Pokemon that only evolve when they’re traded can be a nuisance. If you happen to be replaying Gen 1 for nostalgic reasons, sourcing a link cable and a friend to play with can be tough. As a result, getting yourself an Alakazam or a Gengar is pretty much impossible. Not fun.
However, the implications of Pokemon who only evolve when they’re traded are pretty rough. I used to think it was something to do with the process of trading itself when I was a kid. I didn’t get it, but I kind of left it at that. However, I recently realized that it’s not so much to do with the process of trading as it is to do with the idea of being given away—the idea of being abandoned.
Let’s look at the Gen 1 Pokemon who evolve as a result of being traded:
Machoke > Machamp
Haunter > Gengar
Kadabra > Alakazam
Graveler > Golem
Machoke, a Pokemon with an iron will, is abandoned by the trainer it trusted. What happens? It trains harder than ever, both to make itself worthy of its new trainer so it won’t be abandoned again, and so that it will be more capable of dealing with abandonment issues in the future. The notoriously modest Pokemon becomes rash, punching the walls of the mountains rapidly, until it begins to punch faster than it ever has, fuelled by pain, Thus, it evolves into Machamp, who is known for throwing up to five hundred punches per second.
Haunter, the prankster Ghost-type who spends all of its time trying to amuse its trainer, becomes Gengar, the Pokemon embodiment of mischief, after it fails to impress its trainer. Although Haunter is known for its mischievous and happy nature, and much prefers playing pranks and making people laugh to battling, Gengar can be malicious at times. Haunter would react sensitively when it accidentally scared someone, as seen by the way it treats Ash before Ash fights Sabrina in the anime. However, Gengar purposely pretends to be people’s shadows, as it serves its own humor instead of that of humans after having been abandoned by its trainer.
Kadabra, the evolution of the teleporting Abra, becomes lonely and evolves into the super-cerebral Alakazam, who remembers everything that has ever happened to it. Burdened by its memory, it uses psychic powers to hold its head up, as its weak muscles can’t support its ever-expanding brain. From Generation IV onward, even the Everstone cannot prevent a Kadabra from evolving when it is traded, testifying to its inability to forget the pain it felt after being abandoned. When Kadabra has a headache, the psychic waves it uses telekinetically become unregulated. This is likely what triggers its evolution into Alakazam, as it is incapable of mentally dealing with the loss of its trainer, necessitating a greater capacity for understanding.
Finally, Graveler becomes depressed after being cast away by someone it trusted and loved. Its stone heart hardens, causing its entire gravelled body to manifest into a smooth layer of hardened rock. It is known that Graveler’s shell can break apart, but will slowly regenerate over time. As its Pokedex description in Pokemon Gold reads, “With a free and uncaring nature, it doesn’t mind if pieces break off while it rolls down mountains.” However, Golem’s hollow shell testifies to the fact that Graveler’s emphatically gravelly interior coagulates, forming a thick layer of solid rock that can’t even be scratched by dynamite. It sheds its shell once a year, quickly developing a new and stronger one as it grows in size with each year that passes since its original abandonment.
All of the above instances involve a Pokemon becoming depressed due to the fact that its trainer abandoned it. None of the above Pokemon can realize their full potential until they acquire strength from pain. The same can be said of Gen 2 trade evolutions; Scyther evolves into Scizor after it assimilates the object with which it associates its original trainer, the Metal Coat, into its own body. Slowpoke’s evolution into Slowking as opposed to Slowbro can be explained using the same logic, as is the case with Onix’s evolution into Steelix and Seadra’s evolution into Kingdra. The fact that Pokemon always retain their original Trainer ID helps testify to the fact that they are partially defined by the trainer who originally raised them.
It’s not just trade evolutions that hold horrifying implications, though. In Gen 2, baby Pokemon were introduced into the series, such as Pichu, Magby, and Elekid. These Pokemon were not present in Gen 1, despite the fact that Pikachu, Magmar, and Electabuzz could be encountered in the wild. This could be due to the power of Team Rocket in Gen 1, but there’s another reason that seems to fit the bill more neatly.
It is highly likely that their absence from the Kanto region is likely due to the Pokemon War that Lieutenant Surge fought in with his Electric-type team. As Gen 1 contained no breeding, and actively permitted only a single Pokemon to the Day-Care in order to ensure this, it could be the case that trainers were not permitted to bring baby Pokemon into the region that had recently been torn apart by war. Even in other regions, baby Pokemon must be hatched from eggs, caught within the confines of the Safari Zone, or caught in an enclosed private area like Gen 3’s Trophy Garden.
Surprisingly, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon adds to this theory, as the baby Pokemon in the Pokemon-exclusive world often go missing. Even without a human presence, the baby Pokemon are endangered, so in the world of Kanto that has recently suffered greatly from a human war, it simply isn’t safe for baby Pokemon to be out in the wild.
Therefore, the implications behind the often unexplained aspects of Pokemon evolution are incredibly dark. Pokemon can evolve as a result of the pain they feel from being abandoned, whereas other Pokemon can be so vulnerable that they can only exist in conservation until they become stronger. In the world of Pokemon, there are certain types of Pokemon that have suffered severely at the hands of human maltreatment. From using them as weapons in a vicious war, to abandoning them at the first sight of something stronger, Pokemon can have their very existence altered irreparably as a result of naive human interference. It’s dark and horrifying, but painfully true.
In many ways, the world of Pokemon is defined by pain, suffering, and a devotion to human trainers who would happily dispose of them without so much as batting an eye.