Hello interweb, Nate here! Oh, I said in the last post that I’ll do the SuperheroSins episode to DKR Pt 2? I lied! Now I’m a fan of Pokemon, Marvel, DC, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, etc. But I’m also kind of a science nerd. Because of this, sometimes I like to try and use real world science to explain things in fiction. Granted, most things in fiction usually ignores science because if superheroes were restricted to real world science then they wouldn’t be nearly as fun. However, it’s fun for me at least to try and explain fiction using real world science or at least compare them. I really don’t know why this is but I can’t be alone considering that YouTube channels like Game Theory exist as well as books like James Kakalios’s book The Physics of Superheroes is an actual published book at any library or book store. One of my favorite subjects in science is evolution and it’s a topic that I really wish I knew more about then I do currently. In addition to my fascination with evolution, I’m a huge fan of the popular video game/anime/trading card game/manga Pokemon! So I decided to write this essay in order to compare Pokemon evolution to Darwinian evolution and look at the evidence give to use from the various Pokemon medium to ask the question of if Darwinian evolution occurs in the Pokemon universe.
Disclaimer: While I am fascinated by the subject, I am no expert in evolution. In addition, while I am a huge fan of the franchise, I do not know everything about Pokemon. Therefore, I very well may make various mistakes in this article and I encourage others to correct me whenever possible. Also, I was quite proud of this so I decided to turn this into a semi-formal essay. So I hope you enjoy!
Pokemon is a franchise that’s been running strong since before I was even born and I’ve been a fan of it since I was 6. Within the realm of Pokemon, the creatures of the universe utilizes evolution in order to become stronger in battle. However, this form of evolution isn’t anything like how it is in the real world. Darwinian evolution takes millions of years to change a species into a new form. So Pokemon is an inaccurate representation of our understanding of the origin of life. So what is Pokemon evolution and is there any Darwinian evolution within the world of Pokemon? I’ll be looking in-depth to analyze how Pokemon evolution compares to Darwinian evolution and display evidence of Darwinian evolution in the Pokemon world!
First, lets understand what we’re talking about here. Pokemon evolution transforms a Pokemon into a new form making it stronger, gain access to new movies, and potentially alter its typing. This event is triggered when a certain set of criteria is met which usually (but not always) involves a Pokemon reaching a specific level through a gaining in exp. points. Darwinian evolution, on the other hands, is a lot slower rather than instantaneous and involved decent within organisms with modification. When I use the verbal form of evolution “evolve” it can be from either context, so I’ll be saying “P-evolve” in reference to Pokemon evolution and “D-evolve” when I reference Darwinian evolution.
The weirdest part about Pokemon Evolution is that it’s quite difficult to determine whether an evolutionary line represents a singular species of Pokemon maturing or different Pokemon species transforming into another Pokemon species. Many people over the years have pointed out that Pokemon evolution is more akin to metamorphosis or maturing than actual evolution. Meaning that a Bulbasaur, Ivysaur, and Venusaur represents different levels of maturity with Bulbasaur representing the baby or child stage, Ivysaur representing the adolescent stage, and Venusaur representing the adult stage. Metamorphosis can be seen more clearly with Pokemon such as Beedrill that starts off in the larva stage as a Weedle, forms a cocoon as a Kakuna, and finally hatches into a Beedrill when its fully mature. after all, it’s impossible for an organism to become a different species just by maturing. If your born a human, you’ll die a human. Certain Pokemon even have pre-evolved forms created in later generations referred to as “Baby Pokemon” such as is Pichu to Pikachu, further supporting the theory that this represents a maturity in an individual species. Some Pokemon even has a reference to being a different level of maturity in their name such as Cubchoo.
These comparisons to maturity in real world animals are quite obvious and the theory seems sound at first, but there are several holes in it and the evidence that these represents different Pokemon species rather than stages of life is overwhelming. The most obvious is that if these are suppose to represent different stages of life within a Pokemon species, then why give them all different individual names? I can forgive the franchise for Beedrill’s case as we do call larva stages of butterflies “caterpillars” rather than “baby butterflies”. However, if I was to refer to a Bulbasaur as a “Venusaur” then I would be incorrect as a Bulbasaur and a Venusaur are treated as two different species within the universe. After all, I can call a baby dog a “puppy” if I so choose but it is ultimately still considered a dog and I can call a puppy a “dog” and still be correct in that terminology. So if a Venusaur is a grown up Bulbasaur, why can’t I call a Bulbasaur a Venusaur?
We’re just scratching the surface! If different Pokemon represents different stages of life, then it would be safe to assume that the first stage of every evolutionary line must P-evolve or “grow up” eventually. However this is not the case! The most famous example of a Pokemon refusing to “grow up” is Ash’s Pikachu from the anime. Granted, there is a mutation that occurs in some animals that prevents some individuals from maturing to adulthood; but Pikachu doesn’t “mature” because he choose to remain a Pikachu, not by a mutation outside his control. This has also been demonstrated in Ash’s Bulbasaur and Dawn’s Piplup, both of which made the decision to remain in their first form by choice. Pokemon can even reach an elderly age and still remain in their first form as represented by a Treecko seen in the 281st episode of the anime “Tree’s a Crowd”.
So each Pokemon is a specific species, right? Well, even that’s kinda sketchy. In the real world, it’s actually kinda tricky to accurately define what a “species” is since reality isn’t as neat and organized as we’d like it to be. Generally speaking, a species is define as a group of animals that shares very specific traits in common. A general rule is that two organisms is considered one species when they are capable of reproducing. This isn’t always the case since some species of animals are close enough that they are capable of reproducing despite being different species — such as lions and tigers — but that’s just a general rule. If we were to follow this logic into the Pokemon world, well then we’d might as well just throw our hand in the air like we just don’t care cause a Skitty and a Wailord can make babies! Breeding in the Pokemon world is determined by what egg group a Pokemon belongs in. If two Pokemon belong in the same egg group then they can reproduce!
While we’re on the topic of Pokemon breeding (I feel like there’s a joke somewhere here…), if two animals reproduce then the resulting offspring will be the same species as it’s parents. In other words, since your mom and dad were both humans, you are a human! If each Pokemon was an individual species then that would mean two Venusaurs reproducing should result in a Venusaur. However, what we get instead is a Bulbasaur! If Bulbasaur and Venusaur where different species, this would be akin to if a human gave birth to an Australopithecus Afarensis (an ancestor to us humans). It should also be noted that Baby Pokemon are unable to reproduce, assumably because the franchise don’t want any pedophilic mechanics in the game but on a scientific level we can also assume that Baby Pokemon have yet to reach puberty and therefore don’t have fully operating sex organs.
So which is it? Is a Bulbasaur and Venusaur the same species at different stages of life, or are they different species of Pokemon all together? Well to be very honest with ya, I don’t know! Using the evidence the franchise gives us and comparing it to real world science, the results are inconclusive. The evidence supporting the theory that each individual Pokemon is a different stage of life are as follows: an organism in the real world can never change it’s species after birth, Baby Pokemon exist, and breeding will usually result in the first stage of the evolutionary line. The evidence for a Pokemon evolution represents one species transforming into a different species are as follows: the franchise treats different Pokemon as if they are different species, and pokemon can remain in a certain stage for its entire life. Ultimately, it’s just difficult to determine what a “species” means in the context of the Pokemon universe. It’s obvious that Venusaur and Beedrill are two different species of Pokemon, but are Bulbasaur and Venusaur two different species as well?
So Pokemon evolution is kinda sketchy, but does Darwinian evolution exist in the Pokemon universe? Yes. Okay, bye!…Ok, time to explain! Now when I say Darwinian evolution exist that doesn’t mean I know exactly how it happened. After all, there’s only 11 known fossils to look at in the Pokemon world and we can’t exactly study a Pokemon’s DNA unless you want to look at their coding within the system (I wonder if a binary code made of 1’s and 0’s are easier to study then a code made of A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s). It’s actually kind of ironic that we don’t understand Darwinian evolution in the Pokemon world any more then we do since the Pokemon universe has Jurassic Park technology that brings fossils to life (hey, at least Jurassic Park used DNA to make dinosaurs! You can’t just make an animal out of a fossil, Game Freak!).
Anyways, it’s clear from the fossil Pokemons that there are extinct Pokemons that lived millions of years ago. This may imply that those same Pokemon, or unknown Pokemon living at the time, became the Pokemon in the present day. One example of this I speculate is the similarities between Kabutops and Scyther. Both bipedal Pokemon with long blades for hands. That’s just speculation on my part, for further actual evidence that proves evolution exist look no further than the Pokedex! Archen’s Pokedex entries alludes to it being the ancestor to all bird Pokemon in Pokemon Black and White but actually confirms it in Pokemon Sun:
“Said to be an ancestor of bird Pokémon, they were unable to fly and moved about by hopping from one branch to another.”
-Pokemon: Black Version
“Revived from a fossil, this Pokémon is thought to be the ancestor of all bird Pokémon.”
-Pokemon: White Version
“It is the ancestor of all bird Pokémon. Archen itself could not actually fly but moved by hopping from treetop to treetop.”
-Pokemon: Sun Version
Archen isn’t the only Pokemon that references ancestral heritage! Archen may be the granddaddy to all birds, but Mew is the granddaddy of all Pokemon! (Oh wait, Mew is genderless? Uh…grand…grand…ah c’mon! Tumblr is full of non-binary unicorns using they/their/them pronouns, there’s gotta be a non-binary grandparent name!). According to several Pokedex entries:
“Its DNA is said to contain the genetic codes of all Pokémon, so it can use all kinds of techniques.”
-Pokemon: Silver Version
“Because it can learn any move, some people began research to see if it is the ancestor of all Pokémon.”
-Pokemon: Crystal Version
“Mew is said to possess the genetic composition of all Pokémon. It is capable of making itself invisible at will, so it entirely avoids notice even if it approaches people.”
-Pokemon: Ruby and Sapphire Version
“A Mew is said to possess the genes of all Pokémon. It is capable of making itself invisible at will, so it entirely avoids notice even if it approaches people.”
-Pokemon: Emerald Version
“Because it can use all kinds of moves, many scientists believe Mew to be the ancestor of Pokémon.”
-Pokemon: Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum Version
I could add a few more but you get the picture. Granted, the first life in the real world would’ve been single celled organisms making Mew rather complex to be a first organism in the Pokemon universe, but since Arceus created the universe I’m gonna just accept it.
Now if Pokemon followed true Darwinian evolution then we’d be able to use phylogenetic taxonomy in order to classify every Pokemon into a tree of life. Phylogeny being the study of evolutionary ancestors and taxonomy being the study of animal classifications. However, as much as I could probably put enough imagination into creating a taxonomic system to record every Pokemon in existence, that would take forever and ain’t nobody got time for that. Besides, I’m sure you can theorize what Pokemon are related to other Pokemon. For example: Pikachu, Plusle, Minun, Pachirisu, Emolga, Dedenne, and Togedemaru are all rodent Pokemon that are electric types; therefore, they all must share an unknown common ancestor. They also probably split off from normal rodent Pokemon such as: Rattata, Sentret, Zigzagoon, Bidoof, Patrat, Bunnelby, and Yungoos.
Speaking of types, this can make Darwinian evolution in the Pokemon universe that much messier. Some types we might not need to worry about, as I believe ghost-types for example never actually “evolved” in the Darwinian sense but instead are actual souls of deceased Pokemon and humans. However, let’s look at Archen for example. I theorize that the rock typing is actual the result of being revived through a fossil as every fossil Pokemon are part rock. If this is true then we can ignore that for now, but the Pokedex did mention that Archen is the ancestor to all bird Pokemon, not flying Pokemon. So flying Pokemon such as the Gliscor line, Charizard, Emolga, the Crobat line, Butterfree, Beautyfly, Scyther, Aerodactyl, Dragonite, Salamence, etc. All evolved flight separately from birds. Now having similar things D-evolve from two different evolutionary branches is possible. Such as how birds and bats can both fly but they D-evolved different kinds of wings and fly in different ways. However, Empoleon is clearly a bird and it’s Water/Steel. If water and steel D-evolved in different evolutionary lines, how did Empoleon manage to gain these traits if Archen would have branched off from those types? Alolan forms also make typing more confusing. Ironic considering that you’d think Alolan forms would support Darwinian evolution as different organisms in different environments would adapt in different ways, but how would Vulpix become an ice type from being on Alola when there’s no clear way that she can gain that trait?
Now as I mentioned before, I don’t believe every Pokemon evolved in the Darwinian sense. Some Pokemon such as Grimer has Pokedex entries explaining their creation. Some Pokemon, such as Magnemite and Voltorb, appears man-made. Others are literally aliens like Elgyem, Clefairy, and Starmie. Legendary Pokemon can’t reproduce in game through breeding but I believe that they can actually reproduce. The Pokedex confirmed Mew is the ancestor to all Pokemon and we saw a baby Lugia in the anime. The main reason legendaries can’t breed in-game I believe is just so a user can’t breed for a bunch of different Mewtwos or Darkrais, making them more unique.
Overall, it’s difficult to really squeeze real-world science into a universe that ignores science all together but it’s fun to speculate! Darwinian evolution is not only a fact in our world but clearly a fact in the Pokemon universe! While it may not be completely understood how Pokemon D-evolved or whether or not every Pokemon qualifies as its own species, it takes some creativity to create such an inventive world!
This poll is just for feedback purposes. Thanks for reading~