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Pikachu Wasn't Based On A Mouse, But A Squirrel

Illustration for article titled Pikachu Wasnt Based On A Mouse, But A Squirrel em/em
Image: Pokemon, Pixabay

Even though the Pokédex describes as a “Mouse” type, the iconic character was originally based on another rodent.


In a new Yomiuri interview, Atsuko Nishida, who previously worked at Game Freak, revealed that she based the character’s original designs for Pokémon Red and Green on a squirrel and not a mouse.

“At that time, I was really into squirrels,” Nishida, told Yomiuri, “so I wanted the character to have puffy cheeks. Squirrel tails are cute (so I wanted it to have a tail). However, I wanted the character to have a lightning element, so I made it shaped like lightning.”


Pikachu’s design, especially its cheeks, were inspired by squirrels. With that in mind, the character’s long shape makes more sense.

“I didn’t have a squirrel, but at that time, I wanted to have one,” Nishida said. “It’s not like squirrels were popular [in Japan] then. I like animals, and then I had a ferret and a turtle at home. Since I thought the ways squirrels moved were comical and cute, I wanted one.”

For a place to amass electricity, Nishida says she looked to squirrels. “For example, when hamsters stuff themselves with food, their entire bodies become round, right? But for squirrels, it’s just their cheeks.”

Once the character was named Pikachu, it was then decided this Pokémon would be a “Mouse” type, with Satoshi Tajiri coming up with “Electric Rodent.” And after the anime debuted in 1997, Pikachu’s design changed again. It since then has continued to evolve. But originally, the character was inspired by squirrels.


Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

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This makes sense though. And given how many Pokemon are mashups of real animals I’ve never really trusted the one-line type anyway: I also wouldn’t call Sandshrew a “mouse” or Poochyena a “bite” (wtf).

And this is your daily reminder that there is nothing squirrelly about Squirtle! Its tail is a reference to old Japanese depictions of turtles. Wartortle even more so.