Bradley asks:

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

3 thoughts on “Bradley asks:

  1. Heyhey! That’s my thing! Time to perform a counter-counter-attack.

    The original draft of the video went into a lot more detail about the Arceus/Zygarge/Necrozma trifecta but it got cut when I realized it was ballooning out of control. I think there’s a lot of unexplained crossover points between the three in terms of what we know about that. Both Arceus and Necrozma have complementary items that are associated with types (Arceus’s plates boost and nurture a type, whereas Necrozma’s Crystals lead to explosive, destructive results) and Zygarde has Aura Break which activly works to suppress the boosting of types. Of course this requires us to selectively over/under-interpret the actual gameplay mechanics we’re presented but I’m willing to throw that under the “Humans mess with things” banner.

    I’ll admit I’ve not played UltraSmoon myself because Hau drove me far enough up the wall the first time but I have seen the games, which is why my grasp of Necrozma’s a touch wonky. But I see his ability to create light being the result of breaking down matter into raw energy (think e=mc2). This in turn forces us to read Arceus’ creation power as being the ability to compress energy into matter but that’s more than reasonable.

    There’s also maybe a parallel to be drawn between the Unown and Zygarde’s cells? I’ve got nothing for Necrozma there, though. *Also* also I like the “Alpha and Omega” between the A and the Z, with N being roughly the middle of the alphabet. Hey, if the games can basically treat symbolism as fact then so can I!

    Giratina being Antimatter is so flagrantly against the idea of what Antimatter actually is I ‘aint giving it the time of day. But I’ll admit I never came across the DNA comparison Cyrus gives. Perhaps there’s a reading that Pokeverses comes in complementary pairs. With the main universe’s compliment being the Distortion World and Ultra-Space being the space between Universes, and the places the Ultra Beasts actually *live* are other universe, each of which probably have compliments too. I’d buy that, even if I’m still unsure as to why the Distortion World is the only that that seems to disobey standard physical laws (Gravity, Corporeality ect.)

    The Wormhole Pixies are such an oddity in the Pokeverse that I like the flavor my interpretation gives them. Their specific roles I imagine being more quality-control-esque. If, say, Dialga’s time creation happened to cockup somewhere in the infinite cosmos a Celebi would be the one sent out to stitch the pieces back together again since Dialga has better things to do (presumably). Once everything stabilized they were no longer needed so took to their own pursuits.

    For most of the Titans I don’t have much to add. Lugia and Ho-oh are annoying since we’ve got so little to go on that when faced with any other theory that isn’t *obviously* wrong I’m left to shrug my shoulders and go “yeah, maybe; this way just happens to work for me”. Manaphy is such a pain in the arse of my theory because she goes absolutely nowhere nearly that I essentially ignored her and hoped no one would notice. It would all be nice and handy if she wasn’t related to Phione since I could chock Phione up as a tidal creature a la Heatran’s continental drift and put Manaphy with the Culture Club but the fact one breeds the other is a major blergh. Rayqyaza’s also a pretty awkward placement since he’s essentially “First-and-a-half”-Tier by my reasoning but I don’t think it really takes anything away from the Hoenn game’s explainations by leaving him where he is.

    Guardians I’m willing to hold my ground on. I certainly can imagine a version of this chart where that category is blown up or given its own subsection of connections to stop it being just a “here’s some stuff!” blob of ‘mons but for lack of space on my wardrobes I left them as is (Melmetal’s mostly likely never going to be explained but there’s always a chance he’ll end up somewhere else).

    The final group under Necrozma are totally the sucky part of the list and I’m actively willing for them to be put anywhere else. That section’s just a catchall for “Legendary Pokemon that seem to exist for no other reason than to be dicks and harass people”. Maybe Zeraora’s actually a good guy? Maybe Deoxys is actually a spaceghost or something. I don’t know, I’ve done enough work at this point I just get tired when this last half-dozen show their faces.

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    1. Hmmmm… I like the parallel between the Plates and the Z-Crystals; there aren’t all that many classes of objects in Pokémon that have one variant for every type, so that strengthens the argument that Arceus and Necrozma belong in a single category (but then, how do all the species-specific Z-Crystals, like Decidium-Z and Kommonium-Z, fit in?). I also kinda like the “Necrozma = matter to energy/Arceus = energy to matter” idea. I’m still less happy about placing Zygarde with them, though, because Aura Break only works against the specific powers of Xerneas and Yveltal. This is actually something I commented on during my Moon version playthrough journal, because I noticed that Totem Pokémon and Ultra Beasts have things called “auras” and thought “ah-ha, this must relate to how Zygarde is going to be tied in with the events and conflict of Sun and Moon,” but then it didn’t happen; the *only* auras that Aura Break cares about are Xerneas’ and Yveltal’s. I just checked, and it’s even the same word in Japanese (オーラ, a transliteration of the English word “aura,” as opposed to Lucario’s “aura,” which is はどう, literally “wave”), so it would have made perfect sense to have Aura Break apply here, if Game Freak had even the slightest inkling that they might want Zygarde to be related to anything happening in Alola. So… long story short, I’m *much* more on board with just Arceus/Necrozma than I am with the full trinity of Arceus/Zygarde/Necrozma.

      Reconciling Ultra Space with the Distortion World is honestly something where I think we have to either wait for a remake of Diamond and Pearl (which may or may not ever come), or decide how we think it *should* work, based on what would be most interesting, and then just throw out any of the lore that disagrees with us, on the grounds that clearly none of the characters in the games understand it either. The problem is that Pokémon is very much *not* hard sci-fi, and Game Freak’s writers are very much *not* theoretical physicists (and neither are we), but generations IV and VII both invoke a lot of sci-fi-feeling concepts – hence, for instance, the antimatter issue; it may not make much sense for Giratina to represent antimatter, but it does seem like that was what they *intended*, more on the basis of a pop-culture perception of how antimatter works than on real science. So I think there’s a certain degree of navel-gazing to be done there on whether and how far we’re willing to call “death of the author” on them.

      (also Ultra SMoon is another term I may end up adopting, mostly because I think it’s fun to say)

      I think I really should put together my own series on all this, and I say that about a *lot* of things that I never end up actually doing, but for this it’s probably worth making it happen. Then I can ramble and bull$#!t to my heart’s content about the nature of our evidence and the polymorphism of mythology and eventually convince everyone else to join me in Socratic aporia and agree that we can’t know anything about anything.

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      1. I eagerly await that series so I can nitpick your nitpicking of nitpicking.

        Also I greatly approve of the tag my question got all to itself.

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