Q&A: What Do Japanese Fans Call These Legendary Pokemon?

I’m still playing catch-up with a lot of my older e-mails and Q&As, so here’s a look at one from Morgil about the Pokemon series:

So in the pokemon franchise, the three legendary pokemon Raikou, Entei, and Suicune tend to cause some argueing amonst the fandom as far as what to collectively call them. Some people call the The Legendary Dogs, while others say The Legendary Cats. Still others go with Legendary Beasts (I happen to be in this camp). I’ve even heard some people poke fun at the controversy and jokingly call them Legendary Hamsters. Needless to say, this has cause some arguing and debate amongst the famdom, and i started to wonder how the Japanese handle this. Do they have a collective term for the three, and do they argue what to classify them as?

Disclaimer: I’m way, way, way behind in terms of Pokemon games. I only played maybe halfway through one of the first-generation games and read a manga or two back in the day. And I’ve seen a few episodes of the anime before. So I’m NOT an authority at all. With that said, let’s take a stab at the question!

First, here’s a look at Raikou, Entei, and Suicune:

They go by essentially the same names in Japanese, and their names all have something to do with elemental stuff. The “Rai” in “Raikou” means thunder or lightning, the “En” in Entei means fire or flame, and the “Sui” in Suicine means water.

Again, since I know very little about the series, I had to do some very basic research first. Apparently these are rare Pokemon that are called Legendary Pokemon by English-speaking fans. Japanese fans sometimes call them Legendary Pokemon too, but sometimes they’re just called “rare Pokemon” too. I don’t know what makes a Pokemon “legendary” or “not legendary”, so digging further into it I came across what I assume is an unofficial chart that tries to categorize the rare ones:

This chart has three categories: Legendary Pokemon, Legendary Pokemon (Forbidden), and something that’s tough to translate but is something like “Mystical Pokemon” or “Mythical Pokemon”. And Raikou, Entei, and Suicune are all in the Legendary Pokemon category. Interestingly, judging from various Japanese message board posts, there do seem to be arguments about what should be considered “legendary” and what should be considered “rare”, so it seems it’s an issue that’s not necessarily localization-caused.

With that basic info down, I next looked to see what these three are called in Japanese as a group. From what I can tell online, the games simply use the general counter for animals (written in kana as ひき, びき, or ぴき or in kanji as 匹), which would make it something like “three animals” or “three creatures”:

Some other promotional materials handle it the same way:

Those refer to the three Pokemon in general terms, though, so it makes sense that the general counter for animals was used.

To find what their group is called in more specific contexts, I dug around Japanese fan sites and message boards even more. I didn’t see “three cats” used much, if ever, but the term “three dogs” seems to be very commonly used. In fact, here’s a list of the different groups of threes that I ran across during my research:

Pokemon (using localized names)Japanese Group Name
Terrakion, Cobalion, Virizionthe Three Beasts
Thundurus, Tornadus, Landorusthe Three Devils
Uxie, Azelf, MespritUMAs (Unidentified Mysterious Animals)
Registeel, Regice, Regirockthe Three Statues
Moltres, Zapdos, Articunothe Three Birds
Raikou, Entei, Suicunethe Three Dogs

So it looks like Japanese fans don’t necessarily call them “Legendary Dogs” but they do call them “the Three Dogs”. Is that official or not? I’m not really sure and don’t have the resources to check right now – maybe someone reading this can add some extra info to the mix? But at the very least, Japanese fans seem to consider them dogs.

For added reference, here’s a Japanese image search comparison:

So that makes it even clearer that Japanese fans don’t really think of these Pokemon as a group of cats.

Anyway, hopefully that answers the question somewhat. I’m no Pokemon expert, and I’m sure I’ve gotten some stuff wrong in here, so if anyone can offer more info or insight, please share it in the comments for all to see! When it comes to explaining Japanese Pokemon stuff, I seriously feel like a first grader trying to teach college students 😛

As an aside, I’m also amused by the fact that the birds are called Fire, Thunder, Freezer in Japanese. I’m gonna have to look into these games and give them a full analysis someday!

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  1. Lately Pokemon has actually been calling the mythical Pokemon “Mythical Pokemon” instead of Legendary but it hasn’t really caught on among the fanbase.

    1. Oh, man. 幻 and 伝説 and 神話 and stuff like that are all so close in translation that it’s understandable that people would get confused :X

  2. Yeah I’ve never heard of them referred to as cats either. Not positive if the games call them dogs but I’m pretty sure stuff like Nintendo Power and the player’s guides have.

    And as far as what makes a pokemon “legendary”, I thought it was just the fact that there is only one of them. The chart is interesting, and it makes some sense now that I think about it:
    1. The world generally knows these exist and they are the hardest among pokemon to catch
    2. Each game’s storyline centers around these and you are basically the pokemon master if you catch them
    3. These are the pokemon only spoken of in legend; they’re only attainable through Nintendo events or whatever.

  3. In the first box, these are mostly the “lesser” Legendaries. They usually come in either pairs or trios, and are generally not part of a game’s plot individually (with the exception of Suicune for Crystal version). Heatran is also kinda in this group ’cause he’s the most random and out-of-the-left-field Legendary Pokémon in the game. He’s just chillin at the back of a volcano not really doing much.

    Aside from Mewtwo and Kyurem, all the Pokémon in the middle box are featured on the game packaging for one version or another. These are the “main” legendaries of the story, and very often are the centre of attention to the plot.
    I sometimes wonder if they created Kyurem just for the potential “grey” version that never happened after Black and White. Oh well.

    All the ones in the third box are completely unobtainable in any way in-game. You have to go to a promotional event where there’s a wireless signal in the store which downloads these guys to your game.
    The only one I’d disagree with here is Phione, ’cause you can breed as many as you want if you have at least one.

    Just to confirm, this chart does indeed show every Legendary Pokémon. In English, I have only ever seen these guys referred to as “Legendary Pokémon”, and there isn’t really any perceived distinction between them like this chart shows.
    For instance, I’ve seen the term “Legendary trio” used in English to group together Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza just as much as it’s been used to group Entei, Suicune and Raikou.

  4. Also, as a small aside about that magazine screenshot promoting the 色違い Pokémon: In English, the fanbase only really ever refers to these as “Shiny Pokémon”. And starting with Black and White, the games call them “Shiny” too! Before this, they were referred to as “alternate-colour Pokémon” or something like that, but we all just said shiny anyway.

  5. You did really good on this article, especially considering you know next to nothing about Pokémon! 😛
    So I guess officially, they’re supposed to be the legendary animals. I’ve never even heard English fans use half of the terms the Japanese seem to use. All the American promos call them “legendary trio”, or some other ambiguous group name, so it’s guess the Japanese name is the most specific thing we have that’s official. Oh well.

  6. I was already convinced that they weren’t cats before this, but now I have this article to throw in the face of whoever thinks these Pokemon are cat-like. Ha!

    You should really do Red/Blue version. Just choose one, though; they’re exactly the same except for a few little things that have nothing to do with the localisation. Although there is a crazy backstory behind the original localization… I think by now most fans know about it, and it would be easy to find an article about the whole thing if you just did a quick search. It involves the Japan-exclusive Green Version of the game. It’s simple to explain, basically, Japan got Red version and Green version, the “original” release of the game. Later on, they released a Blue version, which you could only get through some sort of mail-order campaign. It had various small updates, mainly, they overhauled all of the Pokemon sprites. America just took that Blue version and made it into the Red and Blue we know today. This is why the re-makes of Red and Blue were FireRed and LeafGreen instead of WaterBlue or whatever. Interesting stuff, though. But, like I keep on saying in random places around the internet, you should really finish either one or the other of your currently running projects first. :3 You sorta kinda have all the time in the world to do whatever game you wanna do, so take your time, but never give up! Trust your instincts! (Star Fox 64 would also be a good game to do, it actually doesn’t have much text in it, either! It might not even take too long!)

    1. Actually, that’s only partially correct. The real answer for what they did was that they took Blue’s basic coding (it was apparently more stable) and script, but took all the Pokemon locations from Red and Green. If you look up Blue’s Pokemon list, you’ll notice that its very different from Red and Green, including the in-game trades. This is why some of the people you trade with will state that the Pokemon you gave them evolved, since in the Blue version the Pokemon you traded to them was often one of the ones that evolved by trading.

  7. The Pixiv dictionary really helps a lot.
    According to that entry, they are indeed called “The Three Dogs” (or 三犬 Sanken) by the fanbase. The description states that “The Three Legendary Holy Beasts” (伝説の三聖獣 Densetsu no Sanseijuu) is also used, but since it isn’t the name of the tag itself, I’m assuming it has lesser priority. I guess the main reason people don’t want to call them dogs in English (and I myself prefer “Legendary Beasts”) is because of Raikou, which seems to be based off of a tiger and clearly not a dog. However, Japanese kanji readings aren’t always so literal (especially when they’re using the on-readings as they are here), so fans on that side of the ocean probably feel more inclined to call them “dogs” with Raikou included as the only exception (more-so since tigers still fit the general description of “four-legged carnivore”).

    As for the other stuff about legendary Pokemon, ALL of them are generally called “legendary” no matter where in the world you are (even stuff like Mewtwo, which was only recently created by man). That categorization you listed really just separates them in terms of standard legendaries, top-stat legendaries which are frequently banned in tournament use (the “forbidden” ones), and legendaries which are solely obtained through promotional distribution events while also being frequently banned in tournaments (the “mythical” Pokemon, though I usually see them translated as “Phantom Pokemon”).

    Though, of all the “legendary” Pokemon, Heatran and Phione seem to be the biggest oddities. Phione can only be obtained by breeding Manaphy, and though you can’t breed for more Manaphy, the Phione can be bred ad infinitum (even though other legendary Pokemon can’t breed at all). Perhaps as a result of this, their stats are quite low, even amongst common Pokemon let alone legendaries. Yet in spite of this, Game Freak officially categorizes them as legendary Pokemon, and worse, frequently bans them from tournaments despite not being even remotely broken. Heatran, meanwhile, can be either male or female despite being incapable of breeding (other legendaries have no gender, or in cases like Latias and Latios, only one set gender). On top of that, it doesn’t seem to have any particularly noteworthy background like all the other legendaries, with its Pokedex entry only talking about how it can walk on walls and ceilings. Incidentally, Pixiv has another tag poking fun at Heatran’s status, called “Gokibrus” (gokiburi=cockroach).

    It might be worth noting that Lugia and Ho-oh were also categorized as “Phantom Pokemon” at one point; when Lugia premiered in the 2nd movie, it took on that title. Also, in generation 3 games (the Game Boy Advanced and Game Cube titles), the only way to obtain those two was either through promotional events, or playing all the way through the two Game Cube titles (though since XD, the game which gave you Lugia, never came out until well after Fire Red/Leaf Green was released, Lugia really was promotion-only for a while). Oddly, despite the Game Cube games giving you free access to them, Game Freak’s official site still categorized Lugia and Ho-oh as “Phantom Pokemon” all the way until the release of Heart Gold/Soul Silver. I’m guessing that they just never acknowledge the Game Cube RPGs (which were developed by Genius Sonority) as part of the official Pokemon line-up.

  8. There’s also the term “Illusory Pokemon” which was first mentioned in the original design document for Capsule Monsters for mons that you may not encounter and would naturally attain a “legendary” status. See Glitterberri’s translation: http://www.glitterberri.com/pokemon-red-blue/early-concept-art/2/
    A comment there suggests that Illusory is a translation of a Japanese term that later came to mean those distribution-only Pokés (the third tier of the diagram). Of course, as mentioned, in English all of them get called Legendary even though there’s a lot more nuance in their roles and their Japanese titles.

    1. Yeah, the term (not all that accurately) translated as “illusory” there is “幻の”. See also more people in that comment section being of the belief that 幻のポケモン/Mythical Pokemon is somehow a Japanese-exclusive term… *sigh*.

  9. WilliamLongfellow

    Some years ago, when I was more involved in the Pokémon fandom, I remember English-speaking fans using “legendary dogs”, “legendary cats”, and “legendary beasts” to refer to Entei, Suicune, and Raikou. “Legendary birds” traditionally referred to Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, but the introduction of Lugia and Ho-oh complicated that name.

  10. You finally answered one of my questions! Joy! 🙂

    Anyway, while i still prefer the term “Legendary Beasts”, it is nice to see how they think of it over in Japan. I know Beasts is the term Bulbapedia uses. At least Cats can now be crossed off the list.

    I always found Articuno’s Japanese name rather amusing, just cuz it always reminds me of a certain DBZ villain.

    Speaking of anime, years ago i saw an episode of the series Inuyasha where there was a fiery horse named Entei. I remember flipping out when i heard that and was all like “Dude, they named it after the pokemon! Awesome!” Now, however, i realize they probably didn’t swipe the name from pokemon, or vice versa. Instead, it’s probably more likely they both just coincidentally came up with the same name based on the En/Fire thing.

  11. Three dogs?? I wonder why the Western fandom didn’t agree on “legendary beasts”… I know Raikou is cat-like, but I don’t know about Suicune…. Anyway, I know this is not related to this article, but Mato, do you remember that request I made earlier this week about that //hack.G.U. game? How many pictures you me to take?

    1. Just take pics of whatever you wanna know about. Although keep it within reason I guess – 500 pics might be a bit too much to go through and translate and write up a post about 😛

  12. The “Mythical Pokemon” (幻のポケモン) term got introduced with Ruby and Sapphire, I believe, which is when the events for distributing these elusive buggers became a lot more commonplace (and also usually tied to movie releases). Prior to that, there was no exclusive term for them, and both 幻のポケモン and 伝説のポケモン were used as descriptors for a lot of random monsters.

    The English localization kept using the term “Legendary Pokemon” as a translation for both 伝説のポケモン and 幻のポケモン for quite a while, until they finally caved in and started using “Legendary Pokemon” for 伝説のポケモン and “Mythical Pokemon” for 幻のポケモン in I believe 2009, when the Mythical Pokemon Arceus was first revealed.

    For some reason, the Pokemon fandom in general STILL hasn’t realized this despite the term being used frequently in promotions, so get used to seeing fan terms like “event legendaries” and whatnot on fansites even 5 years after these things got their very own official English classification. It’s weird.

  13. “Give these games a full analysis someday”


    If you’re ever serious about this, hit me up and I’ll catch you up to speed.

  14. I always thought of them as dogs that matched the birds of the first generation, but really I don’t know for certain. I’d guess they’re mammalian mash-ups of big cats and dogs and whatever else you like. Though if there are enough people that call them dogs, I guess I won’t correct myself.

    But yeah, each generation tends to have a(t least one) legendary trio (though there isn’t one in the newest generation), mascot characters, then event-exclusive pokemon (ie, only available at special times/locations). I don’t know much about Japanese but I know plenty about pokemon, so if you ever have any basic questions, I’ll try to answer if nobody else can (thought it seems there are plenty of able fans on this site.) I look forward to more poke-analyses (such as the comfy shorts youngster!) in the future.

  15. Mysterious stranger

    has anybody else ever noticed that with Articuno, zapdos, and moltres have 1,2, and 3, in their names? (spanish: uno, dos, tres)

  16. Individually they do look like a lion, a tiger/cheetah and a… river dragon from Spirited Away, but the three together do resemble the less domestic-looking dogs than they do any other category of animal.

    I still think a good half of the Eeveelutions are flat out cats infused with an element, though.

  17. For reference, here are the English fan-terms for those trios:

    Three Beasts = Musketeer trio (they have a three musketeers theme that isn’t immediately obvious)
    Three Devils = Genies or Genie Trio
    UMAs = Lake Trio, Pixies or Lake Pixies (they each live in a lake)
    Three Statues = Legendary Golems
    Three Birds = Legendary Birds
    Three Dogs = Legendary Beasts/Dogs/Cats/Gerbils (the last being a popular jab at the dog/cat debate)

  18. Heck, why don’t we just call them the Johto trio (and Zapdos/Motres/Articuno the Kanto Trio), and avoid trying to label them as species of creatures to begin with. At least there’d be less arguments, no? They’re both trios, and the former is indeed based on Johto while the latter is indeed based in Kanto, not to mention they’re specific and unique trios to their respective regions, so I’d say it’d at least be accurate.
    I called the Johto Trio “the three rare dogs” for the longest time, myself. But now I tend to stick with just simply Johto Trio; causes less confusion, debates, and arguments, in my experience. Whatever that’s worth anyway, heh.

  19. I remember them being called Legendary Cats as an ancient message board related joke. Everyone called them Legendary Dogs before that, and Legendary Cats was just a tongue-in-cheek joke to irritate the more naive forum-goers. Seems like it caught on in an odd way…

  20. In that Japanese chart, the first group is separate from the second because the ones in the first group can be used in battle facilities in the game where the second group are banned, presumably for being too powerful. The third group are event only pokemon which can’t be obtained through normal gameplay, you have to go to an event to get them or they’ll be distributed via Wi-Fi. They are also banned.


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