Bulbasaur first appeared in 1996 among the first Pokémon video games, as one of three starter Pokémon the player can choose from at the beginning of the games. In the Pokémon franchise, Bulbasaur can often be seen napping in bright sunlight. By soaking up the sun's rays, the seed on their backs grow progressively larger. As they undergo Pokémon evolution, the seed starts to flower.
Its Japanese name, Fushigidane, is a combination of the Japanese words for and . In translating the game for English speaking audiences, Nintendo gave the Pokémon "cleverly descriptive names" related to their appearance or features as a means to make the characters more relatable to American children; thus Bulbasaur, relating to both its dinosaur appearance and the large garlic-like bulb on its back. French, Korean, Taiwan and Chinese language counterparts used names relating closer to the original name: Bulbizarre, Isanghaessi (이상해씨 "Strange Seed"), Mìao Wa Chóng Zí (妙蛙種子 "Strange Frog Seed") and Qí Yì Chóng Zí (奇異種子 "Very Strange Seed"), respectively. German versions used a name closer to the American counterpart, Bisasam; a combination of bisamratte (musk rat) and samen (seed).
Bulbasaur made their video game debut on February 27, 1996, in the Japanese-language games and (which was replaced in other countries by Pokémon Blue). Along with a Charmander and a Squirtle, Bulbasaur is a starter Pokémon the player can choose from at the beginning of the two games. Bulbasaur's grass type is in contrast to Charmander's fire type and Squirtle's water type.
Bulbasaur and the other starters from Red and Blue are replaced by Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow, the only starter available in it. Instead, they are obtained throughout the game from several trainers. In Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal, Bulbasaur cannot be obtained without in-game trading. In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, Bulbasaur is nonexistent. In Pokémon Emerald and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Bulbasaur is unobtainable, but can be fought in the Battle Frontier and the Battle Tower respectively. The Nintendo 64 spin-off Pokémon Stadium, and other spin-offs such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, give the player a choice of a Bulbasaur (among fifteen other Pokémon), and in Pokémon Snap, Bulbasaur are one of the Pokémon that the player can photograph. Bulbasaur also appears in Hey You, Pikachu! as a supporting character who lives in the Ocre Woods and makes the five recipes with Pikachu's help. In Super Smash Bros. Melee, a Bulbasaur appears as one of the trophies in a playable lottery.
Scenes from the Pokémon anime have depicted both the characters Ash Ketchum and his friend May training a Bulbasaur at different times, with Ash's Bulbasaur garnering more prominence within the storylines. Ash’s Bulbasaur has remained with Ash longer than all of his other Pokémon, with the exception of his Pikachu. Before joining Ash's team, it lived with a girl named Melanie, who took care of abandoned Pokémon. Bulbasaur was given to Ash, but it was pessimistic about him. However, its loyalties began to improve and it eventually became one of Ash's most faithful Pokémon. May catches a Bulbasaur while traveling in a grass-type Pokémon nature reserve during her journey in Hoenn. Bulbasaur defends her from the other grass Pokémon in the forest, who see her as a threat, and when May leaves, Bulbasaur decides to go with her. She later makes a guest appearance on the series and it is revealed that her Bulbasaur has fully evolved into a Venusaur.
In the original Japanese version the two Bulbasaur are each played by separate seiyū, Ash's Bulbasaur by Megumi Hayashibara and May's by Miyako Itō. In the English dub, they are both voiced by Tara Jayne until season seven; when Michelle Knotz took over the job.
Bulbasaur is also featured in an eclectic range of different Pokémon manga series. In Pokémon: Pikachu Shocks Back, Electric Pikachu Boogaloo, and Surf’s Up, Pikachu!, which loosely parallel the storyline of the anime, Pikachu is separated from Ash temporarily, and travels with a Bulbasaur to a secret Pokémon village in the mountains. Later, Ash finds Pikachu and catches the Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur accompanies Ash throughout his journeys in the Orange Islands, and eventually fights in the final showdown with Drake, the Orange Crew Supreme Gym Leader. In Magical Pokémon Journey, a character named Pistachio has a female Bulbasaur (nicknamed Danerina in the Japanese version), who is infatuated by him.
In Pokémon Adventures, a manga based on the plot of the Pokémon Red and Blue games, the character Red receives a Bulbasaur from Professor Oak, which he nicknames Saur. In Chapter 15, "Wartortle Wars", it evolves into an Ivysaur after battling a wild Mankey. In Chapter 30, "Zap, Zap, Zapdos!", Red uses Saur to defeat Lt. Surge's Zapdos. In Chapter 33, "The Winged Legends", Red's Ivysaur evolves into a Venusaur to team up with Blue's Charizard and Green's Blastoise, to defeat Sabrina's Zapmolcuno (a merged form of Zapdos, Moltres and Articuno) and destroy Team Rocket's control on Saffron City, splitting the three birds in the process.
Collectible cards featuring Bulbasaur have appeared since the initial Pokémon Trading Card Game was released in October 1996. Bulbasaur cards have appeared in many different sets, including the Base Set, Base Set 2, Legendary Collection, Gym Challenge (as Erika's Bulbasaur), Expedition (two cards), EX Team Magma vs. Team Aqua, and EX FireRed & LeafGreen (two cards). They are generally to be found with relative ease.
Bulbasaur is the main character of two Pokémon children’s books, Pokémon Tales Volume 3: Bulbasaur’s Trouble and Bulbasaur’s Bad Day, published in 1999 and 2000 respectively by Sagebrush. In Pokémon Tales Volume 3: Bulbasaur’s Trouble, Bulbasaur resolves an argument between two other Pokémon. In Bulbasaur’s Bad Day, Meowth traps Bulbasaur in a pit and it has to outwit Team Rocket (the antagonists of the Pokémon anime) to escape.
Bulbasaur was selected as one of the top ten Pokémon by fans who voted at Pokemon.com. According to a panel of 5 - 8 year olds assembled by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1999, Bulbasaur was one of the children's three favorite Pokémon.
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