Everyone who’s seen an episode of the Pokémon cartoon series is familiar with Ash Ketchum and his quest to become the very best, like no one ever was. Fans have watched through hundreds of episodes as Ash, his friends, and his trusty Pikachu have travelled the world seeking out adventures and new Pokéchallenges.
But what of Team Rocket? The recurring villains of the series have been a mainstay throughout the lengthy run of the cartoon series, remaining constant long after Ash’s original travelling companions were written out of the show. Jessie, James, and Meowth are part of the fundamental formula of the show – and there’s more than a few interesting pieces of trivia surrounding Team Rocket hidden throughout the show’s history.
With the recent news that Pokémon is at the center of a bidding war for movie rights, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Team Rocket.
10. All Rockets Duos Are Named After Cowboys or Asian Warlords
It doesn’t take much to figure out where the inspiration for Team Rocket’s names came from – Jessie and James are a clear reference to the infamous Wild West outlaw Jesse James, a cowboy who has been portrayed by various actors in over thirty Hollywood movies. It seems that audiences love affable outlaws, which is why Jessie and James are so well named.
The English language translation team for the series must enjoy the connection, because they’ve used it for a variety of other members of Team Rocket that have appeared over time. Characters named Cassidy and Butch (referencing cowboy Butch Cassidy); and characters named Annie and Oakley (referencing cowgirl Annie Oakley) have appeared in the show during various episodes in its history.
Most recent, audiences have met Attila and Hun – a reference to Attila the Hun, who’s more of a warlord than an outlaw. Nevertheless, as with Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, Attila is either a hero or a villain depending on a person’s point of view – or which pop culture interpretation an audience chooses to believe.
9. Rockets Are Also Asian Warlords in Japan
There’s actually a stronger precedent for Team Rocket members being named after warlords than there is for the cowboy connection – while Jessie and James are named for an American outlaw in the English dub of the show, the original Japanese version of the show gives them names that are more culturally familiar for Eastern audiences.
In Japanese, Jessie is named Musashi, while James is named Kojiro. These names come from Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro, a pair of ancient Japanese swordmasters who were also rivals. Miyamoto Musashi ultimately killed Sasaki Kojiro in battle, which may explain why Jessie, the more dominant member of the team, received this name.
When it came time to name further Rocket members in the Japanese anime, writers didn’t follow the same trend as the English translation team by naming all Rockets after warriors. Instead, Jessie’s rival (known as Cassidy in English) is called Yamato, which is a reference to a World War II Japanese battleship, which had a sister ship named Musashi. Thus, while Jessie and James are tied together through historic names, Jessie and Cassidy are also cleverly connected.
8. ‘ROCKET’ Is an Acronym
“Team Rocket” is a very cool name – it’s violent and explosive yet optimistic, as it reflects the team’s ambition to ‘extend [their] reach to the stars above’, as mentioned in the group’s motto.
While the name originates from the Pokémon video game, the television show has gone out of its way to build the lore of the group, including providing backstory for its leader, Giovanni, and the experiment that created Mewtwo – both elements taken directly from the games.
The manga based on the Pokémon games gives further insight into the group, though – according to the comic series, ‘Rocket’ is an acronym which explains the group’s goals and modus operandi. According to the character, R.O.C.K.E.T. stands for ‘Raid On the City, Knock out, Evil Tusks’.
It’s not certain whether this name is considered canon in the cartoon series, but considering that the manga contains many elements from the development of original game, including characters such as Green who were cut from the game, it’s possible that this was the original idea behind the group’s name and plans.
7. Jessie Was Inspired By a Writer’s Ex-Girlfriend
When creating unique characters for the Pokémon anime, the show’s chief writer, Takeshi Shudo, drew inspiration from a variety of different sources. When coming up with a primary female antagonist, he looked to his own love life to find the perfect villain.
Jessie ultimately came from combining the personality of a girl that Shudo had dated while at school, with a villain from the Time Bokan anime series named Majo, who is portrayed as both vain and manipulative. One has to wonder what Shudo’s relationship was like with the girl that he based Jessie on, considering that Jessie is often controlling and violent towards her partner James.
6. Meowth Is Based on a Japanese Symbol for Good Luck
The Pokémon member of Team Rocket, the fast-talking and sarcastic Meowth, is one of the more popular Pokémon characters, and is enjoyed by audiences of the cartoon series not only for his sharp wit and personality, but also for his eye-catching design as a cuddly cat with a coin embedded in his forehead.
Eye-catching is the whole point of the inspiration behind Meowth. The Pokémon’s original design is based on ‘Maneki Neko,’ or lucky cats, which are small ornamental cats that store owners in Japan display, typically next to the cash register, in order to bring good fortune and prosperity to the business. It’s for this reason that Meowth’s signature move is Payday, which generated money for the player – although Team Rocket’s Meowth has explained in the cartoon series that he is unable to learn the move due to the effort involved in learning to talk, which is why Team Rocket are always broke.
5. The Original Meowth was the Game Director’s Pet
Inspiration rarely comes from a single source – while Meowth’s design was based on a Japanese cultural icon, the character’s personality and mannerisms were taken from a pet cat which belonged to Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon and director of the first Pokémon games.
Satoshi’s longtime friend Ken Sugimori was responsible for designing the look of the Pokémon world as well as creating the original batch of Pokémon characters, coming up with all original one hundred and fifty Pokémon in under a year. It’s natural, then, that some inspiration was taken from the animals he saw around him, including his friend’s pet cat.
4. Meowth and Pikachu are Literally Playing a Game of Cat and Mouse
Ever since Tom and Jerry, the dynamic of cats chasing mice has been an established part of cartoons across the world. Meowth and Pikachu fit this trope perfectly, as Pikachu is an electric mouse Pokémon while Meowth is a cat Pokémon.
The two characters compliment each other perfectly in many ways, including in their Pokédex reference numbers. Pikachu is Pokémon #25, while Meowth is #52 – they’re numbers are reversed, further tying the two together. While this is likely a coincidence, it’s fitting for the two Pokémon that are known for fighting against each other more than any others.
3. James’ Crossdressing Once got an Episode of Pokémon Banned
Throughout the history of the Pokémon series, Team Rocket member James has developed a reputation for crossdressing in a variety of disguises to aid the team’s elaborate schemes. While for the most part these costumes are harmless, one episode of the show lives in infamy for having been considered so inappropriate for children that it was prevented from being released in the West.
In the episode known as Beauty and the Beach, Ash’s friend Misty enters a beauty contest which involves posing in a bikini. Unbeknownst to her, Jessie and James have both also entered the contest – in order to gain admission, James has elected to wear a pair of enormous inflatable breasts, wrapped in a revealing bikini top. At one point in the original Japanese episode, James lauds his costume over Misty, mocking her for her small cup size.
Needless to say, this content was deemed inappropriate for Western releases, and the episode has never been broadcast in full in America. Several years after the initial decision to shelve the episode, some parts of the episode were dubbed into English and cut together to form a dream sequence for another episode, but James’ most risqué outfit has never appeared officially in an English dub of the show.
2. Jessie and James got Married and Had Children in a Manga Story
Many different iterations of the Pokémon story exist – aside from the canon from the videogames and the cartoon series, Nintendo have occasionally licensed comic book or manga adaptations of their stories.
One such manga, The Electric Tale of Pikachu, sparked some controversy by reimagining the relationship between Team Rocket’s human members. In the comic, Jessie and James have an overt romantic relationship which culminates with the two getting married. In the epilogue for the comic, the two are seen embracing, and Jessie is clearly pregnant.
This decision to show the Rockets as a romantic couple angered some Western fans, as no overt romantic dynamic exists in the English language dub – in fact, subtle references to James’ sexuality in the English cartoon have led many fans to speculate that James might be gay.
1. Meowth was Once Rumored to be Starring in His Own Party Game
In spite of its popularity, there isn’t a lot of precedent for the world of the Pokemon cartoon series appearing or being referenced in official Nintendo videogames. Sometimes voice acting from the cartoons are used in games, but this is limited to Pikachu in most cases.
One rare case of the Pokémon show crossing over with the game comes from the Spaceworld Expo in 2000, where Nintendo announced the GameCube console and presented a variety of tech demos for the console. One such demo was called Meowth’s Party, and showed Meowth, voiced by the Japanese voice actor from the anime, playing an electric guitar to a room full of Pokémon. There isn’t much footage available from the tech demo (especially not in high resolution) but theories about the footage have led to plenty of fan speculation about its intended use.
While this was designed to show off the graphical capability of the GameCube, many took it as evidence of a Meowth-themed game in the works that would bridge the gap between the cartoon series and the Pokémon video games. While this never came to fruition, Meowth’s Party has been referenced several times since, and Meowth is often depicted with his red electric guitar.
Conclusion: Blasting Off Again
It’s arguable that the Pokémon cartoon series wouldn’t have lasted quite as long, nor become nearly as popular, without the misadventures of Team Rocket to bring light peril to the story. While the characters of the cartoon haven’t had the same cultural impact as Ash or Pikachu, they’re a vital part of the show’s mythos and have contributed to the cartoon’s lengthy history.
What pieces of trivia about Jessie, James, Meowth and Team Rocket did we miss? Share your own facts and trivia in the comments below.