Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion – Wake Up, Snorlax
Ash’s location: Czech Republic, or thereabouts.
For today’s show… two weird-ass episodes about two weird-ass trainers and their two weird-ass Pokémon!
In Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion, Ash, Misty and Brock take shelter from a sudden, violent rainstorm inside a worn-out, creaking old mansion, which appears deserted until they see a teal-haired boy wearing clothes exactly like Ash’s standing in the shadows. “Yeah, except it’s a girl,” Brock notes. How does he know? “Men’s intuition.” Indeed, the ‘boy’ is a young girl named Duplica, who has an incredible gift for imitation, and lives in the mansion with her Pokémon partner, a Ditto. Ash is disdainful when Duplica explains that Ditto’s only power is Transform; he doesn’t see the point in a Pokémon that can only ever be a cheap imitation of something else. Duplica shows him his mistake by challenging him to a battle and having her Ditto block Bulbasaur’s Razor Leaf with Vine Whip, then use its vines to restrain Bulbasaur. Ash surrenders and sulks for a little while, until Brock points something out to him: Ditto may have been imitating Bulbasaur, but Duplica wasn’t simply imitating Ash; she used another of Bulbasaur’s powers to counter what the real one was trying to do. In order to battle like that with Ditto, Duplica must have encyclopaedic knowledge of all Pokémon species and their capabilities. She isn’t really the battling type, though; Duplica wants to be a performer. When travellers stop at the mansion, Duplica entertains them with her Pokémon cosplay and Ditto’s transformations. Unfortunately, Duplica’s Ditto can’t mimic faces, which has wrecked their act on more than one occasion. As she is telling Ash her woes, Team Rocket make their obligatory appearance and nab Ditto. They want it to Transform into a mythical Dratini so they can present it to Giovanni, but Ditto, presented with a picture of Dratini in a book, can only Transform into the book. They also quickly learn of Ditto’s inability to mimic faces, but eventually succeed, using threats of physical violence, in getting it to Transform into a perfect copy of Meowth. When the kids arrive – wearing Team Rocket costumes from Duplica’s stash and reciting the Team Rocket motto, just for the hell of it – Duplica is overjoyed and even thanks them for helping Ditto learn to Transform properly. Jessie and James try to give Meowth to Duplica and fly off with Ditto in their balloon… but she isn’t fooled for one second, and lobs him at the balloon, causing Jessie and James to drop the real Ditto. Furious, they deploy a cannon from the balloon’s basket, but Duplica has Ditto Transform into the cannon and blast Pikachu at them, with predictable results. Duplica goes back to her mansion to re-open for business, the kids get on with whatever it is they claim to be doing, and Jessie and James attempt to stuff Meowth into a Dratini costume…
Let’s talk about Ditto. Ditto is one of those Pokémon who’s gotten something of a raw deal in the games, because Ditto in the games really is just a cheap imitation of whatever it Transforms into. It’ll probably have less HP, it can match but not exceed its opponents in all other respects (including, most importantly, speed), and it’s overwhelmingly likely to be at a one-turn disadvantage because of the time it takes to Transform. Contrast the way Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion portrays this weird-ass little Pokémon. The way Brock and Duplica describe how Ditto battles seems to imply that Ditto can imitate any technique a Pokémon is physically capable of, even if the opponent doesn’t actually know it – if they had been fighting outside in fine weather, for instance, Duplica might have had Ditto hammer Ash’s Bulbasaur with a Solarbeam. What’s more, Ditto’s ability to imitate inanimate objects is something entirely unique to the anime (and with good reason; it’d be merry hell to add something like that to the games). Whatever it’s imitating, though, it seems clear that – as in the games – Ditto can only Transform into what’s actually in front of it. A picture of a Dratini won’t cut it; Ditto can only manage a copy of the picture. However, when Jessie shows Ditto a photo of her old school crush and asks it to show her what he’d look like aged up a few years, Ditto is able to accommodate her; it can still only Transform into a photo, and it fails, as usual, to imitate his face, but it does manage to age the boy in the image as Jessie asks. Clearly, then, Ditto can take some licence with its transformations (for instance, it could probably Transform, if it chose, into a ‘shiny’ version of a Pokémon standing in front of it, or make other superficial changes); it just can’t create a whole three-dimensional form from scratch, or from memory. The other fascinating thing Ditto is able to imitate is Meowth’s ability to speak, which is an extremely unusual skill that Meowth learned only with incredible effort. When Jessie and James present Duplica with two identical Meowth, Ditto mimics everything Meowth says, though it doesn’t appear to be able to add anything (suggesting that it’s just parroting the sounds without understanding them, but even that is beyond the abilities of most Meowth). Clearly, then, Ditto has some degree of access even to complex learned abilities, but may not be able to use them effectively without some sort of instruction. Some questions to ponder, then: would Ditto be able to speak if it Transformed into a different Meowth? What if Team Rocket’s Meowth had been there with them to show it how? In short, does Transforming actually allow Ditto to take knowledge from the template Pokémon’s mind? More importantly, why isn’t this the kind of thing Professor Oak and his ilk are researching?
So much for Ditto… now for a distinctly more vexing Pokémon.
After a brief run-in with an old hobo, who plays them a song on his Poké-Flute before demanding food (which they do not have) as payment, Ash, Misty and Brock wander into a town, delirious with hunger, and find that no-one there has any food either. Luckily for them, they run into the mayor, who is generous enough to give them a meal from his family’s private stores. The mayor explains that the river that flows through the town has dried up for some reason, ruining their farmland and causing massive food shortages. “No-one dares go upstream anymore. There’s no telling what you might find.” Luckily, Ash and his friends are random wandering Pokémon trainers – the best people for any dangerous and loosely-specified task! They follow the dry riverbed for some time, hacking through the oppressive tangles of thorny vines in their path, and find what seems to be the problem… a Snorlax blocking the river (where… is all the water going, exactly?). Ash tries to capture Snorlax, but his Pokéball just bounces off. As the kids puzzle over his monstrous bulk, Team Rocket arrive in their balloon and declare that they have come to take Snorlax. Ash is reluctant to let them steal the massive Pokémon, but- wait, steal? Isn’t it a wild Snorlax? Surely it’s fair game? Clearly, as far as Ash is concerned, there is a definite ethical distinction between battling a wild Pokémon to capture it in a Pokéball and simply carting it off in its sleep, as Jessie and James mean to. Regardless, Ash has to admit that getting rid of Snorlax is more important. The balloon can’t lift his fat ass, though, and nothing they try can wake him up. When he shifts his weight, though, they find a “Do Not Disturb” sign underneath him, with the instruction “in case of emergency, please use a Poké-Flute to wake.” The kids remember the hobo, rush back to find him… for some reason, get into a battle with Team Rocket for control of the hobo, which of course they win… and lead him to the Snorlax. The hobo claims that the Snorlax is his, and that he wakes it with his flute once a month. He does so now, but it turns out that Snorlax was never the problem… the stream is being blocked by another dense thicket of vines. As the kids scratch their heads, Snorlax takes matters into his own hands and devours the entire thicket, releasing the river and restoring the town’s lifeblood, before going back to sleep. Finally, the hobo’s Snorlax-shaped pager beeps and flashes “No. 7,” to tell him that he has to go and wake up another Snorlax.
Okay, guys, I know you probably meant that as a throwaway joke, but… you do realise you just implied that this hobo is responsible for travelling around Kanto regulating the sleep cycles of at least seven different Snorlax?
Because that is AWESOME!
Seriously, though, let’s put a little thought into this. Snorlax is an interesting Pokémon, from an ecological perspective… by which I mean, the damn thing eats everything. Luckily they also sleep for months at a time, giving the ecosystem time to recover from their onslaughts. However, in an episode from the Orange League series, Snack Attack, we see how absurdly destructive a single Snorlax can be when it gets peckish in the wrong place at the wrong time; these things can devour forests in a matter of days. The flip side of this, though, is how Snorlax fit into ecosystems that are used to their presence. Snorlax presumably don’t often move very far. One imagines that the one Ash encounters in Wake Up, Snorlax has been living in the area for quite some time. Its presence is probably what has been keeping the thorn weed under control and stopping the river from turning into an overgrown swamp long before now. The removal of such a major consumer from an ecosystem could only be disastrous; if Ash actually had captured the Snorlax, and then found a way to clear the vines himself, chances are they would have grown back within months, choking the river once again. There are probably many grassland and meadow environments in Kanto that can exist in their present state only because of Snorlax living in the area and regularly trimming back more aggressive types of flora. Think about that for a moment the next time you’re playing Fire Red or Leaf Green and decide to catch that wild Snorlax. The hobo’s role in all this is a little harder to guess at, unless you’re prepared to accept that Snorlax will actually sleep indefinitely unless disturbed. It might be that their natural sleep cycle is easily disturbed by human activity, or that they’ve been moved from their original territory (maybe to make room for a city, or maybe as a deliberate attempt to alter the environment) and need to eat more or less often than usual because of the different vegetation. In spite of their size and power, I could actually see Snorlax being tremendously vulnerable to environmental disturbances because of their massive energy requirements, and perhaps being a very high-maintenance species to protect, like the giant pandas they vaguely resemble.
What I like about the anime is that it often gives more detailed portraits of particular species of Pokémon than the games are capable of providing in their current state. I think there’s actually plenty of room for the games to do this as well, but that’s neither here nor there. Ditto and Snorlax are both very interesting Pokémon to think about – Ditto because of the unanswered questions about the extent of its powers, Snorlax because of his unusual lifestyle and needs – and, in keeping with the spirit of learning and discovery that’s been part of the point of Pokémon from the beginning, such portraits are a tremendously important part of the franchise as a whole. Or… that’s what I think, anyway.