Anime Time: Episodes 66 and 67

The Evolution Solution – The Pi-Kahuna

Professor Oak did you really just spend all morning making this crappy Powerpoint of a Slowbro with question marks all over it?
Professor Oak did you really just spend all morning making this crappy Powerpoint of a Slowbro with question marks all over it?

These two episodes cover a brief (?) excursion to tropical Seafoam Island, where Delia and a group of her friends from Pallet Town are enjoying a relaxing holiday (it’s a very different place from the Seafoam Islands in the games).  Misty and Brock are both invited to join their group, but Ash – who is theoretically supposed to be training for the Pokémon League – is left behind, until he manages to con Professor Oak into giving him an excuse to go anyway.  The Evolution Solution, upon watching it again, is not as interesting an episode as I had hoped it would be, and The Pi-Kahuna has themes that are pretty standard for the Pokémon anime.  However, the former gives me an excuse to ramble at length about Shellder and Slowbro, while the latter… let’s just say its themes are open to creative reinterpretation.  Anyway – without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episodes 66 and 67”

Anime Time: Episodes 37 and 41

Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion – Wake Up, Snorlax

Ash’s location: Czech Republic, or thereabouts.

For today’s show… two weird-ass episodes about two weird-ass trainers and their two weird-ass Pokémon!

 Ditto shapeshifting into Pikachu to prepare for battle, by Travis Orams (http://trezhurisland.deviantart.com/).

In Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion, Ash, Misty and Brock take shelter from a sudden, violent rainstorm inside a worn-out, creaking old mansion, which appears deserted until they see a teal-haired boy wearing clothes exactly like Ash’s standing in the shadows.  “Yeah, except it’s a girl,” Brock notes.  How does he know?  “Men’s intuition.”  Indeed, the ‘boy’ is a young girl named Duplica, who has an incredible gift for imitation, and lives in the mansion with her Pokémon partner, a Ditto.  Ash is disdainful when Duplica explains that Ditto’s only power is Transform; he doesn’t see the point in a Pokémon that can only ever be a cheap imitation of something else.  Duplica shows him his mistake by challenging him to a battle and having her Ditto block Bulbasaur’s Razor Leaf with Vine Whip, then use its vines to restrain Bulbasaur.  Ash surrenders and sulks for a little while, until Brock points something out to him: Ditto may have been imitating Bulbasaur, but Duplica wasn’t simply imitating Ash; she used another of Bulbasaur’s powers to counter what the real one was trying to do.  In order to battle like that with Ditto, Duplica must have encyclopaedic knowledge of all Pokémon species and their capabilities.  She isn’t really the battling type, though; Duplica wants to be a performer.  When travellers stop at the mansion, Duplica entertains them with her Pokémon cosplay and Ditto’s transformations.  Unfortunately, Duplica’s Ditto can’t mimic faces, which has wrecked their act on more than one occasion.  As she is telling Ash her woes, Team Rocket make their obligatory appearance and nab Ditto.  They want it to Transform into a mythical Dratini so they can present it to Giovanni, but Ditto, presented with a picture of Dratini in a book, can only Transform into the book.  They also quickly learn of Ditto’s inability to mimic faces, but eventually succeed, using threats of physical violence, in getting it to Transform into a perfect copy of Meowth.  When the kids arrive – wearing Team Rocket costumes from Duplica’s stash and reciting the Team Rocket motto, just for the hell of it – Duplica is overjoyed and even thanks them for helping Ditto learn to Transform properly.  Jessie and James try to give Meowth to Duplica and fly off with Ditto in their balloon… but she isn’t fooled for one second, and lobs him at the balloon, causing Jessie and James to drop the real Ditto.  Furious, they deploy a cannon from the balloon’s basket, but Duplica has Ditto Transform into the cannon and blast Pikachu at them, with predictable results.  Duplica goes back to her mansion to re-open for business, the kids get on with whatever it is they claim to be doing, and Jessie and James attempt to stuff Meowth into a Dratini costume…

 This is the kind of thing you want to see when you stop for a rest at the side of the road, right?  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

Let’s talk about Ditto.  Ditto is one of those Pokémon who’s gotten something of a raw deal in the games, because Ditto in the games really is just a cheap imitation of whatever it Transforms into.  It’ll probably have less HP, it can match but not exceed its opponents in all other respects (including, most importantly, speed), and it’s overwhelmingly likely to be at a one-turn disadvantage because of the time it takes to Transform.  Contrast the way Ditto’s Mysterious Mansion portrays this weird-ass little Pokémon.  The way Brock and Duplica describe how Ditto battles seems to imply that Ditto can imitate any technique a Pokémon is physically capable of, even if the opponent doesn’t actually know it – if they had been fighting outside in fine weather, for instance, Duplica might have had Ditto hammer Ash’s Bulbasaur with a Solarbeam.  What’s more, Ditto’s ability to imitate inanimate objects is something entirely unique to the anime (and with good reason; it’d be merry hell to add something like that to the games).  Whatever it’s imitating, though, it seems clear that – as in the games – Ditto can only Transform into what’s actually in front of it.  A picture of a Dratini won’t cut it; Ditto can only manage a copy of the picture.  However, when Jessie shows Ditto a photo of her old school crush and asks it to show her what he’d look like aged up a few years, Ditto is able to accommodate her; it can still only Transform into a photo, and it fails, as usual, to imitate his face, but it does manage to age the boy in the image as Jessie asks.  Clearly, then, Ditto can take some licence with its transformations (for instance, it could probably Transform, if it chose, into a ‘shiny’ version of a Pokémon standing in front of it, or make other superficial changes); it just can’t create a whole three-dimensional form from scratch, or from memory.  The other fascinating thing Ditto is able to imitate is Meowth’s ability to speak, which is an extremely unusual skill that Meowth learned only with incredible effort.  When Jessie and James present Duplica with two identical Meowth, Ditto mimics everything Meowth says, though it doesn’t appear to be able to add anything (suggesting that it’s just parroting the sounds without understanding them, but even that is beyond the abilities of most Meowth).  Clearly, then, Ditto has some degree of access even to complex learned abilities, but may not be able to use them effectively without some sort of instruction.  Some questions to ponder, then: would Ditto be able to speak if it Transformed into a different Meowth?  What if Team Rocket’s Meowth had been there with them to show it how?  In short, does Transforming actually allow Ditto to take knowledge from the template Pokémon’s mind?  More importantly, why isn’t this the kind of thing Professor Oak and his ilk are researching?

So much for Ditto… now for a distinctly more vexing Pokémon.

 Snorlax reaching up to grab a Leppa Berry, by theMerce (http://themerce.deviantart.com/).

After a brief run-in with an old hobo, who plays them a song on his Poké-Flute before demanding food (which they do not have) as payment, Ash, Misty and Brock wander into a town, delirious with hunger, and find that no-one there has any food either.  Luckily for them, they run into the mayor, who is generous enough to give them a meal from his family’s private stores.  The mayor explains that the river that flows through the town has dried up for some reason, ruining their farmland and causing massive food shortages.  “No-one dares go upstream anymore.  There’s no telling what you might find.”  Luckily, Ash and his friends are random wandering Pokémon trainers – the best people for any dangerous and loosely-specified task!  They follow the dry riverbed for some time, hacking through the oppressive tangles of thorny vines in their path, and find what seems to be the problem… a Snorlax blocking the river (where… is all the water going, exactly?).  Ash tries to capture Snorlax, but his Pokéball just bounces off.  As the kids puzzle over his monstrous bulk, Team Rocket arrive in their balloon and declare that they have come to take Snorlax.  Ash is reluctant to let them steal the massive Pokémon, but- wait, steal?  Isn’t it a wild Snorlax?  Surely it’s fair game?  Clearly, as far as Ash is concerned, there is a definite ethical distinction between battling a wild Pokémon to capture it in a Pokéball and simply carting it off in its sleep, as Jessie and James mean to.  Regardless, Ash has to admit that getting rid of Snorlax is more important.  The balloon can’t lift his fat ass, though, and nothing they try can wake him up.  When he shifts his weight, though, they find a “Do Not Disturb” sign underneath him, with the instruction “in case of emergency, please use a Poké-Flute to wake.”  The kids remember the hobo, rush back to find him… for some reason, get into a battle with Team Rocket for control of the hobo, which of course they win… and lead him to the Snorlax.  The hobo claims that the Snorlax is his, and that he wakes it with his flute once a month.  He does so now, but it turns out that Snorlax was never the problem… the stream is being blocked by another dense thicket of vines.  As the kids scratch their heads, Snorlax takes matters into his own hands and devours the entire thicket, releasing the river and restoring the town’s lifeblood, before going back to sleep.  Finally, the hobo’s Snorlax-shaped pager beeps and flashes “No. 7,” to tell him that he has to go and wake up another Snorlax.

Wait, what?

Okay, guys, I know you probably meant that as a throwaway joke, but… you do realise you just implied that this hobo is responsible for travelling around Kanto regulating the sleep cycles of at least seven different Snorlax?

Because that is AWESOME!

 Snorlax saves the day.

Seriously, though, let’s put a little thought into this.  Snorlax is an interesting Pokémon, from an ecological perspective… by which I mean, the damn thing eats everything.  Luckily they also sleep for months at a time, giving the ecosystem time to recover from their onslaughts.  However, in an episode from the Orange League series, Snack Attack, we see how absurdly destructive a single Snorlax can be when it gets peckish in the wrong place at the wrong time; these things can devour forests in a matter of days.  The flip side of this, though, is how Snorlax fit into ecosystems that are used to their presence.  Snorlax presumably don’t often move very far.  One imagines that the one Ash encounters in Wake Up, Snorlax has been living in the area for quite some time.  Its presence is probably what has been keeping the thorn weed under control and stopping the river from turning into an overgrown swamp long before now.  The removal of such a major consumer from an ecosystem could only be disastrous; if Ash actually had captured the Snorlax, and then found a way to clear the vines himself, chances are they would have grown back within months, choking the river once again.  There are probably many grassland and meadow environments in Kanto that can exist in their present state only because of Snorlax living in the area and regularly trimming back more aggressive types of flora.  Think about that for a moment the next time you’re playing Fire Red or Leaf Green and decide to catch that wild Snorlax.  The hobo’s role in all this is a little harder to guess at, unless you’re prepared to accept that Snorlax will actually sleep indefinitely unless disturbed.  It might be that their natural sleep cycle is easily disturbed by human activity, or that they’ve been moved from their original territory (maybe to make room for a city, or maybe as a deliberate attempt to alter the environment) and need to eat more or less often than usual because of the different vegetation.  In spite of their size and power, I could actually see Snorlax being tremendously vulnerable to environmental disturbances because of their massive energy requirements, and perhaps being a very high-maintenance species to protect, like the giant pandas they vaguely resemble.

What I like about the anime is that it often gives more detailed portraits of particular species of Pokémon than the games are capable of providing in their current state.  I think there’s actually plenty of room for the games to do this as well, but that’s neither here nor there.  Ditto and Snorlax are both very interesting Pokémon to think about – Ditto because of the unanswered questions about the extent of its powers, Snorlax because of his unusual lifestyle and needs – and, in keeping with the spirit of learning and discovery that’s been part of the point of Pokémon from the beginning, such portraits are a tremendously important part of the franchise as a whole.  Or… that’s what I think, anyway.

Anime Time: Episodes 30-31

Sparks Fly for Magnemite – Dig Those Diglett

 This fanart of a Grimer in a place not unlike Gringy City, by Quinnzel (http://quinnzel101.deviantart.com/), actually looks marginally less repulsive than most Grimer.  It's almost cute... y'know, in a... hideous misshapen travesty of nature kinda way...

Sparks Fly for Magnemite sees Ash, Misty and Brock visit Gringy City, an industrial town that is almost as pleasant as it sounds.  Dirty, smelly, and blanketed with choking smog, the place seems to be all but abandoned, and as if today weren’t bad enough already, Pikachu’s cheeks are discharging sparks at random.  The distressingly ineffectual Nurse Joy #222 lazily diagnoses Pikachu with a cold and tell Ash to leave him at the Pokémon Centre overnight… but then, to add a finishing touch to what is already the low point of the week, the power cuts out and leaves all the Pokémon in the ICU without vital life-support machinery.  Ash leaves Pikachu at the Pokémon Centre, but he sneaks out and follows them because he’s kind of insecure and is worried Ash might ditch him.  After stopping at the police station to consult Officer Jenny #400, who’s almost as unhelpful as Joy but at least gives them directions, they head for the seemingly abandoned power plant.  As they walk through the dark corridors, they sense something following them – a wild Magnemite.  Ash initially wants to catch it but Misty points out that it doesn’t seem to want to battle (yes, this matters; trying to capture a Pokémon that doesn’t want to fight you almost seems to be thought rude, if not downright impossible).  In fact, Magnemite just wants to hit on Pikachu.  Before anyone has time to ponder Magnemite’s choice of love interest, a swarm of Grimer, led by a Muk, burst into the corridor and, insulted by Ash and Misty’s failure to appreciate their charming aroma, attack.  Ash, Misty and Brock flee and find their way to the control room, where a pair of cowering engineers explain the situation: the huge numbers of Grimer have clogged the power planet’s seawater intake.  The Grimer break down the door, and it seems all is lost; there are just too many for Ash, Misty and Brock to deal with… until Pikachu’s strange boyfriend reappears with an army of Magnemite and Magneton.  Together with Pikachu, they send the Grimer scurrying away, restoring power, and weaken the Muk enough for Ash to capture it (since it turns out that Muk’s smell leaks through the Pokéball – how the hell do those things work, anyway? – Ash quickly sends it back to Pallet Town for Professor Oak to deal with).  Magnemite loses interest in Pikachu, since the sparks were actually symptoms of overcharging, which altered his magnetic field (it actually makes a lot of sense that Magnemite would recognise each other by their magnetism; I quite like this), and he’s burnt up his excess in the battle with Muk.  Our heroes suggest keeping the charming little town cleaner to reduce the numbers of Grimer, Useless Joy and Useless Jenny thank them for making everyone in Gringy City a better person just by meeting them, and they go on their merry way.

 The most adorable possible interpretation of the question "what does the lower half of Diglett's body look like?", by YiYang1989 (http://yiyang1989.deviantart.com/)

Of course, they promptly get lost again.  Ash is looking for the Fuchsia Gym, but unfortunately “Fuchsia City” doesn’t actually appear to be a thing in the anime, and the Gym is in the middle of nowhere, which makes it rather difficult to find.  As they wander, an explosion rocks the hills (disturbing Team Rocket’s lunch and prompting them to seek revenge), and as they run to look they see a convoy of trucks being wrecked by a troupe of Diglett.  The Diglett are interfering with the construction of a dam nearby, and the foreman has called for Pokémon trainers to help drive them off, including Gary, who remains as insufferable as ever.  In the English continuity this is the first time Brock and Misty have met him, because Beauty and the Beach was axed.  They hate him instantly.  Fortunately, Gary isn’t around for long: none of the trainers present, including Ash and Gary, can get their Pokémon to emerge from their Pokéballs, much less actually fight the Diglett, and Gary leaves in disgust, along with most of the others.  While Ash, Brock and Misty try to understand, Jessie and James are having a nervous breakdown because none of their evil schemes ever bear fruit.  They conclude that their Pokémon aren’t powerful enough, and decide to invoke “The Principle of Induced Evolution!”  This turns out to be a rather dull textbook.  They learn that Ekans and Koffing will only evolve if they gain enough experience, but also that evolution might change their personalities.  Jessie and James become conflicted and start sobbing over Ekans and Koffing, who begin to evolve when the tears touch them.  Meowth says smugly that “their time to evolve just happens to be now;” he seems to be suggesting that they were about to evolve anyway, but Ekans and Koffing haven’t fought anything for two and a half episodes, so this seems to be less a matter of gaining experience and more about making their masters proud.  Anyway, Ash and the others follow one of the Diglett away from the construction site and find a landscape being tilled and cultivated by Diglett and Dugtrio.  They realise that all the forests in the region – which the new dam would flood – are gardens built and maintained by the Diglett, who are understandably protective of their lands.  The other Pokémon refused to fight them because they agreed with what the Diglett were doing.  The foreman, seeing everything his plans would destroy, gives in and decides to halt the construction.  At this point Jessie and James show up with their new Pokémon, Arbok and Weezing, and try to go after Pikachu, but only seconds into the battle Jessie makes the supreme tactical mistake of sending Arbok underground, invoking the wrath of the Dugtrio, who summarily crush Arbok and Weezing before they can bring their new powers to bear (not sure what I think of this – on the one hand, it makes their evolution distressingly anticlimactic; on the other, it emphasises that power isn’t all that matters).  Order is restored and, well, the dam couldn’t have been that important anyway, right?

 Magneton fanart, by Kairyu (http://kairyu.deviantart.com/ - I don't think this dude's been using his account for some time but his Pokémon fanart is awesome, so check it out).  For those of the audience who had no childhood, three Magnemite make up a Magneton, their evolved form.

In the Pokémon world, the environment is a very fiddly thing to deal with – and not least because it will fight back!  Some (most? all?) Pokémon are sentient, which makes the notion of compromising their habitats an even trickier ethical question than it is in the real world.  It’s effectively conquest, which is the same kind of theme as we got in Tentacool and Tentacruel.  Of course, when your tools of conquest are, themselves, Pokémon, the whole thing doesn’t work so smoothly.  The refusal of the trainers’ Pokémon even to come out of their Pokéballs implies some very curious things.  First, they know what’s going on around them even while inside (again, how the hell do those things work, anyway?).  Second, they already know what the Diglett are trying to do, and since I doubt they would immediately understand the implications of the construction project on their own, this further suggests that they’re already familiar with the Diglett as regulators and protectors of the environment.  Attacking them is in some sense ‘not part of the deal.’  That’s not the interesting part, though.  The interesting part is how this episode differs from Tentacool and Tentacruel.  Until the bizarre accident with Team Rocket’s stun sauce, the Tentacool are essentially a passive part of the environment; everything they do is reactive.  The Dugtrio, on the other hand, are active agents in all of this, just as much as the humans are.  They deliberately manipulate the environment in order to create and maintain habitats for themselves and for many other species – and Brock speculates that this isn’t just a local phenomenon either, but something that Diglett and Dugtrio do all over the world.  They have a large-scale, systematically implemented plan for the management of the landscape, and mount a co-ordinated defence of that plan when it is threatened.  In fact, I think it’s a mistake to see the Dugtrio as part of ‘nature,’ or to see the ‘natural’ landscape of the hills and forests in the region as any less of a created, artificial environment than it would have become if the dam had been completed.  The way the Dugtrio handle things revolves around balancing the needs of multiple species, and is much more subtle than what the humans have learned to do.  Bear in mind, however, that the dam would probably have provided hydroelectric power and thus lessened the atmospheric pollution created by human dependence on fossil fuels (made so very prominent in Gringy City).  In short, although ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ form one of the core dualities that Black and White focus on, and although that same contrast is a theme that Pokémon as a franchise has always dwelt on often, I don’t think we should view Dig Those Diglett in quite those terms, since the Diglett and Dugtrio as presented here are, dare I say it, ‘civilised’ in their approach to the world around them.  Complications like this are – I think – exactly why trainers, who can act as mediators between Pokémon and humanity, are a vital part of society in the Pokémon world.

So, what about the Grimer?  Where do they fit in all of this?  Grimer and Muk (along with Koffing and Weezing, for that matter) are another of those strange little corner cases that make the Pokémon word so interesting.  Like the Diglett, they blur the lines between civilisation and nature, in that they’re a product of civilisation but not a part of it; in fact they’re a product of that most undesirable aspect of civilisation, industrial pollution.  You could even make the analogy that, just as Diglett create environments that are suitable for Rattata, Pidgey and other typical forest Pokémon, humans create environments that are suitable for Pokémon like Grimer, Koffing and Magnemite.  Sparks Fly for Magnemite clearly has an environmentalist moral; the people of Gringy City get their comeuppance for all the pollution their town vomits into the air when the Grimer, who feed on that pollution, multiply out of control.  The message is clear: we want a world without Grimer.  They’re still Pokémon like any other, though, presumably with the same rights from an ethical perspective.  Although Ash doesn’t often have reason to deploy his Muk, the Sludge Pokémon is a fantastic ally when he does (and an interesting… friend… to Professor Oak the rest of the time), so I don’t think we should necessarily assimilate the undesirable nature of their origins to the Pokémon themselves.  Is it right to clean up the polluted areas that constitute their ‘habitat’?  I’m not sure I have a satisfactory answer to this one yet, but for now I’m going to suggest seeing Grimer and Muk as regulators of the sensitive balance between humans and the environment – they can’t create toxic waste from nothing, and in fact they consume industrial waste.  One can only assume that they actually break the stuff down, resulting in products that are less harmful to other Pokémon.  They appear to make a situation worse because of the way they concentrate toxins, but I suspect that they’re really a positive influence.  Too much pollution, though, and they’ll just multiply and swallow your city, and you’ll be no better off.

I’m not sure how far my conclusions today match the writers’ original intentions (if at all); rather, this is an outline of a starting point for questions the franchise could ask and elaborations that could be made on its existing themes.  When I reviewed all the Unova Pokémon last year, I often talked about ‘doing more with less’ – this is sort of what I mean.  New Pokémon are great, but we don’t actually need them when the existing ones still have so much untapped storytelling potential.  Or at least, that’s what I think.  You may have other ideas.

Anime Time: Episodes 19-21

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

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

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episodes 19-21”