Spin Attaxx asks:

What’s your stance (from a narrative perspective, anyway) on the idea of Legendary Pokémon not being one of a kind (primarily with regards to the anime)? Do you think it “devalues” the awe they’re ostensibly supposed to have? It’s one thing to suggest relative nobodies like Heatran or Latios aren’t unique, but it’s jarring to have, say, a Lugia no different from any other big bird after all the grandeur and importance it had in Pokémon 2000, and an upcoming episode involves a wild Kyogre – something that was once a feared and uncontrollable force of nature that almost doomed the world just by existing – being the target of just one hunter. And then you have Mewtwo, who destroyed/mindwiped his creators and was motivated by how alone he felt, only for the Genesect movie to introduce a *different* Mewtwo that’s physically identical, made by a bunch of totally different people for no clear reason. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future, we saw another Arceus that wasn’t the same one from its movie, yet they still state it created the universe somehow, or a Necrozma that influenced every dimension everywhere, and yet ISN’T the one we see in the Alola series.

I have… very mixed feelings about this, and I think it’s a more general problem that Pokémon has with the nature of canonicity.  ‘cause, see, I come from this background where I deal with mythology a lot, where there are multiple versions of every story,  they all flagrantly contradict each other, and no one sees any need to definitively settle the question of “but which one is true?” (because none of them are true but all of them are meaningful).  As a result, my natural inclination is “fµ¢£ the canon; writers should be able to tell whatever stories they want and have those stories be judged on their own internal merits.”  But then I do also see the other side – there’s worldbuilding happening here, and the nature and role of legendary Pokémon is confusing enough without sending these mixed messages.  It’s especially weird with legendary Pokémon that unambiguously should be unique, like Mewtwo, because Mewtwo’s creation was, as far as we know, a unique event.

This is a fairly pronounced tension with the Pokémon anime because it has a very episodic structure – by which I don’t mean that it literally has episodes (duh) but that the episodes are very self-contained and the order in which you watch them, with a few exceptions, isn’t all that important.  There are relatively few multi-episode arcs, the season arc is normally the same in each region (collect badges, compete in the Pokémon League tournament), and there isn’t a lot of character development; each episode usually centres around the kids learning something new about the Pokémon world, and that piece of knowledge usually doesn’t come up again.  Each episode stands alone, and so do the movies; they don’t care much about continuity of plot.  Like, just as an example, look at the first season episode Snow Way Out, which has always aired out of order because of reasons, and pretty much the only way you can tell is because Charmander hasn’t evolved yet and Togepi isn’t there.  No one mentions how many badges Ash has, because it isn’t relevant, or exactly where he is, because that isn’t relevant either.  Although the episode has some really strong character moments for Ash and his relationships with his Pokémon (including, like… possibly the only moment we see him actually bonding with Pidgeotto in the entire goddamn series), you don’t actually need to have seen them in order for subsequent episodes to make narrative sense, because we already kind of know that that’s what Ash is like.  The Pokémon anime, arguably, is a sitcom; it’s less like Dragonball-Z and more like The fµ¢£ing Simpsons (incidentally, this is why I think the whole “what’s Ash’s real age?” thing is really played out and not very interesting; he’s been exactly the same age as Bart Simpson, for a roughly similar amount of time, and no-one ever questions Bart’s age).  Pokémon is unusual in that the “situation” is “the kids are on a journey around region X,” so superficially there is progress from one episode to the next, but there is a kind of “domestic” status quo in their dumb little multi-species family that is always restored at the end (albeit with the occasional addition of a new member).  This is why having Ash go to school in Alola actually makes a lot of sense; it fits the sitcom-like nature of most of the show’s episodes much more easily than the “Pokémon journeys” of generations I-VI.  It’s also broadly true that the Pokémon games like to reboot themselves a little bit with every new generation (at least with respect to story – clearing out old or deprecated game mechanics is another matter).  The stories and cosmologies of the previous generation don’t usually have much bearing on what happens the next time around.  “Arceus created the world”… but that’s only true while we’re in Sinnoh.

I don’t think I can solve this problem right now.  I… have a very unwise plan in mind to do a series, after finishing my work on generation VII and using whatever time I have left before Sword and Shield, that looks in detail at legendary Pokémon and discusses all their different appearances as a sort of grand worldbuilding project.  This is a catastrophically bad idea because I won’t finish it before generation VIII starts, but I also think that just doing it is the only way I’m ever going to sort out a bunch of questions I’ve always had about how the Pokémon world fits together (and, for that matter, whether it’s even supposed to).

5 thoughts on “Spin Attaxx asks:

  1. Speaking as a brony, it’s not “meant” to anything, because none of the people actually working on the franchise cares enough to look backwards. The fans will try anyway, because “fan” in this context comes from the same root as the word for those people off in the Middle East blowing themselves up.

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  2. My questions is more, why would there only be 1 individual species of that legendary Pokemon? Like sure, it makes sense that there should only be 1 Mewtwo because he was artificially created, as well as with Genesect. It also maybe makes sense for there to only be 1 Dialga, Palkia, Arceus, Reshiram, Zekrom, Kyurem, Deoxys, Groudon, Kyogre, Rayquaza, Hoopa, the Tapus, and maybe a few others.

    But I don’t necessarily believe “legendary” was ever really meant to mean “literally there’s only 1 in the world.” The anime has made it clear that many like the Ladi twins, Lugia, the elemental birds and dogs, Shaymin, Darkrai, and more are not one of a kind. I always took “Legendary” to mean very rare, difficult to find, and even harder to catch, especially considering you basically need to convince these rare and powerful creatures that traveling with you is something beneficial to them. Sure many of them have legends about them, but so do many real world species that clearly are not as powerful as they’re made out to be. For example, there are old folktales stating that the Amazon River Dolphins could shapeshift into handsome men who’d find young women to sleep with, and later the women who got pregnant would give birth to baby dolphins. Does that mean that’s something these dolphins actually do? No, so why should we believe half the legends given to us about Pokemon?

    Can Ho-oh literally resurrect the dead? Doubtful. Was Arceus born before the universe? Probably not. Does humanity actually owe its intelligence to Uxie? I don’t think so. Are ghost Pokemon dead? Absolutely not! They hatch from eggs. Spiritomb literally holding 108 tormented souls? A clever folktale maybe. And how would anyone even be able to learn that? Do they have a ‘Necrometer?’ or some other device that can measure undead spirits in an organism?

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    1. I tend to think in this kind of direction as well. My usual line is “Arceus *says* it created the universe, but then it *would* say that, wouldn’t it?” The games tend to be a lot more ready to believe this stuff than the anime, though, and there are a lot of people who just flat out say “the anime isn’t canon” (which… honestly baffles me to no end) and this is why I want to do that series.

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  3. Yeah I mean I think the creation mythologies are interesting as MYTHOLOGIES, but what evidence do we have that Arceus created the universe? (That trippy scene in the Dialgal/Palkia/Giratina egg event doesn’t really mean much, it’s too abstract.) Likewise, we have no evidence of any of the other myths, the games stated that humans once married Pokémon but it’s once again in-game MYTH. I don’t think there’s one of each legendary Pokémon aside from manmade ones like Mewtwo, Genesect, and Magearna. Legendaries maybe are extremely rare and powerful, but not one of a kind. Besides, it would make zero sense for a Pokémon like Arceus to be KOed by pretty much any Pokémon had it created the universe… but it can be defeated. It should be able to unmake nearly everything it faces without even expending a turn, it should be nigh invincible to their attacks… of course, game mechanics, but still, I just find it less likely that the myths are anything more than myths. They certainly have some degree of reality manipulation, but creation and manipulation are two entirely different skills and I don’t see much reason to assume there’s one of each legendary, they’re just rare enough that people usually don’t see more than one in a lifetime.

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  4. FWIW part of me wants Hoopa & Deoxys to be retconned as Ultra Beasts. I think they share a lot of the same thematic links (namely, powerful otherworldly wanderer/invader) but that’s more thinking / re-writing than I’ve come to expect from Game Freak for building any kind of consistent canon. As you mentioned, “The stories and cosmologies of the previous generation don’t usually have much bearing on what happens the next time around.”

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