Posted: March 5, 2022 | Updated: August 25, 2022

TRU #3: Toys R Us Dragonite

TRU Dragonite! Third in a line of six Sinnoh-era American Toys ‘R Us distributions that included such distinguished Pokémon as Manaphy, Darkrai, Regigigas, Shaymin and Arceus, this pseudo-Legendary found itself in excellent company.

However… Although fabled and extremely capable in the hands of such canonical PokéMasters as Lance, Dragonite is obviously not a Mythical. So, why and how did Dragonite come to be TRU’s odd one out? And how did players regard it? Let’s take a lightning-fast look at TRU Dragonite.

Saikyou Who?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to Diamond & Pearl. (Or BDSP, if you want.) What would you say is the most powerful non-Legendary Pokémon of the franchise’s first four generations? Metagross? Salamence? Infernape? Gyarados? Tyranitar?

In late 2007, the Japanese fanbase was granted the opportunity to settle this matter once and for all when pokemon.co.jp convened one of its trademark popularity polls. Voters could select three of what they considered the “strongest” Pokémon – highly subjective, I know – out of sixteen predetermined monsters. Contenders included the heavyweights listed above as well as Togetic, Gengar, and Mamoswine, to name a few more. Once the final vote was tallied, three Pokémon took the top steps: Salamence, Milotic and Dragonite. Each one of these was subsequently transformed into an event Pokémon and distributed at PokeCenters across Japan. Paired with a Magmortar and Electivire that GameFreak decided to shoehorn in, these five are collectively known as the “Strongest Class” (さいきょう) distribution. The quintet continues to speak to the imagination. If you’re interested, read their full story on the site here.

Now, this article is not about the Saikyou distro, though in some ways it is. How so, you ask? Well. First off, web-literate Pokéfans in the West were very much aware of Japan’s exclusive Saikyou. Many major Pokésites reported on it. Take French franchise hub PokeBip, which – perhaps misunderstanding the premise of a three-winner election – ran a newspost to share information of an “enormous Pokémon distribution in Japan”. The event collectors of Pokémon Secure, too, keenly eyed developments in Japan – might the West similarly be afforded an opportunity to cast their votes, and thereby elect another distro of five? As usual, Western Pokéfans expected nothing but hoped for the best. And so while Japanese counterparts reeled in the dragons plus Milotic and bagged cool distribution-themed sticker sheets and postcards to boot, the English-speaking world waited patiently to all-around radio silence. No Saikyou equivalent was announced for the United States or Europe, and so they seemed destined to remain Japan-only.

Until, in a bolt from the blue, pokemon.com announced on October 10, 2008 that an American “Toys R Us” (TRU) Dragonite distribution was to take place the following month. Was that, then, be the start of something beautiful, ie. the first of the Saikyou, transposed for the West?

Dragonite Flies West

Oddly, TRU Dragonite flew somewhat under the radar. Not because it’s a winged dragon type (ha), but because the Pokémon was not subject to the extensive reporting and speculation that leading Poke-fansites lavished on other Toys R Us (and GameStop) distributions of the era. Certainly, ever-reliable French site Pokebip dutifully shared the details with its readership. If PM.net reported on it, however, the article is no longer there, and Filb, that German fansite especially concerned with new event Pokémon, mentioned TRU Dragonite almost in passing in a newspost headlined by Yokohama Pikachu. I’m not entirely sure why this coverage proved unusually lacklustre. Perhaps fansites were slow to spread the word because Dragonite wasn’t exactly a swanky new Mythical, spoiled as players were by the amazingness of Sinnoh’s Manaphy and Darkrai. Maybe it was because almost a full year had passed since the Saikyous invaded Japan, and chances that TRU Dragonite heralded a repeat of the overseas awesomeness therefore appeared thin. Or possibly the fandom experienced some residual satiation, as Dragonite had been given out as recently as Summer 2006 in Europe and the United States as part of Pokémon’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Or perhaps all three. Either way, Dragonite’s reception in some corners of fandom was chilly, bordering on indifference.

Which was puzzling, because on the face of it, the dragon distribution”s October 11 official announcement on pokemon.com gave ample cause for excitement. Now, I would point you to the relevant webpage (here), but as is practically the norm for Sinnoh’s events, the original page is long dead and no archival copy exists. That we at all know the article’s precise date of upload is thanks to Bulbagarden parroting it for posterity (see here). And that we possess the announcement’s full text is creditable entirely to fansite PokeFarm, which took an official site snapshot and enclosed it in their reporting (see image below). Examining this image closely, we learn that Dragonite had been scheduled for distribution across Toys ‘R Us stores in the United States and Puerto Rico the weekend of November 8-9, 2008, between 12-4PM.

dragonite announcement

Pokemon.com TRU Dragonite announcement, October 10 2008. Via PokeFarm.

More intriguing than the timeslot, however, was the suggestion that Dragonite would be delivered underlevelled. Promising an “amazing level 50 Dragonite”, the article took care to outline how the Pokémon normally does not normally evolve from Dragonair until Lv.55, making this upcoming TRU specimen “extremely rare”. The article went on to say that because of this, Dragonite would be “able to enter official tournaments that are limited to level 50 Pokémon”. As you may know, practically all official competitions of the Sinnoh period set the level cap for Pokémon registration at Lv.50 and did not yet practice downscaling as is commonplace nowadays. This restriction barred from entry by default such powerhouses as Tyranitar and also Dragonite, which both evolve past 50. But, no longer. TRU Dragonite would be eligible for entry in any GameFreak-sanctioned tournament.

Even if Dragonite’s reception by Poké-outlets appeared lukewarm, there was certainly plenty of buzz in places like GameFAQs as players engaged in joyous speculation about what the Mon’s moveset would be. To be sure, the announcement had teased an “amazing arsenal of moves” but opted to not (yet) divulge them. Players naturally took “amazing” to mean moves not normally accessible to Dragonite at Lv.50, and rubbed their hands together at the thought of a Hyper Beam, Outrage, Dragon Dance or perhaps even ExtremeSpeed tourney-eligible ‘Nite.1It’s worth mentioning that Outrage is not an egg move in Sinnoh, and the move tutor that can teach it, was not introduced until Platinum. Following several days of animated discussions, the November 2008 issue of Nintendo Power delivered the answer.2Source is PokeBeach: https://www.pokebeach.com/2008/10/toys-r-us-dragonite-moveset Dragonite was to know Draco Meteor and Thunderbolt… plus Outrage and Dragon Dance – the latter two not normally learned by Dragonite until Lv.53 and Lv.64, respectively.3Although Dragon Dance was an egg move. Sometime in late October, the pokemon.com official website was also updated to include and confirm Dragonite’s moveset.

dragonite pokemon.com

Pokemon.com homepage, late October 2008. Via yankeesrule.

Two things are of further interest here. For a Pokémon expressly billed as crafted for competitive use, the ultimate utility of this particular moveset invited considerable debate. The GameFAQs consensus, for what it’s worth, deemed the combination of attacks far from ideal, but also “not terrible” in the sense that Dragonite’s moves could, at least, be moulded into something more to one’s liking post-redeem by giving it Earthquake or elemental punches for example. How to EV train it without levelling subsequently became a hot topic as players discussed various methods and setups involving EXP Share, Power-items and vitamins and ideal Pokémon to KO. Second, these specifics also made it clear that, as GameFAQs member “HomeRowed” had deduced correctly, TRU Dragonite was a carbon copy of its Saikyou progenitor. Though players didn’t know it yet, TRU Dragonite was not to possess a variable nature and would instead be locked to Mild just like the Saikyou ‘Nite, resulting in an inability to soft reset for Adamant, Careful, Jolly or whatever nature might have struck one’s fancy.

As for the question of why GameFreak ported Dragonite to the West but not Saikyou Milotic or Salamence – I don’t have an answer. All things considered, however, it was not a bad choice. The then-younger demographic of players was smitten by the notion that this TRU Dragonite was an incarnation of GSC’s Lance’s Dragonite(s), at that time the only underlevelled ‘Nites to exist in the franchise at Lv.47 and Lv.50.4A quirk that continued to set TRU Dragonite apart all through to the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon, when SOS-chaining made possible a LV.7 (?) Dragonite, and of course Pokémon GO, where it can … Continue reading And if it were to perform well in official tournaments and competitions, then GameFreak certainly hit the mark with this Dragonite.

So… Did it? Before we can answer this question of Dragonite’s competitiveness, we must first investigate whether any high-profile players actually enlisted the services of this TRU Dragonite in a top-tier competitive setting. To be sure, astute players were quick to discern the ulterior motive behind Dragonite’s distribution. “Looks like Nintendo wants to hype up the 2009 Showdown Tournament … with this Dragonite being at Level 50[.]”, wrote one “Aero_Zeppelin” on GameFAQs. This was certainly a reasonable assumption: the year 2009 saw the world’s first fully-fledged Pokémon Video Game Championships – this after GameFreak’s Junichi Masuda had conceived of the idea at Japan’s 2007 PalCity with its livestage battle tournaments in 2007 (here), and a proto-Worlds “Showdown” had been organised in 2008. Pokebeach also read the tea leaves and similarly interpreted TRU Dragonite as a sign of things to come, framing Dragonite as a “precursor to an official announcement” pertaining to 2009’s VGC.

vgc stats

VGC09 Pokémon usage statistics. Via ScottMtc.

Now then, as for actual practical use of TRU Dragonite, the proof is in the pudding. To this end, I investigated global Pokémon usage statistics for the 2009 VGC – or, well, Italian YouTuber “ScottMtc” did (here) – and boy, did I come away disappointed. The inescapable conclusion: ‘Nite is nowhere to be seen among the tournament’s 20 most-fielded Mons.5Notably this includes the absence of Japan’s Saikyou Dragonite which was also Lv.50, but separation by time and space and it being untradeable on the GTS meant that Western players … Continue reading Fellow high-powered dragon Garchomp featured among the two dozen, as did Salamence… But not Dragonite. In fact, the Dragon Pokémon enjoyed no battles at all in tournament finals that cycle. Not once. Not in Japan and not in the West.6YouTuber “ScottMtc” provides usage stats in two groups, Japan and the rest of the world. Link: https://youtu.be/mF1gTShSgfQ I can only hope that TRU Dragonite at least enjoyed the limelight in casual WiFi battles. Sad. If only it hadn’t been locked to Mild.

Distro Dynamics

Alright then. Let’s shift gears and briefly examine the dynamics of Dragonite’s distribution at Toys ‘R Us stores. Briefly, because in a nutshell, TRU Dragonite proved a continuation of trends started by TRU Manaphy and TRU Darkrai. Which is to say, as Pokefans grew ever more accustomed to Sinnoh’s new era of wireless distributions, so blossomed a tendency towards the impersonal, amplified by a sense among adult Pokefans that it was not socially acceptable to be seen engaging with a children’s franchise. Perhaps exemplifying this was Livejournal user “faewren” representing a husband and wife who, although united by a mutual love for Pokémon, nonetheless elected to drive laps around the parking lot to pull in Dragonite without setting foot in their local TRU store.7”My husband and I just got our Dragonites and we didn’t even get out of the car.” I don’t blame ya, but… God forbid you make contact with fellow fans! Hooray for convenience.

Others wore the badge of adulthood fandom more lightly. One “fzun” hedged his bets, stating how “it was very awkward pretending like we were getting these for our little brothers”. Yeah. No social stigma deterred player “bleachedmud” from allegedly claiming 30 TRU Dragonite by redeeming, trading and restarting his file over and over. The dedication! And there was no stopping the indomitable PKMNBlogger2, who did something comparable and vlogged about it here in trademark fashion. Perhaps summing up sentiment among highly engaged fans, one “kyohakutsukino” wrote: “I don’t care [that it’s] Dragonite… It’s an EVENT! […] So I like going to them.” All in all Dragonite attracted a “good number of children and adults”, this in spite of Toys ‘R Us employee “chamelion_k” his assertion that, “with Dragonite not being a (true) legendary Pokémon, not many of the kids showed up”. Not everyone understood the connection to Saikyou Dragonite, as evident from the words of one “kawaiiranchan” who quipped playfully: ‘Running out of ideas, Nintendo?” To some, Dragonite must’ve felt like a stopgap between July 2008’s TRU Darkrai and whatever was planned for the following Spring. (Spoiler: Shaymin!) Still, this pseudo-Legendary possessed sufficient special allure to at least draw the usual suspects to TRU.

dragonite poster

Dragonite storefront poster. Via yankeesrule.

On the subject of usual suspects: author-blogger Fourhman, by the way, was thoroughly unimpressed by both Dragonite itself and Toys ‘R Us’ handling of the distribution. Which nonetheless didn’t deter him from collecting a dragon of his own, even if it came at the price of a hasty, somewhat moody solitary paragraph (here) chronicling the experience – this in contrast to the glowing, passionately detailed pieces he had penned about 2006’s Mystery Mew and TRU Darkrai:

“Toys R Us had another exclusive character download this past weekend, a level 50 Dragonite. Totally meh. But I haven’t missed any of these free grabs yet and I’m not bloody likely to. Do you want to hear how my Toys R Us screwed this up? It’s a minor mistake but very, very important. The big sign explaining about the download and how to get it was NOT in the video games RZone but instead at the store’s entrance. Every single parent/kid looking for the promised “free pokemon” marched straight past the sign and to the RZone, where they then stood confused and frustrated. Many thought they had to get in line to get the “free pokemon,” which bogged down the doorbusters sale and tied up the employees. I helped who I could and then got out of there.”

Puh! How cranky! Fourhman, my man, you can’t let the fire go out. You’ve got to keep that flame alive. Kindle it!

Of course, Toys ‘R Us made sure to provide maximum incentive to fans to undertake a trip to their local store. The TRU Dragonite giveaways coincided with a weekend of “Doorbuster” sales. The “$5 off DS games” voucher made a return from TRU Manaphy and Darkrai. And while stocks lasted, all visiting fans were given a free Ranger: Shadows of Almia poster to promote that game’s imminent release. Taken together, this was the same plan of attack we witnessed with Manaphy and Darkrai: lure fans to the store, put ’em on cloud nine with a cool-as-beans free Pokémon download, and get those purses jangling! A happy fan is a spendy fan.

almia poster

TRU’s Shadows of Almia poster.

As for Dragonite itself, well, we’ve covered most of it. Its TID was 11088, for November 8, 2008. I’ll highlight two further details. Like TRU Darkrai, Dragonite held another berry, Yache this time. Which was in the grand scheme of things not terribly exciting, because unlike Darkrai’s elusive Enigma Berry, the Yache Berry was available in D&P through conventional means – as a gift from Pastoria City’s Aroma Lady, to be precise. Second, there’s Dragonite’s wondercard, which made explicit reference to ‘Nite status as one of the “strongest” Dragon types. Surprisingly this WC was not a straight translation from the Japanese. Which makes me wonder whether GameFreak entertained the idea, at least for a time, to also release Milotic and Salamence at TRU or GameStop. We know now that such a thing did not transpire, although Milotic did see a shinified straight-port distribution of its own at the 2009 VGC Regional Qualifiers in America and Europe. Cherish Ball Salamence on the other hand remained a Japan exclusive.

dragonite specifics

TRU Dragonite & WC. Via yankeesrule.

In conclusion, then, TRU Dragonite remained the only one of the “strongest” kinds to make it out West as a straight port, for the other two “Strongest Class” decided by Japan through popular vote – Milotic and Salamence – did not. TRU Dragonite also remained the sole non-Legendary Pokémon distributed by Toys ‘R Us during the Sinnoh era. And, frankly, the goofy dragon didn’t linger in popular Poké-consciousness for very long. It deserved better. But… The year 2009 would prove to be one of back-to-back-to-back eye-catching Mythical distributions, starting with none other than February 2009’s TRU Shaymin.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 It’s worth mentioning that Outrage is not an egg move in Sinnoh, and the move tutor that can teach it, was not introduced until Platinum.
2 Source is PokeBeach: https://www.pokebeach.com/2008/10/toys-r-us-dragonite-moveset
3 Although Dragon Dance was an egg move.
4 A quirk that continued to set TRU Dragonite apart all through to the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon, when SOS-chaining made possible a LV.7 (?) Dragonite, and of course Pokémon GO, where it can be Lv.1 on transfer to HOME.
5 Notably this includes the absence of Japan’s Saikyou Dragonite which was also Lv.50, but separation by time and space and it being untradeable on the GTS meant that Western players couldn’t possibly own one… Right?
6 YouTuber “ScottMtc” provides usage stats in two groups, Japan and the rest of the world. Link: https://youtu.be/mF1gTShSgfQ
7 ”My husband and I just got our Dragonites and we didn’t even get out of the car.”