kyurem asks:

did you notice that in gen 7 mega evolution was quietly retconned from an emotional bond-based transformation to being more of an energy-fueled mutation and generally a cruel thing to do to a pokemon? the SM and USUM pokedex entries for mega evos are pretty much all about how much pain the pokemon is in, how it’s been mutated into a grotesque form that distresses it, how it hates being in that form, etc. and none of them are positive or mention the pokemon’s bond with the trainer

Well… I’m looking through the Pokédex entries and I think it’s a bit more ambiguous than that.  There are several Pokémon for whom this seems like a fair description of the Pokédex text on their Mega Evolved forms, but they’re certainly not a majority, and there are also two Mega Evolved Pokémon who explicitly like their new forms: Mega Slowbro is said to be “pretty comfortable” ensconced inside Shellder, while Mega Pinsir supposedly never touches the ground because it’s overcome with happiness at being able to fly.  There are two more that explicitly cite the importance of the Pokémon’s bond with its trainer (Mega Charizard Y and Mega Gyarados).  I think that pretty well rules out any general statement about what Mega Evolution is like for all Pokémon; it affects each of them differently (which, well, makes sense).  But there are also those more disturbing entries referencing things like “sharp pain and suffering” or body parts becoming “misshapen.”  I think in most of these cases it’s relevant that the Pokémon involved are… well, let’s just say they’re not necessarily Pokémon you’d want at a child’s birthday party.  Mega Evolution is – in my opinion – an exaggeration of everything distinctive about a Pokémon.  Whatever a Pokémon already does, Mega Evolution turns it up to eleven.  I don’t think they were designed with the intention that they should be proper viable organisms in their own right; they’re ridiculous overpowered battle modes that are supposed to be assumed for minutes at a time, at the very most.  It sort of makes sense that they should often be quite stressful.  Furthermore, if you have a Pokémon already known for viciousness or destructiveness… well, let’s see what happens, starting from the ones that aren’t particularly objectionable.

Continue reading “kyurem asks:”

Random Access asks:

The only Pokémon with multiple mega evolutions are Charizard and Mewtwo. In Pokémon Origins, Red is given a key stone and a Charizard mega stone by Mr. Fuji, who was also said to have a hand in creating Mewtwo. Do you think there might be some sort of connection?

Ehh… honestly… no, not really.  If that was supposed to be a significant detail, I think Origins probably would have found a way to show one of Mewtwo’s mega evolutions.  I don’t really see anything there that rises above the level of coincidence.

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.

Continue reading “Pokémon Origins: Episode 4”

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…

Anime Time: Episodes 58 and 59

Riddle Me This – Volcanic Panic

Ash’s location: Cinnabar Island!  FINALLY!

 "...so what you're saying is, no-one owns the Gym now?" "Ash, no." "Aw; you guys both had Gyms, why can't I have one?" Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

So, having spent a good four months wandering aimlessly since earning his Soul Badge, Ash is on the ferry to Cinnabar Island at last.  Only… Gary Oak is on the ferry too, and he has some bad news for Ash: the island is nothing but a tourist trap; there’s no Pokémon Gym there at all!  Gary turns out to be right; the island is swarming with tourists – even the famous Cinnabar Pokémon Lab has become a tourist attraction.  When they wonder what makes Cinnabar Island so popular, a long-haired hippy asks them “what do tourists think is hot… and cool?”  Misty realises that he means the island’s volcanic hot springs.  Ash then asks him about the Cinnabar Gym Leader, Blaine, and receives another riddle, “[Blaine’s] Gym is right where you put your glasses,” which Misty again answers: in front of their eyes.  Cinnabar Gym is a burnt-out ruin, abandoned by Blaine when he got tired of battling hobbyists.  The hippy advises the kids just to enjoy their stay, gives them a business card for the “Big Riddle Inn,” and vanishes into the crowd.  The card displays another riddle – “if you look near the swing, you’ll see my hands – or at least my face.”  When Ash, Misty and Brock find that every hotel on the island is booked up for months, they stop to rest in a playground and think about the riddle, where Misty, looking past the swings, sees the hands and face of a clock – the clocktower of the Big Riddle, where the hippy gives them free rooms for a night just for managing to find the place.  That night, he gets an urgent call from the Pokémon Lab, which is being attacked by Team Rocket.  Ash and the others, naturally, save the day, so the innkeeper rewards them with yet another riddle: “Blaine built a Gym the tourists never see; it’s in the place where a fire-fighter could never win.”  The next day, as the kids bathe in the hot springs, Togepi accidentally finds and triggers a secret door that leads them into the magma chamber of the Cinnabar volcano, where they find the innkeeper.  “It’s not a hat,” he tells them, “but it keeps your head dry – if you wear it, it’s only because you already lost it.”  The hippy innkeeper was Blaine all along, wearing a wig, and his new Pokémon Gym is suspended over a bubbling lava pit.  He accepts Ash’s challenge with a powerful Ninetales, who roasts Squirtle with her Fire Spin, then switches to a Rhydon to counter Ash’s Charizard… who promptly gets bored, leaves the ring, and falls asleep.  Pikachu, infamously, manages to circumvent Rhydon’s immunity to electrical attacks by aiming for his metal horn, but is thoroughly outmatched when Blaine summons his signature Pokémon, Magmar, who can block electricity with a shield of superheated air.  Riddle Me This ends with Pikachu backed up against the edge of the arena, about to be struck by Magmar’s Fire Blast.

 "Oh, the... the wig is a disguise?  We, uh... we thought you were just bald..."

Pikachu survives, of course, clinging to the edge of the arena platform with his back scorched by the Fire Blast.  At Brock’s urging, Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu safe.  Blaine approves of Ash’s choice, noting that “if [he] had been foolish enough to continue the match, [he] definitely would have been disqualified as a Pokémon trainer,” but seems reluctant to offer Ash any hope of a future rematch.  Ash and his friends return to the Big Riddle Inn, where Ash spends the next day musing on how he can overpower Blaine’s Magmar.  Meanwhile Team Rocket, being Team Rocket, decide to infiltrate the volcano, armed with freeze-blasters to defeat Magmar.  The blasters work… for about five seconds.  When Magmar melts his way free, Meowth panics and orders Jessie and James to freeze blast the whole magma chamber.  The rapid temperature change cracks the rock walls, and the melting ice creates a blast of steam that launches Team Rocket out of the magma chamber, leaving Ash, Misty, Brock and Blaine to deal with the rapidly destabilising volcano.  Blaine orders Magmar to start piling up boulders to patch the cracks and stem the lava flows, but he can’t do enough alone.  Ash calls on Charizard, who is sufficiently impressed by Magmar to help out.  Brock gets Onix and Geodude to help too, while Squirtle and Staryu keep everyone cool, and together they manage to prevent an eruption.  Magmar and Charizard give each other a smile, but are clearly eager to battle to test each other’s strength, and Blaine decides to allow Ash a rematch (many Gym Leaders would probably just give Ash a badge outright, but Blaine has high standards).  Charizard and Magmar are evenly matched as far as firepower goes, and Magmar eventually drags Charizard down into the lava pit to try and win an advantage, but Charizard breaks free, carries Magmar high into the air, and hurls him back down with a Seismic Toss.  Ash is overjoyed that Charizard is on his side again, but Charizard quickly puts an end to that delusion by Flamethrowering Ash in the face for interrupting his victory dance.  Ash collects his Volcano Badge from Blaine (the third and final Kanto badge he will earn by winning a legitimate battle) and wonders where to go for his final challenge.  Misty and Brock suggest returning to Viridian City, and the team sets off once more.

 "Ice, in a volcano?  That's freezer burn!" ...I'm not making that one up; he actually says that.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Blaine burnt down his own Pokémon Gym, because he had better things to do with his time than battle tourists, and built a new one in the heart of a volcano?  The man is an incredible mad genius!  (Incidentally, if there is ever a live action Pokémon movie, I want Christopher Lloyd to play Blaine.)  Of course, because this is one of my Anime Time entries, and because my Anime Time entries are all about analysing a children’s cartoon to a far deeper extent than the creators ever imagined, let’s take this opportunity to expand my developing thesis on the role of Pokémon Gyms in society.

We’ve already seen with Sabrina and Koga that a Gym Leader’s responsibilities to the Pokémon League are extremely hazily defined and probably impossible to enforce.  Blaine’s case makes me wonder whether he’s answerable to anyone at all.  Gary Oak claims that there hasn’t been a Pokémon Gym on Cinnabar Island “since [his] grandfather’s days as a trainer,” which is probably an exaggeration since I doubt Blaine is much older than Professor Oak, but it’s clear that the Cinnabar Gym has been out of the public eye for years, if not decades.  Blaine’s Volcano Badge is still recognised as legitimate by the Pokémon League, though, and no-one calls Ash out for trying to qualify with a Badge from a Gym that closed before he was born.  Nor has anyone attempted to set up a new Cinnabar Gym in Blaine’s absence.  The innkeeper of the Big Riddle is also the first person to get a call when the Cinnabar Lab is attacked by Team Rocket.  Clearly enough people are in on Blaine’s secret that he can continue to act as Cinnabar’s official Gym Leader, no questions asked, but not so many that his activities can become more than a vague rumour.  This isn’t quite as strange as Koga’s situation; Blaine’s presence almost certainly does benefit Cinnabar Island during emergencies.  However, it seems like taking challenges – which, in theory, is an official Gym’s primary role – is a relatively minor part of Blaine’s life.  He appears extremely disdainful of weak challengers; we know that he closed the original Cinnabar Gym because he was tired of battling tourists, and unlike Brock, Lt. Surge, and even Sabrina, he is extremely reticent to offer Ash a rematch until Ash has helped him prevent a disaster.  Blaine battles whom he wants, when he wants, probably handing out fewer Badges than any other Kanto Gym Leader, and it’s possible that the only people he ever invites to battle him are trainers he’s vetted personally using his innkeeper persona.  At the beginning of Riddle Me This, it’s Blaine who chooses to speak to Ash – I suspect he’s checking him out, even then, evaluating his worth as a challenger.

 This shot has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever.  I just think it's hilarious.

The Pokémon League, evidently, doesn’t care.  The fact that Blaine even bothered to build a new Gym implies that he does take challenges from time to time; Ash can’t be the first person ever to present a Volcano Badge to the Indigo Plateau, so someone at the top must know about him, and whoever does know is apparently totally happy with one of Kanto’s official Pokémon Gyms being a hidden volcanic death-trap that is closed to the public except by special invitation.  Blaine hates tourists and refuses to battle any, but surely any visiting trainer is by definition a ‘tourist,’ and surely his job is to battle all comers?  Even most islanders don’t know about the Gym, so he isn’t helping to educate local trainers either, but surely that’s part of his job too?  If Blaine gets any sort of League funding, he doesn’t seem to be earning it, but that secret volcano base wouldn’t have paid for itself (I suppose he could have claimed insurance on the original Gym, but it seems to be common knowledge that Blaine himself burned the place down, so I sort of doubt it).  Either Blaine is independently a millionaire (unlikely) or he receives some sort of no-strings-attached grant from the Pokémon League just for being an official Gym Leader.  The Dark City episode shows that there is a fair amount of League oversight in the process of establishing an official Gym.  However, I suspect that once a Gym has that magic League authorisation, it’s not all that easy to revoke it (if nothing else, it would be difficult to deal with trainers who’d defeated the Gym in question).  I would further speculate that, when the Pokémon League was originally formed, the first Gym Leaders were all those trainers who were so powerful that their opinions and philosophies couldn’t be ignored – the League began, essentially, as a partnership between them.  Although the organisation has undoubtedly evolved since then, its core institutions have probably not changed all that radically – so, if my current train of thought is accurate, when Blaine became a Gym Leader he may have gained the right to access and allocate a small but significant portion of the Indigo League’s resources and income at his own discretion.  Depending on exactly how we imagine that Pokémon training, as a discipline, is viewed, this right may well be inalienable – to use a real-world analogy, you can fire a professor, but revoking his PhD isn’t so straightforward; perhaps ‘Gym Leader’ is simply something that Blaine is, whether the League likes it or not.

I realise I’m beginning to make stuff up now, but I simply can’t leave Blaine’s autonomy unexplained.  He does hardly anything a Gym Leader is expected to do, yet he is inexplicably still a Gym Leader.  Much as for Koga and Sabrina, I have to assume there is some way of accounting for this.  I cannot presume to know whether I’m right, but hopefully my theories are, at least, entertaining.

Anime Time: Episodes 43, 44 and 46

The March of the Exeggutor Squad – The Problem with Paras – Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon

Ash’s location: Belgium.

I have way too much to talk about in this entry so I’ll just get going.

...I...I don't know.  I just don't know.Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock find a carnival!  Hooray!  Ash and Brock promptly get changed into… I don’t even know.  Frills.  Misty and Pikachu, in a fit of embarrassment, ditch them and run into a down-on-his-luck magician named Melvin and his Pokémon partner, an Exeggcute.  Misty foolishly agrees to fill in as his beautiful assistant for a little while… and is mortified when Ash and Brock turn up to watch the show.  Melvin has zero stage presence, lacklustre juggling skills, and a fire spell that singes the audience and sets off the tent’s sprinkler system, causing everyone to leave in disgust.  Ash tells Melvin not to give up, and devises his own magic act by stuffing his Pokémon into a chest and pretending to conjure fire and water.  Misty watches in mock amazement until Charmander accidentally sets the others on fire and the whole thing dissolves into chaos.  Ash notes that Exeggcute doesn’t do much… so the Pokémon uses Hypnosis to turn Ash into Melvin’s obedient mind-slave.  They run off into the nearby Leaf Forest, without Brock and Misty, where Ash helps Melvin to capture a herd of Exeggutor, so he can brainwash people into… enjoying his magic show.  Dream big, Mel.  Dream big.  Team Rocket appear and capture the ineffectual magician, and his Exeggcute evolves to save him, but unfortunately his newfound powers drive the other Exeggutor insane and start a stampede.  By the time Misty and Brock find Ash and get him back to the carnival, the ringmaster has planted a bomb to destroy the rampaging Exeggutor before they cause too much harm.  Ash quickly realises that only Charmander’s fire can snap them out of their trance, but Charmander isn’t strong enough to deal with all of them at once.  Misty convinces Melvin that his fire spell WILL work if he really tries, and he does, and it does.  The stampede ends, the Exeggutor go home, un-exploded, and Charmander is rewarded for his perseverance by evolving into Charmeleon.

Ash, stop it.  Where are you even getting these clothes?I really have only a couple of minor points to bring up for this episode.  The first is that Hypnosis, which in the games just puts Pokémon to sleep, is used here (as in some other episodes) as a mind-control power.  The fact that a power of this nature exists is clearly awesome, if a little worrying.  The second is that Melvin’s Exeggcute apparently manages to evolve without the use of a Leaf Stone, as did, presumably, all the other Exeggutor in the herd.  No-one questions this at the time; Ash is too stoned to care, Melvin probably doesn’t know how Exeggcute are supposed to evolve anyway, and Brock and Misty aren’t there.  I can think of three explanations for this.  1) The writers screwed up… and, let’s be honest, this one has Occam’s Razor on its side here.  2) Stones aren’t the only way to make Pokémon that use them evolve; they’re just the easiest way, which, of course, massively affects the arguments in play in Electric Shock Showdown and the Battling Eevee Brothers.  3) The area is named the “Leaf Forest” because there are actually Leaf Stones buried there, or crushed and mixed through the soil, or something similar, and these unusual conditions allow Grass Pokémon to evolve there when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to (years later, it was established in an episode of the Johto series that Leaf Stones and Sun Stones can in fact remain potent if crushed and distributed on the wind, though obviously the writers of this episode didn’t know that yet).  You may decide for yourself which seems most likely.

Paras in a secluded grotto, surrounded by glowing spores, by Aeris Arturio (http://aerisarturio.deviantart.com/).A few days later, near a hick town called Mossgreen Village, Meowth succumbs to a terrible fever.  Jessie and James shrug; “he’s got eight lives left.”  They are approached by a woman called Cassandra, who admonishes them for not taking better care of him and gives them some powerful medicine to cure the fever.  Meowth, who has a bit of a human fetish, immediately falls in love with her.  Later, looking for a Pokémon Centre and finding none, Ash himself meets Cassandra and learns she has a problem.  Cassandra and her grandmother run a small shop selling herbal medicines, and she wants her Paras to evolve into a Parasect so she can use his spores in creating new miracle potions, but he’s too cowardly to fight, and can’t gain any experience points.  Ash tries to challenge Cassandra and throw the match, but even the tiniest spark from Pikachu and the gentlest spray of water from Squirtle send Paras reeling… and then Ash tries Charmeleon.  Charmeleon has no interest in toning things down and chases Paras off with a Flamethrower.  In the woods, Paras falls in with Meowth.  Meowth thinks that Cassandra will love him if he helps Paras, and drags Jessie and James into the scheme with promises of the vast wealth Cassandra’s miracle potion will bring.  He quietly sabotages Arbok and Weezing when they battle Paras, and then pretends to faint from a gentle poke.  Drunk on Exp., Paras goes to challenge Pikachu to a rematch, which Pikachu throws once again, this time successfully.  Charmeleon remains unruly, but Team Rocket show up to cheer for Paras, who manages to stab Charmeleon into submission and evolves into Parasect at last, before finishing Charmeleon off with Spore.  Unfortunately for Meowth, Cassandra refuses to take him on as the mascot of her company – she could never break up his team!  Besides, her grandmother has just dragged in a random wild Persian that will serve just as well.


The Problem with Paras
is a weird episode.  It’s one of a scant handful of episodes that explicitly mention “experience points,” and seems to go out of its way to imply that they work exactly the same way as they do in the games, which is so counterintuitive it becomes absurd.  How on earth is Paras ‘gaining experience’ or becoming stronger in any concrete sense by repeatedly having his ass saved by Meowth in his battles with Arbok and Weezing?  The whole thing seems like a reference to the way we normally train weak Pokémon in the games – if you switch a Pokémon out of a battle, it will still gain an equal share of experience points, however little time it spent actually fighting (if any), but I doubt anyone thinks of this as anything more than an abstraction designed to simplify gameplay.  I am convinced that this episode is actually a stealth parody of the whole concept of experience points.  The repeated direct references to “experience points” are just so blatant, so far out of step with the series, and draw so much attention to the absurdity of what they’re doing that I really don’t see how they can be meant seriously.  What’s actually going on here, then?  The episode becomes far less logic-defying when viewed through the lens of evolution being a largely psychological phenomenon, which has always been hinted to be the case.  Paras isn’t kept from evolution by needing more of some kind of abstract ‘points’ which are accrued when a Pokémon is formally declared the winner of a battle; he’s kept from evolution by a major psychological block, born of his own conviction that he is a poor fighter.  When Paras appears to defeat Arbok, Weezing, Meowth and Pikachu, these false victories – although they do nothing to increase his actual strength – allow him to imagine himself as a winner (this remains true even if Paras is actually aware, subconsciously, that his victories are being staged; it’s still possible for him to become immersed in the fantasy).  The lucky shot he gets in against Charmeleon finally pushes him over the threshold, causing him to realise that there’s no physical reason for him not to have evolved a long time ago.

"Hooray!  Charizard's evolved!  He's going to save me!" FWWOOOSH! "Oh God!  Charizard's evolved!  He's going to kill me!"

So, now that we’ve seen Charmander become Charmeleon, and his reaction to his newfound powers, let’s see how he gets the rest of the way.  It all starts when Ash runs into Gary, who has joined in a Pokémon Fossil Rush at Grandpa Canyon.  Because Ash and Gary compete over everything, Ash joins the dig as well.  Team Rocket are lurking nearby as well, and planning to dynamite the whole place so they can scoop up the fossils at their leisure.  Ash finds them and, one botched explosion later, he, Pikachu, Jessie, James and Meowth are trapped in an underground cavern, surrounded by supposedly extinct Pokémon.  Pikachu’s electrical powers prove ineffective against the fossil Pokémon, so Ash brings out Charmeleon… who settles down for a nap.  Luckily, the fossil Pokémon hear something that scares them off.  Unluckily, that something is an Aerodactyl, who clocks Charmeleon on the head, grabs Ash, and breaks out through the roof of the cave, with Pikachu and Charmeleon clinging to his tail.  Once they’re on the surface, Charmeleon challenges Aerodactyl, who just taunts him and flies away with Ash.  Charmeleon decides he will take no more of this; he wants his wings NOW.  He evolves into Charizard and pursues Aerodactyl through the sky, sniping him with Flamethrowers.  Ash is overjoyed until he realises that Charizard will happily write him off as collateral damage.  Misty realises the same thing, finds Jigglypuff, and convinces her to sing Aerodactyl and Charizard down.  Aerodactyl drops Ash and falls back into the caverns, while Charizard grabs Ash as he falls and sets him down on the ground before falling asleep himself.  When everyone wakes up, Officer Jenny #869 declares that IT WAS ALL A DREAM AND WE ARE SHUTTING DOWN THE SITE NOW BECAUSE OF REASONS.  Ash remembers, though… and suddenly has a mysterious red- and blue-spotted egg in his possession…

The terrifying awesomeness that is Aerodactyl, by Kezrek (http://kezrek.deviantart.com/).

First things first: this episode is basically the poster child for evolution being triggered by psychological factors.  There is no way Charmeleon has gotten from level 16 to level 36 in three episodes; he evolves not by gaining experience but through a supreme act of will, brought on by his overwhelming desire to reduce Aerodactyl to cinders.  What I really want to talk about, though, is Charmeleon’s character development.  Ash is astonished by Charmeleon’s sudden disobedience in the Problem with Paras, which Cassandra’s grandmother puts down to Ash’s own insufficient skill and Charmeleon’s lack of respect for him.  It’s true that, by game logic, Charmeleon is an ‘outsider’ and can’t be expected to obey Ash past a certain level, but considering Ash’s strong relationship with his Pokémon, and the fact that Charmander was always so nice, it’s still a striking turnaround.  There is a hint at the end of March of the Exeggutor Squad that Charmeleon is going to be quite a handful, but I think the problem really starts in the next episode.  Charmeleon has just evolved, and was already Ash’s strongest Pokémon aside from Pikachu.  He was probably expecting to face ever stronger opponents in his new form… but instead, for his very first battle after evolving, Ash sends him against a cowardly weakling Paras, and tells him to go easy on it.  I think he found this unbelievably insulting, and was still in a bad mood when Ash called on him in Grandpa Canyon.  When he was able to evolve into Charizard all on his own, he came to the conclusion that he simply didn’t need Ash anymore, and decided to act accordingly until Ash was prepared to treat him with more respect.  Notably, though, he does have the presence of mind to catch Ash when Aerodactyl drops him, and bring him safely to the ground, even as he’s drifting off to sleep himself.  He still regards Ash as his human, and clearly still feels he has some responsibility to him.  I suggested in a recent entry that Ash’s relationship with his Pokémon has an almost parent/child cast to it; this works with relatively few problems when his Pokémon are small and cuddly, but grows problematic when they take on more mature, powerful forms.  It takes sixty episodes before he and Charizard finally start working as a team again.