Rarity aside, Celebi is so obviously a forest spirit even at a glance. Explicitly green and with doll-ish proportions, they readily fit into the role of a little fairy, flitting about the woodland and spreading their natural magic. They even wear little green “tights”. The fact that their skull takes after a plant-bulb could go right over your head – like it went over mine for a decade – and they’d still feel like a being that belongs among plant-life and the deep forest.
But they’ve also been called a little alien, which I get. The antennae, the wide-set eyes, and the big green head all feel very “Roswell”. But that’s just as much the designers using the “throw-animals-in-a-blender” approach – their antennae match their insectoid wings, the broad eyes are a trait of a docile herbivore, and the big green onion-head, as noted, makes them feel like something of a living plant. It’s a lot going on for a critter whose appeal seems to be as much in their simplicity, but that speaks to how well the imagery works on multiple levels. That’s good monster design, right there.
There’s not much to talk with about using them in-game, though. You can only get a new Celebi in the main series once in a blue moon, and the supermajority of people are realistically going to keep theirs around as a collector’s item as a result. Not to say that Celebi doesn’t have a lot to offer – they have plenty of options across the board – but they also fall into the “too unique to use” trap even more than the now-tried-and-true Mew.
Speaking of, Celebi might have one of the wildest methods of capture in the main series. Back in 2000, when Pokémon Crystal was released, cell phone technology was just taking off. Likewise, the Gameboy family was churning through a bunch of weird, one-off hardware extensions like the Gameboy Printer. It’s more or ness “natural” that, sooner or later, those two things would mash together like some ’90s techie Reese’s Cup, I suppose.
The result was the Mobile System GB – a very primitive version of the Global Trade System that only worked in Japan. The whole idea was that, through an extension wire, a Gameboy could piggyback off a cell phone connection and access some very rudimentary online features. It’s a fun little novelty to read about, especially with how it had elements of things that would appear later in the series like the Pal Pad and an in-game news feed.
One of its many features – one that the series would eventually make standard – was hosting limited-time item distributions. For a brief window, Japanese players of Crystal could receive a GS ball – a specialized, unusable Pokéball – from the Mobile GB, which could be used to trigger a multi-day quest, which would then allow them to encounter a wild Celebi. That’s specialized, Japan-only hardware on top of a limited-time release just to activate an bit of content that would eventually lead to the in-game monster even appearing.
This whole process got cleaned up a lot since then – modern games do similar distributions over the internet now, and the version of Crystal on Virtual Console hands over the GS Ball for free once you’ve seen the credits roll. But these early stabs at making these special-event monsters unique-but-accessible are definitely a fun look at the wonky roots of Nintendo’s still-wonky online services, especially when compared against the similarly odd-by-modern-standards Satellaview.
Those early concepts do result in some dead-ends, though, like how the GS Ball showed up in the main anime series. It was a big plot trinket in the Johto season of the show, with the original plan being to have it drive a story arc centered around Celebi. But after a movie got greenlit with Celebi in the starring role, the whole idea seemed redundant. Ultimately the writers had the item literally go on a shelf in-universe in hopes that viewers would just forget about it. This is far from the last time that the series will leave breadcrumbs about a creature or story and then fail to completely follow up, but usually the anime is the one picking up the slack in that regard.
In this case, it’s… basically every other medium. Celebi is nearly as popular as Mew in that regard, possibly owing to the fact that they’re a somewhat-recognizable “mythic” Pokémon without all the story baggage created by Mewtwo. It makes Celebi a great “embodiment of nature” deity, and so they show up a lot in various spin-off manga and in games outside the main series, with or without referencing the more outlandish elements about them.
The biggest hook with Celebi, you see, is that they’re a time traveler.
The series plays around with how this works quite a bit, but for the most part it doesn’t explicitly explain how the mechanics work. The games seem to imply that this is a predestination or “stable time loop” situation, where any interaction the traveler has with their past is already accounted for by their present. The anime blows things up in the other direction, allowing a legion of Celebi from across the timestream to come to each other’s rescue with little regard for continuity.
Ultimately, they never dwell on this long enough for it to become an issue, but more of a persistent curiosity that’s left as “one of the world’s mysteries”. And do you know what? That’s fine. Pokémon isn’t hard science-fiction about time-travel, it’s a light series about about fantastic creatures. I think they’re allowed a fun time-travel-shenanigans episode once in a while so long as it’s not a crux of the series’ lore.
For that, you need to read the manga.
(No, really, go read Pokémon Adventures / Pokémon Special. It’s wild.)
But even the half-dozen side-games Celebi has been in feel like a lot to me. I get that the side-games don’t want to introduce all-new critters, and it feels smart that, if they must feature a Legendary Pokémon, they choose one that hasn’t already seen the spotlight. But it helps the “mythic” Pokémon feel properly rare if they mostly exist off-screen, and once you leave the beaten path, Celebi has gotten plenty of screen-time.
To that point, Celebi, much like their Johto peers, is a great concept that I don’t feel like we need to see in every game – especially since even a small amount of time travel can aggressively complicate any story where they appear. But it’s still useful as a trope, and so it would do well to keep them in Reserve to use when their inclusion is particularly apt.
Keep Celebi Mythic.
Any and all appreciation for Celebi is welcome in the comments!