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Detective Pikachu's 9 best deep-cut Pokemon references

By Daniel Dockery

More than two decades since Pokémon first hit American shores, the first live-action movie in franchise history, Detective Pikachu, finally hit theaters this weekend. The movie serves as a great introduction for people who had shunned the Pokémon franchise their whole lives, while also satisfying those who are even more obsessed with catching 'em all than they were 20 years ago. I fit into that latter category, by the way, which means that I really appreciated it when Detective Pikachu took the time to throw in some deep-cut references.

Now, when I say "deep cut," I don't mean something as simple as "Hey, there's a monster that isn't Pikachu!" Or "Look! There's a Pokémon on that poster back there!" Because there are tons of those, and I was constantly delighted to be able to whisper "It's ... it's ... SLAKING!" to my annoyed friend in the theater, as if I was playing one long game of "Who's that Pokémon?" with myself. I'm talking about ones that, to fully appreciate, you kind of have to know a bit of Pokémon history.

So here's a few references that you may only get if you've been playing the games or watching the anime religiously since the late '90s. I knew that spending more time on Pokémon games than I ever did on self-care or human relationships would pay off somehow.


09. Mewtwo's quick backstory

It's explained that Mewtwo escaped from the Kanto region 20 years before the events of Detective Pikachu. For most, the number was relatively insignificant, but long-time fans know that it was 20 years ago that Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition came out. The game that took place in the Kanto region, featured Mewtwo as the secret "end boss," and solidified Pikachu's status as the mascot of the franchise. 

In that game, you learn about Mewtwo's origin through various journals in the ruined Cinnabar Mansion. So does that mean Detective Pikachu is a sequel to Pokemon Yellow? I guess it does. Detective Daniel-chu has solved another case. 


08. The Arceus in the office

At one point, Pikachu says, "Oh sweet mother of Arceus...," which is a nice joke, considering that Arceus is thought to have created the entire Pokémon world and is the closest thing to a god that Ash Ketchum has. But then, in Howard Clifford's office, you see a statue of Arceus, along with Palkia and Dialga. This is really fitting, seeing as Clifford's plan is to reshape and thus create a whole new world where humans evolve literally with their Pokémon. 


07. The giant Torterra are fairly canon

After escaping from a Pokémon lab, the heroes find themselves in the middle of a geological disaster. The earth seems to be rocking and sliding and flipping over onto itself, and at first you think, "Man, Psyduck's headaches are REALLY powerful." But then it's revealed that the entire forest is on the backs of a herd of giant Torterra.

Now, aside from the fact that these Torterra should logically be fighting Godzilla about now, I want to point out that entire ecosystems living on the back of Torterra isn't that farfetched, and has been established in the games. The Pokedex entry for them in Pokémon Pearl says, "Groups of this Pokemon migrating in search of water have been mistaken for 'moving forests,'" and Platinum's says, "Some Pokémon are born on Torterra's back and spend their entire life there."

But none are more apt than the Pokedex entry in Heart Gold/Soul Silver (among other games): "Ancient people imagined that beneath the ground, a gigantic Torterra dwelled." I would give Detective Pikachu an Academy Award just for that little bit of research. 

Detective Pikachu Pokemon

06. Pikachu's caffeine addiction

Pikachu's endless thirst for coffee is a funny and relatable addition. Over the course of writing this article, I've had a few cups myself, because coffee is pretty necessary when you're researching Pokémon at 6 in the morning. However, it isn't just a quirk. In the game that this is based on (also called Detective Pikachu,) Pikachu basically requires coffee on a constant basis. I'm glad that they left this detail in, rather than opting for some kind of branding opportunity. "In order to solve this case, I, Detective Pikachu, need to enjoy a REFRESHING MOUNTAIN DEW CODE RED, which is available in the Pokemon world and the real world."


05. The Bulbasaur commune

I don't know if I've ever wanted to exist in the Pokémon universe more than when I saw that group of Bulbasaur. I just want to pick a few up at once and then watch 'em bound around like little plant puppies. But this massive group of them isn't without precedent. In fact, the 51st episode of the original anime, "Bulbasaur's Mysterious Garden," featured a big collection of them, too. Of course, in that episode, they were all ruled by a massive Venusaur and were trying to get Ash's Bulbasaur to evolve with them.

Ash's Bulbasaur, however, was not having it and decided to stay independent. Respect, Bulbasaur. You never stop doing you, my dude. 

04. Angry Jigglypuff

Another Pokémon anime reference was the angry Jigglypuff in the coffee bar. You might wonder, "Why are you so grumpy, Jigglypuff? You know that your 'Sing' attack puts people to sleep!" But in the anime, Jigglypuff was always knocking people out with its songs and then getting unreasonably agitated about it. Jigglypuff will never learn.

03. The power of the Volt Tackle

In Detective Pikachu, a big deal is made about Pikachu using "Volt Tackle." It's said that he'll hurt himself if he uses it, but it's also really powerful. And that first part is game-accurate, but is it really worthy of being a finishing move? Wouldn't "Thunder" be more appropriate?

Well, not if you've played Pokemon Sun/Moon or Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon. In those games, if your Pikachu knows Volt Tackle, you can upgrade it into a Z-Move "Catastropika," which is amazingly powerful and looks a lot like Volt Tackle. So while I doubt any Pikanium Z was around, Volt Tackle being the game changer didn't come from nowhere.


02. Magikarp evolving out of nowhere has happened before

Video game purists might have watched the scene where Magikarp suddenly evolved into Gyarados when it got slightly stressed and thought, "NO. IT HAS TO EVOLVE AT LEVEL 20. I DID NOT GRIND MY MAGIKARP IN THE ROUTES AROUND CERULEAN CITY FOR 50 HOURS SO THAT I COULD WATCH THIS BLASPHEMY!"

But if you've ever seen the anime episode "Pokemon Shipwreck," you know that, after Team Rocket's James gets tricked into buying a useless Magikarp, he and his crew end up just kicking it off their raft. Then, it suddenly evolves into Gyarados. So Magikarp definitely has a record of evolving into an absolute monster when it feels slightly perturbed. 


01. This is the second time a guy named Bill has combined with a Pokemon

Okay, I must credit true heroes @MrMattJay and @ykarps for this entry because I totally missed this when I watched the film for the first time. But this is actually the second time that a man named Bill has found his soul stuck in a Pokémon. In Red/Blue/Yellow, when you first meet Bill, the inventor of the Pokemon PC Storage system, he's had a bit of a disaster in his lab and he's been combined with a Pokemon.

Of course, you help him out rather than leave him to be trapped as an abomination for the rest of his days. (Also, in Bill's lab, you can look on his PC and find out about all the different Eevee evolutions. In the film, Eevee evolves into a Flareon in Bill's office.)

In Detective Pikachu, actor Bill Nighy plays the guy who has his mind transferred into Mewtwo's. Of course, in the film, it's not a total meld of the bodies and Bill's comatose human flesh husk is left to rot in his chair, but I don't know if that detail would work so well in a PG movie.