Hi Chris! I’ve been a big fan for years and you’ve been super informative on the history of Pokemon. I too am a big fan of drastically overthinking how the Pokemon universe actually *works* and recently went on a big tirade trying to explain it all. You were a big influence on certain parts of the theory so hopefully you’ll enjoy what I came up with! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0_3ButdKzw
[Warning: the following is far too long and contains copious italics for emphasis, in order to create the illusion that I am in the room with you, gesticulating wildly at my own string diagram]
Okay, let me say first of all I am genuinely flattered and I am sorry this has had to sit in my inbox for almost two months on account of my being a lazy piece of $#!t
In the grand tradition of overthinking pop culture on the internet, I’m going to apply my standard method of engaging with anything I find even slightly fun or interesting: passionately disagreeing in excruciating detail (for other examples, see: this entire blog; my life as an academic).
Arrrright. *cracks knuckles* Let’s break this $#!t down
Now, to begin with, this whole “figure out the Pokémon world’s cosmology and all the relationships therein” thing is a project I kind of have mixed feelings about, because on the one hand, it’s exactly my type of nerdy bull$#!t as a lifelong mythology geek and strange person, but on the other hand, I think there’s basic reasons any such project is doomed from the start. But it’s still bloody impressive that anyone ever does it, because frankly I’m too scared to, although I might give it a go if I have any time left between finishing up generation VII and the release of generation VIII. The general problems, then. These days, I have this sticking point with a lot of other Pokémon fans, where people tend to point at some piece of Pokémon’s mythology and say “there, it’s in the games; it’s canon” and my response (other than to explain that I don’t even like the word “canon”) is “well, no, it’s canon that this is their mythology”; we should take these as stories told by people who understand no more about the Pokémon universe than we do, and possibly much less. Arceus says he created the universe, but, well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? The ancient Sinnohans wouldn’t know the difference. There’s probably other historical cults in the Pokémon world that once worshipped Rayquaza, or Xerneas, or even Celebi as creator gods. Further to that, all these different legendary Pokémon are from different regions of the world with different mythological traditions, so even expecting to be able to fit everything into one consistent mythology might be a stretch. We’re not talking “Zeus, Poseidon and Hades,” who have a “canonical” relationship based on the traditional stories about their family history, respective powers or domains, and forms of worship. We’re talking “Zeus, Freyja and Nü Wa,” who not only have nothing to do with each other, but aren’t even really the same class of entity, because their cultures of origin have incompatible ideas about what a god even is. But let’s put all of that firmly aside, and talk about Bradley’s analysis on its own terms: on the assumption that there is a single consistent cosmology, elements of which are recorded more or less faithfully by the myths referenced in the games.
So: we have a first “tier” in which Arceus is a god of creation, Necrozma a god of destruction and Zygarde a god of order, balance and preservation. My first question then is whether we actually have reason to think that Zygarde is truly that powerful, because X and Y seem to set up Zygarde as fulfilling exactly that role as a mediator between Xerneas and Yveltal, presumably with the intent of delivering on that setup in a later generation VI game that never got made. Instead Zygarde just kinda weirdly hangs around in Sun and Moon, and seems like it ought to have something to do with the plot, because the Ultra Beast incursions should be relevant to it as a guardian of the balance of nature, but never does anything. In many ways I think Sun and Moon might have been better games if Zygarde did have some oppositional relationship to Necrozma, but on the basis of what we actually see, I think we have every reason to believe that it doesn’t. I think Zygarde belongs within the creation of Arceus, acting as a guarantor of balance between life and death, and there’s not really any other Pokémon (except arguably Giratina) who really demands equal billing with a creator god. I think the only reason to suspect otherwise is if we take the base stats of all these Pokémon as rough indicators of power level and cosmic significance, thus seeing Complete Zygarde and Ultra Necrozma in the same rough bracket as Arceus. The problem is that on that same “tier” of stats, and actually higher than Arceus, we find not only the Primal versions of the Hoenn weather trio, but Mega Mewtwo, who is definitely not a cosmic entity. To me, that says 1) that if we believe Arceus is a supreme deity, we need to accept right off the bat that his observable in-battle abilities do not reflect his actual power, and 2) more generally, that we should probably stick to just lore-based evidence where possible, rather than mechanics-based evidence, because that way lies madness. Besides, if there ever is a generation IV remake, you just know it’s going to feature some kind of supercharged (Mega or similar) form of Arceus.
Then there’s Necrozma, and… well, I will readily admit that I have not fully digested what the hell Necrozma is yet, but I don’t think we have grounds to link it with destruction. Necrozma is, above all else, associated with light, which it steals from the worlds it travels to in order to keep itself alive, in a way that I suppose is a little reminiscent of Yveltal stealing life from Kalos. However, the people of Ultra Megalopolis are pretty clear that Necrozma is damaged somehow and wasn’t always dangerous, the way it is now; it used to be a source of light, and characters in the game theorise that the power of Z-moves is created by its lost light. If I wanted to try to fit Necrozma into the cosmology at the highest tier of significance, if anything I’d suggest that it was a rival creator god that was damaged by Arceus in a cosmic battle. On the other hand, there’s an argument here that Z-moves might be manifestations of elemental destruction, which actually sounds pretty cool to me. I guess there’s multiple ways you can spin this depending on what you want Necrozma to be, so… good???
Palkia, Dialga and Giratina as instruments or underlings of Arceus in the act of creation is I think basically canon for Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, so that’s not worth quibbling about. The thing about Giratina as antimatter, though, is that representatives of Game Freak actually have explicitly said that (Bulbapedia cites an interview on this point, but the link is broken because no one on the internet understands why citing sources is important). I mean, personally I’m all for death-of-the-author-ing them on that, because it’s never explicit in the games to my knowledge, and Diamond and Pearl (Platinum not so much) seem to paint Giratina as a sort of fallen angel/Lucifer-like figure, but “Giratina = antimatter” is certainly a defensible position to take. Also, the way Platinum talks about the Distortion World – Cyrus uses the metaphor of a complementary strand of DNA – doesn’t seem like it’s meant to make us think of a space between universes. It’s complementary to our universe, while being somehow opposite to it (hence the antimatter angle). Of course, that does become a problem in generation VII when we discover that Pokémon apparently believes in a multiverse. We do see the space between universes when we travel through Ultra Wormholes with Lunala or Solgaleo to visit other dimensions of Ultra Space, and that appears to be something different from the Distortion World (the games are a bit vague on whether Ultra Space refers to the other universes we travel to, or the medium in which they exist, and frankly I think characters in the games just use it to mean “everything outside our own universe” because they don’t understand it either; by the end of Ultra Sun and Moon, your character is probably the world’s leading expert on the whole dumb mess). The next question, though, is “does every universe have its own version of the Distortion World, or is there just one that covers all of them?” and then the problems multiply because we also have to ask “are all possible universes a part of the creation of Arceus, or does every universe have its own creator?” This might be a question that a hypothetical remake of Diamond and Pearl would cast light on. Personally, though, I’d be inclined to think that Arceus is the creator only of the universe that the Pokémon games are primarily set in, and other universes have their own separate pantheons and cosmologies.
Mew as the firstborn, the first Pokémon with a complete soul comprising emotion, intellect and will, I’m on board with as a tidy way to resolve the “ancestor of all Pokémon” vs “creator of all Pokémon” issue (with the caveat that I also have my own completely different interpretation of Mew as the “scribe of Arceus” that just flagrantly disregards the existing lore because I don’t think it makes sense). Xerneas and Yveltal as representing, together, the balance of life and death throughout the universe, I think I’m also ready to accept. I actually think that X and Y present them as having more local significance within Kalos than global or cosmic significance – Yveltal itself is not the threat; Lysandre’s use of its power to fuel AZ’s Ultimate Weapon (in my opinion an allegory for the atomic bomb) is the threat – but that is the kind of quibble that I said I wasn’t going to make.
Hoopa and Celebi as servants of Palkia and Dialga – this I’m iffy on, because they don’t act like it. Hoopa is a legendary trickster and Celebi is usually described as a “guardian of the forest” who “wanders” across time, and this is addressed at the end of the video and, like, sure, they can stand for more than one thing, but what duties they might possibly have to Dialga and Palkia are super unclear to me, and they seem like they just have their own agenda. Cosmog, if anything, I think should be associated with Necrozma, given the role played by Lunala and Solagaleo in temporarily restoring Necrozma’s light (to me it’s conceivable that they – and perhaps the sun and moon themselves – could be fragments of Necrozma’s original form, in the same way as Reshiram and Zekrom are fragments of a primordial dragon). Having said all that, I do really like the parallel between Hoopa linking points in space, Celebi linking points in time, and Cosmog linking points in the multiverse.
I have a soft spot for the idea of humans as something that just kinda breaks the multiverse in a way that even its gods don’t quite understand. Where do they come from, though? In generation VII this is suddenly an even weirder question than it used to be, because we have humans who are apparently native to Ultra Space, but I think that actually gives us a nice way out – if you’re willing to get on board with Arceus being the creator of only one universe (maybe there are multiple Arceuses out there), we could suggest that humans originated in another universe. Essentially, humans are Ultra Beasts who managed to adapt to this world’s conditions, and that’s why they’re so different from all Pokémon.
Groudon, Kyogre, Regigigas, Regice, Regirock, Registeel; this part is all pretty straightforward and we can essentially just go off what’s in the games and then blame Arceus and/or Zygarde for it. Heatran as minions of Groudon I actually really like, because otherwise it’s hard to see what the point of Heatran even is, and I’m willing to adopt this as headcanon. Phione as minions of Kyogre, not so much; honestly I’m not convinced Manaphy and Phione have anything to do with anything, but since Manaphy’s powers are related to emotions I might even assign him to Mesprit, or perhaps to the category of “culture”-related Pokémon that crops up later. Lugia and Ho-oh being Arceus and Zygarde’s respective contributions to running the world’s weather is a part where this analysis is consciously a bit shaky, because it’s hard to know what to do with Ho-oh. Sticking Lugia under Arceus as a “creator” of weather seems handwavy but I’ll take it. On Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres and the seasons – there’s actually a couple of hints in the Pokédex that Moltres is meant to be associated with the spring and Zapdos with the summer (which seemed bizarre to me until I moved to America, but in continental climates summer is apparently the season with the most thunderstorms – Bradley sounds English, so I’d assume that, like me, he grew up in a maritime climate). I sort of like to provisionally assign Lugia to autumn on that basis, but I’m not sure there’s any really firm support for that. Ho-oh is tricky because within the structure of the games she’s paired with Lugia, but there’s not really any lore surrounding their relationship, so honestly I’m kind of fine with having her off on her own, or maybe even linked with Xerneas since her powers include resurrection.
I do kind of like the “Rayquaza = green serpentine dragon with a prominent Z = related to Zygarde” logic, but it bugs me that he winds up in a different part of the chart to Kyogre and Groudon, because generation III’s lore pretty clearly sets him up as part of the same system as them, representing the sky as an elemental force alongside the land and sea. I think this cosmology may actually hold together better if we put Kyogre and Groudon under Zygarde as well, because it just seems like Zygarde’s style to exert influence by creating equilibria and balanced pairs of opposites (see also: Xerneas and Yveltal). Reshiram and Zekrom are a whole thing, but frankly I’m not even going to touch that because I’m sick of talking about them and I have no answers. I do, however, quite like the idea of Jirachi, Victini, Shaymin and Meloetta (the spirits of “culture” or, dare I say it, “ideals”) existing as manifestations of the oppositions and conflicts that these two embody.
The category of “stuff that Necrozma creates to invade the universe” I have issues with because I’m not sure those Pokémon are necessarily malevolent, or even that they fall outside the cosmic order. Like, Landorus is explicitly said to draw power from wind and lightning, so the destructive behaviour of Tornadus and Thundurus actually contributes to, and exists in equilibrium with, its benevolent, generative behaviour, and I’d lump them all in with our weather deities like Lugia. I’m also broadly in the “Darkrai shouldn’t be here” camp (if anything, shouldn’t he and Cresselia have something to do with Lunala, since they’re moon spirits?). The “guardians” category I also think is questionable. The four Tapu have a very clearly defined role as guardians of the Alolan islands, and I can imagine Raikou, Entei and Suicune adopting a similar role out of a debt to Ho-oh. Latias and Latios are weird because they are explicitly said to live in “herds” in the Pokédex, so they’re among the few legendary Pokémon for whom we have confirmation from the games that they’re definitely not unique, and may not even be all that special, so it’s hard to know what to do with them; I think they may just be particularly powerful ordinary Pokémon. The Muskedeers (and I love that name for them, by the way) have their own weird thing with their history of opposing humanity, so I don’t think they belong here, but they also don’t have a clear place elsewhere in the schema; maybe they should actually fall under Reshiram and Zekrom since their identity is about the conflicts inherent to the internal contradictions of culture. Diancie I actually want to have a more significant role because I have a pet idea that Carbink, not Mew, is actually the oldest true Pokémon, but that’s another whole thing to get into. And Volcanion… oh, fµ¢& knows.
…Christ, now I remember why I’ve never tried to deal with all this bull$#!t