Detective Pikachu Returns is out October 6 on Nintendo Switch, and it brings a new mystery for the titular Pokémon investigator to solve. But it also dredges up an old mystery that has plagued the character since his debut in 2016: is Detective Pikachu a cop? Well, the only way to solve a mystery is to look at the evidence and come to a logical conclusion. So let’s put on our deerstalkers, grab our magnifying glasses, and answer the big question: Does ACAB include Detective Pikachu?
Before we dive into the specifics of our furry friend’s alleged coptitude, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page for what it means to be a cop. On paper, the police force is a state-sanctioned entity that is meant to enforce the laws governed by the authorities. The platonic ideal of law enforcement is to be protectors of the people and keepers of peace. In reality, it exists as a form of state violence and systemic oppression of those who can’t afford to buy their way around the system, and has historically been weaponized against marginalized communities, especially Black people in America.
What makes a cop different from your average vigilante? In short, the state-sanctioned authority to use violence against average citizens. And willingly putting one’s thumbs through belt hoops.
As his name suggests, Detective Pikachu is, first and foremost, a detective. On its own, the detective profession isn’t inherently tied to law enforcement. There are private investigators who solve mysteries but lack the same state-sanctioned authority to do anything with the results. If you saw the mystery/comedy movie Glass Onion last year, it does a decent job of illustrating this concept. In that film, Detective Benoit Blanc talks about how he can solve a mystery, but without the tangible evidence and testimony to back it up to the police, he doesn’t have any pull to enact the same systems and put a murderer behind bars.
Now to be clear, a detective can certainly have direct ties to law enforcement, and often does. Precincts will often have in-house investigators who double as cops, and have the authority to enact the same state-sanctioned force as any other cop. But being a detective and being a cop are not necessarily mutually inclusive. That’s why there’s often debate about whether Detective Pikachu falls into the AC that AB. But when we look at the specifics of the little guy’s alliances, we can determine where he sits on this fine line.
He’s just a little guy. He wears a silly little hat and a cloak, and he solves mysteries with a bolt of brilliance. He does this in Ryme City, where Pokémon and humans live side-by-side as equals rather than the typical trainer/party dynamic we see in most games. He works with Harry Goodman, a detective (of ambiguous type) in the city, and the two of them get into a car accident, which leaves Pikachu with amnesia and Harry nowhere to be found.
When Pikachu comes to, he is suddenly able to talk to and understand Tim Goodman, Harry’s son, who journeyed to the city to either search for his father or say goodbye, depending on if you’re talking about the game or live-action movie. Either way, Detective Pikachu and Tim venture off on an investigative adventure to find Harry, and how they do it informs whether or not we can say if our hero is a cop.
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Unequivocally no. In the 3DS game, Detective Pikachu and his partner Harry Goodman are not at all tied to Ryme City’s police department. They operate out of a private practice called Baker Detective Agency, and don’t interface with any law enforcement superiors in the game’s run time. They answer to their boss Mike Baker, and work entirely outside of Ryme City Police Department’s jurisdiction.
This is where things get murkier. The Detective Pikachu live-action movie follows similar character beats to the 3DS source material, but a lot of the finer details are tweaked or outright changed. Tim starts his Ryme City investigation at the police department where Lieutenant Hide Yoshida says Harry was “a legend” to the force. On its own, this doesn’t technically confirm Harry is a cop, as law enforcement would naturally be aware of a prolific detective’s work. We know at this point that Harry was so dedicated to his detective work that he neglected his son, so sure.
The more damning moment comes when Tim goes to Harry’s home, and there are awards and accolades from Ryme City’s police department hanging on the walls. So even though Harry was part of a private practice in the game, it seems Ryan Reynolds was, indeed, oinking up a storm in Ryme City before he went missing.
But does that make Detective Pikachu himself a cop? Well, there’s a lot to unpack in the lore of Ryme City as a place. Unlike other regions in the Pokémon world, Pokémon are citizens with jobs. Ludicolo is a barista, Machamp is a crossing guard, and Pikachu is a detective. We don’t know if Pokémon are paid salaries in this setup, but they are at the very least doing capital L Labor here. Was Detective Pikachu employed by the Ryme City police department to solve crimes? We really don’t know, so we have to wonder what is the transitive property of being a cop? If Detective Pikachu was helping Harry, a cop, solve Pokémon crimes, does that, by extension, make him a cop? It certainly makes him an accessory to whatever Harry was doing, which can be just as bad depending on what kind of cop-like acts Harry carried out with his badge. (No one’s letting Castle off as not-a-cop, right?)
Even with Pikachu being at Harry’s side, this gets even more complex when you consider the true nature of the entity that is Detective Pikachu, the caffeine-addicted, foul-mouthed detective we follow through the film. Spoilers for the four-and-a-half-year-old movie, but Detective Pikachu is the magically-fused product of both Harry and Pikachu. Mewtwo puts Harry’s soul in Pikachu’s body to preserve him after he was gravely wounded in the car crash. So technically, Detective Pikachu is Harry, and thus, is a cop.
However, Detective Pikachu is an amnesiac, so can he be beholden to the acts of his former self? If Detective Pikachu is the entity we see in the film, technically he is both and neither Pikachu and Harry. Even in his investigation in this form, the only time Detective Pikachu interfaces with the police department is when he’s arrested for participating in illegal Pokémon battles. Tim even says during their investigation the duo are “not cops” when Pikachu makes a joke about being good cop and bad cop during an interrogation.
In conclusion, is movie Detective Pikachu a cop? The minutiae gets muddy, but the final answer is “probably, yeah.”
But even if Detective Pikachu’s relationship to Ryme City’s police department is complicated, what if Detective Pikachu is a cop just in vibes? There are a lot of things the everyday citizen can do that are cop-like. A coworker narcing to your boss about you doing something outside of protocol is cop behavior. Clapping when the plane lands is cop behavior. Asking to see the manager? Cop. So does Detective Pikachu exude this? I wouldn’t say so.
For example, take when he and Tim come across the illegal Pokémon battles in the film. The little guy and Harry have been here before, participated in battles, and yet they didn’t report the showrunners for doing crimes. So even if he has ties to law enforcement, he at the very least seems to be willing to let things slide.
Anyway, you should play the original Detective Pikachu game. It’s a simple, sometimes silly adventure game, but like the movie, it’s a really fascinating look at what the Pokémon universe looks like when it’s not about competitive sport. And there, Pikachu is definitely not a cop.