Personality & Development: Ash's Charizard

Reviewing the characterization of anime Pokémon
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  • Saturday, June 11, 2011

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This column has been written by Thomas Smithurst. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.

When someone says “Pokémon”, many people naturally think of Pikachu or Meowth—but if not either of them, then Charizard. Popular in the games, popular as a card, Charizard's popularity increased due to its appearances in the anime under the ownership of Ash. Best known for his disobedience to his trainer, Ash's Charizard was an iconic character in his own right. Other than disobedience, he showed interesting personality before and after his disobedience storyline, which was of course the climactic peak of his development.

Ash and his Charizard.
In his debut.

When I first started this column, I knew that as well as highlighting the character's traits, I needed to use my knowledge of the social sciences to speculate what the they are thinking and why they are thinking that way. My previous columns have been relatively simplistic in comparison to this one in that case. The difference being for the others, I never got a chance to mention changing personalities much or even at all. In this article I am arguably writing about more than one character as Charizard has undergone evolution, one of the biggest concepts in Pokémon. In the anime, it has been mentioned several times that as well as its form and abilities changing when a Pokémon evolves, its personality changes as well. So I'll start by looking at Charizard back in his debut, back when he was a Charmander.

Unlike Squirtle and Bulbasaur we first saw Charmander before he even knew he had been abandoned, which was the plot for his introductory episode. This was interesting to see, as Charmander was shown to be very loyal to his trainer, despite the fact he probably didn't treat Charmander well in the first place. Rather than labeling Charmander as an attachment type B-Secure attached, I'd say Charmander was never any attachment type, since a bond is only an attachment if it works both ways. Therefore, I'd say Charmander suffered privation, which is what we describe never forming an attachment as. I'd believe Charmander's time spent with his previous trainer had him constantly trying to impress Damian and eventually Charmander convinced himself he had formed the attachment he desired, but he insecurely and blindly obeyed his trainer, believing if he did not, he'd lose Damian's love and he'd deserve it. So when Damian told Charmander to wait for him to come back; Charmander waited, hardly moving a muscle, even through rain and an attack from a flock of Spearow, for fear of disappointing Damian. It is my conclusion that Charmander's loyalty to his awful and rotten trainer was created by fear and desperation, rather than the love that he was shown by Ash.

During his time with Ash as a Charmander, he was first shown to quite cowardly, more so than the others. On The Island of Giant Pokémon where he and his friends were separated from Ash, Charmander was shown to be affected strongly by what the others said; he was frightened by what Squirtle said about Ash, Misty, and Brock being eaten by the giants and he was quickly discouraged when Bulbasaur suggested Ash had abandoned him, mirroring his hardship when coming to terms with being abandoned the first time.

Yet another battle.

After evolving into Charmeleon, his disobedience plot began. This has been explained as a Pokémon believing it is better than their trainer, but why? Charmander was undoubtedly Ash's most used Pokémon and this, I see as Charmander being spoiled. Alternatively, his disobedience can be explained as a form of abnormality. There are a few definitions of abnormality, a failure to function adequately, a deviation from mental health or, what I think applies to Charizard, a deviation from social norms. (Although I'd consider Charizard's behavior normal for a big fire-breathing dragon.) However, the reason he became disobedient, I'd say was he wanted to assert his authority the same way Damian did, by making his friends fear him and tread lightly to please him. Charizard acted as he wanted so much, the bond he shared with Ash was dispelled, although not forgotten. While he was locked half way in the mist of detachment, Charizard became quite lazy, fighting on his own terms and with opponents he wished to prove himself more powerful, like Blaine's Magmar, the clone Charizard and Tracey's Scyther. Those strong opponents were Charizard's motivation and without them his relationship with Ash may have never been rebuilt.

Vs Poliwrath.

Charizard re-discovered his love for Ash eventually after Ash practically saved his life. Just as it took selfless acts that put the Pokémon first to win over Pikachu, Squirtle and Bulbasaur's trust, Charizard became obedient and loyal. Ash's big selfless act was a bit later than with his other Pokémon, since he never really needed to protect Charmander because he was already loyal to him and after Charmander's evolution, he never got the chance. Despite re-building the relationship between him and Ash, Charizard still seemed to have some issues with others and quite notably wanted to do things on his own. It wasn't too long before he learned to work with Pikachu and became a welcome member of the family. However his phase of disobedience was never forgotten, many times Charizard would still blast Ash with fire even after they had bonded, and Ash would take it. This I see as being quite sweet, it is as if when Charizard uses Flamethrower on Ash, they are laughing about what on between them, they acknowledge their relationship was not perfect but they don't let it bother them, which gives them a stronger relationship then they ever had.

So he's bodyguard to the girl who beat him up when they first met?

A little bit into Johto, Charizard got a leaving episode and one I consider quite emotional. When faced with the opportunity to train where the strongest Charizard in the world train, he was typically eager to march in and be better than everyone else. This is where we quite hilariously find out; Charizard was kind of weak, compared to the others at least. However, Charizard was able to prove he was strong without fighting, proving he has flexibility. Since he began staying at the Charicific Valley he has shown more flexibility and even began courting.

A relationship becomes stronger with everything it overcomes, so Charizard and Ash's relationship is definitely one of the greatest in the show, though it took a lot of development to get it that way.

Now that I have gathered the gang of four, I'm going to take a break from Ash's Pokémon and next time the subject will be yet another fan favorite—but no more clues. Just be sure I'll deliver well in the future, highlighting Pokémon's personality and including so much psychology and sociology, you'll end up with a headache.

Personality & Development
By Thomas Smithurst
Ash's PikachuAsh's SquirtleAsh's BulbasaurAsh's Charizard
Misty's PsyduckMisty's HorseaMeowthMisty's Togetic