The California Raisins may be to blame
For whatever reason, a lot of characters from Japanese games and cartoons who have dark, decidedly human-colored skin in their original designs are given inhuman, almost tumorous-looking purple skin when their visages are localized for outside territories. Oil Man from Mega Man: Powered Up, and Mr. Popo, from Dragon Ball Z are a couple of examples of this very specific, very strange editing process. While I get that this practice probably comes from an effort to be culturally sensitive, it also effectively erases the appearance of dark skinned people (or Pokemon) with pronounced lips from their respective stories.
Though there’s definitely exceptions to this rule, I think that it’s most often better to allow some potentially “problematic” representation marginalized groups into a game than to offer no representation at all, especially when it comes to race. For example, Barret from Final Fantasy 7 may be a cartoonish stereotype, but like Amos and Andy before him, he paved the way for the inclusion of better defined Black characters in the years that followed. That’s part of why I thought it was cool that Jynx retained her black skin in the original Western release of Pokemon Yellow, and am sad to see that Nintendo reversed that decision with the game’s re-release on the 3DS Virtual Console.
It would be one thing if Jynx somehow bought into common negative racial stereotypes, but as a blonde haired ice witch who just happens to have features that many associate with folks hailing from Africa, I figure that Jynx’s original look didn’t do much to reinforce any particular idea about people (or Pokemon) with dark skin and pink lips. The only idea that she conveys is that people (or Pokemon) that look like her do, in fact, exist. I get that characters with those features were once used to spread hateful racist propaganda in mainstream media, but there are also plenty of actual human beings in the world today with those features who would surely like to see more people (and Pokemon) who look like them represented in games and animation.
I also wonder why these characters always turned purple. Is it because the publishers in question take classic films like The Color Purple, Purple Rain and The California Raisin’s Christmas Special as a sign that to Americans, “Purple” is synonymous with “Black”? More so, if they did in fact intend for the original versions of these characters to be racial stereotypes, do they really think a simple Grape-colored skin switch-a-roo would be enough to hide their original intentions? It reminds me of people who think that as long as they use terms like “People of Color” (or in this case, “Purple of Color”) instead of traditional racial slurs, that they can make all the racist statements they want without being seen as actually racist.
As terrible as it is when games and/or people overtly voice racist ideas, at least they let us know upfront where they stand, so we can act accordingly. Bigots who hide behind a facade of political correctness are a lot more dangerous.