Carbink and Diancie

Carbink.

I’ve decided to do Carbink and Diancie together because, although not actually related by evolution in the normal sense, they are apparently part of the same species: according to the Pokédex, Diancie actually develop from Carbink who possess an incredibly rare mutation.  This mutation is impossible to predict or influence, so there’s no way to evolve a Carbink or breed a Diancie in the game, but take Game Freak’s word for it, that’s where Diancie comes from.  For this reason – and also because there’s, uh… actually a whole lot I don’t know about Diancie – today we’re going to cover both of them, and the relationship between them, which is sort of interesting in itself.  Here we go!

Carbink are incredibly ancient Pokémon.  Like Roggenrola, they are born and grow deep inside the earth, belonging to an ecosystem that is utterly alien to the humans and Pokémon of the surface world.  Like the diamonds (which, of course, are made of carbon) that dominate their bodies, Carbink are formed in conditions of extreme heat and pressure; they’re genderless, so presumably they don’t breed, but just grow spontaneously from diamond ore somehow.  Some Carbink have supposedly spent hundreds of millions of years in hibernation, awoken only by human mining activity – meaning that some individual Carbink are older than entire species of fossil Pokémon like Rampardos and Tyrantrum, and that their own species has remained almost entirely unchanged this whole time.  I once made the suggestion that maybe the reason all fossil Pokémon are Rock-types is because Pokémon originally evolved from rocks, and at the time I was being entirely tongue-in-cheek, but every now and then I do notice something that makes me think “oh, gods above, what if I was actually right?”  The realisation that possibly the oldest surviving species in the known world is basically a sentient diamond definitely makes today one of those times (it bears mentioning, though, that if any Pokémon were going to survive that long, of course it would be a Rock-type).  It’s entirely possible – if speculative – that Carbink are the original (non-legendary) Pokémon.  Most natural diamonds in the real world are over a billion years old, and a similar age for some Carbink doesn’t seem out of the question.  The other Pokémon you might suspect of being similarly ancient, Pokémon like Geodude and Roggenrola, are gendered; they reproduce – or at least, they can reproduce – by normal breeding, if anything about Pokémon breeding can be called ‘normal,’ so I’d presume their species are the end results of long-term evolutionary developments, in a way that Carbink apparently isn’t.  Forget Mew (my thoughts on her can be found elsewhere), here’s your ancestor Pokémon, or something like it, anyway: unimaginably ancient, with an extremely simple body structure, barely organic, born spontaneously from abiotic physical processes, and apparently incapable of ageing.

You know, I’m sort of used to regarding Rock as one of the more mundane elements, but when you stop to think about them, Rock Pokémon are weird.

 Diancie.

I remember being sure, when I first met Carbink on X, “this thing isn’t done evolving,” and being quite surprised when I realised that there was no empty space for an evolution in my Pokédex.  I now feel rather vindicated by the fact that, although Carbink don’t really evolve, as such, they do transform occasionally into a much more powerful Pokémon: Diancie, a pink diamond Pokémon with incredible powers.  Diancie can create diamonds at will by extracting carbon from the carbon dioxide in the air and condensing it – interesting, given the stuff I was just saying about Carbink, since this is basically a brute-force method of carbon fixation; Diancie does with raw magical power what plants and Grass Pokémon do by the more elegant and sophisticated biochemistry of photosynthesis.  That’s another point that I can semi-reasonably twist towards my interpretation of Carbink and Diancie as extremely basic ancestral forms of life.  Diancie features prominently in the movie Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, which was released in Japan earlier this year but has yet to make an appearance in English, as well as in a little anime short released ahead of the movie to introduce her character, entitled Diancie, Princess of the Ore Country.  I’ve only seen a little teaser from the movie, but from what I can gather, the gist of it is as follows.  Diancie is a kind and fun-loving, if somewhat capricious, Pokémon who is doted on by a community of Carbink, who call her their “princess” (Diancie and the Carbink can all speak telepathically) and believe that she has an important destiny.  Their home is protected by the magic of a huge pink diamond, which is nearing the end of its ‘life,’ and apparently Diancie is supposed to create a new one for them, but she, despite her best efforts, just can’t do it.  At his wits’ end, the eldest Carbink sends her on a quest to find Xerneas, who had once saved him and countless other Pokémon from a terrible, probably Yveltal-related destruction when he was young.  Presumably we can count on Ash to pull some kind of super friendship bull$#!t to help Diancie realise that the magic was inside her all along or whatever.  What we see here, then, is that Diancie are special Carbink who are revered for their extraordinary powers, and are believed to be destined to help and protect their communities.  As such, they are treated as royalty and waited on hand and foot – and not without good reason.  With her power to create diamonds, literally from thin air, Diancie could easily have some important role in creating new Carbink, ensuring the long-term survival of the community like the queen of an ant colony or a beehive.

In terms of its stats, Carbink has a similar shape to Shuckle, though not quite as extreme: all defence, all the time.  Its poor HP means that it can’t really make the best possible use of its titanic defence and special defence stats, but with appropriate training it can be pretty damn solid, and Rock/Fairy is a decent defensive combination too, netting it useful resistances to Dark, Fire and Flying attacks, as well as Dragon immunity.  The difficulty with Carbink is that it can’t do anything to hurt its opponents – not just through direct damage, but through… well, anything, really.  Other than Toxic, it doesn’t have any particularly interesting moves that weaken, restrict or disable.  Granted, Carbink’s not the worstPokémon ever to use Toxic, but Toxic-stalling itself simply isn’t a very effective way of killing things at the best of times.  For team support, you can use Reflect, Light Screen, Stealth Rock and Trick Room, all of which are available to plenty of Pokémon who are also actually good at other things.  You can try a Calm Mind set with Moonblast, Power Gem (which X and Y powered up into near-relevance) and Psychic.  I don’t really know why you would try that.  Carbink’s special attack is so abysmal that it takes one Calm Mind just to catch up with the likes of Aromatisse and Aurorus, who are not all that spectacular themselves, and it will still be horribly slow unless you want to tempt fate by using Rock Polish as well.  But you can.  You can also try ditching Power Gem and Psychic for Rest and Sleep Talk, which are Carbink’s only option for healing.  Rest + Sleep Talk + boosting technique + attack is a perfectly legitimate thing to do; it has been since at least generation III and possibly even II.  I don’t think I would go so far as to say that Carbink is good at it, but it’s marginally less bad than it is at most other things.  Carbink has two abilities, Clear Body (immunity to stat reduction) and Sturdy (immunity to being one-shot), and I think probably the one to go with is Clear Body, because one of Carbink’s few virtues is that only the strongest of super-effective attacks are likely to one-shot the damn thing anyway.

Diancie is another story entirely.

 Diancie's mega form.

When you look at how Carbink handles in battle, it seems a lot like it’s really just supposed to be an accessory to Diancie.  She has the same HP, defence, special defence and speed stats, but much better attack and special attack, allowing her to actually fight back against her enemies.  Diancie is a bit odd – she looks like she’s supposed to be a special attacker, and her main Fairy attack, Moonblast, is special, but her offensive stats are actually balanced, and her signature move, Diamond Storm, is physical.  She also doesn’t get Power Gem, which is doubly weird because (apart from the addition of Diamond Storm), her level-up list is otherwise identical to Carbink’s.  She just swaps Power Gem for Trick Room, which seems like a questionable choice, flavour-wise, for a gem Pokémon, but I suppose Diancie herself is slow enough to benefit from it, and tough enough to work as a supporter.  Anyway.  Anything Carbink can do, Diancie can do better.  Her main niche seems to be as a sort of mixed physical/special tank thing; she still doesn’t have any way to heal herself aside from Rest, which is unfortunate.  Diamond Storm is a big selling point for her, though – aside from being an awesome name for an attack, it’s a Rock-type move just as powerful as Stone Edge but much more accurate, and can raise her defence when she uses it.  What’s not to like?  As legendary Pokémon go, Diancie actually isn’t that great – she just inherits too much of Carbink’s terribleness, including awful speed and a fairly limited movepool.  However, she is also set to get a mega evolution with the release of Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, which will flip her around completely; Mega Diancie has weaker defences, but is also much faster and more powerful, and gets the ridiculously awesome Magic Bounce ability, which reflects status attacks back on their user.  I am also given to understand that she will receive Earth Power in those games, probably from a move tutor, and I’m not sure how we know that – I think by ripping into the coding of the demo that was released earlier this week – but the internet has spoken.  In any case, her movepool could certainly use the upgrade.  With the kind of power Mega Diancie would wield – in combination with the fact that she can act as a very different sort of Pokémon with more defence-focused abilities until the moment you choose to mega evolve her – I can easily see her keeping up with the rest of the mega-evolved crowd.

The fact that gems and crystals apparently fall under the Rock element has been apparent since Power Gem was introduced as the only special Rock attack in Diamond and Pearl, but the closest thing to a crystal Pokémon we’ve had so far is Gigalith, whose crystal formations promise much and achieve little (they’re supposed to be used for powerful solar energy attacks, which is something Gigalith is extremely bad at).  It really is about time we had Pokémon like Carbink and Diancie.  I’m a little disappointed that Carbink is so bad – it kinda gets screwed over in the same way as Phione did, although at least Carbink isn’t going to have to deal with Nintendo banning it from tournaments as though it’s some overpowered monstrosity, like they routinely do to her.  Besides, Carbink and Diancie gave me an opportunity for egregiously bizarre and groundless speculation – and isn’t that what this blog is really all about?

Xerneas and Yveltal

Xerneas.

To my amazement, we’re already coming quite close to the end.  Only a handful of Pokémon from eastern Kalos remain, then I’ll have to think of something else to pass the time until I pick up Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby (at the moment it’s looking like I’ll finally do that series on the rival characters that I’ve been putting off forever).  Meanwhile, my unfathomable whims decree that now is the time to take on the flagship Pokémon of X and Y: the divine guardian of life and the terrifying shadow of death, Xerneas and Yveltal.  I’m not even going to bother talking about stats or moves or any of that nonsense; I know I usually do, but you really don’t need me to tell you that these things are godlike, right?  Stick some attacks on them and go commit brutal murder; whatever.  I’mma talk about themes and stuff.

I will admit, I was not terribly inspired by these two when they first appeared in the teaser trailer for X and Y last year.  “Wait, so they’re… based on the letters X and Y?” I asked myself.  “What?  Why would you- what does that add?  What is the point of that?”  I’m still not really sold on the alphabet thing, and only partly because it led to that ridiculous line where Professor Sycamore says the only thing he knows about Xerneas is that it “resembles the letter X.”  No, it doesn’t; it resembles a massive f#%$ing stag.  I suppose there doesn’t really need to be any point to it, though – there was no reason for Palkia to associated with pearls and Dialga with diamonds, and Xerneas and Yveltal have plenty of other significance to them.  It’s just rather strange, after the previous generation used the titles Black and White to tie in with the Yin-Yang ideas and the themes of balance and duality that those games were so insistently pushing, that the best anyone can come up with for X and Y is that Game Freak and Nintendo were just really proud of their 3D graphics.  It wouldn’t exactly surprise me, and it even makes some sort of sense with Y conventionally representing the vertical dimension (Yveltal can fly) while X and Z are the two horizontal dimensions (Xerneas and Zygarde have two different modes of earthbound movement), but it’s not really a satisfying conclusion.  Maybe it was just coincidence that the titles and associated legendary mascot themes of Black and White worked so well – or maybe there’s something tremendously dramatic planned for Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby (which, of course, also include letters of… well, an alphabet) that will make sense of everything; I don’t know.  In any case, that’s not what I most want to talk about here, and again, I don’t think it matters.  Their curious alphabetic structures do nothing to detract from Xerneas’ obvious majesty or Yveltal’s palpable malice.  These are Pokémon who know which notes they want to strike, and do so quite effectively.  What I really want to do with this entry, for the most part, is take apart the Norse mythology interpretation of Xerneas and Yveltal that seems to have so thoroughly convinced the internet.

 Yveltal.

At some point shortly after that first trailer, someone latched onto a variety of figures from Scandinavian myth, primarily inhabitants of the great ash Yggdrasil, as the most likely source of inspiration for Xerneas and Yveltal’s designs, and I think everyone’s just had trouble letting go of that idea – sometimes to the exclusion of all common sense.  Personally I struggle to find much merit in the interpretation.  It sounds really clever when you take it as a whole because it gives you an eagle, a stag and a snake that all have something in common (a tie to Yggdrasil), but the individual identifications make little to no sense.  The original argument seems to have wanted Xerneas to be based on a quartet of stags who live in the branches of the World Tree and feed on its leaves.  They are described in the Grimnismal (Sayings of Grimnir), one of the poems that make up the Poetic Edda, the major surviving body of pre-Christian Norse myth.  Nothing else is known about them aside from their names: Dain, “the Dead One,” Dvalin, “the Slumberer,” Duneyr, whose name’s exact meaning is uncertain but possibly something like “Murmur,” and Durathror, who is again obscure but perhaps means “Delay.”  These, of course, all make such perfect sense for a Pokémon whose raison d’être is to invigorate life, particularly “the Dead One,” that it’s hard to believe anyone could doubt there is a connection.  The idea also seems to have circulated that each stag had a different coloured gem in its horns – red, yellow, blue and purple, the colours of the glowing projections in Xerneas’ horns – but as far as I can find there’s actually… like… no evidence for that… anywhere… so yeah.  Yveltal, similarly, is linked to an eagle who roosts at the top of Yggdrasil, a figure to whom the Eddas do not even give a name, and spends his days insulting the dragon Nidhoggr (who lives at the bottom of the tree and gnaws on its roots), by way of a squirrel messenger named Ratatoskr.  Like the four stags, the eagle forms part of the scenery of the World Tree but is otherwise not a terribly important figure, and, also like the four stags, seems to be the subject of an erroneous detail that seems to have been concocted to make the whole concept seem more likely – namely, someone seems to have put it about at some point that the mythical eagle was blind (…it wasn’t) and suggested this as an explanation for Yveltal’s unsettling blue eyes.  Finally, again like the four stags, it’s difficult to see what the Yggdrasil eagle could have given to Yveltal other than simply being a mythical bird of prey.  He’s not really linked with death or destruction, any more than the stags are linked with life.

Bulbapedia offers related alternatives to each, which do little to improve my estimation of the idea.  Yveltal, in their view, might be based on Hraesvelgr, a giant who takes the form of an eagle and lives at the edge of the world; I think the main attraction is his badass name, which means ‘Corpse-Swallower.’  This guy is a seriously obscure character.  He’s attested in a poem called the Vafthrudnismal (or Sayings of Vafthrudnir), another part of the Poetic Edda, which is basically about Odin asking the giant Vafthrudnir stupid questions.  Odin’s ninth question is “where does wind come from?” and Vafthrudnir answers “there’s a huge f#$%ing eagle-giant at the edge of the world who flaps his wings really hard” (that is, of course, my own literal translation from the Old Norse, or whatever this stuff is supposed to be written in).  The later Prose Edda quotes this passage word-for-word, and that is the sum total of what Hraesvelgr does in the extant Norse texts; how he got his sinister name is never touched on.  You may as well just say Yveltal is based on a really big eagle.  Similarly tenuous links are drawn from Xerneas to the great stag Eikthyrnir, who stands on the roof of Valhalla chewing branches of Yggdrasil and distilling the sap into the water that supplies the world’s rivers.  This one, I will grant you, actually does make some degree of sense because Eikthyrnir, like Xerneas, is a sort of wellspring of life, in the form of fresh water, though I would rather expect Xerneas to have water-related powers if that were the case – I mean, it’s not like you need a lot of justification to put something in a legendary Pokémon’s movepool, and this is literally the only thing we know about the character being identified as the inspiration for Xerneas.

 The four stags, Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr and Durathror.

All of this was discussed ad nauseam before X and Y were ever actually released.  People thus inferred that the third legendary Pokémon, whom we now know as Zygarde, would be based on Nidhoggr, and successfully predicted that it would therefore be serpentine (seriously, though, it had to have a Z-shaped body; what else could it possibly have been?).  In some ways this is the most appealing identification to me because a terrible serpent who lives underground certainly sounds like Nidhoggr, and the –garde termination could well be a reference to Asgard and Midgard (though it could equally just refer to Zygarde’s position as, well, a guardian).  In other ways it actually makes the least sense of the lot because, rather than simply being generally nondescript like most of the other beings we’ve talked about, Nidhoggr has enough of a personality to be strongly opposed to the role Game Freak appear to have in mind for Zygarde.  He’s described as “the Order Pokémon” and is supposed to be a guardian of balance in Kalos’ ecosystem, which sounds as though he’s supposed to fill a Rayquaza-like role in checking the excesses of both Xerneas and Yveltal (since overabundant life and unchecked destruction could both devastate an ecosystem; the way his ability relates to theirs reinforces this idea).  Nidhoggr, by contrast, is a far more malevolent character than any of the minor figures suggested as an inspiration for Yveltal; he spends his time chewing on the corpses of the dishonoured dead in Hel, and seems to be one of the figures on the side of evil and chaos in Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse.  If Zygarde is based on Nidhoggr, why isn’t he the Pokémon who symbolises death instead of Yveltal?  Similar attempts to locate Zygarde’s origins with the World Serpent Jormungandr – the arch-enemy of the universally loved and admired Thor, and a major player in bringing about the end of the world – are, if anything, even worse.  In any case, there will be more on Zygarde when he gets his own entry.

Finally, just to cap it all off, people point at Xerneas’ dormant form – a white tree – and say “ooh, look, it’s clearly a reference to Yggdrasil.”  Xerneas is a stag, for heaven’s sake; stags being associated with trees and forests is really nothing unusual; it’s certainly not specific to Norse myth.  Besides, where does that leave Yveltal’s cocoon?  There’s no reason Yveltal couldn’t have lain dormant as a black tree, and if Yggdrasil were really as important a unifier as this concept makes out, it would have made a great deal of sense, whereas a cocoon doesn’t give you anything to work with.

The Yggdrasil eagle, along with the hawk that inexplicably roosts between its eyes (the hawk, evidently, was important enough to be given a name - Vedrfolnir.).

 

So, now that I’ve spent all this time picking apart why I don’t think the currently popular mythological identifications work, am I now going to present something much cleverer that explains Xerneas and Yveltal perfectly?  No, actually, I’m not.  I’m really not sure there is one.  Legendary Pokémon are not usually based on specific mythological characters in this way; with a few notable exceptions, they more often tend to be the Pokémon world’s expression of generalised archetypes.  They may very well relate to mythological characters, but in most cases (again, with notable exceptions) I don’t think trying to pin them on specific characters from specific mythologies is a productive exercise.  In fact, you can count on one hand the number of specific mythological figures who are clearly identifiable in the designs of legendary Pokémon: the phoenix (Ho-oh), and the Japanese gods Fujin, Raijin and Inari (Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus).  I suppose you can also argue the nine Muses for Meloetta, Nike for Victini, or the golem of Prague for Regigigas and friends, but I don’t think those are nearly as solid.  We don’t actually need an answer to this question.  There’s nothing that should lead us to expect that there is one.  If we have to find a mythological antecedent for them, I rather prefer the idea that the forces represented by Xerneas, Zygarde and Yveltal correspond to the three deities of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – or, more accurately, not to the deities themselves but to the forces they represent, creation, preservation and destruction.The idea that Yveltal is a reference to the Black Death, I’m also fairly partial to; first of all, it’s got ‘death’ in the name, and although Game Freak shied away from actually calling Yveltal “the Death Pokémon” (going for “Destruction” instead), it’s pretty clear that that’s what it is, in opposition to Xerneas, “the Life Pokémon.”  The Black Death is generally understood to have been caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis – starts with a Y, which is apparently one of Yveltal’s defining features.  Like Yveltal, the Black Death appeared mysteriously to ravage a huge region centuries ago, then vanished just as mysteriously (and, if certain current ideas about the Justinian Plague of 6th century Byzantium are to be believed, it had already done so once before).  Locating such a Pokémon in a European region would also make sense.  The physical designs of Xerneas and Yveltal, though, I think were dictated partly by the X/Y theme and partly by the general feeling the designers wanted to get across.  Stags appear in a lot of fiction as guardians and avatars of nature – look no further than the stag-like forest spirit from Princess Mononoke, whom I would accept as a possible influence on Xerneas far more readily than Eikthyrnir – and Xerneas’ rainbow horns evoke the vibrancy and diversity of life.  Birds of prey can descend from the sky to snatch life away without warning, an unsettling trait that is reflected in stories found around the world of giant birds that can prey on people, like the Roc and the Thunderbird.  Xerneas and Yveltal are best seen as the Pokémon universe’s take on these broader ideas, not as attempts to ape specific mythological animals whose stories don’t even fit them.

That isn’t exactly the way I envisioned this entry going; I suppose dissecting these mythological identifications was more important to me than I realised, and in fact I’m coming to realise I haven’t actually said much about Xerneas and Yveltal themselves.  A quick assessment to finish, then.  Life and death were bold choices, and I feel there’s a lot more room to play with this story than we saw in X and Y – Zygarde will doubtless complicate the relationship between these forces a great deal.  The designs are perhaps a little over-the-top, even in comparison to previous legendary Pokémon – I mean, Xerneas is almost literally “rainbow crystal stag Jesus” – but they certainly work.  They also led to the creation of an interesting kind of threat in Team Flare and Lysandre, although I’m on the record as believing that Lysandre isn’t nearly as morally ambiguous as the game seems to think he is.  In short – if you ask me, these Pokémon work.

Sylveon

Well, this puts me in a rather awkward position.

Sylveon.
Sylveon.

See, my perspective on new evolutions of Eevee is pretty much diametrically opposite to the perspective of, as far as I can tell, the entirety of the rest of the Pokémon community – to whit, I don’t actually think we need any more.  I like Eevee as much as the next guy, but her individual evolutions are not, in and of themselves, terribly interesting – in fact the recipe seems to be “Eevee + generic powers of type x” – they’re interesting by virtue of their common lineage, and that point was quite satisfactorily made long ago.  Continuing to add more is just labouring it, I feel; I’ve never been able to think of Leafeon and Glaceon as anything other than Pokédex filler.  So, while everyone else was ecstatic with the revelation of generation VI’s new Fairy-type Eevee and then bitterly disappointed that it wasn’t accompanied by a Dragon-type one, I’m sitting here wondering what the hell is so great about the one we did get.  Right… now that I’ve made the majority of my reading audience utterly furious with me, let’s see whether I can redeem myself…

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Swirlix and Slurpuff

Swirlix.
Swirlix.

Swirlix and Slurpuff are weird Pokémon, that’s for sure.  They are the inheritors of the tradition of Vanillite, Vanillish and Vanilluxe, the ice cream Pokémon of Black and White, who earned my ire so long ago.  I wasn’t upset with them for being ice cream Pokémon, you understand.  I was upset with them because the fact that they looked like ice cream cones was easily the most interesting thing about them.  Their powers were, for Ice-types, utterly standard and generic.  Nothing in their abilities, their behaviour, or the way they interact with humans relates in any way to the fact that they’re ice cream Pokémon, and I’m pretty sure their bodies are actually made of snow and only bear a visual resemblance to vanilla ice cream anyway.  This is why Swirlix and Slurpuff, fortunately, win that comparison easily; they’re just much less boring.  Unfortunately, this means I have no excuse to dismiss them and actually need to think about whether I’m okay with ‘food Pokémon’ as a thing.

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Spritzee and Aromatisse

Spritzee.
Spritzee.

Spritzee and Aromatisse are two more of those Pokémon that can only make you think “well, of course the French would have that.”  French companies dominate the modern perfume industry, and only Italy can possibly compare to France’s reputation for perfume production.  Kalos, not content with that, has also cornered the market on perfume Pokémon (anime Erika would kill for one of these things).  While I have much more to add now, I have to stand by my original assessment of Aromatisse from my playthrough journal of X: “I feel like Big Bird’s French cousin is trying to seduce me.”  Don’t you try to tell me you’re “just doing the can-can,” Aromatisse.  That is a suggestive dance and you know it.  I see the way you look at your trainers as you bare your leg salaciously.  I’m watching you…

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