An Ode to Bulbasaur, the Unsung Hero of the Starter Pokémon

The call to adventure of the original Pokémon game seemed like the perfect way for a generation of youngsters to explore a budding sense of agency. Not only did the story kick off with its hero leaving their sleepy hometown (pop.: like 6) for a quest across a magical world, but said hero began their journey with a character-defining decision determining which Pokémon would accompany them throughout. The ostensible choices: the bravado-indulging Charmander, the condescendingly cute Squirtle, and that munificence of spirit and imagination that is Bulbasaur.

The laws of probability, to the degree that I’ve googled them, would suggest that among the aspiring world leaders and animal shelter volunteers to evolve from the aforesaid generation of youngsters reared on the original Pokémon, we’d find equal affinity for the three critters from whom we were tasked to choose. And yet, while our cohort is lousy with devotees to Charmander and Squirtle, it’s all too rare that you find a hearted member of Team Bulbasaur.

When the Pokémon Gameboy game first came to the United States in 1998, it took two forms: Pokémon Red, on whose cartridge was plastered a battle-poised dragon with a giant flame at the end of its tale, and Pokémon Blue, whose cartridge opted for a likewise militaristic snarling turtle with metal cannons spewing from its shell. Conspicuously missing was Pokémon Green, which was part of the original trio of cartridges when the game debuted in Japan in 1996. That cartridge showcased a gallant medley of flora and fauna. Even if you hadn’t studied up on the evolutionary patterns of the critters in question, it wouldn’t take a Pikachu-caliber detective to deduce which of the three starters might eventually transform into the powerhouses glorified with bombast on the game’s packaging.

Countering Bulbasaur’s superlative of the Pokedex’s number one spot, our society has been subconsciously poisoned against the grass-borne gem from minute one, submitting by proxy to the proclivity for binaries that has likewise plagued its activation of gender and politics. Far be it from me to presume the marketing strategies of late ’90s Nintendo, but the United States’ well documented affinity for violence and aggression may have something to do with the company basing its American campaign on the creatures armed with fire and guns in lieu of the one adorned with a big flower.

Marketability be damned, that’s one of the things that makes the ‘saur lineage so wonderful. Even at its I’m-babiest, Charmander’s appeal is the potential for terror and menace intrinsic of its elemental counterpart. Somehow more sinister, Squirtle panders to our biological inclination toward adorability, entrancing us with lowest common denominator cuteness all the while safeguarding the inevitability of a life’s work in projectiles. But Bulbasaur’s arsenal is entirely of the earth; the plucky sproutback will occasionally tackle an adversary or reprimand it by way of prehensile vines, committed through and through to fighting fair.

But my affection for The Bulb is not one rooted in his tenacity in the arena; if I had my way, Ryme City’s outlawing of Pokémon battles would reach the Supreme Court. What enchants me foremost about Bulbyboy is its design. In stark contrast to its colleagues, who, let’s be clear, are just a regular lizard and a regular turtle but with kinda weird tail shit going on, Bul Bul is a testament to the boundlessness of creativity. It evokes both reptile and amphibian, prehistory and distant future, the bounties of Mother Earth and the mysteries of planets far beyond our reach. It’s even got a little dog and cat in there.

And yet, with all this going for it, Bulbasaur is too often out-shined by the more “readily appealing” Charmander and Squirtle. Sure, they’ve got their strengths, I’ll grant. Charmander can lay waste to a field of plants and insects, and Squirtle can rock a pair of shades. But in our unsung hero—Pokémon number one—we have a rejection of our military industrial complex, a celebration of our Earth’s natural wonders, a tour de force of imagination. I’ll always choose you, Bulbasaur.

Images: Warner Bros

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