Every Absurd Question We Had While Watching ‘Detective Pikachu’
Detective Pikachu's Ryme City isn't the paradise it seems but a mirage hiding a late-capitalist hell. So why don't the Pokémon overthrow the humans?
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is just as bizarre as you’d expect a live-action animated Pokémon neo-noir children’s movie starring Rita Ora to be. Needless to say, we have a lot of questions about the film’s fun but confusing world.
— Spoilers for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu abound. But honestly, do you really care? —
Set mostly in Ryme City, Detective Pikachu sketches out a utopia where Pokémon fighting is outlawed so that humans and Pokémon can live as equals and in harmony. But, of course, it’s at risk of being turned corrupt, as a mysterious substance called ‘R’ threatens to turn Pokémon crazed, violent and dangerous.
What follows is a detective thriller shot on film — it’s an enjoyable mess of influences. It’s also stunning: the hazy neon lights of Ryme City resemble more than a passing glance to Blade Runner‘s semi-dystopic Los Angeles, though it’s populated with cuddly Snorlax, majestic Growlithes and icky Lickitungs.
Oh, and there’s an amnesiac talking detective Pikachu — the only Pokémon who can talk to humans, bar Mewtwo — trying to hunt down his missing partner alongside his partner’s son. All-in-all, a children’s film with a lot of threads asking to be pulled.
With this in mind, we’re asking the questions we need to be answered by Ryan Reynolds, Mario Mario and Mr. Mime. As we get deeper, it seems that Ryme City isn’t a paradise but a mirage, hiding a late-capitalist hell.
Is Detective Pikachu‘s Diplo Different From Our World’s Diplo?
It was truly a shock to see Bill Nighy in this film, but I gasped when I saw Diplo DJ’ing at the illegal underground Pokémon fight club (side-note: isn’t this film truly wild?).
— ZengYifei (@ZengYifei327) May 12, 2019
In the film’s credits, Diplo is credited as playing himself — albeit a Pokémon universe dopplgänger. Given what we scientifically know of dopplegängers thanks to Twin Peaks, I can only assume the Pokémon Diplo is a refraction of the real world Diplo.
This Diplo is less dapper than the Diplo we know: his outfit is comparatively slovenly, uninspired. As is the music — but this Diplo isn’t headlining festivals but playing for crime syndicates, assumedly still working on his craft. We hope he escapes this shadowy world and finds himself in the main-stage lights soon. Maybe after the film’s end, where ‘R’ is removed from the streets, he will have no choice but to shoot for the stars.
Detective Pikachu the best film to star Diplo, Rita Ora and Psyduck
— N*I*C*K (@catchdini) May 12, 2019
Wait, Is ‘R’ Meth? ‘R’ Is Meth, Right?
At the film’s climax, we learn that the purple gas which drives Pokémon mad is being harvested from Mewtwo, who is captured against his will. It’s truly inhumane, Soylent Green stuff.
While you at-first might imagine ‘R’ to be an equivalent to steroids, its powers far outweigh a few extra muscles and some back pimples. After the sheer genuine terror I felt at the scene where the city’s Pokémon began to mercilessly turn on their human partners, I have determined that ‘R’ is obviously a stand-in for meth. It’s even brightly coloured, too.
Is Ryme City A Refuge For Pokémon Trying To Escape The Brutality Of Trainers?
If Ryme City is one of few places in the Pokémon universe where Pokémon battles are outlawed, is it a place of asylum for Pokémon?
Think of the Cubone we meet at the film’s beginning, innocently minding its own business in a piece of leafy green. As is canon, Cubone is a lonely Pokémon, traumatised by its mother’s death to the point it wears her skull.
Do we think a Cubone has any interest in being Tim’s battle-beast? They could bond over both being orphans, but Tim doesn’t provide this context — he is not trying to create a ‘chosen family’, but enslave an animal to fight for him.
Surely Pokémon congregate to Ryme City to escape the constant fear of being captured and potentially forced to injure the very Pokémon they grew up with. But, when they arrive, can they breathe easy? Or does the torture merely continue?
Is Ditto The World’s Most Dangerous Pokémon?
i really hope i get to be in detective pikachu. i’m super good at mystery solving.
— ditto (@dittodoingstuff) November 14, 2018
We learn that Ditto can assume the form of humans — mostly that of model Suki Waterhouse, though they’re proven to be pretty flexible beings. Surely this is often used for international and interpersonal subterfuge?
Would Dittoes exist on a registry as to keep track of them, and who may be using them for crime?
But that raises a bigger questions: is a Pokémon responsible for its own behaviour in a court of law, or are they effectively the property of their partner?
How Do You ‘Pair’ With A Pokémon?
In Ryme City, every human has a Pokémon partner who seemingly follows them through the world. It isn’t clear when the pairing is made, though it’s implied via the surprise at Tim’s lack of partner that you get one in your late teens, perhaps when you’re of age. We can only wildly speculate that it involves some sort of occult ceremony.
The real hero of Detective Pikachu was the dad sitting in front of us politely saying "Oh really? Cool!" while his son detailed the types and evolutions of every single Pokémon on screen
— Ste JM 🚊🛰🐦 (@stejormur) May 12, 2019
The question, of course, is how do you pick your Pokémon? Is it a courting procedure? Do you buy it? What are these Pokémon doing while they don’t have owners? Are they being carefully bred alongside census data, to ensure a 1:1 ratio? Or are the extra Pokémon simply discarded — either back into the wild beyond the city’s walls, or something far more sinister?
If You Die, Does Your Pokémon Find A New Partner? How?
As a follow-on, if you die, is your Pokémon simply re-entered into this courtship/marketplace system? Or will they have aged out of the system, and be forced to live forever widowed — again, discounted to the fringes of society, unable to work and make a living?
Wait, So Every Single Cleaner In The Final Scene Had The Same Pokémon?
In the final scene — the parade — we see a clump of the same Pokémon who then all transform into a series of street sweepers/cleaners/parade workers.
After the film, this sat uneasy with me. If Pokémon aren’t partnered purely by platonic courtship, does your job determine your Pokémon? Or your Pokémon determine your job? Or is there a class element to the pairings, in which the highest of the high get to pick, but the working class only have a few options?
When The Pokémon And Humans Merged, Where Did The Pokémon Go?
There was no struggle within the Pokémon when the humans were forced into their bodies. The only sense we get of the Pokémon being aware or present for the union is when Lucy (Kathryn Newton) comforts her Psyduck and says “let’s never do that again” before they hug, happy the ordeal is over.
Could the two communicate inside the body? When Mewtwo wiped Pikachu’s memory to keep Harry alive, he effectively destroys one consciousness, or merges them. Harry, in Pikachu’s body, is aware of himself purely as a Pikachu, but is not Pikachu, since he is Harry.
This film is not equipped to discuss dualism. Someone get Dr. Ann Laurent (Rita Ora) on this, stat!
Pokémon Have Jobs, But Do They Make Money? Do They Need Money?
Early in the film, it’s explained that Pokémon help make their partner’s lives easier, which, in most cases, seems to mean they also work. A cleaner has a Squirtle spray water; Detective Hideo Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) has a Snubbull who effectively plays bad cop. Machamp directs traffic. It’s very cute — or is it?
detective pikachu was great but I just want like 3 hours of watching Pokémon do normal shit. more machamp directing traffic
— Lucy Valentine (@LucyXIV) May 13, 2019
Putting aside the murky ethics of pairing these Pokémon and whether they’re consenting to the act, are these Pokémon paid for their labour? And if they are, what do they spend it on?
We see Pikachu enjoy a cup of coffee — and while yes, it’s a human-Pikachu hybrid, it’s notable that the waiters don’t seem to find it odd. So, perhaps they do have money, and spend it on Java and other frivolities. Which they should, as they deserve to enjoy their life, But their lack of autonomy over their careers and lives seems to restrict them. We struggle to imagine any sort of fair wage system taking place.
Will The Pokémon Rise Up And Overthrow The Weak Humans?
In the 1700s, philosophers like John Locke, Kant and Thomas Hobbes outlined ‘social contract theory’, which examined why humans submit to a nation or community’s laws and inhibit their own freedom.
On a basic level, they identify how, by-birth, we submit to basic moral and lawful codes of the society we’re in. The issue is that we do so without consent, and then are trained to believe in a mandated idea of bad and good which we live by without question.
While you can (in theory) reject the social contract and live outside of our world as we know it, to do so is to give up the stability of our world (in theory) — fundamental things, like respect of possession ownership, the right to live, order and transactions of goods.
But Pokémon are unable to communicate with humans, which further complicates the social contract. How could they ever enter it consensually? And would each species opt-in, or would Pokémon act as a cohesive unit?
What do Pokémon even truly get out of this contract? As beings, they are more powerful than humans, and could easily create their own world in which we are their partners — or don’t exist at all.
Vive la résistance! Workers of the world, unite! Rise like Rita Ora’s Phoenix!
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is in cinemas now.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and his first-ever CD was the soundtrack for Pokémon: The First Movie. Follow him on Twitter.