Written by @EllieDangerous
Hey, don't laugh! Okay do. But listen, Ash's Charizard from the Pokémon anime series has a surprisingly interesting character arc unnoticed by viewers who totally aren't in it for the character development. Charizard is a big dragon Pokémon who doesn't speak human, and here's my little explanation as to why he's a good character.

Spoiler Alert
In the earliest few series of Pokémon, Charizard embarks upon a psychological journey that at first glance appears super-simple. So he’s this cute little Charmander, right? His mean trainer Damian abandons him in the rain for being too weak, and the loyal Charmander waits for him, shivering and starving. Ash Ketchum rescues him and they become friends, but Charmander later evolves into Charizard and turns against Ash… for being too weak.

See, it’s this last bit that makes Charizard fun to think about. It’s along the same lines as when a bullied kid becomes a bully themselves in later life. If you're hurt you may grow up to hurt others. Despite Charmander’s loyalty to him, Damian doesn’t give a Rattata’s tail about him because Charmander is weak. Similarly, when Charmander is all grown up into a flamethrowing Charizard, he doesn’t care about the inferior Ash — no matter how fiercely loyal the lad may be.

Damian was obsessed with power, and, despite how much this hurts Charmander, the vulnerable Pokémon grows up to be obsessed with power too.

It’s surprisingly dark, and maybe not something that can be totally appreciated by Charizard, who is sort of a dumb animal. Nor by Ash, who is almost a dumb animal himself. But this sneakily adult story is there, and it makes sense.

For Charmander quickly becomes one of Ash’s favourite Pokémon. He often runs alongside his trainer, lights up caves for him, and is used regularly by him in battles — which, ironically, is how Charmander becomes so powerful and begins to supercede Ash’s skill level. Ash rescues, befriends and trains him, yet Charizard still turns against him, poisoned by his early memories with his first trainer Damian.

If you think about the early days of Charmander (later Charizard), you see that his arc is in many ways more compelling than Ash’s, and has an oddly realistic foundation with more psychological complexity than you’d expect from Pokémon. Charizard stands out in his own world; and that’s why he’s not only the best, but the very best, that no one ever was.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 7 January 2016

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