The past two weeks have given us Generations’ view of Teams Magma and Aqua.
In the Team Magma episode, we see the organisation’s base being cracked open by Brendan, the male player character of the third generation games, in the company of his powerful Sceptile. Maxie and a collection of his grunts make their way calmly to the base’s submarine bay as Tabitha, one of the admins, monitors Brendan’s progress on a tablet. As the grunts board the submarine, Maxie addresses his other admin, Courtney, ordering her to stay behind. Courtney is taken aback at first, but warms to the idea when Maxie explains that he needs her to stop Brendan, apparently honoured by his trust in her, and prays that he will succeed in changing the world. While Tabitha and the grunts fire up the submarine and Courtney waits for her opponent, she stares at the red lights of the base’s emergency sirens and… kinda trips out? The brilliant red colour causes her to have what seems to be a vision of the future, or at least a possible future – Primal Groudon awakened, raising volcanoes, searing the land and ocean alike with devastating Solarbeams, and finally turning on Maxie and Tabitha as they try to stop it. Courtney is disturbed and shaken, but before she can process her vision, Brendan and Sceptile arrive, returning her focus to the present. As the submarine leaves, she taunts Brendan for being too late and prepares to battle, calling on her Camerupt (who… rears up and neighs like a horse…?). “There’s more work for me to do… I’m going to have to stop you. But now I just want to…” she giggles, “engage you and see what happens! I want to… analyse you!” She gives Brendan a wild-eyed grin and another manic giggle, and their battle begins.
Now, I played Alpha Sapphire, not Omega Ruby, so I’m not terribly well-acquainted with Courtney. I’ve read all of her dialogue on Bulbapedia, so I already had some impression of how thoroughly odd she is, but I never played that; I never really heard those lines in context or experienced her character the way the designers intended. In the games she speaks in short sentence fragments punctuated by long pauses, sometimes as if she’s not even speaking to you at all – just making observations on the situation for her own later analysis. She’s more coherent in Generations, but still very strange in most of the same ways as in the game; she giggles and laughs at inappropriate moments, speaks with a sing-song lilt (her words in the game’s dialogue are punctuated by musical notes), and talks about “analysing” or experimenting on the player through battle, and seems to be devoted to Maxie to the point of obsession. It’s interesting that Courtney is the one who experiences the “vision” here, considering that (at this point in the games) it’s actually the other admin, Tabitha, who has been expressing doubts about Maxie’s plan following his discoveries at the Weather Institute. I even wonder whether we’re meant to see Courtney’s premonition as evidence that her weirdness is the result of actual latent psychic abilities (which are a thing that humans in the Pokémon world can totally have) – making her a literal prophet of doom (which would actually kind of fit with her actions in Omega Ruby’s version of Delta Episode, where she explicitly wants to end the world). Courtney’s relationship with Maxie is an interesting example of how Pokémon’s villainous teams work – they’re based on personal charisma that fuels blind, cult-like devotion, a pattern we see again and again through the generations. Her obsessive attitude towards Maxie sticks out more than usual because Courtney herself is so weird, but the same attitude underlies the hero-worship of Giovanni that makes Silver despise Team Rocket so much (remember that just getting his attention in the hopes that he’ll come back to give them leadership and direction is a significant element of their plan). I’m kind of interested to see how Generations will treat Cyrus and his bizarre messianic/omnicidal message when we get to Diamond and Pearl.
The Team Aqua episode, covering some of the parallel storyline of Alpha Sapphire, picks up shortly after the Team Magma episode leaves off, with Team Aqua’s leader Archie exploring Kyogre’s seafloor cavern with a few grunts. Archie rounds a corner and laughs as he catches sight of the pool where Kyogre is sleeping, apparently encased in a shell of stone. Archie calls out to Kyogre, telling it who he is and what he has planned: he wants to return the world to a primordial state and keep humans from causing any more harm to nature and Pokémon. He’s interrupted by the arrival of one of his admins, Shelly, who protests that her studies of data plundered from the Weather Institute indicate that Primal Kyogre is far more powerful than they’ve realised, and that Archie’s plan will bring only destruction. Archie declares that “as long as I have the Blue Orb, Primal Kyogre will do my bidding!” and then… promptly gives up the Orb, throwing it into the pool where Kyogre is sleeping. Probably a bad move, when you think about it. Kyogre awakens in its Primal form, and Archie commands it “go, Primal Kyogre! Destroy everything!” which… again, is probably a bad move, when you think about it. Kyogre, to its credit, takes Archie at his word and bursts out of the seafloor cavern, immediately beginning to summon rainstorms, whirlpools, and waterspouts. As Archie, Shelly and the grunts escape the cavern in their submarine, they receive a radio transmission from the other admin, Matt, who is still on the surface and reports… well, that things aren’t quite going as planned. The submarine surfaces and Archie rushes out onto the deck, trying to grab Kyogre’s attention and command it. He only succeeds at the first part, and the episode ends with Kyogre charging the submarine head-on.
In the original Ruby and Sapphire, Archie and Maxie have more or less the same dialogue on their respective versions, and aren’t really very different in terms of personality. Among the improvements made by Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby was that the two team leaders emerged as very different people, and Archie is put on display here. He’s stubborn and rash; where Maxie has run all the numbers and convinced himself that the calculated risks of his plans will be worth it in the long run, Archie just plain doesn’t care. Archie wants to restore Pokémon and nature to their rightful supremacy over human civilisation, and he’s accepted that this is going to involve a significant degree of destruction – he just thought that his own control of Kyogre would provide him with a safety valve to mitigate the loss of life. Ultimately what he’s trying to do is recreate the conditions of Hoenn’s Primal Age – which is actually a very different thing to what Maxie has in mind, even though the results of their plans turn out to be similar. Maxie is thinking in terms of tipping the balance the other way, consolidating the supremacy of humans in the world by creating new land for expansion, population growth and industry. He’d presumably be planning (and failing, but let’s give him credit for trying here) to keep Groudon on a much shorter leash, ensuring that its power was carefully directed to create the new landmasses he envisions, where Archie basically wants to let Kyogre run wild for the most part (“Go! Destroy everything!”). Ultimately, what actually happens on both games turns out to be closer to what Archie seems to have intended, though the situation still spirals very quickly out of his control, with the episode ending in a shot of Kyogre rushing towards Archie and Shelly with its mouth gaping open, mirroring the moment of Courtney’s vision when Groudon turns on Maxie and starts blasting him.
These episodes are worth something just for the sheer spectacle of their presentation of Groudon and Kyogre – interesting or not, it’s undeniably cool – and beyond that they’re mostly important for showing the folly of both Team Aqua and Team Magma in thinking they could control their respective legendary Pokémon. The Team Aqua episode, I think, happens to be focused on a better moment for both of those purposes; the Team Magma episode has to shoehorn it in via Courtney’s premonition, which makes it less effective, but does also create an interesting sense of foreboding. Even Courtney, as devoted to Maxie and optimistic about his dreams as she is, can’t help but sense that something isn’t quite right. Of course, now that Kyogre and Groudon have had their turn, it just wouldn’t be fair to leave Rayquaza out, so I think odds are good that our next Generations short is going to focus on him, and maybe also on Zinnia, a character I’d love to hear more from. Fingers crossed it’s a good one…