[Okay this question is really, really long, so I’m going to cut it down to a few salient points. No judgement on the person who submitted this, but I am starting to receive longer and longer questions, and there is a theoretical point at which I’m basically hosting other people’s articles with no filter or editorial process; I would rather say “no” to that before it happens.]
This is mostly just idle curiosity, but since I stumbled back into your piece on the Norse mythology theory for the Kalos mascots, I was curious to know if your opinion on them has changed at all since we saw Zygarde’s alternate forms.
[Basically this question brings up the “children of Loki” interpretation of Zygarde’s forms; 10% = Fenrir, 50% = Jormungandr, 100% = Hel. It’s all on Bulbapedia if you’re not familiar with it. The short answer is that I have indeed revisited the topic since those forms were revealed (though not actually in response to them) and still thought it was abject nonsense.]
And I could certainly ascribe any one of these by itself to coincidence. 10% Forme’s neck rope is clearly intended as a leash—a fairly common restraint for a dog—and doesn’t have to be a specific shout-out. 50% Forme as a serpent is probably just because it’s the most obvious way to make a Z-shaped Pokémon. And even Complete Forme’s half-and-half divide is just a neat way to reflect its relationship with Xerneas and Yveltal.
But Zygarde isn’t just any one of those things—it references all of them and exclusively them. Those are the *only* forms it is known to construct (while Cores and Cells exist, they’re not playable and clearly not part of the same set), and they reference, collectively, a dog tethered by a rope, a world serpent *and* a giant divided cleanly in half between life and death.
I wouldn’t put it past Game Freak to take inspiration from the imagery of Norse mythology without basing the trio’s entire lore on it as well—like you said, most Legendaries are more archetypes than specific beings, and borrowing visually from a particular set of deities doesn’t *have* to mean that they’re straight-up intended as analogs.
Also worth adding is that, a Generation later, Alola’s starters and mascots draw visually from alchemical imagery (at the least, the starters and possibly Rockruff are shaped like elemental symbols, Solgaleo is *blatantly* designed after a symbol for transmutation into gold down to its title, and Necrozma is possibly inspired by the Philosopher’s Stone), but it only leads to similar questions of “why does the lore have nothing to do with this?” and even “why doesn’t Lunala fit the theme as perfectly as Solgaleo?” I don’t think many people would *deny* that alchemy played into it, but it’s still not as clear-cut and well-thought-out as people might have hoped when the connection was first observed.
Game Freak found a theme for visual symbolism that they liked and decided to work it into their main Legendaries, without necessarily going all the way with the lore and without necessarily putting the same amount of depth and research into some elements as others.
Aaanyway. Sorry to have taken so much of your time with this immensely oversized ramble!
So… here’s the thing. We can’t read the minds of Game Freak’s designers. Unless they tell us one way or another, we can’t prove that they did or did not mean for a particular design to have a particular resonance. Usually we can make a fairly strong argument based on probabilities, but it’s just a fact of all media criticism that certainty is impossible without the word of the creator – and perhaps even with the word of the creator, because of “Death of the Author.” I can’t tell you that this interpretation is wrong as a matter of fact. I can tell you that I think it works only on the most superficial level, that it’s undermined by multiple other elements of the design, and that if it’s all true, then I will be compelled to regard Zygarde as just… just really stupid. Honestly this is one case in which, even if they did publicly come out and say “yes, we meant for Zygarde’s three forms to be based on the children of Loki,” I would call “Death of the Author” on them and reply “well, you did such a bad job that effectively, they aren’t.”
I get that wolf/serpent/human(oid) as the three children of Loki is attractive, but it troubles me that nothing else about Zygarde makes any goddamn sense whatsoever in that light. It’s supposed to be a guardian of order – they’re all chaos creatures. Jormungandr is a sea monster – Zygarde’s 50% form is subterranean and a Ground-type. Fenrir is the wolf that will devour the sun and moon at the end of time – Zygarde’s 10% form is a four-foot-tall greyhound. The children of Loki have no hierarchical relationship, and are more or less equal in power and the significance of their roles in bringing about the end of the world – Zygarde’s forms exist in a clear order of lesser to greater. Hel is the queen of the dead – Zygarde is part of a trio, of which a different member, Yveltal, represents death (like… Hel has the whole half-and-half aesthetic thing, I grant you, but she rules not just an afterlife, but the worst afterlife, the gloomy realm of the dishonoured dead, and she’s strongly associated with sickness and decay). You mention [this was in a part I cut out] the fact that Zygarde is not an ourobouros (a snake biting its tail), the symbol of infinite cycles – well, why the hell not, when this is the one thing about Jormungandr that actually meshes with Zygarde’s role in the games’ background? The cells and cores… I mean, you kind of just wave them aside and say it doesn’t matter because they’re not playable, but they’re still there, they play a fairly prominent role in Zygarde’s anime appearances, and it’s not like this is the only conceivable mechanism that could have been used for Zygarde’s form changes. What kind of irretrievably bonkers designer would look at a Pokémon with three forms based on the three children of Loki and decide to use a collective of independent cells as a framing device for the form changes?
And what does any of this add? Does it help us understand Zygarde’s basic nature? Does it help us understand Zygarde’s relationship with Xerneas and Yveltal? Does it help us understand the significance of Zygarde’s three forms? Does it add, truly, anything at all to Zygarde or the games in which it appears?
Tangent on the alchemy thing: I want to put up my hand as one of the not many people who also thinks this is nonsense. Lions are solar animals in a lot of cultures – for heaven’s sake, a male lion’s face with its mane looks like a stylised sunburst. The thing that’s unique about the alchemical symbol for purification is that the lion devouring the sun is green. If Game Freak wanted to reference that symbol, no one was stopping them from making Solgaleo green. This is, to my mind, an important point on all of this stuff; no one is forcing their hand here, so they do have creative freedom to come up with designs that actually make sense. They have creative freedom to have Lunala be… well, anything that fits with an alchemical Solgaleo, rather than something that clearly doesn’t, and if the reason they didn’t is “they just didn’t give a $#!t,” then… well, how do you not lose respect for them?
The position you take on this stuff… well, I know this is going to sound uncharitable, but to me it reads as “Game Freak thought about basing these legendary Pokémon on characters from Norse mythology, but then half-assed it and didn’t do any research that would make the concept meaningful or interesting.” And… the thing is, I think it may be logically impossible for me to refute that position, because anything I point out can be dismissed as “they just didn’t care that much.” In my opinion, that would be inconsistent with the amount of work they claim to put into their major legendary Pokémon, and in general I just don’t think Game Freak are this bad at designing Pokémon using influences from myth and folklore, but it could still be true. I simply reserve the right to think that Zygarde is an incredibly dumb design surrounded by baffling creative decisions that show no respect for, or understanding of, the source material.