Bubbles are easiest to predict in hindsight of course. But here’s some food for thought.
On the demand side, the “fundamentals” for Pokemon are strong. It’s a popular, global franchise that’s been around long enough, and consistently enough, to appeal to multiple generations now. And it’s still popular with kids today so not close to dying out. There is more pokemon media to consume than ever before. Video games, the tcg, “plushies”, movies, tv shows, etc. Right now you might even say there’s a bit of a perfect storm Driving the demand side at this moment in time. A hollywood mainstream movie release last fall, a new nintendo switch video game, then COVID coming right on the heels. People have lots of free time to consume the above media and also pursue hobbies. These factors make the interest in pokemon very current and “stoke the flames”.
It is often discussed here, but the aging of the fan base and growth in earnings over time is another demand factor. Let’s ignore the new Pokemon fans for this part and focus on the original fans. If the average age of the original 1999 “pokemon craze” fan base was a wide range like 8-14 (a guess), you have the middle of that curve approaching some prime, but not yet peak, earning years. This is a very real phenomenon that I’ve watched play out in my lifetime across two other collecting hobbies, comic books and MtG, both of which I have followed since the early 1990s. In summary, analyzing the demand side paints a pretty rosy picture for the hobby long-term.
Examining the supply side is easy. Of the cards you referenced, they are finite. If you layer growth in demand dollars (volume of fans times spending power) against a very finite supply and prices can only go up.
But to get to the bubble question you have to consider some other factors too. If “sustainable” prices are right where supply and demand meet, where are we now? Are we mis-interpreting supply, or is a large increase coming? If we are strictly talking about WOTC-era cards, I think we can assume supply is fairly constant. Supply is not going to move drastically and “pop the bubble”. What about demand, and here we are talking about demand dollars. Are demand dollars artificially inflated? What could cause demand dollars to be artificially inflated? To me, the main risks here are speculation and over-extension. By speculation, I mean people from outside the hobby coming in to try and invest or make a buck. By over-extension, I mean people buying cards with money they don’t have via debt, or money they’ll realize in hindsight they needed for other things.
So are we in a pokemon bubble? Are speculators here? Definitely new people (like me) to the hobby. But I think most of the new people coming in have genuine interest in both pokemon and collecting, and are shifting dollars from other hobbies. That’s healthy for the hobby. I don’t think we have many people coming in to “take positions”. So speculation doesn’t seem rampant to me, but are people over over extended? I worry about this one. The deep, global recession we are entering into has the potential to greatly over-extend people, even if they aren’t today. But, dose of calm. Insulate yourself by not spending money you don’t have. If you stretch, do it for vintage, higher grade, mainstream (not niche) parts of the hobby. The vast majority of “modern” product in any mature hobby are terrible investments. Don’t set yourself up for panic selling. Collect, don’t invest, in Pokemon. That said, it does have the potential to be a great investment. The medium-to-long term fundamentals are fantastic.