2016 has been a great year for the Pokémon franchise. Nintendo paired with Niantic to release the first Pokémon mobile game with the massively successful Pokémon GO, and Game Freak released Sun & Moon, the latest iteration of the game that started it all (with a new series of the anime to match). While each new game and TV series brings fans a new island (or 4 in the case of Alola) and tons of new Pokémon, we’re also treated to a core concept of Pokémon that usually involves less fanfare: the Poké Balls.
No item is more essential to the gameplay of Pokémon than the Poké Balls, and a variety of them have been designed to provide further ways to strategize while you try to catch them all. Thanks to decades of appearances in games, anime, manga, and lots of other media, Poké Balls have a surprisingly rich history. Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Poké Balls.
15. They Look Fairly Similar To Their Original Design
Back in 1990, Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori first pitched the idea to Nintendo: a game where players could capture various creatures and train them to do battle against one another. Known as Capsule Monsters at the time, the game featured two key components: the capsules and the monsters they could contain. The monsters would eventually become Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”) and the capsules would follow suit and be known as Poké Balls.
Like the concept and title, the design of the Poké Balls didn’t change much from inception to execution. Sugimori’s original sketch for the devices were based on gashapon capsules, which contained little toys that could be won from claw machines. The round, two-tone design we’re familiar with is mostly unchanged, with only the button being relocated from the top of one half to the center of the opening. It’s fitting then that in the world of Pokémon, this core design has also been around since the early days.
14. Their Modern Look Dates Back To Pokélantis
A 2006 episode of the Pokémon anime titled “Battling the Enemy Within!” showed American viewers one of the most ancient versions of the modern Pokéball. In the episode, Ash and his friends meet a man named Brandon, who tells them the tale of the King of Pokélantis. Once a magnificent city, the King went mad thinking he could control the awesome power of the Legendary Ho-Oh. Instead, the Pokémon wiped out the King and Pokélantis, leaving only ruins behind.
It’s in these ruins that Ash finds a stone relic that looks nearly identical to contemporary Poké Balls. Instead of containing the powerful Ho-Oh, however, it actually possessed the evil spirit of the King. While the implications of a magical relic that contains the souls of the departed should probably be fleshed out a bit more in Pokémon lore, it’s intriguing to learn that the design, if not the purpose, of modern Poké Balls has some very ancient roots.
13. Ancient Objects Used To Contain Pokémon
While the ancient orb used by the King of Pokélantis may not have had the power to hold a Pokémon, other relics have had this ability. Appearing in one of the earliest episodes of the anime, the ruins of Pokémopolis is surprisingly close to Ash and Red’s home of Pallet Town. During “The Ancient Puzzle of Pokémopolis,” we meet Dr. Eve, who is studying the archaeological site when Ash and gang encounter her. What she discovers are three relics that are revealed to contain massive Pokémon.
The first two are quite creepy, as the Unearthly Urn is unlocked with a spoon to reveal a giant Alakazam and the Dark Device holds an enormous Gengar. Their threat is swiftly neutralized, however, when good old Jigglypuff sings its song and activates the Giant Bell. The relic begins to glow and reveals that it contains a huge Jigglypuff, who puts all the people and Pokémon alike to sleep. Just like its tinier counterpart, this infuriates the Pokémon. It turns out that the Giant Bell also houses a Giant Paintbrush, which the massive Jigglypuff uses to deface everyone. It seems that some things never change.
12. A Giant Stone Pokéball Once Held A Claydol
Gigantic versions of Pokémon being contained within massive stone relics appears to be a running theme in the ancient history of Pokémon. Case in point, 2005’s “Claydol Big and Tall” revealed the existence of a huge, stone Pokéball resting at the peak of a mountain. Thanks to an ancient text, we learn that more than 20,000 years ago the Pokémon Claydol was first created and was much larger than it is now. This massive Claydol was once held in a giant stone ball, which was destroyed. The author of the text, the White Sage, built another similar housing for the Pokémon, and contained Claydol inside. Then, Team Rocket mucked the whole thing up and released the beast.
Eventually, Ash and his friends are able to recapture the Claydol in the Poké Ball, but the episode teases some interesting ideas. First, that the stone device was capable of containing the Pokémon, further implying a link between magic and science in the Pokémon universe. Second is the idea that this device from 20,000 years ago looks identical to modern Poké Balls. Finally, Claydol appears to be one more example of man-made Pokémon, such as Porygon, Mewtwo, and Type: Null. Hopefully, we’ll go back to these ideas at some point in the series as there are plenty of questions that need answering.
11. Some Trainers Use Powerful Artifacts To Hold Their Pokémon
It’s not just ancient peoples that used magical devices to contain Pokémon. The anime has a few examples of trainers who used special devices to contain powerful pocket monsters. Throughout history, there have been humans known as Aura Guardians who travel the world helping those in need. One noteworthy Guardian lived a thousand years ago and was named Sir Aaron. Existing in a time before contemporary Poké Balls, Aaron used a mysterious gem housed in his staff to contain his partner Lucario. We get a closer look at their unique story in the 2006 film Lucario and the Mystery of Mew.
A couple of years later, we encounter another Aura Guardian in the anime episode “The Keystone Pops!” The two-parter reveals the threat of an ancient Spiritomb who was finally mastered and contained within The Odd Keystone over 500 years ago. Like Ash, the Aura Guardian traveled with a Pikachu. Perhaps Ash is merely the reincarnation of this hero from long ago. Either way, the Aura Guardians and their mysterious artifacts provide another wrinkle in the ongoing evolution of the Poké Ball.
10. There Are Over 40 Different Types Of Poké Balls
Whatever the story behind these powerful relics and the control they hold over Pokémon, we know a lot more about the modern incarnation of the devices used to capture creatures. Across the anime series, the manga, and the movies, we’ve been shown a number of variations on the Poké Ball. In the games, however, there are just 26 models that trainers have access to.
New games have added Lure Balls for Pokémon you catch while fishing, Heavy Balls for massive Pokémon, and the newest, the Beast Ball, released in Sun & Moon. The core Poké Balls, and the earliest introduced, are the ones that have remained across platforms (including Pokémon GO). There’s the standard Poké Ball, with its red and white color scheme; the Great Ball, for stronger Pokémon; the Ultra Ball, featuring its telltale ‘H’ on the top as a holdover from its Japanese name, the Hyper Ball; and the Master Ball, capable of capturing any Pokémon. Just as we can be sure that each new game will introduce new Pokémon, variations on Poké Balls are also sure to follow.
9. Poké Balls As We Know Them May Be 300 Years Old
Back in 2000, we got our first hint that modern Poké Balls weren’t so, well, modern after all. In the anime episode “A Shipful of Shivers,” Ash and gang not only meet some ghost Pokémon, but a ghostly trainer. Known simply as the Captain, we learn that he was a Pokémon League champion 300 years ago. Back then, he used his Ghastly and Haunter to win and contained them within what look to be standard Poké Balls. Furthermore, the trophy he holds is also modelled after the devices.
While we’ve seen the look of the Poké Ball used in the past, making the trophy itself less of an anomaly, the fact that there were functioning Poké Balls 300 years ago is pretty surprising. According to official sources, though, Poké Balls as we know them were actually invented in 1925 by Professor Westwood. We meet him in the Season 1 episode “The Evolution Solution,” where he teaches our heroes about the unique way Slowpoke merges with Shellder to evolve into Slowbro. There are plenty of real world examples of people innovating on (or stealing) existing pieces of tech and then patenting them, so perhaps this is a similar case.
8. Poké Balls Have A Natural Origin
Long before Professor Westwood perfected the Poké Ball, and even before the Captain used his, there were more natural versions of Poké Balls that people used. In the second generation of the game, players are introduced to apricorns. These large nuts come in a variety of colors, and each can be used to create a specific Poké Ball. In modern times, apricorn balls are quite rare, but they used to be a lot more common.
Though the lore isn’t precise, apricorns were first used to create the ancestors to modern Poké Balls sometime between 400 and 700 years ago. Predating the Captains more contemporaneous Poké Balls, these apricorn balls appear to be the first items used to contain Pokémon that any could acquire. They also seemed to move the world of Pokémon further away from magic, as they finally allowed average people to capture and control the fantastical beasts all around them.
7. Pokémon Are Conscious Inside Their Poké Ball
Though the world of Pokémon is mostly presented at face value and not meant for deeper consideration, young and old players alike can’t help but have philosophical discussions surrounding some of the more problematic areas of the universe. Chief among these arguments is whether using Pokémon to fight is akin to dog fighting and animal cruelty. Connected to that idea, is the entire concept of owning and controlling Pokémon. While it could be argued we do the same thing with pets and farm animals in the real world, one area of Pokémon is especially troubling: whether the Pokémon are conscious while they sit inside their balls.
We’ve seen in the anime that when a Pokémon travels between their ball and the outside world, they’re enveloped in some form of energy. We also know the balls can shrink and can obviously contain creatures many times the size of the apparatuses. A few examples from the anime and manga, however, seem to indicated that the Pokémon are still quite lucid while inside their cage. The images above seem to indicate that a Pokémon shrinks down when placed inside a ball, but otherwise just sits around in a spherical container. One can only imagine they spend a lot of that time sleeping, but it’d be nice if they were given a game or some snacks at least.
6. Other Items Can Manage Pokémon
We’ve already discussed a number of relics that can hold Pokémon like Poké Balls do, but many other items exist in the anime that have the power to control creatures instead of capturing them. In “Control Freak,” we learn of a Queen from long ago who used a mask and staff to control Pokémon, but she was actually using some sophisticated high frequencies to manage them while inside her village, like an ancient shock collar. The movie Arceus and the Jewel of Life presented a similar concept, as the villainous Marcus controlled his Heatran and Bronzong using some special armor.
Later, we encounter the Red, Blue, and Jade Orbs, which have power over certain creatures. All of these devices seem to have negative effects on the Pokémon, and only offer temporary control. This seems to highlight that catching Pokémon is the only natural way to ensure their loyalty. There is one caveat to that, however, as we learn when we meet Cyrus in the fourth generation of Pokémon. He controls the legendary Pokémon Palkia and Dialga using the powerful Red Chain. He claims that this allows him to control them without their power being diminished by a Poké Ball. This is one of our only indications that capturing a Pokémon actually weakens and tames it somewhat, and that in the wild, Pokémon are at their most powerful.
5. Trainers Love Getting Creative When Deploying Them
While a lot of our deviations from the classic use of Poké Balls come from the anime, the long-running manga series has its share of innovations as well. In the Pokémon Adventures series, we meet five different trainers who each have unique ways of catching Pokémon. Though they all use Poké Balls, they attach them to various tools and weapons to spice up their victories. Kolga and Falkner update the throwing action associated with catching Pokémon by using shurikens and boomerangs respectively to deploy their balls. Kolga and his daughter Janine use their method to unleash the Pokémon in surprise locations. Falkner does this same thing, but as his boomerangs are made from the feathers of a Skarmory, they can actually become invisible for further surprises.
The character Erika ingeniously uses Poké Balls attached to the ends of arrows (though how well these would actually fly is something only Green Arrow could explain). Bruno, meanwhile, confusingly attaches Poké Balls onto nunchucks, as he appears to like to get up close and personal with his catches. Finally, there’s Bugsy, who embodies his name by having a net designed with a Poké Ball attached to it. Like Bruno, he appears to want to get into the thick of things when he’s catching Pokémon. Hopefully, the games will someday allow players to customize weapons with Poké Balls attached.
4. Some Trainers Have Their Own Unique Poké Balls
Just as some trainers from the manga have their own unique variations on Poké Balls, a number of characters we meet in the anime have their own special tools for catching Pokémon. Two prime examples are the Poké Balls owned by Sam and Lokoko.
In the movie Celebi: Voice of the Forest, a boy named Sam is transported to the modern day from his home 40 years in the past. Despite Poké Balls having been around since the 1920s, Sam has a homemade version that seems to be similar to the method used to turn apricorns into balls. His steam-punky version has a twist-top that needs to be rotated in order to release the Pokémon, and provides us with our first good look at how older Poké Balls might have functioned.
Lokoko, meanwhile, has a Poké Ball similar to the original design with the button on the top. Just like that sketch, it’s older than other Poké Balls and appears to be from over 200 years ago. How does Lokoko have a 200 year old Poké Ball? Well, the episode, “Just Waiting on a Friend” is somewhat of a classic and reveals that the young girl is actually an illusion cast by an ancient Ninetails. It figures that the first girl who actually likes Brock is just the figment of a dog’s imagination.
3. More Than Meets The Eye
Our history of the permutations of Poké Balls wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t hit on the idea that not all Poké Balls are as they seem. Both in the anime and the game, the little red and white spheres can contain more than just Pokémon. Mostly on display in the game, random items– including other Poké Balls– are found just lying around in different nooks and crannies, and are contained inside Poké Balls. This idea hasn’t been elaborated on too far, but it shows the devices are capable of doing more than just capturing living things.
The other curious thing about this classic design is that a number of Pokémon imitate it. Given how quickly Pokémon can change and evolve, it’s possible that creatures like Electrode and Voltorb are merely mimicking the version of the balls we’ve seen in the past 300 years. Foongus and Amoongus continue this trend, but it makes us wonder what all of these Pokémon looked like before Poké Balls were around for them to imitate. The other possibility is that when it came time to come up with a color scheme for the devices, the inventors simply drew inspiration from nature.
2. Pokémon Are Marked Once They’ve Been Caught
Every one of us would be lying if we said we’d never tried to capture someone else’s Pokémon. No matter which version of the game you first played, there came a moment when you just couldn’t resist throwing a ball at an opponent’s Pokémon to see what happened. Unfortunately, this villainous move isn’t available to us players. In the anime, we’re actually offered a bit of an explanation for why this is possible.
It seems that when you first catch a wild Pokémon, it becomes marked. This appears to be tied not only to the trainer, but also the exact ball that contains the Pokémon. This mark prevents the Pokémon from being captured by another ball (and presumably from you housing it in a ball that belongs to a different one of your creatures). If the trainer abandons the Pokémon, or dies, the mark seems to stick around until the Pokémon decides to shed it.
We see this play out in “Charmander – The Stray Pokémon,” the 11th episode of the Pokémon anime. At first, Ash can’t catch the titular creature as it still pines for its previous abusive owner. Eventually, he wins it over and it allows itself to be captured. As it evolves, however, it’ll continue to be a pain for Ash to control.
1. An Enormous Poké Ball Was Built To Capture A Gigantic Haunter
To finish things off, let’s once again circle back to the idea of giant Pokémon being contained within unusual balls. Like a number of the weirdest examples, this comes from the manga series. In the chapter “Haunting My Dreams” from The Electric Tale of Pikachu series, we encounter a huge Haunter dubbed the Black Fog. In the story, the creature rains all sorts of chaos down on Saffron City and generally looks like a living nightmare. The Pokémon even eats the soul of gym leader Sabrina. Luckily, she keeps a backup in her Abra (no, seriously).
Eventually, a massive Poké Ball called the Enormo Poké Ball-X1 is created in an attempt to contain the monster. It works temporarily, until the Pokémon uses the move “Explosion” to free itself and destroy the ball. The concept of the Black Fog is a super interesting one, and it’d be neat to see the anime explore darker themes like this in the future—especially if you consider that some Pokémon can use moves within a ball to escape. If nothing else, it just shows that there’s a lot more to Poké Balls than we ever realized.
Any fun facts about Poké Balls in the world of Pokémon that we missed? Let us know in the comments!