Pokémon: Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) on his quest to find his missing father. The latest trailer for the movie reveals that Pikachu sought out Tim because he woke up in the middle of nowhere with zero memories of his life, except for a hat with Tim’s father’s name written in it.
What happened? The trailer zips ahead to the bigger mystery: the disappearance of Tim’s dad, Harry Goodman. Later in the trailer, we see a car crash — Harry’s apparently attacked by some laser blasts — and a series of science experiments, testing on Pokémon, one of which ends in a massive explosion.
[Ed. Note: This post contains spoilers for the Detective Pikachu 3DS game and possible spoilers for the movie Detective Pikachu.]
Let us posit a theory about the fate of Tim’s father in Detective Pikachu: A disastrous science experiment turned Harry Goodman into a Pikachu, erasing his memory, leaving him with nothing but the hat on his head.
If that sounds like senseless speculation, please follow us into the history of obscure Pokémon lore.
But first, let’s talk about the movie adapation of Detective Pikachu. The synopsis for the movie says that Harry disappeared in a car crash and that the Pikachu was his former Pokémon partner. But as Detective Pikachu insists, Harry might still alive — could the circumstances behind his disappearance have to do with some human-turned-Pokémon mayhem? Did he investigate something that people didn’t want him to? Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time?
There’s definitely something creepy going on with these experiments. Along with the ruined research facility that reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton) stumbles upon, there is also a shot of a device that looks like a human-sized containment pod, with prongs to lock a human head.
This is immediately followed a shot of a Flareon undergoing some sort of transformation that takes place not in a lab environment but on someone’s work desk. The desk itself is flanked by Legendary Pokémon Palkia and Diagla. Now, the Flareon could be evolving from an Eevee, but why would the weird glow around the fire-type be the same blue of the exploding lab experiment? Why does it have glowing blue eyes — the same seen on legendary Mewtwo later in the trailer? Could there be a secret organization dedicated to infusing Pokémon with human consciousnesses? Could the ultimate goal be to merge with a legendary Pokémon?
The plot of the Detective Pikachu video game doesn’t tell us much about the fate of Tim’s dad. At the end of the 3DS game, instead of locating Harry, Tim and Pikachu bust some other crimes — then just keep looking for him. Perhaps a game sequel will offer the answer someday.
Beyond the fact that only Tim can understand Detective Pikachu, the Pokémon’s hat, and the potential connection with mutation experiments, the idea that Pikachu could actually be Tim’s father is a little tenuous. But there’s precedent to such a twist; while it’s not a super common thing in the Pokémon universe, there have been enough instances of humans turning into Pokémon (either willingly or unwillingly).
The most notable instance is the arc of Bill in the original Pokémon games. In Red, Blue, and Yellow the player wanders to his home, only to discover that Bill has Freaky Friday-ed into a Nidorino (in LeafGreen and FireRed, it’s a Clefairy) via a science experiment gone wrong. Bill makes an appearance in Pokémon Let’s Go! (a remake of Yellow) and faces the same ordeal; the player must aid him to return into his human form.
The Pokémon anime deescalates the situation: Bill is simply in costume. Ash and his friends find him wandering around his lighthouse, trapped inside a Kabuto costume, you know, as one does in one’s spare time. We won’t ask.
Elsewhere in the series, Ash himself gets turned into a Pikachu by a witch in the episode “Hocus Pokémon.” In the movie The Rise of the Darkrai, Baron Alberto gets turned into a Lickilicky by a combination of effects: the Darkrai’s powers, the legendary Pokémon Palkai’s manipulation of space, and his own Lickilicky’s desire to become the Baron. Kind of creepy! While magical, it’s proof that the Pokémon Company is OK with the narrative humdinger of unwilling human-Pokémon transformation.
Additionally, the Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon games, which take place in an alternate dimension in which humans do not exist, often have the player character take the role of a human pulled into this dimension and turned into a Pokémon. The player usually has no memories of their human life, except for the fact they were once human.
Perhaps the most eerie of them all are the Pokédex entries for Kadabra in Emerald, FireRed, and Sun, which all theorize that Kadabra was once a boy who lost control of his psychic powers and turned into a Pokémon. There’s no actual concrete proof of this beyond the passing mentions in the Pokédex — which, sidebar, contains a LOT of creepy entries — but jeepers, that strikes a particular chill.
Is Detective Pikachu actually a human man turned into a fast-talking, coffee-guzzling, furry pocket monster? The important thing is that there’s precedent.
We’ll find out on May 10, the day Pokémon: Detective Pikachu hits theaters — or if it’s anything like the game, maybe further down the line when the sequel premieres.