Rivals, part 3: Cheren and Bianca

Original flavour Bianca from Black and White.

So… Bianca and Cheren.

Bianca and Cheren.

Whitey and blacky.

…f$#& ‘em, they’re boring.  ‘specially Bianca.

Oh, come on; you don’t really think that.  You say that about everyone and everything.I actually think Bianca is interesting and important to the themes of the game!

Ah.  That sounds like you want to defend something.  Go on, then.

Well, what Bianca is doing in those games is important for showing what humans get out of partnership with Pokémon, and that is important because that whole idea of partnership is on trial in Black and White, or supposed to be, anyway.  Bianca doesn’t care about battling and getting stronger.  Becoming a Pokémon trainer allows her to travel, experience the world, and ultimately figure out what the hell she wants to do with her life – and that turns out to be research, where she wants to study how people and Pokémon grow stronger together, letting her perspective as a trainer inform her research questions.  She is a shining example of why they give young people the opportunity to do this crazy $#!t in the first place, and for reasons that have nothing to do with battling.

She clearly is enthusiastic about battling, though – when she talks to you, there are always comments about how hard she and her Pokémon are trying, how she’s sure they’re going to beat you this time.  And she keeps getting stronger through to the end of the game; she’s certainly no Lucas or Dawn, I’ll give her that much.

Yes, all right, to say she doesn’t care about it is too much, I suppose.  In contrast to the players themselves, though, or particularly in contrast to Cheren, it isn’t part of her motivation in the same way.

 Bianca as Professor Juniper's assistant in Black and White 2.

I think N says something to her about battling and getting stronger, doesn’t he?  About how she can never be as strong as you?

Um… I’m not sure N ever actually speaks directly to Bianca at all, but… yeah, here it is; in the Chargestone Cave scene he talks about her.  “Cheren is pursuing the ideal of strength.  Poor Bianca has faced the sad truth that not everyone can become stronger.  And you are not swayed either way – more of a neutral presence.”

Which isn’t really true; she does get quite powerful, and in Black and White 2 she competes in those tournament things in Driftveil City.  Is Bianca always slightly weaker than you and Cheren?

It’s sort of difficult to tell because you almost never fight both of them at the same time, but yeah, in general she does seem to be a little bit behind the two of you.  I think she ultimately winds up about two levels below Cheren at the end of the game?  Something like that.  Still a full team of six high-level Pokémon, though – with some pretty cool stuff in there, like Chandelure and Mienshao.  I think it’s as a character that she really gets stronger, though.  Standing up to her dad when he tries to put a stop to her journey, becoming more decisive about who she is and what she wants to do.

Yeah, and that’s where I start thinking about what I said when we did Silver – that we didn’t see enough development with him, or see the final resolution for his story, and with Bianca we do.  She finds her niche and is happy with where she ends up, and isn’t resentful of your or Cheren’s abilities as trainers.  She’s a bit of a pain, though, and then when she turns up in Black and White 2 she’s still a bit of a pain.

I think she can be fun too.  She’s energetic, excitable, a bit sentimental at times… a little all over the place, I suppose, and not the most logical person, but it’s hard not to admire her optimism.

Really?  I always felt like “oh, no, it’s Bianca,” every time she turned up, whereas Cheren is sort of more ‘on your level.’

 Cheren version 1.0 from Black and White.

Well, what do we say about Cheren, then?  You like Cheren, don’t you?

Mmm… I think he’s more of a traditional sort of rival; I always saw him as the ‘main’ rival.  He’s completely dedicated to what you’re both setting out to do – defeat Gyms, collect badges, challenge the Pokémon League, and work on the Pokédex along the way; he’s basically Blue, but without the snarky, dickish comments.  He’s a familiar sort of character to have around in a world where practically everything else is new and different – strong, dedicated and intelligent, but flawed.

To me it’s the contrast between them that makes them work, really – which makes sense, since those two games are basically about opposition, contrast and conflict of all kinds, and one of the big themes is that two opposing ideas can both be in the right.  Cheren knows what he wants in life and has absolute faith in his goals while Bianca initially has no idea where she’s going or what she’s doing.  Their experiences turn them around; by the end Bianca has clear life goals and Cheren has realised that his ideas and ambitions don’t necessarily lead anywhere.  And at one point he actually credits Bianca with making him realise that, although Alder is obviously important too.

I’m kind of disappointed with where that ends up in Black and White; they kind of leave him hanging in the same way as happened with Silver, where he’s left one path but hasn’t found another one and is kind of just floating uselessly at the end.  I guess he does have a nice resolution in Black and White 2, though, even if making him a Gym Leader was a bit predictable and had been done before with Blue.  I think it really undersells his character to have him as the first Gym Leader, too.  What does he even use?

A Patrat and a Lillipup, I think.  Little bit useless.  He does talk briefly about that, though – remember?  When he says, after losing, “the Gym Leader position is very tough… if I had my usual partners…”

What does that mean?  What happens to them?  Because he does use his old team in tournaments.

I think it’s basically supposed to be confirmation of how Gyms actually work.  When you think about it, you almost have to assume that Gym Leaders hold back most of their strength against inexperienced trainers, otherwise you have to start asking difficult questions about why Brock is one of the weakest trainers in all of Kanto.  Cheren’s comment is probably meant to imply that this is exactly what he’s doing.

 Cheren version 2.0, the Aspertia City Gym Leader from Black and White 2.

Yeah, that makes sense.  What do you have to say about Cheren, then?

I suppose I like Cheren most as a sort of foil to Alder (as well as to Bianca, of course), because they’re both flawed in complementary ways.  Cheren is obsessed with going stronger to the point of no longer knowing why he even wants to; Alder has lost all faith in the idea of strength to the point of no longer understanding how important it is to fight for his beliefs – which is why he loses to N, ultimately.

Yeah; his grief over losing his partner just takes over to the point that he doesn’t think there’s any meaning to life other than having fun.  As long as we’re talking about him – Alder mentions once or twice thar Cheren reminds him of Marshall, because they have the same singlemindedness and drive to get stronger.  I think it would have felt neater for them to reference that by having Cheren replace Marshall on the Elite Four, while Marshall goes off to pursue other goals.

Eh.  I don’t know that that would have been so much better, really.  I mean, sure, it’s one way to deal with Cheren, but I think the Gym Leader position is perfectly suitable, and building his Gym around a trainers’ school, setting himself up to teach new trainers, makes a lot of sense for his ‘fight smarter, not harder’ attitude – Cheren’s always talking about using techniques with interesting effects and giving Pokémon items to hold; his idea of how Pokémon should fight is a lot more subtle than Bianca’s.

Well, okay, but why have that school right at the beginning, when you have so few options to ‘fight smarter, not harder’?  You probably have access to only a couple of items, possibly no status conditions yet, very few moves that alter your stats or your opponents’ (certainly no good ones).  I would have put Cheren maybe somewhere in Victory Road, near the Elite Four, which is where he hangs out at the end of Black and White – the idea being for him to be there to help other trainers learn to succeed where he failed.  Sitting in Aspertia City teaching kids the absolute basics is just sad.  And he doesn’t really do anything else after you leave Aspertia City other than fight in tournaments.  There’s that bit where he explains how dark grass and wild double battles work, and then nothing.

He is one of the people you can contact on the X-Transceiver for advice, and I think he does a good job of that.

Explaining abilities?  Meh.

No, I think it’s actually really good!  Because Cheren’s explanations are often a lot clearer than the one-line versions you get when you open up the status screen, and he gets details that the standard descriptions don’t even hint at, like that Magma Armour makes eggs hatch more quickly – and he’s exactly the kind of person who would know that sort of trivia, too.  Bianca’s useful too for being able to check a Pokémon’s happiness any time and any place.

Is it really that much of an improvement?  Most of the ability descriptions are pretty self-explanatory, and he still doesn’t give you the solid number that you’d get if you looked these things up online – like Torrent or Overgrow being a 50% bonus, and activating below 33% health.

Still an improvement over “in a pinch;” I mean, how the hell are you supposed to know that “in a pinch” means low health?

Well, that’s obvious.

It isn’t, though; because there’s two terms like that, “in a pinch,” which means low health, and “when suffering,” which means being afflicted with a status condition.

Meh.  It’s still not a complete description; you’d still go to Bulbapedia or Serebii or something for that.

Perhaps, but it’s the kind of thing the games should have.  You should be able to learn this stuff from just playing around within the games themselves, and I think Cheren is just the person to give you that.  He’s not an active participant in the plot anymore, and nor is Bianca, but it’s not their story anymore by this point, it’s the new player’s and Hugh’s.  Where they are and what they’re doing is a perfectly satisfying resolution, to me.

Well, we always do have more fun when we disagree.

True, that.

Are we done, then?

For now, I suppose.  Hugh next, I think.

Yeah.  And then the X/Y rivals?  I haven’t played those games; I don’t know how we’re going to work that.

Eh, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.  Besides, there’s a couple of other characters I think we can shoehorn into “rivals” between now and then…

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