Over the years there have been tons of Pokémon Theories: Are Ditto failed attempts at cloning Mew? Has Ash been in a coma this whole time and that’s why he doesn’t age? Are humans and Pokémon actually related? Whether video game or anime, fans have struggled to fill in the gaps and explain those things left unexplained by the creators. Obviously these theories rarely – if ever – get confirmed, but they’re still incredibly fun ways to look back upon these games with new understanding and appreciation.
As you can imagine, some theories are better than others; but there is one in particular that still manages to capture our imaginations even 15 years later. Some would even call this the ORIGINAL Poke-Theory. I’m of course talking about The Kanto War.
The Kanto War Theory:
Kanto as many of you may – or may not know – is the land of the original 151 Pokémon (Red & Blue Versions). In a world where children are allowed to go on grand adventures and most male adults you meet are either gym leaders, technicians or involved in organized crime, fans initially reasoned that at some point in the not too distant past there was a massive war in Kanto. This idea got a lot of support thanks to many in-game characters seeming paranoid, as well as you yourself not having a father and your rival being an orphan.
This was of course all circumstantial, but things changed as you challenged the Vermillion City Gym Leader – Lt Surge – to a battle. At first he mocks that “you won’t live long in combat!”; but that could easily mean Pokémon battles. It’s his next line that sparked the Pokémon War Theory in full and made all those other pieces come together
Since this line, people have long since imagined what a Pokémon War would look like: Pidgeot carrying Electrodes like bombs, Golem as rolling tanks, the ideas go on and on. Although, there is surprisingly one question very few have ever asked: What was the war about? Was it a Civil War? If not, then WHO was the war with?
My Thesis is that not long before the original Red/Blue version, there was a massive War in which Kanto tried to annex Johto. I will then go about proving this by looking at the Original 190 Pokémon – no, that’s not a typo –, Pokémon League, regional knowledge, architecture, Saffron City Gyms and the timeline between the Generations I & II games.
Evidence #1: Why Johto? – The Pre-History Of Generation II:
With Pokémon currently on it’s 6th Generation of games, there’s no shortage of regions Kanto could have hypothetically battled. Some claim the war was with Hoenn (Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire) and Mewtwo was the result of scientist trying to find a way to battle Deoxys. Others claim it was with Kalos (Pokémon XY) because that region is based off of France and in a prior game (Pokémon HeartGold/ SoulSilver) Lt Surge eventually offers to trade you a “French Pikachu”.
Both of these theories – while interesting – ultimately fall short due to their subjects (Generations III and VI respectively) differing greatly from Generation I in not only timing, but also stylistically. IF there was ever an idea of a War in Kanto, it would have to be with a region that went hand in hand with Pokémon since the very beginning – and that is Johto!
Of all the Pokémon Games, Generation I & II are truly the only two to go hand in hand as original and sequel. After you defeated the Elite Four in Generation II, you then got to travel to Kanto and defeat all of those Gym Leaders until you finally faced Red – the protagonist/Champion from Generation I. Johto – and Generation II as a whole – is all about expanding the story of Kanto; but what if I told you this partnership began even before Generation II?
In the first episode of the Anime, Ash sees an early adaptation of the mythical Generation II Pokémon Ho-Oh. Though if you want to only deal with the video games, then take a closer look at Missigno’s true purpose. That’s right! The pixelated L-shaped glitch Pokémon was never intended to multiply items or cause your game to go crazy if captured. “Missigno” was actually short for Missing Number; and after inspecting Pokédex Index Numbers, we realize that Missigno was the placeholders for 39 different Pokémon left out of the final version. These 39 additional Pokémon would later appear in Generation II – and in some cases the corresponding Missigno’s even transformed into their original Pokémon forms when traded into a Generation II game.
In fact, this whole idea of there originally being 190 Pokémon in Generation I started as a theory too! This theory turned into fact one day when Game Designer and Programmer Shigeki Morimoto confirmed that there was originally 39 additional Pokémon set to appear in Generation I, but they decided to leave for a later game. Since the VERY beginning – in both anime and video game – the seeds and connections of Johto were planted. So if Kanto was going to have a twisted pre-history with any region, it might as well have been the one it was always intertwined with.
Evidence #2: Shared Government – The Pokémon League Connection:
Ok, so we know Kanto and Johto are connected in at least a coexisting sense, but how do we know these two actually went to war? After all, these two regions do share a Pokémon League… Wait, how can two different regions share a Pokémon League? Yes, now we’ve come to know that all regions have some form of Pokémon League, but as I showed in the previous section, Johto and Kanto’s stories were intertwined from the start – long before Hoenn, Sinoh, Unova and Kalos were ever though up. But even if we did include them, the fact remains that all of these regions have THEIR OWN Pokémon League and Champion – more on this in the next section. If this truly is THE Pokémon League then there would be one League and Champion for all. And as we learn in Generation II, there is one League, and Red is THE Champion. So how does this happen?
In the anime, you must go for your Pokémon Trainer’s License and receive your Pokédex – both issued by the Pokémon League and can be revoked by the Police for criminal activity. Considering all this, these items serve as a form of Government ID, which would make the Pokémon League a form of government. Additionally, we have to remember that the Gym Leaders are selected by the Pokémon League; but not simply as ‘Leader’s, but also as ‘leaders of their town. In the games we see many times where Gym Leaders deal with official happenings. In fact, in Generation II we even find Lance – the head of the Elite Four – traveling to Johto for official Pokémon League business regarding Team Rocket? How does Lance have any jurisdiction in Johto? The answer is of course because the same Pokémon League governs both regions. As to how this deal was set up, I’ll save that for ‘The War Ends’ section at the end.
Evidence #3: Knowledge Of Pokémon – 151 vs 251 vs 700+:
Even if Hoenn, Sinoh, Unova and Kalos all have their own ‘regional’ Pokémon Leagues, these leagues aren’t connected by anything else. If they were, then each would have knowledge of other regional Pokémon from the start. That would mean the Pokémon League – the people who pick gym leaders, etc – would converse with others all around the world and know everything about the other region’s Pokémon. There would be no need for scientists like Prof Oak or Birch. This proves that Johto’s and Kanto’s League is a self-contained one; but that’s not all the Knowledge of Pokémon proves.
Similarly, how do we know Kanto annexed Johto and these two weren’t originally one in the same land? Perhaps the war before Generation I was a War of Secession and Johto separated from Kanto? Well for starters, this idea won’t work out because IF Johto and Kanto were once a shared land, then Kanto would have certainly known about more than 150 Pokémon. Sure a select few (travelers and war veterans) could have seen some undeniable Pokémon, but – as we saw in Generation I and Anime Season 1 – any actual knowledge of these mysterious Pokémon was purely theoretical at best. Though the greatest evidence for it being a War of Annexation over Secession lies in their drastically different aesthetics and architecture.
Evidence #4: Architectural Inconsistencies – Industrialization vs Tradition:
Kanto is full of sprawling cities, huge buildings, Power Plants, cycling roads, museums, aquariums… the list goes on. Now think about Johto – REALLY think about it. Johto is a land of deep rich traditions: dragon caves, kimono girls, sacred wood towers, and a dairy farm. Aside from a lighthouse and Goldenrod City – which I’ll get to in a second – the majority of Johto is small old fashion houses. Whereas Kanto is a land that has fully embraced industrialization, Johto remains true to its centuries old traditions. So what about highly industrialized Goldenrod City?
As we learned in the last section, Kanto set up its Indigo Plateau League after conquering Johto; but most likely wasn’t all. Goldenrod City is the pinnacle of architecture, advancement and aesthetic beauty in Johto – all of which are in contrast to Johto’s overall humble nature. The description for this city even calls it a “developing city”, which means it’s certainly a recent addition. As a sign of good faith and progress, Kanto could have constructed Goldenrod City in order to bring Johto into the current times. Even the Gym Leader herself Whitney is shown to be a relative newcomer who was selected as Gym Leader by the Elite Four due to her beauty and skill – contrary to all other Gym Leaders of Johto being selected for their long standing knowledge, power and heritage. There’s a bit more to this Goldenrod tale, but – again – those will be discussed further in ‘The War Ends’ section at the end.
Evidence #5: Dark Fears – Expanding Upon The Saffron City Gym Dispute:
When most people look back at the original Generation 1 games and think of ‘town drama’, they’ll probably think of the break-in at Cerulean City, the Pokémon Tower hauntings of Lavender Town, the Game Corner trickery of Celadon City, etc. So what if I’d mention Saffron City? Chances are you’d pick the Silph Co takeover by Team Rocket; but what if I told you there was another story in this town?
Unlike most other towns in Kanto – and any of the Pokémon Regions – there are two Gyms in Saffron City, an official Psychic Type one and a sub gym of Fighting Types. We aren’t told much about why this is, but for whatever reason these two gyms once competed to become the official gym of Saffron City. Considering the vast superiority of Psychic Types over Fighting Types, it seems ridiculous that a Fighting Gym could EVER think it had a fair chance of competing for town superiority. There must be more to the story. There must be some reason a Fighting Type gym though itself just as important – if not more so – than a Psychic Type gym. And the answer to that question could lie in a War with Johto and their Dark Type Pokémon.
In Generation I, Psychic Type Pokémon were just as powerful – if not more so – than the famed Dragon-Types considering they only had one weakness and reduced effectiveness against one other type. This changed drastically when Dark types were introduced in Generation II who were not only strong against Psychic Type Pokémon, but were also completely unaffected by Psychic attacks. Besides the weakness to Bug Types – a Type that hadn’t received much support at that time – Dark Types could only be combated by one Type – you guess it – Fighting!
The advent of Dark Type Pokémon would explain why a Fighting Type Gym would have felt it deserved just as much recognition as a Psychic Type Gym. Physic Types might crush Fighting Types, but in the war Psychic Types would have been almost completely worthless against these unknown threats of Johto’s Dark Type Pokémon. Fighting Type Pokémon on the other hand would have handled them with ease.
Oddly enough, this idea of Dark Pokémon giving Johto an advantage in the War sheds some new light on past pieces of evidence. What if all the paranoid people and those warning of ‘dangers around every corner’ did so because they saw the might of Dark Type Pokémon? This could even add more meaning to Lt Surge’s words about how Electric Pokémon saved him during the war. Imagine Lt Surge and his team stranded in the dark woods with Dark Pokémon closing in all around them. Electric Pokémon could LITERALLY shed some light on the situation and prevent sneak attacks, while also paralyzing these shifty foes.
All In fact, this Fighting Gym explanation is only strengthened when we also take into consideration the other Type-addition of Generation II – Steel Type Pokémon. Steel Type Pokémon were resistant to not only Psychic Types, but also countless others. These Pokémon would have been virtual tanks! The only real weaknesses they possess are Fighting, Fire and Ground. This again supports why a Fighting Type Gym thought itself very worthy of recognition. Additionally, it’s also important to point out that the two remaining Types ‘strong’ against Steel Types – Fire and Ground – were also the specialties of the last two Kanto Gym Leaders (Blaine and Giovanni). If those two got regards for helping end the Kanto War, then surely the Fighting Gym deserved the same respect. Sadly though, when push came to shove, their competition (the Psychic Type Gym) just happened to be Super Effective against them.
The War Ends – Timeline and Unease In Victory
Whether the war was dragged out or brutally quick, a Peace Treaty would have been signed to stop the fighting. With Johto more concerned with preserving its traditions and way of life, they probably accepted Kanto’s Government only upon the condition of reserving some autonomy – which makes sense considering Johto kept its name and wasn’t fully absorbed into Kanto. So what were the details of this Peace Treaty? Well we’ve already touched upon some of them.
For starters, Kanto and Johto would co-finance Goldenrod City, which would bring Johto into the modern day. Sure it would be quite the disconnect from the rest of Johto, but the shops, lights and technological advancements could serve them well. This city would also serve as the bridging point of connection between the two Regions – as shown by the Monorail and Professor Oak’s guest radio program. And in this town the Pokémon League could appoint one of its 8 new Gym Leaders –newcomer Whitney. The other 7 Gym Leaders would have been decided by Johto itself, explaining why each Gym Leader is an expert in their field and/or comes from a long line of influential people – thus keeping the spirit of tradition alive. Additionally, these Gym Leaders would have a say in the Pokémon League itself – ie: have a vote. Though despite all these favorable terms, hard feelings still persisted on both ends.
The memories of war wouldn’t have faded over night. If this war took place before Gen I, then – again – everyone would have known about the Johto Pokémon. This means that even after the war, both regions kept largely to themselves. Many probably didn’t even know what the outcome of the war was, simply that it was over. This explains why even though the war was over, communications didn’t truly start until Gen II – 3 years later as we learned in the Multiverse Article. After all, how could these once enemies forgive and forget the past? So what finally helped bridge the communication gap between Johto and Kanto? Well, a large part of it was YOU the player – or more specifically, a boy named Gold.
Pokémon Generation II was a lot more than just the story of a boy named Gold becoming the Pokémon League Champion. It is the story of a boy from JOHTO who becomes the Pokémon League Champion. The Pokémon League – a Kanto creation – has now been defeated by a boy from Johto. To make things even more poetic, rather than remain home he continues on to Kanto and takes on all of their Gym Leaders until he finally goes to take on THE Champion himself, Red. This Cinderella story would have be huge for both regions and shown that these two lands could work as one. After all, if a kid from Johto can work with the brightest mind in Kanto (Professor Oak), fight alongside the Leader of the Elite Four (Lance) and then become sparring partners with the Pokémon League Champion (Red) – all while helping out various people in Kanto as well – then Johto and Kanto can truly work together for a better tomorrow and put the horrors of the Kanto/Johto War Of Annexation behind them.
As I said at the start of this article, the fun of Poké-Theories is that they allow us to revisit things so pivotal to our childhoods and get a chance to reexamine them all these years later. We might have beaten the games and captured all 251 Pokémon, but thanks to Poké-Theory, we can keep finding new stories in the wonderful world of Pokémon!
And who knows, perhaps one day Shigeki Morimoto or someone else will confirm this Kanto/Johto War Theory? Either way, there’s one thing we can all agree on: We’d pay BIG MONEY for a game about a Pokémon War.
– I’m here if you need me Nintendo 😉
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, sound off in the comments below! And stay tuned for our next Poké-Theory article.