Personality & Development: Ash's Squirtle

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Reviewing the characterization of anime Pokémon
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  • Saturday, May 28, 2011

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This column has been written by Thomas Smithurst. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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Ash's Squirtle: boring, emotionless, Kanto plot device Pokémon... No, that's not how this column works, all Pokémon that have been on the main cast have showed personality and undergone development. Squirtle being caught in only the twelfth episode had a great amount of time to establish itself as a character, and has just as complex of a characterization as Pikachu.

Squirtle's gang

The first time we saw Squirtle was looking up from a pitfall trap that Ash and the gang had fallen into. He stood there with his gang wearing sharp and cool sunglasses, indicating he was the leader. Officer Jenny later explained that the five Squirtle had all been abandoned by their Trainers and had since been causing trouble for everyone they could. As best as I can describe it, the Squirtle, who had all lost their attachment figures (Trainers) were all fixated at the first stage of detachment; protest. Of course my talk of attachment refers to young beings. Although I already pulled this with Pikachu, I'd suggest Squirtle was in fact quite young at the time of its capture and was in desperate need of attention, which was exactly what he and his gang were seeking as they rebelled against humans. When faced with human contact, he flat-out told Meowth that he trusts no humans. This is understandable when you consider John Bowlby's evolutionary explanations theory of attachment. The theory states that a child will make its own internal working model of attachment based of its primary attachment, so if Squirtle had a poor relationship with its original Trainer, it will always expect to have a poor relationship with any other Trainer, so it is truly the fault of the Trainers that these Squirtle behaved like such common criminals and resented any human contact or affection.

What makes the one in the middle the leader?

Almost forty years ago from now, a man named Leonard Bickman investigated how uniform can affect obedience. He took to the streets and asked random people to perform simple tasks; for example, “Pick up that litter and put it in the bin”. He recorded how many people obeyed him while he was wearing an official looking uniform and how many people obeyed him without the uniform. Naturally, many more people obeyed him while he was wearing the uniform, despite not knowing who he was or what the uniform symbolised. Since Pokémon do not often have clothes of their own, it is understandable that a Pokémon wearing anything at all would receive the same respect a human wearing a uniform would. So the Squirtle Squad command respect from other Pokémon through their sunglasses and Squirtle leads the squad by wearing his extra cool sunglasses. Squirtle has often put his sunglasses back on throughout the series and seems to get a boost in confidence while he is wearing them, similar to another sunglasses-wearing reptilian Pokémon, appearing in the recent Best Wishes! series.

The Squirtle Squad was almost exactly the same as a common gang of human yobs. A woman named Lacey identified how such anti-society subcultures were created. She observed that when pupils in a school were labelled and stereotyped they tended to act accordingly with how the authority figure labelled them. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, and in the Squirtle Squad's case it became a vicious cycle. After their Trainers abandoned them, they may have done something bad—break a window, flood a circus, whatever—but with each bad thing they did, they would have been labelled as trouble makers and unruly Pokémon. Because of the self-fulfilling prophecy they believed what everyone was saying and caused even more trouble. After his capture, Squirtle mellowed down quite a bit but still built rivalries quickly (like with Snubbull and Wartortle), and still proved to be quite inconsiderate at times such as when he told the insensitive joke about Ash and co being eaten by the giant Pokémon, regardless of the fact it would scare the others.

Ash is not the only one with recurring rivals

While Squirtle has expressed no rejection of evolution, he has been shown to resent other turtle Pokémon and be keen to prove his strength against them. When he met Team Wartortle, a group of fire-fighting Pokémon who were considered heroes, Squirtle immediately proved himself as a hero. This eventually led to the peak of Squirtle's development where it rejoined the Squirtle Squad and left Ash to become a full-time fire-fighter like it originally would have done if it did not tag along with Ash.

Who is that riding on Squirtle?

One more important relationship Squirtle had and perhaps the sweetest, was his friendship with Bulbasaur. Their friendship was put into the anime very discreetly, having not been too notable until the goodbye between the two of them was focused on before Squirtle left and when he returned for the Silver Conference, the two instantly began playing with each other, while Misty commented that it was great to see them together again since they are such good friends. However, Squirtle and Bulbasaur were often together in the early anime, sitting next to each other as they eat or standing together while Ash spoke to them. While this cannot be explained by some weird psychological theory, it proves Squirtle has feelings as a character and that the writers always intended for him to be a character, rather than a plot device.

So like Pikachu, Squirtle is a complex character that nobody quite understood in full. Still don't believe the Pokémon get personality and development? My upcoming columns will change your mind, for I intend on showing these characters off to the fullest because if anything the writers need to have their hard work shown to all viewers including those that don't think about it enough to come to the conclusions I do.

Personality & Development
By Thomas Smithurst
Ash's PikachuAsh's SquirtleAsh's BulbasaurAsh's Charizard
Misty's PsyduckMisty's HorseaMeowthMisty's Togetic