest design in the series, and it also has the greatest number of colors. The Pokédex text, “It is said that it quietly spends its time deep at the bottom of the sea because its powers are too strong,” left an impression on me, so the big colored surface has a ridge treatment so it isn’t overly bold.
I remember this was the most difficult shirt in the series to design. Usually, the tips of Ho-Oh’s wings are only composed of three colors: red, white, and green. But in this design, that coloration just made it look like the Italian flag, so I scattered in a little blue and golden yellow to get around this.
What went into the design of the new tags and box for the US?
I wanted to make something like a collectible card that people would hang onto and want to put somewhere, so I came up with the idea of attaching a paper tag that was a miniaturized version of each T-shirt. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make this happen, but we were able to keep the part where we had a tag in the shape of a T-shirt.
You can’t see this for yourself unless you buy several sizes, but the design is slightly different for each size. The box incorporates the flow of the special box created for the release of the original version’s Lugia and Ho-Oh set.
The regimental stripes used on the sides are also used in places like the Pokémon151 Collection logo, on the shopping bag for the original version, the print tag for the remake version, and the hang tag. It’s the focal pattern for the Pokémon151 Collection series.