The Female Playable Characters of Pokémon

Girls and backpacks don't mix

Written by ritabuuk and dubiousdisc
Posted on January 21st 2019
Tagged as:
Red from Generation I
Red from Generation I

In the very first Pokémon games, you were the boy with a possible default name of Red . You could set your name to be anything you wanted... but that was what you got.

At this point in time, you didn't have the option for the player character to be a girl. Little Denise was mildly annoyed that she had no choice but to play as a boy with a hat -- what, do they think only boys play video games? Still, she named herself Denise and was the little boy with the hat named Denise going on her adventure in the Pokémon World.

To break a lance in Game Freak's favor, we know that, with the original games, they were pressed for space like hell to try to get all their ideas to fit into a Game Boy cartridge, and unfortunately a lot of things had to be left behind on the cutting room floor. We presume that Game Freak maybe considered including a female playable character based on this illustration by Ken Sugimori:

Red, Green, and Blue
Red, Green, and Blue

There's the male player character and the male rival and a mysterious female character, each with one of the starter Pokémon at their side. Sugimori has said that he designed the female protagonist pictured here specifically for the cover of the official Pokémon Red and Green Strategy Book; he imagined how such a character would look in the style matching the two male characters. So, this artwork was not part of the process of making the games themselves, but the idea of a possible female protagonist might have been on Sugimori's mind.

For contrast, one of the features that Game Freak did implement and keep in the final version of the games was the ability to give a nickname to each Pokémon that the player catches.

We were discussing whether it would be better to have 3 save files or to be able to name all 151 of your Pokémon, and everyone was unanimous in saying "It's better to be able to name them all!"
Ken Sugimori (Game Freak Staff Interview: Creating the Game)

We can understand that Game Freak decided to prioritize the ability to give each of your Pokémon a nickname because of the impact that this feature brings to the experience. Although nicknames use up a lot the precious save file space, to the point that Game Freak had to limit the game to just one save file at a time, nicknames emphasize the personal bond you forge with your Pokémon, who are your companions on your unique journey. If you trade a Pokémon that you caught and nicknamed, that personal touch will be forever with that Pokémon.

Despite this attention to the uniqueness of the Pokémon you catch along your own Pokémon journey... Game Freak didn't think it was so important that you might be a girl.

This means that Game Freak decided that the existence of Krabby and your ability to give it an obscene name are more important than your gender.

Krabby
The pinnacle of monster design.
Art of the unused female playable character by Ken Sugimori
The unused female playable character, from unofficial guidebooks that came with Pokémon origami sets.

While their priorities are evident and damning, we can still give Game Freak maybe a slight pass on the first games because, yeah, they were really strapped for space. And, to be fair, they didn't know what a big deal Pokémon was going to become. They clearly only imagined a relatively small group of boys playing their games on almost-obsolete Game Boys, and they couldn't have known in advance that the Pokémon games were going to become a universal phenomenon that would single-handedly revitalize the Game Boy, and all girls and boys and everyone was going to be playing and loving their games.

Yet, the Generation I games came out, things went the way they did, and these games have this evident void with regard to the player character. When playing Pokémon at the time, there was no option to play as a girl, and as girls, we definitely noticed.

Green from Pokémon Adventures
At least Green got to be a character in the Pokémon Adventures manga... but that makes the void in the games themselves all the more poignant.

Generation II

But then, in 1999, when Gold and Silver came out, there was no excuse to still not have a female playable character.

With the Generation II games, Game Freak got a chance to revisit elements of the Pokémon games that they were unhappy with the first time around and revamp them with twice the memory available. Satoshi Tajiri mentioned in an interview that Game Freak had to cut a major corner with the way they implemented the backsprites of the Pokémon the first time around -- they made the sprites at lower resolution and, to display them, they were enlarged. This meant that less pixel data needed to be stored for all of these sprites, and it would be okay, as it would give the closer Pokémon an out-of-focus look. While that was a really clever way to save on resources, it is obvious that Tajiri was still unsatisfied with this shortcut. So, one of the first things Game Freak did as part of the development of Gold and Silver was to redo all the Pokémon backsprites, and as early as the 1997 SpaceWorld Demo, all the Pokémon had brand-new, lovingly detailed backsprites at full resolution.

Metapod's backsprite from Generation I Metapod's backsprite from Generation I
Metapod's low-res backsprite from Generation I and then the glorious resolution of the SpaceWorld demo.
Gold from Generation II
Gold from Generation II

Similarly, in Generation I, they only had 11 little icons for different categories of Pokémon; in Generation II, they beefed that number up to 38. They expanded the list of 151 Pokémon to 251, rescuing many designs they would have wanted to make into Pokémon the first time around but very painfully needed to cut due to the space restrictions. They prioritized cramming the entire region of Kanto into these sequels, and they got help from Satoru Iwata to do some programming wizardry to get it all to fit.

But, despite all of that, and despite knowing what a phenomenon Pokémon was at that point... Game Freak still didn't think it was that important that you might be a girl. You still have to play as a (different) boy in a (backwards) hat.

At this point in time, Rosy watched her cousin play Pokémon Gold. Rosy thought it was dumb that her cousin, who is a girl, wasn't allowed to play her game as a female character. "Who's that boy with the hat? That's not you."

It wasn't until Pokémon Crystal, the enhanced edition of the Generation II games, which came out in the year 2000 -- four years after the the first games and marking the fifth entry in the main series -- that Game Freak finally got down their list of priorities to the point of giving you the choice to play as a female character.

Kris from Generation II
Kris!!!
Kris in Crystal
Yay, Kris!

The first ever female playable character in the main series Pokémon games is Kris, and she is wonderful. Considering the role of the bicycle in the game, she's got bike shorts; she also wears sneakers, a backpack, and a jacket. The official art shows her standing with a PokéBall in her hand. We imagine she's just dismounted from her bike and she's ready for battle. Other artwork of Kris, also made by Ken Sugimori, shows her running and using the PokéGear and generally in action. The sprite shows her standing with her arms up, ready to go.

We love Kris, and she is beloved by pretty much the whole fandom. Why wouldn't you love her?

Generation III

Generation III started in 2002 with Ruby and Sapphire. Following the trend started with Crystal, the game begins with the question, "Are you a boy or a girl?" which lets you pick your player character. In these games, the female character is named May by default. Like Kris, she also has biking shorts and a PokéBall ready in her hand.

May from Ruby and Sapphire Brendan from Ruby and Sapphire
May and Brendan's Ruby and Sapphire designs

However, Kris has a jacket, but May does not. This would not be very notable, except when you juxtapose May with her male counterpart, Brendan. Brendan is completely covered from head-to-toe in a full-on tracksuit with long sleeves and his pants tucked into his boots and fingerless gloves. His only visible skin is on his face and his fingers. Even though Brendan and May are both exploring Hoenn, which is a warm place with beaches and an island paradise town complete with cabanas, May looks to be dressed for summer, while Brendan seems dressed for winter. If both of them were dressed comparatively, with Brendan in shorts or something, we would have nothing to point out here. But it was decided that May needed to have more skin showing than Brendan, and the fact that Brendan is so overdressed makes this all the more glaring.

May from Emerald Brendan from Emerald
May and Brendan's Emerald designs

Even in Pokémon Emerald (2004), in which Brendan was revamped to wear short sleeves, he's still wearing two layers of pant that completely cover his legs, but May loses her already short sleeves entirely.

Overall though, we have to say, we don't dislike May's design. Don't think we're prudes or anything -- it's okay that we can see her shoulders and her calves. She's dressed like someone going on an adventure in the summer and is dressed appropriately for biking and traveling across the land. The problem is that the difference with Brendan reveals something troubling.

Also note that May is the first playable character of Pokémon to not have a backpack. Instead, her storage is in the form of a fanny pack on her belt. The Generation III games adjust the look of the Item Menu interface around whether you are accessing the item from May's fanny pack or Brendan's backpack. Game Freak invested all this programming and asset-creation into differentiating between the "male" and "female" bags, so they must have thought this was really important. For some reason.

May's bag Brendan's bag
The backgrounds of the menus are conveniently color-coded, just in case you forget you're a girl.

In 2004, enhanced remakes of the original Generation I games were released for Game Boy Advance in the form of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen. One very notable enhancement of these games is the addition of the option to play as a female character, Leaf, who seems to have been inspired by Green, the female character that Ken Sugimori posthumously designed for Generation I.

Leaf
Leaf from FireRed and LeafGreen.

Unlike May or Kris, Leaf wears a short pleated skirt. While we now suspect that was done as a nod to Green's skirt, at the time when FireRed and LeafGreen first came out, this apparent shift in the design of the female playable character really pissed us off. Are we supposed to believe that Leaf's going around on a bike, searching far and wide, wearing that skirt? She looks like she's dressed for class, not for an adventure in the badlands of Kanto (nevermind that that skirt is far too short to have been acceptable in any of the schools that we know).

Except for the illogical idea of riding a bike in that short of a skirt, and the out-of-place hat, it's an okay design. Denise was very happy to see a female character with long brown hair, brown eyes, a green shirt, and even green socks (which are meant to be knee high but have fallen down and Leaf doesn't give a shit). Apart from the hat and the skirt, this is the Pokémon character that Denise identifies the most strongly with.

VS Seeker
This is notably not Leaf's VS Seeker, because it is not pink.

Continuing on the bag thing, Leaf has not a backpack or a fanny pack, but rather a messenger bag. Again, this messenger bag is shown in the menu interface differently than Red's backpack. And, while the two characters otherwise have the same color scheme, the VS Seeker clasped to Leaf's bag is pink while the one belonging to Red is blue, even though these colors completely clash with both of their outfits. Just so you know that one belongs to a girl and the other to a boy, we guess.

Generation IV

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl came out in 2006 and feature the playable characters defaultly called Lucas and Dawn.

Lucas in Diamond and Pearl Dawn in Diamond and Pearl
Lucas and Dawn's Diamond and Pearl designs

Lucas looks like he escaped from France by cutting weird seams in his pants. He has a red beret, a red scarf, a backpack, and long, long blue jeans that bag over his shoes. He's showing you that trick where it looks like his thumb comes off. Or maybe he's playing rock-paper-scissors with himself. Damn, lost again.

And then there's Dawn. She is wearing a black and pink dress that ends with the shortest skirt known to humanity -- any less skirt and you would see everything. She's got exposed noodle-arms and naked legs except for her tall pink boots. The pinky-red scarf she is wearing conveniently doesn't cover her non-existent cleavage, because it is really important that we see her skin there. She's got a purse with a short handle hooked over her arm. The way she's holding it, it looks like it must weigh at least two hundred pounds. To be fair, Generation IV was the first time there wasn't a limit on the inventory, so, yeah, maybe it does.

What if we told you she's travelling in the wilderness in a place with snow and winds? How many supplies can she really hold in that inconvenient purse? How long before she dies of exposure with that dress? To be fair, with how Lucas is dressed, he surely will eventually succumb to the elements as well, but Dawn can only survive like, fifteen minutes, tops.

Lucas in Platinum Dawn in Platinum
Lucas and Dawn's Platinum designs

By when Pokémon Platinum came out in 2008, we guess Game Freak remembered that, oh, right, there's snow in this place, whoops. So, they redesigned both characters with more winter-appropriate attire. Lucas still looks terribly French, but he got a jacket and upgraded his fluttery scarf for a woolly scarf tied in a knot to look something like an ascot. We think he might survive now.

But Dawn is now wearing a reddish-pink peacoat, which is no longer than the dress she had before, and still leaves half of her legs completely exposed to the elements. Also, have you ever worn a peacoat? Denise's mom always made her wear a peacoat for her Christmas best, and that sad excuse for outerwear does nothing to keep you warm in the cold.

Let's look at their poses, too. Lucas is standing there with his PokéBall and thinking of all the winning strategies he is going to make. Dawn is like... pointing at a window display in a shopping center. "Oh, look at that coat! It's probably warmer than the one I'm wearing!".

Also, in every version of Dawn's design, she's wearing that awful stupid white snow cap, which, at least is probably warm, but has that flop on the tip and... it looks like a condom on her head.

We also want to point out the colors used in these designs. Up until this generation, the male and female player characters have had shared color schemes.

Color Comparison of Gold and Kris Color Comparison of Red and Leaf Color Comparison of May and Brendan Color Comparison of May and Brendan in Emerald
Excluding hair and tiny accessories, Gold and Kris in Gold/Silver/Crystal have essentially the same color scheme (though bear with us trying to color sample from scans of watercolor artwork). So do Leaf and Red in FireRed/LeafGreen, and the same with May in Brendan in both their Ruby/Sapphire and Emerald designs.

But with Lucas and Dawn, Lucas is the only one of the two with blue in his design (and very prominently so), and the opposite is true with Dawn and the color pink. ...of course they're blue and pink.

Color Comparison of Lucas and Dawn Color Comparison of Lucas and Dawn in Platinum
Lucas and Dawn get to be color-coded by gender.

It's not like we had any trouble distinguishing the male and female characters before??

This character design pissed Rosy off so much that she seriously considered playing Diamond as Lucas instead, because she found the design of Dawn to be so unacceptably demeaning and embarrassing. But we didn't wait so long to be able to play as a female character to give that up because of a bad design.

HeartGold/SoulSilver and the retconning of characters

In 2009, Game Freak released enhanced remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver for the Nintendo DS in the form of HeartGold and SoulSilver.

Gold in Gold Ethan in HeartGold and SoulSilver
Gold and Ethan

The character of Gold got re-imagined as Ethan, who looks mostly the same, except thinner, two-dimensional, and without life in his eyes.

Kris, the character that everyone liked, instead, is not just lifeless... she's... dead. She is completely replaced by a new character: Lyra.

Red's redesign for FireRed/LeafGreen
Red's redesign for FireRed/LeafGreen

We want to point out the dichotomy here between Red and Kris. Red was the first ever playable character of the Pokémon games. Despite the fact that he comes from the first games (which had a much different vibe than the games that came later), he has had many featured reappearances: in Gold/Silver/Crystal, in FireRed/LeafGreen, in HeartGold/SoulSilver, in Black 2/White 2, in Sun/Moon, in UltraSun/UltraMoon, and in Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee. In each appearance, he has been lovingly updated, keeping true to his original design, but reimagining him in style of that generation of Pokémon games (and while you can probably tell we are not fans of the more recent art styles of Pokémon it still shows that Game Freak loves a character whenever they get an update).

Meanwhile, Kris, the first ever female playable character of Pokémon is... deleted.

One argument that fans have offered as to why Game Freak did not bring back Kris is that these games are HeartGold and SoulSilver, and, as remakes of Gold and Silver, they don't include Kris who only appeared in Crystal. To which we reply that, according to that logic, the character of Eusine, who first appeared in Crystal but not in Gold and Silver, also should have not been included in HeartGold and SoulSilver. But he was, along with Suicune being in the overworld, the Battle Tower, and pretty much everything else that was introduced in Crystal. So, this argument falls apart. Game Freak cut out Kris for no reason.

Lyra in HeartGold and SoulSilver
Lyra, from HeartGold and SoulSilver

We don't hate Lyra, but it's tough to like someone who is meant as a replacement for such a beloved character as Kris. And Lyra is far from being a worthy replacement, design-wise. Her outfit is awful. She has denim short overalls, knee-high stockings, rubber shoes, a purse on one shoulder, and a hat that makes Leaf's hat now seem like a wonderful thing in retrospect. Lyra also has the great honor of being the first playable female character in Pokémon to have a bow on her clothing, just in case we couldn't tell she's a girl.

Also compare Ethan and Lyra's poses in the artwork. Ethan is showing his Pokéball and looking pesky. "Let's battle, I'm gonna win". Lyra is holding a Pokéball, but at a distance, like it might bite. She seems to only incidentally be holding this dangerous Pokéball, not with any intention of using it. Though, we have trouble detecting any intention at all from the soulless, soulless eyes of this art style, but... anyway...

In terms of the colors, we're... puzzled. We're glad that they didn't feel the need to add lots of pink to Lyra's design, but she is overall very blue and red, while Ethan's design is very orange-red and black. They just don't look like they go together at all. Ethan was clearly designed based on Gold, while Lyra seems like she was designed completely separately, perhaps for another game entirely, but just plunked next to Ethan without any concern for making their designs unified in any way.

Color Comparison of Ethan and Lyra
What mismatched colors!
Crystal in Lyra's clothes
An outfit so dumb, not even the writers of this manga could imagine their characters willingly wearing it.

So yeah, Kris died so that we could have Lyra. Was it worth it, you monsters?

Although Kris is dead in the games, she continues living in the Pokémon Adventures manga, where she's known as Crystal and gets to be a major character, no matter what retconning attempts the rest of Pokémon media might make. In fact, Pokémon Adventures gets to stick out their tongue at this whole Lyra business. In the HeartGold/SoulSilver chapter of the manga, Crystal is forced by her mother to wear an outfit that she hates and she thinks looks really dumb: Lyra's clothes. She's right. Who would wear that willingly?

But anyway, we're making a big deal about Lyra replacing Kris, but we're not even done talking about beloved female protagonists retconned by HeartGold and SoulSilver. Because not only did these games retcon the existence of Kris, they also manage to spread their curse beyond Generation II, and retcon the existence of Leaf.

Right... So your name is LEAF.
Choosing to play as Leaf.

Let us explain how this happened. When you play FireRed/LeafGreen, you choose whether the main character is Red or Leaf. They are like two potential versions of the same individual. If you're playing as Red, there is no evidence that Leaf exists, and if you're playing as Leaf, there is no evidence that Red exists. In these games, the player becomes Champion of the the Indigo League, helps Professor Oak complete his PokéDex, and causes Team Rocket to disband. Depending on the gender the player chose, either Red or Leaf did these feats.

Schrodinger's Leaf
Comic by Vabbles

The canonicity problem arises in HeartGold/SoulSilver, as these games are simultaneously remakes of Gold/Silver/Crystal and sequels to FireRed/LeafGreen. HeartGold/SoulSilver followed the plot of Gold/Silver/Crystal, and therefore include the reappearance of Red as an NPC. However, these games made no effort to add in Leaf to the story. This essentially says that Leaf does not canonically exist, and it was actually Red who did all that stuff in FireRed/LeafGreen. It was Red who defeated Team Rocket. It was Red who became Champion. It was Red who secluded himself in Mt. Silver, where you can meet him and have an epic battle with him. And Leaf is nowhere to be seen, because she never existed, and was just a fanciful thought experiment.

Together with Kris's disappearance and whatever is the deal with Dawn's designs, this was a sad time to be a girl and a Pokémon fan.

Generation V

In Pokémon Black and White (2010), we get new player characters: Hilbert and Hilda.

Hilbert in Black and White Hilda in Black and White
Hilbert and Hilda in Black and White

When Hilbert's design was first revealed, the fandom reacted positively, and lots of people pointed out that this design is even cooler if you imagine the character as being a butch lesbian. He has a blue jacket with black pants and a messenger bag. Looks nice. He wouldn't even look weird if you saw him walk down the road in real life. Minus the anime eyes.

Hilda's design is good too. She looks like she's going to fix your truck and remove the Mew that got caught in your muffler. On the negative side, once again, her outfit was required to have pink details and to show exponentially more skin than Hilbert's.

Nate in Black 2 and White 2 Rosa in Black 2 and White 2
Nate and Rosa in Black 2 and White 2

We liked Hilbert and Hilda, so Game Freak got rid of them. They're not retconned or anything, but are conveniently stated to have gone far away, allowing Black 2 and White 2 (2012) to have different playable characters, just because. The male character, Nate, looks improbable to say the least. He has hair like living mold entering the reproduction stage, exploding out of his hat. He has a short-sleeved jacket with a tall popped collar. He has huge baggy boxers and a wetsuit underneath, with long duck feet encased in long duck sneakers. What's up with his bag? He must be an art student, given his giant portfolio case. We are honestly not sure what is up with his design.

Rosa looks like a four-year-old dressing herself for the first time without parental supervision. She is wearing a shirt and a tutu-skort and tights and sneakers with flaps, like they couldn't decide between being boots or sneakers. Her hair is plastic from a cheap Princess Leia costume, pinned on top of a visor. Once again, her details are all pink, and she is carrying a huge handbag the size of an accordion.

Why did they feel the need to include the detail that her shirt doesn't quite cover her hips, exposing the tights that are between the tutu and the shirt? Why was that so important to show?

Generally, both of these designs just puzzle us. We're not sure what to emphasize in our critique, because there's absolutely nothing that makes sense between either of them. They look like street urchins that scrounged these articles of clothing out of a dumpster, and that's what they got, not outfits that were designed and put together in any sort of reasonable way.

Also, let's recap on the colors used in the designs of this generation:

Color Comparison of Hilbert and Hilda Color Comparison of Nate and Rosa

By Black 2 and White 2, the male and female player character have completely speciated, and have no colors to share in their designs except for black and white.

Generation VI

In Pokémon X and Y (2013), we have Calem and Serena.

Calem in X and Y Serena in X and Y
Calem and Serena in Pokémon X and Y

In a refreshing turn of events, Calem looks human and well-dressed. He looks like he might be in a band. He's tall and completely in blue. He's got cool boots.

But Serena needs to have a skirt growing out of her boobs and a pink hat and a pink purse. The skirt is still short, and exposes the naked thighs where they are not covered by the stockings. Her arms are naked, while Calem is completely covered all the way up to his chin.

Calem also looks like he's thinking of something cool. Serena is going to be a fashion model.

Which of these characters is going to survive traipsing through tall grass in the wilderness?

Calem in X and Y - Options

On the positive side, X and Y were the first main series Pokémon games in which you have some control over your appearance. At the start of the game, you can pick among three options for your character, each with a different hair color and skintone. So, this marks the first game in the Pokémon series in which you can optionally play as a character without pasty white skin. It took five entries for there to be representation for female players, but it took fourteen entries for there to be representation for any players with melanin.

Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

In 2014, Game Freak also made the remakes of Ruby and Sapphire, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. So May and Brendan get to be redesigned and redrawn in the art style of the moment.

Brendan in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire May in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
May and Brendan's Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire designs

Which is horrible and scary. We think the intent was to draw Brendan with an engaging grin, but it looks more like the face of someone who's going to murder you in your sleep in some twisted way. He needs help, and so do you, when he comes for you. Generally just the physical proportions of this art style are really scary, with the huge bobblehead and the tiny hands. The art is also so two-dimensional, almost cardboard cutout-like. But beyond our criticism of the art style in itself, Brendan looks mostly like himself as per the Emerald redesign. All he lost is the double pants for normal shorts, which is good, because really, why would you ever need two pairs of pants at the same time? He is gripping the Pokéball and ready for battle (and to murder you afterwards).

May, instead, needs to be more naked. She already had plenty of skin showing in the Emerald redesign, but they weren't going to miss the opportunity these remakes provided to reveal ever more -- even if it is starting to seem like desperate slashing. They cut out her socks, the armpit of her shirt, and the top of the shirt. It's really important that we can see the black camisole peeking out from underneath her shirt.

She is also so noodlified. Unlike her previous incarnations, now May's arms and legs have no muscles whatsoever. Her ankles look like she'll break her legs the first time she trips. Her pose is all cute and kiddy-like, with in-turned legs. She's holding the Pokéball loosely, as if she's not quite sure what it is. Is she going on an adventure or is she part of a birthday party photoshoot?

Brendan in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire May in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

In the concept art in which they were showing the back of May's design, they drew her bent forward in an implausible way, with her buttcheeks fully linearted. Compare with the concept art of Brendan, in which they drew him standing with his knees bent, but he's in a stable pose, and you cannot see the precise curvature of his butt.

May is fucking 10, you pedophiles.

Not only that, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire did not retain the ability to change May and Brendan's skin tone or hair color as X and Y did for Calem and Serena. We suspect this decision was made because May and Brendan are pre-existing characters who were not customizable in Ruby and Sapphire, and so Game Freak was reluctant to make drastic changes to their designs... but that's a stupid reason to alienate players, especially since May and Brendan got somewhat redesigned anyway.

You know what Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have instead? Alternative costumes for when Brendan and May are participating in Contests. These costumes are pre-set and uncustomizable, so your player avatar is once again at the mercy of the whims of the character designers.

May in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire - Contest

May gets an outfit in which she's all dolled up in pink with bows and bows and bows, and she's shown jumping cutely with her midriff showing and her ultra-short bloomers on display. We can literally see the line of her vagina. We found that there is also concept art of this costume, which shows all the layers more clearly, and lets us see the precise design of her frilly undergarment. Whoever designed May's costume felt the need to have her undergarment visible. Which meant they had to design her undergarment. Why couldn't she just have worn a long enough skirt so that an illustrator didn't need to design and show the stripped down layers and the fashionable underwear of a ten-year-old? This is just gross.

Oh, no, does this mean that Brendan also gets dolled up and put in a compromising pose?

Brendan in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire - Contest

No, Brendan gets a punk rocker outfit with studs and a cool jacket and cool boots.

We are glad that we can't see the underwear of another fictional ten-year-old, but why does Brendan get to be so cool, while May gets to have her underwear on display? In Brendan's concept art, he was originally designed to have his belly button showing too, but someone decided to obscure that with his jacket and shadows when it came to the final artwork, because do we really need to see the sexy belly button of a ten-year-old? This was not a consideration with May.

Just, whoever was in charge of the character design for Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire needs to go to jail.

Generation VII

The main characters of the Generation VII games Pokémon Sun and Moon (2016) don't get default names, but the fandom refers to them unofficially as Sun and Moon.

Sun in Sun and Moon Moon in Sun and Moon
Sun and Moon in ... Sun and Moon

Sun, the male character, is wearing a striped blue shirt with unflattering capris and bizarre shoes. He has a blue and black backpack and a hat. He looks... alright. For someone without style.

Moon comes from the moon, and looks to be a squirrel of about 4 years old, dressed as a chicken. She appears to be wearing a garbage bag fashioned as a shirt and another garbage bag fashioned as short shorts. We're not trying to trash her (lol), it's just the most accurate way we can find to describe the strange bagginess of her clothing. She also wears strange sneakers with bows - not shoelace bows, ribbon bows, for extra girl signifier. She has a watermelon purse (which is kinda cute) and a hat that we don't think her mother approves of.

Look at the difference in posing between the two artworks. Sun is confident and competent and gonna throw that Pokéball. Moon is all, "Look at that, mommy!!".

In Sun and Moon, you can change your avatar's hair, clothing, and skintone, but you still get to see the blankly smiling doll faces of these characters in every cutscene, looking just as expressionless no matter what is going on in the plot.

Sun in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Moon in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
Sun and Moon in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon

In the enhanced remakes Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (2017), Sun now looks like a reject from One Piece. He's wearing shorts underneath his shorts. We like shorts, they're comfy and easy to wear, but their comfort level does not multiply the more of them you wear simultaneously -- why does this keep happening? But he still gets a backpack and a blue outfit.

Moon is apparently wearing her shorts backwards, with the butt on the front. She has a shirt that looks like a flower in which she's hiding several water balloons. She has a relatively normal purse, and a straw hat with a flower. She looks to be about two. We expect the next female playable character to be an actual infant.

Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!

Wait, we're wrong! In the meanwhile that we've been writing this article, Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! have come out (in 2018), and they feature all-new playable characters, called Chase and Elaine.

Chase in Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee Elaine in Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee
Chase and Elaine in Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!

We have tears in our eyes. Both these player characters look like equals. They have similar color schemes, matching clothing, both are wearing shorts, baseball caps... the girl gets a backpack. A honest-to-goodness backpack. And she gets to be drawn with Eevee, which is clearly the superior choice. Thank you Game Freak. Thank you.

In fact, we feel kinda sorry for Chase, who just gets to be a clone of Red. He looks fine, just very unoriginal.

At the beginning of the game, instead of Professor Oak asking you if you're a boy or a girl, he now asks you "What do you look like?". You can then choose one of several possible hair colors and skin tones for either Chase or Elaine. We appreciate this change because it's more inclusive for players outside the gender binary. Let's Go borrows this consideration from Pokémon Go, in which the character selection begins with Professor Willow asking you to "choose your style". We'll talk about the player characters of Pokémon spin-offs in more detail another time, but for now we wanted to highlight that this is the first time something like this happens in a main series game. We hope this change is here to stay.

But wait, there's more! They brought back Leaf from the Shadow Realm and merged her with Green so that no one knows if they're actually still two characters or not... but we're happy!

Green in Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee
Green in Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!

She looks a lot like the Green from ye olde Sugimori art, with the black dress. She has blue details, because her Japanese name is actually Blue, because all the names went through the scrambler and yeah. She has Leaf's yellow bag, and she has shorts. Holy shit. Shorts. And she doesn't have Leaf's stupid hat. And she looks like a badass. Because she is a badass.

Red and Deoxys, Leaf and Mewtwo
It seems we're not the first to think of how cool it would have been for Leaf to have Mewtwo on her team. Fanart by ぶきこ on pixiv.

Now, when we first started writing this article, which was before Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! had come out, Denise engaged in a thought experiment on how could Leaf have been added into the plot of HeartGold/SoulSilver without breaking anything. She's calling on Rosy and Vablatsky as witnesses who read the draft beforehand, but her idea was: since the Unknown Dungeon was inaccessible in Gold/Silver/Crystal, but was re-added in HeartGold/SoulSilver, Leaf could have been in that cave all along. It would have been a nice parallel to how Red is in the other end-game cave, Mount Silver. And it also could have addressed the potential plothole regarding Mewtwo; Leaf could have been involved in trying to catch Mewtwo, either by having Mewtwo on her team, or by testing the player before you would be able to catch Mewtwo.

Turns out that is pretty much exactly what happened in Let's Go. Holy shit?

In conclusion

Let's hope that the Let's Go games signal a much better direction for the design of female playable characters in Pokémon, because before that, we were kinda out of hope. We went from, you don't get to be a girl. To, okay, you can be a girl. But maybe not with a backpack -- backpacks are for boys only. You can totally ride a bike in a skirt, right? How short can the skirt be? How much skin can we manage to show?

All the main characters of Pokémon

It seems like at some point the female playable character shifted from being potential representation for any female players of the game (or a cool character for anyone choosing to play as her), but rather as an opportunity to draw some hot loli for pedophiles, and/or to do some extremely experimental fashion design. Thanks.

We also can't help but notice that the general trend for female characters over time is to become not just more doll-like, but also more child-like. They are rarely drawn in action or in a pose that suggests competence. They mostly stand there looking cute.

Meanwhile, the male player characters almost always look reasonable. They are posed like they know what they are doing, and aren't just flailing their arms to achieve ✨fashion poses✨. In fact, they are often so conservatively designed, they end up being flat-out boring. Why bother even designing another male playable character if he's just going to be another dude in a blue shirt with a cap, or another clone of Red? In some cases, we can tell that the artist even traced the earlier character's official art in the making of the new character - look at Red from FireRed/LeafGreen and compare his legs with those of Lucas and Hilbert!

It's clear that the male player character is seen as having a tried-and-true success with Red, and they are afraid to travel too far away from that formula -- except the few times when they completely went off the rails and designed characters like Nate, which is such a bizarre departure that of course it failed and made them dive back into their comfort zone. Most of the time, Game Freak seems afraid to alienate the male players, and so they think it is really important that they always have a cool dude wearing blue and black to play their Pokémon game -- so they stifle the designs in order to keep them safe.

Kris running
Run back to us!

The male playable characters could do with being a bit less boring. But we'd prefer it if the female playable characters were a bit more boring. Yet, the attitude seems to be that there's no need to be so careful with the female playable characters, because they're expendable.

Maybe they're learning that they are not so expendable, and that we, the fans, have always cared about the female playable characters. Now that Game Freak has resurrected Leaf, let's start the séance to contact the soul of Kris and return her to the Pokémon canon, with her shorts and her backpack and her strong biking legs!

References and thanks

A special thanks to Vablatsky for beta reading this article, contributing a few good points, and being Denise's witness on the Leaf and Mewtwo thing.

Notes

  1. The names of the three trainers from Kanto are very confusing depending on which game you played, which manga you read, and whether you are inside or outside of Japan. Here, we are going to use the usual US names of Red for the male player character, Blue for the rival character, and Green for the unused female player character.
  2. In order to economize on memory in [Red, Green, and Blue], we made it so that if you were looking at a character from behind, it would appear out of focus in relation to the camera angle. Since we’re now able to use more memory [in Pokémon Gold and Silver], things will be much clearer. Having twice as much memory doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be twice as many Pokémon or twice as many maps.
    Satoshi Tajiri (Game Freak Staff Interview: Pokémon 2)
    1. Red/Green (1996) - Japanese version, were not localized outside of Japan)
    2. Blue (1996) - enhanced remake of Red/Green, outside of Japan became what were known as Red/Blue
    3. Yellow (1998)
    4. Gold/Silver (1999)
    5. Crystal (2000)
  3. In Platinum, the weather is said to be even colder than it was in Diamond/Pearl, due to contrived plot reasons, but Diamond and Pearl were already plenty snowy, so, what the fuck?
    1. Red/Green (1996) - Japanese version, were not localized outside of Japan)
    2. Blue (1996) - enhanced remake of Red/Green, outside of Japan became what were known as Red/Blue
    3. Yellow (1998)
    4. Gold/Silver (1999)
    5. Crystal (2000)
    6. Ruby/Sapphire (2002)
    7. FireRed/LeafGreen (2004)
    8. Emerald (2004)
    9. Diamond/Pearl (2006)
    10. Platinum (2008)
    11. HeartGold/SoulSilver (2009)
    12. Black/White (2010)
    13. Black 2/White 2 (2012)
    14. X/Y (2013)

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