N asks:

Are bad dads a constant in the Pokémon Universe? Like i can’t remember for the life of me a single good father in the franchise. Hell, the entire plot of the Detective pickachu movie hinges on a son being unable to recognize his own father’s voice.

Well, I can think of… a couple of good dads: Professor Birch, in Ruby and Sapphire, seems to have a very strong relationship with his child, May/Brendan (whichever one isn’t the player character), while Norman, the player character’s father, is away all the time because he works in a different city but seems like a decent enough parent when we actually get to see him.  Bianca’s dad in Black and White… doesn’t really “get it,” but he’s at least trying not to be a $#!tty dad.

There is a standard explanation for this one, and there will always be one person who brings it up, which is: “absent fathers are a theme in Japanese fiction because Japanese fathers work 500 hours a day and are never around.”  That’s… true, and it explains a lot of the $#!ttiness of many Pokémon fathers – like Palmer in Diamond and Pearl being so distant from Barry, or Hau’s unnamed father in Sun and Moon being off in Kanto somewhere doing god knows what.  I think a lot of it really is just Pokémon’s own priorities, though, and a general lack of interest in the families of the player or other major characters (it would be fair to say, I think that the plots of these games are not what you’d call “character-driven”).  Like… fathers who are absent or distant because they work all the time are also a theme of American fiction; American fiction has practically created entire genres out of emotionally stunted men’s obsession with their $#!tty father figures.  But that’s not what the fathers of Pokémon’s main characters are like; they’re just not there, with no explanation and no relevance to anything.  Plenty of other characters have fathers who clearly exist, even if they’re not around very much or aren’t very good parents.  It’s also fairly common for both parents to be equally absent (as in Brock and Misty’s cases; I don’t think we ever meet Hau’s mother either).  I think the presence of the main character’s mother in each game is, in most cases, something of an admission that, at a bare minimum, it would be weird for a child to grow up completely alone.

Anonymous asks:

In generations one/five/six/seven you were just kind of given your starter to go an a journey. In two you were originally loaned your starter to do a short errand before it was permanently given to you (the best introduction to starters, imo). And in three/four you took a starter from a bag to defend someone (the professor/yourself and your rival respectively). How would you do it? How’d you frame being given your starter Pokemon?

I’ve always had rather a fondness for IV, which I think is the most involved version.  It feels like it adds something to the relationship between you and your starter, to have you owe your Pokémon something like this, and for your partnership to begin with sheer chance (and the characterisation of the rival character Barry, through these events and your subsequent interaction with Professor Rowan, was interesting). Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”

Rivals, part 2: Barry, Lucas and Dawn

Lucas and Dawn in their cold-weather gear from Platinum version.  I'm not really sure *why* Sinnoh is apparently so much colder on Platinum than on Diamond and Pearl, but... well... it is.

This month, Jim the Editor and I are actually in the same city – a welcome but rare occurrence these days.  As such, this entry and the conversation on which it is based come to you courtesy of a long walk around the bays and harbours of Auckland on a fine summer morning (yes, it’s summer here; don’t panic), rather than Skype as will probably be the case for most of the others in this series.

And a good thing too; you need the exercise.

Shut up.  Anyway, first things first – is there actually enough to say about Lucas and Dawn (the ‘unused’ player characters from Diamond and Pearl, one of whom becomes Professor Rowan’s assistant while you, playing as the other, gallivant around Sinnoh earning badges and fighting Team Galactic) to justify doing a whole entry on them, or should we just fold them in with Barry?

Eh.  What is there to say about them?  What do they ever do?  They show you how to catch Pokémon, and they show up from time to time to give you stuff like the Itemfinder.  They’re really just the professors’ aides from previous games, or the old man with the Weedle, but with faces.  Do they ever actually battle you?

I don’t think so.  There is a bit in Jubilife City where the two of you have a double battle against some Team Galactic minions who are trying to confiscate Professor Rowan’s research data, and another in Veilstone City when some more bad guys steal their Pokédex.  Dawn and Lucas by that point have a Clefairy and a Kadabra as well as the starter, all in the mid-20s, so they’re not, like, completely useless.  They do become… at least competent.  But I don’t think we ever see them fight after that.  Or do anything, really, aside from fail miserably to stop Team Galactic at Lake Verity.

To be fair, all three of you fail miserably to stop Team Galactic; Barry gets his ass handed to him by Jupiter at Lake Acuity and you arrive at Lake Valor too late to do anything.

I suppose that’s true.  What else?  Aren’t they up on Mount Coronet when Cyrus is doing his thing?  Or did I hallucinate that?

 Lucas and Dawn's original more summery costumes from Diamond and Pearl.

No, they do show up with Professor Rowan right at the end, after all the fighting is over.  They just don’t say or do anything important.  On Platinum they don’t even get to be there; you just go and talk to them at the lab after you and Cynthia escape from Hell.

Mmm.  I do quite like the notion of having trainers who simply don’t care a lot about getting stronger, giving more prominence to other kinds of relationships with Pokémon – like Lucas and Dawn as researchers.  It’s sort of a shame that the game itself doesn’t really care much about anything beyond battling, or give people like Lucas and Dawn opportunities to do cool stuff.

Yeah; people who don’t care much about battling do presumably make up the majority of this world’s population, so it should matter.  To be honest, though, Lucas and Dawn never seem all that committed to the Pokédex quest either.  They avoid the subject of how well their work on the project is going, they lose their Pokédex, they don’t really seem to do anything else for Professor Rowan’s research…

They’re not as cavalier as Barry, but I suppose that’s true.  I almost think that Lucas and Dawn are really just in the game so that both character designs will get used, no matter which one you actually pick to play as – not because there’s actually any need to have them there.

I also think that Black and White do that whole ‘uncompetitive trainers’ idea better anyway, with Bianca.

Bianca does eventually get quite powerful, though.

Mmm, but she’s consistently weaker than Cheren and the player, I thought.

True, and as a matter of characterisation she certainly has very different priorities, even if she doesn’t slack off on her training the way May/Brendan and Lucas/Dawn do.

Exactly.  But we’ll talk about Bianca next time; we’re supposed to be sticking to Diamond and Pearl for now.

Oh yeah.  So, are we done with those two?  Barry now?

Probably.

So, Barry.  He’s… certainly excitable.

 ...is it just me, or does Barry look... really furtive in this picture?  That is definitely the face of a guy who has either stolen something, murdered someone, or suffered an extremely inopportune bowel movement...

I suppose that’s one word for a character whose main ‘thing’ is slamming into you at high speed whenever the two of you meet.  Maybe they should both just quit Pokémon so they can be a comedy duo; the player can be Barry’s ‘straight man’ and Barry can run into things and suffer hilarious injuries.

You know, I think in the Pokémon Adventures manga, Barry and Lucas (or Diamond and Pearl, rather – I can’t remember which is which) actually are a slapstick duo.  Like, that is their thing; they want to be professional comedians or something.

…huh.  Well, there you go.

In fairness to Barry, though, he’s not just there for comic relief.  They do give him a character arc of sorts; it’s perhaps a little rudimentary, as these things go, and not really as compelling as Silver’s, in my opinion, but it’s there.  You can see him developing more of a sense of responsibility and duty as the story progresses.  At the start he’s easily distracted and impulsive to the point of recklessness…

You know, he’s actually the only ‘rival’ character aside from Silver who never has a Pokédex, because he runs off so quickly after Professor Tree gives you your starters.  That impulsiveness and eagerness to move put him in interesting company, in that respect.

Hmm.  I never thought of it like that.  True, though – Blue, May and Brendan, Cheren and Bianca, Hugh, all four of the X and Y kids, they all join the Pokédex quest, with… greater or lesser degrees of commitment.  Barry is the only one who actually refuses the offer of involvement in a Professor’s research, albeit only by implication.  He’s certainly never a bad person by any stretch of the imagination, but he seems almost to resent the idea of being given responsibility – even though he clearly understands that he owes Professor Rowan for giving him his first Pokémon.

I think losing to Jupiter at Lake Acuity is the turning point for him.  It’s obvious that she trounced him, and he seems pretty shaken, not just by his loss, but by what he sees happening to Uxie, and by the fact that his loss allowed it to happen.  Before that point, he wants to be strong for the sake of being strong – not for ‘philosophical’ reasons, if I can put it that way, like Silver; more because he’s competitive and wants recognition, like Blue – and he’s only there at all because he owes Professor Tree a favour.  Afterward, though, when he turns up at Mount Coronet, he’s committed to stopping Team Galactic because he knows it’s the right thing to do, and he’s been training specifically for that.

He learns what it means to stand for something – and in Pokémon, that’s more important than anything; that’s supposed to be what really makes trainers strong.

Took the words right out of my mouth.  What do you think of the differences in the way the game starts on Platinum, compared to Diamond and Pearl?  Barry’s the one who starts you on your journey either way, but how it actually happens is different.

I actually like the original story better, where Barry has this madcap scheme to find and catch a Red Gyarados in Lake Verity, despite neither of you having any Pokémon of your own, all because of something he happened to see on TV that morning.  It says a lot about the kind of person he is, I think – either way, we see that he’s impulsive and adventurous, but this version also paints him as kind of whimsical, childish if you like (which makes sense).  The idea that he has on Platinum, of going to Sandgem Town to meet Professor Rowan and ask him for Pokémon, is actually more dangerous in a concrete sense because it means trying to travel without Pokémon, but it’s also a much more practical sort of plan; you can see how he might think it was a realistic idea.  There’s nothing wrong with that; I just think the crazier version of the story is more interesting – and I like the fact that it basically leads to you becoming Pokémon trainers by accident.

That does just repeat what happens at the beginning of Ruby and Sapphire to an extent, though.  And the way it turns out on Platinum gives us some more characterisation for Barry, when he confesses to Professor Tree that it was his terrible idea and asks him to give you a Pokémon, even if Barry himself can’t be trusted with one.  He’s willing to take a fall to help out his friend – pretty noble, I think.

I suspect he might be gambling on Professor Rowan being impressed by his show of maturity.  Still a gutsy move, though, I have to admit.

So overall, do you think he’s well done?

Hmm.  I think that with him, the fourth generation is kind of at an uncomfortable middle point where having a rival character has become a tradition they can’t get rid of, but they haven’t yet figured out how to do anything really clever with the rivals, like we’ve been seeing more recently.

What exactly do you mean by that?

Well, in general the rival characters aren’t really necessary for the plot to work – everything that happens would still make sense without them; I think Hugh is really the only one who interacts with the events of the story in a major way.  Black and White, and then X and Y, have multiple rivals who play off against one another and contrast each other, and do so in a way that supports the themes of the stories.  Barry doesn’t have anyone to do that with except for Lucas and Dawn – one of whom is the silent player character, and the other is something of a nonentity by the end of the first ‘act.’

But he does work as a mirror – I think of all the rival characters, Barry is the one who’s most closely aligned to the player character’s own aims, desires and actions.

Except maybe for Serena and Calem in X and Y, yeah; I could see that.

Since your character is never anything more than a blank slate for you to project yourself onto, it’s up to Barry to be the model of a new trainer.  He’s like a… sort of secondary or backup protagonist.

I believe the appropriate term would be ‘deuteragonist.’

Yeah, that sounds right.

Fair enough, I suppose, but Barry still reminds me of what you were saying about Silver last time – how he doesn’t ever get a proper resolution or achieve recognition for how far he’s come.  Barry has the same kind of thing, really; the player gets all the glory at Mount Coronet when Cyrus goes down, and Barry never gets anything.

Barry is really strong by the end of the game, though; Silver just falls behind to the point that he can never challenge you, but Barry is easily as strong as the Champion, and keeps getting stronger.

Barry Senior - a.k.a. Tower Tycoon Palmer - not only has an obvious family resemblance, he also shares Barry's most distinctive character trait: he doesn't always watch where he's going...

 

Well, does that matter?  I feel like that gives too much weight to the particular numbers the game chooses to assign to their Pokémon, which is sort of something you can fudge a little bit – remember what we said about how Silver actually ends up very close in strength to Lance in the original Gold and Silver, and it’s only in the remakes that he doesn’t manage to keep up?  We should focus more on how the game presents them and less on the numbers.  He’s strong, sure, but even when we meet his father, Tower Tycoon Palmer, Barry never gets any of the resolution you wanted for Silver either.  He never beats the player, he certainly doesn’t get to become Champion or anything remotely like that.  We never even see him interact with Palmer, which is a shame because what little he does say about his dad makes it seem as though living up to his expectations, and surpassing them if possible, is extremely important to Barry.

He does seem confident, though.  By the time the two of you get to the Battle Frontier, Barry feels happy saying that he “got here on [his] own power,” and adds “it won’t take long before I see him” – Palmer, that is.  Where Silver almost seems to hit a wall in his training, Barry just drives on through it… metaphorically and literally, as usual.  And the way he keeps getting stronger and stronger after you defeat the Elite Four a number of times reflects that.  His goals were always a little more nebulous than Silver’s anyway – he never had anything as specific as Silver’s vendetta against Lance, which doesn’t ever get resolved.  I think the game leaves Barry in a position where we can feel he will achieve his goals, one way or another.

I guess there’s one thing everyone can agree on – Barry is one determined kid.  It’s not wise to stand in his way.

Particularly if he isn’t paying much attention to where he’s going.

Quite.