X Nuzlocke, episode 12: The Devil I Know

Lumiose City

Lavoisier: [on holo-caster] I’m telling you, your human’s famous!  I keep seeing his picture around the city!  I tried to show the Professor but he just kinda shook his head and made a clicking noise.
Ruby: What are you wittering about?  What on earth would this idiot be famous for?
Daku: Certainly not his understanding of team composition or moveset structure…
Spruce: Maybe it’s for his cooking?  That’s pretty good.
Fisher: Indeed; it will almost be a shame to have to return to the stolid fare of the temple kitchens when my travels with this group are done.
Ruby: …well, all right, I admit he’s not useless, but a cinnamon Poké-puff is hardly grounds for serious publicity.
Lavoisier: I think you’re just jealous that your human is more well-known than you are.
Ruby: Wh-!?  You-!  I am known and feared throughout the land as the mightiest sorceress who ever lived!  He is a half-witted, defenceless newborn whose presence is somehow required to keep me from being considered “a menace to society” or “an unstable maniac” or “oh god please stop setting fire to things”!
Lavoisier: Well, he’s the one with his face on posters saying “WANTED” all over Lumiose City.
Ruby: …what did you just say?
Lavoisier: The posters.  They have the human word “WANTED” on them.  Like, they want him around.  They miss him!
Ruby: …$#!t.  Uh, I’ll call you back, Lavoisier.  MINIONS!  Hide the human!
Martial: Hide him?  How?
Ruby: I don’t know!  Dig a hole, or put a paper bag over his head or something!
Fisher: I can call upon the shadows of the Dome to conceal him!
Ruby: Which one is the Dome?  Is that the evil one?
Fisher: Actually, my lady, I have come to believe that is a matter of great theological nuance, and-
Ruby: Oh, shut up; you’ll probably just suck out his soul and turn him into a vegetable.
Ruby: Spruce!  Sit on his head!
Spruce: What?
Ruby: Sit.  On.  His.  Head!
Chris: What the-!?  Hey; easy there, Spruce, what are you-?
Ruby: Cover his face with your wings!
Chris: -mrfllmmrrrmmrfff!
Ruby: …good enough!
Ruby: Right!  You!  Who are you to make such demands, and what do you want of me and my minions?
Magneton: I-DEN-TI-FY.
Ruby: I am Ruby the Delphox, fiery jewel among Pokémon, sorceress supreme!  Perhaps you’ve heard of me?
Magneton: ERROR 48.  YOUR STRING “fiery jewel among Pokémon, sorceress supreme” COULD NOT BE FOUND.  IDENTIFY.
Daku: Is it your normal practice to question all who enter your city, good sir?  I have not been here in some time, but I recall nothing of the sort on my last visit.
Ruby: [muttering] Oh, sure, the robot gets a ‘good sir’…
Amaldos: If a man sits in a room with a dictionary that allows him to speak perfect Chinese and a vial of poisonous gas that will kill him if a sensor detects radiation, would a computer be able to distinguish him from a dead cat?
Amaldos: A hole in your bag will lighten your load.  A hole in your mind may do the same.
Magneton: ERROR 0.  ERROR NOT FOUND.  Bzzzzzzzt-PING-FFFZZZZZZL [starts smoking].
Spruce: Uh… I… think you broke him.
???: Larry!
Ruby: Oh good; more new friends…
Heliolisk: Larry!  What on earth-? [To Ruby] I’m sorry about this.
Magneton: ERROR.  ERROR.  ERROR.
Heliolisk: You’re fine, Larry.  Execute routine Clemont-Phi-Thirteen.
Magneton: EXECUTING.  BZZT-whistle-DING!
Heliolisk: Feeling better?
Heliolisk: I’m good too, Larry; thanks.  Why don’t you just wait here for a bit while I help these citizens, and then we’ll take you over to Magenta Plaza to supervise some of the rewiring?
Spruce: …is he always like this?
Heliolisk: Yeah, he’s been a bit out of sorts ever since he died and we put his brain in an old Magneton chassis.
Spruce: Oh, yeah, I guess that would- wait what?
Heliolisk: Sort an experiment on our human’s part.  He used to be an Ampharos.  Hmm.  What… what sort of Pokémon are you, exactly?
Chris: Mrrffllmfff!
Spruce: Uh… I’m a… Facebird.
Heliolisk: A… Facebird.
Fisher: An extremely rare Humanshape species from the far distant land of Orre!
Heliolisk: I…see.  Right.  Well, again, I’m sorry about the business with Larry.  We wouldn’t normally have controls like this, you see; it’s just that, with the recent trouble at the power plant, a good part of the city had to be locked down for a while, just to keep order.  And then when the plant came back online yesterday there was a huge surge that knocked out several critical substations… It’s been a mess.  We’re trying to keep a close watch on everyone entering and leaving the city, just for security reasons.
Daku: Sensibly enough.  You serve your duty well, Heliolisk.
Heliolisk: …I should hope so.  Now, I’ll just need to get your names, and then you can go on through.
Ruby: Very well, peasant.  I am Ruby the Delphox, fiery jewel among Pokémon, sorceress supreme!  Perhaps you’ve heard of me?
Heliolisk: …yes.  Yes I have. [to Magneton] Larry, initiate routine Clemont-Alpha-Zero.
Daku: What is this!?  Stand down at once; I demand to speak to your commander!
Heliolisk: I am the high commander of Lumiose City’s Pokémon defenders, and all of you are under arrest on suspicion of involvement in multiple recent catastrophes, including the sabotage of the Lumiose Power Plant!  Now, are you going to come quietly, or do we have to make this ugly?
Spruce: Well, um-
Martial: If legitimate civic authorities wish to detain us, we have no choice but to-
Ruby: BA-HAHAHAHAHAHA!  Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, lizard!  You are speaking to the sorceress supreme!  Prepare to feel the wrath of my awesome magical power!
Daku: For once, we are in agreement!  I will not be imprisoned by some barely-UU petty officer!
Heliolisk: Oh goody.  Larry!  Combat pattern Clemont-Omega-Two!  Let’s smoke these terrorists!

Continue reading “X Nuzlocke, episode 12: The Devil I Know”

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.

Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard

Charmander.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; Nintendo is Luke's father.There’s something about Charizard.  Maybe it’s the inherent awesomeness of Fire as an element.  Maybe it’s the allure of his base set trading card, whose Fire Spin was pretty much the most powerful attack in the game.  Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a goddamn freakin’ dragon.  Charizard is easily the most popular of the first-generation starters and, despite my perpetual love affair with the Grass type, I have to admit that it’s easy to see why.  Charmander may be cute as a button but one look at his burning tail shows that he means business nonetheless.  Charmeleon has the look of a proud fighter who loves to punch above his weight.  Charizard simply demands respect, and incinerates anyone who denies him.  What more could we possibly want?

Charmander and his family are just what you’d expect from Fire-types: figuratively and literally hot-headed Pokémon who believe quite firmly that if there is a problem that can’t be solved with fire, it’s only because you aren’t using enough fire.  Although this seems like it would be the default stance for most Fire Pokémon, none of the other first-generation Fire-types (with the possible exception of Flareon) embrace “Flamethrower first, ask questions later” with the same gusto that Charmeleon and Charizard do.  Similarly, Charmander’s connection with fire is so strong that his tail flame is actually an indicator of his life force – the stronger and brighter the flame, the healthier the Pokémon.  It’s a very straightforward idea, but again, it helps to establish Charmander as the archetypal Fire Pokémon, to a much greater degree than Bulbasaur or Squirtle can be considered exemplars of their elements, which probably goes some way towards explaining his popularity.  The dragon factor is significant as well, especially since Charizard was – and arguably still is, even with Salamence around – the closest thing in Pokémon to a traditional Western dragon and, for much of Pokémon’s English-speaking audience, that’s a pretty big deal.  The actual Dragon-with-a-capital-D Pokémon of Red and Blue, for a Western audience anyway, don’t quite deliver; Dratini and Dragonair clearly have Eastern dragons in mind and, while Dragonite’s physical form owes something to the European conception of what a dragon is, he’s a softer-toned, almost ‘cartoonish’ (if I can even say that) representation of that idea; like a gentle parody of what Charizard is playing straight.  Dragonite’s personality, too, comes from a profoundly different tradition; he’s a benevolent ocean-dweller, very much at odds with the European dragons of, say, the Icelandic sagas.  Charmeleon and Charizard, on the other hand, have a definite malevolent streak, which brings me to something else I like about them, or rather about the way they’ve been handled – there’s definite evidence that the writers of the Pokédex have been trying to build up different aspects of their personality over the years to create a more detailed picture of these Pokémon.  The obsession with combat, for instance, seems to be something Charmeleon developed after the release of Red and Blue.  Also, remember the way Ash’s normally disobedient Charizard would voluntarily step up to the plate if he felt there was a worthy opponent on offer?  As of Ruby and Sapphire, that’s actually a recognised trait of Charizard as a species; in nature, they search constantly for powerful opponents to fight, and never use their fire against weaker enemies.  If you’ve been hanging around here long enough to be familiar with my philosophy of ‘doing more with less,’ well, this kind of thing – the gradual accretion of details that expand our view of a Pokémon’s nature and powers – is a big part of what I mean.  It’s really not that hard.

 Charmeleon.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

As Pokémon types go, Fire is pretty high up in terms of awe-inspiring elemental fury.  However, in Red and Blue, Fire actually got shafted pretty badly.  In a world where a lot of Pokémon relied on Normal attacks like Body Slam and Hyper Beam for type coverage, having primary attacks that were resisted by Rock Pokémon was not an enviable position, especially since most of the Fire-types had nothing else worth using – Magmar got Psychic and our dear friend Charizard managed to score Earthquake, but that was it.  Charizard had a further specific problem, which was that in Red and Blue his attacks were – despite what that awesome trading card might suggest – actually fairly lacklustre.  Not exactly bad but Venusaur, believe it or not, could do better; Charizard’s strength was not power but speed – very useful if you wanted to abuse the way Fire Spin worked in Red and Blue, but honestly, if Fire Spin abuse is your thing you’d probably be better off with Rapidash or Ninetales anyway.  Charizard’s attacks were lacklustre because neither his attack stat nor his special stat was particularly high – pretty good, but nothing to write home about.  Then, of course, Gold and Silver split special into special attack and special defence, and suddenly Charizard’s Fire attacks started looking a lot more attractive.  Until Diamond and Pearl came along he still had few workable special attacks other than Fire-type ones, but Gold and Silver also brought Charizard the gift of Belly Drum, which can turn him into a devastating physical attacker at the cost of half of his health.  Again, speed is his strength – Charizard was, and remains, the fastest Belly Drummer in the game (well, tied with Linoone now, but who’s counting?), an important attribute to keep other Pokémon from preying on his weakened health bar.

 Charizard.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Diamond and Pearl eventually gave Charizard physical Fire attacks to use with Belly Drum and special Flying attacks (as well as Focus Blast and Solarbeam) to bulk out his other sets.  Unfortunately, they also gave the world Stealth Rock, a pox of a move that almost every serious player uses.  It’s similar in concept to Spikes, introduced in Gold and Silver, in that it creates a trap to damage Pokémon as they switch in, but with a number of differences.  Stealth Rock can be set up in a single turn, while Spikes takes two uses to match Stealth Rock’s average damage output, and three to exceed it.  Spikes is a relatively exclusive move, while Stealth Rock was available as a TM and therefore accessible to all and sundry.  Finally, Stealth Rock accounts for weaknesses and resistances.  Pokémon doubly weak to Rock attacks, like poor Charizard, lose 50% of their health just for switching in against a team with the foresight to set up Stealth Rock.  The notion of game balance has never really existed in Pokémon anyway, but if it had, Stealth Rock would have killed it by making a weakness to Rock attacks far more important than any other single aspect of a Pokémon’s resistance profile.  The point for us here today is that, from Diamond and Pearl onwards, you can’t use Charizard without a Pokémon with Rapid Spin to clear away Stealth Rock when it turns up.  Well, I mean… you can.  You’ll just lose.  Repeatedly.

 This little slice of awesome is from the Destroyed Steak Pokémonathon (http://destroyedsteak.deviantart.com/), a sadly short-lived attempt by two artists to draw every Pokémon in order.  Seems to have been pretty epic while it lasted, though.

The transition to Black and White didn’t significantly alter Charizard’s movepool; he’s never been much of a tank, so losing the potential for healing with Roost doesn’t bother him much, and Thunderpunch was nice but it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of other physical attacks to toss around.  The big change for him, as for Venusaur, was his Dream World ability.  There’s nothing wrong with the standard Fire starter ability, Blaze, which adds a little spice to Fire attacks when your health is low, but Charizard’s new Solar Power ability – like Chlorophyll for Venusaur – is something else.  Only two other Pokémon, Sunflora and Tropius, possess this lovely ability, and both of them are far too slow to take advantage of it.  Charizard is another story.  Solar Power burns a little of Charizard’s health every turn while Sunny Day is in effect, but in return boosts his special attack by 50%.  Meanwhile, the normal effects of Sunny Day will be jacking up his Fire attacks anyway.  Keeping a solar Charizard alive for any length of time is profoundly difficult, since Charizard isn’t exactly renowned for toughness anyway, but even the toughest of Water Pokémon will wither in the face of his Fire Blast.

In some ways I think that Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard provide the best example from the first generation of what a starter should be, a Pokémon that embodies the essential characteristics of its element – in this case, Fire’s destructive nature and passion for combat.  Unfortunately Red and Blue let them down a little, as they let down all Fire-types, but ever since Gold and Silver, Fire has held a prestigious position as one of the few elements able to reliably damage Steel Pokémon, and Charizard has been generally well-supported throughout the games’ development, in spite of his present difficulties in dealing with Stealth Rock.  In summary, then, while they aren’t my favourites, I believe these Pokémon are the result of strong designs that have been quite well-handled from start to finish – good pieces of work.