Twenty one years ago, the original Pokémon Red and Green released in Japan for the Game Boy. Since then, this small electrical rat has become the face of Pokémon:
When people see Pikachu, they think Pokémon—in the same way that Mickey Mouse conveys “Disney.” Hell, some might argue that Pikachu might soon become more iconic than Mickey Mouse himself. And I get it. Look at Pikachu. He’s cute. The red cheeks, the lightning bolt tail—it all works together to make a loveable monster. But after the release of over a dozen Pokémon games, enough is enough.
[This piece originally ran in 2015, but has since been updated to incorporate the latest Pokémon games and anime.]
I didn’t always hate Pikachu. I used to like him. But one day, both the anime and the games decided to make Pikachu worse by progressively making his design thinner and thinner. Gone are the days of the best Pikachu, chubby Pikachu. Since then, Pikachu has only gotten more and more awful for me, especially now that they’ve decided to let Pikachu speak actual human words. Pikachu probably works wonders for making The Pokémon Company and Game Freak money, which is great for them, but it also means they’re prone to plaster Pikachu on everything. It’s hard not to be barraged by Pikachu’s constant presence if you’re a Pokémon fan, and it sucks.
In the latest 3DS games, not only can you dress up in Pikachu attire, there’s an entire area on an island dedicated to Pikachu. It’s full of endless Pikachu, many of which live in a Pikachu-shaped van. In Ultra Sun and Moon, one of the biggest new features is surfing—and if you get a high score on all the mini games, you’ll be awarded a Pikachu with the move “surf.” I feel especially bad for players of Pokémon Go, a game that celebrates most major events by giving fans yet another special Pikachu to capture, often wearing a new hat. Then again, I’ve lost count of how many special Pikachu you can obtain in the main games, too. Pikachu has its own Z-Crystal power-up, because of course it does. And in the last couple of years, dancing Pikachu costumes are constantly being shared on social media. You can’t get away!
- What monster got an entire version of a Pokémon game dedicated to it? Pikachu, with Pokémon Yellow. It’s not even a legendary or a starter. Hell, it’s not even a great Pokémon, competitively speaking.
- What Pokémon got an entire spin-off dedicated to it? Pikachu, with Hey You! Pikachu.
- What Pokémon features prominently in Pokémon spin-offs, period? Pikachu. You see it in everything, from the cover of Pokémon Academy to the Mystery Dungeon series.
- What Pokémon can be seen in EVERY episode of the Pokémon anime, and in EVERY Pokémon movie? Pikachu.
- What Pokémon has a special limited edition 3DS dedicated to it? Pikachu.
- What Pokémon served as the Japanese mascot for the 2014 World Cup? Pikachu.
- What critter is the only Pokémon that the games let you dress up? Pikachu.
- What Pokémon had an entire parade? Pikachu.
- What Pokémon is all over the decorations for the official Pokémon cafe? Pikachu.
I’m probably missing half of the offending instances where Pikachu dominates everything Pokémon here, too.
It’s gotten so bad that, when the Pokémon fighting game was revealed, I found myself pissed that Pikachu was in it. Why? Why is there a precious slot dedicated to a Pokémon that we can already fight with in Smash Bros.? Why can’t that slot be taken by a Pokémon that’s more interesting? There are hundreds of them, many of them more suited for a fighting game, and yet time and time again, we get Pikachu.
At one point, I downloaded Pokémon Shuffle, only to notice its 3DS icon was almost exactly the same as Pokémon Battle Trozei.
How is not being able to tell completely separate games apart at first glance good marketing? Who cares. Slap a Pikachu on it. All of it. Even if it means that half the Pokémon icons on the 3DS eShop are different renditions of the mascot.
Well, I’m sick of it.
There are over seven hundred Pokémon in the roster now, and the number changes with every generation. Most of those Pokémon never get a chance to shine because of how much Pikachu is pushed on the Pokémon audience. And since Pikachu is a part of the original 151, his dominance over all things Pokémon implicitly reinforces the idea that the O.G. Pokemon are the best ones. This is not true. Generation I Pokémon are the safest, most boring of the lot—most of them are basically copying real-life animals that we’re all used to, which isn’t creative at all. I’ll take “weird ice cream Pokémon” or “keychain Pokémon” over those ones any day of the week, especially over Pikachu. Because fuck Pikachu.
I’m trying to imagine a world in which The Pokémon Company felt the confidence necessary to put a newer monster as the face of its franchise. It wouldn’t be difficult to find another cute monster that is cuter than Pikachu—there are tons of them. And yet, it almost seems ridiculous to suggest this, especially given how successful the franchise has been thus far. Why fix what ain’t broken?
Much of what made X & Y so good in the eyes of Pokémon fans was the games’ constant pandering—they hit on many of the same beats the original games did, sometimes outright copying specific moments. It’s the sort of thing that will keep veterans happy, but it won’t necessarily capture the imaginations of new players. If anything, with how hard the wildly popular Pokémon Go has been pushing Pikachu, it’s likely the rat is once again surging in prominence. We’re going to be stuck with this reality for a long, long time.
The upshot is that developers Game Freak know they’ve built a monster. Look no further than Mimikyu, a monster that badly wants to be loved by everyone in the way Pikachu is, to the degree that it literally wears a Pikachu rag on its body. And yet the creature is consumed so fully by its jealousy that it can’t even see a real Pikachu without becoming angry. It works tremendously well, as I argued back when Mimikyu was originally unveiled:
I mean, think about it. Pikachu is the face of Pokémon everywhere. Other monsters living in the world of Pokémon must know that, and considering that Pokémon are intelligent, this means that most Pokémon, at some point or another, have to grapple with feelings of belonging, of jealousy, of envy.
As a pet owner I always worry about maybe liking one pet more than the other. I feel a palpable pang of guilt when, say, I find my dog staring longingly at me while I pet my cat. Ostensibly, Pokémon must undergo something similar with their own trainers, especially if they are a critter in a larger family.
All of this to say, Mimikyu is Game Freak’s most brilliant and heartbreaking Pokémon that they’ve ever come up with.
Mimikyu immediately became one of the most beloved monsters in the entire compendium. By giving Mimikyu that status, we’re all implicitly acknowledging the Pikachu problem. We want to protect and love Mimikyu because we know the Pikachu bombardment never ends, and there’s no way that’s good for the mental health of an insecure Pokémon. Grappling with that reality is one of the best things the Pokémon games have ever done.
Still, screw you, Pikachu.
Featured image by Sam Woolley.