Rivals, part 5: N

Natural Harmonia Gropius, alias N.

So.  N next?  Shall we do N?

Well, you’ve done Champions, and you’re doing rivals, and he’s neither but he sort of acts like both, so it seems like as good an excuse as any.

My thoughts exactly.

Do you know what his full name is?

I do; do you?

Just learned it.  “Natural Harmonia Gropius.”  N is short for Natural.

Bizarre, isn’t it?

So does that mean that Ghetsis is Ghetsis Gropius?

I don’t think so; from memory I think his full name is Ghetsis Harmonia.  There’s a bit at the end of Black and White where he tells N something like “you’re not worthy to share the name ‘Harmonia’ with me.”

So what does Gropius mean?  That he’s a horrendous womaniser?

Not a clue.  Maybe if we Google it…

Don’t image search it.


I don’t want to know what comes up when you image search anything with the word ‘grope’ in it.

No, it’s totally fine; apparently there was a famous German architect named Walter Gropius who lived in the early-to-mid 20th century.  It’s all just photos of him.

Oh, okay.  Yeah, actually, I think I’ve heard of him.  Bulbapedia seems to think that’s what the reference is, too.  Doesn’t give any suggestions for why, though.

It’s weird, and I have no idea why Gropius specifically, but I guess an ‘architectural’ name… sort of fits with his characterisation, with his mathematical theme.  You know, how he’s obsessed with equations and is supposed to be some sort of mathematical genius or savant or something.

He is?  Really?

Yeah.  He talks about his quest in terms of “solving an equation to change the world;” he sees everything in terms of numbers and formulae.  And I think Game Freak have actually said, explicitly – like, in interviews and such – that his first name being ‘N’ or ‘Natural’ is supposed to be a reference to ‘natural numbers.’

Mmm.  Now that you mention it, yeah; looking at these quotes I can see that.  Like here, when he rides the Ferris wheel with you in Nimbasa City – “I love Ferris wheels.  The circular motion… the mechanics… they’re like collections of elegant formulas.”

Yeah, that’s a really good example, actually.  He likes to break things down and see them objectively, through numbers and physics – which is an interesting trait, for a character who’s portrayed as being very emotional and idealistic.

And apparently he doesn’t know that the plural of formula is formulae.

Ah, I think I forgive him for that one; it’s a common enough word in English that I think we’re justified in giving it an English plural.

I don’t.

Well, there’s a shock.

It should actually be genitive plural.  “Collections of elegant formulas.”  Partitive.

So… you want him to say “formularum”?  In… English?


…of course you do.

Moving on from all that, though.  What do you think of N?

Ghetsis, N's 'father' and the leader of Team Plasma's Seven Sages.

I’m very fond of him.  I think N is what makes the story of the fifth generation ‘work,’ the fact that we have this sort of ‘anti-villain’ character who is, in a lot of ways, objectively a good person but happens to be on the ‘wrong’ side.  He’s the reason I still think Black and White have the best story that Pokémon’s given us so far.

It’s really interesting to watch the developments in his mindset as he travels during the game and realises that what he’s grown up believing just isn’t what the world is really like.  It’s a shame about the truth/ideals thing, though, how the words are used interchangeably and just mean ‘really, really wanting stuff,’ because it would have been really cool to have him develop differently and interact with you differently depending on which of the dragons you were each working with.

Well, that would have been quite a bit more work, in fairness; you almost have to write two different storylines.  It might have been quite difficult to write the version where he’s partnered with Reshiram and you’re partnered with Zekrom, where he’s standing for ‘truth’ against your ‘ideals,’ just because the default story is almost the opposite of that.

Mmm, not necessarily.  I don’t think it would be that difficult; you’d just focus more on his growing realisation that his ‘truth’ is built on Ghetsis’ lies, and coming to accept that he needs to find a new way of seeing the world.  N and Reshiram are both searching for truth, and the irony of it is that the truth is deliberately being hidden from them by their own allies.  The games as they are don’t do much with that.

Fair enough.  In some ways I think not giving more differentiation to ‘truth’ and ‘ideals’ is a big missed opportunity for N’s characterisation, actually, because if they really are distinct virtues instead of being basically the same, the way the games make them, N has traits that work well with both.  ‘Ideals’ is obvious because N’s idealism, his determination to create a radically different new world and change all of civilisation at its core, is what drives the plot of the whole game, but I think he also works really well as an exemplar of ‘truth,’ because of his obsession with mathematics and physics, with seeing the world in an objective way and ‘solving’ societal problems like mathematical equations.

How do you feel about N’s ending?  Because I think both sets of games, Black and White and the sequels, leave him hanging just a little – not in any huge or glaring way, but enough to be nagging.  Like, he demolishes the Pokémon League, sets up this enormous castle around it, and then he flies off into the sunset without ever doing any of what he set out to do.  He’s lost his belief structure, realised that it’s all built on lies, and… now what?  It makes sense for him to fly off in search of some new truth, but what about his ideals?  Where are they now?

I don’t know; I think where he is at the end makes sense.  Even though he’s changed a lot, he hasn’t given up on the ideals he held, not really; at the end of Black and White 2 he still wants to change the world and change society – he talks about “freeing Pokémon and humans from the oppression of Pokéballs,” he just doesn’t want to separate them like Ghetsis wanted him to.

So he wants to make a world where people and Pokémon are friends without Pokéballs?

Like things were before Pokéballs were invented.



Well, maybe, but N is a biased source on that – it seems like this is still kind of an extension of everything he was brainwashed into believing.  You need your crazy brainwashed


Ghetsis' creepy-ass Black/White 2 costume.

Yes.  Green-haired messiah.  You need him to think all that, to believe that the world only is the way it is because of some horrible mistake.  Everything N knows and thinks is based on a mythology created by Team Plasma.  His beliefs about people and Pokémon and Pokéballs are the result of a warped image of human history and society that was fed to him by Ghetsis.  I mean, I’m not saying there’s not some truth to it, and of course you can make friends with Pokémon without Pokéballs, but he’s still idolising a period of history that he wasn’t alive to see, one that we don’t know a whole lot about either, and making it his model for the future.  It seems to me like what he says about that is just him clinging to the one shred of his mythology that still makes sense in the aftermath of everything that’s happened.  After all that time, he still can’t shake that indoctrination.

Hmm.  I’ll have to think about that.  I think we’re ‘supposed’ to take him quite seriously when he talks about this stuff, because the whole point of Black and White is that there are some very real merits to the philosophy that the ‘bad guys’ are pushing, and N embodies those merits.  Still, you’re right that N’s been wrong before, and holds some seriously warped views for a long time before you and your Pokémon can convince him otherwise.  In any case, we’re almost certainly never going to see the world that N had in mind; it would just change the series too much, force Game Freak to throw away a lot of their formulaic stuff.  So unless he does wind up all but abandoning his beliefs in favour of the status quo, he probably never gets a really satisfying resolution.

Unless he goes to Ranger land.

Yes, I suppose that’s true.  Places like Fiore prove that it’s possible for humans and Pokémon to live together in the way that N envisions.

I really like Black and White, and N is a critical part of that, but I feel like riding off into the sunset at the end sold him short.  Obviously they needed him to come back for the sequel, and they needed to leave him some loose ends to pick up for that, but I wonder whether that balance was achieved.  Bianca’s story is very nicely resolved, Hugh’s is very nicely resolved, Cheren’s not so much, he just kind of peters out – I have fewer problems with N than I did with Cheren, but I do have some.

Hmm.  Fair enough, I suppose.  His ability to talk to Pokémon – what do you make of that?

Maybe he’s half Pokémon?  Test tube baby?  Genetic engineering?

Well, I… have to admit I wouldn’t really put it past Ghetsis… he was responsible for Genesect, after all.  Or maybe N was conceived by the midi-chlorians.  Do we think Ghetsis is his biological father?  They both have green hair.

Well, yeah, but they’re Japanese; that means nothing.

Point taken.

Oh, this is interesting; I didn’t know this.


Apparently N’s text speed is faster than all the other characters’, to show that he speaks quickly.  That’s kind of cool.

Yeah; I didn’t notice that when I played the first time because if you have the text set to ‘fast’ anyway N’s speech isn’t significantly faster, but if you know to look for it and go back, you can tell.  Anything else in there you want to talk about?

Hmm.  Apparently Junichi Masuda has said he’s “rumoured to have been born from Pokémon.”

Hmm.  Is that from an interview, or…?  Ah, here we go.  Hmm.  There’s a whole list of little bits of trivia about N from the developers on Masuda’s blog.

Well, that makes our job easier.

Eh… I don’t know about that; it’s sort of disconnected.  I think this is basically notes from the development of the games, when they were bouncing ideas off each other about how to portray N.  And I think they may have put it into English through Google Translate, or something similar.  Still interesting, though, even if most of it is stuff you pick up from the games anyway… Huh.  Apparently N “thinks himself perfection.”  I guess that explains the messiah complex.

Sometimes I think I’m perfection.

Yeah, I know that.

Damn right you know I’m perfection.


Members of Team Plasma do call N “child of the Pokémon” sometimes, come to think of it.  And the writers definitely seem to have intended him to be somehow more than human, to have had supernatural powers of some kind – well, maybe ‘supernatural’ is the wrong word, but some sort of psychic abilities, certainly.  Some of the stuff in Masuda’s notes seems to say that he can see the future, and his ability to talk to Pokémon probably works based on a heightened sense of empathy.

Mmm.  Some kind of psychic power is probably about right.  What does he do in the anime?

Not sure.  I think the anime mostly follows the games fairly closely by that point, so I would imagine his role isn’t hugely different, but I haven’t seen any of the relevant episodes.

Let’s look it up… Hmm.  Seems like he’s… sort of a combination of how he is in Black and White and how he is in the sequels.  He has the Light Stone and Ghetsis imprisons him and steals it; then Ghetsis controls Reshiram instead of N.  And N helps to arrest Ghetsis and Colress and the members of Team Plasma.

So… wait, he’s not part of Team Plasma?

Apparently not.  He used to be, but he’s already left them by the time he meets Ash, along with… Hmm. Who are Anthea and Concordia?

The 'goddesses of love and peace,' Anthea (left) and Concordia (right).  Or... is it... Concordia on the left and Anthea on the right...?

They’re the two women with the gold and pink hair who hang out in N’s castle, and later join Rood’s Team Plasma separatists; they’re like… N’s childhood nurses, or something.  They’re mostly in the game to provide exposition, I think; they tell you a lot of the stuff we know about N’s past, since he doesn’t really talk about that much himself.

Oh, right.  Them.  Where are some quotes…?  Ah, here.  “N was an orphan. I heard that right after he was born, he upset people with behaviour that suggested he could talk to Pokémon. When he was living in the woods with Darmanitan and Zorua, Ghetsis took him in. We are also orphans Ghetsis took in. Our task was to take care of N.”  Yeah, they’re just exposition-whores.

Okay, so he’s definitely not Ghetsis’ biological son, then.

Well, probably not.  Who knows what kind of f#$%ed up way he might have come up with to raise his fake messiah?  Maybe dumping babies in the middle of the woods to grow up with Pokémon was all part of the bizarre, twisted plan?

Mmm.  Perhaps.  Anyway… these two are weird – it doesn’t come up in the English, but in the Japanese version, and a lot of other languages too like French and Spanish, it seems like the game is very insistent about referring to them as ‘goddesses’ or ‘muses.’  The game really seems to want them to be important, and they’re in the intro cinematic to Black and White as well, which makes it seem like they’re going to be important…

But then they never do anything, and by the time you actually meet them you’ve forgotten that you ever saw them in the intro in the first place.

Yeah.  I kinda feel like maybe Anthea and Concordia, in an earlier draft of the story, might have had a more important role that subsequently got written out, because the game doesn’t normally bother with unique models or names for incidental characters unless they’re going to matter.

Meh.  They don’t do anything in the games we have; not much point speculating about what they might have done.  Are we done?

I think just about.

I have one more question – why does N help you?  In Black and White, why does he encourage you to grow and get stronger?

Well, he needs you.  N’s basic understanding of the whole plan in Black and White revolves around the notion of re-enacting critical events from Unova’s mythology.  He thinks that taking on the role of one of the legendary heroes will give him some kind of authority, make people listen to him – but there are two heroes in the legend, which dictates that he needs a rival to test himself against and represent the opposite worldview, otherwise he’s just some yahoo with a legendary Pokémon and there’s no point.  Ghetsis thinks it’s a waste of time, but doesn’t have any choice but to indulge him.  I suppose that lends some perspective to what you were saying earlier about N idolising the past.

Yeah… everything he does is about recreating the mythological past, like steps in a ritual to purify the world.  Team Plasma and Ghetsis gave him a way to ‘fix’ everything, and he clings to it beyond all reason because of his obsession with mathematical patterns and natural cycles.  Historical and social changes don’t work like that; magic doesn’t fix everything.  Or even necessarily anything.

Unless maybe it does?  This is the Pokémon universe we’re talking about here, remember.

Agree to disagree?


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