K asks:

What do you think is up w/ types and “life energy” these days? Like, if you had to sum up what your theory is on Dragon, Psychic, and Fairy types and how those relate to the nebulous concept of “life energy” in Pokemon?

so

y’see

y’know what, I may as well revisit this one, yeah

listen, for the record, I’m about to go way too into depth about this $#!t because I’ve tried to answer this before and I change my mind practically every time there’s a new Pokémon game, and I am chronically incapable of addressing a problem without recapping everything I’ve ever thought about it.  Really what I should do is research it properly and actually write up A Big Long Thing, but that sounds hard so I’m not going to.  If you read on you have only yourself to blame.

What I always went back to was this line, originally from Gold and Silver, where one of the gym trainers at Clair’s gym in Blackthorn City describes Dragon Pokémon as “Pokémon that are overflowing with life energy” (or something like that; I’m quoting from memory).  In that original context, it seems like this is an explanation for how Dragon-with-a-capital-D Pokémon – at the time a very exclusive club, consisting of only Dratini, Dragonair, Dragonite and Kingdra – are different from Pokémon that are dragons, like Charizard and Gyarados.  Dratini and Dragonair are kinda the emblematic Dragon Pokémon at that point, and they have this snakelike ability to shed their skin and “rejuvenate” themselves (which is exactly why snakes are often linked with immortality in real-world mythology).  My mind also always goes to the Victini and Reshiram/Zekrom movie(s), where the plot revolves around a character’s attempts to manipulate something called the “Dragon Force,” an underground stream of life energy that has some vague connection to the legendary Dragon Pokémon of Unova.  Similarly, in Jewel of Life, Arceus creates the titular jewel, which has the power to invigorate living things and restore damaged ecosystems, from its plates that correspond to the elements of Water and Ground (basic necessities of life), Grass (the foundational life represented by plants), Electric (a “spark” to get things started) and Dragon (because… y’know, you can’t have life without dragons?).  Legendary Dragon Pokémon are prominent in the lore of generations III-V and often seem to have those big “cosmic keystone” roles.  So it sounds like Dragon Pokémon are special precisely because they have this unique connection to some kind of abstract universal “life force” that other Pokémon obviously need (because… y’know, they’re alive) but aren’t directly linked to.

But then generation VI happens, and now we have Fairy-types, and in particular we have Xerneas, who is very closely linked with the idea of “life” as an abstract force that flows through the world and can be shared or given (or, for that matter, stolen).  Then again, we also have Zygarde, and Zygarde is a Dragon-type who is also mixed up in the same forces as Xerneas and Yveltal, and is supposed to serve some kind of balancing role between the two, and is particularly linked with the balance of ecosystems – of the “web” of life force.  Meanwhile, we’re learning about Mega Evolution, and that’s apparently fuelled by the same energy that Lysandre was going to siphon off from Xerneas and Yveltal to power the Ultimate Weapon, and the same energy source is supposedly the basis of all of Devon Corporation’s technology (which is an absolutely insane revelation that Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby just casually stick in the mouth of a minor character during the epilogue and then scarcely ever mention again, as if the games themselves have no idea what a wild thing they just said).  And Mega Evolution, at least in Kalos, comes from this power and is somehow linked to the Ultimate Weapon, which suggests that the very different celestial origins of Mega Evolution in Hoenn are somehow connected to the same form of life energy.

And then generation VII happens, and now we have Tapu Lele, the Tapu of Life, as a Psychic-type (Tapu Lele is also a Fairy-type, but so are the other three Tapu, so it’s Psychic that ought to be related to Tapu Lele’s specific role in the Alolan religion and cosmology).  Mew in generation VII has a unique Z-move called Genesis Supernova, which the name implies is… somehow something to do with Mew’s supposed status as the ancestor of all Pokémon, and which has the same effect (creating Psychic Terrain) as Tapu Lele’s Psychic Surge ability.  And Necrozma, whose light is supposedly the original source of all life in Alola, is also a Psychic-type (and a Dragon-type, in its true form).  So maybe it’s Psychic-types now that we think have command of life energy?

Generation VIII largely has not had legendary Pokémon with these kinds of greater-scope tutelary roles.  Everything is tied to more specific events and place: Zacian and Zamazenta with the Darkest Day and the origin of the Galarian monarchy; Calyrex and its noble steeds with its local role as the ruler of the Crown Tundra; Kubfu and Urshifu with the martial arts traditions of the Isle of Armour.  But there is also Eternatus, who is a Dragon-type and the source of… something.  Whatever power allows Pokémon to Dynamax.  You’d think it would be at least similar to the power that fuels Mega Evolution and Z-moves, and like Hoenn’s Mega Stones it appears to have a celestial origin.  On the other hand, Galar has Stonjourner, who is a Rock-type, BUT, because it’s based on Stonehenge, has a connection with the idea of special places, with this British idea of “ley lines” that is also (I think deliberately) evoked by the special places where Pokémon can Dynamax, and Stonjourner’s unique ability, “Power Spot,” has the same name as those special places (in Japanese as well as in English, I checked; both are パワースポット, just a katakana transliteration of “Power Spot”).

And, and, and, generation IX is going to have sparklification as its flagship mechanic, which has an aesthetic connection with gemstones and apparently draws upon energy from special rock formations and crystals, but can grant the powers of any Pokémon type.  So, between that and Stonjourner, does the Rock-type – one of the types most alien to our real-world conception of what “life” even is – have a claim on a special connection with fundamental life force now?

(also, I will never not take the opportunity to claim that Carbink, not Mew, is the true ancestor of all Pokémon because Pokémon originally evolved from rocks; it was kind of a $#!tpost when I first said it but it just gets more and more plausible to me with every passing year)

so here’s the thing

What I would like to think now (and I have no supporting evidence for this, other than that it seems like an elegant explanation for all the apparent contradictions and I think Pokémon’s creators would prefer not to put one type above the others) is that every Pokémon type, along with all the trainers who specialise in them, think that they’re the ones who really “get” how life force works in the Pokémon universe.  They all believe they have the purest connection to this mysterious “life energy,” but all of them are blind men describing a multicoloured cosmic elephant.  They’re all manipulating exactly the same source of power, but they all have different ideas about what it means and interact with it in different ways. Dragon-types and Dragon Tamers think they know best what life force is because Dragon Pokémon are long-lived and supernaturally healthy and perhaps in some cases can perceive the “flow” of life within ecosystems; Fairy-types and Fairytale Girls think they know best because they can manipulate and bestow life force; Ghost-types and Hex Maniacs think they know best because they understand how life force ultimately leaves this world; Rock- and Ground-types think they know best because they’re linked to the world itself, which is the medium that life force exists in and flows through; Fire-types and their trainers think they know best because life is nurtured by warmth and fire is nurtured by life; hell, even Poison-types think they’re onto something because all life is chemical reactions.  I’m also thinking here of Necrozma, who is a prism, an object that bends many colours of light into one, or one into many.  Necrozma’s shards, the Z-Crystals, come in many different colours corresponding to the different Pokémon types and have different effects, but all of them channel the same cosmic light.  When you get Pokémon that are the same type despite apparently being unrelated to each other, it doesn’t mean that the “essence of Grass-type-ness” or whatever has evolved multiple times, it means that their different relationships with the same universal “life force” have converged to something similar enough that they end up sharing similar powers and weaknesses.

Of course, that does also now mean that I have no idea what a Dragon-type is, other than “a Pokémon that interacts with life-force in the particular way that Dragon-types do, whatever that is.”  Y’know, win some, lose some.

6 thoughts on “K asks:

  1. The idea of a franchise old enough to drink with new annual installments that was intended to have stopped at a tenth of that having coherent worldbuilding is a funny joke, so of course your funny joke fits right in with its worldbuilding. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Carbink even debut in the same game as the guy who threw everything we thought we knew about Pokémon reproduction into question? That guy was basically them admitting that nothing in this series was ever supposed to make sense. We still have a Bug-Type whose interactions have more to do with Kamen Rider than the actual insects that make up all of the actual examples and attacks, after all…

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    1. While yes, the correct answer is “TPC doesn’t care about continuity and consistency and has no real plan for the lore, they just make it up as they go,” that’s not the *fun* answer. At that point you end every discussion about Pokemon lore. It’s less about what the Company intends for the lore to be and more about trying our best to create our own lore that contradicts with the least amount of evidence in the game. Because honestly, Pokemon lore is sorta like playing a Kingslocke – at times it’s pretty straightforward, but often there’s a multitude of contradictions so you just gotta accept whatever creates the least number of contradictions. Is it elegant? No, but sometimes there’s a different sort of beauty in a chaos.

      Also Pokemon lore is like a Pokemon egg. Which isn’t an egg, exactly…

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      1. I honestly think that each generation’s attitude to the bigger-scope lore of all the previous ones always has *some* degree of “well, maybe that’s right, but who’s to say?” Because the world is bigger than the experience of any one region and no one has all the answers. And I think a lot of people see that as a shortcoming, but actually I think all those contradictions and fuzzy borders are a pretty good representation of what it’s like to live in a world where people don’t understand the phenomena all around them. That’s what informs my interpretation here as well; everyone knows *something*, but no-one understands the whole picture.

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  2. I think the best solution is to cherry-pick the parts you like from each iteration of the franchise, fashion them into a cohesive-isb narrative and then ignore all the nasty details that contradict that narrative. 🙂
    (It’s a good approach for other things than Pokémon too!)

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  3. I really like this interpretation overall. (Also, your Carbink theory has been firmly lodged in my mind ever since you proposed it. Can’t even look at the little guy without contemplating the existence of all Pokémon, now.)

    It’s funny that you mention Gen 8 Legendaries in relation to that old quote about dragons from Gold & Silver. Because when they first introduced Regidrago, all I could think was that they were sort of subtly returning to that idea after a long time away — in contrast to Regieleki’s astonishing 200 base Speed stat, Regidrago’s unique characteristic is its 200 base HP stat. Regidrago is composed of “crystallized dragon energy,” so if therems a link between dragons and life force, then it feels very appropriate for Regidrago to be overflowing with health and stamina. On top of that, you have its signature move, Dragon Energy, which “converts its life-force into power,” as in, the move’s damage output is directly proportional to Regidrago’s remaining HP, so HP is explicitly coded as an expression of “life energy” here.

    Of course, there’s the obvious counterpoint here: Xerneas, the very embodiment of life processes in the Pokémon world, which *isn’t* a Dragon type (it in fact mops the floor with them), and doesn’t have an especially exceptional HP stat. So, I think it once again comes back to what you say about there being many different ways of looking at the same picture, with the different types each being manifestations of a greater whole. (I just wanted to point out that Regidrago is kind of a fun throwback of sorts.)

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  4. “Dragon” as a type could be related to ancient arcane chaotic forces like the ones that formed the early cosmos, or more “savage” forms of sorcery. At least that’s how it comes off to me XD

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