Pikachu! If there’s only one Pokémon you recognize, it’s this fella. Ostensibly a mouse, but she’s got a hodge-podge of other cute rodent-y features to her: rabbity ears, squirrely cheeks, and those stubby legs that look like she’s wearing a pair of too-big pants. The tail that’s almost as big as her body (presumably used as a lightning rod to some degree?) gives a comical, fun look to her proportions, which is in-line with the series’ very G-Rated front. My main hitch with this design is that yellow is a pretty aggressive color for your franchise mascot, but that’s offset by Pokémon being a pretty colorful series to begin with, a lot of portrayals using more of a subdued wheat-y yellow, and the fact that it does make for an eye-catching visual. Still might have preferred the original plan of picking a more generic monster (more on that when we reach her), but considering Pokémon’s penchant for adapting real-life concepts, she’s not remotely the worst choice for their cute breadwinner.
Raichu takes a lot of Pikachu’s already-adorable features and exaggerates them into something more boisterously-cute and even pretty cool. Strong legs for pouncing, more rodent-like (if flashily sharp and curly) ears, and an even longer tail that it might either whip you with or use to ground itself (its tip is even shaped like a lightning-bolt, to boot, which is only a little on-the-nose). She’s also got brown tips to her limbs, which make it look either more like a mouse that’s been digging its den or a creature that’s singed its own fur with electricity – I love the flavor behind that second explanation considering its Electric typing. It’s nice that she and Pikachu share a generic blob-shaped body, but the cream belly breaking up the mono-color appearance really helps her look more like a complex and complete creature than Pikachu’s more blob-of-cuteness design. She’s like a matured, kangaroo-rat version of Pikachu, and I like her very much.
Alolan Raichu is so weird in that it’s definitely an alternate take on Raichu, but it has to evolve from the standard Pikachu – and while its design is a nice lateral progression from the former, it shares very little in common with the latter, which makes the process of evolving this thing a bit odd. Anyway, physically it’s mostly just rounder and shinier-looking, with white tips to its limbs and what looks more like a suntan than the original Raichu’s burnt orange. Plus, water-wing floaties for her adorable little ears!
The design here is based on a whole shtick in the lore about teaching Pikachu to Surf, which has been a one-off ability with specific requirements in various places since about 1998, and which persists as occasional imagery and a move that Pikachu can obtain in various indirect ways. It’s a bit odd that they turned Surfing Pikachu into an evolution without actually creating a direct “surfing Pikachu” variant, but what’s here is a nice variant of Raichu, if one that doesn’t make sense without the original(s) as context.
kachu! Just like her name, she seems to be based making inoffensive changes to Pikachu to make her look delightfully small. Only one zag in her stubby tail, triangular ears as big as her head (which the black tips just dominate), and more of a big-headed baby look rather than a contiguous body. I’m not sure where her collar came from, and I don’t think it’s adding anything other than the fact that Pichu looks more generally balanced between its bumblebee colors than Pikachu’s contiguous yellow. It’s basically just a toddler-version of Pikachu, which initially helped show off both the egg-hatching mechanic in Gold and Silver and the new friendship mechanic that it uses to evolve, but since that’s old-hat now, he’s just kinda there, even if he is such a precious lil’ thing. (Except in Super Smash Bros., where he kicks all manner of keister.)
In the games, Pikachu is kind of middle-of-the-road, suitable for a series mascot that a lot of people will probably use based on brand-recognition alone. She interestingly has a held item that has a unique effect on only her (an attack boost, essentially), which makes Pikachu a viable alternative to her fully-evolved form, if a frail one. Raichu has access to a lot of good moves and can take a hit better, but Alolan Raichu ups her game with even better attack stats and a unique type combination. The lot of them are have some pretty common weaknesses, but it’s not like the designers will ever let the literal face of the franchise not be a viable party member.
Here’s where I would talk about how publicly-visible these fellas are, which would affect how realistic it is to retire their designs from the series, but c’mon. It’s PIKACHU. Your grand-pop knows what this sucker looks like.
There’s an overwhelming amount of trivia I could spout here, but mostly it’s interesting to note how many variants of Pikachu’s design (and the rest of its family) have cropped up over the years. To wit:
- Surfing Pikachu
- Detective Pikachu
- Cosplay Pikachu
- Wearing-a-Hat Pikachu
- A ton of trainers’ Pikachu with unique characteristics
- Alolan Raichu
- Spiky-eared Pichu
- Ukelele Pichu
- The Pichu Brothers
- Virus Pikachu
This design overall had a bunch of other possibilities along the way – Pikachu was originally conceived as a mochi-like blob with the same distinctive ears, and Raichu initially evolved again into a more demon-like creature. Presumably there are a lot of other scrapped designs out there, but ‘chu being so visible means that we get to hear more about them, at least! Look up the Space World prototype sometime if that sounds interesting – tons of obvious scrapped material in there, a lot with direct analogues to things that did make the final cut.
Also of note, despite the “surfing Pikachu” aesthetic of Alolan Raichu, it isn’t Water-type, and can’t naturally learn Surf or the Magnet Rise move used to levitate itself as its Pokédex entry suggests (nor does it get the ability “Levitate”) – it can learn both of those moves, but it has to acquire them indirectly from in-game tutors. Oh, irony.
We could sit here and jabber on all day about his guy, but at the end of the day, it’s a Pikachu. It was never going to be anything other than a Must-Have design, and you could sure do a lot worse for a mascot character.
Any and all appreciation for Pikachu, Raichu, and Pichu is welcome in the comments!