We interrupt your regularly scheduled Pokémaniacal post to bring you a word from our sponsors…
Okay, so, Pokémon.com is currently running an event called the Pokémon Power Bracket, which you will find here: http://www.pokemon.com/powerbracket. Basically, they’ve got thirty-two legendary Pokémon competing in a tournament-style setup, with the winner of each matchup being decided by the votes of the fans over the course of a week (you can vote once a day). Now, initially, I was only mildly amused by this until I took a look at the criteria for choosing a winner: “There is no set criteria for how you vote. Cast your vote for whatever reason you want!”
So, what you’re saying is… you want us to judge these Pokémon based on whatever nebulous and ill-defined criteria should strike our capricious fancies as we stagger blindly through the Pokémon universe, violently lashing out at anything that violates our unappeasable expectations of “good design”?
That’s what I do all the time!
So, yeah. For the next two months I’m going to spend some of my entries (not all – Anime Time will continue in between) commenting on this little popularity contest they’ve got going, and talk about where my votes are going and why, in the hopes of influencing my small-minded minio- sorry, my charming and learned readers to follow my lead.
Now, without further ado, the current matchups being contested are:
Arceus vs. Raikou
Whoo, yeah. Way to give Raikou a fair bite at the apple, Game Freak.
So, Arceus against Raikou, whether in a one-on-one fight or in a comparison of how they each contribute to a team, really is no contest. Raikou’s fast, has a vicious special attack score and can boost up with Calm Mind until his special defence is nigh untouchable and his Thunderbolts can shred boulders, but the fact is… Arceus can grab a Zap Plate, become an Electric-type, and do all of that, only better. Pretty much the only thing Raikou has over Arceus is Volt Switch, which… well, don’t get me wrong, it’s a game changer, but Arceus still flattens Raikou. So, which has the better, more pleasing design? Well, they both look majestic and mythical enough. I particularly love Raikou’s storm-cloud, though, and his trio have a pretty cool backstory – they were killed in the fire that destroyed Ekruteak’s Brass Tower, resurrected by Ho-oh, and given new powers, symbolising the lightning that started the blaze, the fire that destroyed the tower, and the rain that extinguished it. Arceus, on the other hand, I can’t help but feel goes a little bit too far. I could just about accept everything up to and including Rayquaza, but capturing and training the creator of the universe has always been a bit of a blow to my suspension of disbelief.
Of course we all know the factor that really decides this matchup for me:
I still haven’t forgiven Arceus for Jewel of Life.
My vote goes to RAIKOU!
Celebi vs. Cresselia
Well, this seems a little bit fairer. Celebi and Cresselia are both excellent defence and support Pokémon who can be tremendously difficult to take down, but there are a couple of important differences. Cresselia is all-defence. Her resistance to damage is much greater than Celebi’s, but she doesn’t have a lot to fight back with; her offensive scores would actually be pretty mediocre on a mortal Pokémon. She’s basically got Toxic, Thunder Wave, and Calm Mind-boosted attacks to hurt stuff with. Celebi, on the other hand, has access to a devastating Leaf Storm, and can heal much more easily with Leech Seed, Giga Drain and Recover against Cresselia’s Moonlight. Again, they’re both lovely designs, though with rather different goals; Celebi is playful, fey and lively, while Cresselia is untouchably beautiful. I also think that both designs support their in-game abilities. Cresselia’s dream/nightmare duality with Darkrai is interesting (it seems incomplete, though, since Darkrai represents the new moon, while Cresselia represents the crescent moon – shouldn’t there also be a full moon Pokémon?), as is Celebi’s ability to travel through time (although, granted, letting time travel into the franchise was probably a bad idea), and I honestly can’t choose one over the other. That being the case, I have no choice but to vote for the stronger battler…
My vote goes to CELEBI!
Kyogre vs. Regice
Kyogre is just about the only Pokémon who legitimately might be as good as or better than Arceus. The ruler of the deep ocean is constantly surrounded by violent rain that powers up his already devastating Water attacks and lets him use Thunder with absolute precision. Not only that, it makes him the absolute best Pokémon ever, no argument, to put on a rain team. Whereas Regice… I guess is a pretty awesome special wall, or at least it would be if only Ice weren’t the worst defensive type ever? Anything with both Ice Beam and Thunderbolt is generally fun to handle, and it really is a cool Pokémon, but it’s also a defensive Pokémon with few support moves, multiple common weaknesses, and no easy way to heal. As for design… well, Regice and its siblings were imprisoned by humans in ancient times because they were too powerful to control, and represent three ages of humanity’s past – Ice, Stone, and Iron – which is neat and clever and implies some cool stuff about the influence of Pokémon on humanity’s development, but they’re just so expressionless, so much more like lawn ornaments than Pokémon, that I just can’t find it in me to like them. Kyogre, on the other hand, has all the majesty they lack (partly because whales are just awesome), and he and Groudon actually provide similar storytelling and world-building opportunities to the legendary golems anyway.
My vote goes to KYOGRE!
Darkrai vs. Mesprit
Okay, Darkrai is stronger than Mesprit, yes. Better stats, a less vulnerable element, a wonderful signature move that would be incredibly useful even if it didn’t tie in with his powerful ability, and basically every move a special sweeper could want. Mesprit is no slouch either, of course; she’s one of the most underappreciated Pokémon in the game, I feel (probably because of her Psychic-type vulnerabilities), and makes for a powerful and versatile supporting tank; her main problems are her lack of healing powers and that she’s so thoroughly eclipsed by the other crazily versatile legendary Psychic Pokémon, Mew. In flavour terms, though… I’m not a fan of the way Darkrai’s been handled. Saying that Darkrai’s nightmare powers are just a defence mechanism opens up the whole noble pariah characterisation he gets in his movie, but I think that actually makes him less interesting – if we go to such trouble to say that nightmares are not part of Darkrai’s true nature, he’s really just another Pokémon who happens to have certain mental powers. Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf, however, as the embodiments of emotion, knowledge and will, bring up my old favourite theme of the influence Pokémon have on humans, particularly when you trace the implications of their legendary past (not to mention, they can be just as terrifying as Darkrai if you cross them).
My vote goes to MESPRIT!
Mewtwo vs. Entei
…y’know, if anything, this is even worse than Arceus vs. Raikou, because at least Raikou is actually a good Pokémon. Entei suffers from what I’ve just now decided to call Flareon Syndrome, which is where Game Freak give a Fire Pokémon a massive physical attack stat and an abysmal physical movepool, including no physical Fire attacks better than Fire Fang (okay, yes, that one shining Entei that you have to transfer from a fourth-generation game has Flare Blitz, but COME ON!) The fact is, Entei is a bad Pokémon. I don’t even mean “bad by legendary standards;” he’s just bad; I’d prefer Arcanine any day. It sort of doesn’t seem fair even to mention how terrifying Mewtwo is by comparison. I’ve mentioned already why I like Entei, Raikou and Suicune, I’m impressed by how well Entei manages to convey physical strength and stability without coming off as a brute, which is surprisingly difficult, and I admit I’m honestly not that fond of Mewtwo, whose backstory is basically “science is evil BLARGH; now I will angst in the dark for twenty years,” in a world that is utterly dependent on its ludicrously advanced technology… but I don’t have nearly enough of a problem with him to eclipse Entei’s massive and blatant incompetence.
My vote goes to MEWTWO!
Latios vs. Jirachi
Latios is a nasty Pokémon to face. If he’s allowed his signature item, the Soul Dew, he effectively gets a free Calm Mind boost and can shrug off most energy damage while blasting away with some of the most powerful special attacks in the game. Even without it, though, he’s a frightening sweeper whose only notable flaw is the vulnerabilities that come with being a Psychic-type. Jirachi isn’t so obviously devastating, but her incredibly resistant Steel/Psychic typing and neatly balanced stats make her a brilliant supporting tank. Jirachi’s signature is abusing Serene Grace and Iron Head, but with Calm Mind, multiple good special attacks, and a wide support movepool, the sky really is the limit with this one. Jirachi is said to sleep for a thousand years at a time, waking for only a single week, but can grant any wish in that time. Personally, I just think wishes are fun to work with, as a long-established feature of fantasy and folktale with a rich cultural background. It’s sort of a shame Game Freak are stuck in the whole “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality because it really limits what they can actually do with Jirachi. Latios and his sister Latias don’t really seem to have a story or background… just a bunch of cool powers. They’re wonderful Pokémon and I have no desire to talk them down, but I’ve always judged legendary Pokémon mainly on their potential for storytelling (and I don’t think Latios and Latias actually have any characteristics that require them to be legendary Pokémon anyway), so purely for reasons of design philosophy…
My vote goes to JIRACHI!
Dialga vs. Registeel
Giratina vs. Shaymin
Both Giratina and Shaymin are effectively two different Pokémon: the absurdly tough Altered Giratina, whose Dragon/Ghost typing and small but useful support movepool make him pretty much the toughest Pokémon in the game barring Lugia, the serpentine Origin Giratina, who picks up an extra immunity from Levitate and can dish out some fierce attacks, the neglected and unassuming Land Shaymin, whose only real selling points are his bulkiness and the horrifying Seed Flare, and the flimsy but powerful Sky Shaymin, affectionately nicknamed Skymin, who utterly steals his earthbound cousin’s thunder by flinching everything to death with Air Slash and Serene Grace. Land Shaymin is pretty depressing for a legendary Pokémon, but Skymin is downright evil, and at the very least gives Giratina a run for his money. Giratina is just about the closest thing the Pokémon universe has to the devil, though officially he’s the ruler of antimatter, which is… weird, but cool, I guess, and his characterisation – trapped outside, staring back in at the old world from which he was banished – is creepy, evocative and fascinating. Shaymin, who is the embodiment of gratitude and guardian of meadows, is interesting too, if only because it’s an unusual idea to base a Pokémon around, and his ability to break down toxins into water and light is a very dramatic way of showing his role as a protector of nature. Much as I love Shaymin, though, I can’t actually see what gratitude, supposedly the centre of the design, has to do with his powers, his role, or… well, anything. Sorry, Shaymin…
My vote goes to GIRATINA!
This round of the tournament is only going to be up for a day or so longer, so my next entry will probably be another one of these, but after that I think I’ll be alternating, for the most part, between this and anime reviews.