Having taken over the lives of the nation's 10-year-olds, the Pokemon phenomenon now appears to be invading the portals of the Church of England. Ceaseless in its quest for relevance, the church is planning to point up the Christian message lurking behind the stories of the little Japanese cartoon characters.
Anne Richards, theology secretary of the church's Board of Mission-- responsible for spreading the gospel in the community--has written a paper extolling the morality of the likes of Ash and Mewtwo, characters from the recent Pokemon film that was panned by critics and is now being endured by parents nationwide.
"I had to ask myself whether this obsession with Pokemon could be used to speak into any of the stories and narratives the church holds dear," she explains. "At first I found this very difficult, since so much of Pokemon is concerned with fighting battles and outwitting opponents, but I have changed my mind after having seen the movie."
Now, where parents may see only a craze for buying and swapping cards showing the 150 varieties of pocket monsters which appear to exist only to kill each other, Dr. Richards discerns a tale of Christian sacrifice and redemption.
Relating the film's tale of the wicked Mewtwo, who seeks to capture all human beings and to clone Pokemons and set them to fight each other, Dr. Richards detects a parable about the pointlessness of force and the importance of the love relationship.
There is a familiarity too in the film's subplot involving Ash and his pet pokemon Pikachu. "The film highlights the love between them ... for him [Ash] there is only the one, original Pikachu, perfectly loved and known," said Dr Richards.
When Ash is killed trying to stop a fight involving Mewtwo, the theologian sees a further message. "Mewtwo is completely changed by Ash's sacrifice," she said. "All evil is gone from him and he is redeemed. The storm outside is calmed ... he flies off to start a new world. He has found new answers to the questions: 'Who am I?' and 'What am I for?'"
"My own children found obvious Christian parallels with all this. They were impressed by the death and resurrection sequence and the fact that at the heart of it all was love."
Dr. Richards is not the only Christian to have embraced the Pokemon world. David Tate, a youth leader at a church in St Paul's Cray in Kent, has devised a "safe alternative" to the card game using biblical characters.
But Mark Greene, director of the Institute of Contemporary Christianity has warned against the church getting carried away with a "knee-jerk reaction to something that is successful."
He told the Church Times: "Teaching children to deal with potentially addictive obsessions is always a good thing. There are limits, but it is parents that have to set them."