Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield have been consistently mentioned in video game-related news as of late. Between the Pokémon Company and Niantic both coming out in support of Black Lives Matter and donating a substantial amount of money, the announcement that 2019 was the Pokémon Company’s second-biggest year in terms of profit with a 14.8 percent increase, and the Isle of Armor expansion for Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield now available, this is no surprise.
A feature introduced in the eighth generation of Pokémon games, known as Dynamax and Gigantamax, is the most recent aspect of the franchise to seemingly take inspiration from kaiju. Prior to the release of Sword & Shield, I wrote about the biggest Pokémon featured in various anime, movies, and manga before Dynamax and Gigantamax. But what if I told you that generation eight is far from the first time, and is just the most obvious? Kaiju have likely been influencing Pokémon ever since the initial concept and I’m here to tell you how.
The Earliest Instances & Unused Pokémon
(Writer’s Note: Some of the following comparisons featured in this article are based more on speculation than others)
Old concept art is the earliest known instance of various kaiju influencing the Pocket Monsters franchise. When it was first known as Capsule Monsters (not to be confused with several games with the same name from the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise), there were two specific monsters made to help explain how Pokémon battles work. The two monsters in question were a fire-breathing dinosaur-like creature named Godzillante, and an ape-like creature named Gorillaimo. The particular example could also be seen as a reference to the 1962 kaiju film King Kong vs Godzilla.
It has also been revealed that one of Satoshi Tajiri’s inspirations for Pokémon was the Ultraseven TV series, which was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, who is also credited as one of the co-creators of Godzilla. In the aforementioned TV show, when the main character cannot transform into his superhero form to fight against giant monsters, he can summon one of a trio of giant monsters to take his place, which also may have inspired the original games having three different starter Pokémon. Additionally, in a 1998 interview with Time Magazine, Tajiri briefly mentioned having an obsession with both Godzilla and Ultraman as a child.
A likely kaiju-inspired Pokémon, which could have eventually been redesigned into Larvitar and known as Gyaoon was revealed in the 2018 Japan-exclusive biographical manga, Satoshi Tajiri: The Man Who Created Pokémon, alongside both other unused beta Pokémon and some that still remained. Each Pokémon had an index number, with Rhydon’s being #0 as the first Pokémon created. Gyaoon was #1, possibly making it the very first lost Pokémon. Not only that but even after being scrapped, you could still see remnants of the design in the generic monster statues of the first generation games. Variations of its cry were also used for saurian and dragon Pokémon like Bulbasaur and Dratini, and can also be heard from several different Missingnos. Even now you can still see remnants of its design in the substitute doll as well as a specific design for the Pokémaniac trainer class in Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver.
Another unused Pokémon, known as Omega was revealed by Tsunekazu Ishihara on an NHK broadcast in Japan in 2018 by showing it’s black and white sprite, and bears a striking resemblance to the first Mechagodzilla, from 1974’s Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. It also looks like it could have been a redesign of Godzillante, which could make sense due to their inspirations. Interestingly enough, the slot that Omega used, which was #21, was taken up by Mew after Omega was scrapped.
One more unused Pokémon showed some obvious Kaiju inspiration through its design, but this time being based on a kaiju from the Ultraman TV series. The unused Pokémon in question is named Buu, and it served as the male counterpart of Jynx, based on a yeti-like kaiju known as Woo. Only it’s back sprite has been seen so far, so it is currently unknown what it fully looked like.
The kaiju influence never truly went away and starting with the first generation, you can still see it through some designs.
At Least One Pokémon in Each Generation Have Some Kaiju Influence
Some Pokémon may have been unused, but even Pokémon appearing in the franchise since it began have still been influenced by kaiju in some way. The earliest examples of this would be Rhydon and Nidoking, with designs both inspired by the kaiju known as Baragon (pictured left), from the Godzilla franchise (with the latter Pokémon being more obvious). Although it has only been seen doing so in the anime series, Blastoise would be another early example due to how it uses water pressure to spin, similar to how Gamera uses jet propulsion to fly. Since the original release of Pokémon Green, Red, Blue, and Yellow versions, at least one Pokémon in almost every generation may have had their design be partially inspired by various kaiju. One of the most interesting being a Pokémon introduced in the second generation games, Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal version.
Tyranitar: King of the Pocket Monsters
The most notable example of a Pokémon design being inspired by kaiju may just be Tyranitar. While at first glance, it seems like this second generation Pokémon was maybe inspired by Godzilla, there’s actually more to it than that, especially due to how intertwined the first two Pokémon generations are. The earliest design of what eventually became Tyranitar was actually first seen in the beta Pocket Monsters logo, as noted by the tail specifically, although it also shares several design characteristics with Rhydon and Nidoking. A later design much closer to the final version was seen in a 1997 illustration meant to be a reference to Pokémon design in general (pictured right).
Tyranitars pre-evolution Larvitar also has early designs where kaiju influence is more apparent than the final product. Lacking the details of its final form, the original Larvitar looks a lot more like its predecessor Godzillante as well as a baby Godzilla, possibly referencing the baby form of Godzilla Junior or Godzilla’s adopted son Minilla, who also have more simplified designs than their parents. The details may have been added to make it look similar to its final form, but luckily they didn’t try to change the design entirely.
Even Tyranitars Mega form introduced in the sixth generation games, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, possibly references a kaiju, this time inspired by an alien kaiju known as SpaceGodzilla, from Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla, and SuperGodzilla from the Super Nintendo game of the same name (which also served as the inspiration for SpaceGodzilla itself)
Unova S.O.S.: Revenge of Mecha-Tyranitar
While not technically a Pokémon in a traditional sense, a Steel-type Pokémon-inspired robot known as Mecha Tyranitar (or MT for short) was introduced in Pokémon Black 2 & Pokémon White 2 via the Pokéstar Studios feature where players can make short movies. In Pokéstar Studios, a series of films called Big Monster (or Daikaiju in Japanese) can be played after the player has defeated the Champion.
The last film in the series, called the Return of Mecha Tyranitar, the player battles against a man named Serizawa (referencing the scientist in the original Godzilla film) with a new version of Mecha Tyranitar called MT2, featuring a black color scheme and is a Steel and Electric-type rather than pure Steel, which could be seen as a reference to the redesigned Mechagodzilla in later Godzilla movies.
A Mecha Tyranitar also appeared in the Pokémon Black & White anime series in the episode “An Epic Defense Force,” which contains references to a number of kaiju movies. First thought to be a giant Tyranitar, after some of it’s fake skin is removed it is revealed to be a machine, in a similar way to how Fake Godzilla is revealed to be Mechagodzilla in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. This Mecha Tyranitar also happens to utilize the same roar as the Heisei incarnation of King Ghidorah. Additionally, two twins, a reference to the Shobijin from Mothra, say that they must awaken the “sleeping titan of legend,” which turns out to be a kaiju-sized version of the Golem Pokémon, Golurk.
Kaiju Influence in Other Generations
While Tyranitar may be the most heavily kaiju influenced Pokémon, plenty of other Pokémon show some Kaiju influence through their design as well. Aggron, the fully evolved form of Aron and Lairon from the third generation games, Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald version, seems to have been based on Pulgasari, a legendary monster of Korean origin featured in the 1985 film of the same name, who is known for eating iron and starting out small but growing to an enormous size.
Starting in the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl anime movie trilogy of the fourth generation, many Pokémon actually use Kaiju roars in various movies and games, this is because Toho (the company behind the Godzilla franchise) holds the distribution rights for the Pokémon movies in Japan, and also plays a significant role in their production. Palkia uses a mixture of roars from King Ghidorah, Godzilla, and Boga from Star Wars while Giratina has similar cries to Mothra. Using kaiju roars for these legendary monsters may also be a reference to their design, with Palkia having some resemblance to Space Godzilla and Giratina (Altered Forme) resembling Destoroyah.
Returning to the fifth generation, Pokémon Black, Pokémon White, Pokémon Black 2, and Pokémon White 2, we have several seemingly Kaiju inspired Pokémon. Volcarona is perhaps the most obvious of these, being seemingly directly inspired by Mothra, among other various influences. The dual dark and dragon type Hydreigon may have been partially inspired by King Ghidorah, however, it has also been said it was inspired by various mythological multi headed dragons, but specifically with simpler three-headed design. Interestingly enough, when Hydreigon uses Tri Attack in the anime series it uses the same sound effect as King Ghidorah’s Gravity Beam. It has also been speculated that Bisharp, the Sword Blade Pokémon, was inspired by mecha hero Jet Jaguar from Godzilla vs Megalon as well as Kaijin, which is a term used for the strange and mysterious humanoid villains found in some kaiju movies.
The fifth-generation movies also continue the tradition started in the Diamond & Pearl trilogy, with legendary Pokémon Zekrom having Baragon’s roar from Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack in Pokémon the Movie: White — Victini and Zekrom (and using Megaguirus’ in the first episode of the series) and it’s counterpart Reshiram having a roar that’s a mix of the roars of Megaguirus & Keizer Ghidorah in Pokémon the Movie: Black — Victini and Reshiram, respectively. Kyurem, the third legendary Pokémon of this trio, has the roars of Zilla and Monster X from Godzilla Final Wars in Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem VS. The Sword of Justice.
While I briefly mentioned the sixth generation games when discussing Mega Tyranitar’s design, the anime still continued to use various Kaiju roars for legendary Pokémon, such as Yveltal having Megaguirus’s roar in Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, and Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre having Godzilla’s roar combined with Mothra and King Ghidorah’s roars, respectively, in Mega Evolution Special III.
While most of the Pokémon in the seventh generation games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon, don’t seem to resemble any kaiju too much, the cover legendaries do utilize some kaiju roars in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with Lunala using one of Mothra’s sounds and Solgaleo using a shortened version of Baragon’s roar.
The third legendary of this seventh generation trio, known as Necrozma, may have had its lore influenced by Ultraman Zero. Both are cosmic beings who have attempted to steal powerful sources of energy. Necrozma’s true form in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon is even called Ultra Necrozma and is a being of pure light, similar to how Ultras are known as giants of light. To attain this form, Necrozma utilizes a transformation method known as Ultra Burst by using its own transformation item (Ultranecrozium Z), which corresponds with the special objects the majority of Ultra heroes use to transform.
The aforementioned eighth-generation Pokémon games wear the franchises kaiju influence on their sleeve, giving any Pokémon the ability to Dynamax and become an enhanced gigantic version of themselves. Gigantamax goes even further by giving certain Pokémon their own unique giant-sized forms, with several heavily resembling various kaiju. Not only that but these mammoth-sized pocket monsters create explosions once defeated, a direct inspiration from kaiju films and the larger tokusatsu genre. The gigantamax Pokémon who show the most kaiju influence, in particular, are Gigantamax Charizard, heavily resembling Burning Godzilla from Godzilla vs Destoroyah with its chest and head flames, and Gigantamax Butterfree once again showing some Mothra influence with its giant wings and G-Max befuddle attack being somewhat similar to the sparkles Mothra creates. In an article for Screenrant, author Camden Jones even stated that the kaiju influence for these two forms may go even further, noting how both forms were revealed at the same time and have similar color patterns not present on other Gigantamax Pokémon, indicating these two as a pair similar to Godzilla and Mothra. Gigantamax Dreadnaw and Gigantamax Garbodor do slightly resemble Gamera and Hedorah, respectively, but these resemblances are more likely due to being based on similar concepts. Lastly, while Duraludon’s gigantamax form resembles giant buildings more than anything else, its base design and rivalry with Tyranitar were likely inspired by Mechagodzilla.
The Urshifu-Ultraman Connection
The following information may be the most recent example of how kaiju, or rather the Tokusatsu genre in general, continues to influence Pokémon, although it is still primarily speculative. The new martial artist bear Pokémon Kubfu, makes its entrance in the Island of Armor expansion for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield and even has an evolved form called Urshifu which has two different forms depending on how Kubfu is trained. While technically not a kaiju it is also possible that Urshifu’s gigantamax forms were partially inspired by the Tokusatsu hero Ultraman. More specifically Urshifu Single Strike Style may be based on Ultraman Zero Strong Corona and Urshifu Rapid Strike Style may be based on Ultraman Zero Luna-Miracle. The specialty of Ultraman Zero’s Strong-Corona form is hand-to-hand combat and like Single-Strike Style Urshifu, doesn’t hold anything back, while Zero’s Luna-Miracle form is meant to end conflicts with no bloodshed, similar to how Rapid Strike Style Urshifu has a more calm demeanor to its counterpart and prefers to avoid unnecessary violence, biding its time until it can swiftly end the fight. These giant humanoid bears could also be partially inspired by the more recent Ultraman Rosso and Ultraman Blu from Ultraman R/B.
While both Luna-Miracle Zero, Ultraman Blu, and Rapid-Strike Urshifu share the same water element, Single-Strike Urshifu does not share the element of fire with Strong-Corona Zero or Ultraman Rosso despite its red coloration. It does, however, share some design aspects with Ultraman Belial and several other dark Ultramen, with similar jagged red markings and being described as angrier and more merciless than its calmer counterpart.
Take this all with a grain of salt of course, since red and blue are contrasted against each other often, and martial arts poses are relatively common in genre fiction from Asia. But knowing that the entire concept of Pokémon was inspired by a show in the Ultra series, and with Dynamax transformation and the time limit being eerily similar to heroes in the Ultra series, is it really all that far fetched?
Thank Giant Monsters for Pocket Monsters
While there are several Reddit threads comparing various Pokémon to a multitude of Kaiju, with some featured here and others being much more of a stretch, we also have to remember most members of both are still based on things from real life, so many still end up resembling each other without being direct references. A number of the aforementioned Pokémon also coincidentally happen to be part of the Monster Egg Group. The influence goes both ways as well, due to things like producer Shogo Tomiyama joking that Godzilla’s most dangerous adversary was Pikachu and Pokémon in general in a Godzilla Final Wars Interview, and the Kong: Skull Island Skullcrawlers being inspired by Cubone. Who knows what kind of Pokémon we could see in the future? Maybe one inspired by the Jaegers from Pacific Rim, or even one inspired by the monsters from The Host or the various new kaiju from Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).
If you want to know more about the Ken Sugimori style artwork featured in the first section of this article, you can check out our interview with RacieB as well as the piece on it featured in US Gamer. You can also support her by checking out the merch on her Redbubble. For additional information on Pokémon design and development discussed in this article, make sure to check out Dr. Lava’s website and YouTube channel as well as Helix Chamber.