One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 actuallydo 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.
Oh, wait; I keep forgetting I’m not doing that anymore. But I have to finish with something… oh, I know.