Over the years, the Pokémon Trading Card Game has seen a huge number of artists come and go. Approximately 175 different people have contributed art to the cards, some only ever designing one, others contributing hundreds. Heck, Ken Sugimori has created 966 of them, beginning with the very first set of Pokémon cards, 1999's Base Set. But standing out among them for me, with 188 cards to her name, is Yuka Morii, and her unique style of photographing tiny clay model Pokémon out in nature.
Since as early as 2000's Neo Discovery set, Yuka Morii has been sculpting adorable clay Pokémon, then taking photographs of them in the perfect setting. Her Caterpie from that Neo Discovery set is a classic shot, joined by Omanyte, Kabuto and Corsola, establishing a style that has been a core part of the TCG ever since.
As a very late arrival to the Pokémon TCG, these are the cards I was immediately drawn to. While my son stuffs his binder with VMAXes and Rainbow Rares, my own sole binder is an ever-growing collection of Morri’s work, providing me with the ludicrous goal of attempting to one day collect all 188 of them.
On her website, Morii perfectly explains, “My job is to appreciate and make small things.” Our job today is to appreciate them right back. Here are 20 of my favorite Yuka Morii designs.
Corsola - Neo Discovery
Morii’s first contributions to Pokémon TCG began with Neo Discovery in 2000, with a Caterpie, Kabuto and Omanyte, but it’s the Corsola I love the most. It’s just so happy! And it’s brilliantly framed in that underwater setting, those little plastic corals and the green-brown sand beneath.
I think it also demonstrates another joy of Yuka Morii’s cards in any collection: They’re never the fancy ones, the Secret Rares or Full Arts (although can you imagine). They’re mostly commons and uncommons, only every now and then a holo rare, but bring a joy to their numbers, where another flat simple drawing can feel almost dismissible.
Chansey - Neo Destiny
Just look! See! See what I mean! You’re going through the Neo Destiny cards, and it’s like, Machop, sure, cute...aw, the sleeping Phanpy...then pow, look at that Chansey! It’s like a whole story, this little pink beastie full of hope, looking to the heavens as light shines down, sparkles surrounding as if a wish is being fulfilled.
Let’s try not to think about the sheer horror of one of its attacks be “Egg Toss.” Chansey! That is your baby!
Bruno’s Steelix - VS
Tragically there was never an English-language release of 2001's VS set, which means we missed out on a bunch of Yuka Morii designs. Six of them, in fact, of which my favorite is this incredible Steelix. I feel like we always see the monster above ground, and it’s brilliant to see it here, swimming shark-like across the bottom of what I’m assuming is some water. There’s such a fantastic sense of menace to it, let alone that incredible modelling work.
Piloswine - Skyridge
Yuka Morii has five cards in the highly sought-after Skyridge set, with a Pikachu, Raichu, Dunsparce, and Swinub, but my favourite is this ridiculously adorable Piloswine. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in space. I won’t hear otherwise. In fact, any fellow Brits will surely agree it looks like it’s a guest star on an episode of The Clangers, and thus on the moon.
Trapinch - EX: Dragon
It is probably the most ridiculously simple card you could find. “Dig.” The end. But the shot Morii uses here is so brilliantly lit. It’s a perfect capturing of the Trapinch, but with just some sand, the hint of a wall, and excellent use of shadow, there’s yet another whole story to be told here. I kind of want to rescue the poor little guy, yet also feel like it’s got it all on its own.
Tangela - EX: FireRed & LeafGreen
I’m a sucker for Tangela at any time, the little ball of vines (apparently) always so adorbs. But I don’t think I’ve ever liked Tangela more than in Yuka Morii’s shot for FireRed & LeafGreen. What the heck has he seen?! I would pay a millionty-billion dollars to own this little model, and it would make me happy whenever I needed it.
Zigzagoon - EX: Emerald
As the EX period went on, Yuka Morii’s photographs are more frequently not taken in little sets, but rather out in nature itself, and it’s such a wonderful effect. Team Rocket Returns features the cutest Furret in the grass, while Deoxys has a stunningly detailed Donphan in the wild. But I pick this Zigzagoon because it’s immaculate. It’s hard to believe it’s clay, not a CG render, but for those tiny details around the eyes.
Ditto - EX: Delta Species
Morii’s collection of Dittos for Delta Species is just astonishingly good. She created models for Squirtle, Pikachu, Geodude, Charmander, Mr Mime, Bulbasaur and Ditto itself, all of which feature the giveaway Ditto grin. This Bulbasaur is my favorite of the lot, sitting on that moss, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in its overly-wide mouth.
Pichu - Diamond & Pearl: Mysterious Treasures
As we enter the Diamond & Pearl era, there’s a tendency for a lot of the cards to look washed out. This is no sleight against the artists, whose work is as stunning as ever, but too many of them get lost into the color of the card itself. That’s not the case for Yuka Morii’s contributions, all of which just pop. Aron, Happiny, Slakoth and Teddiursa are all bursting with color, but the most joyful is this baby Pichu. I love that it looks like the cheesiest of holiday photos.
Snorunt - Platinum: Arceus
What can I possibly add?
Sewaddle - Black & White: Legendary Treasures
This is such a great example of why Yuka Morii’s cards make me feel so happy. It just fits there, right? The over-lit flower at the top helps the Sewaddle’s camouflage in the fronds, giving the Pokémon a sense of life that can’t be delivered in a cartoon. It makes me want to go check outside to see if I can spot one. In fact, it makes me want to create my own clay models, and start putting them in bushes so other people experience exactly that.
Swirlix - XY: Generations
Oh my, do Pokémon cards get prettier than this? As we arrive at the XY stage, the sets start to get far more elaborate, with their full arts, EX cards, ultra rares and so on, but Yuka Morii continues with the simpler framed image, often on the far less powerful cards. But this Swirlix! Surrounded by the macarons, cookies, and even what looks like waffles and ice cream, it’s in sugar heaven.
Venusaur & Snivy TAG TEAM - Sun & Moon Promo
OK, haha, I kinda lied. Look, here’s Morii delivering so damn hard for one of the most powerful sets of cards the TCG ever saw: TAG TEAM. It’s Snivy and Venusaur, the most unlikely pairing, with the ludicrous ability to switch out an opponent’s Active Pokémon every single turn, for free. But just look at those models. The teeth on Venusaur! The light in Snivy’s eye! Incredible.
Ralts - Sun & Moon: Lost Thunder
Ralts, Kirlia and Gardevoir has to be my favorite evolutionary trio in all of Pokémon, so I’m already set up to love a good Ralts card. But this one! Just look at that setting. The leaves hanging over the ripple of water, as Ralts stands on the bank, a look of “Should I?” in its stance. I want this photo framed and on my wall.
Darumaka - Sun & Moon: Unbroken Bonds
Mimikyu - Sun & Moon: Cosmic Eclipse
By the Sun & Moon sets, Yuka Morii has really found her groove: Pristine-perfect clay models of Pokémon that are so exquisitely crafted they could be renders, were they not photographed in real-world settings. This Mimikyu is such an exemplar, stood there on the path by the bushes, looking like it’s definitely up to something.
Tynamo - Sword & Shield: Fusion Strike
I didn’t think I would ever be able to bring myself to care about Tynamo. The little fishy seems the most bland of Pokémon, real filler stuff from Gen V, only slightly more interesting when it evolves into Eelektrik and Eelektross. But then, look at this picture. Now we all love it forever.
Wormadam - Sword & Shield: Brilliant Stars
I thought I had every Yuka Morii card from Sword & Shield, and then I discovered this Wormadam. How have I never found this? How many more packs of Brilliant Stars do I need to open? Oh my goodness, it might be the best of the whole lot, and again for a Pokémon about which I usually couldn’t give a toss. Wormadam is the booby prize of rare in the same set in its bland other version, and yet this version was there, avoiding me all along.
Spinarak - Pokémon GO
Admittedly I’ve pulled this Spinarak card enough times that I’ve got a pile of them, but it’s still so lovely. Again, it’s that spotless crafting of a cartoon burst of color, set on the more muted tones of nature. If only they hadn’t spoiled this entire set with that enormous POGO logo covering every single piece of art.
Ducklett - Sword & Shield: Lost Origin
And we’re right up to date, with Lost Origin’s gorgeous little Ducklett. Look at that lil’ guy, so utterly delighted to be in the puddle. And again, check out that lighting. There’s so much love and care put into all of Yuka Morii’s cards, from 2000 all the way through to 2022.
I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for Silver Tempest in November, and then into next year with the all-new range for Scarlet & Violet.
I hope this gallery has brought a bit of light and joy into your day.