When I started writing this article for my Pokemon Card Art Spotlight series, it hadn’t hit me who Imakuni Tomoaki really was. My usual source for Pokemon card art, Pkmncards, doesn’t list Japan-only cards for some reason. So it was only when I searched the artist when I realized–holy crap this is THE Imakuni?
One of the most hallowed, revered parts of Pokemon lore, Imakuni? is the personality of, well, Imakuni Tomoaki who is a crazy weird black suit wearing maniac. He’s got a lot of joke cards in the card game, weird songs (the Japanese Pokemon rap!), and live promotional events back in the 90s. He’s everything that the modern, streamlined Pokemon has sort of moved away from… But not totally abandoned, thankfully.
As far as I can tell, Imakuni? is still working on Pokemon to some extent. I’m not sure what he does. His X account last posted about a year and a half ago, but the character doesn’t make live appearances anymore. He’s an artist, mainly, although he hasn’t had a credit on a Pokemon game since the late 00s. Maybe just promotional stuff? If anyone knows more than my cursory research, please let me know.
Anyway, I say all this to preface that Imakuni Tomoaki is actually one of the coolest Pokemon card artists with his very limited pool of work. He only has about 20 cards, so I’m going to go over pretty much every single one.
First Batch of Cards
First, his Base Set contribution:
That’s right, Imakuni? of all people made the original Porygon card. Fitting, because it’s one of the worst cards in the original Base-Neo run, but gosh it’s still an iconic piece of pop culture artwork! The primitive 3D, the bright colors, the minimal shading. Straight off a company workstation and probably rendered in an hour. Porygon was a weird confusing joke Pokemon even in the first game, a confusing 3D character in a Game Boy game, and this card really does its work perfectly capturing what people love about it.
That would be Imakuni’s last official card art of the entire Base-Neo era.
For the next few years, he would only contribute weird joke cards that never got released in America because Wizards of the Coast sucks.
They’re really silly cards with really silly effects. He did some later in the EX Era, but the card art on Bulbapedia was too low-quality to share here. I love these though. Classic “crappy art by an artist who knows better” style.
Two cards in this style DID get released in English, though. One, in the Wizards of the Coast days, and one decades later as a reprint.
Lucky Stadium is actually a playable card. I don’t remember if there’s any cards that can manipulate coin flips, but if that existed, you could really benefit more than your opponent off this–and destroy an opponent’s stadium card. I’m sure this card is useless competitively, but it’s got bizarre and frankly wonderful artwork.
The Doduo is frankly a much better card, aside from the whole “not legal for tournament play” thing. It’s much better than the original Doduo, or the Gym Leader version, and is only power crept by the newest Doduo from 2023. 30 damage potentially on turn 1 is nice, but also if you time your singing correctly, you can have the damage take place on a later turn, against a totally different opponent. And if you get Muk on the field, you can shut off its Pokemon Power so you don’t have to chuck your card across the room every time you want to retreat.
A very viable card, if I do say so myself.
And More Porygons
There was one more legit card from the era, which was Fan Club Porygon. Weirdly, a Japan-only card even to this day:
It keeps the trend of Porygons that have weird, non-offense powers. The first move kills all trainer cards, all damage counters, and all status effects, for both players. I can’t imagine how oppressive and unfun this card was to play against, my word. I’m very glad it never made a big competitive splash.
The second move can change an opponent Pokemon’s color, which seems like it would have almost no effect at all? It doesn’t change weakness or resistance… There’s probably an edge case where it matters but I’m not knowledgeable to say.
Why am I rambling about the competitive viability of cards like this? Because I think it’s funny. The art’s fine.
This card also became my friend’s avatar on Discord for a long time, so it holds a special place in my heart for that alone.
Imakuni’s next official, main set card release was in Fire Red and Leaf Green in 2004, with yet another Porygon.
Again, the art’s fine. I don’t have too much to say about it, except that in the very next set, Imakuni reused the exact same sense of leftward blasting motion.
That’s right. We’ve entered Imakuni’s badass era. From here on out, the cards get REAL, and this extremely cool rocketing Pupitar is just the first silo.
More Imakuni Tomoaki
I have no idea what caused Imakuni Tomoaki of all people to become one of Pokemon’s cool pose artists–to this point, he had only done 3D Porygons and weird sketchy joke cards. But suddenly, everything changed, and we got a brief but very cool run.
I’m going to go over every single one of these. No slideshows here.
Dark Pupitar is cool, but Dark Dragonair is awesome. A creeping, soaring dragon in the moonlight, staring menacingly at some threat–or prey. Team Rocket probably abused the heck out of this Pokemon and it’s seeking revenge at all costs.
Then, a couple years later, we got a cool Tentacool card. Harsh, sketchy lines to reinforce the bold action of, uh, Tentacool hitting the ground for some reason? But the impact is so strong it sends bubbles flying out in a swooping curve. Behind it, its three lackeys float there quietly. Intimidated by their boss.
The millisecond before Donphan rolls at you and destroys your butt. Its hind legs are in the air, it’s starting that ball curl. A stampede is beginning, and for some reason you’re just standing there instead of running away.
Diamond & Pearl Era Cards
Easily the best Ninetales card ever printed. Uh, art-wise. Gameplay-wise, I have no idea. But art-wise, DAMN. This is a climactic shounen manga panel, fully colored and overripe with heavy inking. It’s so dark with the ink that the extremely saturated colors, yellow and orange and purple and pink, pop even brighter. This Ninetales is not moving, but it is ABOUT to. Get the heck ready.
HOLY COW that leg. That camera angle. It looks like something out of a Trigger anime. And again, the focus on the moonlight hitting out subject really strikes a powerful mood. As of this writing, I just rewatched the Kill Bill movies, and this gives me the exact same Kung Fu homage vibes.
I wish this got a non-foil so we could see the background better. Magnezone is a hard Pokemon to do a dynamic pose for. But it can be done, and it wasn’t really done here. It’s an imposing figure, but not one of Imakuni Tomoaki’s best.
Now THIS is how to do an imposing figure. A huge dutch angle. An angry arms-folded ghost guy who’s even further tilted than the camera. You think you’re getting by this dude? No way.
It’s so purple. Yet again, Imakuni nails the night, matches it perfectly with the Pokemon, and applies those heavy sketchy inks to heighten things. This really has to be the most purple-and-black Pokemon card of all time.
Weird, the inking style is totally different than the previous cards. But the pose is still extremely strong. Imagine this thing erupting up from the ground and spewing sand everywhere. That’s some scary stuff!
Oh wow, Imakuni’s fourth 3D card out of nowhere. It’s a nice pose, but I have no idea why he made the sudden switch. I guess it’s nice to keep changing up your style. I wonder honestly if Imakuni was more of a fill-in artist for the card game, considering his sparse output. If maybe he was working on other Pokemon stuff and just got called in once every few years. It’d explain things.
And here we have it, the final Imakuni Tomoaki card so far. It came out in 2013, so it’s over a decade of no cards from him. It’s like the fifth-best Garbador card, but still decent.
Final Words About Imakuni Tomoaki
For how few cards Imakuni has made, I’m struck by how awesome they are. Just a cool selection of cards, and widely varying styles at that.
In this current age of full-art cards and increasingly diverse styles, I’d love for him to return for a new run. I really hope that happens.