Champions of the Pokémon League, Part 8: Diantha

Diantha in her angel-winged white coat.  Note the jewelled necklace - that's her Digivice.

Glamorous but relatable, ethereal but down-to-earth, the Kalosian Champion, Diantha, is everything you want in an actress – but how does she stack up as a Pokémon League Champion?  She certainly has the look down, with an extravagant costume reminiscent of angel wings, and more importantly she also has the right kind of attitude to Pokémon and training.  Sadly – and I may as well be up front about this – the story of X and Y doesn’t give Diantha very much of an opportunity to do anything, something that was rather a disappointment to me.  Still, she gets a few good lines, and when you get her into a battle she’s the equal of any of her predecessors, so let’s take a look at her and see what makes this Champion tick.

We first meet Diantha in Lumiose City at the Café Soleil, and this scene is probably her most interesting because she has the opportunity to speak directly to Lysandre and set up a compelling argument against his beliefs – even here, the game doesn’t let her have many lines, but she makes them count.  Lysandre puts to Diantha the question of whether, as an actress, she would prefer to stay young forever, since it is her duty to inspire people with her beauty.  He clearly expects the answer ‘yes,’ but Diantha finds the question bizarre – being forever young would mean playing the same kinds of roles forever, but she views change and age as essential parts of the experience of human life, and eagerly anticipates the variety of more mature characters she will play as she grows older.  Their conversation betrays a certain narrowness and superficiality on Lysandre’s part; despite his comment that Diantha’s great contribution consists in “[moving] the multitudes with her excellent acting,” it seems clear that he regards her physical beauty as the most important aspect of her craft – to him, Diantha really is just a pretty face.  Her second appearance makes it clear that Diantha herself has a very different understanding of what she does.  We meet her again in Coumarine City, where she is talking with Professor Sycamore at the monorail station.  Diantha offers some comments on Mega Evolution, suggesting that perhaps the reason it seems to be limited to Kalos is because it has something to do with the legendary Pokémon of the region (if Professor Sycamore is correct in his eventual conclusion that Mega Stones were evolutionary stones irradiated with the energy of the Ultimate Weapon three thousand years ago, she’s not far off – although Xerneas and Yveltal don’t seem to have been directly involved with the weapon’s first use, they command similar powers).  More interesting from a characterisation perspective, though, is what she talks about after he leaves.  Sycamore had mentioned the bonds between trainer and Pokémon as a critical component of Mega Evolution, and Diantha makes an interesting comparison with the way she approaches acting: she sees it as an exercise in empathy.  In order to enjoy a role and play it effectively, Diantha says, she needs to put herself in her character’s shoes and understand what they have in common.  She also believes in taking the same approach to interacting with both people and Pokémon.  Essentially, the reason she’s both a successful actress and a great Pokémon trainer is because she’s figured out that the two professions share a key skill – empathy – and made it a part of her general approach to life.

 Diantha's Radiant Chamber, in all its stained-glass glory, seems intended to be 'heavenly' in its appearance, like her costume.

And that… is the last we see of her.  Diantha doesn’t take any further part in the storyline of X and Y until your troubles with Team Flare are all over and you reach the cathedral of the Elite Four.  Realistically enough, she seems to have almost forgotten you herself by this point, but quickly realises that she does know who you are and what you’ve done for Kalos after all – which brings us to the battle.  Like Blue and Cynthia, Diantha is very hard to pin down to a preferred Pokémon type or battling style.  She appears to favour Rock- and Dragon-types, with two of each on her team, but her signature Pokémon, the strongest in her line-up, whose physical appearance is recalled in the flaring white skirts of her coat, is a Fairy/Psychic dual-type, Gardevoir.  In Hawlucha, her opener, Diantha has a strong and fast physical attacker with excellent type coverage thanks to Flying Press, Hawlucha’s idiosyncratic signature move, while Tyrantrum adds a sledgehammer to her tool kit.  Aurorus provides Reflect and Light Screen support, though with two double-weaknesses it may not last long enough to set up more than one.  Goodra is a resilient special tank with a wide variety of powerful attacks.  Gourgeist is surprisingly tough and can hit almost anything for super-effective damage by adding the Ghost type to Pokémon with Trick-or-Treat.  Last, but most definitely not least, is Gardevoir, who proves that Diantha can put her money where her mouth is when it comes to empathy and bonding with her Pokémon – by using her Mega Charm to Digivolve Gardevoir, Diantha can turn her partner into as great a threat as the whole of the rest of her team put together (as I learned to my cost when I first challenged her and won with my Venusaur’s last three hit points).  Mega Gardevoir’s Moonblast and Psychic attacks are phenomenal, more powerful than anything a Champion has brought to bear against us before, and without a Steel-type to resist her primary attacks she is one of the most dangerous single opponents the games have ever produced.  Ironically, Diantha’s greatest vulnerability is probably to Fairy Pokémon, since she has three Pokémon that are weak to their attacks, none that resist them, and only one super-effective attack to hit back with (Hawlucha’s Poison Jab); she also has great difficulty with Ice- and Steel-types.  Still, her weak points are certainly less easy to exploit than those of predecessors like Water-type master Wallace and the closeted Flying-type specialist Lance, making her a solid end-game challenge.

 Diantha's partner, Mega Gardevoir.

(Of course, if you’ve been using the Exp. Share consistently throughout the game Diantha is probably a walk in the park, but hey, who’s counting?)

The variety of Pokémon we see on Diantha’s team – in terms of not only their types and skills but their personalities and dispositions – may be intended to recall her desire for variety in her career and her life.  Partly I’m just saying this because I can’t find any other sort of theme to link her team together, but it seems to me that a wide variety of popular film genres have Pokémon representatives on her team; she has action (Hawlucha), horror (Gourgeist), family/comedy (Goodra and Aurorus), disaster (Tyrantrum) and, of course, romance (Gardevoir) all covered.  Perhaps that’s entirely in my head and the designers just wanted to give her a diverse bag of the new Pokémon the sixth generation has to offer, but it makes sense, given Diantha’s stated interest in playing a variety of roles, that she might have acted in many different genres, possibly meeting many different Pokémon in the process.

 The recently-revealed legendary Pokémon, Diancie, whom I'm bringing up because I know someone else will if I don't.  A lot of people speculate about a connection between Diantha and Diancie, but I don't believe there is any, because the similarity between their names doesn't exist in Japanese, where Diantha's name is Carnet, and because it makes as much sense for the design of her coat to be based on Gardevoir as on Diancie.

One last thing that’s worth mentioning about Diantha is her reappearance in the Café Soleil after the end of the game.  Diantha here offers you the opportunity to trade for a Ralts holding the Gardevoirite Mega Stone, so that you can raise a Mega Gardevoir of your very own.  This is not in itself particularly interesting; what is noteworthy is that she actually takes the time to think about how the Pokémon involved in this trade feel about it – something I can’t recall any other character in the games ever doing (although, granted, most in-game trades are with random NPCs who have no other discernable purpose in life).  “We Trainers all feel a bit nervous when trading Pokémon,” she comments as the trade begins, “but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how the Pokémon must feel!”  When the switch has been completed, she even takes a moment to address the Pokémon you’ve given her directly, asking “was it a bit shocking to be traded?” and promising to care for it to the best of her ability.  A tiny detail at the very end of the game, but one that once again demonstrates that Diantha really does know what she’s talking about when it comes to empathy and consistently makes an honest effort to understand the perspectives of her Pokémon on their lives together.

On some level Diantha’s non-existent involvement in the Team Flare crisis makes sense, since she’s very clear that she’s only a Pokémon trainer “in [her] off time” – acting is her real career, and for all her power, she’s not really a ‘saving the world’ kind of girl.  Still, I find her remoteness from the actual plot as disappointing as I did Iris’s, and I don’t think Diantha even gets as much screen time (ironically) as Iris did in Black and White.  Having said that, she makes a good effort to stay relevant in the time she does get – and I can always hope for more in any future games.  Though she never gets the chance to be a hero, through her dialogue she does manage to establish herself as a role model for Kalos’ trainers and a champion of a worldview opposite to Team Flare’s.  Lysandre wants to put the beauty of the world on a pedestal and keep it from changing for all time, but Diantha wants to engage with and understand beauty, and prefers to embrace change, for better or worse, which, ultimately, is what the central conflict of X and Y is about.

One thought on “Champions of the Pokémon League, Part 8: Diantha

  1. Let me suggest a narrative change for the main story mode:

    When players first arrive in Shalour City, the path to the Tower of Mastery is blocked by crowds surrounding a stage/battlefield on the beach. Shalour City is celebrating the “Mega Evolution festival” and the Kalos League Champion has arrived for an exhibition match against local Gym Leader (and Mega Evolution specialist) Korrina. Gurkinn is actually first seen as the referee introducing the two trainers, including Diantha (who players casually met earlier in Lumiose City) now revealed as the Champion. A cutscene unfolds wherein Diantha summons her Gardevoir against (one of) Korrina’s Lucario while crowds cheer in the background. Both trainers Mega-Evolve their partners from the start of battle, but while Korrina’s approach is basically all “go-go-go!”, Diantha expresses some lines about the trust she has in her partner. Given their respective types (Fairy vs Steel), the battle isn’t necessarily lop-sided (despite the obvious level-curve), but Diantha’s Mega Gardevoir emerges victorious after a few impressive attacks. After the battle, Diantha may or may not interact with players but players will meet their rivals Tierno and Trevor who will express their awe at Mega Evolution and remember that Professor Sycamore entrusted them to “speak the the Mega Evolution guru…at the Tower of Mastery”. Thereafter the original storyline ensues as Tierno hands the Intriguing Stone to the player and the posse of rivals proceeds to meet Gurkinn at the Tower.

    This additional scene works on a few levels: it showcases Mega Evolution, presents it as culturally significant in the identity of Shalour City, and cements Diantha as a powerful trainer carrying out her duties(?) as a Champion, offering players a tantalizing preview of their own future battle against her.

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