Bye Bye Butterfree and Pokémon Migration

This is the first of what will, in principle, be a monthly “series” of investigations into topics chosen by the unfathomable whims of my shadowy advisors, the Dark Council.  The Council is made up of everyone donating at least $12/month to me on Patreon – at the moment that’s one person, the newly appointed Lord President of the Council, Verb, who therefore gets THE SUPREME POWER to dictate the direction of these studies.  However, if you value what I do, think I deserve something in return for my work, and would like me to maybe someday be able to do more of it, YOU TOO could be inducted into the Council’s hallowed ranks, nominate topics for future months, and vote on them (listen, bribing your way to power and prestige is totally on theme with the whole “cult” thing I’m going for here).

Here is the prompt I was given this month:

“I’ve often thought about the episode of Indigo League in which Ash’s Butterfree is released in order to join the migration, and it’s caused me to wonder the effects that similar migrations might have on Trainer culture, with their inherent desire to remain with their chosen partner Pokemon potentially conflicting with the Pokemon’s own desires.”

So let’s talk about Pokémon migration and what happens when Pokémon leave their trainers!

Continue reading “Bye Bye Butterfree and Pokémon Migration”

Z-nogyroP asks:

i feel like you’ve almost certainly answered this question before, but how do you think abilities work? some abilities seem more like physical features (tough claws, thick fat, compound eyes) whereas others are a lot more abstract (pixilate, mold breaker, cloud nine). wouldn’t a tinted lens butterfree’s eyes be just as compound as one with the compound eyes ability? what makes a gluttony snorlax have less fat than one with thick fat?

I’ve tried to answer this one before; let’s see… here.

It’s a bastard of a question, to be quite honest with you.

My natural inclination is to say that abilities have nothing in common and they all work in different ways because… why would they?  As you rightly note, “abilities” covers a very wide range of traits and skills.  There’s no reason to expect that the rules governing a Butterfree’s vision would be anything like the rules governing Snorlax’s rolls of fat.  Continue reading “Z-nogyroP asks:”

Anonymous asks:

Cruising Bogleech’s pokedex reviews, I learned about the swap of Butterfree’s and Venomoth’s designs (likely by mistake) in Gen I. While I doubt the change to be highly significant, I do wonder how this mistake influenced the franchise. After all, Butterfree is the most iconic Bug pokemon (outside possibly Scyther), one of the beloved first catch of many players, the model for many latter pokemon, and played a big part in the original anime. How much do you think this change affected things?

It’s sort of obligatory for me to point out first that we don’t know this is true; to my knowledge no-one at Game Freak has ever confirmed or denied it, and they probably never will.  There’s enough evidence for it that it seems plausible to me, but there are some things we probably can’t ever know for sure – heck, maybe there was a switch, and they did it on purpose, precisely because they preferred the idea of the starting Bug-type ending up as a cute butterfly.  But anyway.  Assuming it’s true, well… I’m not sure changing two Pokémon affects the fate of the franchise all that much.  Venomoth makes just as much sense as a precursor to Beautifly, Dustox, Vivillon, etc as Butterfree does, and Caterpie is going to be your beloved first catch no matter what it evolves into (maybe I’m just saying that because I like Venomoth anyway, but presumably I’m not the only one).  Butterfree’s never really been a flagship publicity Pokémon, either.  The exception is the anime, where Butterfree is important as Ash’s beloved first catch.  I think the biggest difference is that I don’t know if I can imagine the episode Bye Bye Butterfree, when Ash’s Butterfree falls in love and leaves him to go and start a family, being written the same way with a Venomoth, because the emotional moments between Butterfree and Ash might not resonate with a Pokémon so… un-cute.  But it’s not as though Venomoth is so thoroughly hideous or alien that it’s impossible to empathise with.

Anime Time: Episodes 19-21

Tentacool and Tentacruel – The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak – Bye Bye, Butterfree

Yeah, yeah, I know, I missed episode 18.  Beauty and the Beach was banned in most Western countries because James wears a set of fake boobs to enter a beauty contest (yeah… he does that sometimes) and it doesn’t air on the official website with the rest of the series because they’re trying to pretend it never happened.  I’m sure I could probably find it on the internet if I could be bothered looking but I really, really can’t.  I’ve read episode synopses and it doesn’t look like Beauty and the Beach is all that interesting an episode anyway, so I’m not convinced it’s a great loss.  Maybe someday I’ll do a few of the banned episodes all together.  Anyway.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episodes 19-21”

Anime Time: Episodes 15-17

Battle Aboard the St. Anne – Pokémon Shipwreck – Island of the Giant Pokémon

Fresh off Ash’s victory at the Vermillion Gym, Ash and his friends are given free tickets by a pair of teenage girls to a lavish Pokémon trainers’ convention aboard the world-famous luxury cruise liner, the St. Anne!  THERE IS NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE A SCAM!

 This is going to be a boring day for art since I couldn't find any relevant fanart for these episodes; here's Sugimori's Raticate art instead.

We quickly learn that the ‘teenage girls’ were Team Rocket in disguise (yes, James too), and that they were giving out free tickets to all the trainers they could find on the orders of their shadowy Boss, Giovanni, who appears for the first time in this episode.  The Boss (who seems to be the closest thing Meowth has to a formal ‘owner,’ but has come to prefer his Persian – this will be a constant source of insecurity to Meowth during the series) is displeased with the time and energy they have expended failing to catch Pikachu, but still seems to have enough confidence to put them in charge of the ambush planned on the St. Anne.  His confidence, of course, is misplaced – not only do the Team Rocket goons fail miserably to steal even a single Pokémon, James also loses a ludicrous amount of money buying into a Magikarp-breeding pyramid scheme, and the entire ship capsizes and sinks with Jessie, James and Meowth still on board (not to mention our plucky heroes).  This, of course, is all totally incidental as far as I’m concerned.  I want to talk about what happens in the meantime: Ash encounters a dapper gentleman with a top hat and moustache, whose name is never given, challenging other trainers to exhibition battles with a powerful Raticate.  Ash, being Ash, takes up the challenge and finds that Raticate and his Butterfree are very evenly matched; however, just as Butterfree begins to gain the upper hand with Stun Spore, the Gentleman – to Ash’s annoyance – recalls his Raticate and suggests calling it a draw.  The Gentleman later proposes a trade, his Raticate for Ash’s Butterfree, which Ash hesitantly accepts but later regrets.  Luckily, the Gentleman reluctantly agrees to trade back at the end of the episode, just as the ship is sinking.

When you think about it, Pokémon trading is a pretty bizarre practice from the perspective of a trainer like Ash, who regards each and every one of his Pokémon as a close personal friend (which I think counts as further evidence that Ash’s way of doing things is actually quite unusual, since Pokémon trading manifestly isn’t).  The Gentleman’s ideas about trading are interesting ones – he believes that trading Pokémon is a way of deepening and widening new friendships and spreading relationships between trainers all around the world; basically, a form of social networking.  You could argue that he’s running what amounts to a scam here, proposing a trade for the first Pokémon he could find that was stronger than his Raticate and then dazzling the Pokémon’s kid trainer with some pretty rhetoric, but since he does agree to trade back when Ash asks him, I think it’s more likely he actually believes it.  Misty’s perspective on the situation is almost as interesting because it shows, I think, that she relates to Pokémon in a very different way to Ash: although she is sympathetic when he begins to regret trading away Butterfree, her response, “look on the bright side; you got a Raticate!” seems to indicate that she doesn’t really understand the depth of Ash’s attachment to his Pokémon yet.  I’m kind of disappointed to miss Brock’s opinion; Ash does ask him before the trade, but he’s too busy getting goo-goo-eyed over the Gentleman’s lady friend to offer a coherent response.  For a person like Ash, trading away a Pokémon is basically signing away the health and wellbeing of a close friend to someone else.  If Ash’s attitude is at all typical, you wouldn’t expect Pokémon trading ever to happen except between good friends but, again, this is manifestly not the case.  I think this indicates that for a ‘typical’ trainer, a Pokémon is less like a friend and more like… not a possession, but… perhaps a colleague, co-worker, or subordinate – basically, someone with whom you have a formal, rather than an emotional, relationship.  I should qualify that, like most complex issues, this is probably more of a spectrum than a dichotomy; Ash is at one end, and trainers like the Gentleman at the other, but a lot of people probably fall somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, the ship flips upside down and sinks, and due to the captain’s gross incompetence no-one notices that a few of the passengers were still on board.  There’s still plenty of air in the ship, but it’s steadily filling up with water from the bottom, and it’s balanced precariously on a huge spire of rock over a deep ocean trench…

 Fun fact: in the beta version of Red and Blue, Gyarados' English name was "Skulkraken."  It works on so many levels, each more terrifying than the last!  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; render unto Nintendo what is Nintendo's, etc.

Pokémon Shipwreck is kind of a ‘meh’ episode, if you ask me.  It’s basically supposed to be about Ash’s party and Team Rocket having to work together to escape their mutual dilemma, but it’s actually about Ash’s party working together to escape their dilemma while Team Rocket cling to their coattails and scream incoherently.  Suffice to say, they eventually escape the ship by blowtorching through the hull with Charmander’s Flamethrower and swimming to the surface with the help of their Water Pokémon (Team Rocket use the Magikarp James bought on the St. Anne and nearly die, but to Pikachu’s immense displeasure they recover).  Once they’re all on a raft cobbled together from the debris of the St. Anne, James throws a fit, kicks his Magikarp, and renounces his ownership of the useless thing… which, of course, prompts it to evolve into a Gyarados, summon its brothers, and go all you-ain’t-in-Kansas-no-more on their asses, which leads to the next episode, Island of the Giant Pokémon

I love Island of the Giant Pokémon.  If I had my way the whole damn series would be done like Island of the Giant Pokémon.  The set-up is that Gyarados’ waterspout separated Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander from the rest of the group on an island which is, for no immediately obvious reason, inhabited by Pokémon of unusual size (hereafter known as POUSes).  Ash, Misty and Brock do stuff in this episode too but it is irrelevant and distracting, because this is the episode in which everything the Pokémon characters say is subtitled, which means we get a closer look at their personalities.  Squirtle is laid-back and irreverent, and has something of a black sense of humour (among other things, he upsets Pikachu and Charmander by joking that Ash might have been eaten by wild Pokémon).  Bulbasaur is stoic, pessimistic and cynical; he’s the one who suggests that Ash might have abandoned them, which I think speaks to the way he views humans in general.  Charmander… well, Charmander is kind of boring, actually.  He seems nice.  He’s quite trusting, maybe a little naïve.  Mostly he just goes along with Pikachu (who, as we know from the rest of the series, is defined mainly by fierce loyalty to his friends).  Odd that there’s no foreshadowing of the problems Ash is going to have with him after he evolves into Charmeleon in episode forty-something; maybe they hadn’t planned that far ahead yet.  And then… there’s Ekans and Koffing.  They’ve also been separated with their trainers, along with Meowth, who orders them to attack Pikachu and his friends when they run into each other.  Ekans and Koffing seem to be portrayed as not particularly bright, even by Pokémon standards (especially Koffing, who mostly parrots Ekans); their dialogue is subtitled in broken English, and their worldview is basically “we do as our masters tell us”… and Meowth, they are most emphatic, is not their master.  They claim that if Pokémon do bad things, it’s out of loyalty to bad masters (contrast Meowth, who points out that his master is never around and he’s as rotten as Jessie and James on his own); they apparently understand morality but think it either isn’t important or doesn’t apply to them.  Alone, Meowth is easily overpowered and tied up, while Ekans and Koffing join the group.  As they eat dinner, and Squirtle taunts Meowth with the promise of food if he’ll just apologise (which, of course, he refuses to do), they hear a loud rumbling sound and are nearly crushed by a rampaging POUS.  Pikachu goes back to untie Meowth as the others leg it (like Ash, he’s a kind soul), and they eventually spend much of the night running away.  Then… then there is this one wonderfully mad scene in which, later that night, the whole group stops at a bar.

When I was a kid, I could accept this without any problem.  As an adult, I've played Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon.  Then again, even in Mystery Dungeon I'm pretty sure they never go to a bar and get wasted.  Screenshots from www.filb.de/anime.In the middle of the jungle.  Run by a Slowbro.  Bulbasaur and Squirtle get totally hammered and start drunkenly arguing over something (hard to say what, since this scene doesn’t have subtitles) while Meowth quietly passes out, and Pikachu and Charmander try to comfort Ekans and Koffing, who have been reduced to tears (and are presumably pretty deep in their cups themselves).  At a random bar in the middle of the jungle run by a Slowbro.

…I’m not even going to question it; I’m just going to accept it.

They all go to sleep together, curled up with Ekans coiled around everyone else.  This is a lovely scene; it illustrates very well how ready Ash’s Pokémon are to trust, even when Ekans, Koffing and Meowth have been their enemies for the whole season so far – or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that Ekans and Koffing work for their enemies.  Off-duty, they’re no more hostile than anyone else.  Anyway, the next day, they try to negotiate with the POUSes they encounter, fail miserably, wind up getting chased by them, and eventually run into Ash, Misty and Brock being chased by more POUSes, as well as Jessie and James in a mine cart dragging another one behind them (they… had an interesting couple of days, put it that way).  Everyone reunites, there is much rejoicing on both sides, and all the POUSes trip over each other, get tangled together, and are completely destroyed – they’re robots, it turns out, and the whole thing is a theme park called Pokémon Land (a theme park, incidentally, run by Giovanni, who gets a call shortly afterwards to tell him of its destruction).

Again, I wish every episode were like Island of the Giant Pokémon.  Most of Ash’s Pokémon are surprisingly expressive considering they can’t really speak, and Pikachu in particular builds up a reasonably developed character by sheer weight of screen-time alone, but the characterisation of and relationships between all the Pokémon characters we see in this episode are just wonderful stuff, if you ask me.  That they never did this again is probably one of my biggest regrets for the whole series.

Anime Time: Episodes 3-4

Ash Catches a Pokémon – Challenge of the Samurai

 Caterpie.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; all hail Nintendo, etc.

These two episodes record Ash and Misty’s journey through Viridian Forest, during which Ash captures his first two wild Pokémon: Caterpie and Pidgeotto.  Pidgeotto really isn’t very interesting; he’s mostly a utility Pokémon who turns up whenever Ash needs to take advantage of his flight, and I don’t think there are any episodes that focus on Ash’s relationship with him (until, amusingly enough, the episode where he finally evolves into a Pidgeot and promptly ditches Ash to go hang with his old flock).  He does serve as an illustration of the kind of rapport ‘normal’ trainers and Pokémon tend to have, which I guess is useful in its way because Ash’s relationships with most of his other Pokémon are anything but normal.  For me, though, Pidgeotto is probably Ash’s most forgettable Pokémon.  Caterpie is much more fun to talk about so I’ll probably spend most of this entry on him.

Ash effortlessly catches Caterpie right at the beginning of the imaginatively titled third episode, Ash Catches a Pokémon, and it quickly transpires that Misty cannot stand the poor thing, even though he’s immediately very affectionate towards her.  This deserves comment in itself because Pikachu seems to be very trusting of Misty as well (although the business with the Spearow in I Choose You was a good start, he’s going to remain somewhat aloof, though no longer disdainful, towards Ash for quite a while yet), which suggests to me that they both instinctively recognise her longer history and deeper experience as a Pokémon trainer; Caterpie is quickly rebuffed by Misty’s open disgust for Bug-types, though (as well as by the ludicrously oversized mallet she apparently keeps in the back pocket of her shorts).  Ash tells Misty to go away if she doesn’t like Caterpie, but she continues to follow them out of a stubborn desire to make sure Ash pays her for her ruined bike and they eventually share a campsite.  Ash and Misty go to sleep but Pikachu and Caterpie stay up talking, which is where the really interesting stuff starts.  If you’ve ever wondered how Pokémon can possibly communicate when they can only say their own names, this scene suggests that extended conversations tend to involve a significant gestural component – which means that we can, more or less, understand it: Caterpie seems to be describing his future evolutions to Pikachu.  The conversation ends with Caterpie gazing longingly up at the night sky.  We’re clearly meant to take from this that Caterpie knows and understands what he could one day be, and wants desperately to get there, but is also aware of the odds against it (Caterpie are common Pokémon and Butterfree are not; ergo, most of them don’t make it).  That’s… a pretty high-level thought process for a caterpillar, and I think it can be taken as a comment on the level of sentience we can ascribe to Pokémon in general in the anime.  It’s also the first perspective the series gives us on Pokémon evolution, which is something that it can be a little schizophrenic about.  Here evolution is an unambiguously positive change, which is understandable because, as a caterpillar, Caterpie’s whole life is about preparing to evolve and he’ll never accomplish much if he doesn’t, but many other episodes give some quite different perspectives that I’ll be looking at as I go.

This lovely bit of fanart is by Karolina 'Twarda' Twardosz (http://twarda8the8xanax.deviantart.com/ - a lot of wonderful pieces here, Pokémon and otherwise; do take a look) and expresses one of the more interesting bits of Pokémon fan speculation: that Metapod was originally supposed to evolve into Venomoth, and Venonat into Butterfree, but the sprites were accidentally switched in Red and Blue.  What do you think?

The next day brings two major events, the first being Ash’s battle with Pidgeotto, in which he flippantly disregards two of the most basic lessons of life as a Pokémon trainer: he tries a Pokéball without weakening Pidgeotto first (and I thought he’d learnt better after episode one), showing that he doesn’t actually understand how to catch Pokémon, and he tries to fight Pidgeotto with Caterpie (and reacts with abject confusion when Misty points out that “Pidgeotto is a bird; Caterpie is a worm; birds eat worms, Mister Pokémon Master!”) showing… not so much that he doesn’t understand the concept of a type advantage, more that he doesn’t even understand the concept of fighting.  Pikachu steps in to save his sorry butt and fries Pidgeotto into submission, and we quickly move on to the next big event of the day: Team Rocket’s appearance.  They’ve decided to follow Ash and steal Pikachu, since the Viridian City Incident has convinced them that, in Meowth’s words, “[Pikachu’s] powers exceed its evolutionary level” (a fascinating comment in itself, but one I don’t have time for now).  Ekans and Koffing attack Ash together, so Misty offers to step in to even the odds, but Ash refuses because the Pokémon League rules say that battles are one-on-one.  Never mind that he’s being mugged by notorious criminals; the rules say that he can only use one Pokémon and he will defend those rules with Pikachu’s life if need be.  Long story short, Caterpie manages to overcome Ekans, Koffing and Meowth with a particularly well-executed String Shot, of all things, and Team Rocket are forced to retreat.  This victory prompts Caterpie’s longed-for evolution into Metapod, and an observation from Ash’s Pokédex that no other Caterpie on record has ever evolved so rapidly.  Ignoring for the moment how the Pokédex could possibly know how mature Ash’s Caterpie was when he caught it, this is the first of many indications given in the anime that evolution isn’t just about reaching a certain level, as in the games; there’s a psychological component as well.  I think Caterpie’s remarkably fast evolution is implicitly a result of his unusual ambition; it took less to make him evolve because he was more ‘ready’ for it, mentally speaking, than most Caterpie.  Basically, he’s a little Pokémon with big dreams, and being with Ash is going to help fulfil them.

 Sammy the Samurai.  Oh, this kid... Screenshot swiped from Bulbapedia.

In the next episode, Challenge of the Samurai, Ash is accosted by a weird kid in samurai gear while trying to catch a wild Weedle.  And when I say “accosted” I mean he nearly gets cut in half by an honest-to-goodness steel katana.  This kid… oh, this kid… I don’t think he even has a name; if he does, he never tells Ash and Misty what it is, so I’m just going to call him Sammy.  Sammy lives in the darkest part of Viridian Forest with his Bug Pokémon and challenges other trainers as they pass through.  I don’t know why.  He just does.  He doesn’t seem to be interested in travelling or collecting badges, in fact he has a permanent cabin deep in the woods, so the only conceivable reason for him to be interested in getting stronger is so he can make himself more of an inconvenience to travellers.  The kid’s a friggin’ random encounter (“random” being the operative word).  Anyway, he calls Ash “dim-witted and clumsy” for letting the Weedle escape, Ash protests that it was Sammy’s fault for coming at him with a sword (this is supposed to be the beginning of a point the episode is making about Ash learning not to blame his failures on others, but I can’t help but feel Ash is in the right here), and they quickly engage in battle.  Pidgeotto doesn’t manage to make much of an impact on Sammy’s Pinsir because Ash has been overworking him and he’s done for the day, so Ash turns to Metapod.  Only after he makes this choice does it occur to him that Metapod can’t actually fight, but luckily for him evolution didn’t make his Caterpie any less exceptional, and Pinsir injures itself trying to crack Metapod’s tough shell, forcing Sammy to recall it.  This leads us into one of the most awesome Pokémon battles of all time, an epic struggle of titans to be remembered by our children’s children for aeons to come: Metapod vs. Metapod.  I really don’t know what Ash and Sammy are trying to prove in this battle.  It conveys rather effectively, though, that both of them are astonishingly stubborn.  Their Metapod keep staring at each other and using Harden for some time – possibly hours – until the battle is interrupted by a swarm of wild Beedrill, apparently the friends of the Weedle that escaped Ash earlier.  Metapod is snatched up by a Beedrill before Ash can recall him, and they all have to leg it back to Sammy’s cabin to escape being stabbed to death.

 Metapod and Butterfree.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Ash eventually goes to get Metapod, whom they saw on the way to Sammy’s cabin sitting at the base of a tree filled with Kakuna.  This is problematic because Kakuna will apparently evolve into Beedrill at the slightest provocation, but Ash is able to reach Metapod alive, despite Team Rocket’s antics causing the Beedrill to become aggressive again.  Metapod, unsurprisingly, seems very hurt that Ash allowed him to be taken in the first place, which Ash initially blames on Sammy but soon admits was his own fault, giving a heartfelt apology.  The resulting surge of loyalty prompts Metapod to jump into the path of a Beedrill trying to skewer Ash, violently splitting his shell open… which catalyses his final evolution into Butterfree.  Butterfree pacifies the whole swarm with Sleep Powder, Sammy is sufficiently impressed, and Ash, Pikachu and Misty get to move on to Pewter City.

In Challenge of the Samurai we see Pokémon evolving out of transitional states, ones which are never supposed to be long-term, so the conclusions we can draw from it aren’t necessarily all-inclusive, but there’s no harm in speculation.  Ash’s Pokédex claims that Metapod evolve into Butterfree one week after evolving from Caterpie, which sounds way too long, but since Ash tells Brock in the next episode that he’s been with Pikachu for two weeks already, it’s probably about right.  Regardless, it’s clear that Metapod didn’t evolve because he was ready; he evolved because he needed to, as do all the Kakuna we see evolving in this episode, which comes back to the idea of evolution having a psychological component in the anime: at some point, despite being physically able to evolve, Metapod and Kakuna still need some kind of stimulus to kick things off.  It’s interesting that Metapod doesn’t evolve when he’s first snatched away by the Beedrill, because he doesn’t actually ‘gain experience’ between there and the end of the episode, and judging by his reaction when Ash comes to save him I think it’s because he felt abandoned when Ash ran away without him and may have given up hope (one of his persistent character traits in the episodes that focus on him seems to be that he has self-esteem issues).  It’s the renewed feeling of being in a partnership with his trainer, and the associated swell of devotion, that eventually makes a Butterfree of him.