Anonymous asks:

The more recent Pokemon games imply that Gym Leaders adjust their strength and difficulty based on the challenger so that its not a complete stomp in either direction what are your thoughts on this?

That it’s really the only way the Gym system can make any damn sense.

Think about it; not all trainers start their journeys in Pallet Town (or New Bark Town, or wherever), and not all of them will follow the same routes as we do through their home regions – not least because our routes are often determined by unusual temporary obstacles; if that Sudowudo hadn’t been standing in that exact spot, it would have made perfect sense for a trainer starting in Violet City to earn their second badge in Ecruteak City.  Gym Leaders are supposed to be educators as much as they are obstacles; they want trainers to learn stuff, not get curb stomped three weeks into their journeys, give up, and go home.

Anonymous asks:

I dunno if this has been asked, but I wondered if you think there are any parallels between a Pokemon journey and a religious pilgrimage?

Well, I suppose you do travel to a number of specific sites in order to become a better person… I don’t know if I think it’s a particularly useful metaphor for the way modern Pokémon journeys are portrayed in the games and anime, because it tends to be seen as more a “coming of age” thing than a “spiritual enlightenment” thing, so actually a better analogy might be the classic American road trip… which would make a damn good live action Pokémon movie, I think.  We could, perhaps, speculate that the modern Pokémon journey is based on some traditional activity with much greater spiritual significance – replace the gyms with monasteries, for instance (and some gyms may not have changed much since then, like Fuchsia and Ecruteak) – but that would be pure speculation.

Anime Time: Episode 63

The Battle of the Badge

Okay!  Last badge!  We are PSYCHED!  GO ASH!  WHOOHOO!

So, Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu enter Viridian City.  Misty remarks that it’s been a whole year since they were last there, which I mention because it’s one of the few instances in the series where we get actual references to time passing – this particular one tells me that Ash probably has his twelfth birthday while preparing for the Pokémon League, since he’s only a few weeks shy of eleven when he leaves Pallet Town, and is the basis for my estimate that the kids travel for about five days between episodes (obviously there’s some variation – for instance, no time at all passes between Riddle Me This and Volcanic Panic – but assuming their ‘adventures’ are mixed fairly evenly with their ‘down time,’ it should be about five days on average).

Well, I thought it was interesting.

 I've decided that Giovanni has decorated his Gym and door guards in a vaguely classical style because he's (presumably) of Italian descent, but doesn't know enough about the Roman army to make his soldiers actually look authentic.

Anyway, when Ash is about to walk up to the Viridian Gym, he’s interrupted by his dear sweet archenemy, Gary Oak.  Gary actually has ten badges already; he’s just going after an eleventh for bragging rights (another telling little detail: there are at least twelve official Gyms in Kanto, since we know Gary never won a Volcano Badge either).  Gary waltzes past Ash, throws a few choice insults his way, and struts up to the door guards, who are inexplicably decked out in the kind of Greco-Roman mish-mash that makes classicists like me cry ourselves to sleep – bronze breastplate, leather skirt, etc – but armed with halberds, of all things, which are blatantly Renaissance weapons (I promise that this will be my last barely-relevant tangent for this- oh, who am I kidding?).  These imposing fellows let Gary in, but refuse to admit Ash, declaring that only one challenger at a time may enter… so we follow Gary for a while instead.  The Viridian Gym Leader turns out to be Giovanni, the mysterious Boss of Team Rocket (what a twist!) though this is lost on Gary, who doesn’t know him.  He overpowers Giovanni’s Golem with his Nidoking, and boils a Kingler with his Arcanine’s Fire Spin, prompting Giovanni to test out his newest and most powerful Pokémon, whom Gary’s Pokédex is unable to identify.  He even invites Gary to use both Arcanine and Nidoking together to fight the armoured monstrosity, but both are paralysed by its mysterious powers and flung roughly against the wall of the Gym.  Then, just for fun, Giovanni has his Pokémon incapacitate Gary and his cheerleaders before leaving to take care of other business.

 Mewtwo in his badass armour.  I'm not even totally sure what this is for; he certainly doesn't need it for protection.  I think Giovanni claims that it helps Mewtwo to control his powers.

Meanwhile, Togepi has gotten lost and been carried halfway across the city by a wild Fearow.  Misty, of course, searches everywhere in panic, but Team Rocket find Togepi first.  Jessie suffers great personal injury trying to grab Togepi as she wanders across a plank suspended between two tall buildings, but manages to secure her.  Overjoyed at finally having stolen a rare Pokémon, she, James and Meowth go in person to present their spoils to Giovanni, who stares blankly at Togepi and asks “what… exactly does this Pokémon do?”  Jessie, James and Meowth confer, and realise that they have absolutely no idea what powers Togepi possesses, if any, and Jessie answers “it… would certainly make a handsome paperweight!”  Giovanni is about to eviscerate them for their incompetence, but is notified of an emergency and has to hurry away to fetch his super-Pokémon.  For lack of anyone more capable, he instructs Jessie and James to man the Gym and tosses them three Pokéballs before exiting.  Togepi, who has wandered off in the meantime, finds her way to the front doors of the Gym, where the kids have met up again after completing their search.  They hear her voice and haul the doors open to find Togepi, safe and unharmed… and Gary and his cheerleading squad, unconscious and scattered around the arena.  As Ash tries to learn from Gary what happened to him, Jessie and James appear, declare that they are now the Gym Leaders, and challenge Ash to a battle.  Just to make things more interesting, Meowth has rigged special trainer boxes that transmit the pain felt by the battling Pokémon to their trainers, reducing Ash to crippling agony when Jessie’s borrowed Machamp pummels his Squirtle into submission, and her Kingler shrugs off Bulbasaur’s attacks.  When he calls Pidgeotto, however, and hits Jessie’s Rhydon with a mighty Double Edge, Jessie realises that her box has the same set-up as Ash’s.  Gary snatches the control remote from Meowth to keep him from turning off Jessie’s box, so she panics and calls Arbok and Weezing into the fight as well.  Ash objects to her using five Pokémon at once and has Pikachu join the others and blast them with his best Thunderbolt.  Giovanni’s Pokémon flee the arena and, while Jessie, James and Meowth flail uselessly, Togepi finds Meowth’s remote and starts playing with it.  Jessie’s trainer box explodes and flings Team Rocket out of the Gym, dropping an Earth Badge on the way.  Well… Ash never even met the Gym Leader… and his challenge was marked by flagrant rule violations on both sides… and no-one ever actually conferred the Earth Badge on him… but what the hell, a Badge is a Badge, right?

 ...is it just me, or is Jessie's Machamp kinda TOWERING OVER her Rhydon?  I'm pretty sure Machamp are roughly human-sized, but Jessie would barely come up to his waist... then again, I wouldn't put it past Giovanni to load 'em up on steroids...

It turns out Giovanni was the Viridian Gym Leader all along!  I realise this is probably old news to almost everyone reading this, since he’s the Leader in all the games set in Kanto as well but, of course, I find this really interesting.  In the games, Gym Leaders tend to be portrayed as pillars of the community, and this tends to hold true for later seasons of the anime as well, but in the Indigo series things are often much weirder – most notably for Sabrina, Koga and Blaine.  Giovanni adds another bizarre perspective to things: this Gym Leader is a mob boss.  I think it’s fair to assume that the Pokémon League either doesn’t know about what he does in his spare time or doesn’t care… and which option you think is more likely says a lot about what you think of the Pokémon League.  If they don’t know, then this adds support to my overall impression that there is fairly little League oversight in the way Gyms are run.  One also has to wonder whether the League might be dangerously incompetent.  True, Giovanni is a criminal mastermind and probably very good at covering his tracks but, on the other hand, he is at the head of an organisation that often works in direct opposition to the Pokémon League and regularly tramples on every value they stand for.  If the body responsible for the regulation of Pokémon training can’t sniff out the head honcho of a crime syndicate devoted to the abuse and exploitation of Pokémon within its own ranks, something has got to be badly wrong here.  The alternative possibility – that the Pokémon League knows exactly what Giovanni is up to and just doesn’t care – is even more frightening, possibly implying that significant factions of the League’s management are in Team Rocket’s pocket.  I think some combination of the two is probably in play: many overworked League officials are willing to get lazy with their background checks, or keep inspectors out of the Viridian Gym’s private areas, in exchange for a little ‘incentive.’  After all, plenty of Gym Leaders are eccentric – he probably just has a few little projects going in the basement that he doesn’t want to be public knowledge.  Can’t do any harm to let that slide, right?

 "Ohmygod Gary!  Here, let me hold you..."

The next big question is one that Misty actually raises in the episode itself: why would Team Rocket want to own a Gym anyway?  Jessie responds haughtily that she wouldn’t understand; Team Rocket’s plans are too far-reaching and intricate for the likes of them (which, Meowth explains, means that she doesn’t know either).  It is difficult to imagine that Giovanni could actually steal Pokémon from challengers without blowing his cover – moreover, he had ample opportunity to take Gary’s Arcanine and Nidoking (who had, remember, just defeated two of Giovanni’s own Pokémon) but chose not to, so it certainly doesn’t seem like that’s his game here.  The obvious motive is money; Showdown in Dark City implies that official Pokémon Gyms can expect to be profitable, since that’s the Yas and Kas leaders’ primary reason for wanting official status.  Then again, some Gyms (notably Cerulean and Celadon) run separate businesses too; as a result I’m very unsure as to whether most Pokémon Gyms are funded by League grants or by their Leaders’ own personal wealth (and I quietly suspect that Giovanni created the Viridian Gym in the first place, sinking a significant portion of his ill-gotten fortune into setting it up).  The simplest argument, though, is that if the Viridian Gym existed for anything so transparently mercenary as direct profit, Jessie would know about it; there’s simply no reason for her not to.  Having a respectable public persona, too, seems like an obvious benefit, but one which Giovanni doesn’t choose to take advantage of.  It seems likely that owning an official Pokémon Gym simply gives Giovanni space to do various illegal things in secret, a place to keep Mewtwo under wraps, for instance, and work on upgrades to his cybernetic armour (taking challenges, of course, provides him with opportunities to test Mewtwo’s strength, though this is probably not routine business).  We also see that he has a number of caged Pokémon in there (incidentally, the fact that anyone would ever bother to put a Pokémon in a cage suggests quite strongly that Pokéballs just won’t cut it – they apparently wouldn’t be effective at restraining Pokémon that really want to break free).  Paradoxically, the best way to keep this stuff out of the League’s sight is by doing it right under their noses, in an official Pokémon Gym.  It seems reasonable to imagine, further, that Gym Leader status is an asset in itself; Giovanni could probably expect to be consulted about policy decisions and notified in advance of any important developments in League business, information he might be able to use to Team Rocket’s advantage.  Finally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Giovanni simply enjoyed taking challenges.  He does genuinely seem pleased by Gary’s strength, and it’s a basic truism of the series that powerful trainers seek powerful opponents; running the Gym might actually be something of a hobby for him, which would imply a whole slew of interesting twists on his characterisation.

 I wish we got to see more of Giovanni; the other Gym Leaders are all interesting, but his particular situation, I think, is the one with the most potential for elaboration.  If nothing else, it would be fantastic to have more evidence for how he treats his role as a Gym Leader (perhaps fairly casually, if he’s willing to let the notoriously incompetent Jessie, James and Meowth stand in for him – but, then again, whatever emergency he needed to deal with, it apparently required both his own personal attention and Mewtwo’s, so it’s clearly not an ordinary day for him).  The bare facts of his situation themselves, though, are more than enough for me to play with; we can learn a few rather worrying things about the Pokémon League from this episode, and this has to impact on the way we view them elsewhere in the series.

That’s the last I’m doing on Anime Time for a little while – now, there’s one more week to go of the Pokémon Power Bracket, so I’ll do another entry on that and then, I think, wrap it up with a sort of retrospective on legendary Pokémon in general.  After that… I think I need another break, but we’ll talk more about that as it comes.

Anime Time: Episodes 60-61

Beach Blank-Out Blastoise – The Misty Mermaid

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, eat your hearts out.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

With Ash’s Volcano Badge in hand at last, it’s time to leave Cinnabar Island… but our hapless heroes are about to miss the last boat of the day!  As they run for the ferry terminal, a Wartortle appears out of nowhere and crashes into them, knocking everyone to the ground.  Pikachu calls on Squirtle to interpret, who immediately decides that this is an emergency worthy of BADASS SHADES, and leaps into the ocean with the Wartortle.  The kids steal a motorboat and follow.  They soon reach an island, with a beach filled with snoring Squirtle and Wartortle, and a single Blastoise.  Brock is excited by the possibility that they have found the mysterious breeding grounds of the turtle Pokémon, but there’s something off about the scene.  When Ash and Squirtle run up to Blastoise, they fall asleep too, so Pikachu attempts his universal solution – electrocute everything – and wakes up Ash, Squirtle, and most of the wild turtle Pokémon.  When Ash has recovered, he claims to have heard music echoing within Blastoise’s shell.  Misty, true to form, decides that whatever’s going on here, getting mixed up in it is more trouble than it’s worth, and suggests they leave, but Ash and Brock want to figure out what’s going on.  They establish, through conversation with all the Squirtle and Wartortle, that Blastoise fell asleep while swimming a few days ago, and was dragged back to shore by the others, who all fell asleep too once they reached the island, except for the one Wartortle who went to Cinnabar Island to find help.  Brock examines Blastoise with a stethoscope, but the huge turtle Pokémon wakes up during the process, stretches his arms, swivels his cannons… and finds that he has a blockage stuck in his right cannon.  A round, squishy, pink blockage that begins singing when he tries to dislodge it.  Everyone falls asleep again under Jigglypuff’s spell, and Team Rocket show up to try and snatch Blastoise with their Gyarados submarine’s grabbing arm.  When the turtles wake up and find Blastoise gone, Ash’s Squirtle assumes command using his BADASS SHADES and rallies his brothers.  Meanwhile, Team Rocket fall asleep themselves, and their sub sinks.  The turtle Pokémon retrieve it, along with Blastoise, allowing Ash and Misty to resuscitate James and Meowth, who are grateful, and Jessie, who screams “they’re our mortal enemies; how DARE you be grateful they saved our lives!?”  Team Rocket promptly hop back into their submarine, which rolls onto the beach and starts grabbing for Pokémon.  The Wartortle can’t stop it, but Pikachu and Squirtle together manage to extract Jigglypuff and awaken Blastoise, who has the strength and firepower to grapple with the submarine and blast it away.  Squirtle even manages to rescue Jigglypuff, who winds up on the submarine somehow.  Peace is restored in the turtle kingdom, and the kids go on their merry way.

 How has it escaped Kanto's government that a Jigglypuff in the wrong place at the wrong time could doom entire ecosystems?  This one very nearly deprived the region's primary Wartortle colony of their leader.

So, not for the first time, we see in this episode that evolved Pokémon are considered the natural rulers of their species: Blastoise is the oldest and the strongest of the turtle Pokémon on the island, and probably the most knowledgeable and experienced.  There is no shortage of reasons he should be in charge, really, and it mirrors what we see in plenty of other episodes… so why do I even care?  Well, Ash’s Squirtle is neither old nor powerful… more knowledgeable than the rest, maybe, but Wartortle are supposed to live for hundreds of years, so who knows?  When Squirtle marshals the other turtle Pokémon to go after the submarine, they obey instantly and cooperatively, treating him without question as a commander.  Misty and Brock seem to think it’s his BADASS SHADES, and, well, I guess that’s not impossible, but I think it’s giving them too little credit; I’m pretty sure Pokémon are consistently portrayed as being more sensible than that.  What Squirtle does have is experience of the wider world, something the other turtle Pokémon probably lack since their community is implied to be fairly insular, as well as powerful allies with a wide range of capabilities (he’s also familiar with their enemies).  If nothing else, the turtle Pokémon recognise that humans are very useful friends to have; as a result, they will readily accept a human-trained Pokémon as a leader because Squirtle is likely to have experience thinking on his feet and dealing with unusual situations, and because he can keep things going smoothly with Ash and the others, whose assistance might be important.  This brings us back, in the end, to the BADASS SHADES: a human item, and an outward symbol of Squirtle’s experiences in and ties to the human world.  As far as insignias of rank go, they’re an unusual choice, but I think they represent what it is about Ash’s Squirtle that really makes the other Squirtle and Wartortle accept him as a leader so unquestioningly.  My mind wanders back to that one strange line from Ash’s Pokédex in the first episode: “wild Pokémon are often jealous of human-trained Pokémon.”  I’m gradually beginning to believe this statement is actually false, or at least oversimplified, and possibly even propagandistic (but that’s another entry entirely).  Pokémon and humans are both stronger together; this has been the franchise’s stance from day one, and echoes through its every iteration – games, anime, manga, whatever – and wild Pokémon do recognise that.  They don’t necessarily want to be partnered themselves, but many of them will still treat human-trained Pokémon with a certain respect, and may defer to their experience in crisis situations.

Moving on…

 The Magical Mermaid relaxes in her lagoon.

As Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu strike out for Viridian City, Misty realises that her Horsea isn’t getting enough freedom and exercise (something which never seems to be a problem for Goldeen – I’m pretty sure Misty’s Horsea is just a bit frail and sickly), so the kids decide it might be a good idea to visit Misty’s sisters in Cerulean City and let Horsea relax in the huge pool at the Gym for a few days.  When they reach Cerulean City, they learn that the Gym is advertising a new ballet, featuring a talented water dancer returning to Cerulean after a long absence.  Misty soon learns, to her shock, that she is this legendary ballerina.  Lily, Violet and Daisy explain that their traditional shows haven’t been pulling the crowds like they used to lately, so they’ve decided to spice things up by writing a water ballet to be performed underwater!  Tomorrow!  Please help us, Misty, or the Cerulean Gym will be ruined!  Misty will play the ballet’s star, the Magical Mermaid; Lily and Violet will be the evil pirates who intrude on her peaceful lagoon, and Daisy will play the handsome prince who arrives at the climax to save the day… and clearly the sisters do need Misty as the Gym is ludicrously short-staffed – they aren’t just the actresses; they run everything at these shows, ticket sales and all.  The ballet is performed in an enormous glass tank filled with water.  Misty, as a budding Water Pokémon Master, can hold her breath for a crazily long time, and the show is structured to give her moments out of sight of the audience to use her underwater breathing apparatus.  The show goes well initially, with Misty’s underwater dance holding the crowds enthralled, but when Lily and Violet are cued to enter, two quite different pirates appear, wearing… interesting… costumes: who else but Team Rocket?  Their motto is a huge hit with the crowd, who think it’s all part of the show.  Ash and Brock maintain the illusion by taking Daisy’s cue to leap into the pool to help.  Weezing floats harmlessly to the surface, but Arbok proves to be quite an impressive fighter underwater, and manages to corner Starmie, Seaking and Squirtle.  The sisters’ much-ridiculed Seel, however, saves the day, outmanoeuvring Arbok and hammering it with an Aurora Beam before evolving into Dewgong and deep-freezing the lot of them.  The kids haul all the Water Pokémon onto a platform in the centre of the pool so Pikachu can blast Team Rocket with impunity in a grand finale that makes the show a huge success, revitalising the Cerulean Gym’s business overnight.  In thanks for her part in saving the Gym, Misty’s sisters confiscate her Horsea and Starmie so that they’ll have enough Pokémon to keep performing the show.  Truly, their gratitude is an example to us all.

 ...you quickly learn to stop questioning it.

Every time I see these three I wonder how the hell they can possibly be allowed to run a Pokémon Gym.  They’re clearly more concerned with ticket sales than with challenges, and regard their Gym’s fate as resting on the success of their next water ballet, not on their ability to train Pokémon and instruct other trainers in doing the same.  The Misty Mermaid does go out of its way to point out that they are decent Water Pokémon specialists – when Seaking and Horsea initially attempt to tag-team Arbok, and Seaking lands a nasty Horn Attack, Ash comments on its skill, to which Misty responds “thank my sisters; they trained it.”  However, when push comes to shove, much of the effectiveness of the climax, and of Seel’s evolution into Dewgong, is drawn from the fact that Lily, Violet and Daisy have completely and blatantly failed to comprehend Seel’s potential, ever since they declined Ash’s challenge in the Waterflowers of Cerulean City on the grounds that Seel wasn’t strong enough to be worth trying (Seaking, who seems to be their star battler, had been injured in a previous battle with one of Ash’s Pallet Town rivals).  They do little, if anything, to earn our respect, and serve mainly to demonstrate that some Gyms are indeed more challenging than others.  They’re also making me change my mind again on a question that has me go back and forth repeatedly; whether Pokémon Gyms enjoy any sort of league funding.  Like Erika, the Sensational Sisters seem to run a successful business; then again, their Gym is unusually lavish – hardly as expensive to build and maintain as Blaine’s, but the start-up capital for their huge aquarium, water fields, and auditorium must have come from somewhere.  My working theory is that the sisters inherited the Cerulean Gym from their infinitely more capable parents, and the Pokémon League would rather allow their incompetent but largely self-sufficient Gym to continue as it is than attempt to revoke its official status and replace it with a more efficiently-led one.  This, I am convinced, would be a long and difficult process, possibly with nasty effects on the League’s internal politics, and would eventually result in a Gym that didn’t cover nearly as much of its own funding.  For aspiring Water Pokémon trainers looking for a place to practice, just having a large purpose-built pool is probably far more important than having competent instructors anyway, so the League may be happy to let the sisters maintain a fairly hands-off approach to running the place and concentrate on their water ballets.

So, my theme for these two episodes was that they are both about Water Pokémon.  Yep.  Totally planned it that way and didn’t just stick them together because I had other plans for the episodes on either side.  Um.  So there are only two episodes left in this block, and they’re both getting entries of their own.  The last one is the Viridian Gym episode.  The other one is… interesting.  See you next time.

Anime Time: Episodes 58 and 59

Riddle Me This – Volcanic Panic

Ash’s location: Cinnabar Island!  FINALLY!

 "...so what you're saying is, no-one owns the Gym now?" "Ash, no." "Aw; you guys both had Gyms, why can't I have one?" Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

So, having spent a good four months wandering aimlessly since earning his Soul Badge, Ash is on the ferry to Cinnabar Island at last.  Only… Gary Oak is on the ferry too, and he has some bad news for Ash: the island is nothing but a tourist trap; there’s no Pokémon Gym there at all!  Gary turns out to be right; the island is swarming with tourists – even the famous Cinnabar Pokémon Lab has become a tourist attraction.  When they wonder what makes Cinnabar Island so popular, a long-haired hippy asks them “what do tourists think is hot… and cool?”  Misty realises that he means the island’s volcanic hot springs.  Ash then asks him about the Cinnabar Gym Leader, Blaine, and receives another riddle, “[Blaine’s] Gym is right where you put your glasses,” which Misty again answers: in front of their eyes.  Cinnabar Gym is a burnt-out ruin, abandoned by Blaine when he got tired of battling hobbyists.  The hippy advises the kids just to enjoy their stay, gives them a business card for the “Big Riddle Inn,” and vanishes into the crowd.  The card displays another riddle – “if you look near the swing, you’ll see my hands – or at least my face.”  When Ash, Misty and Brock find that every hotel on the island is booked up for months, they stop to rest in a playground and think about the riddle, where Misty, looking past the swings, sees the hands and face of a clock – the clocktower of the Big Riddle, where the hippy gives them free rooms for a night just for managing to find the place.  That night, he gets an urgent call from the Pokémon Lab, which is being attacked by Team Rocket.  Ash and the others, naturally, save the day, so the innkeeper rewards them with yet another riddle: “Blaine built a Gym the tourists never see; it’s in the place where a fire-fighter could never win.”  The next day, as the kids bathe in the hot springs, Togepi accidentally finds and triggers a secret door that leads them into the magma chamber of the Cinnabar volcano, where they find the innkeeper.  “It’s not a hat,” he tells them, “but it keeps your head dry – if you wear it, it’s only because you already lost it.”  The hippy innkeeper was Blaine all along, wearing a wig, and his new Pokémon Gym is suspended over a bubbling lava pit.  He accepts Ash’s challenge with a powerful Ninetales, who roasts Squirtle with her Fire Spin, then switches to a Rhydon to counter Ash’s Charizard… who promptly gets bored, leaves the ring, and falls asleep.  Pikachu, infamously, manages to circumvent Rhydon’s immunity to electrical attacks by aiming for his metal horn, but is thoroughly outmatched when Blaine summons his signature Pokémon, Magmar, who can block electricity with a shield of superheated air.  Riddle Me This ends with Pikachu backed up against the edge of the arena, about to be struck by Magmar’s Fire Blast.

 "Oh, the... the wig is a disguise?  We, uh... we thought you were just bald..."

Pikachu survives, of course, clinging to the edge of the arena platform with his back scorched by the Fire Blast.  At Brock’s urging, Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu safe.  Blaine approves of Ash’s choice, noting that “if [he] had been foolish enough to continue the match, [he] definitely would have been disqualified as a Pokémon trainer,” but seems reluctant to offer Ash any hope of a future rematch.  Ash and his friends return to the Big Riddle Inn, where Ash spends the next day musing on how he can overpower Blaine’s Magmar.  Meanwhile Team Rocket, being Team Rocket, decide to infiltrate the volcano, armed with freeze-blasters to defeat Magmar.  The blasters work… for about five seconds.  When Magmar melts his way free, Meowth panics and orders Jessie and James to freeze blast the whole magma chamber.  The rapid temperature change cracks the rock walls, and the melting ice creates a blast of steam that launches Team Rocket out of the magma chamber, leaving Ash, Misty, Brock and Blaine to deal with the rapidly destabilising volcano.  Blaine orders Magmar to start piling up boulders to patch the cracks and stem the lava flows, but he can’t do enough alone.  Ash calls on Charizard, who is sufficiently impressed by Magmar to help out.  Brock gets Onix and Geodude to help too, while Squirtle and Staryu keep everyone cool, and together they manage to prevent an eruption.  Magmar and Charizard give each other a smile, but are clearly eager to battle to test each other’s strength, and Blaine decides to allow Ash a rematch (many Gym Leaders would probably just give Ash a badge outright, but Blaine has high standards).  Charizard and Magmar are evenly matched as far as firepower goes, and Magmar eventually drags Charizard down into the lava pit to try and win an advantage, but Charizard breaks free, carries Magmar high into the air, and hurls him back down with a Seismic Toss.  Ash is overjoyed that Charizard is on his side again, but Charizard quickly puts an end to that delusion by Flamethrowering Ash in the face for interrupting his victory dance.  Ash collects his Volcano Badge from Blaine (the third and final Kanto badge he will earn by winning a legitimate battle) and wonders where to go for his final challenge.  Misty and Brock suggest returning to Viridian City, and the team sets off once more.

 "Ice, in a volcano?  That's freezer burn!" ...I'm not making that one up; he actually says that.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Blaine burnt down his own Pokémon Gym, because he had better things to do with his time than battle tourists, and built a new one in the heart of a volcano?  The man is an incredible mad genius!  (Incidentally, if there is ever a live action Pokémon movie, I want Christopher Lloyd to play Blaine.)  Of course, because this is one of my Anime Time entries, and because my Anime Time entries are all about analysing a children’s cartoon to a far deeper extent than the creators ever imagined, let’s take this opportunity to expand my developing thesis on the role of Pokémon Gyms in society.

We’ve already seen with Sabrina and Koga that a Gym Leader’s responsibilities to the Pokémon League are extremely hazily defined and probably impossible to enforce.  Blaine’s case makes me wonder whether he’s answerable to anyone at all.  Gary Oak claims that there hasn’t been a Pokémon Gym on Cinnabar Island “since [his] grandfather’s days as a trainer,” which is probably an exaggeration since I doubt Blaine is much older than Professor Oak, but it’s clear that the Cinnabar Gym has been out of the public eye for years, if not decades.  Blaine’s Volcano Badge is still recognised as legitimate by the Pokémon League, though, and no-one calls Ash out for trying to qualify with a Badge from a Gym that closed before he was born.  Nor has anyone attempted to set up a new Cinnabar Gym in Blaine’s absence.  The innkeeper of the Big Riddle is also the first person to get a call when the Cinnabar Lab is attacked by Team Rocket.  Clearly enough people are in on Blaine’s secret that he can continue to act as Cinnabar’s official Gym Leader, no questions asked, but not so many that his activities can become more than a vague rumour.  This isn’t quite as strange as Koga’s situation; Blaine’s presence almost certainly does benefit Cinnabar Island during emergencies.  However, it seems like taking challenges – which, in theory, is an official Gym’s primary role – is a relatively minor part of Blaine’s life.  He appears extremely disdainful of weak challengers; we know that he closed the original Cinnabar Gym because he was tired of battling tourists, and unlike Brock, Lt. Surge, and even Sabrina, he is extremely reticent to offer Ash a rematch until Ash has helped him prevent a disaster.  Blaine battles whom he wants, when he wants, probably handing out fewer Badges than any other Kanto Gym Leader, and it’s possible that the only people he ever invites to battle him are trainers he’s vetted personally using his innkeeper persona.  At the beginning of Riddle Me This, it’s Blaine who chooses to speak to Ash – I suspect he’s checking him out, even then, evaluating his worth as a challenger.

 This shot has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever.  I just think it's hilarious.

The Pokémon League, evidently, doesn’t care.  The fact that Blaine even bothered to build a new Gym implies that he does take challenges from time to time; Ash can’t be the first person ever to present a Volcano Badge to the Indigo Plateau, so someone at the top must know about him, and whoever does know is apparently totally happy with one of Kanto’s official Pokémon Gyms being a hidden volcanic death-trap that is closed to the public except by special invitation.  Blaine hates tourists and refuses to battle any, but surely any visiting trainer is by definition a ‘tourist,’ and surely his job is to battle all comers?  Even most islanders don’t know about the Gym, so he isn’t helping to educate local trainers either, but surely that’s part of his job too?  If Blaine gets any sort of League funding, he doesn’t seem to be earning it, but that secret volcano base wouldn’t have paid for itself (I suppose he could have claimed insurance on the original Gym, but it seems to be common knowledge that Blaine himself burned the place down, so I sort of doubt it).  Either Blaine is independently a millionaire (unlikely) or he receives some sort of no-strings-attached grant from the Pokémon League just for being an official Gym Leader.  The Dark City episode shows that there is a fair amount of League oversight in the process of establishing an official Gym.  However, I suspect that once a Gym has that magic League authorisation, it’s not all that easy to revoke it (if nothing else, it would be difficult to deal with trainers who’d defeated the Gym in question).  I would further speculate that, when the Pokémon League was originally formed, the first Gym Leaders were all those trainers who were so powerful that their opinions and philosophies couldn’t be ignored – the League began, essentially, as a partnership between them.  Although the organisation has undoubtedly evolved since then, its core institutions have probably not changed all that radically – so, if my current train of thought is accurate, when Blaine became a Gym Leader he may have gained the right to access and allocate a small but significant portion of the Indigo League’s resources and income at his own discretion.  Depending on exactly how we imagine that Pokémon training, as a discipline, is viewed, this right may well be inalienable – to use a real-world analogy, you can fire a professor, but revoking his PhD isn’t so straightforward; perhaps ‘Gym Leader’ is simply something that Blaine is, whether the League likes it or not.

I realise I’m beginning to make stuff up now, but I simply can’t leave Blaine’s autonomy unexplained.  He does hardly anything a Gym Leader is expected to do, yet he is inexplicably still a Gym Leader.  Much as for Koga and Sabrina, I have to assume there is some way of accounting for this.  I cannot presume to know whether I’m right, but hopefully my theories are, at least, entertaining.

Anime Time: Episodes 55-57

Pokémon Paparazzi – The Ultimate Test – The Breeding Centre Secret

Ash’s location: Belarus.

These episodes happened.  They were a thing.  Let’s talk about them.Looks like we've got a badass here, guys.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

One day, as the kids are eating, Ash glimpses what he takes for a rifle scope poking out of some nearby grass.  Thinking quickly, he knocks Misty and Brock down and summons Squirtle to flush out the gunman… who turns out to be just an egotistic young photographer named Todd.  Todd quickly gets over the misunderstanding and invites everyone back to his cottage for pancakes.  He tries to get some shots of Pikachu eating, but Pikachu gets nervous and fries him.  He explains that he refuses to take pictures of Pokémon posing, since his art is to capture a Pokémon’s natural image – and, far more strangely, is only interested in Ash’s camera-shy Pikachu.  When the group leaves, Todd follows stealthily, but Ash playfully springs into all of his shots, and complains that Todd is being disrespectful to Pikachu’s feelings.  He persists, since he was hired to ‘capture’ Pikachu by a tearful old couple, figuring they must have once owned a Pikachu themselves.  When Ash and the others fall into a pitfall trap (courtesy of the ‘old couple’), Todd notices that Pikachu and Ash are positioned perfectly for a photo… until the bottom of the pit crumbles and Ash falls into an old aqueduct pipe.  Todd leaps in after him and gets Ash to grab the end of his tripod before he is swept away, soaking the camera (so he has learnt A Valuable Lesson).  Team Rocket appear and start lobbing grenades as Ash dangles over a sheer drop, but Ash twists the camera around to get them to pose, and James forgets to throw the grenade in his hand.  Once Ash is rescued, Todd sets up his (spare?) camera to take a photo of himself with his new friends, but trips as he dashes to join the picture, bowling the others over and ending up with a naturalistic, unplanned scene of laughter.  Todd joins the team briefly after this, and will be with us for the rest of the entry.

Seems legit.I couldn’t care less about this episode, and I couldn’t care less about Todd, who is a transparent tie-in to the photography game in which he stars, Pokémon Snap, though I suppose his insistence on photographing Pokémon as they appear in nature, which the episode presents in a positive light, is at least a fairly admirable way for someone in his position to do business.  If there’s anything about this episode that interests me, it’s Pikachu’s reluctance to be photographed, which none of the other Pokémon Todd is offered seem to share.  Pikachu has never before, in my recollection, been shown to be particularly shy or self-conscious; in fact, aside from his initial rocky start with Ash, he’s generally very friendly.  Then again, he’s never been the subject of a photographic study before, and he may find Todd’s somewhat obsessive manner off-putting.  Ash’s irritation at Todd for not respecting Pikachu’s wishes is, of course, entirely in-character.

In the Ultimate Test, Misty makes a suggestion to Ash: “you haven’t gotten a badge in a long time… maybe you should make another Gym Leader feel sorry for you.”  Ash furiously challenges her to a battle but Todd interrupts to suggest that Ash try taking the Pokémon League entrance exam, and conducts them to a testing centre where he can sit it.  Also at the centre are Nurse Joy #84, and a disguised Jessie and James.  Joy tells the kids a bit more about the test: it’s an alternative way to earn membership in the Pokémon League, which is great for people who are too old, sick or busy to travel between towns for badges.  The first two sections of the exam are theoretical: one section of true-or-false questions, another of pictures and silhouettes to identify (how can anyone tell the silhouette of a Jigglypuff, seen from above, from that of a Voltorb?).  Ash manages to come third-to-last, out of more than five hundred candidates, ahead of only James and Jessie (who is disqualified for insulting the examiner).  The third section is a three-on-three battle against the examiner, using only rental Pokémon.  Ash gets off to a good start, defeating the examiner’s Flareon with a Weezing, but his Arbok tries to Wrap a Jolteon and gets filled with spikes for her trouble, and his Meowth is frozen solid by a Vaporeon.  James, meanwhile, tries to take down a Graveler with a Pikachu’s Thunderbolt, and is then disqualified for calling out both his remaining Pokémon (an Ivysaur and a Charizard) at once.  He refuses to return the rental Pokémon, but the examiner commands the Pokémon to turn on Jessie and James, and Ash finishes them off with his Weezing’s Explosion.  Team Rocket’s presence has apparently invalidated the whole exam, and Ash is offered a chance to retake it, but can’t be bothered.

He even laughs at them.  Oh, how I loathe him.

This is one of those episodes that really start me thinking.  It gets me thinking because it offers a way to bypass the eight Gym battles normally necessary to become a member of the Pokémon League and compete in the Indigo tournament – in other words, to bypass what is normally the point of a good chunk of each game.  There is nothing in the exam that even requires you to own Pokémon at all.  Joy mentions that the exam provides a way for those hampered by age, sickness or full-time employment to join the League, but there isn’t necessarily anything that prevents someone in such a position from owning or training Pokémon – only from travelling to collect badges.  In fact, the exam is very deliberately set up to strip trainers with powerful Pokémon of any advantage they might have, by forcing them to use rental Pokémon only.  The implication seems to be that the exam is meant to invite people who aren’t Pokémon trainers at all to become members of the Pokémon League.  This in turn implies that the League isn’t purely a sporting organisation, that it has reasons for wanting to attract hobbyists, academics, and specialists to its ranks, and that there are benefits to membership beyond simply being able to enter tournaments (just about any random ten-year-old can become a trainer, so it stands to reason that there are some restrictions on non-members… one hopes).  Membership in the League may be the first step to finding employment with them, or a beneficial addition to one’s credentials in searching for other jobs (heaven knows, anyone seeking to enter the Pokémon healthcare profession would need one heck of a resume to break the Joy family’s iron grip on all the senior positions).  What I mean to suggest is that the Pokémon League is responsible for general Pokémon-related affairs in Kanto, not just the practice of competitive battle, and therefore benefits by having a roster of sanctioned experts in fields such as Pokémon breeding, human-Pokémon relations, and Pokémon ecology, upon whom it can call for consultation, and who in turn benefit from enfranchisement.  Pokémon trainers likely make up the bulk of the League’s membership – after all, the entrance exam is implied to be extremely challenging, and Ash scores dismally despite his generally decent knowledge of Pokémon, so it is by no means an easy way in, as Jessie and James seem to think – but it seems clear that other people with quite different interests in Pokémon are a significant minority.

Making animals live in cages is bad, mmmkay?As they continue their journey through a small city, the kids see an advertisement for a breeding centre that claims to be able to evolve Pokémon.  Todd says that centres like this are the newest big thing, so Ash decides to check it out.  The woman working the front desk gives a ludicrous spiel about “Pokémon love power!  Love love love!” but people seem to be getting results, so Misty decides to leave Psyduck there to see if they can’t knock some sense into him.  Soon afterward, the kids meet a restaurant owner who’ll give a free meal to anyone who can show him his favourite Pokémon… Psyduck.  Misty decides to double back to the breeding centre and, finding it closed, the kids slip in the back door.  All the Pokémon, including Psyduck, are caged in a dark room.  As Todd starts taking pictures to document what’s happening, the kids overhear the centre’s owners in the next room gloating over their plan to steal all these Pokémon.  As Misty attempts to free Psyduck, Jessie and James arrive to steal some Pokémon themselves, and the ensuing argument attracts the attention of the owners, Butch and Cassidy, Jessie and James’ hyper-competent rivals with far higher standing in Team Rocket.  The duos start quarrelling, and the kids slip away, but the centre’s security system cages everyone except for Misty, Pikachu and Togepi.  Jessie and James are caught as well trying to retrieve a Victreebel, which supposedly belongs to James… even though we’ve never seen it before… and it promptly begins a long-running gag by trying to eat its trainer…  Anyway.  Butch and Cassidy call the police, and Officer Jenny #319 arrests everyone.  Misty, however, returns the next day in disguise and distracts Cassidy so Pikachu can slip inside and grab Todd’s camera, which she uses to prove Butch and Cassidy’s guilt.  The breeding centre is shut down and the kids all go to the restaurant for their free lunch.  Finally, Todd leaves the group to go climb some mountains, but not before finally pointing Ash in the direction of Cinnabar Island.

"To infect the world with devastation!" "To blight all peoples in every nation!" "To denounce the goodness of truth and love!" "To extend our wrath to the stars above!" "Cassidy!" "Butch!" "Team Rocket, circling Earth all day and night!" "Surrender to us now, or you'll surely lose the fight!"

There’s no single theme I really want to draw attention to in this episode, but there are a couple of little points, so I’ll comment on each.  The breeding centre, first of all, is interesting.  How do Butch and Cassidy actually run this place without being caught?  They could probably delay people who asked for their Pokémon back, possibly for days, but eventually someone would surely grow suspicious.  We do see them handing Pokémon back to trainers, so obviously they don’t steal everything.  The centre is marketed towards people who are too busy to exercise and pamper their Pokémon, so it’s possible they target people who could go for weeks before getting concerned.  When that happens, they claim to have lost the paperwork… and only once several people are seriously annoyed do they pack up and vanish with all the Pokémon.  It seems possible that some amateur trainers might neglect their Pokémon to an extent if they think the breeding centre is taking care of things; indeed, when Misty first decides to leave Psyduck in the breeding centre, Ash suggests that she’s just trying to ditch him.  Misty, interestingly, insists that she caught Psyduck and she’s going to stick with him; she just wants to see if the breeding centre can accomplish anything with him in a couple of days.  This is interesting because – remember – Misty didn’t catch Psyduck at all.  He just… kinda climbed into her empty Pokéball.  Despite this, and although she doesn’t really like him very much, Misty apparently does feel responsible for Psyduck.  For better or worse, he came to her and she is his trainer, and that is just the world she lives in and has to accept, which I think is an interesting perspective and testifies, if nothing else, to Misty’s stubbornness.  Finally, Butch and Cassidy.  I like these two.  Unlike Jessie and James, they’re actually credible villains, and generally presented as coming near to success with their fairly intelligent plans.  In that, they fulfil the same dramatic function that Jessie and James would, much later, come to fill in their scarily competent Unova incarnations (and, similarly, they don’t appear all that often; overexposure would make their defeats stand out a little too much).  I think I may bring them up again in the Viridian Gym episode, but for now, I’d just like to point out their importance in demonstrating that Team Rocket as a whole is in fact a very real danger.

So, yeah.  These episodes happened.  They were a thing.  That is all.

Class dismissed.

Anime Time: Episodes 26 and 32

Pokémon Scent-sation – The Ninja Poké-Showdown

Last anime review for a few weeks so we can look at something else, so let’s make it a good cut-off point: Ash’s next two Gym battles, against Erika of the Celadon Gym and Koga of the Fuchsia Gym.  Can he defeat these fearsome foes?  Don’t be silly; of course he can.  He’s the main character.

 Erika and her homies chilling at the Celadon Gym with their Grass Pokémon, by Dark Lugia (http://darklugia1.deviantart.com/).

When the gang arrives in Celadon City, Misty immediately drags them into a perfume shop to do girl things while Brock ogles the shop assistants.  Ash scoffs, declares to everyone in earshot that perfume is foul-smelling, overpriced garbage that “turns guys into zombies,” and is thrown out of the store by the bitterly offended manager.  He doesn’t care, because he’s only interested in getting to the Celadon Gym anyway.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the Gym manufactures perfume, and the trainers there are none too pleased with him.  They refuse him entry and he wanders off, dejected, until serendipity strikes.  Jessie, James and Meowth have been trying to infiltrate Celadon Gym to steal their secret perfume recipe – unsuccessfully; they ran into the Leader’s Gloom, whose stench was bad enough to overpower even Koffing.  They concoct a cunning plan to get both Ash and themselves inside.  Because they are Team Rocket, this plan involves cross-dressing.  They disguise themselves as parents wanting to enrol their ‘daughter’ – Ash in a dress and a blonde wig – in a Pokémon training class at the Gym, so they can slip inside too.  Ash is permitted to enter the Gym’s inner rooms, where he finds not only that the Gym Leader, Erika, is the manager he insulted in the perfume store, but also that Misty, Brock and Pikachu are there already, participating in one of Erika’s classes.  Misty asks why Erika’s Gloom doesn’t stink, and she responds by telling the story of how Gloom saved her from a wild Grimer when she was a child, and explains that Gloom’s stench is purely defensive and won’t trigger if Gloom feels safe.  Ash can’t maintain his disguise for long once Misty and Pikachu start talking to him, so he drops the act and challenges Erika.  Bulbasaur is unable to defeat Erika’s Tangela, but her next Pokémon, Weepinbell, quickly loses to Charmander.  Erika grudgingly acknowledges Ash’s skill, but declares that “there’s one thing you don’t have – empathy for your Pokémon!”  Erika’s… kinda full of it; Ash has many shortcomings as a trainer but empathy is probably his greatest strength.  Anyway, she calls out Gloom and Charmander passes out within seconds.  Pikachu volunteers to step into the ring, but the battle is interrupted by Team Rocket appearing and blowing themselves up by mistake (although they do escape with a vial which, sadly, turns out to be only one ingredient of Erika’s perfume – “essence of Gloom”).  The Gym is now on fire.  The trainers rush around frantically to evacuate the Grass Pokémon, and once they’re all outside Squirtle and Misty try to put out the blaze.  In the chaos, however, Erika… somehow left behind her Gloom.  Y’know, her partner Pokémon, her dearest friend.  Ash charges back into the burning building, finds Gloom, manages to calm her down enough to get her to stop filling the area with noxious fumes, and carries her out.  Erika is sufficiently impressed by all this to concede that Ash really does possess true empathy, and decides to write off their battle and award Ash a Rainbow Badge for going beyond the call of duty (for those counting, that’s 1/5 badges so far that he’s earned by winning a legitimate Gym battle).

 Koga with his Golbat and Soul Badge, by Fox0808 (http://fox0808.deviantart.com/)

Some weeks later, we find Ash and his companions lost in the forest, as usual.  They’re looking for the Fuchsia Gym, but the problem is that, in the anime, there doesn’t seem to be a “Fuchsia City,” or if there is, they never visit it; the Gym is very remote.  As they weave across the landscape, they find a walled mansion built like an old Japanese castle, and enter through the front gates to see whether anyone’s home.  The mansion is full of traps – rotating false walls, Voltorb concealed under the floorboards, glass panels that spring up to block their path – and the only inhabitant seems to be a Venonat who keeps leading them into trouble (we know, from our privileged position as the audience, that this Venonat has been watching Ash and his friends for some time).  Venonat turns out to belong to a pink-clad ninja girl named Aya, who introduces herself by nailing Ash’s jacket to the wall with a fistful of shuriken, and refuses to let them leave without a battle.  Ash’s Bulbasaur counters Venonat’s Stun Spore with… Whirlwind… which is not a thing Bulbasaur has ever been able to do in any version of the games, although, to give them credit, it doesn’t come completely out of nowhere because Bulbasaur actually pulled the same thing on Butterfree when Ash first met him (Bulbasaur’s Whirlwind just involves puffing up his cheeks and blowing really hard).  Finally Bulbasaur saps away all of Venonat’s power with Leech Seed.  Aya’s older brother, Koga, shows up to critique her battling, and explains that the mansion is, in fact, the Fuchsia Gym and he is the Gym Leader.  He accepts Ash’s challenge and meets Pidgeotto with another Venonat, who rather dramatically evolves into Venomoth the moment the battle begins.  Venomoth’s powder attacks are too strong for Pidgeotto’s Whirlwind, and Ash is forced to switch in Charmander, who is rapidly becoming his powerhouse Pokémon and can handle Stun Spore quite effectively with his Flamethrower.  Jessie and James show up to interrupt and hurl sticky webs around the room to disable everyone’s Pokémon, and the heroes are forced to retreat from Arbok and Weezing through the Fuchsia Gym’s traps.  Eventually, to Misty’s dismay, her perennially confused Psyduck is the only thing standing between Team Rocket and the good guys.  Ash flips open the Pokédex to help her figure out what Psyduck can actually do, and his pathetic attempts at Scratch and Tail Whip attacks reduce Jessie and James to hysterics.  Meowth is getting impatient, however, so Arbok eats Psyduck’s head.  This turns out to be a mistake, because – as the Pokédex helpfully explains – when Psyduck’s perpetual headaches become worse than usual, he gains phenomenal telekinetic powers, which he uses to crush Arbok and Weezing and send Team Rocket flying.  Ash and Koga resume their battle outside, and although Koga’s Golbat proves quite a challenge with its blistering speed and horrible Supersonic attack, Charmander manages to overcome it with Fire Spin and earn Ash his Soul Badge.

 A little reminder from Jake Richmond (http://jakerichmond.deviantart.com/) of just why Psyduck is a badass.

The Ninja Poké-Showdown is the first of many episodes with subplots that revolve around Misty and Psyduck.  Misty never wanted Psyduck and it’s not entirely clear that Psyduck understood what he was doing when he climbed into Misty’s Pokéball either.  She tolerates him, barely, but his tendency to leap out of his Pokéball when she wants a different Pokémon (usually Starmie) grates on her nerves, especially since he invariably has no idea what’s going on and can’t actually fight.  Whenever his headaches get bad enough to unlock his powers, however, he becomes probably the strongest Pokémon in the whole party.  At the beginning of this episode, Misty suggests that she trade Psyduck for Brock’s Vulpix in order to get rid of him, but by the end, she’s turning down Koga’s generous offer of a trade for his Venomoth.  Although she never stays happy with Psyduck for long, I feel that his sporadic successes do gradually wear her down over the course of the series, softening her less attractive character traits, like her impatience and her superficiality, and increasing her capacity for empathy.

Anyway, this entry was supposed to be about Gyms, so let’s look at those some more.  Again, we see that Pokémon Gyms are fundamentally very independent.  No-one questions Erika’s decision to bar Ash from the Gym for insulting her profession, or her later decision to confer a Rainbow Badge, even though he was actually losing their battle (hey, the guy did run into a burning building to save a Pokémon; he deserves something).  More importantly, one can suppose that Erika isn’t reliant on Pokémon League funding to maintain the Celadon Gym, because the high-quality perfume the place produces probably earns her and her trainers a fair amount of money.  I’m not sure I even want to guess what Koga and Aya might do to supplement their income, but presumably they don’t live in the middle of nowhere practicing ninja arts just for their health, y’know?  The isolation of Fuchsia Gym is another interesting point; the games like to portray Gym Leaders as pillars of the community, but anime Koga is almost a hermit and the Fuchsia Gym doesn’t even announce itself as a Pokémon Gym.  In both the games and the anime, it’s a historic ninja training ground, presumably with a long tradition of Pokémon training, and probably predates the formation of the Pokémon League.  It’s odd that the League would award official status to such a remote compound; it’s unlikely they get many visitors or take many challenges.  It seems like common sense that a Gym is supposed to provide a place for local trainers to practice their craft, and the way Erika runs the Celadon Gym – offering classes on Pokémon training – seems to back this up, but the Gyms Ash visits in the anime have such wildly varying administrative structures and community roles that it’s difficult to work out what on earth is supposed to constitute ‘normal’ for these people.  We can strike off the Saffron Gym right away because it’s inhabited by a maniacal cult; likewise the Viridian Gym, which is a crime lord’s den.  The fact that the Cinnabar Gym even exists is one of Kanto’s best-kept secrets.  The Pewter and Vermillion Gyms seem like dark, forbidding places occupied only by the Gym Leader and (in Vermillion) a couple of sidekicks.  The Cerulean Gym, worst of all, is run by Misty’s sisters.  No-one has a particularly clear idea of what a Gym ought to be or do other than that it should accept challenges and give out badges, as appropriate.  Celadon seems like a good model for how a Gym should be run, but it’s the exception, not the rule, and I doubt the Pokémon League has much say in any of this.

I can’t help but assume that Koga, like Sabrina, has some excuse for operating his Gym the way he does, because his is one of the weirder situations.  If I can be allowed to speculate a little, the Fuchsia Gym – since we know it has a long history – might have been involved in creating the Indigo League in the first place; it’s been a Gym for as long as there have been Gyms, and has stayed the same as conceptions of ‘what a Gym should be’ have changed around it.  Any attempt to get rid of it now would deny its historic contributions, so Koga is free to sit in his ninja castle and give Soul Badges to anyone crazy enough to trek out to the Gym, pick through all his traps, and get past his lunatic pink ninja sister.  It’s a little unfortunate I haven’t had much to say about Celadon Gym today but, well, I’m drawn to things that require explanation and, frankly, Erika’s Gym is almost freakishly normal considering what whacked-out places most of the Kanto Gyms are…

Anime Time: Episodes 22-24

Abra and the Psychic Showdown – The Tower of Terror – Haunter vs. Kadabra

It’s time for the Saffron Gym episodes already?  Ash does the Gyms in kind of a weird order, since he doesn’t take roundabout routes through underground paths the way we do in the games to avoid pointlessly obstructive gate guards.  As a result, Sabrina, normally the sixth challenge for players of the games, is Ash’s fourth.  As expected, he gets curb-stomped.

Let’s laugh at him!

 Sabrina's two selves, portrayed by Stephen Yang (http://stephenayang.deviantart.com/) - her mature, blankly psychotic self and her childlike, playful and incredibly disturbing self.

The thing about the Saffron Gym is that its leader is a certifiable loon.  Sabrina has a split personality: a playful and childish self, outwardly manifested as a psychic projection of an incredibly creepy little girl, and an intense, heartless Pokémon trainer, both of whom possess formidable telekinetic powers.  Sabrina senses Ash coming a mile away, and sends the image of her child self to lead him off a cliff.  She’s kinda like that.  After Ash, Brock and Misty make it to Saffron City alive and are captured by Team Rocket (in possibly the most successful day of their entire career), child Sabrina teleports in, freezes Jessie and James, retrieves Pikachu, and teleports the group right to the Saffron Gym.  A passing jogger warns Ash that the leader is a total psycho, but Ash (being Ash) enters the Gym anyway.  The place is practically a cult.  The other psychics fear and worship Sabrina, who mind-blasts one for daring to question her, then responds to Ash’s challenge by insisting that, if he loses, they have to ‘play’ with her.  Ash… still isn’t taking the hints, so Sabrina sends out her Abra.  Abra rather lazily teleports around Pikachu’s attacks and then, seemingly at Sabrina’s command, evolves into Kadabra.  As well as teleporting, he can now redirect attacks with Confusion, and basically make Pikachu his bitch with Psychic.  Ash surrenders, and Sabrina makes good on her promise to ‘play with them’… literally, shrinking them and stuffing them into her doll’s house.  Luckily, just as child Sabrina is about to crush them, the random jogger teleports in to rescue them.  Once they’ve teleported outside, Ash demands that he teach him to use psychic power to even the odds against Sabrina.  They argue, and the man pummels Ash with telekinesis until, impressed by Ash’s determination, he reluctantly suggests that they should travel to Lavender Town to catch a Ghost Pokémon, since only they can face Psychic-types on an even footing.

Ash is nothing if not determined, and a few days later he enters the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town.  I don’t really like the way the anime does Pokémon Tower; in the games it’s an incredibly important monumental cemetery built to honour all Pokémon, while in the anime it’s just this dingy old tower at the edge of town that people don’t talk about because it smells like old socks.  Also, a Gastly, a Haunter and a Gengar live there and spend most of their time watching slapstick comedy on TV and playing silly practical jokes to mess with anyone who stops by.  This… is actually really interesting.  Because this episode aired so long ago, everyone has gotten used to the idea of Gastly and friends as pranksters rather than anything truly malevolent, but the idea is actually original to the anime; nothing in the games is even remotely suggestive of this kind of characterisation (for all we know, it could be just these individuals that are like that).  Anyway, after Brock and Misty have been scared away by the ghosts’ tricks, Ash eventually works out that they’re more interested in comedy than horror… only to be knocked out cold by a falling chandelier.  Haunter releases Ash and Pikachu’s souls from their bodies so they can fly with the Ghost Pokémon for a night.  They all have a good long romp around the tower pranking each other, and poor Misty, who has no idea what’s going on, as Ash learns to see the funny side in scaring people.  Eventually, though, Misty and Brock find Ash’s body, and he decides he’d better return to the world of the living, much to the disappointment of his new friends.  Ash gives up on catching a Ghost-type, since they’re near-impossible to track down and aren’t interested in battling… but Haunter decides to follow Ash anyway.  Together, they head back to Saffron City with renewed confidence…

 Karzahnii's (http://karzahnii.deviantart.com/) depiction of the three Kanto Ghost-types; Gastly, Haunter and Gengar.

… which turns out to be utterly misplaced when Haunter vanishes the moment Ash steps into Sabrina’s chamber.  Ash panics and forfeits, so Sabrina turns Brock and Misty into dolls and chases after Ash as well, but the random jogger returns and teleports him out again.  The jogger (actually Sabrina’s dad, though Ash never quite catches on) explains Sabrina’s backstory – her singleminded devotion to pursuing psychic power isolated her from her family, and eventually split her soul in two.  He’s actually waiting for someone who can save Sabrina.  While Ash goes to look for Haunter, who’s busy tormenting Team Rocket, Brock and Misty strike up a conversation with the doll next to them on the sofa – Sabrina’s mother, who’s been a doll for years, but continues to insist “please don’t think badly of Sabrina!  She’s really a good daughter!”  I… I’m calling PTSD.  Anyway, Ash finds Haunter and returns to the gym to challenge Sabrina again… and Haunter disappears.  This time Pikachu (to Ash’s tearful gratitude) voluntarily steps into the ring to keep Ash from being doll’d.  Although he manages to land a good Thunderbolt on Kadabra, Kadabra just Recovers off the damage and Pikachu gets mangled as badly as the last time… until Haunter reappears.  He makes no attempt to battle anything, but instead tries out his latest slapstick routine.  Sabrina watches in bewilderment for a while, but eventually cracks a smile, which soon runs over into hysterical laughter.  Because of their psychic link, Kadabra succumbs as well, and Sabrina’s dad declares him unable to battle.  By getting Sabrina to laugh for the first time in over a decade, Haunter has managed to reunify her soul, making her give up the whole ‘psychotic cult leader’ thing.  Out of gratitude, Sabrina confers the Marsh Badge on Ash and releases her ‘dolls.’  Haunter chooses to stay in Saffron City with Sabrina, and Ash, Misty and Brock go on their merry way.

Okay, remember how I thought Pokémon League oversight must be fairly slack to let Lily, Violet and Daisy get away with running the Cerulean Gym as a ballet studio?  Well, I take it all back, because Cerulean City has NOTHING on this nonsense.   Actually, I can sort of empathise with the Pokémon League here.  When a Gym Leader is a criminally insane cult leader and the most powerful psychic of her generation, but also perfectly happy to sit around in her Pokémon Gym not bothering anyone, except for the occasional trainer too stupid to notice the warning signs… well, can you blame them for just letting her get on with it?  After all, if someone tried to get rid of Sabrina, she might be provoked into leaving the Gym, and no-one wants that.  Still, it’s rather a depressing comment on the central authority for Pokémon trainers in Kanto, and for that matter on Kanto’s law enforcement, that the one who eventually sorts it all out (after Sabrina has been Gym Leader for, one imagines, several years) is a relatively inexperienced wandering trainer with three badges and a grand total of six Pokémon.  In fact, no, it wasn’t even Ash; Haunter totally saved his ass in there.  The people of Kanto were saved from the Psycho Psychic of Saffron by a wild Pokémon with an interest in slapstick comedy (clearly no-one ever thought to try sitting Sabrina down with a box set of Monty Python’s Flying Circus).  The League are either woefully incompetent or just don’t care; nothing else adds up.  Either way, it’s clear that Pokémon Gyms can, if they so choose, act with a tremendous degree of autonomy.  Heck, the Gyms themselves are probably the power behind the Pokémon League, rather than the other way around – the anime has no Elite Four until much later seasons, so the Gym leaders are pretty much the cream of the crop, and several Gyms, notably Fuchsia and Blackthorn, probably predate the formation of the League.  Although the society of the Pokémon world appears superficially very similar to our own, there must be some pretty major differences lurking beneath the surface if powerful trainers are as above the law as they seem to be.  The fact that the strongest trainers are generally decent people is probably all that keeps the whole tottering edifice from collapsing.

 A spectacular piece by Jo Tyler (http://jotyler.deviantart.com/) of Sabrina commanding Kadabra and her new ally, Haunter.

The elephant in the room is the question of how Sabrina ever became a Gym Leader in the first place.  We know from her dad’s flashbacks that she began her psychic training at a young age (I’d guess between six and eight) and very quickly developed a habit of lashing out at her parents with her telekinesis when they annoyed her.  It’s unlikely, then, that she became the Saffron Gym Leader first and a deranged psychopath later.  Nor would she have gotten her Gym officially registered and gained the authority to hand out Marsh Badges if she had come to the Pokémon League with a proposal like “please give me League funding so I can build a temple for my personal cult and have a place to keep all the people I turn into dolls with my horrifying mind-powers.”  I may not give the Pokémon League a whole lot of credit, but let’s be reasonable here.  It follows that the Saffron Gym was already established and she took over at some point – getting League authorisation for a Gym isn’t easy (if it were, then A.J. from the Path to the Pokémon League would have done it), but taking over an existing one seems relatively hassle-free in the conclusion of Showdown in Pewter City – it’s probably assumed (falsely, I might add) that no Gym Leader would hand over the reins of power to an inferior trainer.  It seems normal for Pokémon Gyms to be family businesses, but I don’t think Sabrina’s father is a Pokémon trainer (her mother, conceivably, might have been, but I have trouble imagining Sabrina’s mother as a Gym Leader).  The other odd thing about the situation is that Sabrina’s cultists don’t actually seem to be Pokémon trainers either.  They’re totally occupied with exercising their psychic abilities (which are remarkably feeble in comparison to Sabrina’s) and, aside from Kadabra, we don’t see a single Pokémon in the Saffron Gym.  What’s more, the cultist who ‘greets’ Ash, although he declares emphatically that Ash is not worthy of challenging Sabrina, doesn’t make any effort to meet that challenge himself.  I suspect what this all adds up to is that Sabrina muscled in on the Saffron Gym as soon as she was old enough to train Pokémon, turned the old leader and the other trainers into dolls, and converted the place into a training centre for human telepaths.  Taking challenges is a minor nuisance, but at least gives her opportunities to practice her terrifying powers.  Moreover, I suspect the original Saffron Gym didn’t specialise in Psychic-types, otherwise you’d expect her to have kept a lot of the trainers and Pokémon from the old regime.  Remember the Fighting-type secondary Gym in the games’ version of Saffron City?  Yeah… I think I know why it doesn’t appear in the anime.

(Its anime equivalent is actually the “Fighting Spirit Gym,” which turns up in the very next episode, but that’s even less of a proper Gym, so I’m sticking with my wild speculation)

So that’s Saffron Gym – a place I hope never to visit again, but which offered some surprisingly valuable insights on the culture of Pokémon training in Kanto.  For the rest of this chunk of the series I’ll be hopping around a bit – I want to put episodes 25 and 29 (Primeape’s episodes) together, as well as 26 and 32 (Ash’s Fuchsia and Celadon Gym battles) – so bear with me; I’m on the home stretch.

Anime Time: Episode 14

Electric Shock Showdown

 Official artwork of Raichu, by Ken Sugimori; do unto Nintendo as you would have Nintendo do unto you.

Oh, the excitement!  Ash is on a roll, and now he’s in Vermillion City for his third Gym battle!  Oh… but we forgot to mention… the Vermillion Gym Leader, Lt. Surge, is a total nutcase who’s hospitalised sixteen Pokémon in the past month.  Pikachu doesn’t like the idea of fighting this crazy person, but Misty taunts Ash for the two pity Badges he collected in Pewter City and Cerulean City, and that’s the end of that.  Ash and Pikachu, with Brock and Misty in tow, march up to the Vermillion Gym and demand a battle with Lt. Surge, a jovial but condescending fellow who, for some reason, assumes that Misty is the challenger, even though Ash is the one standing front and centre in their group (does he really present such an unimposing figure?).  Surge thinks the idea of Ash challenging him is hilarious, and laughs even louder when he sees Pikachu, calling them both “babies.”  Surge calls out his own signature Pokémon: a Raichu, Pikachu’s evolved form, whose electrical powers are vastly superior to Pikachu’s.  “Electric Pokémon,” Surge claims, “are only useful once they learn all their Electric attacks,” so Ash should have forced Pikachu to evolve at the first possible opportunity to maximise his power, like Surge did.  Pikachu’s doubts about the battle evaporate when Surge and Raichu taunt him, and the match begins.  Raichu quickly demonstrates that she has Pikachu totally outgunned, ignoring his relatively paltry Thundershocks and hitting back with a blast that nearly knocks him out cold.  Pikachu doggedly keeps fighting, but Raichu just starts tossing him around the field with her superior physical strength and Ash has to surrender to keep him from being beaten up any further.  While Ash and the team regroup at the Pokémon Centre, Nurse Joy #98 overhears their conversation and randomly decides to offer Ash an incredibly valuable Thunder Stone, which would evolve Pikachu into a Raichu – no strings attached, though she cautions them to think carefully about it, since evolution is irreversible.  Ash doesn’t think he wants Pikachu to evolve just to fight, but decides to leave it up to him.  Pikachu slaps the Thunder Stone away and gives an impassioned speech; Ash, of course, doesn’t understand a single word, but Meowth translates for Jessie and James, who are spying from the window: he wants to fight Raichu again to defend the honour of all Pikachu.  Ash, with a suggestion from Brock, devises a new strategy while Pikachu recovers, and as soon as they’re both ready, they head back to the Vermillion Gym.  On the way they run into Team Rocket, who have come to cheer for them – Jessie and James have realised that if Pikachu loses, then all the effort they’ve spent trying to steal him will have been a waste, so they do a strange little dance with a morale-boosting chant, then run away.  These guys already have way too much emotional investment in stalking the kids and Pikachu, and we’re only a few weeks in… at this rate they’re going to be basket cases by the end of season one.  Anyway, Ash and Surge have their rematch, but this time, Pikachu makes use of his one big advantage over Raichu: she has greater physical and electrical strength, but he’s a lot faster, and can evade most of Raichu’s physical attacks like Mega Punch and Body Slam.  Surge gets annoyed and commands Raichu to blast the whole stadium at once with her Thunderbolt so Pikachu can’t dodge, but when the dust clears, Pikachu is… standing on his tail, perfectly unharmed, having discharged all the electricity through it and into the ground.  Raichu tries to attack again, but she’s all out of power and has to go back to physical attacks.  Pikachu gives her the run-around until she can’t keep fighting any longer, then finishes her off.  Lt. Surge admits defeat and gives Ash his Thunder Badge, they shake hands, Ash and Pikachu celebrate, and Team Rocket wander off into the sunset, realising too late that “we wasted this episode cheering for the good guys!”

 Raichu doing what she does best, by OrcaOwl (http://orcaowl.deviantart.com/).

So, if you’ve been paying attention to my anime reviews so far, you’ve probably guessed that I’m interested in Electric Shock Showdown because of Pikachu’s refusal to evolve.  In the end, this is how he beats Raichu – in the games, Pokémon that evolve using stones normally stop learning attacks, which is why Raichu, who evolved before learning Quick Attack or Agility, was so much slower than Pikachu.  If we’re just thinking in terms of the ability to learn new attacks, though, why not evolve Pikachu after the battle?  He’s already learnt the speed techniques that gave him an edge over Raichu, and (as long as we’re going by the logic of the games here) evolving won’t cause him to lose those techniques, so surely he’d have the best of both worlds?  It’s plausible the anime is taking the position that Pikachu are, universally, capable of quicker and more precise movements than Raichu, which really does make a lot of sense if you just take your eyes off their in-game stats for a moment.  I think it’s also plausible that Pikachu might have more endurance than Raichu; notice that, in the second match, Raichu’s pretty much done after one good Thunderbolt – she burns twice as bright, but half as long.  However, tactical considerations are clearly not what’s occupying Ash’s mind when Nurse Joy offers him the Thunder Stone.  In general, Ash, Brock and Misty seem to take the view that using a stone to evolve a Pokémon constitutes forcing it to evolve, which seems fair enough, on the face of it.  Assuming my previous wild inferences are correct, most Pokémon evolve when they are psychologically ready for the change, which is more or less voluntary.  Using a Thunder Stone or similar item, on the other hand, takes the choice out of the Pokémon’s hands and puts it firmly in the trainer’s.  This is something of an ethical tangle in itself but it actually isn’t the main question here, because Ash, who doesn’t like the idea of forcing Pikachu into a massive and permanent physical and psychological metamorphosis, leaves it up to Pikachu.  The main question here is why, when given the opportunity to decide for himself, does Pikachu refuse evolution?

 I love this one; it's so cute.  This is by Asphodels, and I would love to give you a link because if this is anything to go by then he/she is very good, but his/her DeviantArt account has been deleted recently and I don't know where else to look...

Back in Ash Catches a Pokémon, Caterpie wanted nothing more in all the world than to become a Butterfree.  As I noted at the time, though, Caterpie is, well, a caterpillar, and the whole purpose of his existence is to prepare for evolution.  I suppose it’s not impossible to imagine a Caterpie who is perfectly happy being a Caterpie and never becoming an adult, but I doubt that’s common; most of them probably assume that succeeding in life entails evolution.  The only other evolution we’ve seen in the series so far is Clefairy evolving into Clefable in Clefairy and the Moon Stone, which I kind of skimmed over at the time.  Like Caterpie, the Clefairy are something of a weird little corner case as far as the psychology of evolution goes, because of their strange relationship with the Moon Stone, the meteor which (according to the conspiracy theorists) first brought them to Earth.  The Clefairy worship the Moon Stone and perform ritualistic dances around it while singing and praying.  We also see them gathering up shards of the meteor and collecting them in a central chamber around the main stone.  Their reverence for the stone doesn’t seem to be related to any desire to evolve (in fact, they don’t even evolve when they hold the shards), but then again, they don’t seem to be particularly upset when they wind up Metronomesploding it into a million pieces, so I guess they took it as a consolation that a bunch of them evolved when the pieces touched them.  Maybe they have a concept of fate and didn’t evolve themselves using the Moon Stone earlier because it wasn’t “the right time”?  The Clefairy are inscrutable by design and trying to probe their motivations makes my head hurt, but we can at least say that they aren’t upset by the idea of evolving due to a chance event at a time not of their own choosing.  I suspect they may be unique in this, though, because of their unusual relationship with their Moon Stones.  In the games, Pokémon that have evolved using stones typically don’t exist in the wild; that type of evolution normally requires human intervention to bring the Pokémon and the stone together.   Assuming this holds true in the anime as well (which, granted, is quite an assumption), Pikachu may not consider Raichu a natural evolution of his species, but rather a form specifically modified by humans to be better at fighting (not unlike Mewtwo – assuming Pikachu doesn’t understand the science involved, what would the difference be from his perspective?).  He might even think of Raichu and other Pokémon like them as sell-outs, which would explain why the whole thing seems to be a point of pride for him.

Another, possibly complimentary, explanation is that the anime simply makes certain basic assumptions about evolution, and particularly the use of evolutionary stones, that the games do not.  With the exception of The School of Hard Knocks (in which Joe has to memorise trivia like “Pidgey evolves at level 18”) the anime is generally extremely vague about the concept of “level;” it’s possible that Pokémon in the anime can, or believe they can, continue to grow stronger without limit, in which case the Thunder Stone would only be a quicker and easier way to power Pikachu would also be able to earn with hard work.  Remember also Meowth’s odd comment in Ash Catches a Pokémon about Pikachu’s power “exceeding its evolutionary level;” on the one hand, yes, it’s Meowth, on the other hand, he seems to be suggesting Pikachu could be, or could become, even stronger than a Raichu.  Equally, it might be the case that the stones are not the only way for Pokémon like Pikachu to evolve – or, again, that he might believe they aren’t.  When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense; a species that can’t reach adulthood without access to rare substances found only in certain areas would be pretty odd, especially given that most Pokémon that use stones can’t dig for them.  If this seems fishy given what we know from the games, consider that Electric Shock Showdown was made fairly early in the franchise’s life, when it might not have been at all clear which – if any – of the rules laid down in Red and Blue would remain immutable as (or, for that matter, if) the franchise matured.  I think the theory is fairly consistent with Pikachu’s behaviour during and after this episode; he could use the stone to provide the surge of energy he would need to evolve right now, but believes he could eventually evolve in his own time – if he ever even needed to – and doesn’t want to take the ‘easy way out’.

Whether he is correct or not, I leave as a question for the reader.

Anime Time: Episodes 5-7

Showdown at Pewter City – Clefairy and the Moon Stone – The Waterflowers of Cerulean City

In which Ash… earns… his first two Gym Badges.  Arguably.  Also stuff happens with some Clefairy.

 Some nice crisp art of Brock and his Rock Pokémon, by Fluna (http://fluna.deviantart.com/)

When Ash and Misty arrive in Pewter City, they are greeted by an aged hobo selling rocks.  Don’t scoff; rocks are the whole basis of Pewter City’s economy.  The hobo leads them to the Pokémon Centre where Misty points out a poster advertising the Indigo League tournament, which explains that contestants need to earn eight official Gym Badges to enter.  Ash… apparently didn’t know this.  Why the hell was he going to Pewter City?  If he didn’t know about collecting badges, what could he possibly have wanted to do there?  Buy rocks?  Misty cautions Ash not to rush into a Gym battle and offers to lend him some of her Pokémon, but Ash ignores her, challenges the local leader, Brock, and quickly learns that Brock’s signature Pokémon, Onix, is fifty times Pikachu’s size and invulnerable to electricity.  Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu from being turned into red paste, and leaves the Gym in despair.  On the street he meets the hobo, Flint, who explains that Brock is a very powerful trainer and could go much further than being Gym Leader of a hick town, but is kept in Pewter City by his countless younger siblings – Brock’s father ditched the family to become a Pokémon trainer, this sort of thing being socially acceptable in Kanto, and his mother died soon after (or… so the English translation claimed… long story).  Despite his sympathy for Brock, Flint provides Ash with a “strategy” to defeat him: overcharge Pikachu by hooking him up to a derelict hydroelectric paddle-wheel… which Ash will turn manually (realism is cast aside so Ash can work for his victory and prevent this whole episode from being a blatant exercise in cheating… I mean, it kind of is anyway, but they were trying).  Although Pikachu nearly explodes, Flint’s plan works: the next day, he fries Brock’s Geodude with relative ease.  Onix is still too strong, but unfortunately for Brock, Pikachu’s wild electrical blasts set off the Gym’s fire suppression systems, drenching Onix and rendering him vulnerable.  The characters’ reactions are fascinating.  Ash declares that he doesn’t want to win on a fluke and leaves the Gym, which makes sense; he’s still far too proud to accept this kind of victory.  Misty, who’s watching, seems to think Ash should have taken his lucky break and finished Onix, because all’s fair in Pokémon and war, so she clearly has no moral compass.  And Brock… Brock follows him and just gives him the Boulder Badge, because he doesn’t really give a damn about this whole Gym Leadering thing anyway.  Flint turns up and reveals himself as Brock’s father; apparently he was an appalling trainer and returned to Pewter City not long after leaving, but decided to become a rock salesman instead of going home to care for his vermin offspring.  I guess Ash has reminded him how not to be a massive jerk, because he’s decided to become a proper father again (and also run the Gym, presumably… despite being a self-confessed failure as a trainer…) so Brock can go on a road trip.

 Clefairy and Clefable.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder whether you'll come after me for copyright infringement.

Ash, Misty and Brock leave Pewter City together and travel past Mt. Moon, where they meet a… ‘scientist’… named Seymour and have to deal with Team Rocket, who are trying to steal an ancient meteorite known as the Moon Stone from Mt. Moon (this meteorite, presumably, is the source of all the smaller Moon Stones we’re familiar with from the games).  Team Rocket is dealt with quite comprehensively by the community of Clefairy who inhabit Mt. Moon; their Metronome chorus results in a powerful explosion that actually blows the Moon Stone itself to smithereens, but no-one seems to mind because the shards cause many of the Clefairy to evolve into Clefable.  Then Seymour decides to go and live with the Clefairy because he’s nuts.  Honestly, I could probably spend an entire entry just talking about this episode.  It’s the first time we see a Pokémon using an evolutionary stone in the anime, which is interesting in itself, but the Clefairy and Clefable relate to the Moon Stone in a way that’s so weird and unique that it adds a whole extra dimension to the matter.  Sadly that doesn’t really fit with the ideas I want to talk about today, but I’ll probably come back to it when I discuss episode fourteen (which is definitely getting a whole entry to itself).

Despite Misty’s inexplicable protests, the group’s next destination is Cerulean City, where Ash wants to try for his second badge in as many weeks.  When they reach the city, Misty vanishes in a huff, and Brock wanders off to take care of some unspecified “stuff,” returning only at the end of the episode.  Ash makes his way to the Cerulean Gym-cum-aquarium, where – to his surprise – he witnesses the end of a water ballet performed by a trio known as the “Sensational Sisters.”  As he explores the Gym later, he meets the sisters, Lily, Violet and Daisy, and learns that the three of them are, in fact, the Gym Leaders.  As it turns out, however, they’re just as sick of their Gym Leader gig as Brock was, having just suffered three devastating losses to the other three trainers who left Pallet Town at the same time as Ash.  In fact, apart from a Goldeen and a low-level Seel, all of their Pokémon are resting at the Pokémon Centre.  Lily, Violet and Daisy would rather focus on the water ballets that have made their Gym famous than deal with challenges so, with a collective shrug, they decide to hand Ash his Cascade Badge just for the asking… until Misty bursts in.  Misty, it turns out, is the family’s fourth and youngest sister, and she is none too pleased about the way her sisters are handling their Gym (or failing to).  She answers Ash’s challenge herself, and soundly defeats his Butterfree with her Staryu.  They both switch Pokémon, and Pidgeotto nearly beats Misty’s Starmie, but Team Rocket interrupts the battle by attacking the Gym with some kind of giant vacuum cobbled together from cannibalised household appliances they stole earlier in the episode.  They intend to use this godawful device to suck up all the water in the Gym, and all the Water Pokémon with it, but Ash, of course, defeats Team Rocket and saves the sisters’ last few Pokémon.  Lily, Violet and Daisy decide to award Ash the Cascade Badge for services rendered to the Cerulean Gym, and point out to Misty that Pikachu could have flattened her Water Pokémon anyway if he’d wanted to (Pikachu refused to fight a friend – he doesn’t yet follow all of Ash’s orders without question; he can also be troublesome about going into battles he doesn’t think he can win).  They meet up with Brock, who never does explain what his “stuff” involved, and move on to their next misadventure.

 Misty and Starmie.  People seem to think Misty forgets about Starmie as the series goes on, because she doesn't use it much, but it's actually her go-to Pokémon for most situations... it's just Starmie suffers the most from Psyduck's tendency to come out when Misty wants a different Pokémon.

These episodes begin Ash’s extremely chequered career of earning Gym Badges under questionable circumstances.  Of his eight Kanto badges, only three were totally legitimate (you could certainly make arguments for some of the other five, but they’re definitely suspect). Gym Leaders appear to have a lot of latitude in running their Gyms and handing out their badges, and once you get your hands on one of the things, no-one ever really questions it.  Strange as it might seem, this is actually something I would like to put in the games; Black and White made a decent effort at showing the Gym Leaders as people rather than just bosses, but Claire from Gold and Silver remains the only one in history ever to demand something other than a battle as proof of a player’s worthiness.  A Gym Leader’s job is to certify that a challenger possesses a certain degree of skill as a trainer, and a battle is the most straightforward and obvious way to do that, but it’s plainly not the only way.  Providing a service to the Gym or to the city, in a manner that demonstrates one’s abilities to the satisfaction of the Gym Leader, seems like a perfectly sensible way to earn a badge.  Arguably, so is putting up a good fight when your main Pokémon is plainly unsuited to the task at hand.  Happening to show up just as the Gym Leader gets sick of battling… not so much.  How Lily, Violet and Daisy became the Gym Leaders of Cerulean City in the first place is beyond me, since they don’t appear to have much commitment to their position, which suggests to me that general oversight for the whole system is relatively slack.  I think two or three years pass before someone picks up on their uselessness and Misty has to come home and run the gym for them.  Honestly I suspect that the Pokémon League just quietly overlooks Cerulean City in exchange for a percentage of their ticket sales.

The other important thing about these episodes is that they introduce Brock and fill in Misty’s backstory.  Brock is the oldest (I don’t know if his age is ever mentioned but I think he’s supposed to be about sixteen) and most responsible member of the team… until he sees an attractive woman, at which point he turns into a drooling idiot.  He’s used to taking care of a huge family, and probably finds it a welcome break to have only two demented children on his hands.  Although Brock is quite powerful, he doesn’t actually like fighting and wants to become a Pokémon Breeder – a somewhat nebulous term in the anime, since any actual ‘breeding’ would probably spoil the show’s G-rating; basically Brock is a specialist in Pokémon nutrition and general healthcare.  Misty is a lot of fun.  She’s often described as a tomboy – she normally wears boyish clothes and she’s as adventurous, outgoing and stubborn as Ash – but she does regularly show interest in stereotypically ‘girly’ things, and loves anything that’s pink, cute, sparkly, or all three, so I think the tomboy aspect is something she developed as a gesture of rebellion against her sisters’ obsession with fashion and beauty.  She can be superficial at times and is prone to romanticising, but she’s also capable of being a very determined, practical person when she needs to be.  Misty and Brock will, of course, both get fuller treatment in episodes to come… so let’s get going!