Gotta Catch ‘Em All… Visual Rhetoric!

Once upon a time, in a region far, far away, there lived a plethora of animals that could only learn four moves. They were called pokemon. And they were awesome. Who am I kidding, they still are. Pokemon come in all shapes, sizes, and types: , and . Look at all those pretty colors. The colors add to the intratextuality of the game, but so do the appearances of the pokemon. Bulbasaur is one of the starter pokemon given to you at the beginning of the game. He is from the first generation of pokemon; the generation in which there were only 151. Without knowing his name, or seeing his pokedex entry, what type do you think he is based on colors and appearance alone? If you guessed  you are correct. If you guessed  I have to wonder how he looks like a bug…

On Bulbasaur’s back is a flower bulb. As he evolves the flower blooms. This is metaphoric gold on a semiotic level. The flower blooms because Bulbasaur has grown not only in size but also in experience. He has fought many battles and learned many moves (or not, it’s up to you). The flower on his back is a symbol of all this pokemon’s hard work. Many of the pokemon are the color of their type, but not all of them. Some pokemon are depicted with popular tropes. If someone told you they were  and had telekinetic powers what would you ask them to do? Move something off the top shelf?  What about bending spoons? That’s just what the  pokemon Alakazam is shown doing. But he’s not the color of the  symbol. In fact, that color isn’t on him at all! How am I supposed to know what he is before he hits my pokemon with a nasty, over powered  move? Well, I could memorize what each pokemon is, not hard in the first generation, but significantly more difficult with the most current generation (number six) considering there are now 719… OR I could look for clues on the pokemon.

Pokemon relies on intratextuality, informational references within the game, and intertextuality, informational references outside the game. Prime example:  pokemon.

See that huge ball to the right? What kind of pokemon is he? (Ignore the hint I gave you one sentence ago) He’s an  pokemon. His name is Electrode. An electrode is an  conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit (so says Wikipedia). Let’s assume you are the target audience for this game: young children around eight years old. Do you know what an electrode is? Probably not.

Not all the intertextual references work on all audiences.

On another note: he’s round. Remember what I’ve mentioned about circles? Well this one is lying to you. One of his moves is called self destruct in which he blows up and takes your pokemon with him (unless they have a high defense). This is not a safe circle at all.

Let’s take a look at some hotter pokemon.

Meet Arcanine (he’s on the left), a  pokemon. He’s a mixture of colors and shapes isn’t he? He’s one of the pokemon that makes the intratextual reference to its type’s color. Notice that the symbol for  and Arcanine are similar colors. They are both an orangey red, just like a fire. Arcanine’s light tan tufts of fur appear similar to a flames and we know he’s a force to be reckoned with because of the many triangular portions of his fur tufts, his triangular stripes, his triangular eyes, and his sharp teeth sticking out from his mouth.

How about some more direct pokemon with special abilities relating to their intertextual inspirations?

Plusle (with red markings) and Minun (with blue markings) are the cutest little  bunnies. Even their tails show their charges! There are two types of  charges: positive and negative. They work like magnets: like charges repel each other and opposite charges attract. Plusle’s special ability is called Lightning Rod. With this ability, Plusle attracts all  type moves. Minun’s special ability is Volt Absorb. With this ability, Minun will heal whenever he is hit with an  type move.

In Pokemon games, when the color coded system fails, it is important to examine the gestures performed by the pokemon.

Sometimes, our base knowledge and gut reactions lie to us. For the most part, the legendary creatures (legendary because there is only one of them in the game) look like their types. The first generation legendary pokemon are  Articuno, the  legendary bird,  Moltres, the  legendary bird, and  Zapdos, the  legendary bird. Since they are all birds, it’s not a surprise that they are also  types. The birds are all colored to the same color as their type, making it very simple to figure out what type of pokemon they are (as if their names were not enough). But not all of the legendary pokemon in later generations do this. Take Uxie, Mespirit, and Azelf for example.

Uxie (yellow), Mespirit (pink), and Azelf (blue) are all . If we were to look strictly at their colors and the intratrextuality that almost 20 years of gaming has told us, Uxie is , Azelf is  or , and Mespirit is the only  pokemon of this group. Gestures are important, just like they were with Alakazam.





About J. M. Tuckerman

A super nerdy YA-fangirl. Blogger at and Mom to two Lab/St.Bernards and one eight pound orange tabby. Voracious reader. Collector of expensive paper.


  1. I find it interesting that many Pokemon grow in size as they evolve. Because each series in an evolution is bigger than the previous, we assume they’re superior, because size and number connote strength and importance. For example, Bulbasaur eventually grows into Ivysaur, Vulpix goes from having six tails to having nine tails as … Ninetails and Doduo becomes Dodrio, and so on.

    Even when it doesn’t come to the elements (fire, water, earth, etc.) the designers still leaves overt hints as to what type a Pokemon is. Primape and Hitmonchan wear boxing gloves, so it’s pretty clear they are fighting types, and it also says something that they included a denomination of “normal” creatures who are defined by their lack of affiliation to the other character types. For a character like Meowth , the absence of signifiers (leaves, flames, lightning bolt patterns) denotes that he or she is plain.

    1. I noticed that many of the normal pokemon are gray. And if they do evolve they either stay with grays and browns or get a secondary type and that type color acts as an accent.
      It can also get confusing with different forms. In the current generation some pokemon are different if they are male or female. Shellos, for example, is blue if it’s a boy and pink if it’s a girl. And tranquil is very ornate if it’s a boy, but plain if it’s a girl.
      Nintendo is messing with us in terms of semiotic hints.

  2. Jess you are awesome! (I am sure you already know this). This post does a great just at the intertextualitiy of the pokemon world. However, I think you could have gone into something a bit more obvious. Their names! Almost all of the names of pokemon directly relate to their power, appearance, or temperament. Additionally the manner in which the pokemon says their name is also important since each pokemon uses their name to communicate how they are feeling and information to others. I remember pretending to be pokemon and changing my voice depending on the pokemon I was portraying. (Sick Pikachu is stinking cute)

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