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The Verge Review of Animals: pika vs. Pikachu

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Moiggi Interactive/Flickr

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

As of last weekend, Pokemon is 20 years old, which means franchise mascot Pikachu is also 20 years old. Like many of the characters in the game, Pikachu is loosely inspired by real-life animals — in this case, the pika (genus Ochotona). The interpretation is loose, leaving out some of the most badass characteristics of the pika.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare a corporeal creature with a cartoon caricature, but today, that’s what I'm doing.

Appearance: On average, the American pika is 7 to 8 inches tall and weighs up to 0.35 kilograms. In contrast, every Pikachu is exactly 1 foot, 4 inches tall and weighs 6 kilograms, closer in scale to a domestic house cat. The pika has adorably soft fur; a Pikachu’s coat is of questionable softness. Still, the Pikachu is capable of standing on its hind legs and emoting sadness with its anime-like eyes. Advantage: Pikachu

Habitat: Pikas are native to cold climates in Asia, North America, and parts of Eastern Europe. They typically can be found on rocky mountainsides. A Pikachu in the wild is really only found in tall grass, often near a forest. No contest here. Advantage: pika

Longevity: Many pikas can live up to seven years. The lifespan of a Pikachu, meanwhile, is unknown. However, there’s at least one reported instance of a domesticated Pikachu living for over 900 episodes (approximately 19 years). Advantage: Pikachu

The pika is super effective against both grass and fire types

Survivability: As an electric type, the Pikachu is super effective against water and flying types (though ineffective against grass types and dragons). Pikas, meanwhile, are super effective against both grass (by merit of being full-time herbivores) and even fire types — one study showed that the American pika is surprisingly resilient to wildfires. (I’ve seen a Charmander take on Pikachu, and believe me, it wasn’t pretty.) The pika has also been known to consume birds when necessary and has outwitted the Chinese government for over 50 years. Major advantage: pika

(Sergey Yeliseev/Flickr)

Portability: Despite the size difference, a Pikachu is able to fit comfortably into poké balls, which a human trainer can then carry in a small bag. Even if a pika were to fit into a poké ball, it would not be recommended. Advantage: Pikachu

Biodiversity: There are about 30 known species of Ochotona present today, and their ancestors can be traced back as far as the Miocene period (between 23 million and 5 million years ago). The Pikachu, however, have no record of diversity whatsoever. What would happen if a Pikachu gets sick and no one was there to help? Their only means of evolution is through friendship and the rare Thunder stone. Major advantage: pika

Fighting ability: APikachu can harness the power of lighting and is surprisingly adept at basic hand-to-hand combat. Pikas are very good at hiding. Advantage: Pikachu

Communication: This one’s a tie. Damn they’re cute:

So where does that leave our contest? It’s hard to look at a loyal friend like a Pikachu and say, "Sorry buddy, your ability to understand human language and create lightning isn’t enough to be the very best." And yet, that’s what I’m doing. Though Pikachu is amazing in its own right, it’s no match for its real-life counterpart.

The Pika

Verge Score: 8.0

8.0

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Super effective vs. grass and fire types

  • Adorably communicative

Bad Stuff

  • Cannot produce lightning

  • Cannot fit neatly into a travel-sized orb container