Pokemon Go’s Blanche is the first non-binary character in a Nintendo franchise

It’s taken a long, long time, but it appears Pokemon Go has finally introduced the first non-binary character in a Nintendo franchise. A recent Niantic blog post referred to Blanche, the leader of Team Mystic, with a singular “their” pronoun, seemingly confirming the long-theorized Pokemon Go non-binary character’s identity.

In the Niantic blog post, which is framed as a series of in-game transmissions from Professor Willow, Willow says the following about Blanche: “Blanche became visibly upset, which tends to happen when things don’t go to their carefully curated plans.” Fans have taken this as a confirmation of Blanche’s identity as non-binary, teased by earlier examples of Blanche being referred to only by name while other trainers were referred to with gendered pronouns.

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While Pokemon Go is a Niantic-published game and is therefore not actually a Nintendo title, Pokemon games are heavily associated with Nintendo, often co-published by the company and releasing exclusively on Nintendo consoles. In Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee!, there was even crossover functionality with Niantic’s mobile title, so it’s entirely possible that characters from the game could eventually cameo in Game Freak’s titles or the Pokemon anime.

The existence of queer characters in other Nintendo titles is extremely rare and often hasn’t been canonically confirmed. There are a few examples of transgender characters, but their identities are often played for laughs. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link encounters a character named Vilia. It’s implied that Vilia identifies as a woman, but, as detailed in this Feminist Frequency video, the game treats her as identity as a joke. Birdo is another example of this, originally described in the Super Mario Bros. 2 manual as a male who “thinks he’s a girl” and in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as “of indeterminate gender” and referred to as “it.” Later references to the character used she/her pronouns, so some believe Birdo to be canonically trans.

Examples of possible non-binary characters are even less certain. Limstella, an enemy in Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance, is genderless, but they are not human or even fully sentient, instead being a kind of human-like construct made by antagonist Nergal. Forrest, a character in Fire Emblem: Conquest and Birthright, wears traditionally feminine clothing but uses he/him pronouns. While Forrest’s use of masculine pronouns does not necessarily mean he does not identify as non-binary, some fans interpret his character as a cisgender male who just enjoys dressing that way.

Regardless of Forrest’s preferred gender identification, Blanche’s use of they/them pronouns seems to show more commitment from Niantic to being direct about the character’s queerness, rather than the common tactic of using vagueness in order to allow queerphobic players to write the character off as not actually queer.