10 reasons why Pokemon is a horror story

6 March 2014 by , No Comments

During a conversation with some friends about stuff we loved in our childhoods, a horrifying truth dawned on me: Pokemon is scary. Not in that obvious, slasher movie, jump scare manner but in a slow-burning psychological way that doesn’t become obvious until you start thinking about it. And, when you start thinking about it, it’s very hard not to look back at those games and wonder why you’re not a gibbering wreck of mental issues.

Pokemon has always had this sinister edge to it that lurks beneath its childish exterior, which has always been my favourite kind of horror. It’s the kind of fear that many of my favourite games, such as the Tales series, employed: the kind that is scary because it’s been staring you in the face for years but you didn’t realise until you were old enough to appreciate why it was scary. From mind control and physical torment all the way to genocide and natural disasters and more child abuse than you’d think possible, Pokemon seems more and more to me like something out of Steven King’s darkest nightmares than an innocent children’s story about kids saving the world with magic animals. So, on that terrifying note further ado, may I present what I think are the scariest things in the series: 10 reasons why Pokemon is a horror story.

1. Bug Types in general

In the television series, it was a running gag that the character of Misty would run away from Bug-type Pokemon. When we were children, we laughed because we thought she had no reason to be afraid. The fact that Bug types were among the weakest Pokemon in the games probably also had something to do with it.

Among players, Pinsir here is considered one of the weaker Bug types. Let that sink in for a moment.

Among players, Pinsir here is considered one of the weaker Bug types. Let that sink in for a moment.

But just think about why she’s afraid for a moment. In the real world, it’s not uncommon for people to be afraid of things like spiders but those don’t generally tend to be that big. The biggest arachnids I’ve ever seen were only just larger than a person’s hand and even then they were flimsy-looking things. Not so in the Pokemon world. Here, spiders tend to be about 3-foot in size and can shoot out webs so thick and powerful that you can never escape them if you’re caught in them. The aptly-named Beedrill species is of similar height, highly toxic, and tends to hunt in swarms. There’s also Scyther, a giant praying mantis-like creature that stands at nearly 5-foot, possesses giant scimitar-like appendages for forearms, and moves too quickly for the human eye to follow. As the series went on, species like Shedinja and Scolipede emerged: respectively the reanimated husk of a giant insect’s cocoon and an 8-foot poisonous centipede that can get faster as it continues to fight. It also became common for Bugs to be combined with the Steel type, leading to creatures like Durant, whose armour plating is so tough that the only thing that can harm it is fire.

Some Pokemon fans, being completely insane, have taken it upon themselves to depict what some of these beings would look like in real life. After seeing some of their representations (like the image featured above), I can honestly say that Misty had every reason to be afraid. Let’s face it, if we lived in a Pokemon region, we’d barricade ourselves in titanium steel bunkers and keep flamethrowers on our persons at all times. Apparently, this setting is like Australia on evil pills.

2. Hypno kidnaps children

In the original Red & Blue games, there’s a Pokemon named Hypno. Hypno is notable for two things: first of all, having a stupid design and, secondly, being the first of many, many horrors in the Pokemon canon that exclusively targets children.

Hypno uses its psychic powers to kidnap children. What it does with them is never revealed.

Hypno uses its psychic powers to kidnap children. What it does with them is never revealed.

Hypno is a Psychic-type Pokemon, which means it has access to abilities like telepathy, telekinesis, and, as its name implies, hypnosis. According to the entries written about it in the Pokedex (the in-game encyclopaedia on Pokemon species), Hypno eats people’s dreams for sustenance. The ability to put people to sleep and then feast on their dreams might sound cheesy but just think about it for a moment. Hypno can force people into a coma, reach into their minds, and devour their thoughts while they sleep. Dreams emerge from a combination of desires and memories, so, if they’re being consumed, what happens to people who wake up from these comas? Are they left empty shells without the ability to dream because their minds have been devoured? That’s a spooky thought on its own but Hypno isn’t satisfied just being your average “Chilling” sort of scary. Oh, no. Hypno’s got much bigger aspirations in the world of horror, which is why it kidnaps children. Yes, really. It uses its psychic abilities to take control of children. And the worst part? What it does with them has never been revealed.

So, it’s canon within the Pokemon games that there’s an entire species of creature (remember, Hypno isn’t a unique being) that can put people under their control in about three seconds, lead them to parts unknown, and presumably keep them there as a food source. And, since the children never come back, it surely must keep them under its control until they die of starvation. Or maybe it does what it can to keep them alive for as long as possible while draining every last scrap of mental energy from them… That’s a Nasty Plot if ever there was one. Brr…!

3. The Unown

Everything about the Unown, from their unnatural design to the sounds they make, is just plain creepy.

Everything about the Unown, from their unnatural design to the sounds they make, is just plain creepy.

When I was 10, Pokemon Silver was my favourite game. It was so good that not even a DS remake could come anywhere near to the standards set by the original Game Boy Color game. I played it until there was no corner of the Johto and Kanto regions left unexplored. I climbed the heights of Mt. Silver, I earned the sixteen Gym Badges, I defeated the nefarious schemes of Team Rocket, and I conquered the Elite Four. I did everything, saw everything, went everywhere… everywhere, that was, except for a little place called the Ruins of Alph.

These ruins are home to a mysterious race of Pokemon called the Unown, about whom almost nothing is known. They take the form of eyeballs with mysterious black stalks twisted around in various ways so that they look like letters. For an 10 year old kid, suddenly being ambushed by giant eyes that never blink is scary enough but making it all the more disturbing is how the lore surrounding them has been expanded upon over time. In the third Pokemon film, large collections of Unown are revealed to have the ability to warp the fabric of reality: a power unwittingly abused by an orphaned little girl who tries to use this to rewrite her life the way she believes it should be. This ability was later canonised in the games with the advent of HeartGold and SoulSilver, during which which Arceus (the Pokemon equivalent of God) uses them to create a new universe. Clearly, these are far more than the weak Psychic types we’ve always assumed them to be.

But there’s something else about Unown that’s never been given a satisfactory explanation. One question that haunted me all throughout my childhood years: the mystery of their radio broadcast.

If you play the radio in the Gold & Silver games and tune it to a mysterious radio frequency, you’ll be able to hear a distorted mess of noises (featured below). Noises that sound suspiciously like the signals emitted by the Unown when you encounter them in the Ruins of Alph. What significance does this strange, disturbing broadcast have? What does it mean? What are they doing? Never explained! And, quite honestly, I’m not sure I want it to be. Some things are better left unknown.

4. Drifblim drags children to Hell

Like Hypno, Drifblim looks stupid. Out of all the monsters added in the DS games, this is by far one of the dumbest looking ones. And considering how bad the fourth generation of monsters was, that’s saying something. Despite this, there’s plenty of reason to fear this ugly thing: the biggest of which being the fact that it takes advantage of children who latch onto it (because children like balloons) and drags them off to the land of the dead. You didn’t know this because it was censored for the English version of the games but, trust me, it’s there in the original Japanese.

Red eyes, take warning.

Red eyes, take warning.

But this raises some interesting ideas from an evolutionary perspective, doesn’t it? Evolution works in the Darwinian sense as well as as another word for the metamorphosis Pokemon undergo when they mature and change their forms. This implies that, at some point in the recent past (since balloons are a relatively new thing in the grand scheme of things), Drifblim’s evolutionary ancestors suddenly evolved to resemble balloons for the sole reason of deceiving children and whisking them away to the underworld. Indeed, its previous form, Drifloon, looks just like the sort of balloon you would give to a child at a fairground. But why does Drifblim drag kids to the underworld? What does it get out of it? What’s it trying to accomplish? Well, along with moves based around flight, Drifblim can also learn abilities based around eating: specifically Swallow and Spit Up. Wait

My theory on the matter is that they eats them. The Drifblims are a race of spirits who evolved into balloon-like entities because it made their job of dragging children to Hell easier, where they could well be feasting on their captured prey. Presumably, making children despair in their final moments makes them that little bit extra delicious. Considering that we’ve already discussed how Hypno eats dreams, a Pokemon that fed on emotions like despair wouldn’t be too hard to believe. And that’s all you need to know for Drifblim to go from, “This thing looks dumb” to “Oh my God, this thing is terrifying!”

5. The Orre Region

In the Orre region, Pokemon are traumatised into insanity and used as weapons by the villainous Cipher gang.

In the Orre region, Pokemon are traumatised into insanity and used as weapons by the villainous Cipher gang.

Forget Gotham City, the Orre region is the worst place in fictional history. For the uninitiated, Orre was a region from the home console Pokemon games that was run by an organisation called Cipher. Unlike Team Rocket, who just wanted to use Pokemon to make money (somehow), Cipher’s goal was absolute domination of everything in the region. Their method of doing this? Kidnapping Pokemon and turning them into so-called “Shadow Pokemon”. It may sound corny on paper but do you know what creating a Shadow Pokemon entails? Why, brainwashing and traumatising them until they become criminally insane, of course!

Some may scoff at the idea of cute little Pikachu suddenly becoming a hardass and ripping out throats but don’t forget that this universe is also home to monsters like Tyranitar, known for rampages so powerful that entire maps have to be redrawn after them because they can level mountains with their sheer ferocity. Now, imagine a creature like that with what little empathy and emotion it has sucked away, let loose on the world, terrorising innocent people left, right, and centre. And even if you manage to bring it down, there are always more of them.

“But surely it can’t all be bad!” You cry. “Aren’t there police? Law-enforcers of any kind? Couldn’t they do anything about Cipher?” Oh, you poor innocent soul… In Orre, the inmates are running the asylum. Their corruption is so widespread that one of the towns in the region is completely made up of people who are in on the plot. Imagine living in a place where everyone else around you is turning a blind eye to the carnage in the outside world not because they don’t care but because they’re responsible for it. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, all of them. And, considering that Orre is located in the middle of a desert, you’re going to have a heck of a job on finding outside help. At least in Johto you could hop on the train to Kanto if the going got tough. In Orre, there is no escape.

6. Legendary Pokemon are living weapons of mass destruction

In the original Pokemon Red & Blue, there was a Pokemon named Mewtwo. He was the original “super-legendary”, a Pokemon so powerful that you had to prove your worth by conquering the Elite Four to have even a chance of taking him on. To this day, he is remembered alongside Pikachu as one of the faces of the franchise.

Mewtwo used Genocide! It's super-effective!

Mewtwo used Genocide! It’s super-effective!

But whereas Pikachu won people over by being adorable, Mewtwo achieved popularity among kids by being downright scary. Originally a clone of the legendary Pokemon Mew, Mewtwo’s DNA was savagely twisted and altered in order to make it into the most powerful Pokemon in the world. The team behind it succeeded but they lived to regret it. Depending on whether you followed the games or the cartoon series, Mewtwo either slaughtered its creators in a mad rage because its psychic powers were too much for it to control or it murdered them because it hated the idea of being nothing more than a science project. Either way, it was the first canonical mass murder in what had until this point been a relatively cheerful children’s story and it changed everything. The games especially emphasised the darkness of the whole scenario by doing without the TV show’s big dramatic scenes and instead letting the player stumble upon the abandoned remains of the old building in which Mewtwo had been born, razed to the ground in a destructive rampage with only a few journal entries lying around giving any indication as to what kind of horror had occurred.

Mewtwo was the first of these living weapons of mass destruction but he was most certainly not the last. As the series went on, Pokemon like Kyogre and Groudon were added to the franchise. These were less Pokemon and more wild, untameable forces of nature. When they were freed from their prisons, they went out of control: bringing forth floods that threatened to drown the world or intensifying the sun’s rays to the point that the entire world began burning to a crisp depending on which game you were playing. Later games added Pokemon such as Yveltal, responsible for a massive holocaust that destroyed all life in its birthplace, and Dialga, an entity that controls time itself that has the power to erase entire worlds from the the flow of history. And the worst part of it all? They don’t have to be driven mad for them to pose a danger to humans. Some of them, like the ice dragon Kyurem, keep towns in their thrall and abduct people to eat them. And, as Mewtwo has shown us, some Pokemon go a step further and actively want to commit genocide against humanity. *Gulp*.

7. Ghetsis’ Child Abuse

It doesn’t get much worse than this guy. Ghetsis was a villain in the DS games and, quite frankly, he’s a complete monster. Ghetsis wants to take over the world you see and he aims to do this by manipulating a prophecy. He’s heard that destiny will choose a pure-hearted youngster to bond with a legendary dragon Pokemon and his goal has, for years, been to raise the perfect candidate. He succeeds, bringing up a boy named “N” to be the most pure and innocent lad around. What’s so nefarious about that? Many, many things.

And the award for "Father of the Year" goes to...

And the award for “Father of the Year” goes to…

First of all, it’s implied that Ghetsis is not N’s real father. What happened to the boy’s actual parents is never addressed but the most popular theory is that he had them killed (which, as we’ll see later, is completely in-character for him). Of course, that’s just one interpretation. The other is that he is N’s biological father, which begs the question of where the boy’s mother. Furthermore, since Ghetsis clearly cares nothing for anyone else, who’s to say she even consented to bringing the boy into the world in the first place? No matter how you try to approach the question of N’s parentage, the answers are all deeply unpleasant and, given how much psychological damage he inflicts upon N over the course of the series, it just gets worse and worse. You see, Ghetsis’ method of raising N to be the pure and perfect Pokemessiah meant cutting him off from any sort of contact with other humans who might put dangerous ideas into N’s head that could go against his master plan. So, naturally, Ghetsis isolated N from the rest of humanity and raised him alongside Pokemon. I suppose his reasoning was that, if he befriended them and proved his worth as the chosen one who’s meant to bring people and Pokemon together, then great. If, on the other hand, the horrible monsters who shoot lightning and eat people tear the boy to shreds, then meh – he can always get another one. Think I’m giving Ghetsis too much villainous credit? Look at N’s name. It’s a letter. It’s barely a step up from a number, indicating that he’s barely more than a pawn in Ghetsis’ scheme. And it begs the question of whether there were children lettered A to M and what became of them before N came under Ghetsis’ wing. Good luck we defeated him for good by saving the Unova region and freeing N from his control, right? … Right?

Yeah… Whereas most villains in the Pokemon series only appear in one game, Ghetsis came back for Round Two. And this time, he was back with a vengeance. Rather than trying to get what he wanted through trickery and deception, he just devoted all of his time and resources into forcibly taking over the region and having his followers, the fanatical Team Plasma, steal people’s Pokemon so that they couldn’t fight back against him. It was also during this time that he stopped employing any subtle measures in his plan and just started trying to straight-up murder the child protagonists of the games in order to avoid them getting in the way of his plans. By attempting to impale them from every angle in a freezing-cold chamber with giant spikes of ice. Sweet mother of mercy, that’s dark.

8. Flying, face-hugging scorpions

Alright, what assholes thought this would be a good idea? Where’s the masochist team of Pokemon designers tasked with designing new Pokemon for Gold & Silver, who looked at scorpions and said, “Yeah, they’re pretty scary, but do you know what they need? They need to be a metre long and have wings.”

While it looks cute, Gligar likes to clamp down on peoples' face and inject lethal poison into their bodies.

While it looks cute, Gligar likes to clamp down on peoples’ face and inject lethal poison into their bodies.

Thus, Gligar was born: an adorable little Pokemon that, and I quote from its Pokedex entry, “flies straight at its target’s face then clamps down on the startled victim to inject poison.” [emphasis added] Just imagine that. One day, you’re walking home from work or taking a stroll in the park and then HOLY CRAP! A THREE-FOOT FLYING SCORPION HAS JUST LATCHED ONTO YOUR FACE! What are you gonna do? What are you gonna do?! Oh, you don’t know? That’s probably the lethal poison kicking in. The only reason why you can’t feel its massive tail stabbing into your neck again and again and again because you’re now dying. Hm? What’s that over there? Oh, that’s awesome! Help is on the way! Someone has broken out a Fire Pokemon and is going to get it off… Oh, wait. Gligar isn’t a Bug type. Its biggest weakness is ice. Ice. So, in order to escape from these horrible things completely, you’d need to relocate to the North Pole. Dammit, Nintendo!

Oh, but it gets worse. Because, of course it does. When it came to the designs of the DS games, the designers realised that Gligar, for all of its horribleness, is a little too cute to take seriously as a threat. So, what did they do? They gave it an evolution that’s twice as big, has enough physical strength and speed to circle the entire globe without getting tired, and looks like what you’d get if Satan knocked up a vampire bat. That’s… That’s just cruel.

9. Giratina is Satan

During the first few centuries of Christianity, the Book of Genesis was actually taken allegorically more than you would expect. Saint Augustine, for one, believed that the world had all been created instantaneously. Many other Biblical scholars had seen the seven day creation story and the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden as stories that helped people to understand the nature of God the creator and humanity’s place in His divine plan rather than a word-for-word account of how God made the world. The idea of Young Earth Creationism and literal interpretations of scripture are newer than you might realise and only really rose to prominence (particularly among North Americans) within the last few hundred years.

"And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." - Revelations 12:9

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” – Revelations 12:9

Apparently, Pokemon didn’t get that memo, because the Serpent of Eden isn’t depicted as a metaphor for human temptation – he’s a real, breathing force of pure cosmic horror. Here known as “Giratina”, this Dragon-type Pokemon was created by Arceus, the creator of the world, to watch over the dimensions of reality along with its brethren. Due to an unspecified act of “violence”, however, Giratina was banished from the world and imprisoned within a hellish domain known as the “Distortion World”. In this apocalyptic realm, the laws of time and physics do not apply. It is a world of pure chaos that is every bit Giratina’s kingdom as it is his prison and, when it gets the opportunity to tear open the boundaries between its jail and the material world, it does so in one of the most spectacularly sinister cutscenes in portable gaming history.

The Satanic parallels even extend to Giratina’s design. Not only is it capable of changing its form at will, going from a serpentine entity to a powerful draconic form (much like how Satan is identified both with the snake in Eden and the dragon in Revelations) but its design incorporates six wings, six legs, and six ridges along its body. It is specifically classified as the “Renegade” Pokemon – referencing the rebellion that saw Satan expelled from paradise – and its abilities include techniques aimed around corrupting enemies and exploiting their weaknesses, such as Hex, Scary Face, Shadow Sneak, and Shadow Force. Furthermore, the Pok√©mon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time & Darkness games reveal in its Browser information that it has the power to generate negative emotions. Whether or not this counts as canonical information I can’t say (as I must admit that I’ve never actually played those games) but, if it is, then it just serves to add more fuel to this diabolic fire that we’ve got going.

Oh yeah, and you can capture it and make it do your bidding. All in the name of science! It’s stuff like this that makes me think Professor Oak and his Pokedex-distributing buddies are the real villains of this series…

10. Phantump

What is it with this series and dead children?!

It doesn't get much worse than putting dead children in your game.

It doesn’t get much worse than putting dead children in your game.

This is one that I had to be told about, because, until a few months ago, I had no idea Phantump existed. And, now that I know, I wish I’d never asked about it.

Most of the things on this list are elements of the older games that I find creepy but Phantump’s existence is the first thing in a game that’s made me feel deeply uncomfortable on a psychological level. Why? There’s no easy way to say this: it’s a dead child. Yes, really. According to the Pokedex information and official Nintendo sources, Phantump is a tree stump possessed by soul of a dead child. That alone would be enough to merit a place on this list but, my friends, it gets worse. It gets so much worse.

While I’ve never actually encountered a Phantump in the wild any of the games that I’ve played, they’re apparently very common Pokemon: specifically in the Kalos region. For them to be that common would imply that either Kalos sees a lot of yearly child deaths or that, at some point, hundreds – maybe even thousands – of children were killed in some horrible catastrophe. Given that Kalos has a nursery close to Victory Road (which is populated by three-headed dragons who constantly want to eat and kill things) and that the region’s backstory includes a nationwide holocaust courtesy of a weapon of mass destruction, both are equally plausible.

But wait, it gets worse. Not only can you capture these children, who probably died horrifically, and make them fight wild fire-breathing animals and eldritch horrors like Giratina – you can also breed them. You can breed dead children. Just let that sink in for a moment.

It’s hard to find the words to follow on from that. It’s easily the most outright wrong thing I’ve ever seen in a game – and I’ve played some pretty dark series’. Combined with all the horrible things we’ve explained above, it’s pretty clear indicator to me that the Pokemon setting’s cheerful colour is just a mirage hiding a sea of high octane nightmare fuel. Sweet dreams, dear reader!

Leave a Reply