Anonymous asks:

Since the last FMK question was so interesing… Heres another: Blue, Burgh and Volkner??

oh god

Well, let’s see… I mean, you gotta kill Burgh ‘cause he’s incompetent, pretentious and annoying… but then again, Blue is a huge jerk… eh, I suppose he gets better as he matures though.  Volkner has this kinda hot brooding quality to him but seems like he’d be a super high-maintenance partner.  So… let’s go with fuck Volkner, marry Blue, kill Burgh.

Anonymous asks:

Having just replayed red, I cam honestly say… I just dont get what people mean when they say Blue is a jerk. Like, is it cos he’s kinds cocky? Hes not that hard to beat, so I cant really relate to the whole “rivals used to be challenging!” Rhetoric. imo the hardest rival was probably N.

I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as “rivals used to be challenging” rhetoric.  But sure, if there is, it strikes me as probably quite silly.

Anyway, Blue.  I think he’s clearly meant to be a jerk, because the whole thing with Oak turning up at the end of the game to call him out for not loving his Pokémon enough doesn’t really make sense if he’s not.  Personally I think that, above and beyond just thinking he’s better than you, he consistently goes out of his way to be insulting to you and diminish your accomplishments.  Like, I don’t know if he’s necessarily a bad person (well, I mean, he probably is, since he turns up at Silph Co. during the Team Rocket takeover and doesn’t lift a finger to help, but you could easily put that down to poor writing) but he always struck me as rather unpleasant to be around.

Pokémon Origins: Episode 4

Blastoise seriously reconsiders the life choices that brought him to this point.

With Giovanni and Viridian City behind him, Red’s journey takes him to Indigo Plateau and the headquarters of the Pokémon League.   He narrates, briefly, his conquest of the Elite Four, accompanied by only brief clips from each battle, and is finally sent through by Lance to meet the Champion, who turns out to be – spoiler alert – Blue.  Red is surprised, but seems almost pleased to find him there.  Blue gives an adapted version of his classic overconfident and egomaniacal entrance speech, complete with his line about being “the most powerful trainer in the world,” and hurls his Pidgeot’s Pokéball to start the battle.  We skim through most of it in a few seconds – Blue’s team is the same as he would use with Blastoise in the games, while Red uses Jolteon, Lapras, Persian, Scyther, Dodrio and Charizard.  Eventually, of course, the battle comes down to their starters.  Although Blastoise shrugs off Charizard’s initial Mega Punch and then nearly ends the battle with Hydro Pump, Charizard is able to endure the damage, trap and weaken Blastoise with Fire Spin, and finally nail him with what I imagine to be a critical hit with Fire Blast.  Blue is confused and upset by his loss, but covers it up quickly – and then Professor Oak arrives.  Professor Oak’s lines in this scene were sort of forgivable in the games, where all the dialogue was pretty simplistic, but a lot more jarring in this medium: he initially ignores his grandson completely to give embarrassingly glowing praise to Red instead, and when he finally does acknowledge Blue, his first words are a condescending “what a shame…”  Blue shrugs that off – and gets accused of forgetting to treat his Pokémon with trust and love, something which rings a little hollow given that we’ve never really seen the way Blue treats his Pokémon.  Once Professor Oak has finished being a douchebag, he leads Red backstage to enter him in the Hall of Fame.  Red is a little self-conscious here, but is assured by Professor Oak that he’s earned it, so he vows to uphold the honour of the position.

 The mysterious Dr. Fuji. The games, too, contain hints that Mr. Fuji is more than he seems, in the form of a photo of him prominently displayed in Cinnabar Labs, the institution he founded years before.

Of course, Red’s not done – becoming Champion was never his goal; he only went to the Indigo Plateau in the first place because Giovanni told him he would need to become stronger, and fittingly this is merely the first eight minutes of the episode.  He still has his real quest to finish – completing the Pokédex – so we get a montage in which he does just that.  Finally, with all 149 known Kanto species recorded, he returns to Pallet Town triumphant, only to find the lab empty.  One of Oak’s lab assistants enters behind Red and, when asked where he is, only responds “well, it’s…” and trails off, with a pained expression on her face.  Honestly at this point I thought she was about to tell Red that Professor Oak had died while he was away, which would be a very sad but poignant way to end the Pokédex story, but no – that’s not where this episode is going.  In fact, Professor Oak is sitting with Blue, who has been hospitalised after an encounter with a terrifyingly powerful Psychic Pokémon, a hitherto unknown 150th species.  Oak wants Red to go and check it out immediately, but Blue (characteristically) objects that if “it was beyond even me, then you wouldn’t stand a chance against it either,” words which ring a bell for Red, though he doesn’t quite know why.  Oak takes Red back to the lab to get his Pokémon checked out, and finds the Mega Stones in his bag.  He has no idea what they are either, but decides to get them tested when he hears the name “Mr. Fuji.”  Red, while taking a break and fishing, remembers that he’s seen the phrase “it is beyond even us” in the journals he read in the burnt-out Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island, and realises that Blue’s new species might be the “Mewtwo” they mentioned.  Oak, troubled, suggests that these may have been the notes of “Dr. Fuji,” a renowned scientist whose research became dangerous and ethically questionable after he discovered a new species of Pokémon, until he mysteriously disappeared.  Red’s “Mr. Fuji” could be the same man – especially given the connection Oak’s instruments have detected between the two stones, and between the larger blue stone and Charizard, something that reminds him of one of Dr. Fuji’s earlier projects.  Oak recommends letting Charizard hold onto the large stone, and sends Red off.

 Mewtwo shoots down Articuno.

Meanwhile, in Lavender Town, Mr. Fuji learns from Reyna that Red is heading for the Cerulean Cave and realises, to his horror, that Red is trying to catch Mewtwo.  Their thoughts are intercut with the battle between Mewtwo and Red.  Mr. Fuji predicts that Mewtwo will be far too powerful for Red’s Pokémon to defeat – and, indeed, they are all overwhelmed, even the legendary Articuno – but still has hope.  When he met Red in the Pokémon Tower, he was reminded of a Kalosian legend about a trainer and a Charizard who shared a particularly profound bond, capable of awakening the power in the stones.  Meanwhile, Charizard is getting his ass handed to him by Mewtwo, but refuses to give up, even when both he and Red are flung into the water by Mewtwo’s telekinesis.  Red, getting desperate, realises that he owes it to Charizard not to give up either.  This triggers the Mega Stones they’re holding, and Charizard transforms with a blaze of light into the dark and terrifying Mega Charizard X.  To Mewtwo’s shock, Charizard’s souped-up attacks are powerful enough to overwhelm even his psychic defences, and after a brief but intense battle (during which Red imagines little Charmander fighting in his place, thinking back to how far they’ve come), Mewtwo is overcome.  Red’s second Ultra Ball finishes the battle, and the Pokédex, Charizard returns to his normal form, and they return to Pallet Town triumphant.  There is a brief epilogue, in which Red, Professor Oak, the lab assistant, and a still-disgruntled Blue have lunch together and celebrate – and Red realises, with a start, that Mewtwo’s predecessor, Mew, must still be out there somewhere…

(As it happens, “somewhere” is right outside the window behind them, because Mew is a massive troll.)

 'Don't worry, Charizard!  I'll catch yo-I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!'

We should talk here about Mega Evolution, because this has been the occasion of a long and complicated argument between me and Jim the Editor, who has very strong feelings on the matter.  Obviously, including Mega Charizard in the final episode of Origins is a big move, and a very clear break from the nostalgic tone of the rest of the series, something which he regards as a betrayal of what the series was, y’know, supposed to be about – namely, a reimagining of our experience of the original games – in favour of trying to popularise a silly unbalancing gimmick (Jim the Editor also has very strong feelings on Mega Evolution).  Furthermore, he feels that it actually cheapens the whole series to know that the creators had a sleazy marketing goal buried in the nostalgia all along, and thinks that, as Charizard’s Mega Evolution is the only post-first generation element anywhere in Origins (not even attacks from the second generation or later are used, to our recollection), the sudden introduction of this very recent addition to the game has a bizarre and jarring effect on the viewer’s experience of the story.  Upon reflection, I don’t think this is an unreasonable stance.  Origins very self-consciously targets the nostalgia market, and the somewhat abrupt departure from that (the foreshadowing at the end of the second episode notwithstanding) causes the whole purpose and message of the series to change almost without warning.  The first three of Origins’ four episodes, taken together, are a very different beast with a very different point from the full set.  The writers must have known this would be jarring to some viewers, but they chose to do it anyway, which is sort of bound to have upset people.  As I said, though, I’m not one of those.  Maybe that’s partly just because I have fewer reservations about Mega Evolution as a concept, but of course I have other reasons which… probably also make sense.

 Mega Charizard takes the stage.

Compared to the anime’s lack of subtlety in attempting to ‘sell’ spin-offs or gimmicks in the past, I actually don’t think it’s that bad.  I’m reminded of an episode of the Hoenn series featuring Solana from Pokémon Ranger, along with her Plusle, as a guest star, and had me cringing from start to finish at the transparency of its attempts to plug the new game and the laziness of its efforts to integrate the character, her role and her skills into the established setting of the anime.  Charizard’s ascension, if nothing else, makes sense in the context of the way Origins has portrayed Red and his partner in the past; Red relies on Charizard above all his other Pokémon, at times beyond reason, and with the exception of Jolteon, Charizard is the only Pokémon who isn’t rotated out of Red’s team between their second battle with Giovanni and their Elite Four challenge.  They are, almost without a doubt, as close as Ash and Pikachu.  I like that, at the end of all this, he gets to unlock this special power that humans and Pokémon can only wield together, through absolute trust and dedication to one another, that he gets to become the charizardiest Charizard who ever charizarded.  It’s not the only way they could have reached a crescendo in portraying Red and Charizard’s relationship; I must emphasise that.  There are many other ways this ending could have been written.  However, I think there is a method to this madness, a reason for Mega Evolution to be flung into a story to which it so manifestly does not belong: in order to make the claim, brazenly and unashamedly, that it does belong there.  By making it the culmination of the relationship Red has been building with Charmander from the beginning – that we all imagined building with our starter Pokémon from the beginning – Origins stresses that Mega Evolution is only the newest (and perhaps most dramatic) expression of themes that have been central to Pokémon all along.  This last, desperate play to defeat Mewtwo, though completely different from anything that has come before, works because of the same qualities that allowed Red to defeat Giovanni and Blue.

It’s precisely because Mega Evolution is so strange that Origins does this.  Nothing else introduced in generation six – arguably nothing else ever introduced to Pokémon – sticks out in the same way or provokes the same feeling of being a complete departure.  It demands justification in a way that nothing else does.  Things like new Pokémon, new items, new attacks – we know that new generations do that.  They require no defence, and so they are absent from this series.  Even the addition of a whole new type is something that we’re familiar with from Gold and Silver – if anything, a significant faction of the community has been disappointed at the absence of new types from generations three, four and five.  The Fairy type, whatever else you might think of it, is not something that would ever have seemed impossible, and it already came pre-packaged with a tie to the old world in the form of Sylveon, an evolution of Eevee (something else we’re used to seeing every other generation).  Mega Evolution, though, is weird, and by its very weirdness was bound to have people declaring that Pokémon had finally jumped the shark, or abandoned its roots (such outcries are of course nothing new, but these ones have, arguably, more justification than ever before).  The fourth episode of Origins, to me, is an ostentatious attempt to refute any such argument and give the creators a chance to reclaim their own past.  Is it obnoxious?  Well… insofar as it serves the creators’ broader aims at the expense of the mini-series itself, it kinda is, yes.  On the other hand, I think the way it changes what Origins is really about is interesting in itself, and in some ways I actually like how it tries to say that Pokémon’s past is still an important part of what it is today, rather than just putting it on a pedestal like something separate and untouchable. Ultimately, the only reason it is able to have this effect is because the contrast it creates between past and present is so sharp, so jarring.  Does it work?  I guess that’s up to you.

Pokémon Origins: Episode 3

Silph's magnum opus, Team Rocket's ultimate goal: the Master Ball.
Silph’s magnum opus and Team Rocket’s ultimate goal: the Master Ball.

Because I am me, I had a great deal of fun with the episode in which Ash challenges the Viridian Gym.  Among my bigger regrets for that series, though, are that Ash never got a chance to confront Giovanni, his battle being delegated to Jessie and James instead, and that Giovanni himself didn’t get the kind of characterisation many other anime Gym Leaders enjoy in their keynote appearances.  Episode 3 of Origins has the chance to rectify this deficiency, and it does so with gusto.  Let’s take a look.

Red persuades Blue to help out against Team Rocket with his impeccable debating skills and smooth negotiating manner.
Red persuades Blue to help out against Team Rocket with his impeccable debating skills and smooth negotiating manner.

After winning his Rainbow and Soul Badges, taking on Team Rocket once more in Celadon City, and evolving his Charmeleon into a Charizard, Red finds himself in Saffron City, the home of the region’s leading producer of Pokémon-related supplies and technology, Silph Company.  Red and Blue briefly team up to rescue a woman being harassed by a pair of Team Rocket grunts, and learn that she is the secretary of Silph’s president.  Team Rocket has taken over the company headquarters in order to force Silph’s scientists to perfect the prototype Master Ball by performing unethical experiments on large numbers of wild Pokémon, and she has been given orders to escape and return with reinforcements.  Blue, though he seems to understand the worrying implications of a world where Team Rocket can commission Master Balls, doesn’t see what any of this has to do with winning Badges or becoming Champion and has no intention of sticking his neck out for anyone, though Red eventually manages to… ‘persuade’ him to escort the secretary to Celadon City and raise the police.  Red himself, meanwhile, is unwilling to let the Pokémon in the building suffer for even a moment longer than necessary, and decides to take a more direct approach: a frontal assault with all his Pokémon.  As we know from the games, this is a resounding success.  Red frees the imprisoned Pokémon and scientists from the Silph laboratories, then makes his way to the president’s office to confront Giovanni.  If Giovanni is frustrated by what he admits is the total ruination of his plans, he doesn’t show it, and is prepared to leave without a fight, but Red is having none of that, and vows to thwart Team Rocket’s plans wherever they go.  Irritated by Red’s presumptuousness, Giovanni calls on his Nidoqueen, who Double Kicks Charizard through a wall and counters his Flamethrower with Surf, causing an explosion that takes out most of the building’s top floor.  When the dust settles, Nidoqueen and Giovanni are standing unfazed, while Red and Charizard are lying crumpled on the floor.  Giovanni, almost disappointed by the ease of his victory, comments that Red’s failure to achieve more with Charizard is “a pitiful waste of such gifts.”  Red demands an explanation for Team Rocket’s actions, and he replies that Pokémon are a business, and success in business requires sacrifice – if Pokémon must suffer, then so be it.  Red angrily retorts that Pokémon should be a trainer’s friends, to which Giovanni points out, looking to Charizard, that Red is perfectly willing to let his ‘friends’ suffer as well.  Red has no answer to that, and Giovanni leaves by helicopter, cleanly escaping all police action.

Red's team nearly gets swept by the most badass Rhyhorn ever.
Red’s team nearly gets swept by the most badass Rhyhorn ever.

Fast-forward to Viridian City.  Red is effervescent at the prospect of meeting and learning from the strongest Gym Leader, whom Blue has already defeated, and is horrified when he realises that – spoiler alert – the leader is Giovanni himself.  He refuses, point blank, to acknowledge Giovanni as a Gym Leader at all, and instead challenges him as “the enemy of all Pokémon.”  Accordingly Giovanni, who had been perusing a selection of Pokéballs like the one we saw in Brock’s Gym, remarks that he won’t accept Red’s challenge as a Gym Leader either and instead selects two Ultra Balls from a hidden compartment.  Red knew Giovanni’s specialty ahead of time and came prepared with Grass-, Water- and Fighting-types, but his Pokémon simply aren’t powerful enough – Giovanni’s Rhyhorn crushes his Victreebel, Kabutops, Snorlax and Jolteon almost without effort, before his Hitmonlee manages to force a tie.  Throughout the battle, we get snippets of Giovanni’s inner thoughts on the battle – he finds Red utterly infuriating, but doesn’t quite know why; nor can he account for his disappointment that Red isn’t as challenging an opponent as he’d anticipated.  Though he hides it well, his smugness steadily fades to agitation and then intensity, until with only one Pokémon left on each side, Giovanni realises that the battle will come down to Charizard and Rhydon, and gloats that Red has made a critical mistake by not saving a Pokémon better suited to this fight.  Red replies that he always meant for Charizard to be his last, whatever happened, since the whole battle will mean more to him if he finishes it with his partner.  Giovanni’s façade cracks – he’s visibly furious now at Red’s overconfidence – but then he notices that Red throws his Pokéballs in the same way as Giovanni himself used to as a child, and he finally understands the emotions Red has triggered in him.  Giovanni recognises himself in Red (complete with a flashback scene in which Giovanni is revealed to have once owned a Charmander), and has been inspired by him to find excitement in their battle that he hasn’t felt in years.  He grows even more intense as he realises that Charizard really is a match for his Rhydon, and finally is left with a sense of satisfaction when Red manages to overcome him.  Apparently no longer mindful of their earlier conversation, Giovanni offers Red the Earth Badge – and, when Red refuses to accept it from the leader of Team Rocket, continuing to deny his status as a Gym Leader, he turns to his attendants and orders them to spread the word: Team Rocket is dissolved, and all of their operations are to cease immediately.  Red’s expression softens as he comes to perceive Giovanni’s change of heart, and accepts the badge.  Giovanni encourages him to continue seeking greater strength, since only one as strong as the Champion will have any hope of completing the Pokédex quest.  As Red leaves, Giovanni muses on his own future, apparently hopeful now for some sort of redemption.

Like a snake's, Charizard's jaw can stretch to incredible angles when he prepares to launch a Flamethrower.
Like a snake’s, Charizard’s jaw can stretch to incredible angles when he prepares to launch a Flamethrower.

Pokémon has always liked the idea, and has grown more fond of it in recent years, culminating with the player’s battle against N in Black and White, that Pokémon battles are a way for trainers and Pokémon to express their convictions to each other, a subtle but powerful medium of communication that functions on the level of one’s deepest emotions and most firmly held beliefs.  Neither of Red’s battles with Giovanni have practical aims.  In Saffron City, Giovanni fully intends to leave, and Red can’t really stop him (this should be contrasted to the way the same events are portrayed in the games, where it is only Red’s defeat of Giovanni that forces him to withdraw), but he fights Red anyway because he wants to send a message: this is beyond you, I am beyond you, and you must learn your place.  Likewise, Red’s motivation for challenging the Viridian Gym apparently goes out the window once he realises who his opponent is; he cannot have any reasonable expectation of breaking Team Rocket’s power with one battle, but he continues his course in order to make a statement of his opposition.  Similarly, while Giovanni makes it clear that he takes his duties as a Gym Leader seriously – he mentions his earlier battle against Blue, noting that he accepted that challenge despite being unimpressed by his arrogance because Blue’s potential intrigued him – he makes it equally clear that his battle against Red is something else entirely; he is again trying to put Red in his place.  Red’s decision to save Charizard for last is likewise built as much on symbolism as on strategy.  Their climactic battle can be seen as a parallel to his first Gym challenge against Brock – the lessons Red first learned from Brock, Giovanni now relearns from Red.  The same rising intensity and heightened synchronicity between trainer and Pokémon prompt a similar realisation: “Pokémon are not just tools” (whether “for battle,” as Red realises in the first episode, or “for business,” as he tells Giovanni repeatedly in this one).  Giovanni’s choice of Pokéballs is also significant: his initial selection implies that like Brock he is considering his opponent’s experience level in order to select appropriate Pokémon for a difficult but not insurmountable challenge, as he presumably did for Blue, but when Red declares that he does not consider this a real Gym battle, he instead picks two hidden Ultra Balls – this should be taken to mean that he is not moderating his own strength but now intends to crush Red with the full power of his two mightiest Pokémon.  This fact takes on a greater significance when we consider a fragment of gossip overheard by Red – that the Viridian Gym Leader has never needed even half of his true strength to defeat a challenger.  While this is likely hyperbole, it must prompt us to wonder just how long it has been since Giovanni has needed to invest himself truly in a battle, in the way he does with Red.  Perhaps spending too long without a real challenge is what causes Giovanni, little by little, to lose touch with his Pokémon and come to act with the callousness evident in his encounter with Red in Saffron City.

A young Giovanni and his Charmander.
A young Giovanni and his Charmander.

At the end of their battle, Giovanni is taken aback when Red refuses to accept his Earth Badge, even though both sides made it clear from the start that this was not a battle between a Gym Leader and a challenger.  For Giovanni, though, the significance of the battle – the meaning of the conversation – changed greatly over its course.  His initial intention to break Red’s insolence lost its relevance once he started to liken Red to a young version of himself, and the battle instead became about finding himself and recapturing the energy and excitement of his youth.  A badge, aside from its importance to entering the ranks of the Pokémon League, is also a memento of a trainer’s battle with the leader who confers it and, as Red says before bringing out Charizard, that trainer’s understanding of the leader’s beliefs: Giovanni offers it because he wants Red to remember their battle as he undoubtedly will, as well as his new understanding of Red’s beliefs.  Red’s refusal is tantamount to a statement that their battle did not carry the same significance for him, and that he has no wish to remember it fondly – so Giovanni gives him a reason to (contrast, again, the way the games portray his decision to disband Team Rocket: he feels that, after losing even at his full strength, he is no longer worthy to lead).  In spite of the dramatic change Red brings about in him, though, Giovanni is still the same man who built Team Rocket; his final exhortation to Red is not the kind of sage advice about love for Pokémon that one normally expects from a defeated Gym Leader (after all, this would surely be hypocritical coming from Giovanni), but focuses particularly on the importance of accumulating greater strength.  Giovanni’s comments to Red after their battle in Saffron City make it clear that he considers struggle, ambition and sacrifice to be paramount, and none of those things are incompatible with Red’s idea of what it means to be a trainer; in fact, Giovanni would likely say that Red clearly sees the importance of all three.  As Red says before their battle, all Gym Leaders practice different philosophies for living and working with their Pokémon, having in common only their love for their Pokémon – something Giovanni, once again, shares.

There’s only one more episode to go in the Origins mini-series.  The Elite Four awaits… as do further challenges beyond…

Pokémon Origins: Episode 2

The Pokémon Tower.

After defeating Brock, Red continues his journey through the classic storyline – such as it is – of the first generation.  Most of this is related to us through a voice over by Red himself, with the help of dialogue boxes in the style of the original games (all direct quotes, of course), covering his victories over Misty and Lieutenant Surge, his initial skirmish with Team Rocket, Charmander’s evolution to Charmeleon, and a variety of other minor events from the games (mercifully, he sees fit to leave out all the Pokémon he is capturing during this time – we’d be here all day otherwise).  Red’s narration is bland, conveying only the barest hint of his own feelings about any of the events in question, and gives little detail.  I find myself questioning why things like receiving a bike voucher from the chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club even needed to be brought up if no attempt is going to be made to elaborate on them – and find myself answering that the only effect can be to call to mind viewers’ own memories of those same events.  Maybe for some of us, the Magikarp Red mentions buying outside Mt. Moon became a valued team member when it evolved!  It reminds us, essentially, that this is our story too.  If the whole show were just Red’s rather dull, functional account, though, there wouldn’t be much point in watching, so the story picks up again with a sequence that the writers thought worthy of special attention: Red’s experiences in Lavender Town and the Pokémon Tower.

Mr. Fuji's world-class Pokémon habitats: square pens floored with blue and yellow checkerboard linoleum.

While Red is at the Lavender Pokémon Centre getting his team healed, he hears a rumour of a ghost causing trouble at the Pokémon Tower, Lavender Town’s monumental Pokémon cemetery.  The woman who tells him about the rumour delivers one of the classic lines of the original game – “I guess that white hand that’s resting on your shoulder isn’t real then either!” – before vanishing without a trace while his back is turned.  Red mentions to the Pokémon Centre nurse that he’s going to check out the tower, and she recommends visiting the Pokémon House first, which he obediently does.  The Pokémon House’s owner, Mr. Fuji, is absent, but his assistant Reyna offers to show Red around and explains what they do there: care for orphaned and abandoned Pokémon.  Red remarks that the Pokémon living there look very happy, playing with their caretakers – all except for one he has never seen before, a Cubone.  Reyna explains through a flashback scene that this Cubone was driven from its home by Team Rocket grunts, who killed its mother, a Marowak.  Now it doesn’t trust humans other than Mr. Fuji.  Red, who has met Team Rocket before but not encountered the full extent of their malice, is deeply troubled.  Later, as he thanks Reyna for the tour, he expresses a desire to meet Mr. Fuji, who seems like a very interesting man.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fuji has been missing for some time, and the other volunteers have only just found out where he has gone: Pokémon Tower, which happens to have been taken over by both Team Rocket and a vengeful ghost.  Although they are worried about Mr. Fuji and concerned for the future of their town (after all, the Pokémon Tower, although morbid, is their biggest tourist attraction), the civilians are too frightened of a Team Rocket reprisal to do anything about it, to Reyna’s outrage.  When Red volunteers to break Team Rocket’s grip on the tower, they are shocked, but change their tune once he reveals the three badges that mark him as more than a casual trainer.  Meanwhile Blue, who is eavesdropping on the conversation, concocts a plan to get rid of Team Rocket himself and steal Red’s glory, because otherwise he wouldn’t have any opportunity to be a douchebag in this episode.

Mother and child.

Blue thinks that what’s really happening is obvious: the ghost is only a Team Rocket deception, one which he intends to unmask.  Unfortunately, it’s nothing of the kind – the Team Rocket thugs have no idea what’s going on, though their leader is confident that the Silph Scope in their possession will allow them to identify and defeat any spirits that attack them. Blue is not so lucky.  When he enters the Pokémon Tower that night, a few steps ahead of Red, and actually encounters the ghost on the sixth floor, his intellect and bravado desert him and he runs screaming… right into Red.  Blue is all for fleeing, but Red decides to stand and fight with Charmeleon.  The ghost doesn’t actually attack them, but avoids all of Charmeleon’s attacks effortlessly, continually repeating the words “get out… leave this place!”  While they battle, Blue tries to sneak upstairs and encounters the Team Rocket leader.  “A human opponent?  That, I can handle!” he declares, trouncing the thug with his Wartortle and confiscating the Silph Scope, which he throws to Red.  When Red puts on the scope (a pair of high-tech goggles), he realises that the ghost is the slain mother Marowak – and that she’s scaring people away from the tower to keep them from getting too close to Team Rocket.  At this point, the Cubone from the Pokémon House arrives, with Reyna in tow, and has a touching reunion with its mother.  Marowak’s spirit gets a chance to say goodbye, before leaving for wherever Pokémon go when they die, finally at peace.  Blue leaves at this point, deciding to leave the rest to Red, whose Jolteon teams up with Cubone to defeat and drive off the Team Rocket grunts.  Red and Reyna find and release the grateful Mr. Fuji, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Even Cubone opens up and becomes close to Reyna.  Back at the Pokémon House, Mr. Fuji offers Red two gifts to thank him, and to help him complete his Pokédex quest.  The first is a Poké Flute, which of course Red will need to wake up Snorlax and reach Fuchsia City.  The second is a pair of round gems, a small rainbow-coloured one and a large blue one.  Players of X and Y will recognise them as a Mega Stone and a Key Stone, but when Red asks what they are Mr. Fuji offers only a cryptic “you’ll find out soon enough.”  The episode ends with Red passing by Blue on the way out of Lavender Town.  Blue comments that Red owes him for helping to get the Silph Scope, but Red just reminds him of his own tremendous cowardice against the ghost and leaves him fuming.

AAAAHH! A GHOST! Red, hold me!

There are two main things we need to talk about here, the first of which is abandonment – that is, releasing a Pokémon that doesn’t want to be released (there are, I firmly believe, situations in which Pokémon will want to and should be released, preferably with the trainer’s agreement and goodwill, but that’s not a subject for today).  This is something I’ve touched on in places, especially here, but never really tackled head on.  In Origins, as in the main anime storyline, the characters treat abandoning a Pokémon as an absolutely horrible thing for a trainer to do.  Reyna, referring to something Mr. Fuji once told her, equates it to “[thinking] of Pokémon as nothing more than tools or even some kind of accessories.”  What’s more, it is broadly accepted that Pokémon who have suffered this are in grave need of help, hence Mr. Fuji’s Pokémon house and its many volunteers.  In the real world, it’s not uncommon for wild animals kept in captivity to lose the ability to survive in their own natural habitats unless they’re continually challenged and stimulated (which is why many zoos today make animals, especially predators, ‘work’ for their food – it’s healthier for them, both physically and psychologically, to face similar obstacles to those they would in the wild), and it’s possible that some of these Pokémon are in a similar position.  I’m not sure that’s the case for all of them, though.  Trainers who regularly battle their Pokémon are hardly pampering them; if anything their powers are being honed to a greater extent than they would be naturally – true, some of Mr. Fuji’s abandoned Pokémon could have been pets, but I think it’s unlikely that Origins would show such interest in the Pokémon House unless most of them had belonged to trainers (since, let’s face it, trainers’ Pokémon are what the franchise is about).  The phenomenon is also most pronounced in animals raised in captivity – those who grew up in the wild have less trouble reverting to instinct.  Similarly, many Pokémon trained by humans and subsequently released are likely to find themselves in strange, foreign habitats that they can’t easily adapt to, but all the species we see in the Pokémon House are common in the areas around Lavender Town, and throughout Kanto generally.  Again, it’s certainly something very important to consider when dealing with abandoned Pokémon, but I’m not sure it’s Mr. Fuji’s primary concern here.  I think Reyna’s comment is important to understanding these attitudes: abandoning a Pokémon is tantamount to treating it as an accessory, as something to be taken up or put down at one’s own convenience.  It’s… well, I suppose the word ‘dehumanising’ isn’t really applicable in this case, but that’s the sense of what I’m trying to say.  The fact that being abandoned can be inconvenient or even dangerous isn’t the half of it; abandoning a Pokémon is tantamount to telling it, to its face, “You are a possession, and not a particularly valuable one at that.”  If you subscribe to my admittedly convoluted views on Pokémon training as an implied contract, then being abandoned is tantamount to hearing that from someone you have singled out and judged to be particularly admirable.  The psychological impact of that, I think, is far greater than the more worldly consequences.

Marowak defends Cubone from Team Rocket.

Not all of the Pokémon in Mr. Fuji’s care have been abandoned, of course: he also cares for orphaned Pokémon, in this case Cubone.  I have half come to suspect much of Cubone’s flavour text, in the Pokédex and elsewhere, was written with this specific Cubone in mind, or at least this incident in Lavender Town, which is certainly there in the original games, though not told as elaborately or emotively.  Most of it refers not only to Cubone wearing its mother’s skull (where ‘mother’ could reasonably be glossed as referring to any female-line ancestor), but to mourning its mother’s death, something which is difficult to make sense of, if we understand it to apply to the whole species (some discussion of that here).  It’s also worth noting that, although Marowak appear in Victory Road, the Pokémon Tower is the only place on Red and Blue where wild Cubone appear, and there aren’t very many of them, either – it doesn’t particularly strain credulity to suggest that every wild Cubone the player meets in a typical playthrough of Red or Blue version might be a child of the mother Marowak killed by Team Rocket, which would make those otherwise difficult Pokédex entries entirely accurate (it’s worth noting that, on the later Yellow version, Cubone do also appear in the Safari Zone, but considering the nature of the Safari Zone they could have been brought there from elsewhere – perhaps even from Lavender Town in response to these events).  This may explain why Cubone and Marowak are such difficult species for us to understand – everything we know about them is heavily coloured by this single event.  If Marowak’s portrayal in this episode is anything to go by, though, they seem to possess a profound sense of duty.  The suggestion that Marowak’s spirit was haunting the tower to protect people from Team Rocket (“you shouldn’t get close to them!” she cries when Red unmasks her), a nuance that was absent from the original telling of this story in the games, is both fascinating and touching.

And that may well have been the least interesting of the four episodes of Origins.  The next one is probably my favourite.

Pokémon Origins: Episode 1

Professor Oak introduces us to the mysterious creatures of his world.

For those not familiar with it, Pokémon Origins is what might be called a ‘reboot’ of the Pokémon anime.  Released late last year, it is a four-episode miniseries which follows the adventures of Red – the protagonist of the original Pokémon games – and is closely based on the events of Red Version, Blue Version, and their third-generation remakes, Fire Red and Leaf Green (the visuals mainly taking their cues from the latter pair of games).  This stuff is pure nostalgia fuel, for people who were introduced to Pokémon by Fire Red and Leaf Green, for those of us who are old enough to have clear memories of when Red and Blue were first released, and, hell, probably for Game Freak and the animators too.  Each episode opens with the CONTINUE/NEW GAME/OPTIONS screen and ends with the SAVE screen from the original games, the first episode begins with Professor Oak’s “introduction to the world of Pokémon,” followed by the battle between Nidorino and Gengar familiar from the opening cinematic (on Red’s TV), and even the dialogue often quotes directly from the games.  This last point, if you ask me, may have been pushing it a bit far, since the English translations of Red and Blue didn’t exactly have the best-written dialogue in video game history – the quotes stand out for being, frankly, a little wooden.  Enough of the general style, though; let’s talk about the plot.

The first episode opens with our beloved protagonist Red, an earnest if impulsive and clumsy boy, being summoned from his home to receive a Pokédex, along with his first Pokémon.  Dear rival Blue, who is as much of a douchebag as ever, arrives at Professor Oak’s lab at the same time (of course, if they’d really wanted to capture the authentic feel of the first generation Pokémon games, they’d have called the rival character “Assface,” but I’m not going to judge), and they receive the classic spiel about Professor Oak’s dream of completing the Pokédex, before being offered a choice of partners.  Red picks Charmander (who inexplicably sounds exactly like a disgruntled housecat) because “[his] dad gave [him] the name Red hoping that when [he] grew up it would help [him] have the passion and energy of a red-hot fire.”  Well… kids have been named for dumber reasons than that, I guess (speaking of names, Red is offered the chance to give Charmander a nickname, but declines).  True to form, Blue mocks Red for his poor decision making skills and picks Squirtle to gain an advantage over Charmander before dashing out the door.  While Blue is consumed by the desire to become a powerful trainer, regarding the Pokédex quest as only a way to earn his first Pokémon, Red, interestingly, seems almost confused by the very concept of Pokémon training and is much more concerned with Professor Oak’s request, quickly catching Rattata, Spearow, Pidgey and Caterpie in the woods around Pallet Town.  In blatant defiance of all common sense, he even tries to catch a Youngster’s Nidoran in his lust for data.  Following the Youngster’s directions to find a Nidoran of his own, Red runs into Blue again on the outskirts of Viridian City and is taunted into a battle, which his Charmander loses badly.  Blue leaves triumphant, and Red wanders off to sulk.  As he sits brooding, Red is confronted by Brock, who was watching their battle from a distance and has been stalking him ever since (so he’s only slightly less creepy than regular anime Brock – naturally, he doesn’t introduce himself yet).  Brock explains that Blue is obviously the better trainer, and so Squirtle trusts him a lot more than Charmander trusts Red, who was visibly flustered throughout their battle and rapidly grew annoyed when Charmander’s attacks failed to connect or cause damage.  Brock advises him to visit Pokémon Gyms to learn battling skills, directs him to the Pokémon Centre in Viridian City, and departs.

 Brock hams it up as Red's Nidoran realises he's made a huge mistake. 'Well done, Onix!  DOUBLE THE DAMAGE!' 'I immediately regret kicking the giant boulder snake in the head!'

Red duly travels to Pewter City, and gets a rude reception from Brock’s trainers, who give him the classic “million light years away from facing Brock” line – until Brock himself turns up and invites Red in, to his subordinates’ surprise.  Brock asks Red whether he has any badges, and on hearing his response selects two Pokéballs from a drawer of six.  Since Brock must realise Red can’t possibly have any badges yet, this exchange is probably a deliberate confirmation of what many of us have long suspected – Gym Leaders have many more Pokémon than we ever see, and tailor their load-outs to reflect challengers’ experience.  In their battle, Red is hesitant after his loss against Blue, and needs a lecture on Pokémon type matchups mid-battle, but manages to beat Brock’s Geodude with a switch to his Nidoran and a rapid Double Kick.  Newly confident, he recovers from losing Nidoran to a questionable interpretation of Onix’s Bide (Onix decides that Nidoran’s Double Kick counts as “two attacks” – normally I would let this slide because the anime has always played fast and loose with exactly how attacks work, but Origins is elsewhere scrupulous in following the games, so it sticks out), and tries to wear it down with Spearow and Rattata.  When that doesn’t work, he slows it with Metapod’s String Shot, but Onix breaks free and squashes the poor thing.  Brock becomes more intense with every Pokémon Onix strikes down, and by the time Red’s Charmander comes back out, both trainers are breathing heavily and sweating.  Red then has one of the least subtle epiphanies ever: “I get it!  Pokémon are not tools for battle!  They’re our partners!  My Pokémon and I are battling together.  I can’t believe I didn’t even notice such a simple thing as that.” (What did I tell you?  Masterful dialogue, right there.)  Charmander and Onix strike at each other one last time – but because Onix had failed to shake off a single strand of Metapod’s silk, he’s too slow, and Charmander’s attack hits first.  Onix nearly crushes Brock’s annoying Gym trainers as he falls, but sadly Brock recalls him in time.  Red receives a Boulder Badge, a TM for Bide, and a quick pep talk before leaving for his next adventure.  We then get two brief scenes where Brock and Professor Oak are both asked by their respective minions what it is they see in Red: Brock simply “found him quite intriguing,” while Oak admires his determination and honesty.  Both comment on his willingness to learn, which Oak contrasts with Blue’s arrogance.

Although I’m not exactly impressed by Red explicitly stating the episode’s key message, which is lazy even for the Pokémon anime, his battle with Brock is nonetheless quite interesting.  The experience is portrayed as exhausting for both of them, and possibly even physically painful – Red comments in his inner monologue that “I feel as though I’m also taking damage.”  I would stop short of suggesting that he’s actually sharing Charmander’s pain somehow, which seems a bit metaphysical even for Pokémon, but  I think there is a clear implication there that battling (or doing it properly, anyway) requires a heightened sense of empathy for one’s partners.  Early on, Red doesn’t approach his battles with the urgency or adrenaline that his Pokémon experience: during his battle with Blue, he expects his attack commands to produce certain effects on his enemy and becomes frustrated when they fail, while against Brock, he initially wants more time to plan his moves and hesitates, so that Charmander picks up on the fact that they aren’t thinking at the same speed and becomes worried.  “You let your Pokémon take that,” Brock taunts when Geodude seizes the opening.  Red is detached, and isn’t fully conscious of what his Pokémon can and cannot do.  When the tempo of the battle increases with Red’s rapid switches against Onix, he begins to immerse himself in what’s happening, and becomes more sensitive to what his Pokémon are thinking and feeling.  This kind of development is something that we don’t really see in the main anime with Ash because, for all his many flaws at the start of the Kanto series, Ash ‘gets it.’  He may be clueless and incompetent, but empathy is not something Ash Ketchum needs explained to him, his disastrous first day with Pikachu notwithstanding – and in Ash’s defence Pikachu isn’t exactly a model partner himself when they first meet.  Charmander, by contrast, is instantly friendly, loyal and obedient; their problems are very much on Red’s end, despite what he seems to be thinking during the battle with Blue.

 Red and Charmander contemplate their failure and the lifetime of misery and insignificance that lie before them.

The other thing that’s interesting to me about this episode is Red’s dedication to his work for Professor Oak.  In spite of Blue’s cocky exhortation to “leave it to me!”, another quote from the games, later episodes will bear out the impression created here that Red actually cares about finishing the Pokédex while Blue is more concerned with becoming powerful (although he does note before their battle that the goals are complimentary – finishing the Pokédex will mean fighting and capturing strong Pokémon).  This says a lot about what the writers of Origins think the point of the game is, but it’s also neat when you think about it in terms of Red’s characterisation.  Red doesn’t always think things through, but the quality both Brock and Professor Oak admire in him is that he’s aware of his own lack of experience and wants to grow.  In the context of the Pokédex quest as a scientific inquiry, this is an extremely valuable trait – arguably the most important virtue in science is the willingness to question one’s preconceptions – and takes on particular significance when Oak contrasts it with the self-assuredness of Red’s opposite number, Blue, whom he worries is too good to admit that there could be anything else he needs to learn.  Their attitudes have a bearing on their views of the importance of the Pokédex quest.  Presumably Professor Oak is aware of the 149 species of Pokémon that exist in Kanto (excluding Mewtwo), could give rough descriptions of them if pressed, and might be able to drum up more detailed information from textbooks – given that, someone like Blue might be inclined to regard their mission as merely an exercise in compiling existing data into a more convenient form, while Red might be curious to see whether some of that data can be confirmed or disproved, and more ready to think that there could be more to discover.  The Pokédex quest even has some bearing on Red’s relationship with Charmander, who clearly shares his disappointment after his failed first attempt to catch a Pidgey results in a blank Pokédex entry.  It’s not obvious how far Charmander actually understands what they’re doing, but he seems to be reacting to the blank page itself, and not just following Red’s cue (they give dejected sighs in unison).  Professor Oak could have explained the purpose of their mission to all three starters beforehand; it’s hard to say without ever seeing what Squirtle thinks of all this.  The rapidity with which Charmander assimilates to Red’s goals and priorities, though, is interesting, and may say something about what he thinks of his new trainer.

Red’s relationship with Charmander, of course, is going to be a major theme of Origins, and this won’t be the last I have to say about it either – stay tuned!

Champions of the Pokémon League, Part 1: Blue

Happy New Year!  Now, let’s get cracking!  I still have no clue what I’m going to fill 2012 with, so please do leave suggestions if you have any (I’ve fiddled with the settings, by the way, so that people who don’t have a Google account or whatever should be able to comment), but for now I can probably waste a good two weeks talking about some of the most important NPCs of the Pokémon series: the League Champions, starting with our dear sweet old-time rival, Blue.
Gods, Blue was a douche.
This guy is probably the most obnoxious character not only in the series but in the whole damn franchise, in all its incarnations, beating out Charon from Platinum Version, Jessie’s Wobuffet from the TV show, Aria from Pokémon Ranger, the Gengar from Mystery Dungeon Red and Blue, and even bloody Imakuni? from the Gameboy adaptation of the trading card game.  As everyone probably remembers, Blue turns up to fight you a number of times over the course of the game, with the encounters generally following a fairly predictable pattern: Blue appears, insults you, makes wild assertions about your incompetence as a trainer and Pokédex-holder, challenges you to a battle, loses, acts as though he had just beaten you, insults you again, and then leaves.  He shows no sign of character development, remaining the same unlikable jerk throughout the game, thus providing a gradually accumulating motivation for you to stomp his smug face into the dirt when you battle for the last time at the Indigo Plateau.  It’s not even that he dislikes you in particular; he’s just a bad person.  During the Team Rocket takeover of Silph Co., when you step in to rescue the terrified employees from the marauding gangsters and keep the Master Ball out of Giovanni’s hands, Blue turns up in the Silph office building near the teleport panel that leads to the president’s room.  He’s not there to help; he’s there because he saw you in Saffron City and thought “hey, I’d better have a battle with ol’ snot-breath over there!”  Forget the chaos going on all around him; forget the innocent men and women trapped in their offices; forget the lunacy Team Rocket could accomplish with the Master Ball prototype; Blue isn’t going to do anything about that!  He’s far too busy slinging insults at his rival!  He also never makes any references to his Pokémon as anything other than those things he’s going to beat you with; he’s not an abusive master like Silver but he doesn’t really seem to care much about his Pokémon either, and eventually gets called out on it by his own grandfather, Professor Oak, after losing to you at the Indigo Plateau.
Three years later, in Gold and Silver, Blue returns to haunt us, having replaced Giovanni as the Gym Leader of Viridian City and guardian of the Earth Badge.  He has apparently never tried to reclaim his former position from the current Champion, Lance; I can only suppose that, in keeping with his usual policy of declaring that anyone who beats him is a loser, he has decided the title wasn’t worth having anyway.  When you meet him on Cinnabar Island, he seems to have developed quite the philosophical streak over the past three years and may even have undergone something resembling character development.  Then again, he might just still be sullen over losing his title; it’s hard to say.  He’s still an inconsiderate jerk, spending weeks at a time away from his gym and thus preventing trainers from challenging him, on the grounds that most Pokémon trainers in Kanto are so far beneath him anyway.  It takes a personal request from a trainer with all seven of the other Kanto badges just to drag him away from his new favourite pastime, staring glumly at the basalt-covered ruins of Cinnabar Island and murmuring platitudes about the power of nature to himself; he almost seems depressed when he isn’t fighting.  Incidentally, there are a couple of interesting fan theories, based on the events of the first games, that suggest Blue isn’t simply rotten to the core but rather that his general unpleasantness is due to bitterness over the events of his past.  Where are his parents, for instance?  The only family we ever see are his sister and grandfather.  If you believe the speculation, Blue’s parents are both dead – killed in the same war that Lt. Surge fought in (Kanto seems to have disproportionately few middle-aged men; the suggestion is that the whole age group was devastated by the war).  Also, what happened to his Raticate?  In a couple of early encounters, Blue has a Rattata, which later evolves into a Raticate.  The next time you see him, he’s in the Pokémon Tower, an enormous Pokémon cemetery… and doesn’t have his Raticate anymore.  He also asks you what reason you have to be there, since “your Pokémon don’t look dead”.  Hmm.  I think he’s making a joke, since he immediately continues “I can at least make them faint,” and challenges you to a battle (not exactly the actions of a mourner).  Although the implications for Blue’s character are interesting, both theories are, I think, reading too much into things; Pokémon doesn’t really ‘do’ subtlety… but that doesn’t make speculation any less entertaining.

This lovely piece is by Aragornbird (more of whose work can be found at and portrays the epic showdown between Blue and Red (who reappears in Gold and Silver as a 'bonus boss' with the team shown here)
This lovely piece is by Aragornbird (more of whose work can be found at and portrays the epic showdown between Blue and Red (who reappears in Gold and Silver as a ‘bonus boss’ with the team shown here).

Blue is actually the only “rival” character ever to become Champion, and as such his team composition varies according to the starter he chose (whichever one is strong against yours).  He always uses Pidgeot, Alakazam and Rhydon.  He has a fully evolved Venusaur, Blastoise or Charizard by this point, rounding out his team with two of Arcanine, Gyarados or Exeggutor, leaving out the one whose element matches his starter’s.  In the original games, Blue is not as dangerous an opponent as his inflated level suggests, for much the same reason as the Elite Four.  The NPC enemies are strikingly unimaginative with their movesets, each Pokémon rarely knowing any attacks besides the ones that would be used by a wild Pokémon of the same species and level… to the point that Blue’s Rhydon knows both Leer and Tail Whip (which have exactly the same effect), his Exeggutor doesn’t even have four attacks, his poor Arcanine and Pidgeot are stuck with Roar and Whirlwind (which don’t actually do anything in Red and Blue except against wild Pokémon), his Arcanine has to make do with Ember just to add insult to injury, and his Charizard, if he has one, actually uses Rage (which, due to the bizarre way it works in Red and Blue, basically confers a death sentence upon anything stupid enough to use it, ever).  He is, to be fair, a far more credible opponent in his incarnation as the Viridian Gym Leader (using Exeggutor, Gyarados, and Arcanine, with no starter Pokémon) since his Pokémon now, at least, use sensible attacks, and is further improved by the remakes of the first two generations of games; in Fire Red and Leaf Green, for instance, he eventually replaces his Pidgeot and Rhydon, hardly standout members of his team, with the far more dangerous Heracross and Tyranitar.  It’s Heart Gold and Soul Silver, though, that do something really interesting with Blue.  Gyms, of course, are normally themed around an element, with trainers in the gym predominantly using Pokémon of the same element as the leader… but Blue has no specialty element.  Gold and Silver wimped out when faced with this little disjunction and gave Blue a blandly-decorated gym with no minions whatsoever.  Heart Gold and Soul Silver take the far more inventive approach of giving Blue a gym themed around not an element but a technique: Trick Room, a field move that temporarily distorts space to allow slower Pokémon to outrun faster ones.  Blue’s gym trainers in Heart Gold and Soul Silver all employ Pokémon with Trick Room, alongside slow but powerful Pokémon that can exploit its effects.  Blue uses his Exeggutor, who is now his opener, to set up the effect, and now has a Machamp in place of his old Alakazam to better fit his new strategy.  It’s a creative response to the need for a gym to have a theme in the absence of a leader with a preference for any particular type, and personally I think it would be good to have more gyms like this in future games (but that’s a discussion for another day).
So, that’s this guy.  He’s loud and unpleasant, not actually evil but remarkably inconsiderate, short-sighted and power-hungry, and he’s honestly not even a very good trainer (well, okay, I have to forgive him for that one since all the NPCs in Red and Blue have pretty terrible movesets and AI).  I don’t know that he’s particularly interesting in terms of his personality, but I suppose he’s not a bad antagonist in the sense that he’s easy to dislike and provides a solid, uncomplicated example of what you, the player, are supposed to be trying not to be.  Personally, I’d keep him around, if only because he’s the guy we all love to hate.
I hereby-
Oh, wait; I keep forgetting I’m not doing that anymore.  But I have to finish with something… oh, I know.
Gods, Blue was a douche.