Atsuko Nishida, one of the Game Freak employees that helped design the original Pokemon, revealed that Pikachu’s initial character design was based on a squirrel and not on a mouse as the game suggests.
“At that time, I was really into squirrels,” said Nishida to Yomiuri in a slightly bizarre interview. “I wanted the character to have puffy cheeks. Squirrel tails are cute (so I wanted it to have a tail). However, I wanted the character to have a lightning element, so I made it shaped like lightning.”
The telltale sign of Pikachu’s squirrel influence is certainly the puffy cheeks that Nishida mentions. While the original version of Pikachu is a little more round than the average squirrel – unless that squirrel is super prepared for winter – you don’t really have to break your brain to see who it does look much more like a squirrel than a mouse (which Pikachu is classified as within the game).
Actually, it seems that Pikachu’s cheeks were intended to be the source of its electric abilities.
“For example, when hamsters stuff themselves with food, their entire bodies become round, right?” said Nishida regarding Pikachu’s electric abilities. “But for squirrels, it’s just their cheeks.”
While the most fascinating part of this story might just be how obsessed Nishida was with squirrels – we really hope she eventually just bought a squirrel pet – it is interesting to look back and see just how much Pikachu’s design has changed over the years to incorporate more mouse elements. The original version of Pikachu featured in Pokemon Red and Blue was quite chubby and very short. Over the years, though, he slimmed down and grew slightly taller. The turning point of his design was certainly the character’s starring role in the old Pokemon series.
In any case…there you have it. Pikachu is based on a squirrel. Looks like we can close the books on that one and finally rest our weary heads free of the great worries of the wide world.