I’ve been writing a fair bit about how I’m on a Pokemon kick, and that includes going back to play some old games I never finished. First up is Pokemon Ultra Moon, which I’m now playing since my fashionably late self finally has a 3DS of my own. I’m not too far into the “definitive” edition of Pokemon’s seventh generation, but I’m already starting to remember parts that made me bounce off of the original Moon back in 2016.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are by no means bad games, but they don’t really hit on what I love about the series. The tropical setting of Alola doesn’t evoke the same sense of wonder I’ve really been feeling in Sword and Shield’s Galar region when I go to new cities. The story also feels simplistic and handholdy in ways that are probably fine for the game’s target demographic, but doesn’t hold my attention for that long (although I know they really do go places by the end). But there is one crime that really makes it hard for me to get into Sun and Moon, and it’s one that developer Game Freak has been committing for decades now: Game Freak, I am asking you to please start respecting my boy Raichu. He does not deserve this hate and vitriol you are sewing into your extended Pokemon universe.
Raichu, the final form of the series’ long-time mascot Pikachu, has been my ride or die for literally over 20 years. As I’ve written about before, he is Pokemon to me in the way that anyone’s favorite ‘mon is to them. But because he’s the evolved form of the mascot, it means he has just never gotten the same respect as his pre-evolved counterpart.
It all began back in 1997. Lt. Surge, the gym leader of Vermillion City, was the antagonist for an episode of the anime titled “Electric Shock Showdown,” and his Pokemon of choice was a Raichu. It was shown to be stronger than protagonist Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu, and it created a whole complex for the little guy for the episode. Would he evolve into Raichu and become strong enough to defeat his opponent, or would he show that his skills were enough to overcome his more powerful rival? It ended up setting off a recurring theme over the course of the anime’s many years, where Pikachu would outright refuse to evolve because…reasons? This is as recently as the current season, where an episode was dedicated to a group of Pikachu that dig up Thunder Stones to evolve. When Ash’s Pikachu is nearly caught up in their plan, he hides behind his trainer to avoid being exposed to the evolutionary stone.
Obviously there’s a lot at play here, as not only is it an acknowledgement of how some in-universe Pokemon evolution can be counterproductive if one of these creatures undergoes a transformation too early, but Pikachu is the face of the franchise, and him evolving would be catastrophic for brand recognition. But that episode of the anime felt like a catalyst for Raichu to just constantly be disrespected, compared to not only Pikachu, but several of its contemporaries.
Around the same time, Game Freak released Pokemon Yellow Edition, an enhanced remake of the original Red and Blue Versions that made Pikachu the only starter Pokemon a player could begin their journey with. This Pikachu also would refuse to evolve into Raichu, meaning the only way to acquire one was to trade it over from Red and Blue. The next time Pikachu got to be a starter was Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu, which also didn’t allow your partner in crime to take that evolutionary step.
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In games that followed, Game Freak added several means for a Pikachu to outclass Raichu, whether it be with equipment items like the Light Ball that made its attack stats more powerful, giving you a tactical reason to not evolve into Pikachu’s final form, or by giving Pikachu a Gigantamax form, which is typically only afforded to final evolutions. Pikachu also gets its own set of Z-Moves in the Pokemon (Ultra) Sun and (Ultra) Moon games, which Raichu does not. Well, not the Raichu, I know, at least.
Which brings us back to how the Sun and Moon games offer Raichu the greatest disrespect: by erasing him from a set of games entirely. When a Pikachu evolves in the Alola region, they turn into a regional variant with a new typing, appearance, and a fucking surfboard for a tail. Does it make sense in the tropical environment of Alola? Sure. But my favorite Pokemon as I know him, the one who I have had in every game (other than Pokemon White which blocked off all old Pokemon until the post-game) is replaced by a psychic-typed imposter. This was after it was passed over for a Mega Evolution in Pokemon X and Y, a form change that made Pokemon stronger and altered their appearance to look pretty dope, in most cases. The only time Raichu has gotten any notable attention was to be changed into something else entirely, rather than being able to freely change into special forms and be treated like an essential part of his evolutionary line.
As much as I want to see a part of the Pokemon world I never got to see through, knowing my favorite electric rodent isn’t here does take the wind out of my sails a little bit. I found my own way through the Dexit upset by knowing that I could at least count on my favorite to be there because he’s the evolved form of the series’ mascot, but the Alolan form is a reminder that Raichu exists in a place where Game Freak is only willing to make big moves with him if it creates something new entirely. Honestly, I think between Dynamaxing and Mega Evolutions, Pokemon doesn’t need anymore gimmicks in the next generation, so while I’d like to see Raichu get that kind of attention, I don’t know that it would be great for the series as a whole. Whatever it is that Game Freak is going to do to shake things up in the next generation of Pokemon, I just want Raichu to be included in it alongside his first generation starter brethren.
The final forms of every other first generation Pokemon starter has gotten to be the star of its evolutionary line. Charizard, Blastoise, and Venusaur all have Mega Evolutions, Gigantamax forms, and weren’t turned into regional variants to get some special spotlight. But it feels like Raichu can’t get out from under its little brother’s shadow, even as he towers over him. Somebody give him a crumb of recognition. He is good. Even if Ash Ketchum doesn’t want you to know that.