Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Lesson on Relatablity from POKéMON

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     I'm a POKéMON nerd. You can tell this from the fact that I capitalize the o, k, m, o, and n, plus that I use "é" instead of "e". But another way you can tell is that I started watching the original Pokémon episodes, and the fact that I know that Jesse was extremely poor, hated Princess Day because she never had dolls, and loves "snowgasborde", that James was rich, collected bottle caps, and owned his own swimming pool, and that Meowth learned to talk and stand like a human in order to impress a female Meowth named Meowthy.
     What does Team Rocket have to do with writing? Well, despite Pikachu being one of the most adorable POKéMON, I always liked Jesse, James, and Meowth more. Why?

  • They fail
     Team Rocket always fails. No matter what they do, they always fail. We can identify with that, so we feel sorry for them.

  • They have sad back stories
     This is more for Jesse and Meowth than James, but seriously, they've had very sad childhoods. Jesse was so poor that a holiday where they ate a snow feast was the highlight of her childhood. Meowth was so desperate to be liked by someone that he became a Pokémon freak to gain the affection of Meowthy. Even better, it didn't work.

  • Though they are the bad guys, they are loyal

     They fight like cats and dogs, but they love each other. James throws away his favorite bottle cap to help Meowth, despite nearly breaking to tears when they took it from him earlier in the episode. James, Meowth, and the other POKéMON dress up as human dolls when Jesse fails the contest that would give her the dolls that she never had on Princess Day. Jesse panics when James and Meowth fall asleep in the snow, because she knows they could freeze. They all try to comfort Arbok and Weezing when they don't make the cut to star in a movie.

     In contrast, the only hero with an even vaguely sad backstory is Brock, who's dad left, but then comes back. (It never says what happened to Ash's dad.) And Ash rarely fails. Granted, of course, he is loyal, and we do like him, but Team Rocket still manages to evoke a surprising amount of sympathy for being the people trying to steal Pikachu.

     So, if kidnappers can be that likable, using these techniques, what do you think you can do with good guys? Probably one of the hardest things for writers to do, is make their heroes fail. They're the hero! They should be capable! But if they never fail, we won't care. Of course they'll win, when do they not? Don't be afraid of making your hero fail. There is nothing we identify with better than failure. That, if nothing else, is something every human is familiar with.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.


  1. I was never that into Pokemon (as you can tell from how I wrote it) but I did feel sorry for Team Rocket. This is certainly a new look at them. Thanks!

  2. I've only ever seen two episodes of Pokemon (because my best friend made me watch them with her XD), but from that small amount of exposure, I can agree with you. Team Rocket is awesome. XD