Welcome to the first edition of Exp. Share, Kotaku’s new Pokémon column in which we dive deep to explore notable characters, urban legends, communities, and just plain weird quirks from throughout the Pokémon franchise. This week we’re taking a look at one of the breakout characters from Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. No, it’s not the hot professors, the best friends you meet along the way, or the bike dragon you ride around on. It’s all about Larry, the working-class king of the Paldea region.
The Pokémon franchise has been home to many eccentric weirdos and fan favourites over the years. While the titular pocket monsters are often the stars of the show, there are plenty of cool human characters that become central figures in the fandom. But Scarlet and Violet’s biggest standout is notable because unlike the wackiness of characters like Iono, a streamer turned gym leader, or Ryme, who performs a rap concert during her battle, Larry, the normal-type gym leader, is just a guy who is punching his time card.
Larry is a working man. He’s the Pokémon embodiment of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” When the player meets him in the Medali gym, he’s introduced as the “Exceptional Everyman,” and the guy knows how to lean into a brand. His gym is a restaurant, and when he greets us, it seems like we just interrupted his lunch break. Equipped with a suit and a briefcase, Larry feels like he was plucked from a completely different series compared to the rest of the Paldea region’s weirdos, who make an elaborate show of their introductions. Consider Brassius in Artazon, who orchestrates an entire artistic showcase and jumps down from a windmill in theatrical fashion. Meanwhile, Larry just mildly states that we’d better get this battle rolling, lest his boss dock his pay.
This man then proceeds to thank you for your business at the gym and restaurant, while fielding a team of plain old normal-type Pokémon against you. Larry is serving some real NPC energy despite actually being one of the most powerful and important trainers in the game. That’s not to say he’s a pushover just here to toss Pokémon in front of you so you can win a badge.
Larry’s only got three Pokémon, but is still a pretty tough fight depending on when you arrive in Medali. He starts out with a Komala, which isn’t too rough, but can put your Pokémon to sleep with a successful Yawn attack. He then switches over to a Dundunsparce, which has powerful attacks like Hyper Drill, which can still penetrate protective abilities like Detect.
But his ace is a Starapator, which he terastallizes into a pure normal-type. Doing this removes all the weaknesses it has as a flying-type Pokémon, which makes its only weakness fighting-type moves. In addition, Starapator retains Aerial Ace — a flying-type attack that cannot miss — which weakens fighting-type Pokémon. It’s a force to be reckoned with, and pretty tough to counter. In fact, Larry’s Starapator is probably one of the best examples of how the terastal phenomenon can fundamentally change how a Pokémon operates in Scarlet and Violet.
After the fight, Larry’s biggest concern is getting back to his lunch break, as dueling works up quite an appetite. So after a meal, he gives the player the Normal Badge and says he’s gotta get back to work. Notably, he leaves the gym, implying his job lies elsewhere in the Paldea region. That’s a small hint toward a reveal that will come much later, as when you finally do see Larry again, he’s occupying a much higher, more prestigious position within the Pokémon League.
The moment Larry goes from fun, subversive gym leader to actual icon is when you finally reach the Elite Four. Once you gather the region’s eight badges, you have to face the strongest trainers therein to earn the title of Champion. Reaching the third battle reveals the third of the Elite Four is none other than Larry. This is Larry’s actual job, though he doesn’t get to use his beloved normal-type Pokémon here and instead runs a flying-type team at the behest of his boss, region champion Geeta. He says normal-type Pokémon have a lot in common with him, because unlike all those other trainers, he’s just a normal guy. So switching over to flying Pokémon doesn’t sit well with him.
Despite his unassuming presence, Larry makes such an impact as a gym leader that many players lose their minds when he shows up in the endgame.
After facing him twice, once as a gym leader and again as a member of the Elite Four, the third time you battle Larry in Scarlet and Violet’s postgame he’s reached some level of familiarity with you. Instead of dropping sly comments about workplace grievances, he pretty much tells you outright he doesn’t like Geeta as a boss. By this point she’s thrust her own responsibilities onto you, and you’re fighting all the gym leaders again on her behalf so she can participate in a post-game tournament. Larry takes issue with this, but says it’s “absolutely something she’d do” to get out of her own responsibilities. Ultimately, Geeta’s his superior so he does what he’s told, though he swears he’d never let himself get roped into the main character’s extracurricular antics the way she has.
After you’ve stomped his team into the ground for the third and final time (he gets to use his beloved normal-type Pokémon), Larry reveals that he understands why Geeta insisted he use a flying-type team during his Elite Four battles. While the mundanity of normal-type Pokémon appeals to him, he admits that if he only sticks to the “flat, well-trodden” paths he prefers, he’ll never truly admire standout talents like your own, that can “soar” above all other challengers. Even so, all this flying-type rigamarole is for work purposes only; you’ll never catch him leaving his normal-type comfort zone for fun. He then leaves the restaurant one final time: Management told him to cut down on his overtime hours, so he’s clocking out and going home.
The work/life balance conversation woven throughout Larry’s story is the single most pronounced example of an ongoing thread throughout Scarlet and Violet. Every gym leader in Paldea has a second job. Whether that be Iono’s work as a streamer, Ryme’s as a rapper, or Kofu’s as a chef, it feels like being a gym leader is everyone’s side gig. Where in other Pokémon regions like Galar gym leaders are treated with a hint of celebrity, or like professional athletes, the Paldea region seems to undervalue their contributions. Meanwhile, the head honcho is handing her responsibilities off to a child without pay. Larry’s outright disdain for the whole capitalist process has made him analogous to characters like Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants, and fans have taken the comparison and run with it.
Between the apparent lack of pay, his worker’s discontent, and the fact that Geeta seems to just fuck off into the sunset enough for it to be considered a pattern, Larry is a prominent examplar of what’s apparently an ongoing labour issue within the Paldean Pokémon League.
However, a lot of these ideas also pop up in the postgame without any real closure, which is the case for a lot of stories that hint at Geeta’s larger involvement in the events of Scarlet and Violet. Perhaps the DLC coming out later this year will pick up these threads. But even without further exploration, Larry’s disgruntled worker persona has made him a bridge between Pokémon fans young and old. Where the kids find him a silly guy who gives them a challenging fight, adult fans familiar with the soul-crushing weight of the daily grind have found a kindred spirit. Who among us doesn’t know what it’s like to hate their job, hate their boss, but still suck it up and do what we’re paid for so we can just go home and enjoy a little peace amid this capitalist hellscape? He is, as the kids say, “just like me, for real.”
Hopefully the Paldean gym leaders unionize. Collective action is the only way to teach Geeta not to take advantage of the working class. And also children.