Remember back when we all wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was?
Okay, so maybe we all still want that. But we’ve all grown up a lot since the Pokémon craze first took the world by storm, and as we’ve gained a better sense of irony and critical thinking, the adventures of Ash, Pikachu, and their friends suddenly don’t seem quite as epic and heroic as they once did. Take a minute to look at any episode of Pokémon now, and you’ll realize that Ash is an embarrassingly awful Pokémon trainer, while the characters around him are far more annoying than you realized as a kid.
There are plenty of moments throughout the Pokémon franchise, both in episodes old and new, that stand out as being utterly cringeworthy, whether because of dumb jokes, creepy innuendos, or simply because the cartoon ignores its own logic to the point of making experienced PokéManiacs want to hurl something at the television.
Here are 16 Times Pokémon Made Its Entire Audience Cringe:
16. Brock’s Love Song to Officer Jenny and Nurse Joy
It’s long been established that Pewter City gym leader Brock is, well, a little lonely. Perhaps, though, he struggles to find romance because of how creepily he leers at any attractive woman that crosses his path. What probably seemed like harmless fun back in the nineties looks incredibly concerning in hindsight, as Brock obsesses over women at every turn, desperate to find a girlfriend.
The women who suffer the most from Brock’s obsession are the identical Nurse Jennys and Officer Joys which populate the entire Pokémon world. Brock will stare at them in lurid fascination, point out when they’re wearing a shorter skirt than their siblings, and just generally creep everyone out.
The most cringeworthy moment, though, comes in the form of a PokéKareoke jukebox song at the end of certain episodes, in which Brock sings about his fascination with Jenny and Joy, amid scenes of him imagining dating them both at the same time. What might have seemed like harmless fun to children watching becomes a lot more embarrassing to grown-ups watching Brock repeatedly strike out.
15. Ash Forgets What a Koffing Looks Like
Fans have long complained that the continuity of the Pokémon television series makes no sense. Ash hasn’t aged in over a decade, even while other characters, such as Gary and May, continue to grow and develop.
It seems that Ash has some long term memory issues as well, considering the regularity with which he completely forgets Pokémon. Hence, when fighting Bianca’s Koffing in the Black and White series, Ash is perplexed by the creature, and has to use his Pokédex to identify it.
Longtime fans of the show can’t help but roll their eyes at this particular episode, considering that Ash has previously spent years fighting a Koffing belonging to James from Team Rocket. Ash has even used a Weezing in battle while training at a Pokémon school, so his sudden amnesia makes absolutely no sense.
14. Ash Ketchum’s Pity Badges
In the Pokémon games, gym badges are awarded only to the most skilled of trainers, who are capable of besting gym leaders in intense Pokémon battles. If you can’t beat an Onix or a Starmie with your Charmander, you’re out of luck, and you won’t be able to progress in the game until you’ve grinded one of your monsters up to an insanely high level.
In the Pokémon cartoon series, on the other hand, gym badges are given out like candy. This is the only explanation as to why Ash receives so many out of sheer pity. After failing to defeat Brock’s Onix with his Pikachu, Ash is given the Pewter City gym badge without earning it – something which is repeated when he arrives at Cerulean City, when the local gym leaders hand him a badge the moment he walks into the building.
Continuing on his journey, Ash similarly receives the Celadon City badge for helping to put out a fire (which everyone else helps with too, but only Ash gets a badge), and gets the Saffron City badge for making Sabrina laugh.
It’s incredibly frustrating watching Ash bumble his way through gym experiences and being handed so many badges out of pity, and it makes the entire first season of Pokémon far more difficult to watch when you realize that Ash is going to succeed in spite of any actual ability, skill, or training.
13. Pikachu Gets Beaten By Snivy
In the Black and White series of the Pokémon anime, Ash and Pikachu travel to a brand new land and make new friends. Ash initially doesn’t bring any of his old Pokémon with him, starting all over again with just his trusty Pikachu.
But that should be fine, right? After all, Pikachu must be insanely strong by this point, considering all the gym leaders he’s faced.
Turns out, nope – Pikachu is still capable of being beaten by a wild baby Pokémon, as a fight with Snivy ends with Pikachu getting the electric snot knocked out of him.
For many longtime viewers of the show, this battle is incredibly cringeworthy. Not only has Ash somehow forgotten everything he’s learned in previous seasons of the show, but Pikachu has apparently lost all of his fighting ability and is no better than a wild starter. The way that the show constantly seems to reset its protagonists to a complete clueless level of understanding about Pokémon is perhaps the most frustrating thing about this show.
12. The Celadon City Stalker
Taking a break from the Pokémon television series for a second, let’s look at one of the weirdest non-player characters in the original Pokémon video games. There are plenty of weird and wonderful characters scattered across the games, from the man in Viridian City who needs his “coffee” to wake up in the morning (he’s passed out drunk in the street in the original Japanese version of the games), to the girl who will shriek about you touching her when you’re on the other side of the street.
Perhaps the most cringeworthy character, though, is the man who stands outside the Celadon City gym, peering eagerly through the window. The gym itself is entirely staffed by female trainers, which is a success for the Beschdel test, but which also apparently attracts unwanted attention.
When approached, the man outside the window will state creepily, “This gym is great! It’s full of women!” It’s a sentiment that stands out from the rest of the game’s family friendly content, and players can’t help but be a little creeped out.
Thankfully, in the later remake, the text is changed to “It’s full of strong trainers”, which is far less problematic, but the fact remains that the sketchy man is still hanging around outside the gym.
11. Team Rocket’s Puns
Upon the first watch of Pokémon as a child, Team Rocket seem harmless enough. They’re colorful, fun, and they come up with a lot of bizarre schemes to try and catch Pikachu. It’s only as an adult that you realize that Team Rocket are diabolical pun masters, and are capable of turning any situation into the most abhorrent, vile stream of bad dad jokes imaginable.
Perhaps the most egregious series of puns appears in Pokémon: The First Movie, when the trio of crooks sneak around Mewtwo’s secret cloning facility, and throw out as many awful clone puns as they possibly can, in quick succession. There are such horrors as “Send in the clones!” and “I wonder if they feel clonesome?”, which are fired off in such quick succession that the audience barely has time to recover in between all the clone-themed bad jokes.
10. The Minnesota Vikings
Speaking of the original Pokémon movie, there’s one joke which stands out from the pack as a particularly awful example of why 4Kids’ entire localization department should never work in Hollywood again.
Now, back in the original series of Pokémon, the show’s world wasn’t entirely established yet, and as such, characters occasionally make reference to real-world people, places, and animals. This isn’t a huge deal most of the time, as it’s understandable that the show’s creators would think the show would need some context to make it easier for audiences to relate to the strange rules of the Pokémon world.
In The First Movie, though, any attempt at worldbuilding is killed by a single dumb joke. Talking about Vikings, Ash states that nowadays, “they mostly live in Minnesota”, a reference which fans of the Minnesota Vikings may have enjoy, but which the rest of the audience can’t help but roll their eyes at.
9. A Ferris Wheel Trip With a Hiker
In Pokémon Black and White, players can ride on a ferris wheel alongside other characters in the game. The player’s first trip on the ferris wheel is with the enigmatic N, a character who has shown up a few times before, and who uses this moment to announce that he is secretly the leader of Team Plasma.
Following this, it’s possible to ride the ferris wheel with other characters, on what are called “rendez-vous”, where the player battles another trainer before riding the wheel together.
There’s some very strange dialogue on these couples trips up the ferris wheel. Most notoriously, a large, burly hiker who will only appear to a male player will get very sweaty halfway up the wheel, before asking the player if they’ve ever had a lover.
8. Aim for the Horn
By this point in the series the rules of Pokémon are fairly well established. Water is weak against electricity, while ground type Pokémon cannot be harmed by electric attacks. In one of the later games, the Pokémon Rhydon, a ground type, even gains the ability Lightning Rod, which means that, in two-on-two battles, it absorbs all electricity through its horn, preventing its partner from being harmed by an electric move.
Yet in spite of the very clear cut canon over multiple games and television shows establishing that electric attacks do nothing against ground types, one episode of the show breaks this key rule for no conceivable reason. The episode in question sees Pikachu facing off against a Rhydon, and unable to harm it with electric attacks, until Ash instructs Pikachu to “aim for the horn!”, following which, an electric attack defeats the large ground-type opponent.
Fans were livid when this episode first aired, calling it out for blatantly ignoring Pokémon canon. Those who weren’t angry could only hang their heads in their hands and weep for the stupidity of the episode.
One of the original one hundred and fifty Pokémon, Magikarp is one of the most beloved of Pokémon, simply because it is so useless. Unable to learn any useful attacks, if a player grinds hard enough with this fishy Pokémon, eventually, they’ll be rewarded with a Gyarados, one of the most powerful Pokémon from the original games.
Despite the noble lesson in hard work that Magikarp is designed to teach, the Pokémon cartoon has belittled this creature on any occasions. Most notably, a Magikarp salesman appears several times in the show, trying to sell Team Rocket’s James a useless Pokémon in a half-baked pyramid scheme.
Even worse, though, is the time that Ash and Brock fantasize about eating a Magikarp. For fans of the Pokémon, this feels like sacrilege, but it’s awkward for everyone to see Ash and Brock dreaming up ways to eat a Magikarp while simultaneously treating Pikachu and other Pokémon like pets.
6. Meowth Learns English
Every now and then, the Pokémon cartoon showcases a Pokémon that has learned to talk. Mewtwo, a Gastly, and Lugia are all capable of speaking in a language that humans can fully understand, but the most prominent talking Pokémon is Meowth, a member of Team Rocket.
In an episode revealing Meowth’s backstory, it’s shown why the furriest Team Rocket member decided to try learning to talk in the first place. His reasoning for doing so? To impress a pretty female Meowth who thinks he’s worthless.
As far as motivations go, this one is pretty silly, but understandable, but what’s really cringeworthy is just how poorly thought through Meowth’s plan actually is. Upon learning to talk, Meowth rushes to his love interest to show off his new skills, only for her to reject him because he’s now a weird freak.
5. Team Rocket’s Disguises
While Team Rocket are known for their colorful disguises, their costumes are never very convincing. A fake moustache on Jessie’s face doesn’t help to cover up her enormous spiky red hair, and no matter how fetching James looks in a dress, he never makes much of an effort to conceal his identity. But hey, Team Rocket are into cosplay, and they’re entitled to enjoy themselves while trying to steal Pikachu.
What’s more cringeworthy, though, is seeing the oblivious way that Ash and his friends react to Team Rocket’s outfits. The twerps also fall hook, line, and sinker for these disguises, no matter how obvious it is that Jessie and James are the ones behind them. Episode after Episode, Ash is tricked into almost losing Pikachu, until Team Rocket’s plan backfires in some big way. But, learning nothing, the team of heroes will trust the next pair of complete strangers they meet that look exactly like Team Rocket, no matter how suspicious they seem.
4. Ash Turns to Stone
Pokémon: The First Movie is a fairly short film, not least because its English dub is missing a large chunk of scenes from Mewtwo’s childhood. The climactic finale, though, while iconic, is also one of the most cringe-laden scenes in Pokémon’s history.
While Pokémon scrap and fight against each other, Ash resolves to save the day by leaping in the way of one of Mewtwo’s powerful psychic attacks. As a result, he is suddenly and instantly turned to stone.
Then, without any kind of warning, all the Pokémon start to cry, and their tears magically bring Ash back to life. It’s a scene which comes out of nowhere, and is a deus ex machina of the highest order, as this previously unheard of (and never mentioned again) Pokémon superpower is used to quickly tie up loose ends to move the film to its conclusion.
Seemingly impressed by all the Pokémon tears, Mewtwo announces that he’s no longer evil, and is giving up his diabolical plan to wipe out all life on the planet. Because of some tears.
While this scene might have made perfect sense to us as kids, watching it as an adult means feeling incredibly disappointed by the show, and annoyed at the overly sentimental left turn that’s taken by a movie about monsters fighting their own clones.
3. Brock’s Donuts
While many of the items on this list are probably only cringeworthy for adults, one element of 4Kids’ English dub of Pokémon can’t help but annoy audiences of all ages. No matter how young a viewer might be, they’ll definitely know the difference between a riceball and a donut.
In spite of this, an entire episode of the Pokémon television series deals with Ash, Brock, and Misty being assaulted by a mischievous Mankey. The Pokémon even steals one of the snacks that Brock has prepared – something which is clearly a rice-based treat, but which the show insists on calling a “donut”, over and over again. The “donut” comes up throughout the episode, even though each time it’s seen, it’s clear that Brock is mislabeling his snack.
Nobody watching the show can be fooled by this bizarre relabeling, and the frustration of the scene has led many to point to Brock’s “donut” as a clear representation of everything that’s wrong with the English dub of the popular Pokémon cartoon series.
2. James’ Cleave Enhancing Bikini
While 4Kids did plenty of reprehensible things while localizing the Pokémon anime (including cutting out Mewtwo’s childhood and renaming riceballs), the company did make a few wise decisions as well.
For example, one episode of the series which only aired in its original, unedited form in Japan is Beauty and the Beach, a story in which Misty enters a Pokémon beauty pageant, but finds herself fighting against Jessie and James for the grand prize.
James has managed to enter the contest by wearing a special cleavage enhancing bikini, which provides him with an enormous pair of breasts, which he jiggles in Misty’s face in order to taunt her. It’s a scene which, 4Kids rightly believed, wouldn’t sit well with parents in the West, and as such, the episode was initially banned, before the localization team later cannibalized some of the less busty scenes for a heavily edited episode of the show that aired out of order with the rest of the series.
Not every cringeworthy moment on this list is necessarily the fault of the creators. While some elements of Pokémon have always been a little awkward, some have gained new meaning in the years since their initial release.
One such moment comes in the original Pokémon Red and Blue, where a biker can be found who utters the immortal phrase, “You only live once”. At the time, this was an innocuous expression which meant that the speaker was going to try something new and exciting in order to make the most of their brief time on Earth.
The expression still means the same thing, but the popularity of the phrase, often shortened to “YOLO”, has gained infamy through its overuse among people who are doing, let’s face it, some pretty stupid things.
Thus, seeing a biker utter the immortal words “you only live once” can cause a player to double over, wracked with cringe-inducing awkwardness as they remember some of the stupider times this expression has been misused in recent years.
Pokémon as a franchise has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years. From the original nineties boom, to last year’s Pokémon GO summer, the series has always brought joy to fans while earning quizzical glances (and, last year especially, insulting comments) from anyone too old to understand the phenomenon.
When revisiting the glory days of the franchise, though, it’s easy to see just why so many older people find the Pokémon fandom so impenetrable and annoying. Scattered throughout the series there have been plenty of moments which inspire eye-rolls, groans, and raised eyebrows. And that’s just the moments that aren’t needlessly laced with innuendo.
This is, of course, by no means a complete list of all the cringeworthy moments in the Pokémon franchise. What are your favorite embarrassing moments from the series? Do you feel that we’re being unfair on some moments from the show? Are you a fan of the Minnesota Vikings? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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