*Warning: Spoilers for Pokémon Sun & Moon to follow.*
The Pokémon series is no stranger to villainous teams. Ever since Team Rocket burst onto the scene at Mt. Moon in Pokémon Red & Blue, one of the most interesting things to look forward to with each new generation of Pokémon titles are the new villians. These malicious organizations have been radically different from game to game, from the simple domination goals of Team Rocket, to the world ending plans of Team Flare in Pokemon X & Y.
When Team Skull was first revealed as the evil team in the new region of Alola, their on-the-nose villainy seemed a tad unoriginal and uncreative to me. Nonetheless, now that I have played through Pokémon Sun & Moon, I firmly believe that Team Skull is the best villainous team the Pokémon series has ever seen thanks to their cutting satire of the series’ past antagonists and their surprisingly endearing charm.
From Cyrus of Team Galactic’s world-merging to Lysandre and Team Flare’s attempted extinction event, most villainous teams of the Pokémon series end up with the same boring goal: destroy or take over the world and replace it with a “better one”. This can be applied to pretty much every team. Even the Aether Foundation, who end up being the main villains of Pokémon Sun & Moon, have a similar plan using Ultra Beasts.
But Team Skull is different.
They don’t have any world-changing goals, they are just “cool dudes” who want to act “bad” and intimidate people: this poses the team in an antithetical position to the other teams. While Team Skull is quite pathetic…that’s the point. We have seen so many completely irredeemable evil teams in the Pokémon series that they have started to blend together, with Lysandre from Pokémon X and Y feeling especially underwhelming and unoriginal. Team Skull’s non-serious nature is a breath of fresh air in this series that usually features tired villain tropes.
Team Skull expresses this non-serious nature in how they act, dress, and talk. The grunts’ regular walking animation is over-exaggerated and hilarious due to them flailing their arms around trying to look hip and cool: these actions carry over even when they are just idly standing around and talking. It leaves no chance that you could take most of what they say very seriously at all – and it’s not like what they are saying is very intimidating in the first place.
Just like Team Rocket, Team Skull grunts are travelling around Alola trying to steal people’s Pokémon – but to no avail. They try to act threatening, but they ultimately can’t do anything, and shrivel up when they are even slightly challenged. This is best showcased with a scene where they are trying to steal berries from a berry farmer early on in the game. From this line forth, I knew Team Skull was something special:
This line would have been come out as awkward and out of character if it had been said by a member of any previous villainous teams like Team Aqua or Team Plasma. But due to how Team Skull grunts act and talk, it comes out as extremely hilarious. Their pathetic and cringy nature also serves as a slight commentary on how useless most grunts from big villainous teams are. If these teams are constantly getting their butt kicked by the main protagonist, why not have them act as weak as they end up being? But the grunts all small fries compared to the real “big bad” of Team Skull, Guzma.
Guzma is an amazing Team Leader. He certainly fits right into the ranks of great Pokémon villains alongside Giovanni, Cyrus, and Ghetsis. He has a very distinct personality, an interesting backstory (the little he gets), and some great lines and moments. From the moment that players meet Guzma at Malie Garden, it is clear that Guzma is more off-the-hook crazy than any team leader before, with his character starting at a mental state where characters like Ghetsis and Lyssandre ended up. This makes him a more interesting Pokémon antagonist, as we have yet to have seen a villain in a Pokémon game be so unhinged right from the start.
Of course, this leads to many great character moments in the game, with Guzma even flat out acknowledging how dumb the Team Skull grunts are at one point. Guzma’s crazy personality and his funny quotes make him one of the most engaging villains in the Pokémon series, even if he doesn’t wind up being the main villain. This makes it all the more sad when you see him dumbfounded by the Ultra Beasts after he sees Lusamine merge with Nihilego.
Then there is Team Skull’s base of operation, the ransacked Po Town. It is the proud home of the worst Pokemon Center in any game; the power there has been turned off, so you can’t use the PC and have to pay a small fee to heal your Pokemon. Then there is Guzma’s mansion, which is also not well kept, but it is home to almost every Team Skull grunt, leading to some humorous confrontations and dialogue there: the whole scummy nature of the town adds a lot of charm. Most villainous team bases, such as the Galactic Veilstone Building or the Aether Paradise from previous games, are well-kept and presentable, but not Po Town. This slimy town is a perfect reflection of Team Skull’s personality, and adds to the team’s charm even more.
More than anything, Team Skull shows that Game Freak is self-aware of the flaws in previous games’ stories. The team serves as an antithesis to other Pokémon teams with how their grunts look, speak, and act, with their boss, and with their overall inconsequential nature in the grand scheme of things. Team Skull is also home to some of the best writing the Pokémon series has ever seen, which is impressive in of itself in the series’ 20-year history.
This deeper meaning behind the team, combined with their overall humorous look and appearances in the games, has convinced me that Team Skull are the best villains of any Pokémon game. While Team Skull may not have been as maniacal, threatening, or successful as some other teams, they were the most charming of any of them, and in the end, charming villains will trump generic chumps any time.