Twenty years ago in the Gameboy Pokémon games, players met Bulbasaur, the very first Pokémon that many young gamers would ever encounter. Others discovered Bulbasaur through the Pokémon cartoon series a few years later, where the character’s surly attitude won over a legion of fans. The small plant-dinosaur hybrid has enjoyed a special place in popular culture ever since, and is still a fan favorite even after hundreds of other pocket monsters have been introduced to the series.
But while Bulbasaur is a very well-known part of the world of Pokémon, there are a lot of interesting facts about the first creature in the Pokédex that many fans are unaware of. Bulbasaur has been associated with several glitches in the games, and has earned a very special place as one of the pillars of the television series.
Here are twelve facts you probably didn’t know about Pokémon #001:
12. Ash Has Owned Bulbasaur For Longer Than Any Other Pokémon Except Pikachu
With hundreds of potential characters to feature, the Pokémon cartoon series has an unwritten rule that eventually, the main character Ash will let each of his beloved companions go, either by releasing them or giving them to someone else to look after. The one exception to this rule is Pikachu, the show’s mascot, who has remained with Ash for the entirety of the series thus far.
One other exception is Bulbasaur, a Pokémon which Ash caught relatively early in the show’s run, but which, unlike the rest of Ash’s initial team, has never been released. Instead, Bulbasaur remains in Ash’s possession, but keeps watch over fellow Pokémon at Professor Oak’s laboratory in Ash’s hometown. The character is still occasionally referenced, although for the most part it’s no longer an active, regular reoccurring character – that said, as it’s still in Ash’s possession, Bulbasaur might make a return. Recently Ash’s Charizard was brought back into the cartoon for a few episodes, even though it left Ash’s care long before Bulbasaur was phased out.
This means that, aside from Pikachu, Bulbasaur is Ash’s longest remaining friend, and while the character no longer regularly features in the cartoon series, there’s always an opportunity for Bulbasaur to make a quick appearance when needed.
11. Ash’s Bulbasaur’s Gender Has Never Been Explicitly Stated
While Bulbasaur has been a recurring character for many years, the Pokémon television show has always avoided explicitly mentioning the character’s gender.
The one exception to this comes in the very first episode that Bulbasaur appears in, wherein Ash calls Bulbasaur a ‘he’ – however, as Ash is unfamiliar with the biology of many Pokémon, fans are divided as to whether this counts as definitive proof of Bulbasaur’s gender.
This reference doesn’t occur in the original Japanese show, although there is a subtle hint at Bulbasaur’s gender in another episode. In “Island of the Giant Pokémon,” an episode where Ash’s Pokémon talk to each other through subtitles, Bulbasaur uses the personal pronoun ‘ore’ (おれ), which is typically only used by males. Beyond this, though, there is no clear reference to Bulbasaur’s gender in the entirety of the cartoon series.
While originally, the only Pokémon to have distinct genders were the Nidoran family line, genders were introduced for almost all Pokémon during the game’s second generation of titles, and more recently, the games have introduced slight physical differences between genders – for example, female Pikachu have heart-shaped tails. In the games, Bulbasaurs are only female 12.5% of the time, meaning that for every seven male Bulbasaurs, there is only one female.
10. Bulbasaur’s Name Means ‘Strange Seed’ In Most Languages
While Bulbasaur’s English name is a portmanteau of ‘bulb’ and ‘dinosaur’, this meaning is not shared in most other languages. Bulbasaur’s original Japanese name, ‘Fushigidane’ (フシギダネ), means ‘strange seed’, and this same name is used in a variety of other languages including Korean. Depending on the context, Fushigidane can also be taken to mean ‘It’s strange, isn’t it?’ which creates a fun double-meaning for the name.
Some languages, such as Italian and Spanish, use the same name as in English – Bulbasaur. In German, however, Bulbasaur is known as Bisasam, which is a portmanteau of the words ‘bi’ (meaning two), ‘saurier’ (meaning dinosaur), and ‘samen’ (meaning seed). Thus in German, Bulbasaur’s name means ‘both a dinosaur and a seed’, which is a fairly fitting description of the Pokémon.
The French name is perhaps the most clever – Bulbasaur is known as ‘Bulbizarre’, merging the French words ‘bulbe’ and ‘bizarre’ to create a name that means the same thing as the original Japanese name, but that shares its pronunciation with the more common European name of Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur, along with all other Pokemon, has two names in Chinese – in Mandarin, the Pokemon is known as ‘Miàowāzhǒngzǐ’ (妙蛙種子), which means ‘magical frog seed’, while in Hong Kong Cantonese, Bulbasaur is know as ‘Kèihyihjúngjí’(奇異種子), which means ‘strange seed’, as in Japanese. Nintendo has announced plans to replace the Hong Kong translation of all Pokémon names with the more commonly used Mandarin names – news which has elicited protests from gamers in the region.
9. Bulbasaur is the First Pokémon To Be Owned By Two Anime Main Characters
From the frequency with which Bulbasaur appears in the Pokémon cartoon, it’s probably safe to say that the writers for the show are fans of the first grass-type starter. After Ash’s Bulbasaur stopped appearing regularly in the show, another character, May, caught her own member of the species.
Ash’s Bulbasaur and May’s Bulbasaur have met a few times in the cartoon – May’s Bulbasaur can be identified from small heart-shaped freckles on her forehead. Unlike Ash’s Bulbasaur, May’s companion has been definitively identified as a female.
Long after May left the main cast of the show, the character returned for a single episode, accompanied by her faithful Bulbasaur who, in the intervening time, had evolved into Venusaur, the end of Bulbasaur’s evolutionary line.
Another trainer which has appeared in the newer episodes of the show, Shauna, has an Ivysaur, another member of the Bulbasaur family tree. It seems as though the creators of the Pokémon anime have a special soft spot for Bulbasaur, as the Pokémon appears particularly often, and the fact that both Ash and May continue to have Bulbasaur family Pokémon on their team indicates that the show’s writers are eager to have several versions of the creature on-hand should the need arise to return to telling stories about Bulbasaur.
8. Razor Leaf Always Gets a Critical Hit for Venusaur
The original Pokémon Gameboy games are fondly remembered for kicking off the entire franchise and winning the hearts of gamers worldwide. These games, however, have gained a reputation for being filled with glitches, bugs, and developmental oversights which mean that gameplay doesn’t always
Razor Leaf, one of Bulbasaur’s signature moves, is one such element of the game. The move is designed to have a high critical hit ratio, meaning that there’s a higher than normal chance that the move will do extra damage. The way that this calculation is worked out, though, means that when Bulbasaur uses Razor Leaf there’s a 70% chance that it’ll land a critical hit, which is far more than the standard rate for any other move.
This is only the case for Bulbasaur, though: if its evolution, Ivysaur, uses the move, the critical hit ratio rises to 93%. For Venusaur, the critical hit rate rises even higher, to 100%, meaning that every time Venusaur uses Razor Leaf, the move will do extra damage.
The Bulbasaur family tree aren’t the only Pokémon to benefit from this calculation glitch – any Pokémon with a high enough speed will benefit from the boost, especially when using a move that has a naturally high critical hit ratio. Critical hits are tied to a Pokémon’s speed, so any Pokémon that is fast enough is guaranteed to do extra damage any time it uses an attack. In future generations this glitch was fixed and a new method of calculating critical hits was introduced.
7. Bulbasaur First Appeared in the West on the Gameboy Camera
Pokémon Red and Blue first arrived in the United States in September of 1998, marking the first time that a Pokémon game was available in English. This, however, was not Bulbasaur’s first appearance outside of Japan.
Around the time that the company was drawing to the close of their work on the original Pokémon games, developer Game Freak were also tasked by Nintendo with creating the Gameboy Camera, which, at the time of its release, was the smallest mass-produced digital camera in the world. Game Freak filled the game with a variety of Easter Eggs, including stamps that players could paste onto their photos which featured sprite art for many of their favorite Pokémon.
The release of the Gameboy Camera in the US predated arrival of Pokémon Red and Blue by just three months, meaning that Bulbasaur’s first appearance in an English language Nintendo product was as a hidden extra that wouldn’t have made any sense to gamers at the time. The Gameboy Camera also released in the US market a few weeks ahead of the Japanese release, meaning that American players got their hands on the device before other regions throughout the world.
Different versions of the Gameboy Camera have different stamps – the Japanese camera features more Pokémon stamps than the US version, while some versions of the camera have a series of Legend of Zelda stamps that were not present in the original version.
6. Bulbasaur is the Only Dual-Type Starter Pokemon
One of the great complexities to the Pokémon game series is the inclusion of elemental types – each Pokémon has one or two types, including fire, water, and ground, which determines its abilities and weaknesses in battle.
To introduce players to this concept, each main series Pokémon game allows players to choose between three starting Pokémon, which are either grass type, fire type, or water type. There is one exception to this rule: as a joint grass and poison type, Bulbasaur is the only starting Pokémon to offer more than two types to the player right from the start of the game.
This is set to change later this year with the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, which will feature Rowlet, a Pokémon that is both a grass and a flying type. It’s also worth noting that plenty of Pokémon, such as Charizard, gain a second type as they evolve, but at the moment, Bulbasaur is the only dual-type Pokémon right from the earliest stage in its evolution.
Many starter Pokémon throughout the history of the series gain an extra type later in their evolutionary line – when Charmander evolves into Charizard, it becomes part flying type, while the evolution of Piplup, Empoleon, gains steel type when it reaches its final stage of evolution.
5. Invisible Shiny Bulbasaurs Exist
While Pokémon Red and Blue get a lot of criticism for their bugs, there are plenty of errors and glitches throughout the entire series. For players who are looking to Catch ‘Em All, the most interesting programming errors are glitch Pokémon – creatures that aren’t meant to be caught under normal circumstances and which are often thrown together by holes in the program caused by unusual events.
One such glitch, discovered in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, is a Pokémon which appears without a sprite, but which sparkles like a rare ‘shiny’ Pokémon, and which has the cry of a Bulbasaur. This Pokémon, known to enthusiasts as the Invisible Shiny Bulbasaur, has no usable moves and doesn’t act like a typical Pokémon, but is the subject of a lot of interest among gamers who enjoy discovering the hidden secrets of their favorite games.
Encountering the glitch Pokémon can be difficult, as it can only be seen when a certain setup is initiated revolving around one of the game’s gym leaders. The Invisible Shiny Bulbasaur appears as one of the leader’s Pokémon, so the player is unable to catch it through traditional means. Since the first generation of games, glitch Pokémon have occurred at times when the game attempts to load the identification number of an enemy that doesn’t exist within the programming – the most famous of these is MissingNo, the glitch Pokémon from Red and Blue which duplicates the player’s items whenever the player sees it.
4. Bulbasaur Is the Third Most Commonly Appearing Pokémon in the Cartoon Series
Balancing screen time between well over seven hundred Pokemon is never going to go well, and as such, some monsters have appeared in more episodes of the television series than others. It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that over the course of the Pokemon animated series, Pikachu has appeared in the most episodes (the show’s mascot hasn’t been missed out of an episode yet), and the show’s antagonist, Meowth, gets the silver medal for the most appearances.
Between Ash’s Bulbasaur, which featured heavily throughout the first few seasons of the show, and May’s Bulbasaur, which was a common site for an extended period, Bulbasaur holds the record for appearing in the most episodes of the animated series other than Meowth and Pikachu.
While the show has featured three recurring key Pokémon characters that are in the Bulbasaur family line – including Ash’s Bulbasaur, Shauna’s Ivysaur, and May’s Venusaur – each Pokemon has had its own distinct personality, helping viewers to distinguish between them. While Ash’s Bulbasaur, the first of the species that audiences were introduced to, is often aloof and cynical, May and Shauna’s Pokémon are more friendly, outgoing, and affectionate. It should also be noted that Ash’s Bulbasaur develops into a more caring Pokémon over the course of the show.
3. Nintendo Thinks ‘Bulbasaur’ Is a Dirty Word
When making plans to allow players to trade Pokémon across the internet, Nintendo began to worry that some gamers would take advantage of this to send crude or offensive messages to other players by naming their Pokémon something obscene before initiating a trade. This led Nintendo to institute a ban on certain words or phrases that other players might find offensive.
One challenge with this system of censorship is the difficulty of keeping track of Pokémon names and offensive words across various languages and cultures. It was for this reason that Nintendo elected to block all trades of English-language Bulbasaurs in its Black and White games, unless the Pokémon had been given a nickname.
One of the words that Nintendo had elected to ban was the German slur meaning ‘pig’. By extension, all names containing the letters of the word next to each other were banned, which unfortunately also included the default name for all Bulbasaurs.
This ban only pertains to Pokémon in a region where the name ‘Bulbasaur’ is used – the German version of the Pokémon does not cause this problem. What’s more, this ban only applies to Pokémon Black and White – in other games, the traditional name for Bulbasaur can be used in online trades without any adverse effects.
2. Pokémon’s Composer Loves Bulbasaur Best
Junichi Masuda is one of the most iconic names associated with the Pokémon franchise. One of the earliest members of the development studio Game Freak, Masuda worked as a sound composer for the original Pokémon games and has since been promoted, serving as the director and producer of many of the more recent releases in the series.
When asked in an interview which of the original three Pokémon starters – Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, was his favorite, Masuda responded that he has a genuine affection for Bulbasaur. In explaining his choice, Masuda noted Bulbasaur’s cute yet tough design, and also noted that he had a lot of fun when it came time to compose the cries for Bulbasaur and his evolution, Ivysaur. This involved taking the relatively cute cry that he had composed for Bulbasaur, and making it deeper, louder, and more threatening for Ivysaur.
While in the Pokémon cartoon series, almost all Pokémon characters are limited to being able to say their own names, in the games, all Pokémon voices had to be created digitally on the exceptionally basic sound chip from the original Gameboy. Even as technology has evolved with subsequent hardware iterations, many of these cries remain almost identical to their original bleeps.
1. Bulbasaur’s Pokémon Game Was Never Released in the West Because It Was Too Broken
Most gamers across the English speaking world are familiar with Pokémon Red and Blue, the first two games that were released outside of Japan. Some gamers decry the absence of a game which uses Bulbasaur and its evolution, Venusaur as a mascot.
In Japan, though, Pokémon Green was one of the first two games released, alongside Pokémon Red. The games proved to be full of errors and glitches, though, including some which completely break the game or cause players to skip to the end credits in just three minutes. Nintendo later released Pokémon Blue in Japan, which was an updated version of the game with better sprite art, altered music, and which patched up some of the bigger holes in the game.
When it came time to produce an international version of the Pokémon games, Nintendo used Japan’s Pokémon Blue version as a starting block, creating a new version of Pokémon Red from this title. For this reason, the original Pokémon Green has never seen a release outside of Japan.
When the time came to release remakes of the original games, it was Squirtle’s family that were left out. In keeping with the original Japanese versions of the games, two remakes were created: Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen. These two titles were also exported to other regions around the world without altering the mascots, meaning that Bulbasaur finally received its own game in the US.
I Choose You!
As the very first Pokémon in the Pokédex, and the monster of choice for many first-time players of the game across the world, Bulbasaur will always have a special place in many gamers’ hearts. Bulbasaur may not be as imposing as Charizard or as familiar as Pikachu, but the original grass starter has generated more than a few interesting pieces of trivia over the years.
Are you a fan of Bulbasaur? Did you learn anything new from this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.