Pokémon Origins: Episode 2

The Pokémon Tower.

After defeating Brock, Red continues his journey through the classic storyline – such as it is – of the first generation.  Most of this is related to us through a voice over by Red himself, with the help of dialogue boxes in the style of the original games (all direct quotes, of course), covering his victories over Misty and Lieutenant Surge, his initial skirmish with Team Rocket, Charmander’s evolution to Charmeleon, and a variety of other minor events from the games (mercifully, he sees fit to leave out all the Pokémon he is capturing during this time – we’d be here all day otherwise).  Red’s narration is bland, conveying only the barest hint of his own feelings about any of the events in question, and gives little detail.  I find myself questioning why things like receiving a bike voucher from the chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club even needed to be brought up if no attempt is going to be made to elaborate on them – and find myself answering that the only effect can be to call to mind viewers’ own memories of those same events.  Maybe for some of us, the Magikarp Red mentions buying outside Mt. Moon became a valued team member when it evolved!  It reminds us, essentially, that this is our story too.  If the whole show were just Red’s rather dull, functional account, though, there wouldn’t be much point in watching, so the story picks up again with a sequence that the writers thought worthy of special attention: Red’s experiences in Lavender Town and the Pokémon Tower.

Mr. Fuji’s world-class Pokémon habitats: square pens floored with blue and yellow checkerboard linoleum.

While Red is at the Lavender Pokémon Centre getting his team healed, he hears a rumour of a ghost causing trouble at the Pokémon Tower, Lavender Town’s monumental Pokémon cemetery.  The woman who tells him about the rumour delivers one of the classic lines of the original game – “I guess that white hand that’s resting on your shoulder isn’t real then either!” – before vanishing without a trace while his back is turned.  Red mentions to the Pokémon Centre nurse that he’s going to check out the tower, and she recommends visiting the Pokémon House first, which he obediently does.  The Pokémon House’s owner, Mr. Fuji, is absent, but his assistant Reyna offers to show Red around and explains what they do there: care for orphaned and abandoned Pokémon.  Red remarks that the Pokémon living there look very happy, playing with their caretakers – all except for one he has never seen before, a Cubone.  Reyna explains through a flashback scene that this Cubone was driven from its home by Team Rocket grunts, who killed its mother, a Marowak.  Now it doesn’t trust humans other than Mr. Fuji.  Red, who has met Team Rocket before but not encountered the full extent of their malice, is deeply troubled.  Later, as he thanks Reyna for the tour, he expresses a desire to meet Mr. Fuji, who seems like a very interesting man.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fuji has been missing for some time, and the other volunteers have only just found out where he has gone: Pokémon Tower, which happens to have been taken over by both Team Rocket and a vengeful ghost.  Although they are worried about Mr. Fuji and concerned for the future of their town (after all, the Pokémon Tower, although morbid, is their biggest tourist attraction), the civilians are too frightened of a Team Rocket reprisal to do anything about it, to Reyna’s outrage.  When Red volunteers to break Team Rocket’s grip on the tower, they are shocked, but change their tune once he reveals the three badges that mark him as more than a casual trainer.  Meanwhile Blue, who is eavesdropping on the conversation, concocts a plan to get rid of Team Rocket himself and steal Red’s glory, because otherwise he wouldn’t have any opportunity to be a douchebag in this episode.

Mother and child.

Blue thinks that what’s really happening is obvious: the ghost is only a Team Rocket deception, one which he intends to unmask.  Unfortunately, it’s nothing of the kind – the Team Rocket thugs have no idea what’s going on, though their leader is confident that the Silph Scope in their possession will allow them to identify and defeat any spirits that attack them. Blue is not so lucky.  When he enters the Pokémon Tower that night, a few steps ahead of Red, and actually encounters the ghost on the sixth floor, his intellect and bravado desert him and he runs screaming… right into Red.  Blue is all for fleeing, but Red decides to stand and fight with Charmeleon.  The ghost doesn’t actually attack them, but avoids all of Charmeleon’s attacks effortlessly, continually repeating the words “get out… leave this place!”  While they battle, Blue tries to sneak upstairs and encounters the Team Rocket leader.  “A human opponent?  That, I can handle!” he declares, trouncing the thug with his Wartortle and confiscating the Silph Scope, which he throws to Red.  When Red puts on the scope (a pair of high-tech goggles), he realises that the ghost is the slain mother Marowak – and that she’s scaring people away from the tower to keep them from getting too close to Team Rocket.  At this point, the Cubone from the Pokémon House arrives, with Reyna in tow, and has a touching reunion with its mother.  Marowak’s spirit gets a chance to say goodbye, before leaving for wherever Pokémon go when they die, finally at peace.  Blue leaves at this point, deciding to leave the rest to Red, whose Jolteon teams up with Cubone to defeat and drive off the Team Rocket grunts.  Red and Reyna find and release the grateful Mr. Fuji, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Even Cubone opens up and becomes close to Reyna.  Back at the Pokémon House, Mr. Fuji offers Red two gifts to thank him, and to help him complete his Pokédex quest.  The first is a Poké Flute, which of course Red will need to wake up Snorlax and reach Fuchsia City.  The second is a pair of round gems, a small rainbow-coloured one and a large blue one.  Players of X and Y will recognise them as a Mega Stone and a Key Stone, but when Red asks what they are Mr. Fuji offers only a cryptic “you’ll find out soon enough.”  The episode ends with Red passing by Blue on the way out of Lavender Town.  Blue comments that Red owes him for helping to get the Silph Scope, but Red just reminds him of his own tremendous cowardice against the ghost and leaves him fuming.

AAAAHH! A GHOST! Red, hold me!

There are two main things we need to talk about here, the first of which is abandonment – that is, releasing a Pokémon that doesn’t want to be released (there are, I firmly believe, situations in which Pokémon will want to and should be released, preferably with the trainer’s agreement and goodwill, but that’s not a subject for today).  This is something I’ve touched on in places, especially here, but never really tackled head on.  In Origins, as in the main anime storyline, the characters treat abandoning a Pokémon as an absolutely horrible thing for a trainer to do.  Reyna, referring to something Mr. Fuji once told her, equates it to “[thinking] of Pokémon as nothing more than tools or even some kind of accessories.”  What’s more, it is broadly accepted that Pokémon who have suffered this are in grave need of help, hence Mr. Fuji’s Pokémon house and its many volunteers.  In the real world, it’s not uncommon for wild animals kept in captivity to lose the ability to survive in their own natural habitats unless they’re continually challenged and stimulated (which is why many zoos today make animals, especially predators, ‘work’ for their food – it’s healthier for them, both physically and psychologically, to face similar obstacles to those they would in the wild), and it’s possible that some of these Pokémon are in a similar position.  I’m not sure that’s the case for all of them, though.  Trainers who regularly battle their Pokémon are hardly pampering them; if anything their powers are being honed to a greater extent than they would be naturally – true, some of Mr. Fuji’s abandoned Pokémon could have been pets, but I think it’s unlikely that Origins would show such interest in the Pokémon House unless most of them had belonged to trainers (since, let’s face it, trainers’ Pokémon are what the franchise is about).  The phenomenon is also most pronounced in animals raised in captivity – those who grew up in the wild have less trouble reverting to instinct.  Similarly, many Pokémon trained by humans and subsequently released are likely to find themselves in strange, foreign habitats that they can’t easily adapt to, but all the species we see in the Pokémon House are common in the areas around Lavender Town, and throughout Kanto generally.  Again, it’s certainly something very important to consider when dealing with abandoned Pokémon, but I’m not sure it’s Mr. Fuji’s primary concern here.  I think Reyna’s comment is important to understanding these attitudes: abandoning a Pokémon is tantamount to treating it as an accessory, as something to be taken up or put down at one’s own convenience.  It’s… well, I suppose the word ‘dehumanising’ isn’t really applicable in this case, but that’s the sense of what I’m trying to say.  The fact that being abandoned can be inconvenient or even dangerous isn’t the half of it; abandoning a Pokémon is tantamount to telling it, to its face, “You are a possession, and not a particularly valuable one at that.”  If you subscribe to my admittedly convoluted views on Pokémon training as an implied contract, then being abandoned is tantamount to hearing that from someone you have singled out and judged to be particularly admirable.  The psychological impact of that, I think, is far greater than the more worldly consequences.

Marowak defends Cubone from Team Rocket.

Not all of the Pokémon in Mr. Fuji’s care have been abandoned, of course: he also cares for orphaned Pokémon, in this case Cubone.  I have half come to suspect much of Cubone’s flavour text, in the Pokédex and elsewhere, was written with this specific Cubone in mind, or at least this incident in Lavender Town, which is certainly there in the original games, though not told as elaborately or emotively.  Most of it refers not only to Cubone wearing its mother’s skull (where ‘mother’ could reasonably be glossed as referring to any female-line ancestor), but to mourning its mother’s death, something which is difficult to make sense of, if we understand it to apply to the whole species (some discussion of that here).  It’s also worth noting that, although Marowak appear in Victory Road, the Pokémon Tower is the only place on Red and Blue where wild Cubone appear, and there aren’t very many of them, either – it doesn’t particularly strain credulity to suggest that every wild Cubone the player meets in a typical playthrough of Red or Blue version might be a child of the mother Marowak killed by Team Rocket, which would make those otherwise difficult Pokédex entries entirely accurate (it’s worth noting that, on the later Yellow version, Cubone do also appear in the Safari Zone, but considering the nature of the Safari Zone they could have been brought there from elsewhere – perhaps even from Lavender Town in response to these events).  This may explain why Cubone and Marowak are such difficult species for us to understand – everything we know about them is heavily coloured by this single event.  If Marowak’s portrayal in this episode is anything to go by, though, they seem to possess a profound sense of duty.  The suggestion that Marowak’s spirit was haunting the tower to protect people from Team Rocket (“you shouldn’t get close to them!” she cries when Red unmasks her), a nuance that was absent from the original telling of this story in the games, is both fascinating and touching.

And that may well have been the least interesting of the four episodes of Origins.  The next one is probably my favourite.

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