Well, first of all, I’m going to have to insist that you all start by watching this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GWSxMm05vg [EDIT: the video I originally linked to has been taken down, so I’m changing this to a different one]
Okay; now that we’re all in the appropriate mood… Mega Evolution!
What exactly is it?
To be honest, I really do think ‘digivolution’ sums it up surprisingly nicely, or at least sums up how it differs from the Pokémon evolution we know and love: it’s temporary and therefore almost entirely related to combat, it explicitly relies on a sort of nebulously conceived spiritual unity between trainer and Pokémon, and it requires the use of a special artefact (which I’m stubbornly going to continue calling a ‘Digivice,’ on the grounds that there actually isn’t an official name for the broad class of objects – the cores are called Key Stones, but the device itself can be a Mega Ring, Mega Pendant, Mega Anklet, Mega Pocketwatch, Mega Toaster, whatever). How does it work, first of all? In short: while using a Pokémon who is holding a Mega Stone in battle, a trainer may activate his or her Digivice, usually by touching his or her fingers to the Key Stone (in the anime special about Mega Evolution, Steven rather flamboyantly touches the stone to his lips – either way, contact with bare skin seems to be the key). The vaguely-defined mystic energies of the Key Stone prompt a reaction in the Mega Stone which, provided it is of the appropriate type for the Pokémon’s species, causes it to transform into a much more powerful version of itself, with enhanced versions of whatever skills it possessed. As in the case of ordinary evolution, the Pokémon’s stats increase and its type and ability may change, though unlike ordinary evolution, Mega Evolution never grants access to any new attacks. The Pokémon will return to its normal form when the battle ends, or if it is defeated, and a trainer may only Mega Evolve one Pokémon in a battle. That, I believe, covers the quick and dirty mechanics of what happens when we Mega Evolve Pokémon in the games – but we all know that. Gotta sum up the basics first, though. Let’s see if we can’t come up with something more interesting.
First things first, then: vaguely-defined mystic energies. Mega Evolution is supposed to be powered by the bond between a trainer and a Pokémon. It’s repeatedly emphasised that the technique is only possible through deep, absolute trust (I mean, this isn’t actually true in terms of game mechanics; you can Mega Evolve a Pokémon you’ve only just met with no difficulty, but let’s take them at their word here). This is kind of important. It means that Mega Evolution, the ultimate, transcendent state of being which Pokémon can attain, is only possible through partnership with humans; wild Pokémon can’t usually do it. This in turn gives us at least one reason to consider this partnership inherently desirable for Pokémon and at least one irreplaceable benefit that humans bring to the table, which has important implications for the debates in play in the generation V games, and indeed throughout the franchise if you choose to read things that way. The fact that the Power of Friendship is apparently a real, tangible and measurable source (or at least conduit) of energy in the Pokémon world should hardly surprise us; this is, after all, a world where a wide variety of telepathic abilities can be observed and documented. However, I do believe it is meaningful that humans in particular should be associated with this ability to share power and elevate the abilities of others, since I’ve long thought that humans’ place in the ecosystems of the Pokémon world is heavily reliant on the fact that they can do just that, and not just through Mega Evolution either.
Despite all of this, it’s obvious that the Power of Friendship alone isn’t enough to make Mega Evolution work; there’s no way of getting around the fact that you need the stones. What are they? The events of Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby lead us to believe that those found in Hoenn are fragments of meteorites. No one is quite sure where Kalos’ stones come from, but Professor Sycamore conjectures that they’re the result of evolutionary stones (like Fire Stones, or Dawn Stones) being irradiated by the light of AZ’s Ultimate Weapon when it was used three thousand years ago to end the Kalosian civil war. This light is the same energy that is manipulated by both Yveltal and Xerneas – the life force given up by the thousands of Pokémon that AZ sacrificed to power the weapon, turned to destructive ends. If life exists throughout the Pokémon universe – and it seems likely that it does, in some form or another – the ultimate origins of these two groups of Mega Stones may have more in common than we realise, but to suggest anything specific would be groundless speculation at this point. Each species of Pokémon capable of Mega Evolution has its own particular Mega Stone. A Salamence can’t do anything with an Alakazite, nor does an Alakazam have any use for a Blastoisinite. Why should this be so? Is one Pokémon’s life force somehow different from another’s? That seems unlikely, not just on the face of it, but because effects like Heal Pulse exist and work equally well on all Pokémon. Probably the strongest possibility I can come up with at the moment is that some part of the Pokémon who were killed by the Ultimate Weapon was somehow ‘imprinted’ onto the stones when the massive flood of raw life energy severed their souls from their bodies, and so the stones’ power is only useful to Pokémon of the same species. That doesn’t explain Hoenn’s meteorites, though. I don’t think there’s any way for those to make sense unless the type of Mega Stone is only set after the meteorite lands, because otherwise we’ve got extraterrestrial objects whose properties are miraculously tailored to the biology of specific terrestrial organisms, so perhaps these things – being charged with life energy already, and having no need for the Ultimate Weapon’s power – are just inherently ready to be imprinted with the powers of the first Pokémon to come across them.
The other tricky question is how the Key Stones fit into all this, and why you even need one when you have a Mega Stone – it seems clear that the Mega Stones are potent sources of life energy on their own. Is a Key Stone just a Mega Stone for humans? Humans’ particular ‘special power’ in the Pokémon world is being able to make Pokémon better at what they do – that’s the whole point of Pokémon training – so it does make a kind of sense that, instead of Mega Evolving ourselves, we would be able to supply the energy that allows others to do so. That would make the whole thing fairly simple, because then we can just say that the Key Stones were imprinted with the souls (or whatever) of humans who were killed in the Kalosian civil war, or who touched newly-landed meteorites in Hoenn. The trouble is that I’m sort of relying here on the assumption that a Key Stone is essentially a Humanite, and the only way I can think of to test that assumption would be to see whether one Pokémon can use a Key Stone to help another to Mega Evolve. Think about it. It would make perfect sense if they could – Pokémon can be friends with and trust in one another; Pokémon can even teach and mentor each other. There’s nothing about the bond between Pokémon and trainer that couldn’t also exist between two Pokémon. If it doesn’t work, then I think we’d have to conclude it’s because Key Stones are specific to humans in the same way as, say, Charizardite is specific to Charizard. Unfortunately, the game gives us no way to try it, and somehow I doubt the anime is going to indulge me. I don’t think it’s an altogether unreasonable conjecture, though.
It might also be profitable to think about Mega Evolution in contrast to the other extraordinary state of heightened energy that we see in generation VI – namely Primal Reversion, which behaves similarly to Mega Evolution in game terms but is very explicitly called out on multiple occasions as a different process. Primal Reversion doesn’t count as your one allowed Mega Evolution during a battle, nor are you limited to only one Primal Reversion if you happen to have both Kyogre and Groudon. I would conjecture that this is because Primal Reversion isn’t reliant on the presumably limited power of your Digivice. Primal Reversion also happens automatically as soon as Kyogre or Groudon enters play, provided they are holding the appropriate orbs; unlike Mega Evolution, no command is required, nor is it possible to delay Primal Reversion until a later point in the battle. Again, this process is not reliant on a Digivice, or indeed on any sort of input at all from the human ‘partner;’ it’s something they do on their own. The explicit difference presented to us by the games is that Mega Evolution is fuelled by the bond between trainer and Pokémon, while Primal Reversion is fuelled by energy drawn from the world itself. It also tends to be described as Groudon and Kyogre ‘regaining’ their true, original forms, suggesting that the forms we know from generation III are diminished, altered states that they have had to adopt in order to deal with the less energised world they now live in, not unlike the way Giratina’s ‘altered’ form allows it to exist in the ‘real’ world. When Zinnia describes the Primal Age, the time when the people of Hoenn lived in fear of Kyogre and Groudon, she says that the world was then filled with natural energy, which the two primal Pokémon fought over – energy which seems to have ebbed in subsequent ages, apparently because it tends to pool in locations like the Cave of Origin. Defeating Groudon or Kyogre in the Cave of Origin releases that energy and revitalises all of Hoenn, allowing the ecosystem to support Pokémon that haven’t been seen there in millennia (but who apparently did live there once). Based on this, I believe two important things: 1) that Groudon and Kyogre actually had a vital role in the ecology of the Primal Age which Zinnia’s people never understood, causing natural energy to circulate rather than stagnating and thus allowing Hoenn to support far more life than it could in subsequent eras, and 2) that this ‘natural energy’ is actually the same ‘life force’-type stuff that we’ve been dealing with all along; it’s just that Kyogre and Groudon have a unique ability to absorb it from the world around them and can manipulate it in ways that other Pokémon can’t, including being able to ‘Mega Evolve,’ effectively, without the help of a Key Stone.
Now… let’s see if we can’t tie this all together with some especially virtuoso nonsense on my part…
One of my current pet ideas holds that Pokémon and all their ludicrous abilities are able to function as organisms because they’re adapted to extremely high-energy environments (compared to the real world, that is), and that animals other than Pokémon, including the ancestors of modern humans, are able to survive and compete because our own metabolic needs are almost ridiculously frugal by comparison. Another of my current pet ideas suggests that no Pokémon have more than three evolutionary levels because reaching a fourth stage would be such a rare occurrence that possessing genes for one would confer no selective advantage. Maybe though, in a world overflowing with life energy – creatures are born more often and live longer, all food is more nutritious, disease is less crippling – Pokémon would be able to develop their powers to a greater extent than they can today, perhaps even evolving more quickly. Now, if we were to try putting two and two together and coming up with five for a moment, might Mega Evolution have originally been something that Pokémon were able to do on their own, using the boundless life energy of the Primal Age? Modern Pokémon have lost the ability, because under normal circumstances they would simply never be able to use it, and ‘use it or lose it’ is something of a rule in Darwinian evolution. Two thousand years is almost certainly too little time for those forms to vanish from the genome completely, especially for long-lived Pokémon like Blastoise (for whom two thousand years might only be three generations or so), but it’s probably enough time to lose the regulatory genes that activate them, so that it takes the echo preserved in the Mega Stone to remind their physiology of what it’s theoretically capable of. Even then, they can only find the energy to do it with the help of the uniquely human ability to amplify a Pokémon’s strength (which raises a further question – is that something humans could once do without a Key Stone?).
Now we just need to deal with the exception to all the rules: Rayquaza. Rayquaza doesn’t need a Mega Stone because it just eats meteorites in the atmosphere, and as such there is no ‘Rayquazite,’ no Mega Stone specific to Rayquaza (which makes sense, if my previous speculation about how Mega Stones are formed is correct – at Mount Chimney, Archie mentions being able to turn the meteorite he got from Professor Cozmo into “maybe a Mega Stone, or maybe… even a Key Stone,” which might imply that it, along with the other meteorites Rayquaza feeds on, is still in a raw, undifferentiated state until Rayquaza consumes it). Not just any meteorite will do, because apparently it hasn’t had any in the last thousand years – it’s only this particular once-every-thousand-years meteor shower that does the job, and repeated use over several centuries has drained the ones Rayquaza ate last time. Back then, presumably, it was able to Mega Evolve because the shower had already happened and it was newly ‘charged up;’ Zinnia’s problem was that she had to pre-empt the present shower. Not only does Rayquaza not need a Mega Stone, it doesn’t need a trainer either – when it Mega Evolved for the first time, one thousand years ago, the catalyst for that was the prayers of the entire Draconid tribe and their wish for salvation. The faith they placed in Rayquaza then was every bit as effective as the faith trainers place in their own Pokémon today, although for them it seems to have been more of a religious experience. That’s all straightforward enough. Feeding on magic meteorites even makes a sort of sense for Rayquaza – living in the upper atmosphere as it does, it’s just a ridiculously specialised organism. There are no plants or other animals to eat up there, and I never really bought the original games’ line that it survives entirely on water and “particles in the atmosphere.” Rayquaza has to consume these incredibly powerful sources of life energy because there’s literally nothing else in its habitat, and it doesn’t even get to feed often. Because of this, it uses those energy sources somewhat differently to the way other Pokémon do; most of the time it needs the power of the meteorites just to sustain the way it lives normally. The poor thing may well have been on its last legs (um… figuratively speaking) when Zinnia summoned it at the Dragonhark Altar. Mega Evolution only comes into the picture in times of absolute and dire necessity, since Rayquaza’s Mega form is just so much more powerful than… well, anything else in the known universe. It probably can Mega Evolve without the assistance of humans or a Key Stone – as I suspect other Pokémon once could as well – but it won’t unless there’s absolutely no choice, because that would consume energy it will need for the centuries that might pass before it finds another suitable meteor storm.
…hmm. Well, I suppose that just about wraps it up… I mean, I was also planning to talk about how Mega Evolution affects gameplay and what it does to the format Game Freak has to work within to tell stories, because I think in some ways it’s actually rather problematic in that regard, but to be honest that all feels like it would be rather frightfully prosaic in comparison to that intense speculative stuff we just had about the nature of life and evolution in the Pokémon universe. Let’s, um… let’s maybe just leave it for now, shall we? I think I’ve spent quite enough on this for one week.