Pikachu isn't a mouse?
The designer of Pikachu has finally revealed that the inspiration for Pikachu doesn’t actually come from a mouse.
While learning Japanese, I always had fun learning the names of Pokemon. For example, Magikarp is called “Koiking” in Japanese, meaning a carp (koi) with a crown on its back. And Slowpoke, his name “Yadon” simply means he’s some kind of happy idiot.
But the name Pikachu remains the same in all languages. In fact, the mascot of the franchise is so famous that even most non-Japanese fans know that its name comes from Japanese onomatopoeia: pika, referring to a flash of light, and chu, the sound mice make. A perfect name for an electric mouse, right? But it turns out that the visual design of Pikachu was not inspired by a mouse.
Ken Sugimori, Artistic Director of the Pokemon franchise, and Atsuko Nishida, a graphic designer who has been involved in several Pokemon franchises since the beginning, recently spoke about the origin of Pikachu. The only specific guidelines given to Nishida were that the character had to be cute, use power-based powers and be able to evolve twice. Aside from these guidelines, Nishida was free to do whatever she wanted in terms of design. So she turned to the animal kingdom to find
inspiration, and thought of a squirrel!
So why did Pikachu end up being called Pikachu instead of Pika + the noise of a squirrel in Japanese? Probably because there is no onomatopoeia for the cry of a squirrel in Japanese. In fact, squirrels themselves are not as prevalent in Japan as in rural and suburban communities in the UK and America. If you live in a city in Japan, you could easily spend years without seeing one, even in parks. When Nishida showed Pikachu to his colleagues, the reaction of many was that “it looks like a mouse”, making the name “Pikachu” the perfect combination.
But what about the fact that they wanted Pikachu to evolve twice? Pikachu can only envolve once into Raichu (although Pichu was added in later games). Sugimori and Nishida did not explain why the requirement of double evolution was abandoned, but I can only imagine it was to do with the adorable design of Pikachu.
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