Pokémon is one of the most significant video game franchises in existence, with an ongoing anime, trading card game, merchandise, and much, much more to its credit. If you can think of something, Pikachu has likely already partaken in a marketing partnership with it.
Pokémon evolved into a multimedia wonder characterized by financial success. As such, branching into this vibrant world for my column was inevitable. …Well, actually, I did cover Mewtwo during my Nerd Underground days, but that one’s locked in the Source Gaming vault since it didn’t pass quality control.
And on the topic of Source Gaming, I need to thank a few of my peers for their help…
- Soma for, as always, translating Japanese materials into a language I understand, and for making sure I remained faithful to the statement’s original meaning.
- Wolfman_J for, as usual, helping with edits and offering valuable commentary.
- Delzethin for clarifying a point I should have explicitly worded more carefully regarding the timing of Sakurai’s selection of Greninja: “Based on how Sakurai explained the team’s decision process for Greninja, the late night he pulled figuring out moves and poses happened *before* Greninja was officially chosen, not after!”
Currently, there are 802 separate Pokémon, and they embody an incredible variety; different animals or objects, colors, elements… the variance is reminiscent of the real-world animal kingdom the series is inspired by. As everyone appreciates different qualities, each critter will resonate with people differently.
Thus, there will be a Pokémon that appeals to you. And, of course, some will become more popular than others, which brings us to today’s subject…
Greninja, the Ninja Pokémon. The ninth Pokémon listed in the Central Kalos Pokédex, and the 658th in the National Pokédex. However, unlike the last two installments in this series, Greninja isn’t my favorite representative from its franchise, but it’s up there! And, incidentally, Greninja claimed the top spot in Wolfman’s heart.
The Pokémon franchise has several rules and standards, many of which were pioneered by its foremost entries. However, while some of the generations are better regarded than others, all of them are a perfect gateway into the series. Whether you started traveling in Red and Blue or Sun and Moon, every game is welcoming and accessible to newcomers while providing veteran Pokémon Trainers with more of what they love.
One of the more well-known aspects in the series is the elemental triangle between the starter Pokémon: Grass, Fire, and Water. All core regions give out starters correlating to each of those three types, and beginning Trainers choose one of the three. Starter Pokémon always have two evolutions, too.
The professor of each region distributes the starter Pokémon, and every region has its own exclusive trio. Professor Sycamore greets newbies in Pokémon X and Y, where he presents you with three options: Chespin, Fennekin, and Froakie.
Shortly after starting Pokémon X or Y, players will select one of those three to become their partner. (Personally, I went with Fennekin as per my tradition of choosing the Fire-type. However, I pinned for the day when the aquatic animal would join my party.)
Froakie first evolves into Frogadier at Level 16. Later, upon reaching Level 36, another evolution occurs, which awards dedicated Trainers with a Greninja. Upon reaching the Greninja stage, the frog gains a secondary typing: Dark. Notably, Greninja’s model was leaked prior to the sixth generation’s release, which might’ve encouraged Trainers to choose the blue option.
Greninja has two signature moves befitting of its ninja motif. Water Shuriken (which, oddly, was a Physical attack before being changed in Pokémon Sun and Moon) is the more well-known technique. The defensive Mat Block is the other, and Greninja is presently the sole species capable of naturally learning it.
Torrent is the standard ability for Water-type starter Pokémon, and it’s the skill your average Greninja will know. Furthermore, every Pokémon has a Hidden Ability, with Greninja’s being the versatile Protean.
Unsurprisingly, Greninja would proceed to make several token showcasings in Pokémon spin-offs, including Super Mystery Dungeon, Battle Torezi, and Rumble World, as well as the Adventures manga. However, Greninja was hand-picked for an elusive honor.
Pokémon X and Y were released in 2013, and their pre-release period overlapped with that of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. While franchise representation in Smash can be a divisive issue among fans, demonstrated most recently with Corrin, certain franchises unquestionably deserve a newcomer. And, my friends and I agreed, Pokémon was big enough to justify at least one.
However, we never reached a consensus on whom it should be. One of us suggested Greninja, but it would feel awkward seeing it fighting solo, as Charizard, another starter, was tethered to the Pokémon Trainer back in Brawl. We also discoursed Zoroark, Hawlucha and that repugnant, pink disgrace to the Eevee lineage, although we were ultimately unsure who to root for.
Regardless, every Smash highlighted a Pokémon from the brand’s latest generation, so we took comfort in knowing a newcomer was likely coming.
Greninja was revealed alongside Charizard at the conclusion to the Smash-themed Direct that aired on April 8, 2014. Incidentally, Greninja is also the sole Smash Bros. combatant who debuted in 2013, the youngest before Corrin.
The presentation also revealed how the transformation mechanics were dispensed with, meaning Sheik and Zero Suit Samus were fighting solo. Upon that revelation, I recall thinking, “Well, okay, Greninja is a strong contender now that the Trainer will be gone.” During the video, I was also intrigued with the Substitute doll Sakurai had, although I didn’t focus on it too much at the time.
Sakurai’s rigging process for applicants isn’t a closely guarded secret, and the unique flair a character brings has been stressed as crucial. Furthermore, Sakurai has referenced how Pokémon’s selection process is influenced by what’s currently trending in the franchise. What Pokémon are starring in the anime? Which Pokémon will transcend their debut and become an enduring face for the brand?
Sakurai acknowledged how he refers to The Pokémon Company for input on which of their animals will remain topical, with anime and movie appearances being a point of consideration. Naturally, as X and Y hadn’t been released when the roster was decided, market research pertaining to them was unfeasible. However, Greninja was unsurprisingly accompanied by stages based on X and Y.
Sakurai planned on including a Pokémon from the then-latest generation. He discussed the matter with his team, and they eventually reached a consensus on Greninja. When Sakurai was made aware of it, all he had to work with were reference drawings. But that was enough to inspire him; that same day, Sakurai stayed awake until midnight to conceptualize Greninja. So, technically Greninja was listed in the infamous Gematsu leak, albeit as “Pokémon from X/Y.”
Once a fighter earns a place in the Smash Bros. family, it solidifies their role in history. To paraphrase myself, every character in Smash is someone’s favorite, and Greninja’s spot ensured its species will be fondly preserved for eternity. Anecdotally speaking, most of my associates who were illiterate in Pokémon took a liking to its newest personality, and those who were familiar were elated.
However, while Sakurai couldn’t have known at the time that Greninja would become the breakout star of X and Y, I believe Game Freak and The Pokémon Company always had high hopes for it. A Greninja had a miniscule role in the first XY movie, but Ash’s first catch in Kalos was…
In every series, one of Ash’s captures eclipses the rest, establishing itself as one of his de facto powerhouses. This role tends to be filled by starter Pokémon and, despite his poor track record with evolving Water-types, it seemed inevitable that his party would close with Greninja.
In fact, CoroCoro confirmed it ahead of time. As the XY anime was rebranded into XY&Z, it was revealed Ash and Greninja would harmonize into an exclusive transformation: Ash-Greninja. Additionally, this was foreshadowed in-universe. After his victory over Olympia, she informed Ash that his favorite frog would obtain a new, undocumented power. She also warned them of their forthcoming struggles.
Occasionally, Ash and his travelling companions crossed paths with Sanpei, who hailed from the Ninja Village. Ash eventually travelled to, and helped defend, the cleverly named suburb. In doing so, he miraculously instigated not only Frogadier’s evolution, but also something else…
Ash obtained his first Water-type ace! Plus, his Greninja instantaneously learned Water Shuriken, finalizing its moveset: Water Shuriken, Cut, Double Team, and Aerial Ace. Furthermore, this moment was a realization for Ash: there are numerous Greninjas across the land, but his alone was special.
Mega Evolutions were the major innovation of Pokémon X and Y, but Ash never obtained his own. Therefore, Ash would require something analogous to them as to not devalue the power the mechanic bestows. Ash-Greninja could thus be portrayed as on par with Mega Pokémon whilst giving our hero a one-of-a-kind trait.
Aside from the physical divergences between Greninja and Ash-Greninja, with the latter incorporating aspects of Ash’s appearance, the most notable differentiation is the enlarged Water Shuriken it keeps dangling on its back, although it took practice to materialize.
The melding between the Trainer and his Pokémon comes with a couple of quirks, as well as a drawback: all the pain Ash-Greninja suffers is incurred onto its Trainer. Sycamore’s research later yielded an explanation for the form change: this was the Bond Phenomenon, which occurs once a Pokémon’s connection to its Trainer has been maximized. Seldom few are born with the capacity to Bond, however.
During this period, Ash had sparring matches with his two XY rivals and Champion Diantha. Against the latter, while they certainly would’ve lost if the battle concluded properly, Ash and Greninja were able to momentarily hold their own and even gain the upper hand against a regional Champion – a first in Ash’s career.
That battle, however, began a losing streak for the two, with Ash’s matches against Sawyer and Alain ending in their favor. Afterwards, a demoralizing loss to Wulfric sent Ash and Greninja spiraling into a depression.
Ultimately, both parties were shouldering insecurities over their mutual inability to manage the form. It took the two confessing this to each other in a moment of reconciliation to begin the catalyst for its mastering.
Ash-Greninja was our protagonist’s trump card throughout the remainder of the region, with the heroic frog earning Ash his victory over Wulfric. This continued into the Kalos League, where they defeated Sawyer’s Mega Sceptile in the semifinals.
Ash’s friends and Team Rocket anticipated his League victory, his first League victory. The Pokémon Company promoted the frog’s involvement, even supplying it with an AMV. But, regardless, Ash lacked the strength to surmount his true greatest foe: the status quo.
Ash and Greninja took it well, whereas their fans were (understandably) disappointed. Aito Ohashi, one of the show’s animators, tweeted how he believed it would’ve been nice for Ash to win a League for once. It’s an anime for kids, they should be allowed to dream.
Regardless of another loss plaguing their record, they still had key roles to play in the Team Flare arc. Ash-Greninja actively participated, utilizing its intuition and Water Shurikens. And after Lysandre was
killed defeated, everyone who helped was awarded a commemorative Ribbon.
However, Greninja still had more work ahead of it: Lysandre’s plot left behind negative energy across Kalos, which only it was sensitive to. Both Zygardes emerged to explain the situation and asked for its help in purging the world of the corrosive matter.
As a higher beckoning was calling, they parted ways. Ash’s Greninja made its last appearance in XY’s final episode, where it continued its duty while both Zygardes sat on a branch and watched. Will Ash and Greninja ever be reunited someday?
Nevertheless, the Ash-Greninja form has bleed over into Pokémon spin-offs, such as Tretta and Shuffle. An Ash-Greninja stage could also be unlocked in Pokémon Picross through a password. Plus, cards spanning the four-tier Greninja genealogy are collectable in the trading card game.
And Greninja, in fact, holds another unique honor: Japanese fans named it their highest-rated Pokémon in June 2016. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that the species was about to get another big push, this time for the upcoming Pokémon Sun and Moon.
The Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon Special Demo Version was announced prior to the release of the complete games. While its short scenario is “a separate journey outside the events of the actual game,” it does reference the anime’s continuity. Upon starting the demo, Sun receives a letter from an unknown sender. It comes bundled with a Greninja bearing a new ability: Battle Bond.
Looking through the Greninja’s info brings forth a few interesting details concerning the specimen’s backstory:
- Ash is named as his original Trainer.
- Greninja had a fated encounter with him in the Kalos region.
- Greninja’s ID number, 131017, references the original airdate of the second XY episode: October 17, 2013. This was when Greninja, then a Froakie, joined Ash’s team.
- He’s decorated with a special Ribbon.
- Finally, his moveset closely mirrors Ash’s Greninja’s. The one difference is the absence of Cut, which was dropped for Night Slash. (This was a positive tweak, however; now, players have access to a move that takes advantage of Greninja’s secondary typing, and Cut is weaker than Night Slash in-game.)
Upon knocking out an opposing Pokémon during battle, Greninja’s Battle Bond automatically activates, spurring the change into Ash-Greninja. The frog gains several positive stat changes, with Water Shuriken gaining its own enhancements.
Best of all, Greninja (along with a few other rewards you can earn) can be transferred to Sun or Moon. In the demo, Greninja’s nature is preset as Hardy, but it gets reassigned when it migrates. As Greninja isn’t native to Alola, importing from the demo or the sixth generation titles is currently the only way to obtain one in Sun and Moon.
Anyway, have you enjoyed your time with the seventh generation? My fellow Source Gaming members did, as did I, and I’m eager to see how it progresses in its next installment. Will Pokémon aim for the stars, or does Game Freak have some kind of curveball planned?
Nevertheless, we do know this: Pokémon are never forgotten. Sure, they lose some of the limelight as new species are discovered, but every Pokémon has its fans, and they all will continue to participate in the franchise.
Greninja, of the seemingly infinite amount of Pokémon, has enjoyed strong future proofing in particular, and I’m optimistic it has secured itself as a perennial face for the brand.
So, what’re my thoughts on Greninja?
While I joined the Source Gaming team this past October, I actually have a history of interjecting myself into this website’s affairs. In March 2016, PushDustIn, NantenJex, ConnerEatsPants, and NintenDaan held a special SourceCast in honor of Pokémon’s milestone anniversary and the then-upcoming Sun and Moon. Fans were allowed to submit their questions via Twitter, which attracted a nice assortment by the time the group recorded the show.
And I, too, had an inquiry:
— Matt "Cart Boy" Reisine (@LegendCartBoy) February 27, 2016
My phenomenal vision sadly went unappreciated, but I brought up a very good point: I prefer Charizard to Blastoise and Venusaur. After all, I generally consider the Fire-type starters to be the coolest in their respective trios.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Cart Boy, you have excellent taste, but how does this relate to Greninja?” Well, friends, Greninja marked a historic moment for the franchise: it’s the first time I preferred the fully-evolved Water starter to its peers.
This, of course, is partially because of Greninja’s stylish makeshift tongue-scarf, which also adds a nice compliment to its standard coloration as well as its shiny variant.
One of the first things that caught my eye with Greninja was how it was lithe and mobile, in sharp contrast to its five predecessors. I’m not burdened with grudges against bulkier Pokémon designs, some of the more sizable critters are among my favorites, but it was nice to finally have a Water starter evolve into an aerodynamic figure, especially after Black and White gave us the blander, jack of all trades Samurott. Discounting Sceptile’s Mega Evolution, Greninja is even the starter with the highest base speed in the franchise, not just among the Water-type ones.
Tying into its slender anatomy is its theme. Greninja is the quintessential ninja, and ninjas are cool. It’s an aesthetic with a universal appeal. I’ve harbored a fondness for the archetype since I was exposed to it via Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
And the above facets directly influence the fundamental reason Greninja catapulted itself into my heart: it’s useful. In its home series, it has a relatively diverse movepool to draw from, which adds merit to its invaluable Hidden Ability. Most Pokémon are stuck with their Arceus-given type(s), but Protean can cause Greninja to instantly shift into any of the 18 elements.
Online rankings are posted for posterity, with Greninja placing well at the time of X and Y. This has remained true during Sun and Moon where, as of this writing, Greninja is currently the ninth most commonly used Pokémon. Game Freak clearly did something right when designing this particular Pocket Monster.
I don’t compete competitively, but playing (and occasionally winning) with my Greninja through clever use of its talents was rewarding. (If you’re curious, his name is Amphinobi and he has perfect IVs.) And, outside of its natural habitat, Greninja is fun to goof around with in Smash. It’s not my preferred choice if I’m actively trying to play seriously, but I enjoy seeing proficient Smashers use it.
In fact, a recent Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournament, the Greninja Saga, emphasised the frog as its thematic inspiration. As usual, a wide array of characters appeared, with many of the world’s top Greninja mains present as well. The event accentuated how in a roster of diverse fighter archetypes, Greninja is completely unlike anyone else – even its fellow ninja, Sheik.
Greninja’s viability was also reflected in the anime, given its stature as Ash’s requisite regional ace. Incidentally, I’m not as fond of Ash-Greninja’s design; while the fundamentals are the same, I feel like the Ash-themed accents detract from Greninja’s elegance. Regardless, some of its battles were kind of fun to watch:
For what it’s worth, one could argue Greninja usurped the #1 spot in Ash’s tier list from his Charizard. If not, Greninja’s still irrevocably one of Ash’s strongest Pokémon. I imagine this helped endear plenty of kids towards its species.
So, in conclusion, Greninja’s design is distinctive and appealing, I like its ninjitsu aesthetic, it’s viable and fun to use, and it was entertaining to watch in animation. My biggest nitpick is how its English voice gets kind of annoying. Greninja’s foreign names are cooler, too, but that’s why we can nickname our Pokémon.
Greninja’s introduction was the first time I favored the Water starter over its co-stars. For me, that’s quite an achievement! But more importantly, this Pokémon appealed to many more Trainers. In a franchise where the majority of its most iconic creatures hail from its monochromatic installments for the Game Boy, the amphibian earned its place as a modern mascot. Let’s hope it gets tenured in Smash.
Congratulations, Greninja! Heart’s pounding, Challenger!
Who will I discourse next, you ask? Whereas it took me until the completion of my Metal Sonic doctorate to choose Greninja, I decided upon the character for the next episode rather quickly, and it’s about time too.
And this time, he’s in the mood!
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