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Opinion: Scarlet and Violet are Pokémon's Queerest Games Yet

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Riding Legendaries with gay flag overlay
Pokémon was my queer awakening. I had silly little crushes on male and female characters alike, and I resonated with many of the designs of the series’s more gender nonconforming designs. Pokémon has always had a wink and a nod to queerness: Jessie and James’s genderbending antics, Beauty Nova in X and Y, Blanche from Pokémon GO… the list goes on. But with Scarlet and Violet, queerness shines bright as celestial stars.

“But wait!” you might say. “Scarlet and Violet has no canonical gay or trans characters! How can this thesis make sense?” Well, queer representation need not be explicit to be impactful. Sometimes, the stories queer people resonate with most are told through metaphor, from the misfits in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to X-Men to Luca and Gwen Stacy. The roots of this trace back to a history of censorship. LGBTQ+ stories have been historically censored, such as with the Hays Code. Queer people have long been unable to see stories with explicitly queer characters, so they instead turned to metaphors and symbolism. Gender nonconformity is also nothing new to the scene of video games. Metroid, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Guilty Gear are just some of the games that play with our expectations of gender. It’s also nothing new to Pokémon. East Asian media tends to depict transness and gender nonconformity differently from the West, but for more on that, I'll direct you to this video.

Posing with Grusha after defeating the Glaseado Gym
Even before the release of Scarlet and Violet, gender nonconformity shined through. Take a character like Grusha, for example, who many mistook for a girl when he was first introduced. It goes a little deeper than that, though. “Grusha” is Russian for “pear”, but it’s also a diminutive for the name “Agrafena”... a female Russian name. Whether or not it was intentional, it does add an extra layer of nonconformity to Grusha. Another character with some queercoded elements is Iono: Her color palette evokes the colours of the trans flag, and her Magnemite headpieces evoke an explicitly genderless Pokémon. Baggy clothes are common among many transgender people. Her friend Bellibolt is a frog, and many frogs in real life can change their sex. In Japanese, she speaks with a Bokukko speech pattern (a girl using the masculine “boku”), which is often used for plucky characters, but also nonconforming characters. All of Iono’s names across translations evoke themes of questions. On top of all that… well, the Vtubing scene is, from personal experience, very queer. All of my friends who watch VTubers are queer in some way. More seriously, creating a persona where you can let your true self shine in a way that regular society won't allow you to... that's pretty queer.

With the release of the games, we’ve seen a wide array of characters—Rika, Saguaro, Penny, and all of the leaders of Team Star, among others—showcase a wide range of gender expressions, either in their appearances, their personalities, or their hobbies. And all of these characters are seen as heroes, as role models.

Posing with Iono after defeating the Levincia Gym
As with games before, there are two characters with queer subtext in their relationship. Hassel and Brassius have been seen by many as being in a gay relationship, bonding over a love of art, supporting each other in dark times, and giving each other pet names. Even if it's not outright stated that they're in a romantic relationship, their care for each other is a beautiful thing. Many gay coded relationships are often of younger men or women, and while these relationships are important, it's also important for older gay couples to receive some of the spotlight. After all, queer people have always existed, and it's important to remember our past and honor those who came before us, who helped paved the path to acceptance.

Character Customization options in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
For the first time in a mainline game, the player character can choose any clothes, hair style, and so on regardless of gender. While the player can still only choose between being referred to by masculine or feminine terms, this is a step in the right direction, and it opens the door for many opportunities never seen before. Boys can be feminine, girls can be masculine, and both can be anywhere in between. The world of gender expression is as big as the open world of Paldea.

But back to Team Star. The whole Team Star path is one big, queer metaphor. Think about it: kids are bullied for how they dress or act, these misfits band together and retaliate against their bullies, finding a sort of family in each other, villains who turn out to be just the opposite… It’s a story that, in some way or form, can resonate with many kids who have, sadly, dealt with homophobia or transphobia in school. The path is a story about righting what’s wrong, about making the world a more accepting place.

Scarlet and Violet is a game about shining bright in the sky with other stars, about being your true self. Its themes are deeply resonant with the queer experience. At the end of the Team Star path, you battle Penny, whose ace Pokémon is trans flag-coloured Sylveon, and as she Terastilizes her partner, she says, “Shine bright like the starry sky and become who you really want to be!” So shine bright, trainers, and be your true self.

Oh, and of course, Quaquaval is the queer icon of all time.
 
Torchic W. Pip

Torchic W. Pip

Bulbanews Writer
You briefly mention Rika but not how she won a poll of characters that Japanese women find attractive? And after the game had been out for like, a month?
 
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