In a long-running franchise that basically thrives on minimal characterization, it’s only natural that the Gym Leaders, each Generation’s defacto bosses, end up some of the most popular characters in the Pokémon series. While they rarely, if ever, interact with the plot in some meaningful way, they end up some of the most appealing characters in large part due to their designs and easy to understand personalities. In typing all the Gym Leaders, Game Freak is capable of using visual shorthand to quickly convey traits and demeanors to players without slowing down the pacing.
Naturally, Sabrina has wound up one of the more popular Gym Leaders in the franchise. With countless appearances in half a dozen mangas, the anime, and even multiple Generations, it’s hard not to like Sabrina. Her personality is clearly defined, she has a great design that constantly changes, and she’s just generally likable (depending on which version of the series you’re consuming.) For as simplistic as the Gym Leaders can be, however, it’s not as if Game Freak writes them with absolutely no nuances. Starting with Generation II, characters began taking on subtle traits. As a result, Sabrina has become quite the complex character with plenty of information to dig through.
32 Sabrina Uses Telepathy To Talk With Her Pokémon
For whatever reason, there happens to be an incredible amount of dialogue referring to Sabrina’s character. While this isn’t unusual for Gym Leaders Generation IV and onwards, it is strange that even before HeartGold and SoulSilver Sabrina was easily the most characterized of the Kanto Gym Leaders. In fact, one of the first things you learn about her is that she can telecommunicate with her Pokémon.
As a psychic, this is perhaps not too out of the ordinary, but to get a confirmation outright that such a feat is possible in the Pokémon universe is a massive deal, especially when it’s in reference to a major Gym Leader. Of course, given Sabrina’s role in both Gen I and Gen II, this doesn’t amount to much but flavor text, but it certainly adds some depth to her character.
30 Sabrina Is 21 During Generation I
Ages in Pokémon have always been a bit tricky. Red and Ash are both 10, but the former ages while the latter doesn’t. Brock and Misty accompany Ash, but are they 10? Is Misty a Gym Leader and not even a teenager? How old is Brock anyways? How old do you have to be in order to become a Gym Leader? There’s no real clear-cut answer, but The Electric Tale of Pikachu tries to offer an answer.
Gym Leader ages are still weird.
In The Electric Tale of Pikachu, it’s revealed that Sabrina is 21 years old. Given that she’s considered rather young for a Gym Leader, we can at least assume that most Gym Leaders are in their 20s. Of course, this is also the series where Misty, despite being roughly 13, still plays a major role but that’s beside the point. At least this manga tried giving reasonable ages to the cast.
29 She Personally Decommissioned The Karate King’s Gym
While Sabrina is, all things considered, one of the nicer Gym Leaders in the first Generation, her backstory reveals something not so kind about her. Before the events of Red, Blue, and Yellow, Saffron City had two gyms: the Fighting Gym and Psychic Gym. They coexisted in an attempt to give Kanto nine badges, but Sabrina had none of that.
When you're so good at your job that you don't want anybody else doing it.
As soon as Sabrina became Gym Leader of the Psychic Gym, she apparently went to the Fighting Gym and challenged the Karate Master to a battle. It’s implied that this battle put both Gyms on the line with the loser retiring as, once Sabrina won, the Fighting Gym lost its League recognition, rebranding itself as a Dojo.
28 Sabrina Can See The Future
Dialogues with Sabrina will almost always reference her ability to see the future in some way. She claims to have foreseen both Red and Gold when they challenge her respectively, and she even apparently sees her defeat in some respect, at least in the case of the former. When battling Gold, especially in rematches, she’ll sometimes mention off hand how she saw herself winning or that her visions aren’t always foolproof. It’s interesting enough for Pokémon to introduce the ability to see the future, but making it fallible gives it added depth.
27 Sabrina’s Inconsistent Champion Vision
Speaking of fallible visions, Sabrina makes a vision in Generation II that, for all intents and purposes, is a legitimate plot hole. Upon defeating Sabrina, she comments on how Gold will go on to make a great Champion. Specifically, she comments how she had a vision that Gold would be Champion. Here’s the problem: Gold is already Champion.
While the Elite Four doesn’t recognize him for gameplay reasons, the whole reason Gold ventures to Kanto is because he’s Champion. Now he’s just challenging the Kanto Gym Leaders for fun. They should naturally all know this, but Sabrina doesn’t. In fact, she has a vision he’ll become Champion. It’s all very odd and a result of Game Freak refusing to commit whole hog to the idea of a post-game in Pokemon.
26 Sabrina’s Gen I Characterization
Although Sabrina is as kind as she typically is in Gen I compared to other Generations, her characterization in Red and Blue is legitimately skewed. While everything seems business as usual on a textual level, Sabrina is visually… off, so to speak. Her actual design is fine, and in line with the rest of the series, but she’s holding a prop that doesn’t convey her personality.
Sabrina's not quite herself until Gen II.
If you need a reminder, it’s the whip. For some reason, Sabrina wields a whip during her Gym Battle against Red. Now, this isn't’ a trait unique to her in the first two games, but it’s one that creates a contradiction in her character. Why would Sabrina, someone who respects her Pokémon and has a strong bond with them, whip them? This gets all the odder when you learn how Sabrina feels about battling in general.
25 Sabrina Hates Battling
In a line of dialogue that passes by so fast, it honest to Arceus may as well not exist, it’s mentioned that Sabrina deplores battling. She’s the type of trainer who only battles because she has to. This is definitely a weird trait given she’s a Gym Leader, but it’s not one unique to her. In giving Sabrina a whip in the first two games, however, Game Freak completely undermines this characterization. Characters need to make sense both visually and cohesively. The redesign she got in Yellow was honestly for the best as was removing whips from the series altogether.
24 Ash Battles Sabrina Out Of Order
Although the Pokémon anime is far from a faithful adaptation, it at least tried to follow the main game’s beats as closely as possible. Events were changed in order to create actual drama, but the structure was about the same. Until Ash got to Sabrina. For whatever reason, instead of battling Sabrina sixth, Ash battles her fourth.
Even though this isn’t all that big a deal in theory, it severely hurts Sabrina’s reputation. In Generation I, she’s easily one of the toughest Gym Leaders in large part due to the fact that she’s designed to be fought near the end of the game. Stuffing her so early in the anime removes her natural tension and just makes for a weaker display of power on her part.
23 Sabrina’s A Jerk In The Anime
While she’s not exactly “nice” in the games, Sabrina’s not mean either. She’s fairly professional, treats you with respect, and acts how a Gym Leader should. In the anime, however, Sabrina’s a big ol’ jerk. Every time Ash tries to battle her, she either puts him down maliciously or tries to torture him with her Psychic abilities. It takes Ash befriending a Haunter to give her that finally snaps Sabrina out of her funk. It’s a bizarre take that takes a likable character in the game and turns her into a massive pain. You have to wonder what the anime staff was thinking here.
22 Sabrina’s Tragic Manga Backstory
While not the main manga, The Electric Tale of Pikachu is one of a few mangas that serve as adaptations for the series. Specifically, Electric Tale adapts the anime as a manga. It’s basically an adaptation within an adaptation. Although it is an adaptation of the anime, it does stray away from its source material quite liberally.
Most notably, Sabrina’s backstory is radically different and also fairly dark. Instead of Ash catching a Haunter to help defrost Sabrina’s chilly attitude, a Haunter straight up just sucked the souls out of all her Pokémon, basically eliminating them. It’s an insane change to her arc and one that results in a wildly different series of events.
21 Sabrina Is One Of Three Main Villains In Adventures
Unlike Pokemon Red and Blue that don’t really make use of Sabrina’s whip-wielding design, the longest-running manga in the series, Adventures, took inspiration from her design in order to turn her into a bonafide villain. Instead of just being a Gym Leader, Sabrina was also one of three leading members of Team Rocket in the manga.
Naturally, this makes Sabrina one of the manga’s three major villains for the first arc right next to Lt. Surge and Giovanni. She actively works against the protagonists and it isn’t until much later in the manga where she drops her role as a villain for a more supporting, rival role for one of the characters.
20 Electric Tale Sabrina Vs Adventures Sabrina
It’s amazing what two different writers can do with the same character in the exact same medium. Despite both being manga adaptations of the series, The Electric Tale of Pikachu and Adventures take radically different, and incompatible, approaches with Sabrina’s character.
The former shows us a kinder, sweeter Sabrina. She has a tragic backstory, but that doesn’t drive her to evil. Rather, she wants to overcome her trauma. The latter Sabrina is outright cruel, however, actively working for Team Rocket while comfortably attacking children for her own gain.
19 Sabrina’s Redemption Arc
Perhaps realizing the audacity of making Sabrina a major villain in a Pokémon manga, her character received an interesting retool in later arcs. While she never truly becomes a good person or ends up anything resembling heroic, Sabrina does end up putting her Team Rocket ways behind her. She slowly mellows out over the course of the series, even helping out Red at one point, potentially saving his life. It’s worth noting that she does want to restart Team Rocket, but Giovanni tells her to stay straight and just take care of her Gym which she ends up doing. It’s not a traditional redemption, but she’s far better than she once was.
18 Sabrina And Thu-Fi-Zer
Chances are you’re wondering what in the world a “Thu-Fi-Zer” is. After all, that’s not a Pokémon in the series. Right? Wrong. Kind of. In Pokémon Adventures, near the end of the first arc, Team Rocket gets their hand on all three Legendary birds and then fuses them together into the mythical “Thu-Fi-Zer,” an all-powerful Pokemon that Sabrina desperately wants for herself.
Thu-Fi-Zer is arguably the most off-putting Pokémon in the series.
For a time, Sabrina actually does utilize “Thu-Fi-Zer” under her control, specifically commanding it to attack Red. In its rage, Thu-Fi-Zer actually tries. Of course, since the main characters aren’t going to be seriously attacked by a Pokémon, Red survives and Thu-Fi-Zer is dealt with rather reliably, leaving Sabrina with no secret weapon to speak of.
17 Sabrina Barely Uses Any Psychic Pokémon In Stadium 2
Naturally, you’d expect Sabrina, the Psychic Type Gym Leader of Kanto to use Psychic Type Pokémon. This is the case for every single one of her appearances in the series for the most part. While she sometimes uses non-Psychic Pokémon, her teams tend to be mostly Psychic. Unless you’re playing Stadium 2.
For whatever reason, the developers of Stadium 2 gave Sabrina only two Psychic Type Pokémon in her rematch. Her team consists of: Scizor, Typhlosion, Hitmonlee, Sandslash, Slowking, and Alakazam. Of those six, only Slowking and Alakazam are Psychic Types. Of those two, only Alakazam is actually primarily Psychic with Slowking primarily Water.
16 Sabrina In Pokémon Zensho
Easily the least popular of the Generation I mangas, Zensho is yet another adaptation that depicts the events of Red and Blue. Interestingly, it’s also the most faithful, covering the game’s main story beats in a way that actually makes sense. Until you get to Sabrina. The poor Psychic just can’t catch a break, can she?
Good luck finding an English translation of Zensho.
Upon being defeated by Shigeru, this manga’s version of Blue, Sabrina falls into a depression where she straight up fails to challenged Satoshi, this manga’s version of Red. Ultimately, she gives Red her Marsh Badge after he takes out Giovanni and cheers her up with his Lapras. Why can’t the mangas get Sabrina right?
15 Sabrina The Magic Queen
Even super fans of the series might miss this fact: Sabrina appears in Generation V, and not just in the Gym Leader tournament during Black 2’s and White 2’s post game. Should you go to the Pokestar Studios and participate in the filming of either Mystery Doors of the Magical Land 1 and 3, you’ll be challenged by Bellelba: otherwise known as Sabrina. This connection is all the more obvious in the Japanese version where her name, “Jujube,” is a more literal translation of her real name, “Natsume.” Honestly, though, her visuals should be your main giveaway more than anything.
14 How To Get Sabrina’s Phone Number
Have you ever wanted to get Sabrina’s phone number for yourself? Of course, you have, but only in Heart Gold and Soul Silver do you have the opportunity to make your dreams come true! After defeating her in Saffron City and getting her badge, Sabrina can be found on the S.S. Aqua’s docks in Olivine City every Friday. Simply talk to her and you’ll be able to get her number. From there, you can schedule rematches with her and she’ll even occasionally call you herself.
13 Sabrina Once Fought Her Own Pokémon
To go back to whips for a bit, we need to discuss why they were even included. Originally, Game Freak wanted to play around with the idea that humans actually fought their Pokémon, either to subdue them or for whatever other reasons. Characters with whips were meant to reflect that as humans would use said whips to fend off Pokémon.
Whips have no place in Pokémon.
Naturally, this means Game Freak previously envisioned Sabrina fighting off Pokémon, whether her own or not, with a whip. Knowing the context doesn’t really make the situation any better and, if anything, Sabrina arguably comes off way worse. Why would a Psychic need to physically subdue her own Pokémon?
12 You Can Lose To Sabrina And Still Win Her Badge
In the original version of Red and Green- that’s right, the Japanese originals- there was a way to get Sabrina’s badge without actually beating her. Should you lose to Sabrina in your Gym battle, simply walking into Saffron Gym will pop up the badge text, awarding the player their Marsh Badge without so much as walking up to her for a rematch. Naturally, Game Freak caught this early and the glitch was removed from Japanese Blue and all localized versions of Generation I.
11 The Marsh Badge Versus The Gold Badge
Badge names are very interesting in Generation I, especially once you realize that they’re completely different in Japanese. Rather than using names similar to their Gym’s main type, all the badges were named after colors. This means Sabrina’s Marsh Badge was actually the Gold Badge originally. Does this have meaning, though?
As far as terminology goes, there is absolutely nothing to connect the word “marsh” to Psychic abilities in some way. On top of that, marsh doesn’t seem to describe what Sabrina’s badge actually is either: a gold circle. The Japanese name does make some sense, however, as Saffron City’s main color scheme is gold.
10 Sabrina Is Crazy Strong In Yellow
A big reason why Pokémon Yellow is one of the best third version in the series is because it actually tries to make the Generation it’s a part of substantially harder. Yellow did this primarily by making Pikachu the starter Pokémon and depriving it the means of evolution, but it didn’t stop there.
Be careful who you make fun of in Red and Blue.
Just about every trainer in the game was buffed, including Gym Leaders. As a result, Sabrina’s battle in Yellow ends up one of the tougher ones due to her team and level. At around level 50, Sabrina poses a massive threat at this point in the game and her Abra line offers a genuine challenge, especially since Alakazam is the strongest Pokémon in Gen I.
8 Sabrina And Green’s Weird Relationship
Since we’ve already established how weird Pokémon Adventures can be with Sabrina not only being a member of Team Rocket, but also one of three major antagonists, we can discuss her strange rivalry with Green. Modeled after unused concept art for a female playable character in Gen I, Green is one of Adventures’ three main characters in the first arc and she does not get along with Sabrina.
When it comes time to do battle with Sabrina, it’s ultimately Green who takes her down. Later on, the two need to team up, even getting handcuffed together in a buddy cop moment. Sabrina and Green absolutely despise one another. In a way, they have an almost early series Goku and Vegeta esque dynamic where they just hate each other's’ guts but team up because they’re both so equally powerful.
7 Sabrina’s Father
While we can presume that Sabrina has parents in any Pokémon continuity, given that she is a human being who was clearly birthed at some point, only the anime puts specific focus on them. Specifically, the first season of the anime ties Sabrina’s father deeply into her mini-arc when Ash is gearing up to battle her.
One of the few dads in the series we actually get to see.
Sabrina’s father actively warns Ash not to do battle with her as she is not in complete control of her Psychic powers, often misusing them. He’s also shown to be able to teleport without the need for Pokémon, implying that he’s quite the talented Psychic himself. Regardless, Sabrina’s father acts as a brief mentor of sorts to Ash, ensuring he be able to handle Sabrina appropriately.
6 What’s In A Name? Natsume/Sabrina
Sabrina’s namesake seems rather obvious, right? Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Easily the most famous named witch in the Western lexicon, of course, Nintendo of America would name the Psychic Gym Leader Sabrina when translating the game for western audiences. Here’s the thing though: while such a translation works, it might not actually be accurate.
In Japan, Sabrina’s name is Natsume. Natsume is the Japanese word for Jujube, a type of shrub which is an Angiospermae, otherwise known as a Flowering Plant. While Sabrina likely refers to the witch, it has a double meaning: Zebrina, another type of Flowering Plant. Obviously, Zebrina wouldn’t work as a name so it was cleverly retooled to Sabrina, keeping the plant reference in place.
5 Sabrina’s Trading Card Master Ball
If you’ve ever played the Pokémon Trading Card Game before, chances are you’ve noticed one peculiar card featuring Sabrina holding a Master Ball. A rather menacing image, it doesn’t exactly reflect what fans of the time would have known Sabrina as. Neither the anime or games painted this portrait of her as either a menacing Gym Leader of a Master Ball holder. So what gives?
You get the Master Ball and fight Sabrina in Saffron City so it does make sense.
If you think back to Generation I, where exactly do you remember getting the Master Ball? Saffron City, right? And what exactly is in Saffron City? The Saffron Gym which Sabrina is the Gym Leader of. It seems that, for whatever reason, the designer of the Master Ball card decided to simply give the ball to Sabrina as both are intimately connected to Saffron City.
4 Gen II Sabrina Is A Pushover
Any longtime Pokémon fan can tell you that Generation II is almost stupidly easy. If nothing else, it’s the easiest generation in the series by a country mile. This is best evidence by just how much Sabrina got nerfed from Pokémon Yellow to Gold, Silver, and Crystal. In Yellow, Sabrina has a team of Pokémon comfortably pushing fifty. That’s typically pre-Elite four endgame for most gens.
Come Generation II, however, and not a single Pokémon in Sabrina’s roster goes past their 40s. They’re all pitifully weak and offer absolutely no challenge to the player. Keep in mind, Gold is the Champion at this point with over eight badges, meaning Sabrina should be challenging him with her legitimate team. If this is her real team then you have to wonder what happened in the three year jump to make her so weak.
3 Sabrina The Esper Lady
In Japanese, Sabrina is specifically referred to as the “Esper Lady.” This is a formal title for her in the context of the series and one that demands some level of respect. The localizers tried adapting this title as “Psychic Master” or “Psychic Mistress,” but they don’t have the same ring or even intent of “Esper Lady.”
An esper is specifically a person who actively trains in psychic abilities in order to refine their powers. This is a concept rooted in reality as well (the term, at least.) In referring to Sabrina as “Esper Lady,” the people of Saffron City effectively put her on a Psychic pedestal. It’s more than just her being a “master,” she’s the gold standard for Psychic self-refinement.
2 She’s Famous In The Sevii Islands
In an attempt to give Kanto a proper post-game, Game Freak added in the Sevii Islands to FireRed and LeafGreen, a series of islands off the coast of Kanto, that could be visited during the events of the main game. After spending a brief time there, the player would be escorted out, only to be welcomed back once they beat the Elite Four.
Interestingly, rather just being post-game content, the Sevii Islands included information on new Gym Leaders and some Elite Four members. Notably, some inhabitants of the Islands will occasionally mention Sabrina by name either as a great Gym Leader or psychic. Regardless, this means Sabrina has some notoriety to her. Given what we learn about her later on, this does make a deal of sense.
1 Sabrina Uses Aura
A concept specifically introduced in Generation IV, Aura is a form of concentrated energy in the Pokémon universe, typically spiritual in nature. References to Aura in the series infer it as something every person has latently along with a skill they can use. Platinum shows us a character using Aura via Riley and XY specifically mention it outright. Interestingly, FireRed and LeafGreen do refer to Sabrina as an Aura user.
Sabrina's an Aura user in everything but name.
Given how video game development cycles work, it’s entirely possible the A-team was working on Generation IV while the B-team was wrapping up Generation III with the Kanto remakes. In FireRed and LeafGreen, Sabrina’s psychic abilities sound eerily similar to Aura, simply a part of her essence that she can tap into. There’s obviously a difference between Psychic and Aura in this universe, but this does perhaps imply she can use Aura as well.