Flayrah investigates: Are Pokémon starters too anthropomorphic?
In the core Pokémon video game series, most main entries begin with the player making a choice between three Pokémon, one each Grass, Fire and Water type, which becomes their first Pokémon. These Pokémon, known as "starter", and also their third and final "evolutions", are given unique prominence in the minds of players, mostly for sentimental reasons, as everybody remembers their first, and partially because these Pokémon are slightly stronger than average, especially during early game. They are also rare, as the beginning of the game is usually the only time they are available, outside of trading with other players or breeding duplicates (which the game makes harder for starters by making them predominantly male, when offspring species is determined by the female in a breeding pair).
Due to this prominence, the character designs for the starters and their final evolution are heavily scrutinized. In more recent generations of Pokémon, a common complaint has been a rise in bipedalism and "human like" designs for the characters, a complaint that resurfaced with the evolution of quadripedal Grass Cat Sprigatito into bipedal Meowscarada (bipedal cats seem to especially stir strong reactions, if the earlier reaction to Incineroar is any indication). Now, partially, this is all aesthetic preferences, and it all comes down to personal choice, but there does seem to be a strong "no furries" aspect to the complaining from some quadrants. Furries definitely seem to prefer the bipedal look, with Meowscarada showing up over 550 times on e621, while Quaqaval the duck is a distant second with just over 60, which is still double third place Skeledirge the quadrupedal crocodile with not even 30 pieces as of this writing. And there is reason to doubt this is a "recent" trend among Pokémon starters, as well.
The first three starter Pokémon, and probably the most recognizable, were Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. Already, we see that two thirds of them begin bipedal, and the final form of Charmander, Charizard, and Squirtle, Blastoise, retain this bipedalism. Bulbasaur is the odd man out, both starting out as a quadruped and finishing as one as Venusaur, at least in key art, though some in game descriptions seem to imply it also may have been a biped, just weighed down by the plant on its back to four legs.
The second generation introduced Chikorita, Cyndaquil and Totodile who become Meganium, Typhlosion and Feraligatr, respectively. Once again, we see the Grass starter on all fours throughout, while the other two starters stick to two legs, though it should be noted the Cyndaquil line seems to act a bit like a bear, sometimes using two legs, sometimes four, in animations. Still, we're putting the running total at pure quadrupeds 2, pure bipeds 4.
The third generation starters include Treecko, Torchic and Mudkip, who eventually evolve into Sceptile, Blaziken and Swampert. Here, one trend begins while another ends. The beginning trend is one that puts the lie to the humanoid starter being a recent thing, as Blaziken becomes the first of three Fire starters to gain the second type of Fighting, which is the type of many of the most human Pokémon in the franchise, and definitely applies to Blaziken, who most people unfamiliar with it would probably have to told it was supposed to be a chicken. Meanwhile, the Treecko line becomes the first Grass line to feature bipedalism, but Mudkip line takes up the four leg mantle for the generation, so the count goes to pure quadrupeds 3, pure bipeds 6.
The fourth generation sees the introduction of Turtwig, Chimchar and Piplup who become Torterra, Infernape and Empoleon. This generation reverts back to the pattern of Fire and Water being bipeds while the Grass starter stays on four legs. On the issue of anthropomorphism rather than just bipedalism, the Chimchar line has the distinction of being one of only two starter lines who's Egg Group is Human-Like, meaning even the game recognizes its human nature. In any case, the count is now pure quadrupeds 4, pure bipeds 8.
For the fifth generation, the starters were Snivy, Tepig and Oshawott and anything resembling a pattern breaks down completely. Tepig, a quadruped, becomes Emboar the biped. Oshawott, a biped, becomes the quadruped Samurott. And then there's Snivy, a biped who becomes a ... snake, Serperior. So, the count is now pure quadruped 4, pure biped 8, biped to quadruped 1, quadruped to biped 1, is a snake 1.
The sixth generation calms down a bit with Chespin, Fennekin and Froakie, who become Chesnaught, Delphox and Greninja in the end. This time, it is a near shut out for bipedalism, with Fennekin the lone quadrupedal holdout before evolving. Running count is pure quadruped 4, pure biped 10, biped to quadruped 1, quadruped to biped 2, is a snake 1.
The seventh generation sees players choosing between Rowlet, Litten and Popplio. Rowlet becomes Decidueye, maintaining bipedalism the entire time, though this is one of the avian lines of starters, so bipedalism makes more sense, unless you're using Animal Farm logic and making the case wings count as legs in order to not discourage birds with your "two legs bad, four legs good" slogan. Litten evolves into Incineroar, and is a cat, so we've already covered this one. Meanwhile, Popplio into Primarina is another Serperior like case, this time with a seal rather than a snake. So, the score is pure quadruped 4, pure biped 11, biped to quadruped 1, quadruped to biped 2, is a snake 1, flippers 1.
Bipedalism rules supreme in the eighth generation, with all three starters, Grookey, Scorbunny and Sobble beginning life as bipeds and finishing up as Rillaboom, Cinderace and Inteleon, also all bipeds. This generation also contains the other Human-Like Egg Group starter line, perhaps surprisingly not the ape-based Grookey line, but the rabbit-based Scorbunny line. The count is now at pure quadruped 4, pure biped 14, biped to quadruped 1, quadruped to biped 2, is a snake 1, flippers 1.
This most recent generation, in addition to the Sprigatito to Meowscarada line, also features starters Fuecoco and Quaxly, who evolve into Skeledirge and Quaquavel, respectively. The Quaxly line is a pure biped bird line, while the Fuecoco line manages to be the second biped to quadruped starting line. So, the final score is pure quadruped 4, pure biped 15, biped to quadruped 2, quadruped to biped 3, is a snake 1, flippers 1.
So, what can we gather from this? Well, complaints about bipedalism in particular are odd, because while it has been more common than quadrupedalism in starter Pokémon, this is not a new thing. It's been this way since the beginning. Likewise, more "human" starters have been around since the third generation, while quadrupeds deciding to stand up in their second or third form have been around since the fifth. Now, if someone doesn't like the way the green cat looks when it evolves, that's perfectly acceptable; pick the blue duck instead. But blaming it on "anthropomorphism" just shows you haven't really been paying attention.