Detective Pikachu hits theaters this week. Get your tickets here!
With over 1000 episodes of an anime series, 21 movies and over 30 videogames under its belt, there is no denying the power of Pokémon on our collective imagination. This is a franchise that for many children around the world, served as a consolation for not getting an actual pet, plus you could make your electronic pet fight other electronic pets!
Despite this being a franchise aimed towards kids and starring the cutest creatures such as a yellow rat that electrocutes you and says “Pika Pika”, Pokémon has never shied away from some really messed up content. The Pokédex, a digital encyclopedia that features both in the games and in the anime, keeps track of every Pokémon in the world and gives trainers background information on their habitats and histories. Some of these are harmless and fun, but some are straight up nightmare-inducing.
Before Detective Pikachu gives us the live-action version of the cutest creatures this side of the Johto Region, let’s revisit some of the weirdest, saddest, and most messed up backstories given in the Pokémon franchise.
10. Parasect Is Actually a Zombie
Before it evolves into a Parasect, Paras is an adorable little bug Pokémon that kind of sucks at battle. What’s noticeable about Paras are the red and yellow mushrooms that grow on its back. By the time Paras evolves into a Parasect, the Pokédex entry tells us that “The parasite mushroom has taken over the host bug.”
That’s right, when your dear Paras finally evolves and becomes slightly less miserable in battle, it also loses all control of its body to the giant mushroom on its back. You can even see how Paras’ cute little eyes evolve into a blank look, that happens because it’s actually dead. Have fun, playing with this one kids!
9. Yamask Is Just Dead People
In later generations, Pokémon started alluding to the idea that humans could become Pokémon at some point, the most messed up of these being Yamask. What looks like a cute and tiny Ghost-type creature holding a mask, hides a tragic backstory.
Its Pokédex entry reads “Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry.” That's right. This Pokémon doesn’t just cry, but it cries because it was once human and still remembers its past life.
8. Kadabra Is A Cronenberg Nightmare
Kadabra’s story is a bit of a head-scratcher, because it was changed from the first to the third generation of games. The Pokédex entry for PokémonFireRed reads “It happened one morning - a boy with extrasensory powers awoke in bed transformed into Kadabra.”
That’s right, despite it somehow being an evolution from Abra who also evolves into an Alakazam, Kadabra is the result of a The Fly scenario where a kid turns into a Pokémon! Not only that, but they are bound to be captured by other kids to be used for their entertainment in Pokémon battles. But because this is a middle evolution, we can speculate as to the nature of this Pokémon and the sort of monstrosities that lurk behind Abra’s origin, do Abras evolve into Pokémon/human hybrids? Do they hold that little spoon as a reminder of their humanity?
7. Meowth’s Entire Life Story
This one isn’t based on a Pokédex entry for an entire species, but for a specific Meowth, the one with Team Rocket. As fans of the franchise know, the only Pokémon that can talk is a Meowth, basically a cat. Unlike every other Pokémon who can only repeat their name, Meowth is perfectly capable of engaging in conversation, even if it has a weird Brooklyn accent in the English dub. Also, he can walk upright.
An episode of the anime tells the story of how Meowth learned to talk, and it is outright heartbreaking. Basically, Meowth was a poor, stray Pokémon who was so hungry he tried to eat baseballs, until he was caught and dangled from a tree with a rope. When Meowth awakes, he notices a nearby outdoor film showing of a Hollywood movie, prompting this little Pokémon to travel across the world to live the American dream.
Unfortunately, things went south and Meowth ended with a gang of other Meowth, led by a wild Persian (Meowth’s evolution) who gave him food and shelter. One day, our Meowth came across a fancy trained female Meowth named Meowsy – super original, I know – who came from a rich family. Meowth attempted to woo her but was rejected for being wild and poor. So Meowth decided to become more like a human, and learned to walk by observing ballet dancers, and how to talk by observing actors in training. Yet when he saw Meowsy again our Meowth was once again rejected for being a freak, forcing him to join a gang of losers that always get defeated by a Pikachu.
6. Drifloon Floats Too
The world of Pokémon is full of magical, harmless creatures that resemble real-life animals like mice, turtles, lizards, dogs and cats, but there are some Pokémon that cause parents to be very afraid for their kids – except Ash’s mom, who lets a 10-year-old live on his own catching wild animals. In this world, almost any item could secretly be a Pokémon, even a balloon.
The Pokédex entry for Drifloon says that “It is whispered that any child who mistakes Drifloon for a balloon and holds on to it could wind up missing.” Pennywise would be so proud! Though another game in the series adds that “It tugs on the hands of children to steal them away. However, it gets pulled around instead.” Which makes us sad thinking of all the child-eating balloons that become playthings instead.
5. Jigglypuff Will Never Win ‘The Voice’
While it is sad to see Jigglypuff's origin in the anime, it is outright messed up in the games.
Basically, Jigglypuff is a giant, living bubblegum that sings. The thing is, it sings a song so soothing that it puts everyone to sleep. The anime plays this to show that Jigglypuff’s only wish is to entertain people with some songs, but gets angry that no one ever listens to the whole thing, and it draws funny things on people’s faces when they fall asleep. It's played for laughs, but imagine having the actual voice of an angel and not being able to use it.
Then the Pokédex goes even further, with the Pokémon Sapphire game adding “When this Pokémon sings, it never pauses to breathe. If it is in a battle against an opponent that does not easily fall asleep, Jigglypuff cannot breathe, endangering its life.” Talk about singing for your life.
4. Spoink Is A Ticking Time Bomb
Yet another cute little Pokémon we are all better off not knowing too much about. While some of the games have a tamer version of its backstory, Pokémon Ruby tells the true and tragic story of this little piggy with a pearl on its head and a bouncy tail. “Spoink bounces around on its tail. The shock of its bouncing makes its heart pump. As a result, this Pokémon cannot afford to stop bouncing - if it stops, its heart will stop.”
This one hits hard, because the anime then shows that Spoink keeps bouncing even while sleeping, but what it doesn’t show us is more terrifying. Given that Pokémon fights always end with the losing Pokémon “fainting”, whenever Spoink fights a Pokémon battle, it is literally fighting for its life. I guess that’s as good a motivator as any.
3. Phantump Is Just Depressing
You know what the wish-fulfillment, kid-friendly world of Pokémon desperately needs? References to dead children. At least, that’s what Pokémon X and Y seem to think, as the context for this tiny tree ghost changes dramatically after you read its Pokédex entry. “According to old tales, these Pokémon are stumps possessed by the spirits of children who died while lost in the forest.”
Yep, you can capture your very own dead child and make it fight other dead children. Even worse is the fact that these Pokémon are very common, found in every forest and easily capturable.
2. Mimikyu is Too Terrifying to Look At
Yet another cute but creepy Pokémon that hides an even sadder story. Mimikyu first debuted in the Sun & Moon games and anime series as a weird but seemingly harmless ghost-type that resembles Pikachu at a distance. Except when you get closer you realize it is a rag made out in the form of Pikachu. Mimikyu’s true form is never to be seen.
Turns out Mimikyu is just a very lonely Pokémon who is also rumored to be weakened by sunlight, and after seeing the popularity of Pikachu-styled merchandise, it chose to disguise itself as the famous yellow rat. No one knows what Mimikyu truly looks like, but the Pokédex entry says that “A scholar who saw what was under its rag was overwhelmed by terror and died from the shock.”
1. Cubone Is An Orphan
Since the beginning of the Pokémon craze two decades ago, Cubone’s tragic past has always been that weird ‘fun fact’ that Gen I fans used to traumatize younger fans, and is more often than not the first thing people mention when asked about sad Pokémon moments.
Aptly called the Lonely Pokémon, Cubone is always seen wearing a mask made of bone, and wielding a little bone as a club. While the first two games, Red and Blue, only mention that no one has seen Cubone’s face, Pokémon Yellow reveals that Cubones are orphans. Worse yet, Cubone “ Wears the skull of its deceased mother. Its cries echo inside the skull and come out as a sad melody.” Fun fact, in the beta for the original games, Pokémon Blue and Red, Cubone was known as “Orphon” to play on the word orphan.
This raises plenty of questions, like why it would wear its mother’s skull as a helmet, or whether or not every single Cubone’s mother dies in childbirth. But one thing remains, the trailer for Detective Pikachu shows a little Cubone being captured by a Poké Ball. Will they go into its backstory too?