Pikachu is the sweet smiling face of the Pokemon franchise, an adorable and marketable creation that can be slapped on lunchboxes and sneakers alike. Before he was refined into his current form, though, he was a weird, squat little mouse the fans have lovingly nicknamed “Fat Pikachu” or sometimes “Chubby Pikachu.” With the announcement of his Gigantamax form in Pokemon Sword and Shield, the Pokemon Company is paying homage to the classic look.
First, take a look at how Pikachu has evolved over time. On the left is his original appearance in key art from 1998’s Pokemon Red and Blue. He’s rounded, without much of a neck, and his arms and legs aren’t well-defined as separate from his body. On the right is his key art from 2018’s Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu, with a distinctly rounded head, slimmer body, and more defined arms, hands, and feet.
In short, Pikachu has slowly become more human-like. His modern look more closely resembles a human baby, which makes sense. Humans are hard-wired to view infants as cute, and lots of cartoons imitate their traits (like big eyes, toothless mouths, and chubby fingers) to endear the audience to them. As the chief mascot for one of the biggest kids’ properties in the world, of course artists would slowly sand off the rough edges to make him more marketable.
Now compare those two Pikachus to the new Gigantamax form that debuts in Pokemon Sword and Shield. It’s unmistakably the old “fat Pikachu” design put through modern design sensibilities.
The old “fat Pikachu” design has still gotten affection as kitsch or nostalgia, as well as genuine preference from some official Pokemon artists. Legendary Pokemon CCG artist Mitsuhiro Arita said as much himself in an interview with GameSpot.
“I prefer rounder Pikachu,” Arita said. In response to a question about whether this is his personal version of Pikachu, he said, “Not really just limited to Pikachu, but in general I feel like Pokemon aren’t really dark, negative, or depressing. They’re happy, they’re joyful. So I think that feeling has just kind of come out and expressed itself in these cards.”
Whatever the reason, the new Gigantamax Pikachu is an homage to the classic, and a ton of fun in his own regard. He’s a free bonus if you have a save from Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu on your system when you play Sword and Shield, along with a super-fluffy Eevee. You can check out those and some other newly-revealed Gigantamax forms, including one for Charizard that looks downright scary.
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