Flareon asks:

Am I useful now that I finally can learn Flare Blitz?

Well, I’d say you’re arguably no longer the worst of your siblings, which is… something, right?  Your offensive movepool is still really bad, and that’s a problem that pretty much your entire family struggles with.  The best moves you all share are support techniques, so it’s your toughest siblings – Vaporeon, Umbreon and Sylveon – who are the most consistently useful.  Espeon gets a leg up from her ludicrous hidden ability, and Jolteon kinda gets by on his good offensive stat distribution and strong attack type.  Leafeon is pretty bad, but arguably still better than you because Swords Dance and Chlorophyll give him sweeping potential.  Now that you have Flare Blitz though, you can claim to be at least as good as Glaceon, who has a similar offensive power level but a very weak defensive type and generally poor abilities.  The problem with being you, Flareon, is you’ve got one hell of a Flare Blitz, but you’re lacklustre in both speed and defence, which makes you really easy to kill, and all of Fire’s weaknesses are to really common attack types (Water, Ground and Rock – including Stealth Rock).  In comparison with other physically-oriented single-type Fire Pokémon, well… Darmanitan is somehow faster, tougher and stronger, and has a better selection of physical attacks plus the ridiculousness that is Sheer Force; while Arcanine is faster, surprisingly tough, has Intimidate, is flexible enough for a physical/special mix, and can heal with Morning Sun.  Hell, even Rapidash is faster and has arguably a better physical movepool than you, but at least she has the decency to have bad abilities, average defences and a weaker attack stat.  You could go hang out with Rapidash, I guess?

Flareon

Official art of Flareon, by Ken Sugimori; I hereby pledge allegiance to Nintendo, etc.Oh, Flareon… I am so, so sorry.

The sad thing about Flareon is that she’s so like Vaporeon and Jolteon in so many ways.  Her stats, of course, are just as good.  She has an analogous ability, Flash Fire (rather than converting Fire attacks to health, as Volt Absorb and Water Absorb do, it converts them into extra power for her own Fire attacks, but the practical strategic implications are similar).  She has many of the same supports moves, like Baton Pass and Wish.  Somehow, though, it all just completely fails to come together.

Well, no, not somehow.  I know exactly why, and it’s incredibly boneheaded.

 

Let’s back up a bit.  Way back in Red and Blue, when Flareon was first introduced, Fire-types got shafted pretty badly: there were no Steel-types around for them to bully, very few of them had any attacks types outside of Fire and Normal, and the importance of powerful Rock Pokémon like Golem and Rhydon ensured that most teams had a very simple, no-nonsense way of saying “no” to them.  I mention this so that, when I say that Flareon looks back on Red and Blue as her glory days, you will understand exactly how grim things have been for her since then.  Back then, most Fire Pokémon relied on a moveset something like [Flamethrower/Fire Blast – Body Slam – Hyper Beam – XXX], where XXX is whatever rubbishy little support move that Pokémon happens to favour (maybe Reflect or something in Flareon’s case), and Flareon was actually very good at this moveset, thanks to her obscene attack stat and excellent special stat.  She was worryingly slow, but packed more power than any other Fire Pokémon with the exception of Moltres, which was something of a niche.  Sure, it was a crappy niche that made her a sitting duck against Golem, Rhydon, Onix, Kabutops, Omastar, and goodness knows what else, but it was hers nonetheless.  Then Gold and Silver split special into special attack and special defence.  Vaporeon and Jolteon suffered hits to their special defence, which hurt Vaporeon, but not terribly.  Flareon took the loss to her special attack instead.  Her Fire attacks were still quite potent, but were no longer the force they had once been.  On the other hand, she expanded her physical movepool with the addition of Shadow Ball and Iron Tail.  You win some, you lose some.  Curse is also an option from here on out, if you want to try turning Flareon into a physical tank, but I’m not convinced she’s really tough enough for that.  After that… well, honestly, after that Game Freak seem to have forgotten about Flareon.  She was mediocre, and mediocre she stayed.  Like all Fire Pokémon, she enjoyed the introduction of Overheat in Ruby and Sapphire, but did so while sighing wistfully at the memory of her long-lost special stat.

 The thing to remember about Flareon, as this piece by Viskamiro (http://viskamiro.deviantart.com/) attests, is that she will explode at the slightest provocation.

Diamond and Pearl, by all rights, should have revitalised Flareon, as they did so many other Pokémon whose stats and movepools were so sadly mismatched.  With physical Fire attacks on the scene at last, Flareon should finally have regained much of her former power… but she didn’t.  While Rapidash, Charizard and Arcanine paraded around showing off their shiny new Flare Blitz attack, Flareon sat in the corner with Fire Fang, wondering what she had done to deserve this.  Platinum gave her Superpower, which helped, and Lava Plume, which just rubbed salt in the wound, but Game Freak have never yet seen fit to let Flareon have a physical Fire attack that doesn’t suck.  Arguably, it might not help even if they did – Flareon’s offensive movepool suffers from the same narrowness that characterises her brothers and sisters, but with her weaker special attack, she can’t even rely on Shadow Ball as Jolteon can.  Superpower is great, and Fire and Fighting go well together, but it can only do so much, it makes Flareon’s physical stats weaker after she uses it, and it’s really all she’s got.  Jolteon and Vaporeon work around their restrictive movepools by adopting support roles, but Flareon is too fragile for Wish and too slow for Baton Pass – she has the weaknesses of both, and the strengths of neither.  Her stats seem to mark her out for some sort of Machamp- or Ursaring-like all-offensive approach, but she has nothing to attack with.  I… guess you could use Flareon as a special tank, since she does still have excellent special defence and good special attack, but it’s not like she’s good at that either; she doesn’t have a lot of hit points and her special movepool is even more limited than Jolteon’s (she doesn’t even get Signal Beam, for goodness’ sake).  Even her Dream World ability taunts her; Guts, which boosts a Pokémon’s attack in response to poison, paralysis, and so on, is an awesome ability for a physical attacker to have, but Flareon doesn’t actually learn any damned physical attacks.  In short, Flareon is terrible.  She really doesn’t deserve to be terrible, and there’s no real reason she should be terrible, but she is, and she will likely remain so until the end of time because, let’s face it, if Game Freak had any intention of fixing her, they would have done it by now.

Right; now that that unpleasantness is out of the way…

Flareon is a Fire Pokémon, and because she is a Fire Pokémon, the Pokédex feels a pressing need to explain to us, repeatedly and insistently, just how hot she is (just a hair under 900 degrees Celsius, her resting body temperature is hot enough to vaporise sulphur).  Her fluffy fur, apparently, is supposed to radiate heat to help regulate her body temperature, which… is not really how fur works; animals lose the most heat from regions that get a lot of blood flow, and fur doesn’t have blood in it, but I suppose we can guess that her hairs have some kind of dense heat-conducting core or something.  In terms of physical appearance, she’s the most like Eevee, and retains a similar aesthetic angle, aiming to be simply adorable where Vaporeon tries to achieve more of an untouchable beauty.  In fact, apart from her fiery colour scheme, Flareon barely changes at all from Eevee!  It’s not a bad thing, per se, that Flareon shares aesthetic goals with her juvenile form, and of Eevee’s seven evolutions, one of them had to be the one who was least altered.  It’s just something of a shame that it happened to be the perfectly generic Fire-type whose main distinguishing feature is just a little bit nonsensical, and even more of a shame that it happened to be the one who’s so very severely handicapped in battle.  I don’t dislike Flareon, and she fills an important place on the spectrum of Eevee’s evolved forms – two, actually, with both cuteness and firepower – but she’s one of those Pokémon that, in my opinion, have never been given the kind of attention they should have had.

 Kirree (http://kirree.deviantart.com/) has put Flareon in a very different, but rather more intuitive, environment to the one I have in mind.

Since it seems to be a theme I’ve talked myself into discussing, I should really look at Flareon’s environment.  What kind of ecosystem is she adapted for?  Well, first of all, we know that radiating body heat is a concern for her; that suggests that, contrary to the stereotype that Fire-types like to live in hot places, Flareon actually prefers a temperate climate.  A wet environment would cause problems for her since she relies on fire, but at the same time she probably wouldn’t live in a very dry place either; she’d risk causing perpetual wildfires.  We’re probably looking at somewhere with moderate temperature and humidity, then – somewhere like temperate grassland.  I imagine Flareon lying down for a nap in whatever shade she can find during the hottest part of the day, the way lions do, and letting her internal fire slowly burn down, burning just hot enough to keep going.  She hunts in the mornings and evenings, loosing sheets of fire to scorch patches of grass and flush out prey.  Flareon’s hunting practices actually serve an important ecological purpose too; by regularly engaging in controlled burning of small areas, she constructs natural firebreaks that prevent uncontrolled fires from getting out of hand.  Flareon’s own flames are so hot that they reduce the grass to ashes in moments, burning themselves out and exhausting all the available oxygen before they can spread.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  In summary, then, Vaporeon is a coastal or aquatic Eevee, Jolteon is a desert Eevee, and Flareon is a grassland or savannah Eevee.  More on what all this means later.

I don’t want to be too harsh on Flareon, because she’s likeable enough, but I honestly think they did her wrong.  She’s far from irredeemable; you could fix her mechanical problems by just, y’know, giving her attacks that don’t suck, and you could fix her flavour problems just by coming up with some way for her to be different from every other Fire Pokémon with a core temperature of 900 degrees.  Her art is fine; she’s maybe not as interesting as Vaporeon and Jolteon, but she still has, and achieves, clear aesthetic goals that distinguish her from the other two, so it’s not all bad news.  The good news for me is that Flareon is something of a low point – she has some of the trickiest problems of the family.  Not to say that her newer brothers and sisters don’t have their problems too… but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Anime Time: Episodes 40 and 51

The Battling Eevee Brothers – Bulbasaur’s Mysterious Garden

Ash’s location: central Anatolia.

Evolution is one of my favourite themes.  It’s apparently a very simple concept, but the way it’s treated in the anime has all kinds of fascinating implications that you can draw into an extremely complicated and morally nuanced vision of how this world works.  As usual, much of what I have to say here is totally made up, but regular readers will know by now that I’ve never let that stop me before…

 Yes, they are wearing colour-coordinated tights.  Hey, don't look at me; I'm not going to be the one to say it.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

In the Battling Eevee Brothers, Ash, Misty and Brock find an Eevee tied to a tree in the woods with a bowl of food next to it.  Brock suggests that the Eevee has been abandoned, at which Ash and Misty are horrified.  They notice a gold tag on Eevee’s collar with an address engraved, in a place called Stone Town (at the foot of Evolution Mountain, claims Brock – three guesses what this episode’s going to be about…).  Misty is tempted to keep Eevee, but they agree they should try to find Eevee’s owner first.  Following Eevee’s tag leads them to an opulent manse with a spacious garden, where three triplets and their Pokémon – Rainer and his Vaporeon, Pyro and his Flareon, and Sparkyand his Jolteon – are hosting an evolution party, with free evolutionary stones for all comers.  Eevee, who belongs to their younger brother Mikey, is the guest of honour; today is supposed to be the day he chooses his Eevee’s evolved form.  Mikey himself is less than thrilled, and confides to Misty that he doesn’t care about battles, doesn’t actually want Eevee to evolve at all, and hid him in the woods to keep him out of sight, just until the party was over.  Ash and Brock, meanwhile, argue with Rainer, Sparky and Pyro, who have offered them a Thunder Stone and a Fire Stone to evolve Pikachu and Vulpix.  Team Rocket crash the party, have Weezing lay down some smog cover, and steal a dozen Pokémon, including Eevee and Misty’s Horsea, and as many evolution stones as they can carry before hightailing it out of there.  Horsea, however, is clever enough to leave a trail of ink for the heroes to follow.  While Jessie, James and Meowth are arguing over how to evolve Eevee (they eventually decide to use all three stones at once, just to see what happens) the good guys show up, and Vaporeon, Jolteon and Flareon give Arbok and Weezing a thrashing.  Remarkably, though, Jessie and James manage to turn things around… until Mikey’s Eevee enters the fray and slams Arbok and Weezing with a powerful Take Down.  As Misty had suggested, Mikey finally admits to his brothers that he’d rather just keep Eevee – and, after seeing what their brother’s Pokémon is capable of, they’re pretty cool with that.

 Pikachu and Bulbasaur having a bromance moment.

Some weeks later, Ash’s Bulbasaur collapses, quivering, after winning a difficult battle against a hiker’s Rhyhorn, and his bulb starts glowing softly.  Ash rushes him to a Pokémon Centre, where Nurse Joy #292 concludes that there’s nothing wrong with Bulbasaur at all: he’s preparing to evolve.  It’ll soon be time for him to journey to a place called the Mysterious Garden, a semi-mythical grove where Bulbasaur gather every year to evolve into Ivysaur.  Ash is overjoyed.  That night, Bulbasaur slips out of the Pokémon Centre to brood.  Pikachu follows him, and they talk for a while (Pikachu seems to be comforting him, and offering support).  Without warning, a gang of wild Bulbasaur seize Ash’s Bulbasaur with their Vine Whips and carry him off.  Pikachu runs to fetch Ash and the others, and together they track the Bulbasaur through the forest, even as the plants themselves try to keep them from following.  They narrowly manage to slip through a solid wall of vines as it knits itself together, and find themselves in the Mysterious Garden.  They see hundreds of Bulbasaur in the valley below them, singing, as the plants around them grow and blossom in moments.  An ancient Venusaur emerges from within an enormous hollow tree in the centre of the valley and roars.  The Bulbasaur roar in response, and all begin to evolve… except for Ash’s Bulbasaur, who seems to be struggling not to.  Venusaur is furious, and Ash runs to Bulbasaur’s side to block a Vine Whip.  Ash apologises to Bulbasaur for getting so excited about his evolution without considering his feelings, and tries to convince Venusaur that he shouldn’t be forced to evolve.  Venusaur responds by demonstrating his miraculous abilities, causing a bare cherry tree to burst into bloom, and Misty wonders “don’t you want to have that kind of power, Bulbasaur?”  As they argue, Team Rocket once again crash the party, floating over the wall of vines in their balloon and sucking up as many Ivysaur as they can with one of their ridiculous vacuum devices.  The situation looks dire… until the sun rises.  With a tremendous battle cry, Bulbasaur blasts Team Rocket with his first Solarbeam.  The balloon is destroyed, the Ivysaur fall back to earth, and Venusaur finds it in his heart to forgive Bulbasaur for disrupting the ritual.  Bulbasaur leaves with the kids as the wall of vines shrinks away, and they realise why no-one has ever been able to find the Mysterious Garden: once the ceremony ends, it simply ceases to exist.

 "Evolve your Pokémon or we will continue to shout at you!"

Let’s look at some quotes from Eevee Brothers.  The conversation Ash and Brock have with Rainer, Sparky and Pyro makes it plain as day that their views on evolution, particularly on induced evolution, are wildly different to the brothers’.  Ash is asked “one of these days you’ll turn that Pikachu into a Raichu, won’t you?” in a very matter-of-fact tone, to which Pikachu reacts with obvious worry.  The brothers also ask Brock “why don’t you just make [Vulpix] evolve?” as though it would be the easiest thing in the world – and, well, they’re offering him a free Fire Stone, so why not?  After all, “evolution is what Pokémon are all about!”  If you’ve been playing the games, this makes a lot of sense.  If there’s a move you want your Pokémon to learn, you might hold off on evolution until it’s learnt it, because most Pokémon stop learning new attacks after using stones.  In the long term, though, there’s no downside.  If you mean to use a Pokémon for fighting, you will eventually evolve it, no ifs, no buts.  That’s not how Ash and Brock see it.  Ash tells the brothers, somewhat defensively, “we just don’t evolve our Pokémon that way,” while Brock says firmly “you like your way of evolving and we like ours.”  You can read this either as making sense or as being utter bullshit.  Personally I would rather read it as making sense but, y’know, to each his own.  It makes sense when you think about what actually happens when Pokémon evolve; their physical bodies grow and change their proportions, sometimes drastically, and their mental state often undergoes a profound shift as well.  Normally in the anime this seems to have some kind of psychological trigger; Pokémon evolve when they’re ready for it, and sometimes seem to be able to forestall evolution on their own – but when a trainer uses a stone, the Pokémon simply evolves on the spot, without any choice in the matter.  It’s not really unreasonable for Ash and Brock to think that using these things is a little bit morally questionable, especially if it’s done for the sole aim of making the Pokémon in question better at battling.

Eevee, Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon, in all their glory, by Creepyfish (formerly IceandSnow, http://creepyfish.deviantart.com/).Where the argument breaks down – and where Ash and Brock’s position starts to make less sense – is that, for Pokémon like Pikachu and Vulpix, there is no other way to reach their final forms.  If Ash and Pikachu aren’t willing to use a Thunder Stone, Pikachu’s never going to become a Raichu; no two ways about it.  Brock’s statement suggests that he believes there is some other way for Pikachu and Vulpix to evolve, but if so, no-one ever hints at what that might be.  Moreover, Ash’s statement suggests that refusing to use the Thunder Stone Sparky offers him is not simply a matter of waiting for the right time; he has absolutely no intention of evolving Pikachu at all, now, later, or ever.  Surely Pokémon are supposed to reach their final forms eventually?  Why else would they even have them?  On the other hand, clearly evolution isn’t actually necessary for Pikachu to become an ‘adult’ since, as we just saw in Pikachu’s Goodbye, a community of wild Pikachu can get along just fine without a single Raichu.  Obviously they’re capable of surviving without the protection of their more powerful cousins, and presumably they also reach reproductive maturity without any hiccups (indeed, if we can trust the games, there are very few Pokémon that do need to evolve before they can reproduce – only the ‘babies,’ such as Elekid and Bonsly).  My newest pet theory on this is that Pikachu’s ability to evolve into Raichu is actually vestigial.  At some point in the history of their development, for one reason or another, they stopped needing to evolve (maybe Pikachu fill an ecological niche that Raichu are less suited to, or maybe some kind of Ground-type predator made speed and small size more valuable than greater electrical power).  They still have all the genes they need to become Raichu, but they’ve lost the genes that tell them when and why to evolve, so unless they’re triggered by some outside influence, they just don’t.  Basically, what I’m suggesting is that Pokémon like Raichu, Ninetales and Poliwrath are throwbacks – forms that have become extinct in the wild, because they’re no longer suited to a changing ecosystem, but can be recreated via human intervention.  That definitely leaves Ash and Brock plenty of room to feel a little bit uncomfortable about evolutionary stones, especially if the Pokémon have no choice in whether to use them.

 A Venusaur readying a Solarbeam, by Maquenda.

The degree of choice Pokémon have in when they evolve is another tricky question that the anime implies things about, but rarely explains outright.  Most of the evolutions we’ve seen in the series so far have happened at moments of high emotion; it’s often implied that they’re triggered by strong desire or need – most notably, Ekans and Koffing evolving in Dig Those Diglett, in response to their trainers’ uncharacteristic outbursts of affection.  Bulbasaur, it seems, are very different.  They have little freedom to decide; evolution, for them, is an extremely ritualistic thing that all of them go through together – to the point that, when Ash’s Bulbasaur decides he doesn’t want to evolve, he provokes the outrage of the entire community.  That isn’t merely because his refusal somehow disrupted the ceremony either.  The scene between Bulbasaur and Pikachu is a little tricky to interpret because, y’know, they don’t speak, but I’m pretty sure that Bulbasaur is explaining to Pikachu that he doesn’t think he really wants to evolve yet, but doesn’t want to disappoint Ash either, and Pikachu is telling him that it’s okay and Ash will be cool with it.  The other Bulbasaur who overhear the conversation are apparently so discomforted by the whole idea that they immediately kidnap him and drag him to the Mysterious Garden.  Venusaur isn’t just upset about the ritual; he and all the Ivysaur are actually somehow offended that Bulbasaur doesn’t want to evolve.  For them, it’s the most natural thing in the world, the way they attain the powers that are their birthright, and trying to deny it is just asking for trouble.  Of course, if that’s how they do things, where the hell does Ash get off trying to stop them?  Or, conversely, if we do let the Bulbasaur get on with their strictly enforced mass evolution ceremonies in peace, what kind of ground are we standing on if we say that Mikey’s Eevee shouldn’t be forced to evolve?

I could go on, you understand.  It’s just that this entry is clearly getting far too long.