It’s been a few months since the last TCG Background update, but everyone at the TCG Background Investigations Department has been working hard trying to find some new TCG backgrounds which haven’t made the list! And by “TCG Background Investigations Department”, I mean “mostly the work of GC| Linkinboss over at the Research Sector channel of the PA! Discord”.

In case you don’t know, a few months back Twitter user @FanamelT (aka fanamel) shared a discovery which set in motion a series of events which has led to where we are now: it turns out that a TON of the early Pokémon TCG cards had stock photo backgrounds pulled from a Japanese digital photo catalog service called Datacraft Sozaijiten. Since then we’ve all been working hard trying to find as many backgrounds pulled from the DS catalog, with our current progress saved over on the TCG Card Backgrounds page of the site.

Of course progress is still ever progressing, and so this is where we’re at right now. So take a look and see which the full, uncropped, unfiltered versions of the backgrounds of some of your favorite original TCG cards!

SET Name Card Art Original DS Image DS Source Notes
Base Set 17/102 Beedrill Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #003

Truth be told, I would’ve never figured this one out in a million years. You can see how much the background is distorted relative to the original picture in this animated GIF.
Base Set 59/102 Poliwag Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #134

Fossil 24/62 Kabuto Vol 011 – Fossils

Pic #185

Three other pictures from the same “Vol 011 – Fossils” set have been added to the background to help gussy it up. It took me a while to work out that they were, but I ultimately determined that they were:

Pic #077 — upper-right portion
Pic #110 — bottom-right side
Pic #139 — upper-left corner

Anyways, here’s an animated GIF comparing the Kabuto artwork with the original background (albeit colored to match the Kabuto BG better).

Gym Heroes 27/132 Lt. Surge’s Electabuzz Vol 003 – Metal and Rust Textures

Pic #160

The background photo is flipped horizontally.
Gym Heroes 37/132 Blaine’s Magmar Vol 666 – St. Elmo’s Fire

Pic #1234

OK, this isn’t real. We couldn’t exactly work out what the original background could be, so kyatt7 on the PA! Discord just posted that picture of Elmo… which is just as good as any other suggestion in my book.

(But seriously, when we figure out what is Magmar’s real background, we’ll add it here.)

Gym Heroes 20/132 Brock’s Golem Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #169

The background photo is flipped horizontally.
Gym Heroes 22/132 Brock’s Rhyhorn Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #032

Gym Heroes 72/132 Brock’s Sandshrew Vol 005 – Sky and Clouds

Pic #177

The background used is cropped, showing only its center-right portion.
Gym Heroes 4/132 Erika’s Dragonair Vol 059 – Ground and Sky

Pic #193

Atsuko Nishida doesn’t actually use photos for the backgrounds to her pictures, but instead draws her own. That said, I highly suspect that she was inspired by this DS photo (or at least used it as a reference), so I made this one an unofficially official entry.
Gym Heroes 77/132 Erika’s Exeggcute Vol 003 – Metal and Rust Textures

Pic #183

Gym Heroes 80/132 Lt. Surge’s Magnemite Vol 003 – Metal and Rust Textures

Pic #185

Gym Heroes 29/132 Misty’s Cloyster Vol 009 – Paints and Pastels

Pic #132

Gym Heroes 30/132 Misty’s Goldeen Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #186

Gym Heroes 86/132 Misty’s Horsea Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #143

Gym Heroes 89/132 Misty’s Shellder Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #145

Gym Heroes 34/132 Sabrina’s Venomoth Vol 020 – Wild Flowers and Cherry Blossoms

Pic #045

The background used is cropped, showing only its upper-left portion.
Gym Challenge 32/132 Blaine’s Dodrio Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #001

This one was flipped 180 degrees.
Gym Challenge 35/132 Brock’s Primeape Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #094

Pic #094 was cropped to show only its center-most portion.
Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #077

Gym Challenge 83/132 Koga’s Zubat Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #171

Yes, just about everything about this card was (already?) used on Brock’s Zubat. That said, the background used for this card is cropped, showing only its upper-left portion. Can’t be TOO obvious about reusing existing assets, right??
Gym Challenge 87/132 Misty’s Horsea Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #154

Gym Challenge 88/132 Misty’s Magikarp Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #157

Gym Challenge 89/132 Misty’s Poliwag Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #139

Gym Challenge 96/132 Sabrina’s Gastly Vol 008 – Walls & Soils

Pic #007

This card uses only a portion of the DS photo, creatively shifting it to the left a bit to make it look like Gastly is spookin’ around a corner…
Gym Challenge 29/132 Sabrina’s Gengar Vol 021 – Space and Planets

Pic #027

The background used is cropped somewhat, showing only its center-right portion.

Quick sidenote: although there are pictures of space which are part of the Datacraft Sozaijiten collection, those pictures were ultimately sourced from NASA. That is to say, since NASA’s pictures of space are automatically placed into the public domain, other companies can include those pictures in their own for-profit stock photo collections like Datacraft Sozaijiten. So if you see pictures of space in some other Nintendo or video game artwork, it doesn’t necessairly mean that THAT instance of its use was a DS example. Er, that said, THIS use of NASA art definintely came from Datacraft Sozaijiten; I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few Datacraft Sozaijiten pictures in my time.

Gym Leaders (Japan-only promo) (n/a) Brock’s Mankey Vol 026 – Forests and Grove

Pic #074

The following were Japan-only promo reprints of existing Gym-set cards, albeit with new car art. This includes using DS for their backgrounds as well. These were never released in English.
Gym Leaders (Japan-only promo) (n/a) Brock’s Onix Vol 008 – Walls & Soils

Pic #200

Gym Leaders (Japan-only promo) (n/a) Misty’s Staryu Vol 021 – Space and Planets

Pic #011

I’m trying to find which NASA mission this picture was sourced from. It almost certainly looks like it was taken during the 1960’s and 70’s, so maybe the Apollo missions. Either way, it’s a picture of Florida. Does this mean Florida is a region in the world of Pokémon??
Gym Leaders (Japan-only promo) (n/a) Misty’s Tendacool Vol 033 – Computers and Technology

Pic #188

This picture was HEAVILY modified from its original version, perhaps the most edited picture of all DS pictures used on TCG cards.
Neo Genesis 56/111 Cyndaquil Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #008

This was a slight toughy to work out, but it’s definitely this picture. It looks like the artist noticed that the background fire was slightly interferring with Cyndaquil’s back-fire, so they blacked it out as well as added a minor “swirl” effect.
Neo Genesis 64/111 Mantine Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #175

There might be a third picture involved, as the top of the background doesn’t seem to match either picture… but we’ve yet to work out what.
Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #168

Neo Genesis 46/111 Quilava Vol 004 – Flames, Sparks & Waters

Pic #060

Neo Genesis 71/111 Sentret Vol 006 – Seasons and Nature

Pic #014

The background used is flipped horizontally and cropped, showing only its center-most portion.
Neo Genesis 52/111 Xatu Vol 001 – Stone Textures

Pic #139

The background used is cropped somewhat, showing only its upper-right portion.

 

Neo Destiny 77/105 Pineco Vol 026 – Forests and Grove

Pic #076

The background used is cropped somewhat, showing only its bottom-middle portion.
Vending Machine (n/a) Mewtwo Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #141

Black Star Promo 6 Arcanine Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #001

This card’s background uses two different pictures, one of which is the one shown here (albeit flipped horizontally). The other picture being used, however, is still unknown.
Black Star Promo 3 Mewtwo Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #113

EX Holon Phantoms 60/110 Registeel Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #090

Pic #090 was duplicated and flipped horizontally, creating a mirror effect. Then Pic #089 was placed over both.

This is, so far, the latest appearance of any Datacraft Sozaijiten photo on an official, normal Pokémon TCG card, at least on a brand new card. I mean, there is the Professor Oak remake card in XY Evolutions, “Professor Oak’s Hint”… but while “Professor Oak’s Hint” is technically a new card, it’s really just a semi-remake of the original Base Set’s “Professor Oak” card. Likewise, there’s the Spiky-eared Pichu M card (see below), but that was part of a Japan-only contest. On the other hand, Registeel here is a completely new card, not based on any prior existing card, and officially released as a normal, tournament-legal card worldwide.

Vol 007 – Lights & Crystals

Pic #089

DP Promo (Japan-only) (n/a) Spiky-eared Pichu M Vol 085 – Mountains & Mountain Ranges in the World

Pic #016

This may also count as the latest use of a Datacraft Sozaijiten background on a Pokémon card, but it  was a Japan-only promo. And even then, it was part of a contest, with the artwork designed by Gosho Aoyama, the award winning illustrator of the Detective Conan series.

So it kinda-counts, kinda-doesn’t… you be the judge.

(Misc.) (n/a) Game Freak artwork by Ken Sugimori Vol 040 – Seas and South Islands

Pic #122

This isn’t the exact same picture, but it’s almost definite that this came from another DS gallery. At the very least it looks similar enough to see that stock artwork was used on more than just TCG cards!

…I mean, obviously that’s the case, but at least it gives us a look into how these old pictures were made back in the day. Like, today Nintendo would just get someone to fly out to Okinawa or the middle of the Pacific Ocean and take those pictures for themselves. But back then? What, you think Game Freak was made of money? Why not just use a picture they already bought a license for?

Pretty neat stuff so far, huh?

Well, I’ve got one other surprise for you: it turns out Datacraft Sozaijiten is but one of an entire industry of stock photos! (Total surprise, huh?) OK ok, yeah I know I’m just stating the obvious here. But actually, the real news is that GitHub user Render96 has managed to collect an entire list of all the different stock photo and texture library sources used in the whole of video gaming history, with DS being just one of them.

In fact, there’s a whole video about the use of a particular texture that Cinnamon shared over at the PA! Discord which explains a whole lot about the common use of stock photos and textures (Cinnamon also shared that GitHub link above as well). Take a look:

OH!, and guess who’s the pinned top comment for that video?

Why, it’s our old friend which started this Pokémon TCG background research project, fanamel! Was this video the start of their own journey to discover hidden textures which lead us all here? No, seriously, I’m not asking rhetorically here, I’m really curious to know.

Anyways, that’s just about it for today! I still have plenty of work left for me in the near future, but I hope to get this posted for you soon. Good times!