The journey of a Pokémon trainer begins with receiving a starter Pokémon from a local Professor, and ends when you defeat the Champion. One of the most difficult things you need to accomplish during this process is defeating the Elite Four. In order to even enter the Pokémon League in each region, you need to travel the land and defeat the eight Gym leaders, who will each grant a badge upon victory. The Gym leaders can be difficult (especially ones like Whitney and Claire), but you can at least heal in a Pokémon Center before each battle. Once you challenge the Elite Four, you can only rely on items for healing. The only way to end the challenge is through either victory, or defeat.
Each group of Elite Four are, perhaps, the most powerful collective of Pokémon trainers in that specific region. You will not earn a chance to take on the Champion until you beat them. If there is one good thing to be said about the Elite Four, it is that they offer some of the best opportunities to level grind in the whole series (especially in the earlier games).
We are here today to take a closer look at these powerful trainers. They act as the penultimate challenge of Pokémon, but what do we really know about them? From the human ghost girl of Hoenn, to the cheating champion of Johto, here are the 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Elite Four.
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15. Bruno Is A Cheater!
The first member of any Elite Four to show up in the Pokémon anime was Bruno. Koga technically appeared first, but he was a Gym leader at the time, and had not joined the Johto Elite Four at this point. Ash met Bruno during the period before the Kanto Pokémon League tournament started. The two hung out in the episode “To Master The Onixpected”, and Ash learned some valuable lessons on Pokémon training from Bruno.
Despite how awesome he was in the cartoon, Bruno was a cheater in one of the video games! Unlike a certain other Dragon-type trainer who cheated in the first two generation of games (we’ll get to him), Bruno did it in one of the spin-offs. In Pokémon Stadium 2 for the Nintendo 64, when you face Bruno for the second time, he will have an Exeggutor on his team. This Exeggutor will know both AncientPower and Explosion… which was impossible at this point in the series. Exeggutor could only learn Explosion in the first generation of games through the use of a TM. Exeggutor could only learn AncientPower in the second generation of games as an Egg Move. While it was possible to have one of those moves at this point in time, it was impossible to have both. This was rectified from the third generation onward, and Exeggutor can now learn both moves legitimately.
14. Phoebe Has A Ghost In Her Room
A lot of the initial success of the Pokémon franchise can be attributed to the rise of the Internet. In the old days, when a cartoon had finished its run, then it was usually forgotten about and quickly replaced. Pokémon was released around the time that personal computers and Internet access were becoming commonplace in homes across the world. This is also the reason for the series’ longevity, as dedicated fans have kept Pokémon alive throughout the years.
Due to the original Pokémon games having unique secrets for the time (like Mew), the series became known for its myths & legends in the early days of the Internet. Much like the “Reviving Aeris” rumours that built around Final Fantasy VII, the Pokémon games were a popular source of fake secrets, that were spread around by gullible fans. In recent years, Pokémon creepypasta (Internet ghost stories) have taken their place, with tales of haunted cartridges, and glitched music killing children in Japan becoming popular online. It seems that Nintendo have taken notice of this, and have started to include their own ghost stories into the game. In Pokémon X & Y, there is the ghost of a girl in Lumiose City, whose presence has yet to be explained in-game.
In Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, there is a Ghost-type trainer in the Hoenn Elite Four named Phoebe. Just before the battle begins, you can see the ghost of a young girl sitting on the seat within the arena for a fraction of a second. After the battle is over, the ghost girl can be seen standing to the left of your character.
13. The Kanto Elite Four Wanted To End The World
In Pokémon Red & Blue, the Elite Four just sat around in the Pokémon League building all day. In the manga series, Pokémon Adventures, they tried to take over the world.
The manga version of the Kanto Elite Four were gathered together by Agatha, and they shared a desire to see humanity suffer for the poor treatment of Pokémon. Their plan to rule the world involved murdering everyone they felt wasn’t nice enough to Pokémon (which would have meant the death of most of mankind, if they had succeeded). Lance destroyed Viridian City with the aid of his Dragonair, and Lorelei almost killed Red (the protagonist) by freezing him in ice.
It was revealed that the true mastermind behind the group was Agatha, who used her Ghost-type Pokémon to mind-control Bruno into joining the group. The Elite Four would be foiled by the combined efforts of the main characters (Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow), the good Gym leaders, and Team Rocket (of all people). Lance and Bruno would become more heroic over time, and would abandon Agatha’s mad plan to commit genocide.
12. Lorelei’s Censored Episode
When Lorelei of the Kanto Elite Four first appeared in the Pokémon anime, most fans were not aware of her true identity. She had her name changed to “Prima” in the English dub, in order to accommodate the amount of mouth flaps needed to say her name. Lorelei/Prima quickly left an impression on fans when she appeared in the episode “The Mandarin Island Miss Match”, as she had one of the most sexual designs of any character up to that point. A lot of attention was spent on her buxom design and (relatively) revealing outfit. While there was nothing too explicit about Prima, she definitely stood out among the usual cast of characters. A brief clip was cut out of the original broadcast of her episode, as it prominently showed an image of one of Prima’s (clothed) breasts.
The episode was eventually removed from circulation completely, and it had nothing to do with Prima’s looks. One of Prima’s Pokémon was Jynx. This episode was created before Jynx’s redesign, when its skin colour was changed from black, to purple. This was due to accusations that Jynx’s character design was racist, due its resemblance to characters from blackface theatre. The episode is no longer broadcast on television/streaming services, and likely never will again.
11. Koga’s Censored Card
In Pokémon Gold & Silver, Koga is one of the few characters to receive a promotion. Lance would go on to leave the Kanto Elite Four, and become the Champion of Johto. Koga would leave his position as a Kanto Gym leader, and joined the Johto Elite Four. He would leave his daughter, Janine, in charge of the Fuschia City Gym.
During his time as a Gym leader, Koga was one of the few characters in the series to ever be censored. The Pokémon Trading Card Game once released a set known as “Gym Challenge”, that featured cards based around the Kanto Gym leaders. Koga had a Trainer card in this set called “Koga’s Ninja Trick“. This card had to be censored outside of Japan, due to it depicting a symbol similar to a swastika.
There exists a symbol in the Buddhist tradition called the “Manji”. The Manji was the inspiration behind the symbol of the Nazi regime, and it looks just like a reverse-swastika. The original Legend of Zelda game also ran into trouble when it used the Manji for the design of one of its dungeons.
The card was changed outside of Japan, and the Manji was replaced with a generic red symbol.
10. Elite Four Vs The Champion
The criteria for actually becoming a member of the Elite Four has never clearly been established. Most Elite Four members have no backstory outside of being a powerful trainer, who likes to hang out in the same room all day. This is not to say that they are stuck in this role forever, however, as some of them have changed positions throughout the series. Lance, for example, went from being the leader of the Kanto Elite Four, to becoming the Champion of Johto.
There is one bonus to being a member of the Elite Four – any member can arrange to battle the Champion without having to win eight badges. A set date has to be planned for the battle to take place, but the challenge can be made multiple times (so long as the Challenger remains a member of the Elite Four).
An Elite Four member challenging the Champion has happened on several occasions in the Pokémon anime. Cynthia was challenged by the three male members of the Sinnoh Elite Four (Lucian, Aaron, and Flint). She defeated each of them easily, and showed just how big the power gap is between the Elite Four and the Champion.
9. Bram Stoker’s Grimsley
With the Pokémon series running for so long now, it should come as no surprise that some of the characters are based upon real people. This isn’t even including the fact that you can visit the Game Freak office in Pokémon Red & Blue, and that Ash & Gary are named Satoshi & Shigeru in Japan, after two of Pokémon’s creators (Satoshi Tajiri and Shigeru Miyamoto).
Every Pokémon protagonist has a Nintendo console in their bedroom. This means that Nintendo exists as a company within the Pokémon world. As you only ever see one or two consoles in each game, it is impossible to tell what sort of video games exist there. It could be a Watchmen style situation, where Pirate comics became popular because superheroes were real. The kids in Pokémon probably play Nintendogs all day, and are amazed at the outlandish designs of the characters.
It is common knowledge that most Pokémon are based upon real life animals, or creatures from mythology. This also extends to Pokémon trainers as well. It was revealed in an interview with Yusuke Ohmura that Grimsley (the Dark-type trainer of the Unova Elite Four) was based upon Dracula.
8. Ash’s Chance At Victory
Pokémon fans across the world were disappointed earlier this year, when Ash Ketchum was defeated in the final battle of the Kalos League. He lost against Alain, despite having a type advantage (and twenty years of experience). Many fans were saddened by this loss, as it really seemed as if Ash would finally win a Pokémon League tournament.
Even if Ash had won the Kalos League, his journey would not be over yet. Winning the League is just the first step… and the hard part was yet to come.
In the Pokémon video games, you only need to collect eight Gym badges in order to challenge the Elite Four. In the anime, you do not earn the right to challenge the Elite Four until you have won the League. This means that only one new person is given the opportunity to become a regional Champion per year. This is why Ash has never battled any of the Elite Fours throughout the series – he still hasn’t earned the right.
7. Malva & Team Flare
The Pokémon games tend to reveal very little about the personalities and moralities of the individual Elite Four members. At best, we have to glean as much information as we can from their before & after battle quotes. We know things like Agatha hating Professor Oak, that Karen has strong opinions on the kinds of Pokémon people use, and that Grimsley makes gambling metaphors in battle.
While the Champion’s are usually active in the Pokémon world, the Elite Four are stuck in their building all day. There is one major exception to this, as a member of the Kalos Elite Four is very active behind the scenes. After you defeat Lysandre in Pokémon X & Y, it is revealed that Malva of the Elite Four was a secret member of Team Flare.
Fans guessed Malva’s secret role based on early footage of the game. This was due to her outfit sharing elements with the Team Flare uniform. The red motif might have been explainable (due to Malva being a Fire-type trainer), but the jaunty glasses were a dead giveaway.
Malva’s role as a member of Team Flare was much more active in the Pokémon anime, where she battles Alain. She eventually sees the error of her ways, and agrees to bring in the remaining members of Team Flare, and turn herself in.
6. The Elite Four Of The Puzzle League
Panel De Pon was a puzzle game on the Super Nintendo. It was essentially Tetris, except the new blocks come from the bottom of the screen, rather than the top. Panel De Pon starred Fairies, and had a very cutesy aesthetic. This was changed for the western release, where the Fairy characters were replaced with Mario ones, and it became known as Tetris Attack. This rebranding of Panel De Pon also happened on the Nintendo 64, where a Pokémon version of the game was released. It was known as Pokémon Puzzle League, and it was released to critical and commercial success.
Due to Pokémon Puzzle League being based off of the Pokémon anime (like Pokémon Yellow), the game included foes from the cartoon. Once you reached the end of the game, you have to battle an Elite Four made up of anime characters. In Pokémon Puzzle League, you have to battle Ritchie (the kid who beat Ash during the Kanto League tournament), Bruno, and Lorelei. The leader of the Elite Four is Gary, who also acts as the Champion of the game.
5. Sexy Shauntal
Pokémon is a series that has always been popular with both genders. It ignored the thinking established by earlier kid franchises, which stated that boys only liked action, whilst girls would only watch shows that had cute characters. Pokémon had both of these aspects, without alienating either gender. Pikachu could be both a badass fighter, and an adorable animal that you would want to buy toys of.
It is due to Pokemon trying to reach as wide an audience as possible, combined with the fact that it is a franchise intended for children, that sexual elements have rarely appeared in the games or the show. The few instances of sexualized females (mainly from the early seasons of the anime) were all censored out before they reached the English speaking regions.
In Japan, manga series’ are allowed to be more explicit in their portrayal of both nudity and violence, even when involved with a big franchise like Pokémon. Despite this, adult elements have rarely appeared there. The long-running and popular Pokémon Adventures manga has kept objectionable content to a minimum. One of the few exceptions to this is the portrayal of Shauntal, the Ghost-type trainer of the Unova Elite Four. Despite her barely being in the games, Shauntal’s first appearance in the manga puts a lot of focus onto her breasts. She is pursuing the Kami Trio, and is made soaking wet due to their weather influencing power. Most panels with Shauntal focus on her body from a male gaze perspective.
4. The Elite Four Gym Substitution Rule
The first generation of Pokémon games gave the impression that the Elite Four do nothing but stand around all day, waiting for challengers to show up. Later games have done little to rectify this belief. The Champion of each region has been shown to be proactive in dealing with trouble (with Lance foiling Team Rocket in Johto, or Alder battling N/Team Plasma in Unova). The Elite Four tend to stay in their building, and watch the wheels go round and round.
In the Pokémon anime, it is revealed that the individual Elite Four members have another function that comes with their role. If an established Gym leader cannot perform their duties, for whatever reason (going missing, quitting, dying), then a member of the Elite Four of that region can take their place on a short term basis. Due to Giovanni skipping town after Mewtwo broke free from Team Rocket’s control, the Viridian City Gym is left unattended. Agatha of the Kanto Elite Four takes his place, acting as a temporary Gym Leader until a new one can arrive.
3. Will’s Gender
The Pokémon series has always been very inclusive. It did take a few games before girls could be a playable option, but that was more to do with technical limitations, and a troubled development cycle than sexism on behalf of Game Freak. The series has even included a transgender character (although this was toned down in the western release). There have been many powerful female trainers in the Pokémon world, and it is a lot harder to enforce a glass ceiling when women can control fire-breathing dragons and literal god-monsters.
One of the members of the Johto Elite Four is a Psychic-type trainer named Will. There is strong evidence to suggest that Will was originally meant to be female. It was discovered among the dialog options in Pokémon Crystal that all characters in the game have their text separated by gender. Will’s dialog can be found among the female trainers.
While the dialog could be chalked up to a programming oversight/error, there is another factor to consider. All of his Pokémon in Gold & Silver were male (with the exception of Jynx, as they can only be female). In Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver, all of Will’s Pokémon were changed to female. This seems like an odd coincidence, and it has caused players to speculate as to whether this is a clue towards there being more to Will than meets the eye.
2. The Four Heavenly Kings
Sometimes things get lost in translation. When you have two languages that are as diverse, referential, and open to interpretation as English & Japanese, then important information can be lost along the way.
The Pokémon series has long suffered from unnecessary changes and editing to its text. The Pokémon Professors are actually supposed to be “Doctors“, for example. The move “Splash” (made famous by Magikarp) is supposed to be “Hop”, which is why the move can be used by Pokémon other than Water-types. Name changes happen a lot, and you just have to trust that the localisation team knows what they are doing.
In the original Japanese Pokémon games, the Elite Four have a way cooler name. They are referred to as the “Four Heavenly Kings” (despite the fact that a lot of them are women). This is a reference to four deities from the Buddhist religion. The Four Heavenly Kings rule over the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West), and are the protectors of the world & slayers of evil.
The Elite Four are not the only video game bosses to have this name. The four bosses of Street Fighter II (Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison) are also referred to as the Four Heavenly Kings.
1. Lance Is A Cheater!
Bruno might be a cheating jerk, but at least he kept it to the spin-off games. Lance has a much bigger role in the series, and he was cheating since day one. Lance is the final member of the Kanto Elite Four, and is the penultimate challenge of the game. He is a master of Dragon-type Pokémon, and his team will likely give you trouble due to the difficulty in countering Dragons at this point in the series.
What most players didn’t realise at the time, was that Lance had an illegal Pokémon on his team. His most powerful Pokémon was a Dragonite that knew Barrier. Even in the current generation of games, Dragonites cannot learn this move. Game Freak have acknowledged this flagrant abuse of the rules in the past, by releasing a limited edition “Lance’s Dragonite” through the Nintendo Wi-Fi network that knows Barrier.
Even after leaving the Elite Four, Lance kept to his cheating ways in Pokémon Gold & Silver. After defeating the Johto Elite Four, the player can face Lance, who is now the Champion of that region. He has an Aerodactyl on his team that knows Rock Slide. It was not possible for a player-owned Aerodactyl to learn this move until generation three (with the aid of a Move Tutor).
Lance also has three Dragonites that are level 47, 47, and 50, even thought Dragonair doesn’t evolve into Dragonite until it hits level 55. The only explanation is that he was giving them steroids, and that he will have to pull a Lance Armstrong, and confess to the Pokémon equivalent of Oprah Winfrey.