Tentacool and Tentacruel – The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak – Bye Bye, Butterfree
Yeah, yeah, I know, I missed episode 18. Beauty and the Beach was banned in most Western countries because James wears a set of fake boobs to enter a beauty contest (yeah… he does that sometimes) and it doesn’t air on the official website with the rest of the series because they’re trying to pretend it never happened. I’m sure I could probably find it on the internet if I could be bothered looking but I really, really can’t. I’ve read episode synopses and it doesn’t look like Beauty and the Beach is all that interesting an episode anyway, so I’m not convinced it’s a great loss. Maybe someday I’ll do a few of the banned episodes all together. Anyway.
Tentacool and Tentacruel is… weird. It’s clearly meant as a ‘save the environment’ episode, but, well… Okay, so, Ash, Misty and Brock are in Porta Vista, a seaside town, when they find an injured Horsea, whom Misty elects to catch so they can take her to the Pokémon Centre. Horsea uses her ink spray ability to draw pictures of Tentacool and Tentacruel on the water’s surface, but before they can figure out what Horsea is trying to tell them, everyone’s attention is diverted by an explosion at an offshore platform. Misty quickly mobilises her Water Pokémon to help the crew, to which Ash says, dumbfounded, “I didn’t know you could do that!” I… I don’t know. I guess it never even occurred to him that Pokémon might be useful outside of combat. Anyway, the group soon meets the owner of the platform: an ugly old woman named Nastina, who wants to build a five-star hotel out in the middle of the bay. However, a swarm of Tentacool keep interfering with her workers. She’s willing to offer an enormous cash reward, a sumptuous banquet and free stays at her resort to any trainer who can wipe out the Tentacool, which initially tempts Ash and Brock, but Misty is enraged at the idea of exterminating Water Pokémon and storms out, dragging her friends with her. However, it turns out the townspeople are all too glad to take Nastina up on her offer – as are Team Rocket. Jessie and James take a boat out into the bay loaded with barrels of ‘stun sauce’ that will paralyze the Tentacool so they can scoop them up at their leisure. And… this is where it gets weird. A barrel of the stun sauce is tipped out of the boat and breaks open on a Tentacool’s head, causing it to evolve into a Tentacruel the size of an office block, who proceeds to lead the Tentacool swarm in an all-out assault on Porta Vista using the laser beams they fire from the jewels on their heads.
…note to self: give Tentacool a frikkin’ laser beam attack.
Nastina shows up in a tank and starts peppering Tentacruel with a pair of machine-pistols and a bazooka (it was just that kind of episode, okay?) to no effect, while Misty starts fretting over how to protect the Tentacool even as they literally and figuratively flood Porta Vista. At some point a Tentacool grabs Meowth, slaps a tentacle on his head, and takes over his brain so he can speak for the swarm (…note to self: give Tentacool a brain-control attack), allowing them to express their rage that Nastina’s rampant commercial development is destroying their habitat and that of many other Pokémon. Pikachu and Horsea try to protest that humans aren’t so bad, and fail, but somehow Misty manages to persuade Tentacruel that the people of Porta Vista are genuinely sorry and won’t do it again. Tentacruel threatens to return if they go back on their promise, then swats Nastina and leaves. I like to think he went on to become an international eco-terrorist.
What we learn from this episode is that if you don’t protect the environment a horde of intelligent mutant jellyfish will rise from the sea and demolish your town. It’s a deeply nuanced message.
Maiden’s Peak is less weird but still has its moments. Basically, when the group stops in another seaside town for the summer’s end festival, Brock starts seeing mysterious visions of a beautiful young woman, and an old fortune-teller predicts trouble in his future from such a woman. James of Team Rocket sees the same visions and receives the same advice. They later recognise the woman when they see a famous painting of a girl who lived in the town long ago and died waiting for her lover to come home from a war. According to the story, she turned into the Maiden’s Rock, a stone jutting from the edge of a cliff in the shape of a young girl – “the most beautiful rock I’ve ever seen!” as Brock exclaims (well… I guess he is avowedly a Rock-type specialist, so if anyone could appreciate that kind of thing…). Brock and James are both hypnotised by the rock and stay out on the cliff all night. The next day, the old fortune-teller explains that each year the maiden’s ghost tries to entrance young men, believing them to be her long-lost lover. She sells Ash, Misty and Jessie a bunch of spell tags to keep the maiden’s ghost away, but they fail completely and she returns for Brock and James that night. When they try to fight her, it turns out that both the maiden’s ghost and the old fortune-teller are disguises worn by a single Gastly. Gastly curb-stomps the lot of them in quick succession with a series of illusions: a mousetrap for Pikachu, a ball of yarn for Meowth, a mongoose (which… is actually a thing in the Pokémon world, apparently) for Ekans, a gas mask for Koffing, a fire extinguisher for Charmander, and, for Squirtle and Bulbasaur, a monstrous fusion of their evolved forms, which Gastly dubs ‘Venustoise.’ Just as the situation seems hopeless, however, the sun comes up. Gastly can’t deal with the sunlight and flees, promising to return the next year. The next night, there’s a dance for the festival, and Ash and Misty appear to have a ‘moment’ (I’m not touching the shipping debates with a Macedonian sarissa, but I thought I should mention it).
In the epilogue, which the characters don’t see, we learn that Gastly is the only one who can see the real maiden’s ghost, and makes a habit of returning each year to visit her and causing trouble to keep her legend alive (as well as make a quick buck selling spell tags… which… raises more questions than it answers, actually, now that I come to think of it…). For me this is the best part of the whole episode because it implies some interesting things about the nature of Ghost Pokémon (or, at least, the first-generation Ghost Pokémon) – namely, that they aren’t actually ‘ghosts’ themselves but have an affinity for ghosts and spirits. They cluster at places of spiritual power because they feel a kinship for wayward souls, and act as mediators (of a sort) between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Despite all that happens in Maiden’s Peak, Gastly isn’t actually malicious and causes no long-term harm; his only goal in the episode is to preserve the past and bring a little comfort to a lingering spirit with a broken heart.
Well… okay, and a bit of naked profiteering. Wandering spirit guides have to eat too, you know.
That brings us to today’s last episode: Bye Bye Butterfree. Ash, Brock and Misty come across a huge swarm of Butterfree dancing at the edge of a cliff, and Brock explains that it’s their mating season. Oh, and by the way, Ash, if you don’t release your Butterfree so he can get a girlfriend and leave you to travel the world, he’ll never have babies! So, y’know, no pressure or anything. Apparently trainers with Butterfree gather at this spot every year to release their Pokémon so they can go forth and multiply, and Ash decides to do the same. Unfortunately, Butterfree has some trouble… he immediately falls for a bright pink Butterfree, but she spurns his advances and he flies off to cry in the forest. Ash gives Butterfree a pep talk, Brock gives him a snazzy scarf, and Misty explains her… decidedly agonistic philosophy on love, advising him to show off his awesome combat skills to impress the pink Butterfree. None of this has any effect whatsoever. Luckily, just when we need them, Jessie and James show up to trap all the Butterfree in an enormous butterfly net! Ash’s Butterfree manages to avoid the net and pursues Team Rocket to their nearby lair, with Ash and the others in tow, and together they vanquish their enemies once again and free the other Butterfree. Anyway, the pink Butterfree rather sheepishly starts courting Ash’s Butterfree, and they finally pair up… which means it’s time for Butterfree to go. As the sun sets, Ash and Pikachu farewell Butterfree, tell his girlfriend to take good care of him, and wish them all the best.
Butterfree can’t really be the only Pokémon who have better things to do than follow Pokémon trainers around and beat up Gym leaders, and indeed Butterfree will not be the last Pokémon Ash ever releases; over the years, he lets several of his Pokémon go to live with their families or work on projects of their own. A lot of fans make worried noises about how often Ash does this and add it to the long list of reasons to question his seriousness as a trainer, but I think Bye Bye Butterfree demonstrates conclusively that it’s hardly unusual. Many other Butterfree trainers release their Pokémon in this episode, far more casually than Ash does (no-one, certainly, is reduced to tears as Ash and Pikachu are at the end of the episode – excuse me while I quietly add this to my stack of evidence that Ash’s attachment to his Pokémon is quite unusual). When you think about it, it makes a great deal of sense. Pokémon training is consistently portrayed in just about every iteration of the series as a mutually beneficial relationship, and I’ve been arguing so far that Pokémon have a lot more choice than one might think in whether they enter such a relationship. Presumably, not all of them actually plan to stay with their trainers forever (though many could later decide to); like Butterfree most of them will want to leave and have families eventually – otherwise, what exactly is the point of all this from their perspective? My radical and unsubstantiated claim for today, then, is this: although abandoning a Pokémon who wants to stay with you is kind of a jerk thing to do, releasing a Pokémon so it can pursue its own path in life at a mutually agreeable time is not only acceptable but, in fact, an expected part of being a trainer.