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The cult of Popplio was created to defend, cherish Pokémon’s divisive monster

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Stop the hate

Pokémon Sun and Moon screenshots The Pokémon Company

When Popplio was first announced as one of three starter Pokémon available for players to choose from in Pokémon Sun and Moon, the response wasn’t great.

On May 10, when Rowlet, Litten and Popplio were announced, the internet was quick to point out that unlike the adorable owl with a bowtie (or bikini top, depending on who you asked) and the cute kitten, a large group of people couldn’t stop mocking the clown seal.

It wasn’t just people on Twitter, either. Shortly after the starters were revealed, Polygon published a post asking different writers and editors who their preferred Pokémon was. Echoing Twitter and Reddit, most were undoubtedly in favor of Rowlet, with Polygon’s social media manager proclaiming, “Popplio is a shitty, nominal derivative of Piplup, who is the most adorable thing to grace the planet. Popplio has a lot of things wrong with it, but maybe it's not Popplio's fault that Popplio looks like a secondhand child clown.”

In fact, the hate for Popplio was so overwhelming online, that if you do a search on Twitter for Pokémon-related tweets on May 10, there are an abundance of people proclaiming that they were confused over why so many players hated Popplio to the extent that they do. Some even said they were going to pick Popplio as their starter because of the savage reaction the poor water-type, clown seal received.

Like other things in popular culture that developed a cult following because they were so hated — think of wizards that belonged to Slytherin in Harry Potter or Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars — Popplio became the next target for defenders of strange and offbeat things on the internet. Tumblr became the home of Popplio’s biggest admirers, an entire subreddit was created to talk about how great the Pokémon was and, perhaps most impressively, a group called the Popplio Defense Squad sprouted up within days, quickly amassing hundreds of followers on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and even Google Plus.

Sunny, an 18-year-old illustrator from Sweden, saw the hate that Popplio was getting online and decided to start a group for Pokémon fans that wanted a place to talk about their favorite new starter. The group even started a hashtag, #PopplioDefenseSquad, that was used by Popplio supporters to share fan art, talk about the adorable seal, and call to attention the fight against non-Popplio supporters.

“I decided to start a “Popplio Defense Squad” because the second the new starters were revealed I instantly got really attached to Popplio, but right away people all over the internet started making fun of it and being downright nasty about it, going so far as to reference seal clubbing to show how much they hated it,” he told Polygon. “It’s so cute and bubbly I feel so happy just looking at it, and I hope others do too!”

It seemed for a while like Popplio was the new underdog in Pokémon, even with its dedicated — and very vocal — support group, but then something happened: the final evolved forms of each starter were released. On Oct. 27, The Pokémon Company published a new video for the game that introduced each of the final evolutions, and without question, the most popular belonged to Popplio.

Primarina The Pokémon Company

Primarina, a water/fairy-type, was praised for its elegant aesthetic by many in the Pokemon community. Most importantly, Primarina convinced quite a few people to switch from choosing Rowlet or Litten to start with, just so they could eventually get their hands on the gorgeous monster.

Primarina even convinced one Verge reporter, and former Polygon editor, to write an apology to Popplio for being less than kind to the Pokémon when it was first released. Even though the clown seal had started as the ugly duckling in the group of new starters, it had developed into an elegant swan.

“You’re Primarina,” The Verge’s Megan Farokhmanesh wrote. “You are a majestic and striking water / fairy-type pokémon, confident in your style, with powerful abilities. You can heal burns — an appropriate skill for a beast that endured so many Twitter burns.”

Following the reveal, other players admitted that they were ready to jump on the Popplio bandwagon and choose the Pokemon that only just a few months prior had become the laughingstock of the internet.

Like any cult whose object of admiration starts to become mainstream — or “the norm” — there was some backlash from the original Popplio community. Players called out others who were just now picking Popplio because of Primarina and claimed that they were the only true fans of the starter, picking him when he was the butt of all internet jokes. Some even went so far as to make a martyr out of the monster, creating an opera-inspired video to tell the tragic tale of Popplio the sad clown seal.

Still, most were just happy to see Popplio get the love he deserved, with hundreds of players taking to Twitter and Tumblr to express their sincerest apologies for ever doubting the starter in the first place. As one Twitter user said, Popplio had become the “precious, perfect child” deserving of so much unconditional love.

Sunny said that since the game has been released, he’s noticed more people than he thought coming around to Popplio. The illustrator added that his goal was always to make people see Popplio the same way he and his fellow Defense Squad members did, and was happy to see it actually happening.

“I’ve actually noticed that most people seem to have warmed up to Popplio now,” he said. “I see Popplio love on a daily basis nowadays and it makes me really happy, since that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve when I urged people to join me in supporting and defending the adorable new water-type starter!”

Pokémon Sun and Moon are currently available to purchase for the Nintendo 3DS. Be sure to read Polygon’s review of the game before diving in. If you’ve never played a Pokemon game and are considering it, Polygon has you covered.

*Disclaimer: The author of this article absolutely chose Popplio as her starter.