I’ve started to feel a little bad for Bewear, the towering pink-capped bear appearing later this year in Pokemon Sun/Moon. Bewear is about as traditional as Pokemon get, a seemingly run of the mill normal/fighting type based closely on a real animal and given a punny name. According to the description on the Pokemon Sun/Moon website Bewear likes hugs a lot—so much so that their hugs are too powerful and trainers need to teach their Bewears to hug with consideration and restraint. That’s absolutely precious.
So why do I feel badly for Bewear, this fictional animal who loves fighting and also hugging? Because Bewear was unveiled at the same time as Mimikyu. You know, internet darling Mimikyu? Mimikyu: Voice of a generation (Gen 7, specifically). Even if this enthusiastic hug-friend deserves equal adoration, it really never had a chance. Then again, it could be worse. Bewear might have lost the spotlight to Mimikyu, but that reception is still worlds better than the one given to another of Pokemon Sun/Moon’s new additions. I bet you know exactly who I mean, too.
You’d think Popplio’s mere existence was a personal insult to the internet based on how the new water-type starter has been received. At this point we’re well into the backlash-to-the-backlash stage of popular opinion (Popplio opinion, if you will) but for a while there was an absurd amount of contempt being flung at this innocent, if rather goofy looking, creature. Back when they were announced alongside fellow starters Litten and Rowlet, dunking on Popplio was memefied with brutal efficiency. But why? I don’t really believe there’s anything fundamental about Popplio’s design that invites hatred—at least not to the degree that it’s received. I’ve heard some argue that Popplio is meant to resemble a clown, and of course clowns aren’t widely liked these day, but to me Popplio looks mostly like one of those circus seals I’ve only ever seen in cartoons older than my parents, usually located near one or more banana cream pies. It’s a somewhat obscure source to draw on, sure, but we’re talking about a series where sentient garbage bags, ice cream cones, and keychains are just chilling in the grass. A clown seal dog thing is really nothing special.
The key difference between how the internet at large responded to Popplio and how we’ve responded to Mimikyu comes down to this: Mimikyu needs you, and Popplio probably doesn’t. Just take a look at this section of Mimikyu’s official description:
The rising popularity of Pikachu-styled merchandise around 20 years ago is the reason that Mimikyu makes itself look like Pikachu. In fact, this Pokémon is dreadfully lonely, and it thought it would be able to make friends with humans if only it looked like Pikachu.
Even though that chunk of text comes directly after some terrifying tidbits about how Mimikyu can’t bear light and can allegedly curse people with illness if they remove their costume, it doesn’t matter. That vulnerability is irresistible.
Moreover, Mimikyu has a special ability which allows them to evade damage once. Instead of being hurt their costume will absorb an attack, and rather than being removed or shredded it instead flops over and breaks pathetically. Half of Mimikyu is meant to evoke something spooky and profoundly unsettling, this unnerving unknown that lurks in the shadows and has myth and rumor swirling around it, while the other half seems expertly tuned to grip fans’ hearts and never let go. This is overwhelmingly the side of Mimikyu shown in the early fanart: Mimikyu cowering, Mimikyu with tears in their eyes, Mimikyu getting hugs or gifts from others, Mimikyu hurting and/or Mimikyu being helped. Fans have embraced the creature expressly because of this overt vulnerability. It’s central to the character, and central to the fandom surrounding it.
None of this is an accident, of course, nor is the fact that Mimikyu is among the first batch of Pokemon revealed from Gen 7. Mimikyu was designed to emotionally compel us, and they’ve already been a huge success.
Now obviously Mimikyu wasn’t announced until after the starters, so there’s no argument to be made that they influenced the Popplio hate-storm, but that doesn’t meant that the cute-and-vulnerable versus goofy-and-confident dynamic wasn’t still on full display. Consider Rowlet—the little dollop of an owl with its little bow-tie and beak like a brazil nut. They debuted alongside Popplio, and were embraced with a fervor almost equal to what’s met Mimikyu. They’re not helpless (we’re still talking about fight-monsters here) but by comparison Popplio seems brash and confident, capable and boisterous. In promotional artwork they’re shown showing off with backflips and flashy Olympic-style landings. That clown seal thinks they’re hot shit. And Rowlet?
Rowlet’s just a little dinner roll with eyes. And Popplio’s picking on him!
During E3 I jokingly tweeted that people who hate Popplio are those who most see themselves in the comedic, carefree little guy. While that’s something of a throwaway gag, I think it applies even better to the issue of Mimikyu’s popularity versus Popplio’s neglect. Most of us know our own vulnerabilities well. And most of us know what it means to feel insecure. Most of us want to be loved, too. Most of us have at least some element of ourselves reflected in Mimikyu—elements begging to be soothed away, and Mimikyu is designed to be soothed, from their beady eyes to their ragged, fraying costume.
Mimikyu is completely built around the idea of wanting to be your friend, and Popplio… Well, Popplio’s fine. I mean at least they’re not Litten. That cat looks like they’d ditch you the second a trainer with a nicer bike came by.
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.