Seeing as I just finished talking about the story of Black and White, I may as well take the opportunity to look a little more closely at the two Pokémon that are central to that story: the dragons of truth and idealism, Reshiram and Zekrom. The design for these two has its roots in the Taoist concept of yin-yang, which I believe states (forgive me; I’m a little hazy on exactly how Taoism works) that the world and everything in it come into being through the interaction and harmonisation of opposites. In much the same way, Unova, the region in which Pokémon Black and White are set, is said to have been created by Reshiram and Zekrom working in harmony, as a single being (and then devastated when the two split apart and fought). To play into this theme of dualism, Reshiram is graceful, avian and feminine, with a soft-sounding name, while Zekrom is dynamic, saurian and masculine, with a hard-sounding name. This is all wonderful and I love the way the designs complement each other and develop the theme and all that, and it’s very nicely done… but there’s one thing nagging at me. They’re the wrong way around. Reshiram, the white dragon, referred to in the Japanese Pokédex as the “White Yang Pokémon”, has soft, feminine traits – which are normally considered yin traits. The opposite traits associated with Zekrom, the “Black Yin Pokémon”, are typical examples of yang traits. A rationalisation does occur to me, though, as I look at the box art for Black and White. Because you catch Reshiram on Black and Zekrom on White, they’re both set against contrasting backgrounds on the box art, which reminds me a little of the black spot in the yang half of the yin-yang symbol, and the corresponding white spot in the yin half… That seems like a somewhat fishy justification to me so I hope the designers had a better one in mind, but then again, the idea of dualism and the harmony of opposites is more important than the actual properties traditionally associated with yin and yang anyway. It’s not something worth throwing a major tantrum about; I suppose I’m nitpicking again, but it does seem like a really basic thing to mix up when the designers seem to have been so committed to the idea (and not just in Zekrom and Reshiram either; the theme of opposites turns up repeatedly in the rest of Black and White as well).
The thing that really bothers me about Zekrom and Reshiram is that the games are so vague on the meanings of the values they’re supposed to represent. Supposedly, when they were one dragon long ago they were befriended by twin brothers who initially worked together but later quarrelled because one was most concerned with truth and the other more interested in ideals, and the dragon split into two in response to their argument. In the story of Black and White, you take on the role of one of the brothers and your opposite number, N, assumes the place of the other, but which way around you are is apparently immaterial (N is the hero of ideals on Black and the hero of truth on White, but it makes no difference to his beliefs or actions), since neither Reshiram’s truth nor Zekrom’s ideals can be meaningfully linked to either side of the debate about the liberation of Pokémon that forms the basis of the games’ conflict (they could have represented honour and freedom, or kindness and faith, or macaroni and cheese for all the difference it would have made to the plot). This is the reason they’re so vaguely defined, of course: if “truth” and “ideals” actually meant something more than “generic virtue that both N and the player could reasonably be said to possess” then some much more substantial changes to the dialogue would have been necessary between Black and White, and possibly some major differences in the plot – and if there’s one thing we know about Game Freak, it’s that although they always want to release two Pokémon games, they certainly aren’t keen to be in the position of having to actually make two Pokémon games. As a result… well, Reshiram supposedly stands for “truth,” but doesn’t demand particular honesty, curiosity or knowledge of her chosen hero, or indeed anything else that could be said to be related to “truth,” and as for Zekrom’s “ideals,” well, they’re even worse. If you had asked me, I would have said that “truth” is itself an “ideal,” and that saying Zekrom stands for “ideals” means absolutely nothing unless you explain what those ideals actually are – which, of course, Black and White never do… not that it matters anyway. In short, all that’s really important here is that these two dragons are opposed; the how and the why of it are largely irrelevant.
There’s not a whole lot to say about what Zekrom and Reshiram are like if you take them into battle, but I may as well say it. As top-tier legendary Pokémon, these two are devastatingly powerful and belong in the so-called “Uber” class – that is, Pokémon so over-the-top that using them without the prior agreement of your opponent would be exceptionally bad form (examples: Mewtwo, Mew, Ho-oh, Lugia, but not, for instance, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres – we’re talking now about stuff so absurd that a lot of other legendary Pokémon don’t compare). Zekrom is an Electric-type with a focus on physical attacks and Reshiram is a Fire-type with a focus on energy attacks, and although they are both ludicrously strong I would be fairly happy to declare Reshiram the better of the two. Dragon/Electric is a solid type, but Dragon/Fire is quite possibly the best offensive combination in the game. See, only one element resists Dragon attacks – Steel – and Steel-types are also weak against Fire attacks, so the only way to resist both is to be a Steel type with a special ability that grants immunity to Fire (i.e. you have to be Heatran) – and even that doesn’t work against Reshiram because she and Zekrom are both just so awesome that their attacks ignore the effects of all passive abilities. The result is that Reshiram doesn’t even need secondary attacks because her primary attacks alone will kill everything. Poor Zekrom, on the other hand, loses out because Electric doesn’t have the wonderful synergy with Dragon that Fire does, and then loses out again because some jerk decided that he shouldn’t get Earthquake, which would be his go-to move for most Steel-types. Not that Zekrom has any right to complain; his Outrage attack can still flatten the vast majority of things that aren’t made of titanium alloy, and he has plenty of other dangerous attacks to draw on, notably Stone Edge and Crunch. Both Reshiram and Zekrom have been given awesome signature moves as well – Blue Flare and Bolt Strike. Reshiram’s Blue Flare is just a slightly more powerful version of the Fire Blast that she would otherwise be using, but Bolt Strike really is a wonderful toy for Zekrom. As I’ve said, Zekrom focuses on physical attacks, and the thing about Electric-types is that most of their physical attacks are dreadful and make you wish you’d just stuck to Thunderbolt. Bolt Strike, on the other hand, is stronger and much more accurate than Thunder, and like Outrage allows Zekrom to plough through most anything that doesn’t resist it.
It’s dead easy to make a phenomenally strong legendary Pokémon – just slap some big numbers and strong attacks on them; at this point you’re throwing game balance out the window anyway, so go nuts (and even this, Game Freak has managed to screw up in the past – I’m looking at you, Regigigas). It’s far more important to make sure that your legendary Pokémon have an interesting story and add something to the mythology of the setting, because that’s what they’re really for – I mean, we do call them “legendary Pokémon” for a reason. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this entry complaining that Reshiram and Zekrom have a vague concept that doesn’t really make all that much sense, but I’m only doing it because someone has to. I don’t actually dislike them; I think they’re very well done. Zekrom is cool and Reshiram is beautiful, exactly as they are supposed to be, and they make believable opposites. I think these two needed more work; I want that to be clear. This is what the designers should have been spending more time on when they were screwing around making junk like Unfezant and Basculin. But they’re not bad at all; legendary Pokémon rarely are since they tend to be given comparatively good attention in the design process. This being the case…
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!