8 times Pokémon got pretty freakin’ fruity

Gender-fluid Pokémon? Openly trans voice actors? Pokémon is queerer than meets the eye

If you played Pokémon as a kid and still enjoy it now—as the games are rolling into their ninth generation—then congratulations on being queer. 

I cannot explain why a game dedicated to amassing very fashionable collections of pixels strikes such a chord with LGBTQ2S+ gamers. But I can tell you that my undergrad university’s Pokémon society was 30 percent nerdy boys who poured hours into min-maxed battle teams, and 70 percent rainbow-haired weirdos debating the best Eeveelution.

Pokémon, as a series, has been plugging away making family-focused content for 26 years. Its explicit queer rep is lacking. Other all-ages anime like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura have been featuring queer storylines since the ’90s or early 2000s; it’s not like it’s unheard of to include LGBTQ2S+ themes in Japanese content (even if they have historically been censored in English-langauge markets). While there have been a few nods here and there, it’s often from material outside of the core games or TV series. 

Much more queerness has been mined by fans reading into their favourite franchise. And with a fan base as large as Pokémon’s, there are plenty of people doing that creative work. Plenty of media without explicit queerness has been embraced by LGBTQ2S+ audiences, as we look desperately for reflections of ourselves in the media we consume. Pokémon’s focus rests so squarely on the charming cartoon critters that human characters often take a back seat: it’s easy to reach for queer headcanons in a franchise that’s so big, and yet has such limited text. 

 That being said, there’s still a handful of moments with fan-embraced fruity tones. In honour of Gen 9, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, let’s take a look at some of the series’ queerest hits.

Meowth: Voiced by a trans trailblazer (Pokémon Anime)

Speaking of Team Rocket, Jesse and James are always joined by their bipedal cat, Meowth. As the only regular voiced character who’s a Pokémon, Meowth had an outsize impact. He’s also notable for his voice actor, trans talent Maddie Blaustein. She voiced the smart-mouthed snarker for 402 episodes of the English anime and several movies from 1997 to 2005, but sadly passed away in 2008.

Voice actor and director Eric Stuart told them in 2019 that Blaustein faced transphobia at her job. “It wasn’t easy. I was one of the few people who followed what name and pronouns she wanted to use,” he said. 

“There were times that I could see that this wasn’t the easiest thing for her to deal with—in her career choice and with her family. But she didn’t take it out on us, on her work or on me. Instead, she came into work and tried to find ways to steal the show. And in many ways, she did just that.”


Beauty Nova, canonically trans trainer (Pokémon X and Y)

Trainers in the Pokémon universe have a variety of different classes, often with a theme linked to their battle style. Gentlemen give you lots of cash when you win, Hikers specialize in Pokémon from mountainous areas, Hex Maniacs use spooky ’mons, that kind of thing. Some classes are gender-locked. (Boo.) Nova is a Beauty, a female class, who trainers can face off against in the Battle Maison facility. And in her dialogue, she mentions that she used to be a male-only trainer class. 

“Yes, a mere half year ago I was a Black Belt! Quite the transformation, wouldn’t you say?” Nova says upon meeting you, glancing over her shoulder. In Japanese, she’s even more explicit: “The power of medical science is awesome, wouldn’t you say?” 

Sunglasses balance on her brunette updo. A baguette pokes seductively out of her grocery bag. Yes, it’s the default sprite for all Beauties, but she looks great. Good on Nova for telling everyone she meets that she got to live her hot girlie life in mere months. Who knew it would be Pokémon giving us unrealistic trans timelines?


Flaming James (Pokémon anime)

Pokémon’s media properties run the gamut from video games and anime to movies, manga and tabletop cards. Sometimes the same characters are radically different in different mediums. For Jesse and James, the beloved Team Rocket duo, their appearance in the 1997 anime series is by far the queerest iteration.

James is clearly a queer-coded villain, a male antagonist given effeminate characterization to make the (presumably straight) audience laugh or feel uncomfortable. But his portrayal also meant a generation of queer kids grew up feeling very fond of the TV show’s “bad guys.” Is a man who dons a flamboyant bird costume and proclaims, “I am a flaming Moltres!” anything other than an icon? 

Fun fact: In the 2000-2001 Pokémon Live! U.S. musical tour, James was played by then-baby Andrew Rannells of future The Boys In the Band and Girls fame. 

Azurill, transmasc icon (Pokémon Sapphire and Ruby)

In Generation 2, Pokémon started being assigned genders. Most critters had an even 50-50 gender ratio, while some were skewed. Starter Pokémon—the three a player can choose to take with them at the start of an adventure—only have a one in eight chance of being female. Some species (like Tauros and Miltank) can only be one gender, and others (like Porygon or Mewtwo) are “gender unknown” or genderless.

Azurill, an adorable blue mouse introduced in Generation 3, is female three-in-four times. But it evolves into Marill, a Generation 2 Pokémon who has an even gender split. So, one in three female Azurill evolve into a male Marill. No other Pokémon changes gender upon evolution, making transmasc Azurills basically a rodential version of those lionesses who grow manes.

Sadly, the developers “fixed” the gender swapping in Generation 6—over a decade after Azurill was introduced, bringing to an end 11 years of gender-fluid beach-ball babies.

Shauna’s bisexual date (Pokémon X and Y)

Games frequently code NPCs to interact with the player character identically, regardless of the player character’s gender. In the Generation 6 games, your character has a group of close friends, including Shauna. Shauna’s a preteen who’s less interested in battles or collect-em-all research than she is in just chilling. But she does care deeply about the player. Unusually for a side character, the game prominently features a cinematic scene of the two of you watching fireworks alone on a balcony together.

Junichi Masuda, one of Pokémon’s head honchos, said in a 2014 interview that Shauna was designed to be a romance option if the player picked a male character. 

But players have latched on to her obviously queer in-game lines. If you’re playing as a boy, she says, “I’ve never watched fireworks alone with a boy before,” which changes to “I really hope we get to be great friends,” if you’re femme. That’s some true gal pal energy right there. And either way, she announces, “We haven’t even seen them yet, but I know I’ll never forget these fireworks! ’Cause I watched them with you.” Turns out changing one line of dialogue doesn’t change her entire flirty vibe, making Shauna a bi icon. 

Primarina’s gorgeous gown (Pokémon Sun and Moon)

A core part of the new game hype cycle are the starter Pokémon—who, remember, are 82.5 percent male. In Generation 7, the water starter is Popplio, a cute clown sea lion. As Popplio evolves, they become Brionne and then finally Primarina. 

Upon preview, Primarina’s siren-esque design caused a spate of rampant social media homophobia, which one blogger noted “was a sight to behold.” Pokémon bros announced they would never allow their Popplio to evolve. Complaints like, “I don’t want my Popplio to be a drag queen,” or “I sure feel bad for any male Primarinas” became a depressingly common sight.

Meanwhile, many more players rejoiced in Primarina’s trans pride colour scheme and diva detailing. Sometimes, our victories are small: like a fierce femme seal that defies gender or species norms and makes bigots mad. Great job, Primarina. 

Archie and Maxie “get along very well” (Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby)

The closest thing we have to an official gay couple in Pokémon is the leaders of two rival teams in the Generation 3 games. Team Aqua’s Archie and Team Magma’s Maxie duke it out over the course of the games to see whether land or sea should reign supreme. And in the remakes, Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, the head honchos seem to have a pretty close relationship. 

A tweet from the official Pokémon Company Japan included an image of of Maxie and Archie’s trading card art, inside a heart, with text that roughly translates to “these two seem to get along very well.” 

And it was posted on Valentine’s Day! Tumblr user Team Magma Propaganda has assembled a long list of references that suggest Maxie and Archie are more than just friends.

Is it reading too deep into the lore? Maybe. But c’mon, they’re perfect for each other. Who among us hasn’t tried to destroy the ocean and/or flood the world just to get your high school crush to notice you?

Blanche, Team Mystic’s mysterious leader (Pokémon Go)

Remember back in 2016 when Pokémon Go was an all-consuming beast, kind of like how Pokémon cards swept through playgrounds in the late ’90s? If the answer’s no, no worries: the important part is that Blanche, Team Mystic’s cool and analytical leader, is widely considered to be non-binary. 

A series of tweets from Pokémon Go’s English-language account in August 2019 exclusively used their name in place of gendered pronouns. Fans noticed the linguistic choice, which seemed to be confirmed a few months later with an in-universe blog post from Pokémon Go’s resident nerd Professor Willow.

“Blanche became visibly upset, which tends to happen when things don’t go to their carefully curated plans,” reads the blog post. While not all non-binary people use they/them pronouns, and not all they/thems are non-binary, it’s cool to see a gender nonconforming character thrown into one of Pokémon’s largest titles without it being a big deal. Blanche is out here giving the stylish non-binary nerds the representation we deserve.

Pokémon’s lack of explicit representation is disappointing in some ways, but the bread crumbs of queerness through the series’ history has done a lot to keep LGBTQ2S+ fans satisfied. Players don’t come to a franchise about collecting pretty pixels seeking explicit gender or sexuality representation—which makes it all the sweeter when some shows up anyway.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are available now on Nintendo Switch.

V.S. Wells

V. S. Wells is a British writer living in Vancouver, B.C., with bylines in Slate, VICE and Autostraddle. Please stop asking them about Brexit.

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