Magikarp is Pokémon’s most lovable punching bag

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Magikarp is the most useless of all pokémon. In the video game series, it “attacks” with splash, a move that literally does nothing. Earlier this month, the Official Pokémon YouTube Channel debuted the English version of “The Magikarp Song,” a ballad that starts off by declaring “Totally pathetic, unreliable / Known throughout the world for being super-weak.” Just this week, The Pokémon Company International released Magikarp Jump, a game that leans into this pitiable angle to sell its stupidest creature.

On the App Store, Magikarp Jump is quick to quell any high expectations you may have. “It’s famous — for being pathetically weak, unreliable, and generally useless,” the description snarks. It’s like a game write-up from a catty teen! “It can’t learn any powerful moves — all it does is flop around and splash! When it flops its way too high in the sky, it’s sometimes snagged by the bird Pokémon Pidgeotto — never to be seen again!” I’ve never read a more gleeful description of a creature clearly being murdered.

Its treatment in the regular series of Pokémon games isn’t much better. Magikarp’s pokédex entries, as cataloged by Pokémon Database, reads like a grade-A list of dating negs. A small sampling:

  • “A Magikarp living for many years can leap a mountain using Splash. The move remains useless, though.”
  • “In the distant past, it was somewhat stronger than the horribly weak descendants that exist today.”
  • “Famous for being very unreliable.”
  • “Although weak and helpless, this Pokémon is incredibly fertile. They exist in such multitudes, you’ll soon grow tired of seeing them.”
  • “Its reckless leaps make it easy pickings for predators. On the bright side, many Pokémon enjoy longer life spans, thanks to Magikarp.”

Anecdotal knowledge tells us there is only one reason ever to catch a Magikarp: to evolve it into Gyarados. Gyarados looks like a mystical dragon, has a permanent open-mouth snarl, and is described as being 21 feet tall. Raising a Magikarp into a Gyarados is a badge of honor, a wordless way to say “I’ve wasted precious hours of my life for this, but I do not fear death, or even the gods of time.” To even accomplish this, it typically needs to ride the coattails of the party’s more useful pokémon through a lot of swapping in and out of battle.

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But Magikarp Jump — like “The Magikarp Song” — is creating a lovable icon. This gaping fish will never be as beloved as Pikachu, the series’s mascot, but it’s the ultimate underdog. You want it to succeed because it’s just so sad, and so you spend all your time training and helping it eat. When it’s victorious, so are you, because you’ve turned an otherwise lost cause into a tiny triumph.

I suspect that’s been the point all along. Magikarp’s helplessness and its limp efforts are heartbreakingly endearing. In the words of Magikarp Jump, “it’ll just keep on jumping until it can jump no more!” That’s either courageous, or the most tragic possible outcome for a child’s cartoon fish.

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