A 1st edition Charizard trading card superimposed on a screenshot of Ash Ketchum from the Pokemon cartoon series
MEDIA TRADING CARDS & COLLECTIBLES

How Charizard Evolved

As Charizard’s first Pokedex entry read, “Spits fire that is hot enough to melt boulders. Known to cause forest fires unintentionally.” Now, the iconic character is setting the trading card industry ablaze.

Pokémon is over 25 years old. Over the last quarter-century, 898 different pocket monsters have been introduced, but only one flies above all: Charizard.

There’s a good chance that most Pokémon fans count Charizard as their favorite. Even someone who isn’t a fan can at least name the fire-breathing creature on sight.

Sports trading cards weren’t the only collectibles to see a surge in value during the pandemic. The Charizard Pokémon card from the original Base Set, already established as one of the most coveted cards in history, continues to set the market ablaze.

At its peak, a PSA 10 1st Edition “Shadowless” sold for $400,000. In early January, a 1999 Pokémon Game 1st Edition Holographic Charizard card was auctioned off at Goldin for $252,000. Most recently, that same card went for $336,000 at Heritage Auctions earlier this month.

But why is the Charizard Pokémon card this popular?

The answer lies in a story that’s over two decades in the making.

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Pokémon Origins

Depending on where you were in the world in the late ’90s, your first Pokémon experience varied.

In 1996, Pokémon Green and Pokémon Red, the video games created by Satoshi Tajiri, were released for the Game Boy exclusively in Japan. The Pokémon Trading Card Game didn’t release receive its Japanese release until that October. The manga series Pokémon Adventures was released in March 1997, while the anime show premiered the following April.

Tajiri was inspired to create Pokémon by Shigeru Miyamoto, the famed Nintendo video game artist, director, and producer responsible for franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong.

It took Tajiri six years to produce Pokémon Red and Green, and it nearly bankrupted Game Freak in the process. After the initial release, very few media outlets promoted the games, but sales started to pick up after rumors of a hidden Pokémon, Mew (Pokémon #151).

Even though Mew wasn’t mentioned to Nintendo, Tajiri put the creature in the game to promote trading between Game Boy users — the only way to obtain Mew at the time.

In the United States, the Pokémon anime premiered Sept. 8, 1998. While Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue were released for the Game Boy shortly after. Pokémon Trading Card Game didn’t release until Jan. 9, 1999.

Once Pokémon hit the U.S., popularity grew quickly. Kids were glued to their televisions to see which Pokémon Ash was going to catch next — in the time before the internet was accessible from the palms of their hands. According to Statista, the U.S. household internet adoption rate was just 19% in October 1997.

It was difficult for any fan to get inside knowledge of the series outside of watching the episodes. The only way to get familiar with all 150 or 151 original Pokémon was to complete your Pokedex in Pokémon Red or Blue.

When was Charizard Born?

Charizard is the Stage 2 evolution of Charmander.

Charmander is one of three starter Pokémon you choose in the Pokémon video games. The other two are Squirtle and Bulbasaur, whose Stage 2 evolutions are Blastoise and Venusaur, respectively.

Stage 2 evolutions are extremely popular. It’s self-explanatory, but it means the base-level Pokémon evolved twice to get to its current form. A majority of the original Pokémon only had a Stage 1 evolution, if they had an evolution at all. Based on that knowledge, Stage 2 evolutions appeared and were assumed to be extremely powerful.

Outside of the video games, Charizard’s first appearance was in the manga issue Kalling Kadabra, which was released in Japan on Dec. 16, 1997. Charizard’s U.S. debut came in the Pokémon anime episode “Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon” on Feb. 27, 1999. 

In the manga, Charizard belonged to the main antagonist, Blue. Blue was originally gifted Charizard as Charmander from his grandfather, Professor Oak, in the first issue. In the anime, Charizard belonged to Ash and evolved from Charmeleon. Ash had Charizard ever since he was abandoned as a Charmander during one of the very first episodes. This was the first of Ash’s starter-Pokémon to fully evolve.

That episode was released in the U.S. a little over a month after the release of the TCG. When kids learned that they could have a tangible Charizard as opposed to just the one in the video games, the popularity of the Pokémon TCG spread like wildfire. Every kid wanted the Charizard card. To rip a one-pack allowance and get that was a millennial version of winning the lottery. 

Which Charizard is the One to Own?

Over the last 25 years, there have been other Charizard releases — numerous reprints, and even modernized renditions of the original art. The most coveted Charizard is from the original Wizards of the Coast Base Set.

The three different Charizards to choose from are 1st Edition, Shadowless, and Base.

The 1st Edition Charizards have a stamp on the left side and sport a shadowless border. The shadowless sport the shadowless border but lack the 1st edition stamp. The base lacks the 1st Edition stamp and has a shadow on the right border of the photo. The reason for shadowless and shadow cards is because Wizards of the Coast was testing out the design of their cards and ultimately decided to keep the shadows.

The Charizard artwork was done by Mitsuhiro Arita and boasts the highest HP (hitpoints) and Basic Attack Damage at 100. The card’s appearance gave the impression that it was not only the most visually appealing card but the strongest.

In the beginning, it was not a viable card to have if you wanted to win Pokemon TCG tournaments. The decks that won tournaments utilized the combination of Chansey and Blastoise. Charizard, even with its Energy Burn ability, was seen as too difficult to efficiently play and win with.

The Evolution of Charizard Trading Cards 

Charizard has stood the test of time and the introduction of hundreds of Pokémon — remaining one of, if not the, most popular.

As mentioned above, the original Charizard has been reprinted and reimagined numerous times. The first reprint came in 2000 in Base Set 2. Due to the increased popularity of Pokémon, Wizards of the Coast released selected cards from the original Base Set and Jungle. This card is marked with the Base Set 2 stamp below the left corner of Charizard’s picture.

In 2002, Pokémon released the legendary collection to celebrate the first expansion sets of the Pokémon TCG. This set included three variations of Charizard: a holo, non-holo, and reverse-holo. Six years later, a reimagined version of the original Charmander evolution set dropped. These cards were set as secret rares in the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl: Stormfront set.

For the 20th and 25th anniversaries of Pokémon, the original Charizard was reinvented again in 2016 and ’21, respectively. The 2016 XY: Evolutions release saw an update to Charizards HP, Attack Damage, and other card stats. It was also printed in numerous holographic patterns.

The 2021 version was named Pokémon TCG: Celebrations. This set had the original Charizard stats, but the holographic pattern changed its value. Plus, it included a “Pikachu” 25th-anniversary stamp.

There are other Charizard cards, but nothing beats the nostalgia of the original.

Charizard’s popularity has transcended time and will continue long after. This is evident by how many other Charizard cards have been introduced in the TCG. Every time there’s a new game mechanic introduced — whether it’s EX, GX, or Mega Evolution — another Charizard card is created. Ash’s Charizard is one of the few original Pokémon outside of Pikachu to appear in the newer anime series.

The latest series came back in 2020, but Charizard is sure to appear again.

Charizard the Pop Culture Icon

Charizard is the most influential dragon of all time — apologies to House Targaryen of Game of Thrones.

Pokémon has had numerous mentions in television shows from the animated comedy American Dad! to American TV lore in Saturday Night Live.

Recently, Charizard made a cameo in J. Balvin’s “Ten Cuidado” music video for Pokémon’s 25th anniversary.

Similar to the challenge Ash faced in catching Pokémon, it is difficult to summarize all of the arenas the franchise has infiltrated.

Pokémon has landed fashion partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brands, including Levi’s and BAPE. There was a time not long ago when video games were considered “childish” or “lame,” but the influence of Pokémon has pushed not only their characters but widespread acceptance of other video games and Japanese anime into the mainstream.

The release of Pokémon GO in 2016 made it all the more accessible, amassing a huge user base of 233 million. While the active users have dropped in the years since, the mobile app still has a healthy user base of 166 million and recorded over $1 billion in revenue in 2020, according to Business of Apps.

Pokémon has shown it can keep up with the times, as it continues to evolve with the times and rebirth its relevancy outside of consoles and trading cards. If there’s a medium where consumers are active, Pokémon will make itself known. There are even Pokémon-inspired NFTs out there.

Charizard, in many ways, has helped spearhead the charge forward. The character’s influence spans generations of old and new. It will only continue to grow as the Pokémon franchise’s bond with the youth is as strong as ever — a generation whose parents grew up collecting, trading, and watching this enduring franchise’s appealing pack of pocket monsters.

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