There are three trainers who ultimately define the Pokémon anime. Obviously, the first one is Ash. As the protagonist, it is only natural his journey be the main draw of the entire series to some fans. The other two, however, are not any of his companions- not even Misty or Brock. Rather, they’re Jesse and James, the two Team Rocket lackies who follows Ash from region to region without fail, all while desperately trying to steal his Pikachu away. Of the two, James is easily the most interesting, with a surprisingly amount of depth and a backstory that puts most of the series’ main characters to shame.
Having traveled through seven regions all for a single Pikachu, James’ character has changed quite a bit over the years. Where he started as your typical bad guy, he slowly grew into a sweet, almost compassionate, trainer who just happened to be in opposition to the series’ main character. His backstory continuously evolves, making him more than just the “R” on his chest, and later seasons have even gone so far as to demonstrate his competence as a trainer. It seems almost crazy that James of all characters has so much detail imbued into his character, but that’s just part of the appeal of the series. Pokémon is crazy.
25 Giovanni Inexplicably Really Trusts James
Team Rocket in the games is not equivalent to Team Rocket in the anime. They’re the same organization in name only. In the games, Team Rocket is basically a domestic attack organization bent on taking over Kanto. In the anime, Team Rocket really justs wants other people’s Pokémon.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that Giovanni not only really wants Pikachu, he only trusts James enough to carry out the task for him, albeit with Jesse’s help. It’s comical, but Giovanni genuinely does obsess over Ash’s Pikachu which means James is high up on the trust totem pole. Too bad for Giovanni, James isn’t particularly good at his job.
24 James Is A Better Trainer Than Jesse
One of James’ more endearing traits is his love for contests. This is an attribute he shares with Jesse and the two occasionally tackle the series’ many contests from Hoenn onwards. What’s quite interesting is how much better James does than Jesse, at least when they first start doing contests in Hoenn.
Imagine what James could do if he tried?
Jesse does not win a single Hoenn contest while James manages to actually win two. Going into Sinnoh, James does slow down a bit, but this may also be due to him simply having less Pokémon than his counterpart. With the right set up, James actively does better than Jesse, implying he’s a better trainer all around.
23 James Is Only 25
Given how long the anime has been running, you’d expect characters to be quite a deal older. By this point, had the series been keeping track of time, Ash would be between 18 and 20. Similarly, James should be in his mid to late thirties. Keyword being should. As the anime does not care for time, James is only 25.
Depending on how old you are, James is either younger or older than he seems. If you’re on the younger side, this may feel appropriate as James is still a deal older than Ash. If you’re older, however, James might come off quite young, being given so much responsibility in a criminal organization in just his twenties.
22 James Is Actually A Good Guy
Team Rocket is an unquestionably evil organization, even in the anime, but James is not a necessarily bad guy. In fact, he’s one of the more sincere characters in the series. Kindhearted, sweet, and generally an all around decent fellow, James is quite the goody two shoes.
Of course, he does work for Team Rocket, but what harm has he actually done? He even seems to get along amicably with Ash at times. James is a man who genuinely loves his Pokémon and the prospect of being a trainer. It’s a shame he wastes his talents on Team Rocket.
21 James Could Probably Beat Ash If He Ever Tried
Speaking of talent, James could probably defeat Ash in a straight up Pokémon battle if he actually put effort into being a trainer. Even with an intentionally stifled roster of Pokémon, James is able to post a legitimate threat to Ash. He rarely wins, if ever, but James is battling at a handicap.
Who's the real master?
This is not to say that Ash is a bad trainer, not by any means, but James is far more experienced with plenty of hidden depths regarding his trainer abilities. With the right discipline and mindset, James could take on just about anyone. Of course, a competent James wouldn’t be James.
20 James Loves Dressing In Women's Clothing
There’s something wholesome about how earnestly James loves dressing up in women’s clothing. From as early as the first season, James has embraced this interest like nothing else.
Sadly, or perhaps not so sadly depending on whether or not you prefer a more tonally serious anime, James has more or less abandoned this in recent years. If nothing else, it doesn’t happen with the same frequency. Given the series’ push for a more focused narrative, this does make sense to some degree. There’s no time for James to goof off as much.
19 That Time James Became A Legitimate Threat
Generation V was a time of transition for the series. With the advent of Unova, Game Freak decided that the games would reboot themselves, albeit softly. Rather than focusing on a pre-existing story with timeline similarities and established Pokémon, Unova would be its own thing entirely.
Naturally, this extended to the anime. Once Ash arrived in Unova, Jesse and James followed suit. Rather than wearing his typical white get-up, James donned a new, black uniform and generally acted far more menacingly as before. Given the season’s poor fan reception, however, James was retooled back to his lovable self.
18 James Is A High Ranking Team Rocket Officer
Throughout the course of the anime, James and Jesse are depicted as rather low-level Team Rocket grunts, to say the least. While Giovanni does trust them to set forth after Pikachu, that’s honestly about it. It’s such a menial task that you have to imagine it was only given to the lowest of the low.
You’re forgetting something, though: James was in charge of his own grunts during his time in Mt. Moon. This means that, despite the leniency of his mission, James is actually a high ranking Team Rocket officer. High enough where he has his own underlings. Realistically, he plays the role of an executive from the games.
17 James Refuses To Battle Wild Pokémon
James is not the type of trainer who goes out of his way to battle. While battling is a crucial part of training one’s Pokémon, it’s not exactly necessary. The anime works quite a bit differently from the games so “grinding” isn’t exactly a necessity. As a result, James rarely battles wild Pokémon.
Not everyone has it in them to fight.
It’s entirely possible this is simply due to James being a supporting character in a series where Ash gets most of the battles, so naturally, there wouldn’t be time for James to fight anything, but it does mesh with his gentle nature.
16 James Is A Poison/Grass Type Trainer
Not many characters in the anime actually follow set “themes” for their teams. Gym Leaders do have to abide by their rules, of course, but James is not a Gym Leader, he’s just a trainer. Which makes it all the more peculiar that James follows a relatively rigid pattern to team building.
At his core, James is a Poison/Grass Type trainer. He actually does lean quite a bit towards the latter, but there are actually aren’t all that many unique Pokémon for either Type so it does make sense for James to blend a bit. In a sense, he’d be a good candidate for taking over Koga’s Gym when the time comes.
15 Which Explains His Love Of Roses
Of course, any good Poison/Grass Type Trainer is going to need a nice prop to show the world he’s the real deal. Time and time again, James makes his series appearances with a rose in hand. It’s actually such a large part of his identity that James’ rose may as well be analogous with Team Rocket at this point.
A James by any other name...
From a purely character design perspective, this is also just a way of giving James a nice visual beat to help immediately identify his character from afar. It seems minor, and it is minor, but even the smallest details play a large role in character design.
14 James Straight Up Lost His Life
While the anime doesn’t shy away from more mature subject matter, especially nowadays (or at least between Johto and Alola,) the movies are a different beast entirely. Rather than giving you a lighthearted romp through the Pokémon world, the movies get pretty intense. Intense enough to obliterate James.
Not even James is safe from oblivion.
In Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, Yveltal blows up James. Not just James, but Jesse and Meowth with him. This is not up for interpretation, either. This is an actual event that happens on-screen that results in all their demises. Of course, it gets reversed by the end, but James lost his life in a move and it was kind of super morbid.
13 James Was A Biker
James’ past is so complicated that he was not only the estranged son of the richest estate in Kanto, he also rode in a biker gang. Not just any biker gang, however, the literal bike riding gang you interact with in Generation I. James was there! At least that’s what the anime tries to imply.
Some time before joining Team Rocket, James went full delinquent, bought a bicycle, and bothered pedestrians like his life depended on it. Small-scale terror wasn’t enough for him, however, and so James left gang life in favor of Team Rocket. The Pokémon anime is really weird.
12 James Rarely Evolves His Pokémon
Evolution is a natural concept in Pokémon. Sooner or later, your Pokémon are going to evolve. Whether it be through battling, evolutionary stones, or simply feeding them enough rare candies, time will be kind to your little Pocket Monsters. Unless you’re James, that is. For whatever reason, James rarely ever evolves his Pokémon.
To be completely honest, this isn’t an unfamiliar concept in the anime. Ash rarely, if ever, evolves his benched roster. Remember how Bulbasaur stayed Bulbasaur all the way to the end? The issue with James, though, is that even his main Pokémon don’t evolve. He’s one of the most stagnant trainers in the series.
11 James Is One Of The Only Trainers To Release A Pokémon
James really does not like holding onto Pokémon whenever he heads into a new region. Granted, neither does Ash, but the difference between Ash and James is that the former at least leaves his Pokémon with Professor Oak or his mother. James either straight up gives them away or releases them.
This makes James one of the only trainers to consistently release Pokémon in the anime. As of the current season, James has released his Weezing, Gyarados, and Victreebel. Two of which were actually some of his most iconic Pokémon. Of note, Cacnea, Growlithe, and Chimecho are currently tucked away at different locations.
10 James Is A Millionaire
Given how fragile the anime’s early season canon is, this may not actually be relevant anymore, but nothing in the series’ recent years disputes it by any means so it still stands: James is a millionaire. Not only is he a millionaire, Team Rocket is basically an act of rebellion on his part.
James could probably fund Team Rocket himself.
James’ Growlithe is actually tied to his eccentric, rich past which explains why he doesn’t bring him on his Team Rocket escapades. Later episodes do not comment on this concept whatsoever, but that’s just how early Pokémon goes. Remember Ash’s dad? Neither do Ash or his mother.
9 James Has Only Appeared In Three Games
This is true for really any series with an anime adaptation, but anime exclusive characters typically do not get the chance to make video game appearances. Not that this has ever stopped James, though. Generation I was particularly kind to him especially, giving him two appearances.
Three games and counting.
James appears in both Yellow and Puzzle League. Naturally, with the anime abandoning Kanto, the games abandoned James… until this Generation, surprisingly enough. With Kanto back in view, James is once again finding a home in Let’s Go. Given they’re soft reboots of Yellow, this only makes sense.
8 James Never Catches A New Pokémon In Johto
To really drive home just how utterly lazy James is, he never bothers to capture a single Pokémon during his time in Johto. James travels to a brand new land with brand new Pokémon he’s never seen before, and he does not so much as bother to throw a single Pokeball.
Why bother catching new Pokemon, right?
It’s honestly quite impressive. Team Rocket was in Johto for a very long time, too. Nearly three times as long as the time they spent chasing Pikachu in Kanto. For James, though, none of that matters. Who needs Pokémon when you have… Weezing? Too bad he’ll be getting rid of him sooner rather than later.
7 Kids WB Censored James In The West
James may have liked dressing up, but Kids WB, on the other hand, did not. In fact, they detested it so much that they took a rather active approach to censoring James. In general, Kids WB censored the series quite a bit, but James got the brunt of it, particularly in the series’ swimsuit episode.
Yes, the first season of the anime did, in fact, have a swimsuit episode where Misty and Jesse dressed up in bikinis for most of the full 22 minutes. So did James for that matter! In an attempt to disguise himself, James crossdressed as a woman with massive breasts. Naturally, Kids WB did not like this one bit and the whole episode was axed.
6 James Gives Away A LOT Of His Pokémon
We’ve already established that James releases quite a few of his Pokémon over the course of his series, but what we have not established is the frequency at which he does so. In many ways, James is like Ash, tucking away Pokémon from region to region, but James is actually far worse.
Most of the time, James doesn’t even wait until he’s done in a region. He’ll catch a Pokémon, hang onto them for a few episodes, and then get rid of them for whatever reason. James, somehow, cannot keep his Pokémon together. As of the series’ last episode, James has ONE Pokémon on hand with twelve just out in the world.
5 James Loves Catching Duplicates
Outside of Ash catching roughly thirty Tauroses in the Safari Zone, there aren’t many instances of trainers catching duplicates. It’s not something that happens often. That said, it’s not something that doesn’t happen either. James actually does manage to catch a duplicate during the series.
What makes this instance so interesting, however, is how James releases his Victreebel only to immediately go out and capture another one. Unlike Ash with his many Tauroses, James did this deliberately. Ash was forced to catch as many as possible.
4 James’ Pokémon Love Him, But Also Hate Him
James is such a lovable trainer, that his Pokémon actively show their love for him with their physicality. Unfortunately for James, this typically results in him being violently hugged or bitten. Where a dog would lick you out of affection, a Victreebel might not be as soft with their love.
It's hard to express affection.
James has been wrapped up in vines, chewed on excessively, and effectively suplexed into submission, all so that he may understand just how much his Pokémon love him. James’ fate is a cruel one, but it is one brought on entirely from just how darn likable a trainer he really is.
3 James Exists In Gale Of Darkness
Although James has only appeared in three of the series’ main games, he actually does have a weird cameo in the GameCube exclusive Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. A sequel to Colosseum, Gale of Darkness basically abandoned all of the series’ core mechanics for a more RPG driven approach.
At one point in the game, an NPC will describe another character who matches James’ physical description perfectly. Unfortunately, James does not appear in the game himself, but the fact he does exist in Gale of Darkness is a rather odd, but welcome, detail that helps expand the series’ scope just a bit.
2 There Is Nothing Romantic Between James And Jesse
Fans love shipping, and the Pokémon anime is no exception. It’s why you see so many people get intensely attached to Ash’s regional companions. Misty, May, Dawn, Serena, you name it. They should all end up with Ash! This likewise extends to Jesse and James, but is there anything going on there?
James and Jesse really do not have any sort of romantic relationship. Yes, they’re a man and woman spending an extensive amount of time together, but the series has never made a point to imply they’re anything other than friends at best and work partners at worst. They’ll never end up together because there’s no spark between them.
1 The Game James Doesn’t Care About Pikachu
James’, and by extension Team Rocket’s, pursuit of Pikachu is one of the defining features of both the character and the organization in the anime. Without Pikachu, Team Rocket has no unifying goal. Pikachu’s existence is so tied to their MO, that James and Team Rocket may as well not exist in the anime; at least the former.
He doesn't seem to care about much, honestly.
Which makes it so surprising that James’ video game counterpart has absolutely no desire to capture Pikachu. Rather, he’s just your basic Team Rocket grunt. In that sense, James may as well not exist in the games. Which, let’s be fair, he really doesn’t. He looks like James, his name is James, but he’s too barebones to be James.