If you were a kid in the late 90's, you probably remember the international phenomenon which was Pokémon. Still around today, it's not nearly as popular as it was then. And at the center of all of it was the little yellow rodent Pikachu. The critter was on everything from pencils and backpacks to toothbrushes and underwear, and kids couldn't get enough of him. Why? Well let's take a look at that.
As my communications teacher once said, anything that makes $75 million dollars is worth talking about, and Pikachu did just that. When Pokémon Yellow, a Gameboy game based exclusively around Pikachu came out in 1999 it became the highest selling video game ever. Why? Because kids wanted to play with Pikachu. Why? Even we don't know. To be honest, Pikachu is cute but is kind of a nothing character. A brief explanation is that Pikachu is a Pokémon, a critter that, in his world, people called trainers spend their lives capturing and collecting. To date there are over 500 different types of Pokémon, ranging from cats and dogs to dragons and freaky ninja looking things. So Pikachu is actually just one critter among hundreds, many of which were way more powerful and way cooler then Pikachu ever was. Even his power isn't anything that cool compared to his Poke' brethren. He can shoot lightning. That's it. He can't manipulate it to do cool things like Static Shock, or is the master over all thunder and lightning like Thor, he's basically just an adorable taser.
There's also the matter of the TV series. Pokémon of course has a TV series useful in promoting their toys and games to the non-driving demographic. In it, Pikachu plays a main role as the protagonist's first Pokémon. At first Pikachu (The character now not the species. The thing never has a name so it gets confusing when referring between the species and the individual) is willful and refuses to go inside the little Pokémon capturing device called a Pokéball, and doesn't even really seem to like the main character that much, but after the kid saves Pikachu's life they become life-long friends. That's pretty much the only show of personality you get from Pikachu from then on, since afterwards he's always either frolicking wherever they are or in some intense battle shooting lightning bolts from his cheeks. Compounded by the fact that he can only say his name, he just isn't anything special as a character. Team Rocket, the show's main antagonist, spend nearly the entire series trying to steal Pikachu because they believe that he's unique and special, but along the way they constantly run into Pokémon far more interesting and stronger than the rat, but insist in the end on only going after Pikachu. So the series can basically be summed up to be about a bunch of people doing everything they can to be friends with the equivalent of somebody's cat.
Now I admit I was a HUGE fan of Pokémon back in the day. I still have toys from that era, and I even bought Pokémon Black a while ago and think it's pretty entertaining, but among my collection I only have one tiny Pikachu pencil topper, and I'm happy with that. Looking back now, I was never as interested in Pikachu as I was in the other Pokémon, even when I was into the show. What's really weird is I mentioned two weeks ago in my Creature Feature on Sky Bison that Appa never said a word and was rarely the focus of Avatar: The Last Airbender and I loved him. So where Appa speaks less, is less of a focus yet has a deeper character, Pikachu can't stop talking, has pretty much all the focus and has no character, yet nobody is going to trample anyone to death to try and buy an Appa the Sky Bison video game.
So in the end, I have no clue why Pikachu was so popular, or why millions found him to be so cool. It was an interesting phenomenon to watch, like leisure suits or disco. He's cute, but without depth he didn't last too long in our collective psyche, so I doubt he'll be making a revival anytime soon.