The "Carrier" Dragonite

Dragonite delivering a letter, depicted on an alphabet tile
Dragonite has a letter for you! The letter L!
From an alphabet tile

It has bothered me ever since I first watched The First Movie: Mewtwo sends out a Dragonite to deliver invitations to the trainers he has selected for his personal tournament. Dragonite flies out across the sea with a satchel of hologram-bearing letters to Mewtwo's chosen guests -- but who thought it would be a good idea to have one of the rarest and strongest Pokémon of the original PokéDex stoop to the task of delivering the mail?

Red/Green Dratini Red/Green Dragonair Red/Green Dragonite
The Red/Green Sprites of the Dratini line

Remember that, at this point in Pokémon's history, there were only the Kanto Pokémon (and a few teasing reveals of some Johto Pokémon, such as Ho-oh and Togepi, and, in The First Movie itself, of Marill, Snubbull, and Donphan). Nowadays, we can list off a good number of Dragon-type Pokémon, but back then, there only was one evolutionary line of Dragon-type Pokémon: Dratini, Dragonair, and Dragonite. That was it, and they were even among the hardest Pokémon to even be aware of, let alone to catch.

Lance with Dragonite and Gyarados
The Dragon Trainer Lance

In the original games themselves, it is not until the very end, when you are facing Lance, the leader of the Elite Four who proclaims himself a "dragon trainer", that there is a clue that the Dragon-type even exists. This secret, fearsome type is the type worthy of the leader of the Elite Four. Yikes!

I imagine that some of the first players of the Pokémon games (back before there were such readily available resources as Serebii and Bulbapedia) would face Lance, see his Dragonairs and Dragonite, and then scramble back through the games desperately trying to find where these rare creatures existed in the wild. Maybe one of their friends happened to encounter Dratini, a Pokémon so rare that, according to the PokéDex, it was recently thought to be nothing but myth -- only available by fishing in one little pool in the heart of the Safari Zone, where regular PokéBalls aren't even permitted. I, personally, was fortunate enough to learn the tip of where to find Dratini while I was on the playground and long before I reached the Elite Four in the game, but it is only by piecing this information together, and having a lot of patience and a lot of luck, that you could catch a Dratini and eventually train your own Dragonite in these games.

Dragonite watching the hologram from the letter along with Ash, Misty, and Brock
I thought Ash would appreciate an ultra-rare Pokémon more than flashy technology

Dragonite and its line were the only "pseudo-legendaries", before the concept of "pseudo-legendaries" truly existed in the fandom. Now the impact may be a bit diluted by the fact that there are more and more Pokémon with the same typing and the same in-game role as Dragonite, but at the time, Dragonite was unique, and us fans all knew Dragonite was something special. Which made it all the more jarring when I saw Dragonite give Ash a special delivery, and Ash doesn't even blink. Not even Brock and Misty blink. No one pulls out a PokéDex. No one seems to care at all that a Dragonite just swooped in, which should be astonishing in itself, nevermind the ensuing absurdity of the Dragonite then handing out a letter. They seem more impressed by Mewtwo's holographic technology than by his personal courier.

Ditto misunderstanding the request to transform into a book
Ditto tried its best, bless its heart.

Similarly, I would think that Jessie, James, and Meowth would notice how rare and powerful Dragonite is, but somehow, they don't seem to care. Not too far back in the storyline of the Kanto anime, their goal over several episodes was to obtain a Dratini. Their efforts to steal these Pokémon from the Safari Zone were thwarted (and un-aired outside of Japan due to the improper handling of firearms by the Clint Eastwood-esque Safari Warden), so, in their desperation a few episodes later, they switched tactics to try to get a Ditto to impersonate a Dratini for them to deliver to the Boss instead.

Dragonite flying in vain against the might of Jessie's frying pan
No effort was made to steal this Dragonite

The efficacy of their plans aside, Jessie, James, and Meowth clearly know that Dratini would be a good target for Team Rocket; either they should also recognize Dragonite as a high priority target to steal, or else, just by the fact they don't know what it is, they should want to nab it. But no PokéBalls are readied, no nets hoisted, no mottos said. Instead, they merely want to temporarily stop the Dragonite in order to snoop into Ash's mail. After giving the Dragonite a whopping headache, I suppose they just let it fly away? Really?

Dragonite scattering invitations in Ono's adaptation of The Birth of Mewtwo
Invitations for everyone!
From Toshihiro Ono's CoroCoro Comic: Birth of Mewtwo

The best in-universe explanation I ever could come up with as to why Dragonite of all Pokémon was the one who was delivering the mail, was by thinking about how Mewtwo, at this point in the plot, is in full show-off mode. What better way to impress a bunch of up-and-coming Pokémon trainers, to flaunt the scope of your Pokémon collection and convey your skill in training them, than to have a creature as majestic, mighty, and rare as Dragonite do something as menial as deliver the mail for you? How many badges does it take for Dragonite to obey the order to deliver the mail? Surely that is impressive. Though that still doesn't explain why, er, nobody seems to be all that impressed.

A scene from The First Movie of an oddly mirrored Bellsprout dancing across a trippy background
Well, Bellsprout does learn Acid after all...

And the best meta explanation I could come up with is to remember that The First Movie was a glorious high-point of the Pokémon craze, and the creators of the movie pulled out all the stops to include as many fan-favorite Pokémon in the film as possible. The movie revolved around the feverishly sought-after Mew and its super-powerful clone Mewtwo; the Pikachu's Vacation short at the beginning not only unveiled never-before-seen Johto Pokémon, but focused on such favorites as Pikachu, Togepi, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, Raichu, and Cubone; a key scene of the movie involves a series of battles between each of the final evolutions of the three starter Pokémon; we see not only all of Ash, Misty, and Brock's Pokémon out of their PokéBalls, but clones of them as well; there's even a moment between scenes in Pikachu's Vacation where I guess the creators realized Bellsprout had never been shown in the anime before, so there is a completely meaningless sequence of an oddly mirrored Bellsprout dancing across a trippy background -- it was glorious I tell you, glorious!

Dragonite flying over the surface of the water
Whoosh!

I thought perhaps the people making the movie also wanted some way to fit in Dragonite for its first anime appearance (well, ahem, it's first non-silhouetted and reasonably-scaled appearance anyhow), so I figured they simply shoehorned the scene into the movie with Dragonite as a courier just for the heck of it. It gave them a good opportunity not just to show Dragonite, but to have it fly around, knock things over, make cute sounds -- the writers must have known everyone would be excited to see Dragonite flapping its way across the big screen, and they needed some Pokémon to deliver this letter, so, hey, why not?

One of the rare appearances of Dragonite, [...] and we actually hope that with this scene that, uh, the male purse would make a comeback in the United States.
Norman Grossfeld Pokémon: The First Movie 4Kids Audio Commentary
Wynaut
Wynaut, indeed.

I reluctantly accepted this "why not?" explanation and tried my best not to think any more about this slight done to Dragonite's honor by making it into a delivery-Pokémon. I mean, Dragonite doesn't seem offended, it seems downright proud to have done a job well done. I let it go.

Then, in the Year of our Lord 2017, I was scrolling through old 4Koma comics that PacificPikachu has loving scanned and shared for us all to enjoy over at PokeScans. I came across this gag strip and had a double take.

Dragonite delivering a package to a second-story window

The comic depicts (as best as I can figure, not knowing Japanese or anything), a Dragonite as a delivery-Pokémon, bringing a package to its intended recipient. Since Dragonite can fly, Dragonite has conveniently delivered the package directly to the second-story window. Less conveniently, the recipient forgot she was not on the ground floor when she walked outside in order to sign for the package. Whoops.

The covers to the three volumes(?) of 4Koma Encyclopedia
Pokémon 4Koma Encyclopedia

Now hold on. Why is Dragonite yet again being shown in the role of a delivery-Pokémon? In something that has no connection with The First Movie? This comic is from Takahiro Yamashita's Pokémon 4Koma Encyclopedia series, and, depending on which volume this comic is from, it might even predate Mewtwo Strikes Back (the first publication date was February 1st, 1997, a full 17 months before the movie premiered in Japan). Even if this particular comic came later, I doubt that it was referencing the Dragonite from the movie, as, rather than the mail satchel and carrying a letter, this Dragonite has a cute cap and is carrying a package. So, here we have a completely separate instance of Dragonite delivering the mail. Why does this keep happening?

Zapdos about to go down a snowy chimney with a bag full of gifts
Santa Zapdos. Get it?

From seeing other pages of the Pokémon 4Koma Encyclopedia, the style seems to be that there is a gag comic focusing on each Pokémon in PokéDex order, and usually involving some egregiously awful pun. For example, the comic for Zapdos shows the legendary bird about to go down a snowy chimney with a bag full of gifts. Zapdos's Japanese name is サンダー, a direct transliteration of the English word Thunder. It would be pronounced in Japanese like Tsundaa. Say it a few times. Tsundaa... Sunda... Santa. ...Go ahead and groan; I personally like puns but... this is terrible, yes, I know.

So then I started to wonder... oh no... is Dragonite as a delivery-Pokémon in some way a horrible pun?

Dragonite's Japanese name is カイリュー, romanized as Kairyu. Kai-ry-u... Kairyu... oh no...it's a pun on the English word carrier.

The punk American trainer from The First Movie screaming: Oh my God!
Oh my God!
James laughing in a deranged way, his hair distressed
A carrier!

Ha! Ha ha! Hahahaha! A carrier! Kairyu is a carrier, ahahaha! Ha! Haha!

Now I understand exactly why the creators of Mewtwo Strikes Back selected Dragonite out of all the 151-ish Pokémon that existed at the time to be the one to deliver a letter: it's a terrible, horrible pun. And the 18 years of wondering only serves to make this pun all the more horrendous.

Alright, anyway...

Dragonite promo card depicting Dragonite flying with a mail satchel
Promo card featuring a Dragonite, with Pokémon Power: Special Delivery

The carrier Dragonite from Mewtwo Strikes Back was also featured on a promotional card from the Pokémon Trading Card Game. It's Pokémon Power is called Special Delivery, and it lets you swap the top card on your deck with a card from your hand. This card was one of the possible promo cards to be handed out in the United States at theatrical releases of The First Movie.

ANA airplane featuring artwork of Mew and Mewtwo, among several other Pokemon.
ANA Airplane with art of Mew, Mewtwo, and several other Pokémon

In Japan, this Dragonite card was not given out in theaters, but, rather, it could be redeemed by passengers of All Nippon Airways, the Japanese airline that is famous for the murals of Pokémon painted on several airplanes of their fleet (as a side note, together with the Dragonite, ANA also handed out a special reprint of the Flying Pikachu card, hehe).

Hm, that's odd. I now feel like I keep seeing Dragonite associated with airplanes.

Illustration of Dragonite and Flying Pikachu with various aircraft
Illustration of Dragonite and Flying Pikachu with various aircraft.
From Pokémon de Oboeyou 5 – Vehicles

Please don't tell me it's because Dragonite is an aircraft carrier. I don't think I can handle another dose of bad puns right now.