Oh, Arceus. He comin’.
When Nintendo first introduced Pikachu back in the mid-‘90s, the electric type mouse Pokémon was everything you’d expect from the official mascot of a video game franchise poised to take over the world. It was cute, never let you forget its name, and it had a pretty solid sense of humour (at least Ash’s did). Most importantly, though, Pikachu was a chunky little blob of love who refused to live in the stifling confines of a Pokéball.
Like many of the other hundreds of Pokémon who appear in the games, Pikachu underwent a series of style changes over the years as the studio’s design language evolved over time. But the shift in Pikachu’s look has been particularly noticeable because of the drastic way the creature’s been gradually slimmed down. Where the original Pikachu was more orb-like in form, modern-day Pikachu has a more upright posture, a much narrower midsection, and more well-defined cheeks.
Pikachu-lite’s general aesthetic jibes well with the creature’s status as being a Pokémon that relies heavily on its speed and agility in battle—it makes sense that a small mouse monster that zips around all day would be rather slim. At the same time, though, it’s always strange to look back at earlier versions of Pikachu, because you can’t help but get the sense that Nintendo didn’t appreciate how much people genuinely liked OG fat Pikachu.
All of that changed with the release of last year’s Pokémon Sword and Shield, the first generation of games to introduce the concept of Dynamaxing, a gimmicky battle technique that allows certain Pokémon to temporarily become humongous, more powerful versions of themselves, and Gigantamaxing, which is essentially the same thing, only the Pokémon’s physical forms go through more complicated changes. Some Pokémon, like Inteleon, get tall and arm themselves with guns when they Gigantamax. Pikachu, on the other hand, puts on weight.
While players have been able to use Gigantamaxed Pikachu in Sword and Shield for months now, the Pokémon made his small screen debut in the most recent episode of Pocket Monsters, the series following Ash and his new companion Go as they journey across many of the world’s different Regions. Though Ash and Go have spent a little bit of time in the Galar Region up until this point in the series, the pair have still had a number of questions about Galar’s customs, what kinds of Pokémon there are to catch, and what to do when random Pokémon suddenly Gigantamax out of the blue.
This week’s episode opens as the two boys are faced with the very real possibility that they’ll be crushed to death by a Gigantamax Dreadnaw that’s smashing its way through Wyndon Stadium. Though the massive turtle monster doesn’t mean to cause damage, its size and immense power make it impossible for it not to smash into buildings and imperil the lives of the people around it. When neither Pikachu nor Go’s Scorbunny attacks have any effect on the Drednaw, the trainers are unsure of how to proceed, but much to Ash’s surprise, a fissure in the ground leads to Pikachu being bathed in the light of raw, Gigantamax energy.
Because most Pokémon traditionally only Gigantamax on command with the assistance of their trainers, Pikachu’s transformation is as much a surprise to him as it is Ash, and neither of them is exactly certain what’s happening. Pikachu’s increased size puts it on par with Drednaw, physically, and Pikachu’s type advantage makes it easy for him to best Drednaw in battle. But Pocket Monsters complicates its story in an interesting way by calling attention to the drawbacks of Gigantamaxing.
Unlike normal evolution, where a Pokémon’s physical transformation is permanent and the Pokémon ends up becoming a new species entirely comfortable in its own skin, Pocket Monsters emphasises that Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing are sort of a traumatic events. When Pikachu Gigantamaxes, he immediately becomes more powerful, but because he’s unaccustomed to being kaiju-sized, wielding that power is incredibly difficult. Being so large makes it impossible for Pikachu to move with even a fraction of the speed available to him when he’s small, and even walking proves to be a Herculean effort. Pikachu’s able to win in the end, but not before realising that simply being big doesn’t necessarily make one indestructible.
As all of this unfolds, Leon, Galar’s reigning Pokémon Champion, watches from a safe distance. He’s deeply impressed at both Ash and Pikachu’s skills as battlers considering their lack of familiarity with Gigantamaxing, and when all of the commotion stops, he agrees to engage the pair in a friendly match.
Unlike the wild Drednaw—who, like Pikachu, could scarcely manoeuvre its bulk strategically—Leon’s Charizard is a highly trained Gigantamax brawler, and as Leon and Ash face off, it’s clear which trainer is going to emerge victorious. Even with its type disadvantage against Pikachu, Leon’s Charizard dispatches the overgrown mouse with ease, forcing him to faint and return to his regular size. It isn’t exactly fair to say that Pikachu’s back and here to stay, as Gigantamaxing is the kind of thing that Pokémon do when they’re in dire straits or in the heat of a fight. But in this one small (but literally big) way, the Pokemon Company’s making sure that none of us forget the Pikachu that started it all.