An Ode To Raichu, The Best Pokémon Who Can’t Get Any Respect

An Ode To Raichu, The Best Pokémon Who Can’t Get Any Respect

Here on Exp. Share, Kotaku’s weekly Pokémon column, I look back at various nonsense and cool shit from the series’ long history. But as players and fans, we all experience that history in our own way. So much of my experience of the series and so many of my own cherished memories of it over the years are closely associated with one particular Pokémon: Raichu. I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. Well, to be clear, I am always thinking about him because, out of all 1000+ Pokémon, the evolution of the series’ electric mouse is my all-time favorite pocket monster. But lately, I’m thinking about him a lot because my guy cannot seem to get any respect in the Pokémon franchise, and who among us isn’t thinking about what it feels like to not be respected by giant corporations these days? I wrote about this phenomenon a few years back at my last job, but given that the internet is constantly being torn down around us, who knows if that article will still exist in six months? So, let’s once again talk about Raichu and The Pokémon Company’s never-ending quest to leave him in the dirt for his more-popular little brother.

If you’re just tuning in, Raichu is the fully evolved form of Pikachu, the series’ adorable mascot. Raichu is just as cute as his evolutionary predecessor, but his design definitely leans into the cooler, older aesthetic you’d expect of a Pokémon evolution. He’s a little bit bigger, his tail changes from the iconic electric bolt to a longer, mouse-like tail with a smaller bolt at the end, and his voice shifts from Pikachu’s high-pitched sweetness to a raspier tone. He rules. He is, for all intents and purposes, my partner Pokémon in the same way Pikachu is to Ash Ketchum in the anime. I catch him in every game and he takes the lead slot in my party every time.

Image: The Pokémon Company / Bulbapedia

But The Pokémon Company as a whole doesn’t have the same love for him as I and many others do. Raichu has been a punching bag for the company over the years, and if they’re not making a mockery of him, they’re ignoring or changing him entirely. This trend solidified itself in the anime, which introduced Raichu to viewers through Ash’s battle with Lt. Surge. The Vermillion City gym leader uses a Raichu, and the entire episode is about Ash and Pikachu deciding if they want to evolve into Raichu using a Thunder Stone.

The perks are obvious. Raichu has more power than Pikachu, as is made clear by Surge’s fully evolved mouse hospitalizing Ash’s Pikachu after their fight. But the crucial lesson learned here is that Surge evolved his Pikachu into a Raichu too early, and using Stones to evolve means you will get an immediate power boost, but a Pokémon won’t learn any new moves in this form. That’s the mechanical trade-off you get in the Pokémon games, and the episode illustrates this by having Pikachu win the fight using abilities it learned by training as a pre-evolution stage.

In a vacuum, the episode is great. It’s such a clever way to weave the source material’s video game nonsense into a tight story that has a lovely message: you shouldn’t change yourself to meet the expectations of others. But man, has the underlying message of “Pikachu is better than Raichu” bled into everything that followed.

Pokémon games have reasons for you not to evolve Pikachu baked into their systems. The Light Ball held item powers up Pikachu’s stats, but not Raichu’s, meaning a well-spec’d Pikachu could easily outperform its evolved form if it’s got one of these bad boys. Pikachu also gets a new Gigantamax form in Sword and Shield, but Raichu has to be content with just Dynamaxing instead of getting a cool, kaiju redesign.

Image: Nintendo / Bulbapedia

But the only time Raichu got any respect was when Game Freak decided to change him into something else entirely. Sun and Moon introduced regional variants, and that included an Alolan form of Raichu. He’s an electric/psychic-type Pokémon now, and he surfs on his tail. Yes, yes, it’s adorable and you just want to give him a big ol’ hug. Well, not me, reader. This pancake-eating motherfucker is a constant reminder that if Raichu is to get any spotlight, The Pokémon Company would rather it not be in the form people like me have loved for so long, but instead just as a kind of canvas it can use to pitch some new idea it has.

This is the saddest part of The Pokémon Company’s treatment of Raichu, to me. You spend years with this iconic Pokémon (maybe not as iconic as Pikachu, but still iconic nonetheless) that people have adored for many years, and instead of lifting it up and giving it the love it needs to shine further, you bury it under a new, bastardized version of what you want it to be, and lose sight of why people loved it in the first place. The Raichu we know and love still exists, but it’s in a constant battle with The Pokémon Company for an ounce of respect. It gets no Mega Evolution, no Gigantamax, Pikachu doesn’t evolve into it in Pokémon Unite, and it never makes an appearance in any of the fighting games Pikachu shows up in unless it’s as Alolan Raichu in Super Smash Bros.

Screenshot: The Pokémon Company / Kotaku

But despite The Pokémon Company’s best efforts, Raichu remains thriving and is doing his best. In Scarlet and Violet last year, he and I became Paldea’s champions and saved the region from a potential cataclysmic event. Come December, we’re probably going to do that again when The Indigo Disk DLC comes out. As much as the people up top want Raichu to just sway in the background as Pikachu laps up all the money and Alolan Raichu more or less replaces it in the public consciousness, people like myself and other long-time fans know who the real king is, and will stand in solidarity as The Pokémon Company tries to phase him out.

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