A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXVI: Conservatively Speaking

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What do you want to investigate?
– Visit Lexa, then go looking for the Super Nerd

You decide that Mal and Ellie’s comments about a “weirdo” who hangs out at the mountain’s peak are the best thing to follow up, so you head over to the tent where they said their fossil conservator, Lexa, is busy working.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXVI: Conservatively Speaking”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXX: Remedial Sciences

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What would you like to do as you head out towards Mount Moon? [Choose up to two]

  • Catch a Pokémon
  • Study the environment and ecosystem

Ask the other guy to join you?

  • Sure, why not?

The other g- I mean… Indigo or… whatever his name is- look, are you gonna learn his name at some point? ‘cause if you’re not gonna, I’m not gonna, and at some point it might start to seem rude if you’re hanging out together.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXX: Remedial Sciences”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXIX: Leader’s Duty

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What should Scallion do?
– Evolve

The light is swelling.  You’re not afraid of it.  Why would you be?  You’ve studied with Professor Oak, so you know how evolution works – or at least, as much as anyone does – but you also know there’s a spiritual aspect to it.  Evolution is the path to fulfilling a Pokémon’s potential, to realising their full powers and finding their place in the world.  You’d never make Scallion evolve if he didn’t want to – but reassuring him that nothing bad will happen if he chooses this?  That’s kind of your job.  You tell him, in a few soft words, that it’s okay to let go; you’ll still be here on the other side.  And he changes.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXIX: Leader’s Duty”

Anime Time: Episodes 40 and 51

The Battling Eevee Brothers – Bulbasaur’s Mysterious Garden

Ash’s location: central Anatolia.

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

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

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

 Pikachu and Bulbasaur having a bromance moment.

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

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

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

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

 A Venusaur readying a Solarbeam, by Maquenda.

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

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

Bulbasaur, Ivysaur and Venusaur

Oh, Bulbasaur; I know you aren’t as popular as Squirtle or Charmander, but my heart will always belong to you…

 Bulbasaur.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; we are all part of the Great Circle of Nintendo.

Today is basically going to be one huge nostalgia trip for me, since we’ll be looking at my first Pokémon ever: Bulbasaur, the first-generation Grass-type starter Pokémon.  It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this little guy; I honestly don’t think I ever chose a different starter on any of my myriad playthroughs of Blue version as a kid (I branched out a little on Leaf Green, but Bulbasaur remained my favourite).  It’s probably fair to say I’m slightly biased, but I will do the best I can to back myself up with sensible argument.  Here’s why I think Bulbasaur is awesome.


What made Bulbasaur stand out amongst the Grass Pokémon of Red and Blue was his heavy emphasis on the idea of symbiosis.  Most of the first-generation Grass-types (in fact, most Grass-types full stop) are plants – Oddish, Bellsprout, Tangela and Exeggcute may move, talk and fight, but they’re very clearly plants with a couple of animal traits rather than the other way around.  The subsequent Grass-type starters, and a few other weirdoes like Leafeon, all reject the trend and are animals with a couple of plant traits.  Bulbasaur is unique in being neither; his appearance gives the impression of two distinct but joined organisms, one animal and one plant, and this is explicitly what he is, with a seed “planted on its back at birth.”  Even today, there’s only one other Pokémon that balances its plant and animal aspects in the same way, and it’s actually one that’s been around from the beginning.  It’s Paras.  Truthfully, though, Paras and Parasect with their story of parasitism are even stranger.  They may be terrible Pokémon but they have one of the most fascinating designs of the entire first generation; they’re not the point of this entry, though.  The point is, although Bulbasaur is the first Grass Pokémon many trainers will ever meet, he’s not at all archetypal; in fact he’s the best example of an idea that the subsequent Grass starters never quite caught onto.  In Bulbasaur’s Mysterious Garden, Brock describes Bulbasaur, Ivysaur and Venusaur as a symbol of nature’s interconnectedness and the fundamental dependence plants and animals have on each other.  He’s perhaps poeticising a bit excessively, but I actually quite like this way of looking at them; if you wanted to come up with such a symbol, you could do much worse than Bulbasaur.  It might have been nice if the later starters had explored symbiosis in different ways to create contrasts with Bulbasaur – Torterra, actually, does this quite well – but he’s still fun on his own.  As compared to the other starters of his own set, Bulbasaur is a little odd.  Squirtle and Charmander follow broadly similar progressions from cute through tough to full-on badass; Blastoise with his heavy cannons and Charizard with his, y’know, being a freakin’ dragon.  Bulbasaur is different.  I think he is meant to be cute (well, I think he’s cute) but clearly not so overtly as Charmander or Squirtle; he almost seems to aim for the ‘tough’ aesthetic from the beginning (the fact that he’s the only quadruped in the group is probably a factor since it adds to his physical stability) and then just builds on it as he grows through Ivysaur to Venusaur.  ‘Badass’ is a hard adjective to define, but I don’t think it describes Venusaur, or at least not as well as it describes Blastoise and Charizard.  Instead Venusaur projects a sense of age, experience and self-control – this is a Pokémon that can fight, but chooses not to.  Venusaur is not for everyone, but for me it was his differences that made him my favourite.

 Ivysaur.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I’m sentimental, of course, but there are plenty of reasons to like Bulbasaur’s line other than their design characteristics.  Venusaur is a starter Pokémon, and as such high stats are his birthright – solid all around, with a bias towards his special stats.  Back in the olden days, Venusaur was the fastest Grass Pokémon in the game, which made him a good choice for using Grass’s two big trump cards: Sleep Powder and Leech Seed.  He was also one of only two fully evolved Grass Pokémon (the other being Victreebel) with Razor Leaf, easily the best Grass-type attack at the time because of Red and Blue’s idiosyncratic critical hit mechanics and the absence of any way to speed up a Solarbeam.  On the ‘con’ side, Venusaur was a Poison-type Pokémon in a world ruled by Psychic-types, an uncomfortable place to be, and Poison had no powerful attacks in Red and Blue.  Over the years, Venusaur developed into a versatile tank who can focus on physical or special, offense or defence.  With the advent of Sunny Day, Razor Leaf was replaced by Solarbeam as the Grass type’s strongest offensive option, then Solarbeam eventually by Giga Drain and Seed Bomb, but Leech Seed and Sleep Powder remained potent weapons in Venusaur’s arsenal.  He gained the ability to rebalance himself towards slow, bulky physical offense with Curse in Gold and Silver; with the addition of Earthquake to his movepool in Ruby and Sapphire, he can act as a competent physical tank.  Power Whip and Leaf Storm present devastating options for Grass-type damage.  As a Grass-type, Venusaur is also one of the few Pokémon who actually appreciates having Poison as a secondary offensive element in the form of Sludge Bomb, since it can swiftly deal with other Grass Pokémon, who are immune to Leech Seed and resistant to Earthquake.  Finally, Synthesis lets Venusaur heal – it may be unreliable, dependent as it is on fine weather, but it backs up his reasonable defensive stats nicely.

 Venusaur.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Black and White brought Venusaur two major gifts, the first of which is Growth.  Growth has been a part of Venusaur’s movepool from the beginning, but its usefulness decayed after the special stat was split into special attack and special defence in Gold and Silver, since it then increased only special attack, not both.  Black and White have given Growth – and with it, many Grass Pokémon – a new lease on life; it now increases both physical and special attack, giving Venusaur more diverse options for putting together an offensive moveset.  Even better, Growth’s effect is now doubled in bright sunlight, allowing Venusaur to slot quite neatly into almost any sun team as a dangerous bulky sweeper.  The other great blessing Venusaur received was his Dream World ability, Chlorophyll.  When Ruby and Sapphire introduced abilities Venusaur, like all the other starters, received an ability that boosts the damage of his elemental attacks when his health is low (for the Grass-types, this ability is called Overgrow).  While this is nice to have, it’s difficult to plan to make use of it.  Chlorophyll, on the other hand, an ability available to many Grass Pokémon which doubles their speed in bright sunlight, compliments the newly-improved Growth perfectly to make the Grass-types that possess both extremely dangerous.  Several other Grass Pokémon have this combination, but few of them can compete with Venusaur. Victreebel is stronger, but he’s also much frailer and doesn’t learn Earthquake, which limits the usefulness of his excellent physical attack score.  Tangrowth is so slow that he still risks being outrun even with the Chlorophyll boost, and his special defence is shockingly bad (though it’s worth noting that Tangrowth can sit and get pummelled by physical attacks all day without blinking).  Shiftry is fast and has a nice movepool, whether you want to go physical, special, or both, but curls up and dies after even the weakest attacks.  This is not to say that all three don’t have advantages of their own, of course, but Venusaur is definitely up there with the strongest solar Pokémon.  Getting your hands on a Dream World Bulbasaur may not necessarily be easy, but they are out there, so see if you can find something valuable to trade for one.

As my very first Pokémon, Bulbasaur has inevitably become something of a gold standard for me.  A simple but well-executed design with pleasing symbolic connotations, coupled with measures of power and versatility that, for most of his history anyway (the additions from Black and White change this somewhat), have proven generous without creating an unachievable benchmark for the poor rank-and-file Pokémon.  Even today, even if I must admit to having soft spots for many of them, given the choice of any of the fifteen starter Pokémon of the past and present, I would find it very difficult not to stop looking at #001.