The Pokémaniacal New Year’s Speed-Nuzlocke-stravaganza

Okay peeps; it’s New Year’s Eve, I’m in Jim the Editor’s flat in sunny and tropical St. Andrews, Scotland, it’s fμ¢&ing miserable outside (because Scotland), and I am going to speed-Nuzlocke the $#!t out of Pokémon: Fire Red version, because WHAT ELSE ARE WE GOING TO DO?  This post will be updated throughout the night with progress reports, screenshots and commentary, and we will either conquer the Elite Four or die trying.

LET’S DO THIS

5:02:

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SHUT UP OAK WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS $#!T
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Anime Time: Episodes 68 and 71

Make Room for Gloom – To Master the Onixpected

Bulbasaur 'chasing the Dragonite' and biting off more than he can chew.  Or, uh... sniffing more than he can smell.  Yeah this metaphor is kinda getting away from me.
Bulbasaur ‘chasing the Dragonite’ and biting off more than he can chew. Or, uh… sniffing more than he can smell. Yeah this metaphor is kinda getting away from me.

As we join our heroes today, Ash is still at home in Pallet Town, staying with his mother Delia and her Mr. Mime, Mimey, and supposedly training for the Pokémon League tournament… not that he spends a lot of time doing that.  In fact, like a schoolkid with an impending exam, it’s largely while avoiding the process of actually training that he gets up to the stuff that happens over the course of these two episodes.  In the process, though, he inadvertently winds up learning some interesting things about what it means to be a trainer – and so can we.  Let’s get to it.

In Make Room for Gloom, Ash, as he tries to escape the horror of doing chores for his mother, inadvertently leads Misty and Brock to the very place she’d wanted them to pick up gardening supplies for her – a huge domed greenhouse called the Xanadu Nursery.  Ash spent a lot of time there with his mother when he was young, but thought it had closed years ago when the owner moved away.  The kids are let into the greenhouse by one of its workers, a man named Potter, and Ash decides to let Bulbasaur out to play among the plants.  Bulbasaur has great fun at first, getting high off a herb known as Pokénip (like catnip, geddit?), but soon runs into trouble when he sniffs another plant, stun stem, which can paralyse humans and Pokémon.  Luckily, the nursery’s new owner Florinda and her Gloom are on hand to help.  Having worked with stun stem for so long, Gloom has developed an immunity to the plant’s toxin, and can even produce an antidote nectar to cure other Pokémon who have been exposed.  While Bulbasaur promptly starts flirting with his saviour, Brock – in more or less the manner we have come to expect from him – takes the opportunity to get to know Florinda.  Florinda is cripplingly insecure, and believes that she’s a failure at both training Pokémon and running her family’s business.  Potter explains to Ash and Misty that when Florinda bought a Leaf Stone for her Gloom, it failed to evolve Gloom into Vileplume, and she believes this is because she’s a poor trainer.

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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.

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Anime Time: Episodes 27-28

Hypno’s Naptime – Pokémon Fashion Flash

 (Apologies for the delay on this entry – internet connection conked out last night and I wasn’t able to post it.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from writing, so my next entry will be up on schedule.)

There’s little to connect these two episodes other than the fact that Misty and Brock each happen to gain new Pokémon, so for the most part I’ll be dealing with them separately.  That’ll take time, so without further ado…

 Yikes, Hypno is creepy.  For this picture, thanks are due to =Snook-8 at http://snook-8.deviantart.com/.

In a place inexplicably known as “Hop Hop Hop Town,” Ash is suddenly accosted by an enormous pair of breasts calling him Arnold.  Once Ash explains that he is not Arnold, the woman attached to the breasts calms down and tells his group that her son has disappeared recently.  Ash wonders whether Arnold might have just wandered off to become a Pokémon trainer, which is apparently not an unreasonable thing for a young boy to do on a whim without telling anyone, but the mother has her doubts.   In fact, as they soon learn from Officer Jenny #309, Arnold is only the most recent of several young children to go missing over the last three days.  Ash, in his official capacity as a random wandering trainer, offers to help Jenny solve the case.  They check the Pokémon Centre for kids who know the missing children, but none of them have any information.  Nurse Joy #558 doesn’t know anything either, and has her hands full with her own crisis; all the Pokémon in her care are becoming lethargic, and she can’t understand why.  It all started – gasp! – three days ago.  Jenny suddenly remembers that she possesses a piece of technobabble known as a Sleep Wave detector, and that it’s been acting up recently.  She hasn’t been following up on it because, honestly, she’s just a terrible officer, but now she decides to follow the Sleep Waves to their source:  a mansion on top of a skyscraper.  Because, y’know, what better place to build a mansion.  Ash storms the mansion, and finds that it houses a society of well-to-do aristocrats, who term themselves the Pokémon Lovers’ Club, as well as a Drowzee and a Hypno, their favourite Pokémon.  Apparently, the members have been using Hypno’s powers to combat their crippling insomnia ever since their old Drowzee evolved… three days ago.  Brock suggests that their mysteries might be connected to Hypno modifying his Hypnosis for use on humans… so they do the sane thing and sit Misty down in front of him to see what happens!  Misty promptly becomes convinced she is a Seel and flees the building, leading the team to a park where they find the missing children, who all think they’re different kinds of Pokémon.  Brock has the idea of dragging Misty back up to the mansion to have Drowzee zap her, on the theory that Drowzee’s “Dream Waves” will cancel out Hypno’s “Sleep Waves” because… whatever.  Despite a characteristically incompetent intervention from Team Rocket, Drowzee cures Misty and puts the other kids to sleep.  When they wake up, they all remember who they are and rush back to their homes.  Nurse Joy’s Pokémon, likewise, all recover after a short nap… except for a single Psyduck, who remains totally dazed.  Psyduck doesn’t seem to have a trainer and no-one really wants him, but he manages to capture himself in a Pokéball Misty drops by accident, so she’s stuck with him.

 

This is one of many episodes that I think would make a good one-off side quest to stick in a game; it’s fairly simple, there’s a clear motive for most reasonable people to help, and most importantly you learn something about a particular species of Pokémon in the process.  Given the chance, I’d probably stuff the games with diversions a lot like this.  What we learn from Hypno’s Naptime specifically is that Psychic Pokémon are really friggin’ dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing with them.  Granted, I can’t make head or tail of why Hypno’s powers affected either the kids or the Pokémon in just the way they did, and I’m pretty sure the writers didn’t know either, but it’s clear that exposure to his abilities can cause chronic psychological damage at tremendous range even when he’s aiming at someone else.  Even though the aristocrats seemed healthy, it’s possible they too would have begun to suffer some other totally unpredictable mental disorder if they had kept using Hypno to treat their insomnia.  I’m inclined to suggest that this is at least partly due to the absence of a proper Pokémon trainer or Psychic-type specialist to help Hypno learn to control his newly enhanced powers, and that practice will keep his Hypnosis from causing negative effects on the townspeople.  However, if this were the real world, I’d want to keep all Hypno away from major population centres if at all possible until I had the results a couple of independent studies on the effects of long-term exposure.  In the Pokémon world, of course, no-one does studies like this because, hey, if a Pokémon drives your kid insane, why not just throw other Pokémon at him until you find one that fixes him?  Although Hypno is clearly a risk, no-one even considers trying to get rid of him.  Legislating to restrict the freedom of people to own and use Pokémon is probably unthinkable in this world; Pokémon are just too great a part of their industry and culture.

 All0412 (http://all0412.deviantart.com/) turns on the charm with his adorable Vulpix art.

The gang’s next misadventure is all about fashion, and the things people will do to stand out.  Brock has dragged his companions to Scissor Street, a district famous for both breeders and fashion, so he can meet one of his idols: a young woman named Susie who runs a Pokémon grooming and healthcare shop.  She and her Vulpix, according to Brock, are world-famous in breeder circles.  Brock is here to tell Susie that, in his words, “I wanna breed like you!” (I mean, breed with you!  I mean, wanna come back to my place and check out my rocks?)  Brock wants to become Susie’s apprentice.  She’s not interested, but invites them all out to lunch anyway, where she forlornly tells them that she’s been losing a lot of business to a big new salon.  Salon Rocket (pronounced “Ro-KAY”) makes its money selling gaudy Pokémon makeup, clothing and accessories, and is making Susie wonder whether she’s right to spend all her time focussing on a Pokémon’s ‘inner beauty’.  Ash affirms that yes, of course she’s right, but Misty muses that looking pretty on the outside can be nice too.  Even though she’s not actually saying he’s wrong, they have a massive argument and Misty eventually stalks off to Salon Rocket to check out the latest trends.  Meanwhile, Brock and Ash plan to draw customers back to Susie’s shop with seminars on Pokémon healthcare, and the line outside Salon Rocket dwindles as people wander over to Susie’s lecture on Pokémon massage technique.  She eventually calls on Ash to demonstrate what he’s learned by massaging Pikachu’s electrical cheek pouches.  Ash performs perfectly, Pikachu seems to enjoy the attention (I like to think this becomes part of their daily routine), and several members of the audience sheepishly remove the tasteless decorations from their Pokémon as they listen to Susie and Brock discuss Pokémon nutrition and grooming.  Meanwhile, Misty is having the time of her life at Salon Rocket.  Jessie and James (who else?), presented with only one customer to spend their time on, are enthusiastically covering her with face paint, glitter, bracelets, bangles and every other item of tween fashion they can lay their hands on.  Tragically, Meowth grows impatient, blows their cover and has Jessie and James take Misty hostage.  Meowth explains their dastardly plan to make obscene profits peddling trashy fashion items, then steal any rare Pokémon a trainer brought in, which… would have worked exactly once, I expect, so I hope they were waiting for a good one.  Psyduck escapes and dashes off for reinforcements.  Ekans and Koffing apparently get some kind of defensive edge against Pikachu and Geodude from all the frills and other nonsense they’re wearing, but also trip over themselves a lot.  Eventually Susie gets annoyed and commands Vulpix to burn them to ashes with her Fire Spin.  Later, Susie reveals that she’s going to close down her shop to go on a journey and learn more about breeding… and has decided to give Brock Vulpix, since he’s the only other person who’s ever managed to gain Vulpix’s trust or appease her discerning palette.

 Misty: paragon of style.  Screenshot from www.filb.de/anime.

This seems like a good time to talk about how the series portrays Brock and Misty, because their reactions are actually important to the plot in this episode.  Pokémon Fashion Flash really does its best to show off Misty’s superficial side, which raises its head from time to time throughout the series: she gets along with Jessie and James astonishingly well up until Meowth has them break cover.  Her new look is played for laughs when Ash and Brock arrive, but Misty sincerely thinks it’s great, and so do Jessie and James.  In general, Misty likes Pokémon that are “cute” and distastefully rejects ones that aren’t, like poor Caterpie – with the corollary that she thinks all Water Pokémon are cute – and regularly has lines suggesting that she doesn’t really ‘get’ a lot of the things that are important to Ash.  She’s the least idealistic of the group, tends to adopt a ‘whatever works’ approach to the rules, and doesn’t regard her Pokémon as close friends or understand how much Ash cares for his.  Although generally practical, she’s as stubborn as Ash and can be irrational where Water Pokémon are concerned (see Tentacool and Tentacruel, where she’s worried about protecting the Tentacool who are destroying the city).  None of this makes her a bad person, though – just flawed, like anyone.  Her heart is very much in the right place, and if nothing else she’s loyal, which this series values highly.  Brock, likewise, has his issues.  If a pretty girl – Susie, for instance – needs help, he will happily drag the whole group out of their way to take care of things, which gets him into a lot of trouble in the Ghost of Maiden’s Peak.  His desperation to get a date notwithstanding, Brock is generally patient and level-headed.  Although he has powerful Pokémon, he rarely fights except in episodes that are particularly important for him personally; he’s not a serious trainer and just wants to become a good breeder.  He prepares meals for Ash and Misty’s Pokémon as well as his own, and presumably keeps an eye on their general conditioning as well – based on this episode, advising people on how to take better care of their Pokémon seems to be a breeder’s primary role in society.  Brock’s strong sense of responsibility probably plays into this; he’s passionate about teaching people how to raise Pokémon well and bothered by the idea that a renowned breeder like Susie could be forced out of business by people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.  Although a lot of what Brock and Susie say about raising Pokémon in this episode, like the importance of healthcare and nutrition, seems like common sense, it pays to remember that most people who own Pokémon aren’t actually dedicated trainers and would probably never put much thought into it of their own accord, which makes Pokémon breeders tremendously important players in the relationship between humans and Pokémon.

You will have noticed by now that I’ve skipped over episode 26 – Ash’s battle with Erika in Celadon City.  I want to do that episode together with episode 32, the Fuchsia Gym episode, so those will both be coming up soon.  Before that, though, we have two environmentalist episodes to get through: Sparks Fly for Magnemite and Dig Those Diglett.  See you next time!

Anime Time: Episodes 5-7

Showdown at Pewter City – Clefairy and the Moon Stone – The Waterflowers of Cerulean City

In which Ash… earns… his first two Gym Badges.  Arguably.  Also stuff happens with some Clefairy.

 Some nice crisp art of Brock and his Rock Pokémon, by Fluna (http://fluna.deviantart.com/)

When Ash and Misty arrive in Pewter City, they are greeted by an aged hobo selling rocks.  Don’t scoff; rocks are the whole basis of Pewter City’s economy.  The hobo leads them to the Pokémon Centre where Misty points out a poster advertising the Indigo League tournament, which explains that contestants need to earn eight official Gym Badges to enter.  Ash… apparently didn’t know this.  Why the hell was he going to Pewter City?  If he didn’t know about collecting badges, what could he possibly have wanted to do there?  Buy rocks?  Misty cautions Ash not to rush into a Gym battle and offers to lend him some of her Pokémon, but Ash ignores her, challenges the local leader, Brock, and quickly learns that Brock’s signature Pokémon, Onix, is fifty times Pikachu’s size and invulnerable to electricity.  Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu from being turned into red paste, and leaves the Gym in despair.  On the street he meets the hobo, Flint, who explains that Brock is a very powerful trainer and could go much further than being Gym Leader of a hick town, but is kept in Pewter City by his countless younger siblings – Brock’s father ditched the family to become a Pokémon trainer, this sort of thing being socially acceptable in Kanto, and his mother died soon after (or… so the English translation claimed… long story).  Despite his sympathy for Brock, Flint provides Ash with a “strategy” to defeat him: overcharge Pikachu by hooking him up to a derelict hydroelectric paddle-wheel… which Ash will turn manually (realism is cast aside so Ash can work for his victory and prevent this whole episode from being a blatant exercise in cheating… I mean, it kind of is anyway, but they were trying).  Although Pikachu nearly explodes, Flint’s plan works: the next day, he fries Brock’s Geodude with relative ease.  Onix is still too strong, but unfortunately for Brock, Pikachu’s wild electrical blasts set off the Gym’s fire suppression systems, drenching Onix and rendering him vulnerable.  The characters’ reactions are fascinating.  Ash declares that he doesn’t want to win on a fluke and leaves the Gym, which makes sense; he’s still far too proud to accept this kind of victory.  Misty, who’s watching, seems to think Ash should have taken his lucky break and finished Onix, because all’s fair in Pokémon and war, so she clearly has no moral compass.  And Brock… Brock follows him and just gives him the Boulder Badge, because he doesn’t really give a damn about this whole Gym Leadering thing anyway.  Flint turns up and reveals himself as Brock’s father; apparently he was an appalling trainer and returned to Pewter City not long after leaving, but decided to become a rock salesman instead of going home to care for his vermin offspring.  I guess Ash has reminded him how not to be a massive jerk, because he’s decided to become a proper father again (and also run the Gym, presumably… despite being a self-confessed failure as a trainer…) so Brock can go on a road trip.

 Clefairy and Clefable.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder whether you'll come after me for copyright infringement.

Ash, Misty and Brock leave Pewter City together and travel past Mt. Moon, where they meet a… ‘scientist’… named Seymour and have to deal with Team Rocket, who are trying to steal an ancient meteorite known as the Moon Stone from Mt. Moon (this meteorite, presumably, is the source of all the smaller Moon Stones we’re familiar with from the games).  Team Rocket is dealt with quite comprehensively by the community of Clefairy who inhabit Mt. Moon; their Metronome chorus results in a powerful explosion that actually blows the Moon Stone itself to smithereens, but no-one seems to mind because the shards cause many of the Clefairy to evolve into Clefable.  Then Seymour decides to go and live with the Clefairy because he’s nuts.  Honestly, I could probably spend an entire entry just talking about this episode.  It’s the first time we see a Pokémon using an evolutionary stone in the anime, which is interesting in itself, but the Clefairy and Clefable relate to the Moon Stone in a way that’s so weird and unique that it adds a whole extra dimension to the matter.  Sadly that doesn’t really fit with the ideas I want to talk about today, but I’ll probably come back to it when I discuss episode fourteen (which is definitely getting a whole entry to itself).

Despite Misty’s inexplicable protests, the group’s next destination is Cerulean City, where Ash wants to try for his second badge in as many weeks.  When they reach the city, Misty vanishes in a huff, and Brock wanders off to take care of some unspecified “stuff,” returning only at the end of the episode.  Ash makes his way to the Cerulean Gym-cum-aquarium, where – to his surprise – he witnesses the end of a water ballet performed by a trio known as the “Sensational Sisters.”  As he explores the Gym later, he meets the sisters, Lily, Violet and Daisy, and learns that the three of them are, in fact, the Gym Leaders.  As it turns out, however, they’re just as sick of their Gym Leader gig as Brock was, having just suffered three devastating losses to the other three trainers who left Pallet Town at the same time as Ash.  In fact, apart from a Goldeen and a low-level Seel, all of their Pokémon are resting at the Pokémon Centre.  Lily, Violet and Daisy would rather focus on the water ballets that have made their Gym famous than deal with challenges so, with a collective shrug, they decide to hand Ash his Cascade Badge just for the asking… until Misty bursts in.  Misty, it turns out, is the family’s fourth and youngest sister, and she is none too pleased about the way her sisters are handling their Gym (or failing to).  She answers Ash’s challenge herself, and soundly defeats his Butterfree with her Staryu.  They both switch Pokémon, and Pidgeotto nearly beats Misty’s Starmie, but Team Rocket interrupts the battle by attacking the Gym with some kind of giant vacuum cobbled together from cannibalised household appliances they stole earlier in the episode.  They intend to use this godawful device to suck up all the water in the Gym, and all the Water Pokémon with it, but Ash, of course, defeats Team Rocket and saves the sisters’ last few Pokémon.  Lily, Violet and Daisy decide to award Ash the Cascade Badge for services rendered to the Cerulean Gym, and point out to Misty that Pikachu could have flattened her Water Pokémon anyway if he’d wanted to (Pikachu refused to fight a friend – he doesn’t yet follow all of Ash’s orders without question; he can also be troublesome about going into battles he doesn’t think he can win).  They meet up with Brock, who never does explain what his “stuff” involved, and move on to their next misadventure.

 Misty and Starmie.  People seem to think Misty forgets about Starmie as the series goes on, because she doesn't use it much, but it's actually her go-to Pokémon for most situations... it's just Starmie suffers the most from Psyduck's tendency to come out when Misty wants a different Pokémon.

These episodes begin Ash’s extremely chequered career of earning Gym Badges under questionable circumstances.  Of his eight Kanto badges, only three were totally legitimate (you could certainly make arguments for some of the other five, but they’re definitely suspect). Gym Leaders appear to have a lot of latitude in running their Gyms and handing out their badges, and once you get your hands on one of the things, no-one ever really questions it.  Strange as it might seem, this is actually something I would like to put in the games; Black and White made a decent effort at showing the Gym Leaders as people rather than just bosses, but Claire from Gold and Silver remains the only one in history ever to demand something other than a battle as proof of a player’s worthiness.  A Gym Leader’s job is to certify that a challenger possesses a certain degree of skill as a trainer, and a battle is the most straightforward and obvious way to do that, but it’s plainly not the only way.  Providing a service to the Gym or to the city, in a manner that demonstrates one’s abilities to the satisfaction of the Gym Leader, seems like a perfectly sensible way to earn a badge.  Arguably, so is putting up a good fight when your main Pokémon is plainly unsuited to the task at hand.  Happening to show up just as the Gym Leader gets sick of battling… not so much.  How Lily, Violet and Daisy became the Gym Leaders of Cerulean City in the first place is beyond me, since they don’t appear to have much commitment to their position, which suggests to me that general oversight for the whole system is relatively slack.  I think two or three years pass before someone picks up on their uselessness and Misty has to come home and run the gym for them.  Honestly I suspect that the Pokémon League just quietly overlooks Cerulean City in exchange for a percentage of their ticket sales.

The other important thing about these episodes is that they introduce Brock and fill in Misty’s backstory.  Brock is the oldest (I don’t know if his age is ever mentioned but I think he’s supposed to be about sixteen) and most responsible member of the team… until he sees an attractive woman, at which point he turns into a drooling idiot.  He’s used to taking care of a huge family, and probably finds it a welcome break to have only two demented children on his hands.  Although Brock is quite powerful, he doesn’t actually like fighting and wants to become a Pokémon Breeder – a somewhat nebulous term in the anime, since any actual ‘breeding’ would probably spoil the show’s G-rating; basically Brock is a specialist in Pokémon nutrition and general healthcare.  Misty is a lot of fun.  She’s often described as a tomboy – she normally wears boyish clothes and she’s as adventurous, outgoing and stubborn as Ash – but she does regularly show interest in stereotypically ‘girly’ things, and loves anything that’s pink, cute, sparkly, or all three, so I think the tomboy aspect is something she developed as a gesture of rebellion against her sisters’ obsession with fashion and beauty.  She can be superficial at times and is prone to romanticising, but she’s also capable of being a very determined, practical person when she needs to be.  Misty and Brock will, of course, both get fuller treatment in episodes to come… so let’s get going!