This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In this week's letter, Clio Chang writes about how using a very subtle and professional phone case shaped like an enormous Pikachu made her feel better about navigating her career. Sign up here to receive a new essay about a dealing-with-life strategy from Broadly and This Is Fine. each Sunday evening.
In 1999, Nintendo released Pokémon Snap, a Nintendo 64 game the entire premise of which was riding in a little railroad cart and taking pictures of wild Pokémon. You got extra points for things like size (a closer shot), frontal shots (never take a picture from behind), and capturing your subject doing something interesting.
One of the best shots—an image that will forever be burned in my brain—was achieved by throwing a trail of apples to lead a wild Pikachu down the beach until she reached a hot-pink surfboard sitting on the sand. If you did it right, Pikachu would get on the board and flip around, hamming it up for the camera as though she was born to hang loose. That’s my friend, thought seven-year-old me, correctly.
My love for Pikachu has stayed with me as other childhood tastes (low-rise jeans, an ambition to become a “naturalist”) have thankfully burned out. One might think that it’s passé or generic to stan Pikachu, the “Them” of Pokémon, especially as an adult. But Pikachu has earned her fame. That little yellow dumpling is objectively one of the cutest characters ever created—Nintendo even tried to create a cuter, smaller version, Pichu, but she failed to gain the same traction: Pikachu was already ideal.
As I navigated college and early-career life, I forgot about my good bitch Pikachu for a few years, perhaps in some misguided effort to be a grown woman. But a few miserable months after Donald Trump was elected, and as I was rounding out my first year working in media, I stumbled across her again on a unexpectedly warm February day in an electronics store in Flushing, Queens. This time, she was incarnated as a gigantic silicone iPhone 6S case, frozen in a pose that resembled a small mouse dabbing and smiling maniacally. For $20, she came into my life once again.
Over the next two years, I carried my phone around in that enormous yellow case. A friend made a matching wallpaper so that my phone screen would look like Pikachu’s backside. It was unwieldy and I could not put my phone in most of my smaller bags, not to mention in any sort of pocket. The solution, I found, was to carry her shoved into the waistband of my pants with her face and a little paw peeking out, waving at professional colleagues and loved ones alike. It was a utilitarian nightmare, but a huge source of comfort. Pikachu became a friend who I took everywhere. She came with me to the office, the rare radio appearance, and on job interviews. “Nice case,” potential employers would say politely, to which I responded, “Thank you,” before launching into why having no editing experience was actually a strength.
You, a savvy observer, might say that I used a giant Pikachu phone case as a stand-in for having a personality, and you would be right. In a time of my life where I was newly navigating the confusing world of New York City media, while also gluing myself to Twitter every day in order to turn around blogs about the latest atrocity from the Trump administration, Pikachu became a shorthand for something uncomplicated and earnest. We made new friends, and new enemies, together. Listen up, sluts!, we appeared to say as we rolled into the bar on a Saturday night.
When I had a frustrating day, I could always look down, and Pikachu would be at my side—because she was there for me, and because it was 2018 and having your phone at all times was an expected professional and social commitment. Pikachu turned a depressing technological crutch into a joy; a small and ultimately useless act of defiance. If the new tech monopolies were going to extract every point of data from our lives—and we were in a Black Mirror–esque state of being accommodating, if not exactly willing, consumers while they did it—then at least I was going to make sure my phone was goddamn cute while scrolling through my (at the time of this writing) 65,121 unread emails.
When my case finally broke last fall, I had already cycled through two jobs in two years and was learning how to cobble together a freelance career. (A state of precarity, much of which was driven by those very same tech giants that lay inside of little Pikachu’s operating heart, is the only type of adulthood I have ever experienced.) But it turns out the real friends this time were actually the friends Pikachu and I made along the way, who are now keeping me sane as the world melts.
I ended up giving Pikachu the Viking-worthy funeral she deserved, laying her down on a faux sheep hide, nestled among a bed of plastic flowers and fruit. My phone is now enclosed in nothing more than a black OtterBox—practical, but emotionally useless. I might not need a giant Pikachu phone case right now just to function, but I know that when I do, she’ll be there, albeit mostly because she is an inanimate object that I can buy in a store. Who could ask for a better friend than that?