The family-friendly Pokémon series has been around since 1996 and has been continually growing in popularity. The anime/film/gaming franchise has become an unavoidable phenomenon that dominates Nintendo’s handheld series of gaming consoles. The prolific franchise contains an impressive 18 seasons of the anime, countless games — including the smash hit mobile game Pokémon Go — and even its own real-life Pokemon Center. And yet, even some diehard fans aren’t aware of all of the dark secrets lurking behind-the-scenes.
Maybe you have heard of the relatively recent Creepypasta that blames Lavender Town for an eerie (and untrue) rash of deaths. Or perhaps you stumbled across that one episode featuring James of Team Rocket posing as a woman. And what truly dedicated fan hasn’t scoured their local flea market for that infamous copy of the allegedly dark Pokemon Black — the fabled inversion of the traditionally structured Pokemon Red and Blue? These stories are now legendary, but they aren’t even the half of it.
From the bad timing of the unaired “Episode AG101” coinciding with a devastating earthquake to Pikachu voice actress Ikue Otani’s hoax, here are 15 Dark Secrets Behind Pokémon.
15. RHYDON WAS ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO BE THE FIRST POKÉMON
Bulbasaur is obviously the first Pokémon listed in the Pokédex, but the lore states Arceus was the first to exist. And yet, the first Pokémon ever designed by the great, Ken Sugimori was Rhydon.
While being the 112th Pokemon listed in the Pokédex, early sketches of the rhino-like Pokémon can be seen out of its Pokéball, wandering a cave with Red, the original Pokemon trainer.
While Rhydon is the non-canon first, Clefairy and Lapras were also designed very early in the conception of Pokémon Red and Blue. Sugimori had designed these Pokemon stating, “At first, we’d planned to have Pokémon living alongside humans, making their lives easier.” This would explain why Rhydon can learn the moves “Surf” and “Strength” from HM’s in Pokémon Red and Blue.
14. IT TOOK SNORLAX 17 YEARS TO STAND UP
It takes more than just a Pokéflute to get a Snorlax to stand up, it also takes time. 17 years to be exact. In the games, Snorlax can be seen blocking paths and laying down in the middle of battle. Ever since 1996, this dozy character has been laying or sitting down. After the 2013 release of Pokémon X and Y, fans immediately started to buzz over the now-standing Snorlax.
It’s believed that Game Freak did this intentionally.
Seeing the images side-by-side, it certainly looks to be the case. The 1996 version of the character looks content, so content that in 1998 it moves to a Burt Reynolds-esque pose. In 2002, it seems as though the hefty character gives maximum effort to get moving, only to succumb to the weight of the situation by 2004. Snorlax redoubled on its effort and finally made it to its feet nine years later.
13. THE CREATOR FLUNKED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL DUE TO HIS OBSESSIONS
Satoshi Tajiri — creator of the Pokémon franchise and the Game Freak game company — has a high-functioning form of autism. As a boy, Tajiri had a peculiar obsession with bug collecting. His classmates latched onto the uniqueness of Tajiri’s hobby and began to mock him with unwanted nicknames like “Dr. Bug.”
It turns out that his fascination with bug collecting would benefit children and adults across the entire planet by inspiring Ash Ketchum’s journey to be the very best (like no one ever was).
As he grew, Tajiri became obsessed with another hobby in his teenage years. The future developer became so interested in arcade games that he actually flunked out of high school due to his excessive habit of skipping class to play games. This obviously worried his parents, but Tajiri’s interest in games clearly paid off in the end.
12. TEAM ROCKET’S GAMBLING
Pokémon is well-known for a lot of things: ames, movies merchandise they have done it all, while attempting to keep everything family-friendly.
It’s kind of a shocker that they would let a player gamble and purchase Pokémon from a black market.
In the show, movies, and games, the protagonist is always a child. This includes Ash Ketchum, who at this point should be well into his 20s or 30s, but is still somehow an adolescent. In the first and third generations of the games, Team Rocket set up shop in Celadon City, and to cover up their presence, chose to hideout underneath a casino.
In this, the player (as a child in the game) can play on the slot machines and use their winnings to purchase Pokémon from Team Rocket’s prize corner.
11. THE NAMES OF POKÉMON X AND Y WERE PREDICTED BY A FAN
The series has usually given some pretty obvious names to the handheld series of games. It all started with Pokémon Red and Bluefeaturing Charizard and Blastoise, respectively. So what’s next? Yellow, of course, featuring the better, chubbier version of Pikachu on the cover. The series did eventually break away from the color wheel, with one clever fan still able to predict the names of Pokémon X and Y five years in advance.
In Yahoo! Japan’s questions section, one user asked what people thought the title of the next Pokémon installment would be called. With a seemingly sarcastic reply of Pokémon X/Y, a user by the name of deadevil2002 hit the nail on the head. The reply that followed was also a jab at the lackluster naming process for the series, dubbing it “Pokémon Left/Right.”
10. THE LEGEND OF “HEY YOU, PIKACHU”
In the early days of Pokémon, people fell in love with a cheeky, yellow mouse with a disdain for his Pokéball. After Sony revealed its first video game console — the PlayStation — Nintendo realized that it had a serious competitor on its hands. The N64 hosted a cast of great games including Hey You, Pikachu.
Hey You, Pikachu is a game in which you can give Pikachu commands through a microphone – or at least you were supposed to be able to.
The game is notoriously faulty for either failing to do the commands, or simply not registering them.
Pikachu had a tendency to make a frowny face when the command was misunderstood, leading fans to create an urban legend. The legend claims that if you say words like “Sony” or “PlayStation” to Pikachu through the microphone he will get mad and may throw a thunderbolt your way.
9. POKÉMON CANCER RUMORS
Roly-poly sass machine Pikachu seems like a cute little chub-monster when he isn’t knocking out the competition, but in battle, he’s fast as lightning. It’s this speed that inspired researchers at the Osaka Bioscience Institute to name a vision-aiding protein after the little, yellow mouse. Pikachurin is a protein used for transmitting electrical impulses, often to aid the tracking of objects.
Before Pikachurin, there was the Pokémon Gene (for a limited time only).
In 2005, Pier Paolo Pandolfi, a geneticist with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, gave the cancer-causing gene “Zbtb7 the Pokemon Gene. This, unfortunately, led to a slew of headlines reading “Pokémon Causes Cancer” which angered the Pokémon USA branch. The company threatened with legal action and the name was changed.
8. POKÉMON X AND Y HAD RIDICULOUS NAME RESTRICTIONS
Understandably, Pokémon X and Y had restrictions to protect young Nintendo users from some of the horrific things people use as names in the overwhelmingly popular series. But they took things a little too far, preventing some real names from being used.
One example of a name that Nintendo would not let players use is Humphrey.
Although Humphrey is a fairly unfortunate name to begin with, but if it’s a person’s name they should be able to use it.
Fans could see why the name Humphrey could not be used, as it contains the word “hump” in it. But the game went as far as preventing users from naming their Nosepass… Nosepass. The case is the same with Froslass, since both names contain a strong euphemism for the rump region of a human being. The last, and most inexplicable example, is the name Connor. What exactly is wrong with Connor?
7. MISSINGNO. WAS A CATCHABLE GLITCH
In the first generation of Pokémon, there was an actual catchable glitch. Technically speaking, MissingNo. is caused by a graphical error in the game, giving it the ability to appear in many ways. Some look like skeleton versions of the familiar Pokémon Aerodactyl and Kabutops, some like broken barcodes on a busted can of vegetables, and others that look like a ghost.
The glitch became so popular that magazines at the time started covering how to get the glitch to appear, despite warnings from Nintendo that stated the glitch may cause the player to have to restart their game to correct the graphical error. This glitch was unique in the fact that if the player captured it, it would replicate the item they had stored in the sixth slot of their bag, allowing players to duplicate valuable items like rare candies or Master Balls.
6. THE PIKACHU VOICE ACTRESS HOAX
Lots of popular franchises have become the focus of ridiculous death hoaxes. The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Johnny Depp, and Pokémon’s Ikue Otani.
Yes, the voice of Pokémon’s sweet little Pikachu was the victim of a death hoax.
Despite the franchise being an upbeat, family-friendly sort of affair, in 2010 word began to circulate on various social networking sites that voice actress Ikue Otani had died at the relatively young age of 44. Most posts did not feature a cited source, though some Reddit users noted her Wikipedia page had been updated with a death date.
Noticing that the news was not featured all over Japan’s front newspaper pages, Kotaku reached out to the actress’s agency, Mausu Promotion, in an attempt to confirm the rumors. Thankfully, a spokesperson with the agency denied the scary news, stating that Otani was “healthy” and “fine.”
5. EPISODE AG101’S REALLY BAD TIMING
Pokémon has had some of its episodes canceled or banned for a multitude of reasons, including seizure-inducing episodes, inappropriate charged scenes, and terrorist attacks. So it is rare when a natural disaster brings an end to an episode before it has ever aired.
On October 23rd, 2004 a devastating 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, leaving 68 people dead and over 4,000 injured. Episode “AG101” had been set to debut the Pokemon Barboach on November 4th, 2004, but due to the sensitive issue, the episode was never shown.
The episode was going to feature moves such as earthquake, magnitude, and fissure — which obviously had the potential to be quite triggering for the victims. The creators instead moved the debut of Barboach to avoid sensitivity issues over the tragic event. Barboach instead made its first appearance in the episode titled “The Great Eight Fate”.
4. POLICE STOPPED THE POKÉMON CHAMPIONSHIP ATTACK
For the most part, Pokémon battles are a relatively peaceful affair. Trainers take good care of their Pokémon, who usually never die, and the injured are often guaranteed a speedy recovery thanks to the always capable Nurse Joy.
Real-life Pokémon card game tournaments aren’t quite so amicable.
In 2015, James Austin Stumbo and Kevin Norton left Iowa for Boston to take participate in the Pokémon World Championship. The two men left a trail of terrifying social media posts in their wake, making jokes about how they were going to “kill” the competition and posting photos of their car with guns on the hood.
Hynes Convention security caught wind of the threats and notified authorities who gave the suspects an order to stay away from the competition. When they showed up anyway, they were quickly arrested.
3. YOU MIGHT HAVE MADE RATICATE A GHOST
In the first generation of Pokémon when the player encounters their rival for the first time, he has a Raticate. The player successfully battles and wins against all of the rival’s Pokémon – so far so normal.
The player later encounters the rival in Lavender Town when there is an open slot that is not in the roster. During the second battle, the rival chooses not to throw his final Pokéball, and the battle ends without the player ever fighting the final Pokémon.
The Radicate is not used, a rarity in the mechanics of a Pokémon battle.
When the player reaches the Pokémon Tower — which just so happens to be a cemetery — the rival can be found visiting the graveyard and tells the player, “Your Pokémon don’t look dead.” This seems to clearly indicate the player killed the Radicate in the first battle, explaining his peculiar absence in the second.
2. KEN SUGIMORI HAD TO DESIGN ALL THE ORIGINAL POKÉMON SOLO
Dreaming up new species of battle-ready Pokémon seems like every little kid (and uber nerd’s) dream job. Ken Sugimori may have something to say about that, as the artist had no choice but to design every last one of the original 151 Pokémon all on his own.
Sugimori became good friends with creator Satoshi Tajiri while working on the Game Freak magazine in the 1980s.
When the Pokemon franchise started to become a reality, it fell on Sugimori to design the little pocket monsters.
Flash-forward a couple decades and Sugimori was firmly positioned at the helm of a full-blown art team aiding in the creation of the now 802-Pokémon roster. Despite the much-needed help, Sugimori still makes it a point to personally approve each new creature’s design.
1. POKÉMON ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN
While Satoshi Tajiri’s parents worried about their son’s school-skipping and obsession with games, it was in large part due to his father’s financial support that Game Freak didn’t sink during the development of the first generation of games. The reformed magazine company had lost five employees to ever-growing financial problems, but Tajiri showed his dedication to the project by giving up his salary to make sure Pokémon became a reality.
With Shiguru Miyamoto — the man behind the Legend of Zelda series — in his corner, Tajiri believed that through the connectivity of the Gameboy handheld system, the series could be a success. It would eventually come to sell over 279 million copies worldwide. Hopefully, Tajiri has a good salary now and paid back dear old dad.
Do you have other surprising Pokémon secrets to share? Leave them in the comments!