Pikachu is the Pokemon ambassador to the world. It’s cuddly, bright, and has enough human-like qualities to let you know that it’s more than a simple pet or animal. On the other hand, it also has enough mouse features to indicate that it isn’t Mario. It’s been in nearly every episode of the Pokemon anime, where Ash attempts to wield it like the angry hammer of god.
But in Pokemon Red/Blue, Pikachu isn’t special. No professor leaps out of the tall grass to shout “SEE THAT IMPORTANT THING!” when Pikachu shows up. In Red/Blue, Pikachu is just a break from the birds and bugs that pollute the early sections of the games. Catch one if you want. Or don’t. It’s your call.
And that’s why, when it comes to Red/Blue, Charmander will always be the TRUE mascot of Pokemon.
I always chose Charmander. Sure, there were some rounds of Red/Blue where I picked Squirtle, but I looked at my Squirtle runs in the same way that you’d look at someone trying to play the game blindfolded. Squirtle was a niche thing. An almost ironic thing. “Get a load of this guy! Playing as Squirtle! What a nut, right?”
Difficulty-wise, Charmander isn’t a great choice for the early parts of the game. It bulldozes through the swamp of Caterpies, but using him against Brock’s rock Pokemon is like digging out of a jail cell with a spoon. Sure, it’s not the worst plan, but there are better ways. And using it in the fight against Misty’s water types is cruel and inhumane. Undeterred, when Professor Oak offers up those three balls on the table, the choice is always clear: GET OUT OF THE FUCKING WAY, BLUE. GIVE ME THAT FLAMING LIZARD.
In the anime, Charmander was always the most interesting member of Ash’s party. Pikachu had one episode of disloyalty, and then remained the general of the Ketchum army until the end of eternity. Butterfree decided to leave as soon as he got the opportunity to get laid. Ash forgot that he even had a Pidgeotto most of the time. Bulbasaur, as I’ve written before, was the grumbling chaperone. Squirtle was cool. But Charmander got a character arc.
Ash only found Charmander after he’d been discarded by Damian, a trainer that thought Charmander was so weak that he literally threw him away. This is all before Vermillion City, too, which means that somehow, out of Damian’s team of Geodudes, Zubats, and Metapods, Charmander was somehow the weakest. Charmander started off as untrustworthy of Ash, and eventually grew into being the team powerhouse. He evolved into Charizard, became a dick, and finally landed the position of Ash’s Go-To Pokemon. When Charizard comes out, you know Ash is getting serious. With all of that, Charmander gets more character development than anything else, human or otherwise, in the whole show.
On a side note, what is Damian’s accent supposed to be? Australian? I think it’s supposed to be Australian, but saying things like “HEEH HEEH, ME CHO’A’A’MANDA’!” makes me doubtful that it’s supposed to resemble any language found on this earth, or any other earth for that matter.
To me, Charmander will always be the Pokemon mascot that we deserved. Sure, you can’t hug it as much as Pikachu, as part of its anatomy involves an unending campfire. But every time I boot up Red/Blue, sure, it’s not just Pokemon time. It’s Charmander time.