Despite the Wii U’s slow and sad death (seriously, there’s nothing coming out this Christmas), Nintendo’s 3Ds is still going strong; the handheld’s next big release is Pokemon Sun & Moon. Nintendo have been gradually stoking the fires of fan excitement since they released its first trailer earlier this year.
As with every new Pokemon installment, fans were eager to see their first glimpse of Sun & Moon’s starters; Litten, Rowlet and Popplio. Despite the mostly positive reaction, it seems that one little pokemon was destined to be hated: Poor Popplio; the peppy prancing seal pokemon, did not receive the same enthusiastic response as its fellow starters. Instead, it was ridiculed for having a big nose and looking stupid.
With the unveiling of Nintendo’s latest Sun & Moon trailer, in which the starters’ second evolutionary stages were shown, Popplio just couldn’t do anything right. Brionne, Popplio’s secondary form, also received a negative reaction. This time, respondents thought that it looked “too feminine”; which is apparently a problem, according to some people.
Aside from the fact that Nintendo have been making ‘feminine’ pokemon with a 50/50 gender divide for years (we’ll touch on this later), having such a narrow-minded view of both Pokemon and gender is unfortunate.
This negative response could have a number of different motivations; even if Brionne is considered ‘too feminine’, why is this problem?
To find the answers to these questions, I proceeded to follow Patricia’s example and investigated the various reactions to Brionne from the Pokemon community. Perusing the comment thread for Nintendo’s official Facebook reveal proved her discoveries to be true; with a consistent dislike for Brionne stemming from it being “too feminine.”
It appears that quite a number of Pokemon fans are confused or upset by Brionne’s design, stating that it’d be “better as gender neutral” and worrying whether “the males look like that too.” Eventually things descended into plain old homophobia and accusations of Nintendo making their Pokemon “gay”, and other, equally delightful comments.
So why are some people labelling Brionne as being “too feminine”? The Pokemon’s design fits in nicely with a central theme of Sun & Moon: dancing and jovialness. Brionne’s body is shaped to look like a dancers’ outfit; with ruffles and bright accessories. Its color palette is reflective of Sun & Moon’s aquatic theme, which makes sense when considering that Brionne is a water type.
These reactions may stem from the association with dancing and femininity, but come on! We’ve all seen Billy Elliot! You don’t need to be female to enjoy dancing.
The other explanation may be the combination of blue and pink (as if the universal language for woman is pink), as well as the pokemon’s large eyes, bouncy movements and cheerful demeanor. But these elements do not have to mean that Brionne is female, so why are some people insisting that it does?
Nintendo, Game Freak and The Pokemon Company aren’t entirely blameless in the act of needlessly assigning genders to pokemon or using stereotypical ‘feminine’ traits in their designs either.
Mono-gendered pokemon have existed ever since the release of Red and Blue. What made the otherwise-uninspiring Nidoran and Nidorina unique were that they were male and female counterparts of themselves, as if gender is its own design trait. Other mono-gendered pokemon included Jinx, a design that had multiple issues, and Hitmonchan/Hitmonlee, who were basically just Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee as pokemon.
A few of the gendered design choices make some sense, primarily the ‘female only’ Pokemon based on cows and Queen Bees. But others just feel like Nintendo thought “elegance plus beauty equals woman, strength plus attitude equals men.” I can’t claim to know what went through their minds when they decided these things, but that’s my logical guess.
Other pokemon, like Brionne, just seem to suffer from the community assigning genders themselves, perhaps most prominently to Gardevoir and Lopunny. Despite both pokemon having a 50/50 gender divide, they’re overwhelmingly viewed as being ‘female’ in nature, to the point where it’s almost become a community-wide joke. A single search on Google Images or DeviantArt gives you a good idea of what a certain proportion of Pokemon fans think of both Gardevoir and Lopunny. The results, more often than not, produce sexualized images-depicting Gardevoir as a doting, busty girlfriend, or Lopunny giving a racy strip-tease.
The community’s need to attach breasts to these pokemon, and put them in bikinis and thongs, almost feels like they have to assert the idea of them being more like human women, and thus okay to sexualise. When introducing their episode on Gardevoir, Youtube Pokemon series; ‘The Dex’ references the Pokemon’s notorious reputation for being sexualised, and how it’s “most likely because of its ‘feminine’ humanoid appearance.”
Whether Nintendo has any hand in the sexualization of either of these pokemon is debatable. Even though Gardevoir’s sexualisation seems more down to its humanoid appearance and general popularity, the reaction to Lopunny is arguably more rooted in its design. The Pokemon’s inspirations supposedly originate from Japan’s quasi-obsession with the Playboy brand, and the concept of ‘Moe’ (animal girls), which aren’t inherently sexual, but do have their obvious cultural connotations. Looking at Lopunny’s mega-evolutionary design also hints at some awareness on Nintendo’s part; considering the inclusion of what look like torn pantyhose on the pokemon’s legs.
Bringing things back to Brionne, we can now consider why the Pokemon’s ‘feminine’ appearance may have produced such a negative reaction. If the perception of femininity among certain members of the community is that of weakness or sexualization, Brionne’s design does not fit well with them. Brionne isn’t humanoid enough to sexualize, and its identity as a starter immediately puts the pokemon under pressure.
Starters are expected to be the star of the show, and for some, that means domineering and traditionally ‘cool’. Sure, they can start off cute. But some fans need the reassurance that their starters are eventually going to grow out of that cuteness. This, along with Brionne’s apparent ‘femininity’, is likely why it received such a negative reaction.
Ironically, the majority of Brionne’s supporters appear to be women, which potentially supports the idea that a lot of these disgruntled Pokemon fans dislike the idea of the series attempting to appeal more to a female demographic. The recent leaks of Popplio’s final evolutions may cause even more anger, as it seems that Nintendo are pushing the ‘feminine’ angle for the pokemon even further.
Whether or not Brionne is ‘too feminine’ is not the problem here. The problem is that some Pokemon fans are associating femininity with negativity, and therefore, are finding it difficult to reconcile themselves with the idea of Brionne as a gender-neutral starter.