Pokemon: Is it Zooey?

Pokemon is one of the most beloved franchises of the last nearly three decades. It’s the highest grossing IP world wide, with the games frequently hitting number one in terms of sales on release despite being only sold on one platform. The anime is a cultural phenomenon. I doubt that anyone reading this couldn’t tell me who Ash Ketchum is, or hit a couple bars from the iconic intro track. Pokemon is also the best representation of zoosexuality in media. By no means are the examples that I’m pulling going to be an exhaustive list of all the instances in the franchise. There’s millions of hours of Pokemon content and I certainly haven’t watched all of it. But I’ve picked out a couple examples from the top of my head and with a quick Google search and found that there are plenty of references to choose from. From the Pokemon designs, the relationships in the anime, and some of the lore established in the games, let’s take a look at the amazing zooeyness of the Pokemon franchise.

Starting off simple, let’s talk about the Pokemon themselves. The idea behind Pokemon came from legendary Japanese director Satoshi Tajiri’s childhood. He used to spend his days exploring nature, and had a particular fascination with wildlife. Specifically, he really loved insects. However as the roster of Pokemon grew, he and the other members of the team started taking inspiration from other real world animals as well. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that most of the Pokemon in earlier generations were based off of common animals. There are a lot of obvious Pokemon that spring to mind when making this comparison. Arbok, a snake that’s the word cobra rearranged, with a “k” instead of a “c”. Pidgey, pidgeon like bird. There are even examples from more modern games, such as Toucannon, the literal toucan.

The intelligence of most Pokemon is the same as the average animal too. They don’t have a verbal language, but can make vocalizations. They tend to communicate with body language. This is especially shown in media where you can see more of their actions than just the games. They have absolutely no issues with letting the humans in the world know how they feel, in the same way that most people can tell when a dog is happy or upset. Speaking of dogs, they also tend to require training in order to learn moves, or as we would call them in our world, tricks. Sure, Pokemon start off with the ability to do basic things, but much like animals there requires some effort if you’re trying to teach them how to do things they might not do in the wild like shaking hands, or using hydrobeam. There are definitely exceptions to the rule, especially when you get into things like god Pokemon or special exceptions like Team Rocket’s Meowth, but at a rough glance at least 90 percent of Pokemon fall into the category of animal intelligence.

Let’s take a little tangent here. In furry subculture, there’s a distinction made between “feral” art, and “zoo” art. Feral characters are characters that have human intelligence, but just happen to have an animal body. Examples of this would be things like Morgana from Persona 5, or any shape-shifter turning into an animal while retaining their human intellect. Zoo art on the other hand has animal characters that are just animals. Examples of that would be Trico from The Last Guardian, or Roach from The Witcher. Now it’s no secret that there’s a lot of people that enjoy Pokemon in a more sexual capacity. If you look up “Pokemon” on popular furry porn site e621, there are approximately three hundred thousand results. Many people would say that Pokemon falls under the category of “Feral” but, does it really? Sure, Pokemon are shown to have a level of comprehension of human emotions and some situational awareness, but so do animals. Most people who have ever had a dog or cat really love them know that when you’re feeling down, or stressed, your animal can often tell and will do their best to comfort you. That’s about the same level of intelligence we tend to see from most Pokemon in the Pokemon franchise. So unless you’re specifically only fapping to Mewtoo and Arceus, I personally think that you’re engaging with content that’s more zoo than feral. But, this is just the character designs. Pokemon is a lot more zoo than that. So let’s dive into our next point, zoosexuality in the Pokemon anime.

While it does have mass appeal among all demographics, the Pokemon anime is designed to be very family friendly. Relationships, even between humans, tend not to ever hold much of a central focus in the show, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few examples of zoo themes sprinkled into it. There’s a canon newspaper article titled “Shocking case of Poke-Love? That’s the last time I take a bath with my Tentacool”. There’s a man who gets married to a Gothitelle in the Best Wishes anime. There’s the relationship between Ash’s mom and a Mr. Mime. Mr. Mime lives alone with Ash’s mom, is shown to eat at the dinner table with the family, and there’s one specific scene in the Pokemon Sun & Moon anime where we’re shown his hand resting pretty comfortably on her thigh. But, Ash’s mom isn’t the only one to get around in the Ketchum family. In Pokemon Heroes: Latios and Latias, the titular Latias develops a crush on Ash, shape-shifts into a human in order to spend more time with him, and even gives him a kiss at the end of the movie. In Pokemon: BW Rival Destinies episode 34 there’s another Pokemon that develops a crush on Ash after watching him save the day. At the end of the episode she’s shown to be blushing as she watches him leaves. It’s impossible not to say that Pokemon get attracted to humans.

Speaking of Ash, it’s impossible not to talk about his relationship with Pikachu. These two have been through everything. With twenty four seasons of the anime and twenty three movies out there, there have been a million examples of the two of them in situations that most people would call romantic. They’re extremely physically intimate with each other. Outside of the fact that Pikachu loves riding on Ash when travelling, they’re always hugging, and even have slept in the same bed more than a few times. Also, in Pokemon: I Choose You!, towards the end of the movie while Ash is in dire straits, he hears Pikachu talk to him, saying “.. I always want to be with you.”. Whether this is meant to be depicted as Ash’s mid consciousness hallucination or some strange miracle, it seems readily apparant that there’s quite a bit of romance between our two main characters. However, it makes sense that the show hasn’t explored that relationship further. Ash in the anime is somewhere between ten and fifteen years old, depending on who you ask. He isn’t old enough to be thinking about that kind of relationship. We’re literally watching the journey of someone developing an attraction for Pokemon in real time. By the time that Ash turns 18 we might be watching a very different kind of anime.

Let’s look at our last source of information when it comes to the canon of Pokemon sexuality. The games. In Pokemon Colosseum, there’s a female character who word for word says “My boyfriend is this Mightyena”, which if you’re going to just tell people unprompted, is a pretty good sign that that kind of relationship is pretty normal in this universe. There’s also a very infamous book you can read in Diamond/Pearl, the fourth generation of the pokemon games, which says that the practice of humans and Pokemon getting married was actually very common back in the day. The direct quote is “There once were Pokémon that married people. There once were people who married Pokémon. This was a normal thing because long ago people and Pokémon were the same.” That’s literally word for word an argument in support of zoosexuality. The idea that we’re no different than animals really, and so it’s not morally wrong to want to be with them is something that I see echoed by zoos all the time, and here’s the exact same point being made for Pokemon. At the end of the day, humans are animals. We don’t exist as some mystical extra being totally severed from being a natural being. And it’s important to look at that not only in terms of us being like animals, but also animals being like us. Just like we see time and time again from Pokemon, real life animals also have wants, needs and feelings.

Of course, if we’re looking at Pokemon as a zoosexual narrative, we also have to look at some of the more problematic parts. In this sense, “Filling out your pokedex” can seem a little bit like building out a harem. And even if you’re not having sex with all of them, the ethics of capturing animals, training them, and forcing them to fight for you isn’t a great look. This has a lot of parallels to real life as well. In our world, many still see animals as the kinds of tools we see in the Pokemon universe. Most places in the world have tended to move away from straight up animal fights for money, but that’s hardly the end of animal exploitation. Factory farming, animal testing, or even just people who feel like they can have a pet that’s their property to abuse. What’s the difference between a cage and a pokeball? Or even worse, if you decide you want to catch more than six pokemon, and so send your forgotten captures to the “PC”. While we haven’t really heard about the experience of Pokemon inside the PC, what we know for sure is that they’re being turned into data and forced to stay there trapped until you decide you want to let them out of the box again, if you ever even decide to. There’s forced breeding in order to create new Pokemon of ideal genes. There’s the exploitation and torture of Pokemon in examples like Mewtoo or Ditto, and that’s not to even start with all the crazy pokedex entries. There are certainly a lot of reasons why the Pokemon series is no zoosexual paradise.

But, I do personally think when it comes to positive zoo representation, this is as close as we have right now. Or at the very least, it’s definitely the biggest franchise that has this many zooey undertones. Most Pokemon are animals, and the relationship that those animals form with their human partners is amazing. While there are bad examples, for the most part we can see so much love between humans and Pokemon, and so it becomes a fascinating mirror of the relationships that zoos have with their own partners. Sure, your dog can’t create a tomb of rocks around your enemies like a Lycanroc can, but they’re still there to love and protect you when you need them. Your horse might not literally be on fire like a Ponyta, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t burning passion between the two of you. Maybe your cat can’t spew a flamethrower like a Litten, but honestly that might be a good thing. When it comes down to it, Pokemon is a series about love. Love between an animal and a human. And that’s exactly what zoosexuality is too. It’s loving someone that just happens to look different than us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look through all three hundred thousand e621 results just to see if I missed anything.

Written by Tarro (July 2022)

Find them at https://twitter.com/hereforthezoo

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