New Book Illuminates Stories Behind Pokemon Designs

Why does Farfetch’d have a leek? What does Drowzee’s two-tone coloring mean? The answers, along with some beautiful illustrations, are coming soon.

Londoner Noah Shepherd is Kickstarting a book that combines his love of Pokemon, his training as a biologist, and a creative streak. Called On the Origin of Pokemon, it will investigate the stories, myths, and inspirations behind the iconic designs from the globally popular franchise’s first generation of monsters.

Shepherd has loved Pokemon since opening his first pack of trading cards in the early 2000s, when he pulled a Horsea with a design that utterly fascinated him. He was never allowed to have a pet growing up and said London didn’t offer him many chances to watch animals in a natural environment.

Fascination and curiosity about the world around him stuck throughout childhood, leading him to pursue a degree in biology starting in 2013. But he never stopped being a Pokemon fan, either. So, it seemed more than obvious when he was struck with a notion of how to combine the two.

“The idea came about when I was playing Pokémon Go whilst walking home from work along the river Thames. A Wailmer encounter reminded me of the time that a real whale swam up the river, and in typical biologist fashion I started thinking about the type of whale that Wailmer is based on,” Shepherd said.

He discovered online discussions and debates about the inspirations of this or that Pokemon, but it was all conjecture and relegated to threads and forums. Why not instead turn his scientific mind to investigating and compiling all of this information for fans, providing an informative fieldbook complete with his own graphics?

“I don’t want ‘On The Origin’ to feel like a textbook. I want to include interesting stories about the design origins that will be enjoyable regardless of whether someone has a keen interest in biology or mythology,” Shepherd said. “I want the content to inspire people to seek out more knowledge about different cultures and sciences, and in that sense I’m hoping it introduces readers to a lot of different subjects.”

On the Origin of Pokemon actually started as a project on Instagram that kept Shepherd entertained in the lab. At a certain point, he decided to take a break from the lab and devote himself full time to transforming the Instagram page into a published book. He began the Kickstarter soon after.


His proposed layout devotes a two-page spread to each Pokemon. One side breaks down the physical design, pointing out inspiration from real-world organisms – the samurai design of Farfetch’d’s head or Drowzee’s tapir body and coloring. The adjoining page suggests likely inspiration, like Venusaur’s back-plant actually being a corpse flower or the wild ways real people use the mushrooms said to grow on Paras’ back.

Sometimes it’s less science and more mythology, but Shepherd seems to have done his homework. He often began with the most popular online theories and then cross-referenced them with biological field guides or translations of old Japanese folklore. Whatever the case, the information in the pages he has teased should be interesting and approachable no matter your level of Pokemon fandom.

As for Shepherd’s favorite and least favorite inspirations?

“I love Growlithe and Arcanine and their origin: Japanese guardian statues, which are interesting culturally, historically and in terms of the hybrid of animals they depict,” Shepherd said. “My least favourite Pokémon is currently Articuno. Moltres’ and Zapdos’ designs have clear and fascinating origins: a diverse array of mythical elemental birds. In comparison, Articuno’s back story seems weak – I’m not convinced by some of the online theories and their evidence.”

The Kickstarter has a short time left if you’re hungry for a biologist’s take on Pokemon origins.

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About Chase Carter

Chase is a journalist and media scholar interested in fan communities and how they communicate. He loves reading, cooking and his two cat sons very much.
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