Pokemon Character Reviews: Generation I

It's probably obvious if you take one look around here that human characters aren't typically "my thing," but I'm still itching to review things from Pokeland and human trainers have been suggested by at least five, maybe nine or ten people. Rather than page after page, character by character, I'm going to go generationally and review the characters associated with each region together, only deliberately skipping over some of the more minor ones - and still giving each one a rating of one to five pokeballs!


We're not going to include the player characters in most cases, but we may as well talk about the original, and it's important to establish right here and now that we will be making NO special distinctions between video game characters and their anime counterparts through most of these reviews. I am so completely not a purist on this issue.

As the first player avatar in the series, there was never very much to Red's personality, and sadly, the same eventually rang true of his anime counterpart. Ash had some glimmers of distinct characterization early on, but after a thousand billion episodes of the same smiling, ever-eager adventure child, it's kind of hard for me to muster any strong emotions for him either way.

I definitely liked Ash best when he was more of a screw-up, more down on his luck, and his level of compassion for Pokemon was actually an outstanding characteristic in his world. Remember that? How even other "good" characters still kind of had a level of detachment to their Pokemon, and it was supposed to be special just how deeply Ash bonded with them as friends? Now that Ash is kind of an almighty superstar and almost any random joe on the street might have an undying spiritual bond to a big jellyfish or dinosaur, there's nothing about Ash to really stand out as a character or even strongly relate to.

He'll get a three, because I want to recognize his better years as a lovably imperfect protagonist with a heart of gold, but it borders pretty heavily on a two.



Sorry Ash, I really am, but by not being the main character, your jerkhole rival was given some leeway to be more interesting than you in both game and cartoon. I especially miss his importance to the latter, really. Nobody's around anymore to show up Ash or make him feel less adequate, and it really detracts from my ability to sympathize with Ash's problems.

At least Gary kind of went out with a bang by not only completing his first Pokemon adventure, but following in his uncle Oak's footsteps and becoming a professor. So while Ash is still gallavanting around collecting giant bugs in the dirty woods, Gary actually grew up and seized on a stable career in Academia...but remember when he'd show up in a sports car surrounded by his personal fangirl squad and just gloat in Ash's face about how much better he was? That was priceless. Ash by now has literally ridden through the sky on the backs of gods, but how much better would that be if Gary was still around to cruise on by astride a shiny Pokemon god with radical shades on it? "Oh, hey there Ash. Chosen One again, huh? Yeah, I'm just the Chosener One, no big deal." Cue sound of a car horn playing "la cucaracha" from nowhere in particular as Gary's shiny Arceus accelerates through space, somehow leaving a dust trail for Ash and his regular Arceus to choke on together.



Who doesn't love good old Professor Oak? I liked the silly old voice they gave him in the show and I liked his almost always upbeat attitude and big eyebrows and bad jokes. There's not a whole lot else to say really, just that every generation has had a professor and this guy sure was the most first, but still pretty alright. I hate to keep sounding like a nostalgia dweeb but I miss the charm of setting up your character by answering a professor's intrusive and scatterbrained questions.

And screw anything else they've shown, I'm still 100% sure this guy was meant to be Ash's dad. Look at his face! The fact that he'd be casually hanging out with Ash's mom almost anywhere the kid ran into either of them! I wonder how much he resents the Mr. Mime that eventually supplanted him in her life.





Why the heck is Brock so pale in his video game art? That's not Brock! "The Rock Solid Pokemon Trainer" was just another forgettable boss in the original game, but anime Brock sure did have a lot more personality than Ash and Misty and was just so gosh darn sweet. He cried over how cute he thought his Vulpix was, he made the kids sandwiches in the dirty woods, he was practically their surrogate dad for years and an all around upstanding citizen of the Pokeworld, except maybe for the fact that some 60% of his character was defined by his constant state of horniness and inability to keep that completely to himself in the presence of anything female and usually human.

Brock gets a three because they managed to make him funny and nice even if he's also basically that friend who feels the need to inform you of every single passerby that they would or wouldn't bone. At least he was never really piggish or pushy about it to my recollection.



Seriously introduced as "The Lightning American," one of the last few times Pokemon would acknowledge real-world locations by name. I didn't otherwise remember much about Surge when I began writing this, but it's all kind of flooding back to me. I didn't find him that interesting back in the day, but I think it's kind of cool that he used to be a military pilot and now he loves electric type pokemon because they were used to power his plane and apparently saved his life during the war.

We haven't otherwise really seen or heard a whole lot about war in the Pokemon world, but the snippets we get are all pretty intense. Surge even obsesses over booby trapping his gym, so he's been through enough hell to be a paranoid survivalist.



The grass-type gym leader known as "The Nature Loving Princess," I mostly remember Erika for the fact that Gloom was her main pokemon in the anime and that its horrible smell was the secret ingredient in her perfume. The fact that she still loves and respects a poisonous pokemon that smells like a rotten ass, let alone my favorite Pokemon at the time, obviously really resonates with me on a personal level. There just wasn't a whole lot else to Erika that struck me as interesting.



I should find "The Poisonous Ninja Master" cooler than I do, since he trains my favorite type, but...a ninja? That's it? I GUESS it thematically meshes with the poison type, but it's just not something I care strongly about either way, and we never got to know him any deeper than the fact that he is a ninja guy.



Now we're talking! As the strongest type in the original games, psychic was pretty damn menacing and it made sense that "The Mistress of Psychic Pokemon" would follow suit. Sabrina in her original game sprite was even wielding a whip, and then of course we had her anime appearance, where they decided that a psychic gym leader should totally just also be a terrifying supernatural villain.

Like, damn, how often has the show gotten on this level ever since? They expect us to forget that a gym leader at one point was using psychic powers to turn human beings into helpless yet conscious plush dolls? That Ash had to befriend the spirits of the dead to rescue his best friends from an eternal prison? That her psychic powers were so feared and maligned that her whole town lived in terror of her? That she communicated through a puppet representing her childhood self? Imagine seeing these episodes now, if all you were familiar with were newer games and seasons where nobody is ever "bad" outside the clearly labeled villain team of the season.

Also worth noting, in the "Pokestar Studios" of Black 2 and White 2, Sabrina is supposedly the actress playing the villainous "Strange Lady" in one of the stories. It's not a detail that factors into anything, but I'm glad she found both a hobby and a killer outfit.



This is another one I hadn't really thought twice about until now. Was I really THAT indifferent to non-monster characters so recently in my life? That's sure kinda one-note, I gotta admit.

A fire-type gym leader obsessed with trivia and quizzes is an oddball choice; you would expect that to go hand in hand with the psychic type, but Blaine's pegged as "The Hotheaded Quiz Master," so I guess the idea is that he's like...a loud grouchy game show host? I do love the appropriate loudness of the tie, in that case, and I love even more that his official artwork is obviously yelling at somebody.



The leader of Team Rocket, and he sure is the main bad guy. I briefly thought I'd have a lot to say about him and that he was actually wildly entertaining, but then I realized I was only thinking about how Meowth constantly envisioned him. Through non-Meowth eyes, he's just kind of a mean mob boss dude who fulfills the basic functions of inoffensive villain.



So now we're on the elite four, and the first one is Lorelei, the ice-type trainer! In the anime, they changed her name to Prima just because it was two syllables and they wanted to match the lip synch, something I don't think anybody ever actually thinks about when watching a dubbed anime.

Not to get weird here, but "Prima" was also the first time a hormonal teenage me really took notice of an anime character, something people at the time considered odd and geeky and kind of embarrassing instead of basing their entire personalities and pillowcase purchases around. How far our society has come!

It's too bad she didn't have much in the way of a clear personality besides being ambiguously "cool" and supposedly famous for said coolness, the only notable demonstration of which might have been when she sort of stared off into the sky for a while before saying "...ice is nice." That's swell, Lorelei, Prima, whatever you go by in the underground poetry scene you no doubt demolish with your unparalleled mastery of the art.



I, unfortunately, cannot think of anything that interesting to say about the fighting-type Elite Four leader, except that in the Pokemon Adventures manga, he's the only member of the Elite Four that isn't evil, because in the Pokemon Adventures manga the Elite Four are also evil, as in "bent on destroying humanity" evil. Okay then.



This delightfully crabby old lady is the ghost type specialist of the Elite Four, which at the time limited her to the Gastly line, so they also gave her Golbat and Arbok. Frankly, I think they should still do this kind of thing and give trainers "thematically" appropriate pokemon of different types so you can't just obliterate them with the same super-effective sweeper.

Evil Manga Agatha is even more fun, being incredibly tiny and using the powers of her ghosts for all kinds of nefariousness, including actually hypnotizing Bruno into serving her and Lance. Also, her Arbok has a goth bracelet! How adorable is that?! This artwork of Golbat is great, too. I said before I wish Golbat didn't have eyes, but I think I'd accept it with really sad eyes all the time like this, too.

In the anime, Agatha was apparently a rival to Professor Oak when the two of them were young, and they still hate each other, because she kept climbing the ranks of all-time great Pokemon trainers while he dropped out of fighting to be a professor.



Like Agatha, this dragon-type trainer didn't have a lot to work with in terms of the actual dragon type, so he had some honorary dragons like Charizard, Gyarados and Aerodactly. A real pain to defeat, but there's nothing much to him as a concept or character that ever stood out to me.



I was originally going to limit this to characters that originated from the games, not the anime, and thought I might just devote an entire separate article to Jessie, James and Meowth, but I'm not entirely sure I have the energy to even begin covering something of such grand scope, and I doubt I could say anything about them that hasn't been said many, many times before.

All I can really say, all I really need to say, is that these goofs are the entire lifeblood of the animated series, mostly the only reason to bother tuning into it at all, and every single moment that any of them are on screen is pure joy. They are the richest, most complex, most human characters ever presented by any facet of the Pokemon franchise and nothing any other character has going on has ever really been a fraction as interesting or emotionally investing.

They just...deserve so much. They have spent most of their adult lives up to this point trying to steal an animal from a little boy, and it still feels like they deserve to have it more; that their souls are too pure for this or any other world. That they have done more to earn happiness than most of us can ever dream of.

Let. Them. Steal.