Showdown at Pewter City – Clefairy and the Moon Stone – The Waterflowers of Cerulean City
In which Ash… earns… his first two Gym Badges. Arguably. Also stuff happens with some Clefairy.
When Ash and Misty arrive in Pewter City, they are greeted by an aged hobo selling rocks. Don’t scoff; rocks are the whole basis of Pewter City’s economy. The hobo leads them to the Pokémon Centre where Misty points out a poster advertising the Indigo League tournament, which explains that contestants need to earn eight official Gym Badges to enter. Ash… apparently didn’t know this. Why the hell was he going to Pewter City? If he didn’t know about collecting badges, what could he possibly have wanted to do there? Buy rocks? Misty cautions Ash not to rush into a Gym battle and offers to lend him some of her Pokémon, but Ash ignores her, challenges the local leader, Brock, and quickly learns that Brock’s signature Pokémon, Onix, is fifty times Pikachu’s size and invulnerable to electricity. Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu from being turned into red paste, and leaves the Gym in despair. On the street he meets the hobo, Flint, who explains that Brock is a very powerful trainer and could go much further than being Gym Leader of a hick town, but is kept in Pewter City by his countless younger siblings – Brock’s father ditched the family to become a Pokémon trainer, this sort of thing being socially acceptable in Kanto, and his mother died soon after (or… so the English translation claimed… long story). Despite his sympathy for Brock, Flint provides Ash with a “strategy” to defeat him: overcharge Pikachu by hooking him up to a derelict hydroelectric paddle-wheel… which Ash will turn manually (realism is cast aside so Ash can work for his victory and prevent this whole episode from being a blatant exercise in cheating… I mean, it kind of is anyway, but they were trying). Although Pikachu nearly explodes, Flint’s plan works: the next day, he fries Brock’s Geodude with relative ease. Onix is still too strong, but unfortunately for Brock, Pikachu’s wild electrical blasts set off the Gym’s fire suppression systems, drenching Onix and rendering him vulnerable. The characters’ reactions are fascinating. Ash declares that he doesn’t want to win on a fluke and leaves the Gym, which makes sense; he’s still far too proud to accept this kind of victory. Misty, who’s watching, seems to think Ash should have taken his lucky break and finished Onix, because all’s fair in Pokémon and war, so she clearly has no moral compass. And Brock… Brock follows him and just gives him the Boulder Badge, because he doesn’t really give a damn about this whole Gym Leadering thing anyway. Flint turns up and reveals himself as Brock’s father; apparently he was an appalling trainer and returned to Pewter City not long after leaving, but decided to become a rock salesman instead of going home to care for his vermin offspring. I guess Ash has reminded him how not to be a massive jerk, because he’s decided to become a proper father again (and also run the Gym, presumably… despite being a self-confessed failure as a trainer…) so Brock can go on a road trip.
Ash, Misty and Brock leave Pewter City together and travel past Mt. Moon, where they meet a… ‘scientist’… named Seymour and have to deal with Team Rocket, who are trying to steal an ancient meteorite known as the Moon Stone from Mt. Moon (this meteorite, presumably, is the source of all the smaller Moon Stones we’re familiar with from the games). Team Rocket is dealt with quite comprehensively by the community of Clefairy who inhabit Mt. Moon; their Metronome chorus results in a powerful explosion that actually blows the Moon Stone itself to smithereens, but no-one seems to mind because the shards cause many of the Clefairy to evolve into Clefable. Then Seymour decides to go and live with the Clefairy because he’s nuts. Honestly, I could probably spend an entire entry just talking about this episode. It’s the first time we see a Pokémon using an evolutionary stone in the anime, which is interesting in itself, but the Clefairy and Clefable relate to the Moon Stone in a way that’s so weird and unique that it adds a whole extra dimension to the matter. Sadly that doesn’t really fit with the ideas I want to talk about today, but I’ll probably come back to it when I discuss episode fourteen (which is definitely getting a whole entry to itself).
Despite Misty’s inexplicable protests, the group’s next destination is Cerulean City, where Ash wants to try for his second badge in as many weeks. When they reach the city, Misty vanishes in a huff, and Brock wanders off to take care of some unspecified “stuff,” returning only at the end of the episode. Ash makes his way to the Cerulean Gym-cum-aquarium, where – to his surprise – he witnesses the end of a water ballet performed by a trio known as the “Sensational Sisters.” As he explores the Gym later, he meets the sisters, Lily, Violet and Daisy, and learns that the three of them are, in fact, the Gym Leaders. As it turns out, however, they’re just as sick of their Gym Leader gig as Brock was, having just suffered three devastating losses to the other three trainers who left Pallet Town at the same time as Ash. In fact, apart from a Goldeen and a low-level Seel, all of their Pokémon are resting at the Pokémon Centre. Lily, Violet and Daisy would rather focus on the water ballets that have made their Gym famous than deal with challenges so, with a collective shrug, they decide to hand Ash his Cascade Badge just for the asking… until Misty bursts in. Misty, it turns out, is the family’s fourth and youngest sister, and she is none too pleased about the way her sisters are handling their Gym (or failing to). She answers Ash’s challenge herself, and soundly defeats his Butterfree with her Staryu. They both switch Pokémon, and Pidgeotto nearly beats Misty’s Starmie, but Team Rocket interrupts the battle by attacking the Gym with some kind of giant vacuum cobbled together from cannibalised household appliances they stole earlier in the episode. They intend to use this godawful device to suck up all the water in the Gym, and all the Water Pokémon with it, but Ash, of course, defeats Team Rocket and saves the sisters’ last few Pokémon. Lily, Violet and Daisy decide to award Ash the Cascade Badge for services rendered to the Cerulean Gym, and point out to Misty that Pikachu could have flattened her Water Pokémon anyway if he’d wanted to (Pikachu refused to fight a friend – he doesn’t yet follow all of Ash’s orders without question; he can also be troublesome about going into battles he doesn’t think he can win). They meet up with Brock, who never does explain what his “stuff” involved, and move on to their next misadventure.
These episodes begin Ash’s extremely chequered career of earning Gym Badges under questionable circumstances. Of his eight Kanto badges, only three were totally legitimate (you could certainly make arguments for some of the other five, but they’re definitely suspect). Gym Leaders appear to have a lot of latitude in running their Gyms and handing out their badges, and once you get your hands on one of the things, no-one ever really questions it. Strange as it might seem, this is actually something I would like to put in the games; Black and White made a decent effort at showing the Gym Leaders as people rather than just bosses, but Claire from Gold and Silver remains the only one in history ever to demand something other than a battle as proof of a player’s worthiness. A Gym Leader’s job is to certify that a challenger possesses a certain degree of skill as a trainer, and a battle is the most straightforward and obvious way to do that, but it’s plainly not the only way. Providing a service to the Gym or to the city, in a manner that demonstrates one’s abilities to the satisfaction of the Gym Leader, seems like a perfectly sensible way to earn a badge. Arguably, so is putting up a good fight when your main Pokémon is plainly unsuited to the task at hand. Happening to show up just as the Gym Leader gets sick of battling… not so much. How Lily, Violet and Daisy became the Gym Leaders of Cerulean City in the first place is beyond me, since they don’t appear to have much commitment to their position, which suggests to me that general oversight for the whole system is relatively slack. I think two or three years pass before someone picks up on their uselessness and Misty has to come home and run the gym for them. Honestly I suspect that the Pokémon League just quietly overlooks Cerulean City in exchange for a percentage of their ticket sales.
The other important thing about these episodes is that they introduce Brock and fill in Misty’s backstory. Brock is the oldest (I don’t know if his age is ever mentioned but I think he’s supposed to be about sixteen) and most responsible member of the team… until he sees an attractive woman, at which point he turns into a drooling idiot. He’s used to taking care of a huge family, and probably finds it a welcome break to have only two demented children on his hands. Although Brock is quite powerful, he doesn’t actually like fighting and wants to become a Pokémon Breeder – a somewhat nebulous term in the anime, since any actual ‘breeding’ would probably spoil the show’s G-rating; basically Brock is a specialist in Pokémon nutrition and general healthcare. Misty is a lot of fun. She’s often described as a tomboy – she normally wears boyish clothes and she’s as adventurous, outgoing and stubborn as Ash – but she does regularly show interest in stereotypically ‘girly’ things, and loves anything that’s pink, cute, sparkly, or all three, so I think the tomboy aspect is something she developed as a gesture of rebellion against her sisters’ obsession with fashion and beauty. She can be superficial at times and is prone to romanticising, but she’s also capable of being a very determined, practical person when she needs to be. Misty and Brock will, of course, both get fuller treatment in episodes to come… so let’s get going!