The upcoming Pokémon Sun & Moon is about to shake things up in the world of Pokémon. The long running tradition of having to defeat eight Gym leaders is being abandoned for at least one generation of games. In the Alola region, trainers have to complete a series of trials on each of the major islands. The final challenge is defeating the most powerful trainer on the island, known as the “Kahuna”.
This change has been met with a conflicted response from fans. While some people love the idea of new and exciting challenges; there are those who respect tradition, and feel that the eight Gyms are an important part of the series.
Ever since Pokémon Red & Blue, all trainers must travel the world and defeat eight Gym leaders in their region in order to qualify for a chance to battle the Elite Four. Each Gym leader will grant a badge upon the player if they are victorious. Defeating the Gym leaders is a significant part of the any player’s journey, and it acts as a representation of your growing skill and power.
With so many players having crossed paths with Gym leaders in the Pokémon games, it is time we take a closer look at these unelected gatekeepers of the Pokémon world. From the absence of a certain kind of Gym, to the censoring of one of the Gym leaders due to concerns over racism, these are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Pokémon Gyms.
15. There Has Never Been A Dark Type Gym
Anyone who has played the first generation of Pokémon games can tell you that the Psychic type Pokémon were overpowered. They only had a weakness to Bug type Pokémon, at a time when there were very few powerful Bugs in play. Most of the changes in the second generation of games were created to help balance the Psychic Pokémon. They were given a new weakness to Ghost Pokémon, and two new types were created specifically to combat them – Steel and Dark.
To date, we have seen 58 different Gym leaders over the course of the main series of games. Almost every single type of Pokémon has been covered by one of these Gym leaders. Even looser concepts have been covered like Lizz & Tate from Hoenn, who represented Double Battles as well as the Psychic type. In all of this time, we have never once seen a Dark type Gym. There even exists a Fairy type Gym in Laverre City, despite the fact that the Fairy type has only been introduced in the current generation of games. It would have made sense to include one in Johto, as all of the Gyms there were based on types that where not included in Kanto. We have had four Water Gyms to date (five if you count the Striaton City Gym, which had the three starter types), but nothing for Dark.
14. Giovanni Was Originally Going To Be A Kid & The 1st Gym Leader
The final Gym in the Kanto region is the one in Viridian City. Even though you pass through Viridian City at the beginning of the game, you are not allowed to enter until you have won the other seven Gym badges. Once you enter, you might be surprised to learn that the leader is Giovanni, the head of the Team Rocket. While you might be expecting some epic battle to cap off the Gym quest, you will be disappointed to learn that Giovanni’s Gym type is Ground. If you chose Bulbasaur or Squirtle as your starter, or have any other decent Water/Grass type Pokémon, then you are going to steamroll Giovanni in a few rounds.
This was not the original plan for the end of the game. The lead art designer of the Pokémon series is a man named Ken Sugimori. In 2015, he put a photo up on Twitter of some of his original artwork for the Gym leaders. Fans were surprised to see a new face among the lineup.
According to Ken Sugimori’s pictures, the original first Gym leader of Kanto was not going to be Brock. Instead, it was going to be a child version of Giovanni. This must have been at a very early stage of the game’s development, as changing Giovanni from a young Gym leader into the adult leader of Team Rocket is a significant one.
13. Several Gym Leaders Were Members Of Team Rocket In The Manga
The Pokémon Adventures manga series is seen by many to be the definitive Pokémon adaptation, even more so than the anime. It features a long-running story, with a more adult tone and several attempts to connect the larger series into a single mythology.
In Pokemon Adventures, several of the Kanto Gym leaders are actually high level members of Team Rocket. At one point, Lt. Surge, Koga, Sabrina, Blaine and Giovanni were all in Team Rocket (more than half of the Kanto Gym leaders). Koga battles both Red and Blue at the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town. He uses reanimated Pokémon corpses to scare them. When Sabrina battles Green in the Silph. Co building, she uses her psychic abilities to torture her. Lt. Surge tries to murder Red on board the S.S. Anne, when it is discovered that he is transporting Pokémon illegally.
12. The Dirty Old Man Outside Of The Celadon City Gym Had To Be Censored
Despite being a family friendly series, Pokémon has ran into a lot of controversy over the years. One of the reasons for this is due to cultural differences, leading to several parts of the Pokémon games being censored when they came West.
In Pokémon Red & Blue, the old man who blocks the exit from Viridian City is tired because he hasn’t had his coffee. In the original Japanese version of the game, he is passed out drunk. Gambling games have been slowly phased out of the series, due to European regulations concerning their use in kids games (which forced the release of Pokémon Red & Blue on 3DS to have a “12” rating in Europe). This even applies to the later games in the series, as references to a transgender character having gender reassignment surgery were toned down in Pokémon X & Y.
In all of its appearances, the Celadon City Gym is filled with female trainers. Outside of the Gym, you see an old man looking in through the window. If you speak to him in every game before Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver, he will say that he likes the Gym because of all of the pretty girls. When you visit Kanto in Heart Gold & Soul Silver, his dialogue has been changed to say that he likes the Gym because it is full of “tough trainers”.
11. You Can Go Fishing In The Gym Statutes in Pokémon Red & Blue
Pokémon Red & Blue are some of the most glitch-filled games ever made. It’s a miracle that they were shipped at all, considering how militant Nintendo are about quality control in their games.
This might not be a totally fair assessment, however. The sheer popularity of the original Pokémon titles, coupled with the numerous secrets and urban legends surrounding the series, is what led to fans pouring over the game’s code in the first place. Pokémon Red & Blue were also released around the same time that emulation was becoming a big thing, so fans had easy access to the game’s files when they were still relatively new.
There are many popular glitches in Pokémon Red & Blue, such as Missingno, item duplication, and the mysterious Glitch City. Most of the Gyms in Kanto also contain a significant glitch. You can enter any Gym (except for the ones in Saffron City and Cinnabar Island), approach the statues near the entrance, and pull out your fishing rod. Due to a glitch in the game, it is possible to fish inside the Gym statues.
10. Brock Is A Cheater!
The most famous Gym leaders in the Pokémon franchise are Brock and Misty. This is because they were main characters in the anime during the height of the show’s popularity. To many fans, they are as ubiquitous to the series as Ash or Pikachu.
During your first ever Gym battle against Brock in Pokémon Red & Blue, he uses an illegal Pokémon. To those who are unaware, illegal Pokémon are ones that either know a move that they should not be able to learn, have had their stats altered by an outside source, or are at an evolutionary stage before they have reached the appropriate level. In Brock’s case, his illegal Pokémon is his Onix.
In the first generation of Pokémon games, Onix does not learn the move Bind until level 15. Brock’s Onix can use Bind, even though it is level 14 (or level 12, if you are facing him in Pokémon Yellow).
9. Lt. Surge Comes From America (Despite The Pokémon World Not Having An America)
In the early days of the Pokémon franchise, the world outside of Kanto had not yet been clearly defined. This is why you get references to real life places that seem bizarre in retrospect.
The Pokédex entries for Raichu and Gastly both make references to the Indian Elephant and Mew was originally discovered in South America. The anime episode “Go West Young Meowth” takes place in Hollywood, and Regice’s Pokédex entry makes reference to the Antarctic… to name but a few.
Even though Pokémon has its own counterparts to real life locations (Unova being America and Kalos being France for example), the developers still make references to our world.
In Pokémon Red & Blue, Lt. Surge of the Vermilion City Gym is described as the “Lightning American”. He is also described as having fought in some unknown war in the past. Even though Pokémon was established as taking place in its own unique setting, Lr. Surge kept his Lightning American title in the Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green remakes.
8. In The Pokémon Adventures Manga, Blaine Created Mewtwo
The question of who created Mewtwo has several different answers, depending on the adaptation you are discussing.
In the games, Mewtwo was created by an unknown scientist (commonly believed to be Mr. Fuji), who discovered a pregnant Mew, and tampered with its DNA in order to birth Mewtwo. In the anime, Giovanni hires a scientist named Dr. Fuji to create a clone of Mew from a DNA sample.
In the Pokémon Adventures manga, Mewtwo is created by Blaine, the leader of the Cinnabar Island Gym. It is revealed that Mewtwo was created from one of Mew’s eyelashes, that had been spliced with Blaine’s human DNA. After Red catches Mewtwo with a Master Ball, he is returned to Blaine for safekeeping. Blaine also has some of Mewtwo’s cells in his arm, allowing the two to sense each other with an empathic connection. Blaine’s arm changed, however, and mutated into a decaying mess. The arm is eventually healed by Entei, severing the connection between Blaine and Mewtwo.
7. Gary/Blue Is The Most Powerful Of All The Gym Leaders
The Pokémon games that offer the best value for money are the second generation and their remakes. This is because you get two games worth of content. When you become the Champion of the Johto region, you are given the option to return to Kanto from the first game, and continue your journey. You must once again defeat the original eight Gyms, and their leaders.
Things are different this time around, however. Due to Koga becoming a member of the Johto Elite Four, his daughter, Janine, takes over the Fuchsia City Gym. With Cinnabar Island being destroyed in a volcanic eruption, the Cinnabar Gym is moved to the Seafoam Islands. When you first arrive at the Viridian City Gym, it is empty. If you return after winning the seven other badges, then its leader will return to challenge you. With Giovanni skipping town after his connections to Team Rocket are revealed, his replacement is Gary/Blue Oak, your rival from Pokémon Red & Blue.
In terms of team level, Blue is the most powerful Gym leader in the entire Pokémon franchise. The first time you battle him, he uses a level 60 Pidgeot. If you challenge him to a rematch, the Pidgeot will be level 72. These are the highest level Pokémon used by a Gym leader in the series, and the rest of his team is not that far behind. He is also the only Gym leader to use a full team of six Pokémon in battle.
6. Many Unofficial Gyms Exist
Pokémon Gyms do not just spring into existence. They mostly start out as unofficial hang outs for trainers, that have to prove their worth to the Pokémon League, in order to obtain a licence.
In Pokémon Red & Blue, Saffron City actually holds two Gyms. The official one is the Psychic Gym led by Sabrina, which gives out the Marsh badge to victors. There is a second, unofficial Gym in the city, known as the Fighting Dojo. Both the Gym and Dojo have been battling it out for years over which one should be the official Gym for the city. Due to Sabrina’s type advantage (and Dark type Pokémon not existing yet), the official Gym has kept its title. This suggests that only eight Gyms can exist in one region and a city can only hold one.
There are a lot more unofficial Gyms in the anime.They were mostly created to act as filler storylines during the season. These Gyms ranged from actual Gymnasiums (where people go to physically train), to wannabe Pokémon Gyms with their own unofficial leader.
5. The Gym Leaders Can Enforce Their Own Rules
Just because you own a Pokémon, it doesn’t mean you can challenge a Gym.
There have been several instances in both the games and anime, where a Gym leader has denied a trainer the right of challenge. It seems that they have complete autonomy to decide who can battle them.
On a basic level, you have Gym leaders who simply leave or close their Gym. Both Giovanni and Gary/Blue do this in the Viridian City Gym. Jasmine will not allow you to challenge her in Pokémon Gold & Silver, as she is taking care of a sick Ampharos. In the Hoenn region, Norman will refuse to battle the player unless they have four Gym badges.
In the anime, the Gym leaders are equally flippant about the rules. There have been many occasions where Ash lost a battle, or had his battle interrupted, and the leader gave him the badge anyway. Brock gave Ash a badge because he was “kind” to his Pokémon. Team Rocket refused to hand over a badge when they became the leaders of the Viridian City Gym, even though Ash beat them fair and square. Ash never beat Sabrina in a battle – she gave him the badge because he brought round a Haunter that could make her laugh.
4. The Lake Of Rage Was Intended To Have A Gym
The second generation of Pokémon games had a notoriously troubled development cycle. The original games had become a massive success, and Game Freak were being pressured from all sides to finish the sequel. This was not helped by the fact that they were building on the code of the old games, which were bug-filled messes. They were tasked with creating something better, but were expected to use the already dated Game Boy hardware. The original Japanese version of the game was delayed by over a year and a half before release. It then took another full year for the English language versions to see the light of day.
Due to the many issues with development, a lot of things were left out of Pokémon Gold & Silver. The Safari Zone from Pokémon Red & Blue was slated to return, but had to be abandoned due to time constraints (although it would show up in the remakes). One area of the game that was heavily cut was the Lake of Rage – the home of the Red Gyarados.
According to maps discovered by fans who went through the game’s code, at one point in development, the Lake of Rage was intended to be a full city. Included in the original map for the Lake of Rage was a Pokémon Gym.
If you assume that they were going to keep the original lineup of Gym leaders, then the Lake of Rage Gym would likely have been led by Chuck (the Fighting type leader), Jasmine (the Steel type leader), or Pryce (the Ice type leader).
3. The Gym Leaders Can Only Use An Amount Of Pokémon Equal To The Challenger’s Experience
One thing that was never explained in the earlier games was the placement of the Gyms. If you were a kid from Pallet Town, then the path to all of the Gyms was on a convenient level curve. If you were a kid from Cinnabar Island, then your local Gym leader, Blaine, was going to incinerate you with his team of level forty Pokémon. The question that everyone asked was – how can new trainers earn badges if most of the Gyms in the world are a too difficult for them to complete? Does everyone in Kanto have to travel to Pewter City first?
In the Pokémon Origins anime series, we finally got an answer to this question. When the main character, Red, goes to challenge the Pewter City Gym, Brock asks him questions before the battle. Brock inquires as to how many badges Red has won so far? It isn’t until Red tells him that he hasn’t won any yet, that Brock selects his Pokémon. A compartment opens up in the wall of the Gym, and Brock selects two Pokémon from a selection of six to use in the battle.
2. The Unova Gyms Have Two Purposes
The people who hang out in the Pokémon Gyms must lead really boring lives. They stand around all day, waiting to be beaten by children who have worked out how to use a mixture of types, and carry six Pokémon with them at all times.
It is never revealed whether Gym leaders are paid for their role. The Pokémon series has never been big on explaining the economics of its world, so we don’t know if anyone gets paid for any Pokémon related activity. A big paycheck would go a long way to explaining why trainers would want to stand around all day, instead of going on their own journey.
In Pokémon Black & White (and its sequels), most of the Unova Gyms actually serve two purposes. The Striaton City Gym is also a restaurant. The Nacrene City Gym is also a museum. The Virbank City Gym is a nightclub. The Castelia City Gym is an art gallery. The Nimbasa City Gym is an amusement park in one game, and a fashion show in the sequel. The Mistralton City Gym contains an airplane hangar. The Driftveil City Gym doubles as a mining operation, and the Aspertia City Gym is a school.
1. A Gym Leader Had To Be Censored Due To Concerns Over Racial Stereotyping
Pokémon is no stranger to controversy. It all started when the episode “Electric Soldier Porygon” made several Japanese schoolchildren have epileptic seizures. When the series reached America, it wasn’t long until groups like PETA were accusing the series of promoting cruelty to animals.
The most controversial Pokémon of all time has to be Jynx. As recently as the 2016 release of Pokémon Yellow on the Nintendo 3DS, Jynx has had to be edited. The original artwork for Jynx depicted it as having black skin with thick red lips. This was seen by many to be a reference to “blackface” – a form of minstrel theatre where white actors would put on makeup in order to portray a black character. After accusations of Jynx being a blackface character began appearing in the press, Nintendo recoloured them into being purple.
The argument could be made that the developers had not intended Jynx to be a blackface caricature. They are, after all, based in Japan, and may not have even been aware that blackface existed.
It is harder to make that argument when Nintendo had to change the Pokémon anime in 2010, in order to avoid another racism scandal. One of the Unova Gym leaders is a black woman named Lenora, she is seen wearing an apron and having her hair tied with a handkerchief. Concerns were raised that Lenora too closely resembled the “Mammy” archetype (of a black woman who worked as a nanny for her white slave masters). When Lenora appeared in the international release of the anime, her outfit was edited so that she no longer wore the apron.