If you ask most Pokémon fans who some of the best rivals in the series are, you’re likely to get the same few responses. Blue, Silver, Gladion, maybe occasionally characters like Barry or Wally. But most of the time, the “jerk” rivals, as they’re often called, will be the ones that a vast majority of Pokémon fans hold in high regard. A more modern Pokémon rival, like Hugh or Hop, isn’t usually in that lineup, at least in my experience.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While characters like Blue or Silver are pretty unlikeable in terms of their characterization, it’s that very unlikeability that is often cited as the reason people love them. Sure, we hate them, but it’s that hatred that drives us to want to take them down to prove our superiority, and to let them know they can’t just push us around or think they’re better Trainers than we are. Isn’t that what a rival is meant to do?
This is also the reason most people don’t like the “friendly” rivals, as in characters like Barry, Hop, or Hau. They’re too nice, and the drive to beat them is more rooted in friendly competition than a desire to prove who’s a better Trainer. For a lot of people, that doesn’t make them particularly good “rivals”. While I can understand that sentiment, I’ve always felt these rivals had more depth to them than people often give them credit for, and there is one rival in particular who I feel gets the shortest end of the stick: Hugh from Pokémon Black 2 and White 2.
To give a quick summary of who this guy is, Hugh is introduced as the main protagonist’s childhood friend, whose passion for Pokémon battling shines through his words and demeanor. He initially comes off as a bit impatient and quick to action, but it’s made clear that he has a reason for wanting to get a Pokémon so quickly. Most of the rivals operate under the mode of proving themselves better than you, but Hugh seems to have another goal in mind. We soon learn that this goal involves getting back his sister’s Purrloin.
Five years prior to the events of the game, the villainous gang of the Unova region, Team Plasma, stole a Purrloin that belonged to Hugh’s little sister. This was her very first Pokémon and it really, really meant a lot to her, but both she and Hugh were too weak to stop them. He vowed to one day get strong enough to take down Team Plasma and get the Purrloin back. Sounds pretty noble, right? Would you believe me if I told you people actually hated Hugh for this?
Yes, I have seen people straight up say that Hugh’s desire to retrieve his sister’s Purrloin from Team Plasma was either “annoying” or, even better, that he shouldn’t have cared about it in the first place simply because it’s a Purrloin and not an Axew or some other better Pokémon. I think these people are missing the point of why Hugh cares so much about this Purrloin. It doesn’t matter what the Pokemon is. It could be a freaking Magikarp and Hugh would still want to get it back, because in his mind, if it’s important to his sister, it’s important to him. Period.
My general response to an argument like this: Imagine you had a little sister and some bully ended up taking away her pony or teddy bear or something. Well, would you just stand idly by while she’s sad and miserable, or would you be a good older sibling, stand up to the bully, and get the bear back? Now, you probably wouldn’t fight the bully as Hugh does with Team Plasma, but you get the point I’m trying to make. The fact that people seem to think Hugh essentially being a good big brother somehow makes him “annoying” has always been odd to me.
The fact that he cares so much about getting this Purrloin back says a lot about how much Hugh cares for his family. For a Pokémon rival, it sets Hugh apart from the others. Most of the time, a Pokémon rival just wants to do the same thing you aim to do: Beat the Pokémon League and become the Champion. But Hugh is an outlier because his desire for strength is all in pursuit of his mission to destroy Team Plasma.
It’s clear throughout the game that Hugh doesn’t just want Team Plasma to give the Purrloin back, but that he absolutely despises them. He verbally abuses them every time he encounters them and frequently talks about how he wants to destroy them. Again, he was too weak at the time to stop Team Plasma from taking his sister’s Purrloin, and from his perspective, he probably feels that he failed her despite being her big brother. He wasn’t able to protect her back then, but he’s 100% determined to never make her or himself feel that useless again.
This is what motivates him and sets him apart from every other rival in the series. In my opinion, it adds an extra layer to his character that wouldn’t otherwise be there if all he wanted was to become Champion. He manages to be both a great Pokémon rival and a great character because he fulfills his goal, builds a solid team, and the game makes it clear that Hugh values your help in finally taking down Team Plasma. He sees you as an equal, whereas other rivals like Blue, do not. Well, at least at first.
Hugh is great because he has his own goals and ambitions that he’s wholly committed to, not for the sake of his own happiness, but for the sake of someone he truly cares about. In my opinion, that makes him the most grounded and human rival the series has ever created.
And of course, let’s be real – he also has the best rival battle theme in the entire franchise.