Since its launch in 1995/96, Pokemon has been masterful with its outreach and marketing. Early promotions in Japan in particular led to some of the most coveted vintage cards today, whether that be the Topsun, Bandai, or Tomy subsets that were only ever released in Japan and have no equal anywhere else. Special promotional sets can be the most rewarding to collect, as they are often short prints with significantly less circulation than the mainstream TCG products that Pokemon releases. Modern day promos are often hoarded or overprinted to the point that their collectibility and value tends to suffer, but this was not always the case.
The first subset to hit the shelves in the United States came in July of 2001, and had already been launched in Japan, but Wizards of the Coast duplicated the artwork and added their own flare to the design of the holographic cards. I am of course talking about the Southern Islands Collection, one of my favorite sets ever to be released in Pokemon’s history. This 18 card set was the only subset released for Pokemon by Wizards of the Coast and one of the few times I think the English cards have a better design than their Japanese counterparts, which were released as 6 three card sets instead of one set of 18 cards. The set came with a hard shell three ring binder, three packs from the new Neo era, a mix of Neo Discovery and Neo Genesis, and postcards depicting the vibrant paradise that is the Southern Islands. This was the true beauty of this set. Each card's artwork would correspond to two other cards in the set to make a complete scene, and each of these scenes were portrayed on the inside of the binder. Nine cards were from “Rainbow Island” and nine were from “Tropical Island”. WOTC, in a stroke of inspiration, used the same galaxy foil as the Gym Challenge sets but placed the foil pattern outside of the Pokemon character box, resulting in six stunning galaxy foil reverse holo cards. This design would only be repeated for the “Best of” series that Wizards would release to mark the end of their partnership with Pokemon in 2003. The holos include Slowking, Marill, Ledyba, Togepi, Vileplume, and, most importantly, Mew.
I remember purchasing this set back in 2002 because everything about it was pleasant to look at and the artworks were too fleshed out to ignore, every card with multiple other pokemon in the background traversing the beautiful world of the Southern Islands. The dynamic scenes portrayed in the 3 card combinations, the galaxy reverse foils, the palm tree set symbol, and the overall sense of pure happiness and joy the colors and Pokemon express in each card makes this set truly special and something I have never seen replicated again by Pokemon. It truly felt like a tropical paradise that you would love to be in, and as this place never appeared in any of the games, the set stood alone as its own mystical place in the Pokemon world. In 2022, you will be paying a premium for this product still sealed, and any of the holofoils graded in a 10 will cost you quite a lot, but all the artworks are fantastic and the complete set, even moderately played, is worth adding to the collection for that reason alone. Also, as the only subset WOTC ever released, the Southern Islands collection holds a special place in vintage Pokemon history. If you can't afford the cards, try to grab the binder! It’s one of the best non card products Pokemon has ever made. Happy hunting!