One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
You mentioned that, in gens 1 through 4, all of the “archaeologists” in the Pokemon games were either glorified grave robbers or hobbyists (with the latter category being pretty much entirely represented by Cynthia and maybe Eusine). Has there been any improvement in the portrayal or archaeology since then?
I think so! I mean, a lot of the archaeologist-as-adventurer-and/or-grave-robber stereotypes are baked into pop culture in a way that it’s difficult to get away from, but I actually wrote an article about this for PokéJungle not long after Sword and Shield came out, which you can read here. I think Sonia’s storyline in those games presents an attitude to the past, and the study of the past, that is kind of unique in Pokémon so far and much more representative of what history and archaeology are actually like: a process of negotiating and reshaping our understanding of the past and our relationship with it. All Pokémon games since Gold and Silver have cared at least a little about the ancient past, but I think Sword and Shield really “get” it, more so than any of their predecessors have.
As part of my eternal contract of service to the Dark Council of my highest-tier Patreon supporters (to whom special thanks, and a mighty tribute of souls and magic, are as always due), I regularly solicit topics from them to discuss in longer articles – and once again, that time has come. Today I’m supposed to be talking about the (so far) three generational flagship mechanics of the Pokémon games – X and Y’s Mega Evolution, Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves and Sword and Shield’s Dynamax – in all their aspects, both how they practically work in the game and how they influence the story and lore of their worlds. “Flagship mechanics” is my own term for these, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else say it, but I like it better than “gimmicks” because I think it’s a better reflection of what the developers seem to want them to be, so I’m gonna keep using it, and you all just have to deal with that because… it’s my blog, so shut up.
Let’s start with a summary for people who might not be familiar with one or more of the games that introduced and featured these mechanics:
Stunfisk was… a Pokémon I had very mixed feelings about in 2011, then promptly forgot about for most of the next 8 years. But now it’s back with a shiny new Galarian regional form, and I suppose I just have to deal with that. Original recipe Stunfisk’s angle was that it’s a flatfish that hangs out on beaches and mud flats and zaps you if you step on it. It’s like a flounder or plaice mixed with an electric eel – or like a stonefish, that kills you with horrifically painful venom if you step on it – or like a stargazer, which is a fat ugly fish with eyes on the top of its head that isn’t flat like Stunfisk but does bury itself in sand and can produce electric shocks – or like a torpedo ray, which is flat and lives on the sea floor and can zap you but doesn’t really look like a fish-fish – or like a mudskipper that can survive on land because it can breathe air through its skin. It’s a rich tapestry of derpy fish that all come together to produce one supremely derpy derpfish, is the point.
New Stunfisk… is also still a fish, but in addition to being a fish, is a bear trap. So, I guess, let’s talk about bear traps.
Was Coalossal created for the industrial revolution, after the revolution, or did it inspire the revolution? Actually, did the revolution happen at all?
Well, the Pokémon world resembles the modern world in enough important ways that I think there has to have been an industrial revolution; like… they have mechanised agriculture, they have coal power, they have mass-produced textiles, they have modern urbanisation. Maybe those things didn’t happen all at once and in the same place, the way they did in 18th and 19th century Britain, though? I don’t believe that anyone at Game Freak – or indeed anywhere in Pokémon’s corporate structure – has a detailed idea of what the history of the Pokémon world looks like, outside of the explicit lore of each region (and even then, I’m not altogether convinced they care much about fitting the history of different regions into a single overarching narrative); maybe they used to, because a lot of early stuff suggested that the Pokémon world has the same history and geography as the real one, but much of that is overwritten or contradicted by later media.
Back when Fairy Pokémon were first introduced in X and Y and several existing Pokémon had their types retconned to Fairy or part-Fairy, one of the things we talked about a little bit here was which Pokémon weren’t changed to Fairy-types although they justifiably could have been – and one of the Pokémon on that list was Rapidash. Rapidash is a unicorn – a fairytale creature if ever there was one, full of mystery and magic. But Rapidash itself is… weirdly not very unicorn-ish; all of its powers are related to either fire or speed, and all of its lore (not just in the games, but in other continuities like the anime) is pretty heavily focused on its legendary speed and competitiveness. It’s not really a unicorn in the sense of Mediaeval European mythology – more of a horse that just happens to have a pretty vicious horn. And is on fire. But Galar has now given us an enchanted, divine Psychic-type Ponyta and Psychic/Fairy-type Rapidash, all pure white and sky blue and candy pink like a My Little Pony character, sweetness and light from head to hooves. And we’re gonna dig into it and figure out what makes a unicorn unicorn-ish, because that is apparently the path I have chosen.
I’ve been doing the regional variant Pokémon up until now as blocks of two or three, but I don’t think that’s going to work for the rest of them – I’ve been stuck for weeks trying to do another set, and I’m not sure there are useful themes I can use to tie them together. There’s also just… a lot more to say about the Galarian forms than the Alolan ones, partly because some Galarian forms evolve into totally new Pokémon, partly because the design changes are more radical. So let’s not do that – let’s just talk about Galarian Weezing, the steampunk capitalist keeping Galar’s air fresh and clean!
Let’s do some more Galarian forms! Today I want to look at the two “warrior” regional variant Pokémon of Galar: Galarian Meowth and Farfetch’d, and their evolved forms Perrserker and Sirfetch’d. Like many of the Alolan forms we’ve already talked about, these forms are to some extent less about “adaptation” and more about regional culture, history and folklore. Let’s get into how they use those things…
Meowth and Perrserker
This is Meowth’s second regional alternate form, and where Alolan Meowth is refined, elegant, royal, accustomed to luxuries, Galarian Meowth is… not that. It and its evolved form, Perrserker, are shaggy and wild with prominent teeth, claws and horns. Kantonian and Alolan Meowth and Persian are associated with gold, coins, gems, wealth and good fortune in finance, because of their links to Japan’s lucky “beckoning cat” figurines, or maneki-neko. Galarian Meowth and Perserker are Steel-types, and their coins aren’t gold, but black iron – transformed by “living with a savage, seafaring people.” A savage, seafaring people, in a region based on England, can only be a reference to the Vikings – the Scandinavian raiders who plagued the coast of Great Britain throughout the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, and even ruled most of northern and eastern England for a while under a regime known as the Danelaw. They’re particularly famed for their elite warriors known as berserkers (hence Perr-serker) – literally “bear-shirts,” perhaps because they wore bearskins into battle. It’s a little unclear exactly what these guys’ deal was; they may have had something to do with some ancient Germanic animal cult and channelled animal spirits in battle to fight more effectively, and also they may have used some kind of psychoactive mushroom or herb to “enhance” their abilities. Animalistic and more than a little crazy, is the general vibe.
Today’s Galarian variant Pokémon, Yamask and Corsola, are both Ghost-types, and they have some pretty different ideas about what that means. One is an ancient curse, supposedly the twisted remnants of a long-dead human corrupted by mysterious dark magic; the other is older still, the revenant of a prehistoric extinction event whose lasting effects on the Galar region we can only begin to trace. This piece might feel a little different from the others in this series, because it’s difficult to talk about Pokémon “adapting to the environment” of a new region when those Pokémon are dead and the environment is literally magic. But Ghost Pokémon consistently have really interesting lore, and there’s some cool stuff to dig into as we investigate the inspirations of these Pokémon. Let’s take a look.
Yamask and Runerigus
Unovan Yamask are tragic Pokémon, with some of the saddest backstories in the Pokédex. Yamask are supposedly the spirits of dead humans, and each one carries a clay mask which is said to represent its human face. They retain memories from their human lives and weep for their loss, their masks a constant reminder of their eternal sorrow. Which is, as the expression goes, a bummer. Once it evolves, Cofagrigus has a pretty different attitude, becoming a spiteful tomb guardian who devours grave robbers with a crazed grin on its face. Although its mask is still there, set into Cofagrigus’ forehead, according to its new Pokédex entry in Sword Version, “people say it no longer remembers that it was once human” – as if its curse has overtaken it completely. Now, Galarian Yamask… don’t have masks. Instead, a Galarian Yamask’s tail is embedded in a chunk of what looks like carved stone but might in fact be clay, since its Pokédex entry makes reference to “a clay slab with cursed engravings [that] took possession of a Yamask” (this mention of clay is the only reason I can find for Galarian Yamask to be Ground/Ghost rather than Rock/Ghost, since from every other angle these Pokémon appear to be rocky). In the case of the evolved form, Runerigus, we get a troubling line about “absorbing the spirit of a Yamask” to animate the painting on the surface of its body. Just like Unovan Yamask eventually succumb to the curse that strips away the last of their remembered humanity and transforms them into Cofagrigus, something has taken over this Yamask spirit and is gradually turning it into a malevolent force… but what?
Today, for… some reason… I have decided to try to bridge the gap between Alola and Galar by reviewing all four of the Ice-type regional variant Pokémon: Alolan Sandslash, Alolan Ninetales, Galarian Mr. Mime and Galarian Darmanitan. This obviously took far too much time and the article is far too long, but I’ve written it now, and if I had to write it, then you all have to sit down and read it; that was the deal, that’s how this works. The Ice type is an interesting choice for regional variations, because real animals also kind of have Ice-type regional forms: as animals move into more extreme latitudes, they have to deal with longer and colder winters, and tend to adapt accordingly. Cold-adapted animals tend to be bulkier than their relatives living in temperate climates, with more compact limbs, thicker fur or feathers and often a white colour scheme to blend in with snow. Adaptation to different climates in Pokémon can be a mixed bag as far as realism goes, and we’ll see multiple different takes on that with today’s four Pokémon. Let’s get started.
I dunno, should I say something else? I posted articles on Chairman Rose and Hop, we continued the epic saga of A Pokémon Trainer Is You by venturing into Viridian Forest with a group of bug catchers, and there were a bunch of reader questions about things like Dynamaxing, trainers fighting Pokémon, Acerola’s shiny Mimikyu, the nature of Ghost Pokémon and what I would do with a Pokémon gym. There are, as always, more to come. However, some sad news: I need to take break from Pokémon writing so I can put more time into my research (yeah, if you’re new or don’t pay much attention, I’m sort of doing a PhD in Roman archaeology; it’s a whole thing, I miiiiiiight write something about that since people usually seem to like it when I talk about my work, but no promises), so for the next month, don’t expect to see much from me. I’m working to answer all the questions currently in my inbox, so that those can be posted slowly over the course of the month. Also, Jim the Editor has suggested that he take over weekly updates to “A Pokémon Trainer Is You” for the moment, and we aren’t quite sure how that’s going to work yet, so there may or may not be one this Friday, but stay tuned. I’m thinking long-term I may have to bump that series to once every two weeks, since I have all my generation VIII articles to work on now, and it’s fun but it also can’t be my main thing – let me know if you have any opinions on that. I haven’t yet decided what my next article topic will be when I return, but the whims of my mysterious dark patrons are currently swaying me vaguely in the direction of cleaning up the tail end of generation VII by writing something on the rivals of Sun and Moon – Hau, Gladion and Lillie.
Thanks as always to my noble Patreon supporters – Don’t Call Me Bradley, Leo M.R., James Crooks, hugh_donnetono, Esserise and Hamish Fyfe – for their continued self-sacrifice in the face of cosmic oblivion. I posted about this on the Patreon page already, but in case some of you haven’t seen it, I’m suspending donations for this month since I’m not going to be writing, so Patreon won’t take any money from you at the start of March.