Pokemons hit classrooms with a message
Most teachers may frown upon their students' obsession with cartoon figures, but 34-year-old Mandom Man Ho-kei thinks otherwise.
The primary teacher is a devoted fan of Pokemon characters and Japanese manga and anime, and incorporates the popular cartoon monsters into his lessons.
He has even staged an exhibition of his collection of more than 5,000 pieces of Pokemon merchandise in Sun Yuen Long Centre.
The show features colourful Pokemon books and limited-edition monster figurines. It has created a whimsical wonderland in the atrium of the Yuen Long shopping mall.
Standing in front of rows of Pokemon figurines, Mr Man gives an encyclopedic description of each of the monsters.
'All the characters are based on various species in the animal kingdom,' he says, adding that they have supernatural qualities on top of retaining the characteristics of the animals on which they are based.
'Take Golba, the big-mouthed bat, as an example. It uses sound waves for navigation and communication. Bats avoid light. So the monster's nemeses are light-emitting creatures,' he says.
Pokemon was first created by Japanese video game giant Nintendo as a video game series in 1995. It has grown into one of the most successful and lucrative cartoon franchises.
The series has spawned hugely successful cartoon series, movies and all kinds of merchandise, stirring a craze among Asia's children. It has even touched western kids after the series was introduced in North America in 1998.
The lengths to which creator Satoshi Tajiri went to develop the hierarchy of the Pokemon kingdom explains the unprecedented success of the franchise.
'It's not a simple cartoon story. The creator got the idea from the insect collecting hobby popular with Japanese children. In the story, humans capture Pokemon monsters in the wild and train them to battle enemies,' says Mr Man.
'Whether the Pokemon turns out to be good or evil depends on the nature of the owner and how he trains it.
'A strong conservation message also runs through the story as Pokemons die because of pollution.'
It is exactly these messages, such as protecting nature and respecting animals, Mr Man most wants to get across to his students.
Mr Man's interest also draws him closer to his charges.
'My students are excited that I'm a Pokemon expert and they enjoy talking to me about their favourite cartoon characters after classes,' he says.
His expertise in the cartoon series is so profound that even Nintendo acknowledged his passion.
'I was awarded a doctorate in Pikachu studies by a virtual institute founded by the Pokemon Company,' he says. 'The Asian branch of Nintendo invited me to design a game pencil case for sale in Singapore in 2006. I never thought that my interest could take me so far.'
Mr Man also illustrates stories for children stories and translates imported Japanese anime magazines into Chinese in his spare time.
He was proud to show off his pencil case design, saying it was great that he could combine his interest in illustrating with his interest in Pokemon.
He credits his parents for never obstructing his passion.
'Unlike most local parents who dissuade their offspring from watching cartoons, my parents encouraged me to learn from my interest. Given proper guidance, children can develop creativity through their leisurely pursuits,' says Mr Man.
Hong Kong's First Pokemon Gallery runs until March 26 at L2 Atrium, Sun Yuen Long Centre
In the Pokemons' world there are about 500 species of monsters. Many can morph into a stronger form. The main plots of the video games and television shows revolve around the training of Pokemons, battling enemies and the friendship between Pokemons and their human trainers. The most recognisable Pokemon is Pikachu which is modelled on a mouse. It emits sparks, bolts and other forms of electricity in battle.