Pokémon Generations: Episodes 15 and 16

I’m a big fan of episode 16 of Generations; 15 is nothing special, but it covers characters who were already quite interesting, so it’s worth looking at anyway.  15 is the last of the generation V episodes, and focuses on the confrontation between N and Ghetsis in Black and White 2, while 16 is the beginning of generation VI, and is all about the characterisation of X and Y’s main antagonist, Lysandre.  15 follows the games quite closely, but 16 is a bit more exploratory, and it’s when Generations tries to depart a little from the games, and show the bits of backstory that we haven’t seen before, that it does its best work.  Let’s take a look.

Episode 15 is fairly straightforward; it depicts the events of the end of Black and White 2, when N challenges Ghetsis at the Giant Chasm in an attempt to stop him from using Kyurem to freeze Unova.  Until the last few moments, this happens more or less as we remember from White 2, barring the absence of the player characters, Rosa and Nate.  As Ghetsis commands Kyurem to unleash its full power, N arrives with Reshiram and blasts through the gusts of freezing air emanating from Kyurem’s body.  N’s subsequent conversation with Ghetsis is largely quoted directly from the games.  He proclaims his defiance against Ghetsis and his plans, and Ghetsis decides to “teach [him] a lesson” by using the DNA Splicers he stole from Drayden to activate Kyurem’s secret laser cannons, or however that’s supposed to work.  Kyurem disables Reshiram and absorbs it in order to transform into White Kyurem, and Ghetsis orders it to destroy N.  In the games, this is the point at which the player intervenes and stops Kyurem; here, N makes contact with the elements of Reshiram’s psyche that are still conscious within Kyurem and is able to slow it down, but can’t actually free Reshiram.  Ghetsis completely flips his lid, which in the games is your cue to challenge him directly; in Generations, he repeats his previous order to Kyurem, who prepares to turn N into a pile of frozen ashes (or possibly charred snowflakes).  N is saved at the last second, though – by none other than Hilbert, the male player character from the original Black and White, who arrives with Zekrom to face down Kyurem.  The short ends as they prepare for battle.

Generations doesn’t really do much of anything for this scene, other than giving the spotlight to N (who by all rights really should be the centre of attention here), but it was already a fairly interesting moment in the games, just for the interaction between N and Ghetsis.  Ghetsis calls N a “freak without a human heart,” which N doesn’t directly respond to, although he does acknowledge that Unova “taught [him] how to live as a human.”  It’s never really made 100% clear where N came from or why he is the way he is.  He calls Ghetsis “father,” though it visibly pains him to do so, and we’re told elsewhere that Ghetsis found him living in the woods with Pokémon.  Despite the apparent family resemblance between them in their pale green hair, no one ever mentions a mother.  When Ghetsis gets mad (both here and at the end of the original Black and White after N loses to the player) he’s not just angry at N but ashamed of him, ashamed of the “freak” who shares his name.  He also seems to regard N as more Pokémon than human, lumping him in with Pokémon like Kyurem as tools for his conquest.  There’s a lot of different ways you could explain their relationship.  It’s possible that N’s origins are truly mystical, that he was “conceived by the midichlorians,” as it were, and that Ghetsis simply found him in the middle of nowhere and recognised the power his abilities might yield.  On the other hand, the story might actually be more compelling with less magic and mysticism.  Perhaps Ghetsis once loved a woman with similar abilities to N’s, who disappeared or died and left him bitter and cold.  Perhaps he was Ghetsis’ biological child, but his abilities came completely out of nowhere, and Ghetsis’ disgust of his “freak” son destroyed his relationship with N’s mother.  Perhaps his strange abilities are simply the natural consequence of a human being raised by wild Pokémon; perhaps he was even the result of an experiment conducted by Ghetsis specifically to investigate this phenomenon.  And heaven only knows how N’s foster sisters, Anthea and Concordia, fit into all this.  What is clear, though, is that N and his powers are the embodiment of everything that he was originally working to destroy – the unity of humans and Pokémon.  By the time of his showdown with Ghetsis at the Giant Chasm, this unity is something he will now risk his life to defend.

Episode 16 aims to take a closer look at Lysandre, the leader of Team Flare and main antagonist of X and Y.  It opens with a press conference at which Lysandre, accompanied by his Pyroar, unveils his company’s new holo-caster technology to a rapturous audience.  He performs a bit of technological wizardry, using holograms to make himself appear and disappear from within his Pyroar’s Flamethrower and awe the audience.  After the press conference, we go to his meeting with Diantha at the Café Soleil from the early part of X and Y, shortly after the player’s first meeting with him.  This conversation is where he and Diantha outline their respective beliefs about age, change and beauty.  Lysandre thinks that beauty should be eternal, and “would end the world in an instant so that beauty never fades,” while Diantha believes that age and the fading of beauty are natural, and beautiful in their own way; as an actress, she doesn’t fear the loss of her youth, but relishes the complexity of the changing roles she will play later in life.  Next we are shown a news report, delivered by Elite Four member Malva (who is also a journalist), which covers a major donation that Lysandre is making to a Kalosian Pokémon Centre.  Though Lysandre already has a reputation for philanthropy, this is apparently his largest charitable contribution yet; Lysandre himself characterises it as a way of “giving back” a portion of the success he’s had from the holo-caster.  As he goes on his way, a reporter tries to ask him one last question about his company’s rumoured new project, a mysterious initiative code-named “Project Y,” but Lysandre and his security dismiss him.  Later, at what seems to be a meeting of Lysandre Labs’ board of directors, it becomes clear that Lysandre himself is the only member of the board who actually knows what Project Y is.  Lysandre attempts to reassure the board that they don’t need to understand what he’s up to, as long as they trust that he’s working for the good of Kalos, then leaves the room before anyone can object to his new budget proposals, declaring the discussion over.  At the end of the day, he travels to Geosenge Town to check on Project Y, descending into Team Flare’s hidden lab to gaze upon Yveltal’s black cocoon.  “This beautiful world,” he muses, “will not just fade away.”

What X and Y really needed, I felt, was a bit more of Lysandre’s backstory, and a bit more opportunity for us to see him as a good guy – without that, he doesn’t have anything like the shades of grey that I think he was probably supposed to.  This episode does a decent job of providing that.  The conversation between Lysandre and Diantha (a really great establishing character moment for both of them, that does an excellent job of setting up the ideas behind the central conflict of X and Y) actually makes him seem a lot more creepy and sinister in Generations than it does in the games, where his talk of ending the world comes across as vague poetic-philosophical rambling.  The rest of it though, where Generations goes off-script and stops directly quoting the game dialogue, is really interesting.  We get to see Lysandre the philanthropist, Lysandre the showman, Lysandre the science celebrity.  He has a flair for the dramatic, he can hold a crowd, he can persuade on a massive scale.  His company’s holo-casters have been transformative for communication in the Kalos region (Malva mentions that Lysandre Labs has had to increase production in order to keep up with massive demand for the new gadgets).  His reputation for charitable giving is second to none, and much of what he donates comes from his company’s own ground-breaking medical research.  Lysandre is so trusted and adored that no one ever suspects the nefarious nature of Project Y.  As the project approaches culmination, though, it’s clear that Lysandre is getting careless.  The public know that he’s working on something, they just don’t know what, and the board of Lysandre Labs is becoming uneasy enough with his secrecy that they decide to confront him about what he’s really doing, and they’re visibly startled when he refuses to give them a clear answer.  We don’t see what the board decides to do after Lysandre leaves the room – he seems confident that their blind faith in him will overcome their misgivings, but there’s a definite tension here.  During the events of X and Y, Lysandre is nearly at the end of his rope with the legitimate side of his organisation.  But that doesn’t matter anymore – while a public fallout with the board would bring unwelcome scrutiny, it seems like Lysandre is probably close enough to his goals by this point that withholding corporate funds wouldn’t actually stop him; the facility in Geosenge Town is fully operational and Yveltal is just waiting for the energy transfer that will wake it up.  All in all, we get a much more rounded picture of who Lysandre is and what kind of position he’s in at the beginning of X and Y – and that’s all to the good.

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