Pokémon’s Coolest Trainer Is Non-Binary – and That’s Important

In Pokémon, trainers come in all shapes and sizes, and each has their own personality and style that they express through both their fashion and their choice of Pokémon. And right now, an old fan theory is making fans see one trainer in a whole new light as many Pokémon fans are suggesting that this trainer might actually be non-binary.

Five years ago, a user called u/Cendo made a post in Reddit's Pokémon subreddit saying that Ilima, the Melemele Island trail captain from the Pokémon Sun and Moon game and the Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon anime could be non-binary. A big part of this argument focuses on Ilima's choice of outfit and hairstyle. Their bright pink hair has a unique style that blends several popular male and female hairstyles. Ilima's clothing choice also blurs gender lines, as it pulls elements from both male and female outfits while not fitting perfectly as either. This means that Ilima goes beyond the traditional "pretty boy" archetype that Pokémon frequently uses.

While official media refers to Ilima with exclusively male pronouns, the more you look at the character, the more sense this fan theory makes, especially when examining Ilima's relationship to their Pokémon. Ilima's Pokémon of choice is an Eevee -- one that can evolve into eight different forms depending on how the trainer handles it. This is something that no other Pokémon can do, meaning that Eevee's presentation can vary dramatically depending on the trainer's own choices, moving it away from the linear or binary evolution paths of many other creatures in the franchise.

While evolution isn't the same as gender presentation, this unique evolution option, combined with Ilima's treatment of their Eevee, does feel like a metaphor for gender presentation and the experiences of non-binary individuals. In the anime, Ilima often says that empathy is needed to bring out the best in Pokémon, and we often see them looking after and caring for the creatures under their charge. Part of this is Ilima refusing to evolve Eevee without its consent -- a plot point that would obviously resonate with non-binary viewers who could read the moment as a metaphor for how society forces people into a binary gender even if they don't identify as such.

This metaphor also carries through to Eevee's Z-Move, Extreme Evoboost, which Ilima teaches their Eevee via the Eevium Z Z-Crystal. This move allows Eevee to summon one of each of its possible evolved forms. These forms then give Eevee some of their energy, allowing Eevee to unleash a powerful attack. Not only does said attack feature the other evolutions arriving in a literal rainbow of light, but the idea that Eevee grows stronger by embracing every possible form of itself can be read as a non-binary narrative about becoming whole by embracing your entire self. In fact, by not evolving, Ilima's Eevee has become extremely powerful, suggesting that Ilima's decision to allow Eevee to choose its own path has paid dividends by creating a happier and stronger Pokémon.

Pokemon Ilima 2

It should be noted that Ilima's main rival in the series, Tupp, is a textbook example of toxic masculinity. Tupp spends the series harboring a grudge against Ilima that often causes him to act aggressively and recklessly. However, Ilima uses Eevee to repeatedly beat him and his Pokémon, often with little to no resistance, showing that Ilima's inclusive Pokémon-raising method outclasses Tupp's anger-fueled ones. It should also be noted that one of Eevee's evolutions is the Fairy-type Sylveon. This Pokémon became a meme in online transgender communities because of its blue, pink and white color palette, which is likewise found on the transgender pride flag, leading to many to use the Pokémon's image as a symbol or mascot for themselves or their community.

While non-binary characters are becoming more common in mainstream works of fiction, they're still hard to find, especially in big shows. It's always a positive when people get the chance to see themselves reflected in media, as it allows them to feel more included in society and the world at large. For many people, seeing a non-binary character in something as massive and beloved as Pokémon is extremely significant, as it means that non-binary individuals have been granted a major step toward acceptance in the mainstream.

While most of the discussion around Ilima's gender presentation is metaphor and fan theory, it shows how important it is for non-binary people to gain mainstream representation and how easy it would be to include non-binary characters in shows. While it's great that people can feel represented by Ilima, let's hope that Pokémon eventually gives the world an explicitly stated non-binary trainer who can help normalize non-binary genders and foster a sense of non-binary inclusivity.

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