House Darkrai: Fear Not the Darkness
Okay; things are heating up. We’ve only got eight of these damn things left, and if I know me like I think I know me, I’m bitter, jaded and cynical enough to come up with good reasons to hate all eight of them, so let’s see which ones I hate the least!
Celebi vs. Darkrai
I’ve been largely positive about Celebi so far, while expressing a more neutral view of Darkrai. To make things fair, and also more interesting, I think it would be best now for me to talk about the problems Celebi causes: namely, the problems inherent to time travel powers. Very few authors can pull off a time travel plot without stumbling at least once and creating a situation that contradicts either itself or the established ‘rules.’ Writing a good time travel plot takes a great deal of forethought and tremendous attention to detail.
I will remind you that this is Nintendo we are talking about.
Celebi is far less blatantly ridiculous than Dialga, Palkia and Arceus, and can’t just rewrite the universe on a whim the way they can, but with the ability to move through time at will, one imagines she could alter history quite significantly if she had a mind to. Since time travel is a natural ability of hers, she can probably avoid, instinctively, most of the pitfalls that fill time travel stories about humans (such as ‘whoops, I just prevented my grandparents from meeting,’ ‘whoops, killing Hitler just made everything worse,’ and the ever-popular ‘whoops, I stepped on a butterfly and caused the extinction of humanity’). One also presumes that, as a legendary Psychic Pokémon, she is at least as intelligent as a human, possibly much more. What’s more, her stated raison d’être is to ‘watch over the forest from across time,’ which seems like it can only mean adjusting historical events in order to protect and preserve forest ecosystems. The very existence of a creature with powers like this fundamentally changes the way the whole setting has to be viewed, especially since the relationship between nature and civilisation is one of Pokémon’s most important themes, and it only becomes worse if we contemplate the possibility of Celebi using her powers on behalf of her trainer (see this recent entry for my reasons for not being too bothered about this sort of thing).
Now, I must be able to think of something positive to say about Darkrai… surely… I’ve mentioned that I disagree with the route Game Freak have chosen to take with his characterisation – and really, of all the legendary Pokémon they could have picked to cast actual doubt on the in-universe depictions of his powers and nature, did they have to pick the one whose powers don’t have massive implications for the integrity of the entire setting? There are good things to say about Darkrai, though. His relationship with Cresselia – ‘the disease and the cure,’ so to speak – is interesting, as is the way he deliberately stays close to her home so that her powers can counteract his own. The whole idea of a Pokémon capable of trapping people in nightmares is chilling and evocative as well, although I don’t think Darkrai’s concept actually necessitates that he be a legendary Pokémon. Despite everything I’ve said already, though, I honestly like Celebi better. My main problem with her is that I don’t believe the creators have actually thought through the full implications of the abilities they’ve given her, which is sort of nothing new – and unlike Arceus, who just gives me a headache, I actually like the idea of thinking that through myself.
My vote goes to CELEBI!
Mewtwo vs. Giratina
Mewtwo and Giratina? Looks like it’s time for a good old-fashioned angst-off.
Mewtwo’s angst comes from being designed as the ultimate fighting machine, using the heavily augmented genetic code of Mew, the legendary firstborn Pokémon, but raised without love or compassion. Giratina’s angst comes from being banished by his creator to a demented shadow world where he lives his life in solitude, looking back at the world he was cast from. Mewtwo’s story seems to be largely about the dangers of playing god (although, as I’ve already complained, Mewtwo’s creation used science that was fundamentally similar to that involved in the resurrection of fossil Pokémon, and possibly designed by the same people), and the series’ general stance seems to be that, although his creation was a mistake, he still has all the basic rights of a living creature now that we’ve got him, and is to be pitied for his painful birth and upbringing. Giratina, by contrast, is implied to have deserved everything he got – he was “banished for his violence,” presumably by the creator god of the Pokémon universe, Arceus (who is, if nothing else, very concerned with justice). Then again, Giratina’s position as protector the Distortion World seems, to judge from the climax of Platinum version, to be quite important to the stability of the cosmos, as the Distortion World serves to anchor our world and work against major shifts in reality. Furthermore, Giratina is in fact free to leave the Distortion World by taking on an altered form. I suspect there’s a lot we haven’t been told about Giratina, and for once it seems like the myths aren’t necessarily intended to represent the truth of things. The whole ‘antimatter’ spin Game Freak put on Giratina is interesting and fits with both the space/time idea Dialga and Palkia already had going, as well as with the nature of Giratina’s apparent role, although I still think I preferred things as they were in Diamond and Pearl, where Giratina is basically implied to rule the land of the dead, and remain convinced that the ‘antimatter’ thing was a quiet retcon. While Giratina is big on fundamental nature-of-the-universe stuff, Mewtwo is more about smaller-scale ethical questions, which I personally find more interesting, and which I honestly think Pokémon as a whole is better-suited to dealing with. In his original context in Red and Blue, he was also interesting for being an apparently blatant contradiction of the maxim that there is no “strongest Pokémon” – even Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres could be beaten by specific opponents, but there was no Pokémon that could take Mewtwo one-on-one, full stop, arguably not even Mew. As Mewtwo was, in-universe, created specifically to fill this position, he directly references the enormous clusterf*ck that is Pokémon’s game balance in a way that subsequent legendary Pokémon don’t, actually encouraging us to think about ideas of fairness for ourselves.
Honestly? I actually think both of these are decent. I’m okay with either one getting through to the semi-finals.
Mew vs. Groudon
I think we’ve established by now that I have problems with both of these, but am fairly lenient towards Mew in general because of her lack of apocalypse-bringing lunacy and probably more likely to be well-disposed towards her than towards Groudon. I would like to comment, though, on something they have in common: both Mew and Groudon are paired with other legendary Pokémon who significantly overshadow them. Mew is insanely versatile, but the fact is that there is very little she can do that Mewtwo does not do better, thanks to his ludicrous stats (she is marginally tougher than him, and can use Baton Pass, but most of the roles in which she would hope to excel are better filled by Mewtwo – even, arguably, some of her possible support roles). This is probably intentional, given Mewtwo’s background as an engineered ‘super-Mew’ of sorts, but I think that whether it supports or hinders their flavour is questionable, since much of the point of Mewtwo’s backstory is that the scientists who created him ultimately failed in a number of respects, creating a savage creature with no kindness or mercy. I can’t help but feel that it would be better if Mewtwo’s superiority were less clear-cut. For Groudon, of course, it’s all much worse. Groudon and Kyogre are clearly intended to be equal and opposite. They are rivals who battled for millennia without a victor appearing, their feud tearing the surface of the earth as they boiled oceans and drowned continents. One on one, it probably comes down to who moves first (even though, in principle, Water beats Ground) but in fact Kyogre is demonstrably better in a number of respects. Groudon enjoys little synergy with his own weather effect – his primary attack, Earthquake, receives no benefit from sunlight; for boosted Fire attacks, he must choose between Fire Blast, which works with his lower special attack stat, and the relatively weak Fire Punch; Solarbeam, coming from Groudon, is just a bad joke. Kyogre, on the other hand, can pull off the most powerful attack in the entire game with a rain-boosted Water Spout, and enjoys the benefit of accurate Thunder. Furthermore, although their weather abilities make them both good Pokémon to build teams around, rain is, broadly speaking, a more powerful weather effect than sun, and tends to benefit more powerful Pokémon. I find it amusing that, when Game Freak try to create legendary Pokémon to serve as evenly-matched rivals (Groudon/Kyogre, Reshiram/Zekrom), they manage, apparently by accident, to make one significantly stronger, while creating much more balanced pairs when the Pokémon aren’t necessarily meant to be opposed at all (Lugia/Ho-oh, Dialga/Palkia). I’m not even sure any of this affects my vote much. If you’ve been following my previous entries you’ll know my thoughts on both of these two, and as you’ve probably guessed…
My vote goes to MEW!
Rayquaza vs. Lugia
Urgh. Haven’t these two plagued me enough yet?
Although remarkably different in battle – Rayquaza is an all-offensive destroyer-type Pokémon, while Lugia is one of the most absurdly resilient Pokémon in the game – these two are actually very similar Pokémon conceptually. Both are extremely reclusive, spending most of their time in remote areas – Lugia deep beneath the ocean, Rayquaza high above the clouds – and as a result are so rarely seen that their very existence is difficult to prove. Both are also thought of as balancing influences; Rayquaza keeps balance between Kyogre and Groudon, while Lugia is portrayed as a mediator between the legendary birds in the Power of One. Lugia uses a mystical calming song, while Rayquaza’s power to end Groudon and Kyogre’s feud is a little vaguer but presumably has something to do with his Air Lock ability, which nullifies their power to control the weather in the area around him. In fact, the similarities don’t end there… both conflicts – the one between Kyogre and Groudon in Emerald, and the one between Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres in the Power of One – involve disruption of the earth’s climate when forces normally in balance attempt to conquer each other and gain power. Both imbalances are caused by a villain attempting to capture one of the legendary Pokémon in question without understanding their importance to the balance of nature. Both plots involve magical glass orbs tied to the energies of the warring Pokémon that supposedly have the power to calm them.
Y’know what? I’m starting to think Game Freak were just recycling the plot of the Power of One when they wrote Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. The difference is that – and yes, it is always going to come back to this when I talk about Rayquaza – in the movie, Lugia couldn’t do it without help. Alone against Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, he puts up a good fight but can’t overpower all of them at once. Ash, along with Melody from Shamouti Island, is the one who really saves the day – although Lugia provides them with some much-needed muscle. Lugia is vitally important in solving the crisis, but can’t do it alone. In Emerald, the player’s agency in ending the battle between Groudon and Kyogre is nothing more than going to get Rayquaza; once he arrives on the scene, the plot is essentially over. It is now my contention that Emerald not only ripped off the plot of the earlier movie, but did so poorly, and with blatant disregard for Pokémon’s long-standing emphasis on partnership and co-operation.
So, yeah. No surprises here.
My vote goes to LUGIA!
Unsurprisingly, the internet has failed to take my advice and tossed Mesprit, Raikou and Jirachi. There is still hope for my other picks, though, so let’s talk about the next round…
Arceus vs. Celebi
Okay, so, anyone who’s been paying attention will know that this part of the entry is a total sham anyway because I have an irrational vendetta against Arceus, but let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not horribly biased and talk about these two.
Arceus is a creator god. To say otherwise is to argue semantics. I don’t think Game Freak ever actually use the word “god” of Arceus, and everything they tell us is couched in “it is said that” and “described in mythology.” However, we do know from direct observation that Arceus can create complex life from nothing and imbue it with the power to rewrite the universe. This goes well beyond just “Pokémon are wondrous creatures from whom we have much to learn.” The problem is that Game Freak seem to hold two conceptions of Arceus simultaneously – as they do for most other legendary Pokémon, actually, but it’s most blatant for Arceus. There’s the mythical Arceus, who created Dialga, Palkia and Giratina in the void to bind space, time and antimatter, shaped the world with his thousand arms, and brought about the birth of life and the soul. There’s also the mundane Arceus, who is a Pokémon like any other, was born and will die, and is exceptionally rare and powerful but can be caught, befriended and trained. This latter Arceus – or a member of his species – may in ancient times have accomplished some fantastic achievement that inspired an early version of the creation myth, but he’s not actually the creator. When we capture Arceus and use him in battle, we’re clearly meant to have the mundane Arceus in mind. The problem is that Game Freak shove the mythical Arceus in our faces at every opportunity and readily provide us with apparently solid proof of his existence, while repeatedly failing to provide similar evidence for a mundane Arceus.
Celebi, by contrast, has done nothing more heinous than introduce the possibility of time travel into the franchise. I must emphasise that I think this was a bad idea, but at least Celebi has the grace to keep it low-key, unlike “now I shall unravel the universe” Dialga. Celebi’s role is to “watch over the forest from across time,” which I take to mean that she moves back and forth, always appearing in the right place at the right time to ensure that there have always been and will always be enough forests in the world to provide habitats for forest Pokémon and keep the earth’s climate in balance. Believe it or not, despite this potentially enormous power and this possibly vital role, she’s one of the legendary Pokémon who won’t give me too much of a headache at all if you capture her. She’ll just wait for you to die and then get back to what she was doing. She won’t even be upset about all those years spent waiting. She’s a time traveller; she’s not exactly in a rush. She’ll also let you believe that she can’t take anyone with her on her little time jaunts. Celebi is thus, surprisingly, one of the few legendary Pokémon who actually make total sense.
Can anyone say “forgone conclusion”?
My vote goes to CELEBI!
Kyogre vs. Darkrai
I’ve been trying for a while now to pin down what it is that I like about Kyogre, and I think I have it. Kyogre – like Lugia, actually – evokes one of the most mysterious parts of the known world, the deep ocean, and the fact that something like this could actually be down there and we wouldn’t know it. I mean, it seems very unlikely from a modern scientific standpoint, but a) most people are not modern scientists and b) it has been said, with a fair degree of justification, that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deepest parts of the ocean. It’s a dark, forbidding, mysterious, wonderful place and you could hide some pretty massive things down there (as evidenced by our painful lack of detailed ecological data on giant squid) – Kyogre isn’t actually all that big, but he’s big compared to most Pokémon, and gives an impression of size because of his whale-like design. In short, Kyogre taps into a series of ideas and emotions that have held humanity spellbound since ancient times, and captivates us (or… well, me, anyway) in a way Groudon can never match. Darkrai evokes a similar place: the world of nightmares, a place most of us visit but few can remember in detail, where we are most often powerless against the whims of our own subconscious minds. Darkrai, fittingly enough, takes the shape of a spectre, vague and insubstantial, like a shadow in a dream. However, I take issue with Darkrai’s characterisation. According to the games, Darkrai’s nightmare powers are just a means of self-defence, meant to chase people and Pokémon away from his territory, and he actually hides himself away from others to protect them from his power. Now, this type of characterisation – the misunderstood noble pariah who is hated and feared by those he tries to protect – is fun in itself, but I don’t think it was the best use of the concept. First of all, I think Absol did it better. Second, it doesn’t totally make sense: he has these powers to keep people out of his territory, and he needs to keep people out of his territory to protect them from his powers. It’s like a bizarre, sadistic, evolutionary Catch-22. I actually prefer the way Rise of Darkrai interpreted Darkrai’s nightmare powers – the horrific dreams he sends are actually visions of the future, sent to warn people – because that evokes all sorts of wonderful old ideas about the purpose of dreams and the fearful nature of prophecy (again, this is sort of Absol’s schtick, but Absol experiences the visions herself while Darkrai inflicts them on others). The movie, of course, has problems of its own that I discussed in more depth a while ago. For today, my point is that I think Darkrai would be more interesting and have more potential if he were morally ambiguous, and that Kyogre has enjoyed a more flattering interpretation of his concept.
My vote goes to KYOGRE!
Mewtwo vs. Latios
I hinted earlier that I have problems with Mewtwo. Let’s talk about that, because there’s nothing I love more than complaining. In truth I don’t hate Mewtwo, but I think that his backstory invokes another one of those awkward tensions I like to natter about: Mewtwo’s backstory belongs to that class of moralising tales that characterises scientists as hubristic ivory-tower academics who overreach themselves in their single-minded quest for knowledge and are destroyed by their own creations (you all know the story; Jurassic Park is one notable example). This is all very well in itself. It does rather clash with the overall portrayal of science in the Pokémon franchise, which almost universally presents it as wondrous and beneficial, particularly as the Pokémon world’s technology is, in general, more powerful than ours and has fewer side-effects and drawbacks (this is hardly surprising coming from a company that makes its money out of the proliferation of ever-improving technology). This arguably provides opportunity for interesting conflicts, though. What really irks me is the more specific clash with fossil resurrection, which works on essentially the same principles as the science that created Mewtwo but is consistently portrayed as cheap, easy, risk-free and not at all ethically contentious. After all, it wouldn’t do to have the player forced to do anything shady to complete the Pokédex. Fortunately for Mewtwo, Latios is not guilt-free either.
As I mentioned the last time Latios came up, against Jirachi, my issue with the Eon Twins is quite different, and one on which I’m aware there are many who would disagree with me. I am of the opinion that legendary Pokémon should have legends, which add something to the background and general aesthetic of the whole Pokémon world. I hold this opinion because legendary Pokémon (with many notable exceptions, though Latios is not one of them) simply enjoy massive advantages over most mortal Pokémon, with superior stats and often with powerful type combinations and excellent movepools (I am making the tacit assumption here that we want the game to be balanced, an assumption which I am aware is not self-evident and does not seem to be shared by the game’s designers). In brief, I think that if legendary Pokémon are going to have these advantages, they need to justify them, and that if they are going to harm the game’s balance they should offset this harm by improving its background and lore. Latios does not do this. Latios’ characteristics are as follows: he understands human speech (most or all Pokémon implicitly do), he can outpace a jet (this quality is shared by a number of flying Pokémon), he can detect the presence of others through telepathy (a quality shared by a number of Psychic Pokémon), he dislikes fighting (so does Togepi), and he can create illusions. This last characteristic is interesting and a perfectly valid concept to build a Psychic Pokémon around. However, there is nothing in this list that requires ‘legendary’ status, ludicrous stats, Latios’ fundamentally obscene movepool, or the insanity that is the Soul Dew.
It’s funny, but the more I think about legendary Pokémon, the more they stick in my craw, so to speak. My arguments in this match-up have been broadly analogous to those I made in my shorter “Mew vs. Heatran” passage, so I suppose I ought to follow the same rationale in casting my vote: a problematic story is better than none at all…
My vote goes to MEWTWO!
Dialga vs. Giratina
Up until now, I’ve been judging members of trios primarily by the characteristics of their trios, but Dialga and Giratina are both members of the same trio – the one that infamously raised Pokémon to the level of deities and forevermore rendered the setting’s cosmology utterly incomprehensible. Nonetheless, I’m sure I can pick one of them to hate more. Quite apart from simply giving us the opportunity to capture and command celestial beings, Dialga and Palkia draw attention to one of the more egregious rifts in Pokémon’s conception and style: it keeps thinking it can be science fiction. Pokémon is not science fiction. Pokémon barely passes as science fantasy. This would not be a bad thing, except for the fact that it sometimes wants to be. Thus, we get Pokémon who are described entirely through myth in order to create ambiguity about what they can actually do (see my complaints about Arceus) but have power over extremely abstract concepts like space and time – did “space becomes more stable with Palkia’s every breath” really come from the commonplace campfire stories of ancient Sinnoh? I can in fact think of at least one ancient reference to time travel; Pythagoras – yes, the triangle guy – was said to have been able to move freely through time (I’m serious; it’s in a fragment of Aristotle), and many cultures have a mythic personification of time, so maybe this is more a problem for Palkia than Dialga. I will bet my copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey, though, that no ancient civilisation ever had a mythic personification of antimatter, which is what Game Freak have told us Giratina is supposed to represent. I don’t believe them; I think Giratina is the personification of death in the Pokémon universe and was quietly retconned when the designers began to wonder whether they’d gone too far. I mean, really. “It appears in an ancient cemetery”? How about “it was banished for its violence”? If Game Freak try to claim that isn’t a reference to the Devil, or some equivalent mythic being, I’m calling ‘Death of the Author’ on them. What would make the most sense out of this, though, would be to claim that Giratina was viewed by the ancients as a personification of death. This would make Giratina the only one of the trio to have a believable distinction between his mythic role and his actual powers, thus escaping (to a small extent, anyway) the trap that I spent Arceus’ section ranting about. Like Dialga and Palkia, he still occupies a ridiculously high place in the setting’s cosmology and it makes little sense for anyone to be capturing him in a tiny ball, but I’d regard him as slightly better done (even if only by accident). I also think Giratina has – and achieves – far better-defined aesthetic goals than Dialga; he’s meant to be creepy and he is, while Dialga looks like a robot space dinosaur and is meant to be… I don’t even know.
My vote goes to GIRATINA!
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Pokémaniacal post to bring you a word from our sponsors…
Okay, so, Pokémon.com is currently running an event called the Pokémon Power Bracket, which you will find here: http://www.pokemon.com/powerbracket. Basically, they’ve got thirty-two legendary Pokémon competing in a tournament-style setup, with the winner of each matchup being decided by the votes of the fans over the course of a week (you can vote once a day). Now, initially, I was only mildly amused by this until I took a look at the criteria for choosing a winner: “There is no set criteria for how you vote. Cast your vote for whatever reason you want!”
So, what you’re saying is… you want us to judge these Pokémon based on whatever nebulous and ill-defined criteria should strike our capricious fancies as we stagger blindly through the Pokémon universe, violently lashing out at anything that violates our unappeasable expectations of “good design”?
That’s what I do all the time!
So, yeah. For the next two months I’m going to spend some of my entries (not all – Anime Time will continue in between) commenting on this little popularity contest they’ve got going, and talk about where my votes are going and why, in the hopes of influencing my small-minded minio- sorry, my charming and learned readers to follow my lead.
Now, without further ado, the current matchups being contested are:
Arceus vs. Raikou
Whoo, yeah. Way to give Raikou a fair bite at the apple, Game Freak.
So, Arceus against Raikou, whether in a one-on-one fight or in a comparison of how they each contribute to a team, really is no contest. Raikou’s fast, has a vicious special attack score and can boost up with Calm Mind until his special defence is nigh untouchable and his Thunderbolts can shred boulders, but the fact is… Arceus can grab a Zap Plate, become an Electric-type, and do all of that, only better. Pretty much the only thing Raikou has over Arceus is Volt Switch, which… well, don’t get me wrong, it’s a game changer, but Arceus still flattens Raikou. So, which has the better, more pleasing design? Well, they both look majestic and mythical enough. I particularly love Raikou’s storm-cloud, though, and his trio have a pretty cool backstory – they were killed in the fire that destroyed Ekruteak’s Brass Tower, resurrected by Ho-oh, and given new powers, symbolising the lightning that started the blaze, the fire that destroyed the tower, and the rain that extinguished it. Arceus, on the other hand, I can’t help but feel goes a little bit too far. I could just about accept everything up to and including Rayquaza, but capturing and training the creator of the universe has always been a bit of a blow to my suspension of disbelief.
Of course we all know the factor that really decides this matchup for me:
I still haven’t forgiven Arceus for Jewel of Life.
My vote goes to RAIKOU!
Celebi vs. Cresselia
Well, this seems a little bit fairer. Celebi and Cresselia are both excellent defence and support Pokémon who can be tremendously difficult to take down, but there are a couple of important differences. Cresselia is all-defence. Her resistance to damage is much greater than Celebi’s, but she doesn’t have a lot to fight back with; her offensive scores would actually be pretty mediocre on a mortal Pokémon. She’s basically got Toxic, Thunder Wave, and Calm Mind-boosted attacks to hurt stuff with. Celebi, on the other hand, has access to a devastating Leaf Storm, and can heal much more easily with Leech Seed, Giga Drain and Recover against Cresselia’s Moonlight. Again, they’re both lovely designs, though with rather different goals; Celebi is playful, fey and lively, while Cresselia is untouchably beautiful. I also think that both designs support their in-game abilities. Cresselia’s dream/nightmare duality with Darkrai is interesting (it seems incomplete, though, since Darkrai represents the new moon, while Cresselia represents the crescent moon – shouldn’t there also be a full moon Pokémon?), as is Celebi’s ability to travel through time (although, granted, letting time travel into the franchise was probably a bad idea), and I honestly can’t choose one over the other. That being the case, I have no choice but to vote for the stronger battler…
My vote goes to CELEBI!
Kyogre vs. Regice
Kyogre is just about the only Pokémon who legitimately might be as good as or better than Arceus. The ruler of the deep ocean is constantly surrounded by violent rain that powers up his already devastating Water attacks and lets him use Thunder with absolute precision. Not only that, it makes him the absolute best Pokémon ever, no argument, to put on a rain team. Whereas Regice… I guess is a pretty awesome special wall, or at least it would be if only Ice weren’t the worst defensive type ever? Anything with both Ice Beam and Thunderbolt is generally fun to handle, and it really is a cool Pokémon, but it’s also a defensive Pokémon with few support moves, multiple common weaknesses, and no easy way to heal. As for design… well, Regice and its siblings were imprisoned by humans in ancient times because they were too powerful to control, and represent three ages of humanity’s past – Ice, Stone, and Iron – which is neat and clever and implies some cool stuff about the influence of Pokémon on humanity’s development, but they’re just so expressionless, so much more like lawn ornaments than Pokémon, that I just can’t find it in me to like them. Kyogre, on the other hand, has all the majesty they lack (partly because whales are just awesome), and he and Groudon actually provide similar storytelling and world-building opportunities to the legendary golems anyway.
My vote goes to KYOGRE!
Darkrai vs. Mesprit
Okay, Darkrai is stronger than Mesprit, yes. Better stats, a less vulnerable element, a wonderful signature move that would be incredibly useful even if it didn’t tie in with his powerful ability, and basically every move a special sweeper could want. Mesprit is no slouch either, of course; she’s one of the most underappreciated Pokémon in the game, I feel (probably because of her Psychic-type vulnerabilities), and makes for a powerful and versatile supporting tank; her main problems are her lack of healing powers and that she’s so thoroughly eclipsed by the other crazily versatile legendary Psychic Pokémon, Mew. In flavour terms, though… I’m not a fan of the way Darkrai’s been handled. Saying that Darkrai’s nightmare powers are just a defence mechanism opens up the whole noble pariah characterisation he gets in his movie, but I think that actually makes him less interesting – if we go to such trouble to say that nightmares are not part of Darkrai’s true nature, he’s really just another Pokémon who happens to have certain mental powers. Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf, however, as the embodiments of emotion, knowledge and will, bring up my old favourite theme of the influence Pokémon have on humans, particularly when you trace the implications of their legendary past (not to mention, they can be just as terrifying as Darkrai if you cross them).
My vote goes to MESPRIT!
Mewtwo vs. Entei
…y’know, if anything, this is even worse than Arceus vs. Raikou, because at least Raikou is actually a good Pokémon. Entei suffers from what I’ve just now decided to call Flareon Syndrome, which is where Game Freak give a Fire Pokémon a massive physical attack stat and an abysmal physical movepool, including no physical Fire attacks better than Fire Fang (okay, yes, that one shining Entei that you have to transfer from a fourth-generation game has Flare Blitz, but COME ON!) The fact is, Entei is a bad Pokémon. I don’t even mean “bad by legendary standards;” he’s just bad; I’d prefer Arcanine any day. It sort of doesn’t seem fair even to mention how terrifying Mewtwo is by comparison. I’ve mentioned already why I like Entei, Raikou and Suicune, I’m impressed by how well Entei manages to convey physical strength and stability without coming off as a brute, which is surprisingly difficult, and I admit I’m honestly not that fond of Mewtwo, whose backstory is basically “science is evil BLARGH; now I will angst in the dark for twenty years,” in a world that is utterly dependent on its ludicrously advanced technology… but I don’t have nearly enough of a problem with him to eclipse Entei’s massive and blatant incompetence.
My vote goes to MEWTWO!
Latios vs. Jirachi
Latios is a nasty Pokémon to face. If he’s allowed his signature item, the Soul Dew, he effectively gets a free Calm Mind boost and can shrug off most energy damage while blasting away with some of the most powerful special attacks in the game. Even without it, though, he’s a frightening sweeper whose only notable flaw is the vulnerabilities that come with being a Psychic-type. Jirachi isn’t so obviously devastating, but her incredibly resistant Steel/Psychic typing and neatly balanced stats make her a brilliant supporting tank. Jirachi’s signature is abusing Serene Grace and Iron Head, but with Calm Mind, multiple good special attacks, and a wide support movepool, the sky really is the limit with this one. Jirachi is said to sleep for a thousand years at a time, waking for only a single week, but can grant any wish in that time. Personally, I just think wishes are fun to work with, as a long-established feature of fantasy and folktale with a rich cultural background. It’s sort of a shame Game Freak are stuck in the whole “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality because it really limits what they can actually do with Jirachi. Latios and his sister Latias don’t really seem to have a story or background… just a bunch of cool powers. They’re wonderful Pokémon and I have no desire to talk them down, but I’ve always judged legendary Pokémon mainly on their potential for storytelling (and I don’t think Latios and Latias actually have any characteristics that require them to be legendary Pokémon anyway), so purely for reasons of design philosophy…
My vote goes to JIRACHI!
Dialga vs. Registeel
Giratina vs. Shaymin
Both Giratina and Shaymin are effectively two different Pokémon: the absurdly tough Altered Giratina, whose Dragon/Ghost typing and small but useful support movepool make him pretty much the toughest Pokémon in the game barring Lugia, the serpentine Origin Giratina, who picks up an extra immunity from Levitate and can dish out some fierce attacks, the neglected and unassuming Land Shaymin, whose only real selling points are his bulkiness and the horrifying Seed Flare, and the flimsy but powerful Sky Shaymin, affectionately nicknamed Skymin, who utterly steals his earthbound cousin’s thunder by flinching everything to death with Air Slash and Serene Grace. Land Shaymin is pretty depressing for a legendary Pokémon, but Skymin is downright evil, and at the very least gives Giratina a run for his money. Giratina is just about the closest thing the Pokémon universe has to the devil, though officially he’s the ruler of antimatter, which is… weird, but cool, I guess, and his characterisation – trapped outside, staring back in at the old world from which he was banished – is creepy, evocative and fascinating. Shaymin, who is the embodiment of gratitude and guardian of meadows, is interesting too, if only because it’s an unusual idea to base a Pokémon around, and his ability to break down toxins into water and light is a very dramatic way of showing his role as a protector of nature. Much as I love Shaymin, though, I can’t actually see what gratitude, supposedly the centre of the design, has to do with his powers, his role, or… well, anything. Sorry, Shaymin…
My vote goes to GIRATINA!
This round of the tournament is only going to be up for a day or so longer, so my next entry will probably be another one of these, but after that I think I’ll be alternating, for the most part, between this and anime reviews.
So, Alamos Town is surrounded by thick fog, no-one can leave, most of the town’s Pokémon trainers have just been summarily crushed by a living nightmare, and apparently there is an extradimensional god/pink magic dinosaur hanging out somewhere in the town. Also the local baron is a Lickilicky.
That’s great odds.
Once Ash and his friends learn that Palkia is in Alamos Town, they rush out to the square, where Darkrai has managed to detect the Spatial Pokémon hiding invisibly inside a little pouch of folded space above the Space-Time Towers. Darkrai begins to attack Palkia with his freaky shadow powers, so Palkia bursts out of hiding and banishes the fog enveloping the town – revealing that the whole place has been yanked into a pocket universe and is now floating in space. They can still breathe and stuff because physics is having an off day. Palkia will do that to you. Also, all of the freaky dream things stop happening, the victims of Darkrai’s Dark Void wake up and Alberto is no longer a Lickilicky, because… I don’t know. I don’t think the movie ever really gave a reason; it just sort of happened. Palkia and Darkrai throw explosions at each other for a bit, until Palkia’s enemy the blue magic dinosaur (alias Dialga, the god of time) shows up, bearing even more explosions, and all hell breaks loose. With every blast they lob at each other, the fringes of Alamos Town begin to disintegrate as their space- and time-warping powers destabilise Palkia’s pocket universe. Alice runs out into the middle of the square and tells the two combatants, in what I imagine to be her very sternest voice, to “stop fighting right now!” This, predictably, has absolutely no effect and Darkrai has to rescue her when Dialga and Palkia nearly fall on her head. To be fair to Alice, no-one else seems to have any better ideas. They just watch the two magic dinosaurs blowing each other up and taking the town with them, while Darkrai flies around intercepting any attacks that endanger the Space-Time Towers, until both Dialga and Palkia get annoyed and blast Darkrai to the ground. This leads to a scene where Darkrai mistakes Alice for her grandmother, Alicia, and a touching little flashback in which a young Alicia encounters an injured Darkrai in the gardens, sees past his fearsome exterior, and heals him with the music of her leaf whistle (okay, okay, it’s clichéd, but “the healing power of music” isn’t exactly out of place in a setting like Pokémon), encouraging him to stay as long as he likes because “this garden is everyone’s.” Ash apologises for assuming Darkrai was the bad guy, and Darkrai just gives him a dirty look (I’m not sure whether this was intentional but it’s hilarious). Once he’s gotten his breath back, Darkrai flies back to the battle.
It’s at about this point, I think, that Tonio starts reciting the description from Godey’s journal of his nightmare, which seems to be playing out right in front of them, as well as the part about “leaving Oración for the world.” The name Oración rings bells for Alice, since it’s the name of the song her grandmother taught her to play on the leaf whistle – the one that magically calmed down the squabbling Pokémon in the first act (odd that she hasn’t tried this song already, come to think of it, since it was her go-to option earlier in the movie – and even odder that Tonio hasn’t already asked her whether she’s heard the word before). Light bulbs start coming on in everyone’s heads. The Space-Time Towers aren’t an insanely extravagant and recklessly impractical tourist attraction… well, okay, they are, but they’re also Godey’s way of “leaving Oración for the world” – his contingency plan for the prophetic nightmare Darkrai sent him. There’s no music disc labelled “Oración” in Tonio’s rooms beneath the towers, but Alice manages to find it hidden amongst the relief sculptures on the ground floor. She, Tonio, Ash and Dawn head for the control room on her balloon, which doesn’t last long in the crossfire of Dialga and Palkia’s battle. Ash and Dawn somehow manage to jump over to the control tower without shattering their legs, while Alice and Tonio fall, but are rescued by Tonio’s Drifblim and Alberto’s Lickilicky. Unfortunately, Ash and Dawn now have to climb the rest of the way up the control tower… which is starting to disintegrate, like the rest of the town… and here I have to stop and talk about this disintegration business because it really bothers me. Whatever dimension-twisting power is causing the effect has obviously reached the towers by this point, but it isn’t causing them to collapse, even as their foundations begin to dematerialise. What’s more, Ash, Dawn and their Pokémon suffer no harm at all (apart from the obvious danger of falling as the steps vanish from beneath their feet), while the objects around them are being taken apart at a subatomic level by the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Because it’s Pokémon, my suspension of disbelief will just about stretch to accommodate that, but to crown it all, the other trainers in Alamos Town are attempting to slow the progress of the advancing wave of disintegration by attacking it with their Pokémon. I… honestly can’t even articulate how little sense that makes. Luckily for the movie, I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be working.
Anyway, Tonio’s computer decides (using SCIENCE) that one more collision between Palkia’s Spatial Rend and Dialga’s Roar of Time will collapse the pocket universe and destroy everyone. Darkrai seems to have worked out the same thing and pours all his strength into trapping both of them in a swirly energy thingy, defiantly shouting, in his deep, booming voice, the strangest battle cry I have ever heard: “THIS GARDEN IS EVERYONE’S!” The swirly energy thingy doesn’t last long, and Darkrai is quickly annihilated for daring to intrude, but he’s bought Ash and Dawn enough time to get the song disc to the control room. Pikachu and Dawn’s Pachirisu have to supply the towers with electricity, since the dematerialisation has cut off their power source, but the delicate mechanisms that create the towers’ music seem totally undamaged. Oración plays, and Dialga and Palkia suddenly think “wait… why were we fighting again?” This scene… this scene bothers me. I think it would have been a perfectly effective scene if it had just focussed on the dragons’ reactions to the sound of Oración as the song played… but this is the climax to a Pokémon movie, which means that sparkly things need to happen. A bunch of extra protrusions, which remind me of the hands of an old-fashioned clock, unfold from the sides of the towers (this I can deal with). The towers start glowing. The clock hands actually start to grow and blossom. Finally, two enormous golden wings of light unfurl and bathe the entire town (or what’s left of it) in their radiance.
…I’m guessing no-one has ever actually played Oración on these things in the hundred years since they were built, ‘cause that really would have given the game away.
Seriously, though, this climax has a perfectly respectable age-old theme – “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast” – which can stand on its own two feet just fine, thank you very much. Invoking extraneous sparkly things and making the whole business literally magical just puts more distance between reality and an idea that isn’t at all out of place there. Isn’t the monumental architecture of the Space-Time Towers themselves spectacular enough?
Not that anyone ever listens to me.
Dialga shrugs and flies off back to his own dimension, leaving Palkia to clean up the mess. Ash and Dawn give Palkia a very stern talking to, commanding her to put Alamos Town back the way it was… and Palkia is like, “whatevs,” does it, and flies away. Ash and his friends are all distraught that Darkrai is dead, and have a little mourning scene complete with a greyscale montage of their memories of Darkrai… which is quite poorly done, if you ask me; the music playing is slow and sentimental, exactly as you’d expect from a scene like this, but since they have no soft, gentle memories of Darkrai, the montage is mainly comprised of the coolest explosions Darkrai was involved in during the battle. Honestly, it feels like a parody of eulogistic montages, but I think they mean it. None of that really matters though; as they very quickly learn, Darkrai isn’t dead at all, because Pokémon movies have a huge difficulty with allowing their heroic sacrifices to stick. It actually does make sense with reference to the movie’s internal logic; when Palkia restored Alamos Town, she restored everything – including all the living things that were destroyed, like the trees – so it stands to reason that Darkrai would be back too. I just find the effect on the movie’s emotional tone unnecessary and irritating, especially after that godawful montage – did Victini get one of those in movie 14? I’m not sure, but I don’t think he did.
Then the movie ends. During the credits we see footage of the Pokémon Contest they came to Alamos Town for in the first place, but it’s basically over. Rise of Darkrai… has its moments; I’ll give it that (not all of them are good moments, mind you). I quite like the idea that the Space-Time Towers had been Godey’s defence against his nightmares all along (although I question the wisdom of some of his decisions, like not explaining the towers’ true purpose to anyone, storing the unclearly-labelled Oración disc in a completely different place from most of the other songs, and putting the control room halfway up the towers). I’m also generally pleased with Darkrai’s characterisation, which is almost a complete one-eighty from the way he’s portrayed in the games. On the other hand, the movie is very prone to putting funny words in Tonio’s mouth and expecting you to accept them because he’s a scientist. Also, although the movie’s obsession with sparkly things isn’t noticeably greater than that of any other Pokémon movie, it definitely bothers me more, simply because of the way it manifests. Finally… what’s up with the name “Rise of Darkrai”? Darkrai doesn’t really do anything in this movie that could be described as “rising” in the sense that the title implies. I realise “a Film with Darkrai in it” doesn’t have quite the same punch but, honestly, it would have made more sense. On balance, I think I’d probably rate Victini and Zekrom higher, but Jewel of Life remains immovably upon its last-place throne (no; I’m not writing a review of it, so don’t ask me to – this means you, Jim).
Gonna do some other stuff for a while, then Giratina and the Sky Warrior when we eventually get around to watching it. Stay tuned.
EDIT: I WAS MISTAKEN. Darkrai’s characterisation in the games is similar to this movie’s. I APOLOGISE TO ALL THOSE I HAVE MISLED.
Oh, this movie…
My so-called “best friend,” Jim, gave me the DVD for this movie, the tenth in the series, (along with the eleventh, Giratina and the Sky Warrior) for Christmas. A couple of weeks ago I managed to make him watch it with me. This movie…
It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, because it does eventually, it’s more that the whole first half of it is one great big long “what the hell is going on and why do I care?” It opens with a scientist guy reading cryptic nonsense from a dead person’s journal, intercut with scenes of the nightmare the journal describes: two enormous magic dinosaurs fighting in the middle of an electrical storm in space, a place the narration calls the “space-time rift.”
One quickly learns that in Rise of Darkrai it’s generally best just to go with it.
HERE BE SPOILERS!
The pink dinosaur is injured by the blue dinosaur and attempts to flee, as they continue to lob explosions at each other. The scientist’s hourglass falls and shatters. This is SYMBOLISM; I’m pointing it out because it’s very subtle and I was worried you might not catch it. We then cut to our dearly beloved heroes Ash and Pikachu, and their current minions, Brock and Dawn. Like Iris and Cilan in Victini and Zekrom, these two don’t really contribute a lot to the movie but you can tell the writers were still trying on this one. Ash’s quest for Pokémon ‘mastership,’ to use the narrator’s ‘word’, has taken the trio to a place called Alamos Town. On the way, they meet a young woman named Alice who can play music with a leaf (this is actually a thing, apparently) and, to Brock’s astonishment, is not in his “little blue book of babes” (presumably a journal of his life as an incredibly creepy stalker). She gives them a lift into town on her hot-air balloon, during which they experience a strange and disconcerting but apparently harmless shockwave of some kind, and points out Alamos Town’s major landmark, the Space-Time Towers. Team Rocket show up in their own hot-air balloon but are blown out of the sky by a group of Drifloon without even managing to attract the attention of the real cast.
When they land, Alice shows them around, they have some battles, and then they visit Alamos Town’s public gardens, which were built by the same architect who designed the Space-Time towers, a fellow named Godey. There are some cute scenes where the team’s Pokémon play with the wild Pokémon that live in the gardens and get into a fight over an accident, but Alice uses her mad leaf whistling skillz to calm everyone down. While the kids are complimenting Alice’s music, a wild Gallade shows up to warn her about something. They all follow Gallade to an area of the gardens where some stone pillars have been twisted out of shape somehow, which the local pompous aristocrat, Baron Alberto, is quick to blame on Darkrai, a mysterious Pokémon associated with nightmares. Alberto notices a rustling in the bushes and, sensing Darkrai, sends out his Pokémon partner – a Lickilicky (proving once and for all that Nintendo know the easiest way to make the audience hate their designated antagonist is by giving him a Lickilicky). Alberto’s strategy with Lickilicky throughout this entire movie is to Hyper Beam everything, and this is just what he does here, but the rustling unfortunately turns out to be a man named Tonio, the scientist from the prologue and Alice’s sort-of-boyfriend, who is… doing science things… to investigate the distortion effects. While he recovers from this wacky misunderstanding, there is another shockwave and Ash spots the real Darkrai appearing in the shadows. Alberto is quick to aim a Hyper Beam at him but fails to understand how massively outclassed his Lickilicky is against the embodiment of all nightmares. Darkrai evades Lickilicky’s attacks without effort by turning into a shadow and then hurls a sphere of darkness back at Lickilicky, but misses and hits Ash, causing him to trip out and have a vision of the enormous magic dinosaurs from the prologue.
Hours later, Pikachu manages to shock Ash awake in the local Pokémon Centre, where Nurse Joy explains that anyone who falls asleep near Darkrai suffers from terrible nightmares, so he is shunned by just about everyone. While they’re talking about this, Tonio obsesses over what looks to me like a knot in the wood of the floorboards, which he is convinced is another space-time distortion, and runs off back to his study beneath the Space-Time Towers. He spends the night there reading the journal, which belonged to Godey the architect (Tonio’s great-grandfather), and recounts how Darkrai appeared in the gardens long ago and was befriended by Alice’s grandmother, Alicia, when she was a little girl. Tonio then finds an early schematic of the Space-Time Towers, accompanied by Godey’s statement that his nightmare had made him understand “for the future, I needed to leave Oración for the world.” The journal fails to explain what Oración actually is, though. Tonio falls asleep in his study and is found in the morning by Alice, who is giving Ash, Brock and Dawn a tour of the Space-Time Towers. While Alice berates Tonio for sleeping on the floor and Tonio goes over his discoveries of the previous night, Pikachu and Dawn’s Piplup discover a shelf of heavy brass discs, about the size of film reels, filled with clockwork mechanisms and dotted with complex patterns of holes like the punch-cards used to program the first computers. Tonio explains that these ‘music discs’ are used to make the towers play songs and, at Dawn’s insistence, leads the group up to the control room that sits between the two towers, about halfway up. When an impressive-looking machine is activated with a disc in its slot, an array of enormous hammers positioned up and down the insides of the towers play the music encoded on the disc by striking a series of taut cables, like a ludicrously oversized piano. THERE IS SURELY NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE IMPORTANT LATER IN THE MOVIE.
Shortly after the group leaves the Space-Time Towers and Tonio returns to his lab, Alamos Town experiences more shockwaves. We cut back to the space thunderstorm for a minute and see the pink magic dinosaur trying to escape the blue magic dinosaur by diving through a tear in space, through which the Space-Time Towers are visible. This is accompanied by an especially impressive shockwave, which Tonio, down in his lab, realises is emanating from “between the dimensions”…whatever that means (for something to be between dimensions it’d have to be outside them, and does the word “outside” even have meaning when excluded from physical space, and how the hell does Tonio measure this nonsense, and I don’t think they even really know what the word “dimension” means, and you know what I’m just going to go with it). Without warning, Darkrai appears in the town square, where Ash and his friends are enjoying more battles against the trainers they met the day before, and gives the terse command “go away!” Alberto and his Lickilicky are on the scene instantly (accompanied by Team Rocket, who are pretending to be reporters doing a story on him) but fail just as spectacularly as before to make any impact on the mysterious Pokémon, who puts a dozen Pokémon in the square to sleep with his Dark Void attack and then flees. Ash and Alberto pursue him, but he quickly escapes after putting Lickilicky to sleep. They are then confronted with a hallucination of a Bibarel floating in the air and walking through walls… which… is weird, don’t get me wrong, but the movie’s just getting started, because Alberto then turns into a Lickilicky. He can still speak normally for some reason, despite now having a tongue twice the length of his body; in fact at a later point in the movie he even manages to talk while using his tongue to restrain Darkrai with Wrap. Like I said at the beginning, it’s best just to go with it – especially as it prompts Alberto to wail what is easily the best line of the movie: “MY ROYAL TONGUE!!!” When Ash, Team Rocket and Alberto arrive back at the gardens, they learn that images of all the Pokémon Darkrai put to sleep are running around them in circles. Tonio deduces – through SCIENCE – that the space-time distortions are merging their dreams with reality, and suggests that Lickilicky is dreaming about being Alberto. I’m pretty sure this makes no sense at all. Shouldn’t there just be an image of Alberto wandering around nearby making Lickilicky noises? Besides, if all the other dream effects are just illusions, why does Alberto actually gain all of Lickilicky’s powers? All this aside, I am delighted by the implication, which Jim pointed out after the movie had ended, that Lickilicky’s worst nightmare is being Alberto.
The other trainers discover that the town has been surrounded by a thick, impassable bank of fog, which prompts Baron Lickilicky (as Jessie of Team Rocket quickly dubs him) to start a witch-hunt for Darkrai. Alice isn’t sure Darkrai’s behind it all, though, and Tonio agrees, recounting a day from their childhood when (he suspects) Darkrai saved Alice from a fall in the gardens, though she had always believed Tonio saved her. They return to Tonio’s lab and review some video footage of the biggest shockwave, collected by Tonio’s Drifblim. Zooming in and enhancing the image, Tonio sees, for a fraction of a second, the pink magic dinosaur from the prologue appearing at the epicentre of the shockwave, and identifies it as Palkia, an ancient godlike Pokémon that rules over the spatial dimensions. Darkrai’s earlier command, “go away!” was directed at Palkia, and, after dealing in short order with Alberto’s phenomenally poorly-conceived witch-hunt, Darkrai is now on his way to enforce that command…