Welcome to Elite Evaluations, a series in which I review the Elite Four of each main title in the Pokemon series, with a focus on costume and character design.
In a previous series of articles, I reviewed all of the League Champions in the Pokemon video game series, with an especial focus on their costume and character design. I really enjoyed writing those reviews, so I’ve decided to continue them, this time with a different group of characters from the Pokemon series.
This time, we’ll be reviewing the Elite Four of each region. For those unfamiliar, the Elite Four are some of the most powerful trainers in their respective region, boasting powerful, high-leveled teams of Pokemon. The Elite Four are typically fought one after another, in a challenging gauntlet meant to test trainers’ abilities.
In this inaugural article, we’re going back to where the Pokemon series began: the Kanto region. This region was first featured in ‘Generation I’ (the term commonly used to refer to the very first games in the series; Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow), as well as their later remakes: FireRed and LeafGreen in 2004, and Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee in 2019. The header image is from GameWith, and all other sources are cited throughout.
Before we begin, a note about ratings. Each review will include a rating out of five, and as we’ll often be considering characters who have had multiple character or costume designs over the years — with each design potentially drawn by different artists possessing their own visions for the characters — ratings will take all of these iterations into account. A strong example of costume design in an earlier generation may have had less successful subsequent versions; likewise, an underwhelming costume in an earlier generation may have been improved upon in later games.
Lorelai is the first Elite Four trainer the player encounters in Kanto, and indeed the first Elite Four trainer we ever see in-game. Her original costume, a plain long-sleeved black dress and black shoes, is fairly nondescript, even generic. (It’s very difficult to critique this outfit based on her in-game sprite, so I’ve used an illustration from the Pokemon Adventures manga. This illustration is also one of the few times Lorelai is depicted with purple hair; her hair is otherwise red.)
Lorelai’s costume was entirely redesigned for FireRed and LeafGreen. Gone are the long sleeves, replaced by a black vest and purple skirt, accessorized once again by black shoes, as well a gold bracelet and hair tie. It’s confused, clashing, and worst of all, generic. Pop culture writers Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez have argued that the most iconic film costumes are “so memorable and so well-suited to the actor that they become nearly indistinguishable from each other,” and I would say the same principle applies to costumes in video games. It would be very easy to see any other character in either of Lorelai’s outfits thus far.
Let’s Go significantly improved her costume; both incorporating aspects from her Generation I look and adding new components that make it a more cohesive design. The ice-blue aspects are obvious but appreciated (even if the stripe on the skirt is maybe too much), there is an added belt and more detailed jacket, and her clamshell shoes are a clever nod to the shell-wearing Pokemon in her party, including her signature Pokemon, Lapras. Lorelai’s costume design started out as not particularly memorable or unique, but has significantly improved in recent years.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The second member of the Kanto Elite Four, Bruno is a Fighting-type expert whose costume and character hasn’t changed much since his introduction. It’s always been long-sleeved pants and various arm and leg bands. These bands have varied in ornateness over the years, sometimes plain (as in FireRed and LeafGreen, seen above) and sometimes more detailed (as in Let’s Go).
While it’s a simple look, it’s consistent and works well for the character, who is fairly straightforward, so I’m inclined to cut it some slack. I do wish that Let’s Go had added more meaningful or interesting details, like we saw with Lorelai.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
The third member of the Kanto Elite Four, Ghost-type expert Agatha may have the best character and costume design of the bunch (and indeed, one of the best in any generation). Her mischievous facial expression, simple yet evocative outfit, and walking stick immediately tell the player who she is before she utters a word.
Agatha is a former friend of Professor Oak whose opinion of him has soured over the years, now referring to the beloved professor as an “old duff,” and disparaging his quest to catalogue Pokemon. Additional content in FireRed and LeafGreen describes Agatha as having “a really short fuse” and her Pokemon as “horrifically terrifying”; she generally poses a challenge for players.
Let’s Go kept important aspects of Agatha’s outfit while expanding upon what makes her great. I could do without the mossy-green shawl, which is distracting, but the added ghostly imagery on her outfit, as well as her walking stick’s new toothy grin (a likely nod to one of her signature Pokemon, Gengar), are inspired additions. They make an already iconic look even better. It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Agatha in this look.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Lance, who uses Dragon-type Pokemon, is the fourth and final member of the Kanto Elite Four. The key aspects of Lance’s design have always been his cape and his spiky red hair; the rest has evolved quite a bit over time.
Lance started out in Generation I with an already distinctive and eye-catching outfit themed around red and black, with blue and yellow accents. The structured jacket, streamlined cape, epaulettes, and boots turtleneck are strongly authoritative imagery; fitting for the person who, up to this point, is the most powerful trainer in the game.
FireRed and LeafGreen overhaul his costume design, almost entirely changing its colour scheme, though certain aspects, like the red cuffs and stripes, remain present. It’s a sharp, cohesive, eye-catching look.
Let’s Go once again significantly changes Lance’s outfit, this time returning to the black clothing and red jacket of his Generation I design, with a few alterations. The new aspects — especially the teeth-like detailing on the jacket and the dragon-style decal on his shirt — evoke the type of Pokemon he uses. The new gold-and-blue colour of his cape gives his look a more regal air as well.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
One may have expected the very first Elite Four to have simple or forgettable costume and character designs in Generation I. As we’ve seen, that was far from the case, with even some of the less remarkable designs being expanded upon and improved in subsequent remakes.
Next time: We review the costumes of the Johto Elite Four — first featured in Gold, Silver and Crystal — and their many highs and lows. See you then!