An Ode to a Jigglypuff

An Ode to a Jigglypuff
Jigglypuff, singing its heart out as all good queens do. (Screenshot: OLM, Inc.)

Twenty-five years ago in Red and Blue, freshly-minted Boulder-Badge owning Pokémon trainers would find themselves heading toward the first steps of the rest of their lives drowning in bird Pokémon. Route 3 was filled with them — Pidgeys and Spearows, as far as the tall grass could see — but every once in a while, when the fates willed it, you would encounter the greatest Pokémon of all time.

Bulbapedia, the go-to fandom wiki for ridiculously esoteric Pokémon facts, says there’s a 10% chance of you encountering a Jigglypuff in the tall grass of Route 3 in Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. The same chance was there when players could revisit the land of Kanto in the post-game phases of their sequels, Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, and once again in future generations of remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, and HeartGold and SoulSilver, respectively. The very first Pokémon games turn 25 years old tomorrow, on what is officially referred to as “Pokémon Day.” In their most recent remakes, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee on the Nintendo Switch, you couldn’t find a Jigglypuff there at all.

It feels like a crime.

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Looking back on the experience of my five-year-old self falling in love with his favourite Pokémon, a 10% chance just doesn’t sound right. Nostalgically, it feels like Jigglypuff was waiting for me on Route 3, always there to be encountered and captured, to be trained and to be loved. That it was the first Pokémon I found, and not that, more realistically, I and my Charmander burned ourselves through a veritable legion of Pidgeys to get that fateful encounter.

Gif: Nintendo Gif: Nintendo

But that’s the thing about Pokémon for me and so many players of a sort. Just as there are millions of fans for whom first and foremost it is a masterfully strategic competitive RPG, simple to learn but arcane to master in the transmedia franchise’s fearsome competitive scene, there exist just as many fans for whom Pokémon is about making friends with cute creatures. It becomes a kind of magic, when you’re whittling down this adorable looking genderless pink sphere with ears and a tuft of…hair (?) because you want to be its friend and not because of its special attack stat.

Encounter rates mean nothing when you look back, decades later, and wonder just what it is about a Jigglypuff that wormed its way into your heart and never let go. Maybe it was the alienness that, unlike so many Pokémon you had encountered up to that point — Brock’s massive Onyx aside — it didn’t just look like a cartoon version of an animal you already know, and that was surprising. Maybe it’s because it looks like cotton candy with a soul. Maybe it was the first unsubtle mental reminder of my queerness, the boy who liked the pink Pokémon — but a childhood of Spice Girls albums probably already laid that to rest. Whatever it was, from that moment, Jigglypuff entered my Pokémon team and never left it for the rest of the countless hours I sunk into Pokémon Blue.

Screenshot: OLM, Inc. Screenshot: OLM, Inc.

Since those early days, Jigglypuff has become a bit of an unlikely breakout diva, which made those playground arguments over why you were indeed the boy who liked the pink Pokémon and not say, Charizard or Mewtwo, easier to counter. As Pokémon exploded in the late ‘90s, my pink puffball compatriot was there for their moment in the spotlight. Jigglypuff got starring turns in the cartoon, captivating heroes and villains alike with their sickly sweet lullaby and then covering their faces in marker pen for the audacity of falling asleep to it.

When Pokémon came to be represented in the first Super Smash Bros, it was Jigglypuff who stepped up to the plate (an electric rodent may have also been there). Pokémania truly hit, and as we were drowned in trading cards, plush toys, and various other pocket monster ephemera, Jigglypuff was as present as the big league names, the mascots who would go on to be the forever face of the series at large: wherever Pikachu and Eevee went, Jigglypuff followed.

Even years and years later, as nostalgia for that first generation of Pokémon designs has endured, Jigglypuff has remained ascendant. For the summer of Pokémon Go love, Jigglypuff went global once more, literally showing up wherever feverish fans went. When feature film Detective Pikachu revealed itself and thrust its adorably nightmarish aesthetic onto the world, Ryan Reynold’s Pikachu was there, sure. But one of the first other Pokémon we got to see, this reminder to a cinematic audience of what Pokémon was, at its core, was a Jigglypuff in a bar turning towards the camera, its marshmallow body not marshmallow at all, but covered in glorious, unsettling hair.

Screenshot: Warner Bros. Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Twenty-five years later, I find myself no longer the wanderlust child exploring this strange land in my Game Boy, but ostensibly a grown adult who still finds time to be excited by video games for children. And yet through all that change, Jigglypuff endured as its round, squidgy pink self, not just as part of the Pokémon canon, but as one of its most iconic creatures. Its unlikely success made that initial love on Route 3 easy to cultivate, for it to grow into the strange fondness for fictional characters we’re all capable of falling for. For as long as Pokémon has been there, as long as it has been part of most of my life, Jigglypuff was there too, rolling on alongside me — and long may it continue to do so.