Gym Leaders RATED – Misty

Welcome back to the second instalment of Gym Leaders RATED, the series where I judge the gym leaders of the Pokémon anime according to my four S’s:

  • Strategy – do they fight good?
  • Style – do they look good?
  • Standing – do they do good?
  • Structure – do they build good?

Today’s gym leader is…


Misty in Fire Red/Leaf Green

Specialisation: Water
Signature Pokémon: Starmie, later Gyarados
Badge: Cascade

Strategy: 4/5

When Ash first challenges the Cerulean Gym, Misty doesn’t seem all that impressive.  She uses two Pokémon with basically the same abilities; her strongest Pokémon, Starmie, loses convincingly to Ash’s Pidgeotto, who was always kind of a “filler” Pokémon on Ash’s team and has no particular advantages over Starmie.  To be fair, though, Misty isn’t the gym leader at that point.  She’s stepping in to cover for her older sisters Lily, Violet and Daisy (famous water ballerinas, collectively known as the Sensational Sisters), who hold the position jointly, but have lost interest in battling after a string of crushing defeats at the hands of Ash’s Pallet Town rivals.  Under trying circumstances, Misty does all right.  Like any good Water-type specialist, she makes good use of the gym’s pool as cover for her starfish Pokémon, has Staryu counter the powder attacks of Ash’s Butterfree by washing them off, and quickly intuits that she doesn’t actually have to overpower Ash’s Flying Pokémon – knocking into the water is enough to render them helpless.

After officially becoming the leader, and over the course of her tenure, she gets better and better.  During her time in Johto, Misty comes to rely heavily on the Corsola she catches there, and continues to after returning to Cerulean City.  Corsola can fight well even on land, and its Recover technique consistently lets it come back from near-defeats.  By the time of the Alola series, when Ash’s classmates visit Kanto to see what a gym battle is like, Misty’s even comfortable fielding her notoriously unreliable Psyduck – in a two-on-one battle, which she wins.  Her battle against Ash himself in this episode is also one for the history books, featuring a Mega Gyarados and a powerful combo of Rain Dance and Hurricane that, according to Misty, no challenger before Ash has ever escaped.

Also, there is one episode where Misty and Daisy win a double battle with a pair of Luvdisc, and frankly you have to respect that.

Misty savours imminent victory during her gym battle with Ash.

Style: 4/5

Where Misty’s personal style comes from is actually kind of an interesting question of characterisation in the Pokémon anime.  Misty has a complicated relationship with traditional feminine beauty, because she seems to have adopted her trademark “tomboyish” attitude and clothing as a gesture of rebellion against her high-femme sisters.  She grew up in the shadows of Lily, Violet and Daisy, and talks in one episode about how all her feminine clothes and toys were hand-me-downs from her shallow, superficial sisters.  Even while she’s defending the gym on their behalf, Lily can’t resist the backhanded compliment “we three got the good looks in the family, so I guess she had to get some talent.”  You really can’t blame Misty for wanting to be as different from them as possible.

The legacy of the Sensational Sisters means that beauty and glamour are part of the package of being leader of the Cerulean Gym, though, and the gym seems to get a good chunk of its income and reputation from the Sisters’ water ballets.  When she is forced to help with one of these, Misty resents being made to perform in costume and stand at the centre of attention, and refuses to repeat her performance when her sisters ask her again in later episodes.  However, she also seems to enjoy it in the moment, and her debut appearance as the Magical Mermaid wins her the hearts of Cerulean City’s people.  We also learn that she can also hold her breath underwater for a frankly ridiculous amount of time, and I don’t know if that qualifies as “style” but it’s definitely on-theme for a Water-type specialist. 

Misty shows off her new Key Stone.

Standing: 4/5

Several episodes focus on Misty’s experiences as a newly-minted gym leader after her return to Cerulean City.  Her sisters are still involved in at least some of the Cerulean Gym’s regular business, and of course they still perform there, which presumably remains an important revenue stream for the gym and an attraction for both locals and tourists.  However, they seem to be most interested in advancing their acting and modelling careers, leaving Misty as the only one who takes the job seriously.

She becomes the gym leader at very short notice, when Lily, Violet and Daisy just… leave… without warning… to go on a cruise.  When she arrives home, Misty finds that the place is in imminent danger of being shut down because their Gyarados has been trashing the facilities and terrorising the other Pokémon in their absence.  By the end of the episode, she’s won Gyarados’ loyalty by taking a Poison Sting barrage from three Tentacruel and fought off an attack by a trio of disgruntled ex-Team Rocket members, in the process passing an official gym inspection and proving herself a hero in front of a huge crowd of watching citizens – not a bad first day.

Later, she personally travels to a remote village to have her Cascade Badges crafted by a master artisan, who conscripts her as a workshop assistant (with, for some reason, a strictly enforced exercise regimen) as the price of his help.  This guy supposedly makes badges for gyms all over Kanto, and it’s implied that he expects all leaders to prove themselves the same way, but Misty’s sisters never mentioned this to her and it’s a little hard to imagine them putting in a hard day’s work forging their own badges.  It’s really the contrast with her predecessors that makes Misty stand out as a good leader.

Structure: 3/5

The original design of the Cerulean Gym is… frankly pretty garish.  Bright, clashing colours, a swirling wave frieze, a huge Dewgong on the roof for some reason… it looks more like a circus than anything else.  Its facilities are pretty sweet, though; in addition to a battle arena, the Cerulean Gym boasts an impressive aquarium (with, apparently, the world’s largest known collection of non-Pokémon fish species).  The main pool itself is also quite something – it’s actually a huge glass tank that can rise up out of the floor to give spectators a view of all the underwater action.  Granted, Lily, Violet and Daisy don’t seem to actually use it for battles very much, but it’s still an amazing centrepiece for a Water-type gym.  There’s also an argument that, if you’re a young Water-type trainer wanting to move up in the world, you might care more about having access to a large pool for your Pokémon to swim in than having competent tutors.

After Misty’s had control of the gym herself for a while, she apparently redecorates pretty heavily; when Ash visits with his Alolan friends, the gym has a pyramidal roof of glass and steel that looks… honestly pretty awesome, although it doesn’t really have a clear Water-type aesthetic anymore.  It also now boasts a convertible arena that can switch between land and water battlefields at Misty’s command, which seems like it could be a useful way of adjusting difficulty for challengers: a novice can face Misty on land; a pro has to fight her on her home turf – or, more accurately, home surf.

…I’ll see myself out.

The Sensational Sisters’ arena.

Final Rating: 3.75/5

Misty’s story is almost the reverse of Brock’s.  We first meet her as an exile from her family’s gym who resents her sisters’ leadership, but eventually grows to the point where she can return and take charge herself, turning the gym around with a new, more disciplined and dedicated approach.  And, well, Kanto probably appreciated the Sensational Sisters more as actresses anyway.

Episodes cited:

  • EP 007, The Water Flowers of Cerulean City
  • EP 052, Princess vs. Princess
  • EP 063, The Misty Mermaid
  • SS 06, Cerulean Blues
  • SS 09, The Blue Badge of Courage
  • SS 16, Luvdisc is a Many-Splendored Thing
  • SM 43, When Regions Collide