Thursday, April 18, 2024

Pokemon Omega Ruby’s Contest Spectacular is one of the series queerest moments

From the gender queerness of Team Rocket to Meowth’s original transgender voice actress Maddie Blaustein, Pokemon fans already know that the franchise is queer as hell. While rediscovering the Pokemon games via Pokemon Omega Ruby for Nintendo 3DS, I was delighted to have the game become queer as hell through its Contest Spectaculars, a competition that allows you to show off different sides to your Pokemon outside the heat of battle.

In Omega Ruby, Contest Spectaculars take place in contest halls in certain cities and involve showing off Pokemon moves in certain categories such as Coolness, Cleverness, or Beauty. In order to win each contest, players must feed their Pokemon colorful blocks that enhance their condition and instruct their Pokemon to perform certain moves to win the crowd over. After the introduction round and the talent round, the Pokemon whose score meter has the highest number of points is declared the winner.

One of the ways that the Contest Spectacular managed to be unexpectedly queer is through the character Lisia, a charismatic female character who specializes in Pokemon Contests, and introduces the player to them. She dresses in a cute top with a bow tie, a skirt and gives off a pop star vibe due to her reputation as a top winner in the Pokemon Contest and her status as an idol. If you play as a female, Lisia appears to flirt with the player when you first meet, stating how cute you look in the player’s Pokemon Contest outfit. As you progress through the Contest, you unlock dialogue with Lisia that can be interpreted as queer subtext. For example, she states how she is growing to admire you, even as her boyfriend Chaz expresses jealousy of your closeness with her in his dialogue.

I almost thought Lisia was a Pokemon version of Sailor Moon, another fictional queer icon of mine. Sailor Moon is a personal bi-con because of how she crushed on both girls and boys. Lisia seemed bi to me as well since she crushed on the female player character while dating a guy named Chaz, but since Lisia’s orientation is never really confirmed, her flirting with the female player is a case of playersexuality. That doesn’t stop her queer vibes, though.

Lisia is the magical girl of everyone’s dreams

Lisia’s poses certainly scream “I’m a magical girl.” and her fluffy dragon/flying type Pokemon Altaria would make an excellent magical girl mascot. Maybe Lisia reminded me of Sailor Moon because of how appealing she made the Pokemon Contests. If Sailor Moon made being a superhero seem magically attainable, then Lisia did the same for Contest Spectaculars and the Pokemon themselves.

As much as Lisia gives off queer, high femme vibes, there is someone that is even queerer than she is: Pikachu! More specifically, Cosplay Pikachu, a special version of Pikachu you receive from a non-player character  immediately after winning your first Pokemon Contest. Cosplay Pikachu can dress up in different outfits that suit each contest category. These outfits suggests Pikachu is trans or non-binary because some make Pikachu look feminine/female while others make it look male/masculine, allowing players to challenge the implication that Pikachu is always male. 

Since  Pikachu in the Pokemon anime series and films is assigned a male gender, then it is possible to interpret it as trans or non-binary. This is possible even as Omega Ruby states that Cosplay Pikachu is female. There are also wild Pikachu that you can catch that are labeled male or female.  Yet there are barely any physical differences between a male and female Pikachu and this is noticeable when you change Cosplay Pikachu’s outfits. Even though I only changed its outfit once, I couldn’t help but see them as queer based on its gender expression through the variety of outfits.

When I first received my Cosplay Pikachu, it was in a pink and yellow dress, had pink bows, and false eyelashes. This outfit represents “Pop Star Pikachu” and the Contest category of Beauty and suggests Cosplay Pikachu is female. Later on, I changed my Cosplay Pikachu’s outfit to enter it in the “Cool” Contest and it became “Rockstar Pikachu” with a red fur collar jacket and red and yellow eyebrows resembling lightning bolts. With this outfitCosplay Pikachu is implied – from my perspective – to be male.

Cosplay Pikachu says ‘F U’ to the gender binary

Since Cosplay Pikachu is the only Pokemon you can dress up in Omega Ruby, it provides the player a unique experience. Not only can you dress it up in different outfits and have it outshine other Pokemon in Contests by teaching it certain moves, but you can also use it for battling. I kept my Cosplay Pikachu in the rockstar outfit because I really liked it, but it was delightful to look at its condition for Contests and see peak stats for beauty, coolness, and more. When considered with the different outfits it can wear, Cosplay Pikachu seems magically and wonderfully queer. 

Although the Contest Spectacular in Omega Ruby wasn’t a perfect side game, Lisia and Cosplay Pikachu made it queer AF.  Even though she didn’t give me Cosplay Pikachu herself, Lisia gave me and my Pokemon permission to stand out. She and Cosplay Pikachu embodied magic while looking fantastic. More importantly, Cosplay Pikachu defied gender expectations and came to slay, and that makes them a truly spectacular part of the Pokemon Contests.

Latonya Pennington

Latonya Pennington (they/them) is a non-binary queer freelance pop culture contributor. Their gaming essays can be found in The Escapist, Unwinnable Exploits,and Into The Spine, among others. When they are not playing JRPGs on their 3DS or tablet, they can be found streaming anime, reading comics, or scrolling Tumblr.