Champions of the Pokémon League, Part 1: Blue

Happy New Year!  Now, let’s get cracking!  I still have no clue what I’m going to fill 2012 with, so please do leave suggestions if you have any (I’ve fiddled with the settings, by the way, so that people who don’t have a Google account or whatever should be able to comment), but for now I can probably waste a good two weeks talking about some of the most important NPCs of the Pokémon series: the League Champions, starting with our dear sweet old-time rival, Blue.
Gods, Blue was a douche.
This guy is probably the most obnoxious character not only in the series but in the whole damn franchise, in all its incarnations, beating out Charon from Platinum Version, Jessie’s Wobuffet from the TV show, Aria from Pokémon Ranger, the Gengar from Mystery Dungeon Red and Blue, and even bloody Imakuni? from the Gameboy adaptation of the trading card game.  As everyone probably remembers, Blue turns up to fight you a number of times over the course of the game, with the encounters generally following a fairly predictable pattern: Blue appears, insults you, makes wild assertions about your incompetence as a trainer and Pokédex-holder, challenges you to a battle, loses, acts as though he had just beaten you, insults you again, and then leaves.  He shows no sign of character development, remaining the same unlikable jerk throughout the game, thus providing a gradually accumulating motivation for you to stomp his smug face into the dirt when you battle for the last time at the Indigo Plateau.  It’s not even that he dislikes you in particular; he’s just a bad person.  During the Team Rocket takeover of Silph Co., when you step in to rescue the terrified employees from the marauding gangsters and keep the Master Ball out of Giovanni’s hands, Blue turns up in the Silph office building near the teleport panel that leads to the president’s room.  He’s not there to help; he’s there because he saw you in Saffron City and thought “hey, I’d better have a battle with ol’ snot-breath over there!”  Forget the chaos going on all around him; forget the innocent men and women trapped in their offices; forget the lunacy Team Rocket could accomplish with the Master Ball prototype; Blue isn’t going to do anything about that!  He’s far too busy slinging insults at his rival!  He also never makes any references to his Pokémon as anything other than those things he’s going to beat you with; he’s not an abusive master like Silver but he doesn’t really seem to care much about his Pokémon either, and eventually gets called out on it by his own grandfather, Professor Oak, after losing to you at the Indigo Plateau.
Three years later, in Gold and Silver, Blue returns to haunt us, having replaced Giovanni as the Gym Leader of Viridian City and guardian of the Earth Badge.  He has apparently never tried to reclaim his former position from the current Champion, Lance; I can only suppose that, in keeping with his usual policy of declaring that anyone who beats him is a loser, he has decided the title wasn’t worth having anyway.  When you meet him on Cinnabar Island, he seems to have developed quite the philosophical streak over the past three years and may even have undergone something resembling character development.  Then again, he might just still be sullen over losing his title; it’s hard to say.  He’s still an inconsiderate jerk, spending weeks at a time away from his gym and thus preventing trainers from challenging him, on the grounds that most Pokémon trainers in Kanto are so far beneath him anyway.  It takes a personal request from a trainer with all seven of the other Kanto badges just to drag him away from his new favourite pastime, staring glumly at the basalt-covered ruins of Cinnabar Island and murmuring platitudes about the power of nature to himself; he almost seems depressed when he isn’t fighting.  Incidentally, there are a couple of interesting fan theories, based on the events of the first games, that suggest Blue isn’t simply rotten to the core but rather that his general unpleasantness is due to bitterness over the events of his past.  Where are his parents, for instance?  The only family we ever see are his sister and grandfather.  If you believe the speculation, Blue’s parents are both dead – killed in the same war that Lt. Surge fought in (Kanto seems to have disproportionately few middle-aged men; the suggestion is that the whole age group was devastated by the war).  Also, what happened to his Raticate?  In a couple of early encounters, Blue has a Rattata, which later evolves into a Raticate.  The next time you see him, he’s in the Pokémon Tower, an enormous Pokémon cemetery… and doesn’t have his Raticate anymore.  He also asks you what reason you have to be there, since “your Pokémon don’t look dead”.  Hmm.  I think he’s making a joke, since he immediately continues “I can at least make them faint,” and challenges you to a battle (not exactly the actions of a mourner).  Although the implications for Blue’s character are interesting, both theories are, I think, reading too much into things; Pokémon doesn’t really ‘do’ subtlety… but that doesn’t make speculation any less entertaining.
This lovely piece is by Aragornbird (more of whose work can be found at http://www.arkeis.com/) and portrays the epic showdown between Blue and Red (who reappears in Gold and Silver as a 'bonus boss' with the team shown here)
This lovely piece is by Aragornbird (more of whose work can be found at http://www.arkeis.com/) and portrays the epic showdown between Blue and Red (who reappears in Gold and Silver as a ‘bonus boss’ with the team shown here).
Blue is actually the only “rival” character ever to become Champion, and as such his team composition varies according to the starter he chose (whichever one is strong against yours).  He always uses Pidgeot, Alakazam and Rhydon.  He has a fully evolved Venusaur, Blastoise or Charizard by this point, rounding out his team with two of Arcanine, Gyarados or Exeggutor, leaving out the one whose element matches his starter’s.  In the original games, Blue is not as dangerous an opponent as his inflated level suggests, for much the same reason as the Elite Four.  The NPC enemies are strikingly unimaginative with their movesets, each Pokémon rarely knowing any attacks besides the ones that would be used by a wild Pokémon of the same species and level… to the point that Blue’s Rhydon knows both Leer and Tail Whip (which have exactly the same effect), his Exeggutor doesn’t even have four attacks, his poor Arcanine and Pidgeot are stuck with Roar and Whirlwind (which don’t actually do anything in Red and Blue except against wild Pokémon), his Arcanine has to make do with Ember just to add insult to injury, and his Charizard, if he has one, actually uses Rage (which, due to the bizarre way it works in Red and Blue, basically confers a death sentence upon anything stupid enough to use it, ever).  He is, to be fair, a far more credible opponent in his incarnation as the Viridian Gym Leader (using Exeggutor, Gyarados, and Arcanine, with no starter Pokémon) since his Pokémon now, at least, use sensible attacks, and is further improved by the remakes of the first two generations of games; in Fire Red and Leaf Green, for instance, he eventually replaces his Pidgeot and Rhydon, hardly standout members of his team, with the far more dangerous Heracross and Tyranitar.  It’s Heart Gold and Soul Silver, though, that do something really interesting with Blue.  Gyms, of course, are normally themed around an element, with trainers in the gym predominantly using Pokémon of the same element as the leader… but Blue has no specialty element.  Gold and Silver wimped out when faced with this little disjunction and gave Blue a blandly-decorated gym with no minions whatsoever.  Heart Gold and Soul Silver take the far more inventive approach of giving Blue a gym themed around not an element but a technique: Trick Room, a field move that temporarily distorts space to allow slower Pokémon to outrun faster ones.  Blue’s gym trainers in Heart Gold and Soul Silver all employ Pokémon with Trick Room, alongside slow but powerful Pokémon that can exploit its effects.  Blue uses his Exeggutor, who is now his opener, to set up the effect, and now has a Machamp in place of his old Alakazam to better fit his new strategy.  It’s a creative response to the need for a gym to have a theme in the absence of a leader with a preference for any particular type, and personally I think it would be good to have more gyms like this in future games (but that’s a discussion for another day).
So, that’s this guy.  He’s loud and unpleasant, not actually evil but remarkably inconsiderate, short-sighted and power-hungry, and he’s honestly not even a very good trainer (well, okay, I have to forgive him for that one since all the NPCs in Red and Blue have pretty terrible movesets and AI).  I don’t know that he’s particularly interesting in terms of his personality, but I suppose he’s not a bad antagonist in the sense that he’s easy to dislike and provides a solid, uncomplicated example of what you, the player, are supposed to be trying not to be.  Personally, I’d keep him around, if only because he’s the guy we all love to hate.
I hereby-
Oh, wait; I keep forgetting I’m not doing that anymore.  But I have to finish with something… oh, I know.
Gods, Blue was a douche.

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