The actual last Pokémon in the original Pokédex, Mew feels like a fitting end to what was the complete roster at the time. It’s supposed to be powerful and mysterious, but ends up just looking downright adorable, which is a mix that feels perfectly on-brand for Pokémon.
Mew comes across as a more natural form of Mewtwo – clean and pink and round, infantile in appearance but with the kind of oversized feet and tail that normally signal that an animal has a real growth spurt coming. It makes for a really sleek way of denoting that there’s some hidden power within Mew without complicating the design or sacrificing its pure charm.
Its long and cordlike tail, coloration, simplified face, and general head-heavy shape also give it a passing (and deliberate) resemblance to an embryo, but not one strong enough to override the “cute cat” vibes. As cool as it was to round things out with the powerhouse that is Mewtwo, I appreciate even more the choice to end with a relatively clean and elegant design.
For a Legendary, Mew isn’t actually that powerful statistically, being slightly-above-average across the board. What’s more interesting is its ability to learn (almost) any move taught through non-natural means, from items to in-game tutors. That makes Mew incredibly versatile, though to be honest, it seems odd to me that one would use Mew at all, let alone in the single-player campaign, given its hyper-rarity.
While not a juggernaut like Mewtwo, Mew still has its fair share of popularity, from being co-headliner of the first movie to a regular appearances both across and outside the series afterward as the go-to “super-rare, only in urban legends” Pokémon. It probably doesn’t hurt that Mew makes for a way cuter plush doll than its peers in the Kantonian pantheon.
Mew is the first of a whole sub-category of “Legendary” Pokémon called “Mythic” Pokémon. These are typically small, adorable, and generally on the lower end of the power spectrum compared to most Legendary monsters. Most notably, though, Mythic Pokémon aren’t normally found at all within the core video games – and often aren’t even mentioned.
In fact, for the first few years of the game, a finite number of legitimate Mew existed in the world, with players having to win a lottery and mail in their physical game cartridges, or show up in-person to an official promotional event, to have an individual Mew generated and added by hand. This situation got better over the years with digital distribution methods, and nowadays it’s not terribly hard to get your hands on a Mew if you go looking hard enough, have an internet connection during an online distribution window, or just go to the store and buy a peripheral that comes with a complimentary one.
That said, back in the day, people were obviously not satisfied with the idea of a monster with limited availability – and judging by how vendor-specific pre-order content is dying out in modern games, that’s far from a unique issue. But rather than open grousing on social media, the early internet and school playgrounds proved a better breeding ground for rumors and hearsay, with plenty of folks willing to fabricate rumors that there was some secret code or chain of actions that would make Mew appear without using a device to effectively cheat one into your game. And, of course, that’s the kind of thing you want to believe, because it’s so much more palatable than knowing that there’s one last critter in the game that you arbitrarily cannot have.
Of course, regardless of how people were rightfully frustrated over The Mew Situation, it turned out to be good business all around. Just announcing its existence and a contest around it bumped the original games’ sales numbers up past what they were at launch, and manufacturers of cheat devices like the Gameshark and Action Replay moved trucks of units to players who bought one explicitly for the purpose of getting access to Mew. And while most Mythical Pokémon have been available to everybody via Internet distribution at this point, there are still serial-code-based distributions in 2020 to promote movie ticket sales and attendance at hobby fairs, so the lesson to be learned here seems to be that the model works as intended.
Amusingly, Mew wasn’t originally known to even Red & Green‘s publishers, being snuck into the code by a programmer a few weeks before the development deadline. It was originally intended to be a proper Easter Egg that only other developers would be able to access, being designed to take up as little space as possible to make it in under the wire. Mew’s abilities even give this some feeling of truth; its perfectly-even stats, ability to Transform into any other creature and learn most moves in the game read like the features of some tool used to play with and test the game’s mechanics.
That obviously didn’t stay under wraps for very long at all, with a Mew distribution being announced only two months after the launch of Red & Green, but it’s interesting to think about a world where we only learned about Mew through a forum post by some fan with a cartridge reader in the late ’90s, swearing up and down that the “Mew” mentioned in the Cinnabar Mansion was actually in the game. Would it stay an Easter Egg and be dropped without a word, or would the publisher double back and try to capitalize on it in the same way?
I could easily see a universe where Mew was “finally” released as a hook into the updated Yellow release, as part of the new roster for the Gold & Silver sequels, or for the series’ tenth anniversary as a throwback to the original games. What we actually got was more frustrating for a while (I remember trading a physical Diddy Kong Racing game to a classmate for his Mew back in ’07), but it definitely gave the series a more interesting history, and Mew still feels more elusive to this day than it actually is.
Mew’s other claim-to-fame is supposedly being the last common ancestor of all extant Pokémon species, which would both make it obviously prehistoric (possibly ageless?) and runs counter to its moniker, the New Species Pokémon. All Pokémon get these little monikers, usually banal like the Puppy Pokémon or the Virtual Pokémon, but Mew’s feels wonky in that it’s blatantly untrue – by definition, it was confirmed to exist and held in captivity before Mewtwo ever existed, and implicitly it’s one of the oldest species. It does kind of give the Mew pair a sort of race as to who is based on whom, though (in-canon, Mewtwo was born from Mew, but “two” is listed first; design-wise, Mew was designed second as a simpler version of Mewtwo).
That last common ancestor proposal still doesn’t make a lick of sense on its face, considering that dozens of monsters are canonically man-made. Even beyond that, it’s hard to imagine invertebrates like Omanyte or Grimer lowercase-e evolving from a vertebrate. And completely inorganic monsters or living plants feel right out.
Then again, it being an apparently unique creature within the entire setting (or being so elusive that it’s as good as unique) means that the people who would say so don’t have much to go on. Filling in the blanks, that’s that theory is the kind of wild claim you get from extrapolating the fact that Mew’s hair supposedly gives off DNA samples matching every other known species – which is probably more from the fact that Mew can learn Transform than from it being a progenitor of all life or anything. Of all the monsters in the original lineup, this makes Mew feel the most supernatural and wondrous, since even within the fiction we don’t get much concrete information. It’s all talk of mirages, sightings, folklore and belief – a lot thrown at the wall, but none made to stick especially hard.
The one concrete bit we do have, though, is that its native habitat is supposedly in South America. This makes it the second monster to mention a real-world location in its depiction, and far from the last time that a mention of actual geography will get little more than a passing word from the series.
The actual implications from that could go in a few ways, and since Pokémon doesn’t exactly smell of post-apocalypse, it’s always seemed to fit more in the “real world, but with some differences” camp to me. That said, every single region in the series is roughly based on a real-world country, with most Pokémon movies since about 2001 basing their settings on specific cities and landmarks, frequently overlapping with the games’ locales (there are at least three separate cities within Pokémon based on New York, for example). So are some places in the Pokémon world just suspiciously similar to others, or is “South America” a big enough concept that it would still encompass multiple Pokémon regions?
…the official word, of course, is that the setting is merely “earth-like” and is only the same where it’s useful as a shorthand. Don’t stare at it too hard and all. But while that’s a nice outlook for an idealistic all-ages series, it kind of defeats more interesting hypothetical questions, which are definitely not the byproduct of reading way too far into instances where some writer broke the style guide.
Nope, it’s just one last mystery for Mew has left us with.
Mew is a fascinating Pokémon for all that it adds to both the in-fiction lore and to the out-of-fiction way that the series is handled. Other monsters come and go with perfect regularity each generation, so Mew is more of a nice-to-have to be kept in Reserve, but boy oh boy is it an intriguing little bugger to have on board.
Any and all appreciation for Mew is welcome in the comments!