VikingBoyBilly asks:

How come heatran has sexes (not ‘genders’) and can’t breed? It’s the only legendary that is like this (Latias and Latios have fixed sexes, Manaphy can breed).

Well, Latias and Latios probably have genders because they’re supposed to reference Gnostic aeons, which come in male/female pairs (I’m not altogether convinced by this interpretation, but it’s the best suggestion I’ve seen for what they’re about); Manaphy can breed because being a legendary Pokémon that can breed is Manaphy’s particular gimmick.  Heatran… well, to be honest my best guess (and I do not think it is a terribly good one, but it’s what I’ve got) is that Heatran was originally not intended to be a legendary Pokémon, and somehow its genders were retained by mistake.  There isn’t really anything particularly “legendary” about Heatran other than its stats, after all, particularly not in comparison to some of the other nonsense going on in the fourth generation.  If you’re looking for an in-universe explanation, I would say that Heatran can and do breed – but since they’ll only lay their eggs in a volcano that isn’t already claimed by another Heatran, good bloody luck to anyone who wants to try it.

The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 2b

I can’t believe Phione got voted out!  This is SO UNFAIR!

Hmph.  Whatever.  I suppose I’d better make the best of it…

Deoxys vs. Mew

 

Mew and Deoxys both have interesting implications for the question of what a ‘Pokémon’ actually is, which contradict each other in places…

Mew is – and always has been – held up as the ancestor of all Pokémon (or, if you accept my interpretation, the ancestor of all Pokémon except the ones who feature in the Sinnoh creation myth).  This theory is based on the belief that “[Mew’s] DNA is said to contain the genetic codes of all Pokémon,” which is not how genetics and evolution work.  Like, at all Evolution is ‘descent with modification’ – that is, organisms gain new features that are distinct from those of their ancestors.  As you follow the family tree backwards, you should start seeing Pokémon that have fewer and fewer of those distinguishing traits, becoming more and more similar, until you’re left with the basic genes common to all Pokémon, where we should expect to find Mew.  I can think of two ways Mew could possibly have anything like a complete genetic library of all Pokémon: either she is not their common ancestor but their common descendent, the end result of millions of years of crossbreeding between formerly distinct Pokémon species (which probably requires us to assume that she is from the future), or she was the seed from which Arceus intended all the extant species of Pokémon to spring, and was given all the necessary genetic material in advance (which I suppose finally answers that question: no, Pokémon don’t ‘evolve’ in the traditional sense; every species was planned from the start and programmed into Mew’s DNA).  I’m pretty sure neither of these is actually what Mew’s designers had in mind.

Then, of course, we get Deoxys, who is a shapeshifting psychic virus from outer space, and blithely turns the whole thing on its head.

Deoxys resulted from a mutation in a virus from space that was struck by a laser beam, which… well, okay, first of all, that is not how mutation works either, but there’s something else I’m much more interested in.  Deoxys demonstrably is not descended from Mew.  It is more closely related to the common cold than it is to Pikachu.  It’s debateable whether viruses are technically even ‘living things’ at all (to my knowledge, viruses do not respire); Deoxys clearly seems to have moved beyond that, but it must deserve, at the very least, its own taxonomic domain.  So why, in the name of all that is good and holy, is it considered a Pokémon?  Any traits it has in common with other Pokémon are plainly coincidental and not the result of shared descent, so calling Deoxys a Pokémon makes no more sense than calling a hornet a bird simply because it happens to fly.  The only objective defining factor I can think of is that Deoxys, like all other Pokémon, can be captured in a Pokéball… so is that what makes it a Pokémon?  The way it happens to interact with a particular piece of human technology?  That seems like a rather arbitrary definition.  Then again, perhaps I’m going about this the wrong way… what I’ve been saying about Mew seems to suggest a radically different set of founding principles for evolution in the Pokémon universe, so…

…phylogenetics…Jean-Baptiste Lamarck…finches and fruit flies…Archaea, Bacteria, Eukarya…William bloody Paley’s watch…

…mmm?  What?

Vote?

CAN’T YOU SEE I HAVE FAR MORE IMPORTANT THINGS ON MY MIND?!

Ho-oh vs. Groudon

 

I am running out of things to complain about.

Let’s recall my last words on these two.  Ho-oh I like because she’s one of the only unambiguously benevolent legendary Pokémon, which I think is a necessary role one of them should fill, and also because of her part in the origin story of the Johto beast trio, which is one of my favourite Pokémon legends because – in my opinion, anyway – it doesn’t get too crazy, like the Sinnoh stories where Dialga and Palkia’s souls are tied to the physical properties of the universe itself, but there’s an actual story to it, unlike for Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, who are just really mysterious and enigmatic.  Honestly, of all the legendary Pokémon remaining in the top 16, I think Ho-oh is the one who comes closest to getting that balance right (if you’re interested, I also think that Thundurus, Tornadus and Landorus, who aren’t in this tournament, do quite well).  The only real downside to Ho-oh, for me, is that she gets a little bit one-dimensional with the life-light-and-happiness theme.  This, actually, is one point on which I think Groudon and Kyogre are relatively strong; when we meet them in Ruby and Sapphire, we experience their full potential for destruction, but – as their Pokédex entries very deliberately point out, and as Team Aqua and Team Magma never stop telling us – they have tremendous creative potential as well.  Groudon, for instance, is remembered in myth for saving people from catastrophic floods, and, of course, humanity could not have come to exist in the Pokémon world without the creator of the continents.  Groudon’s dual characterisation helps to hammer home the essential message of the plot of Ruby and Sapphire: that ‘nature’ isn’t a single force but a complex balance of conflicting impulses held in a delicate equilibrium, each of which can be beneficial in its proper place, but harmful when thrown out of balance.  This is all great stuff, and it’s the reason I do like Kyogre and Groudon.  Their weakness in my eyes is their position on the slippery slope that led to capturing the creator of the universe in a tiny plastic ball.  Groudon and Kyogre escalated the events of the plot of Ruby and Sapphire to near-apocalyptic proportions, threatening to parch or drown the whole world, respectively.  Try as I may, I cannot accept that it makes sense for a ten-year-old kid to be in control of this kind of power.  Ho-oh and Lugia straddle the boundary a little – Lugia can create storms that last for weeks, and Ho-oh raised the dead (once) – but building and sinking continents is something else entirely.  The closest I can get to making sense of any of this is through a statement Cyrus makes in Diamond and Pearl, which seems to imply that legendary Pokémon captured in Pokéballs lose many of the more cosmic aspects of their power.  Why?  We don’t know.  What effect does this have on the delicate balance between the earth and the sea?  We sure as hell don’t care!

My vote goes to HO-OH!

Latias vs. Lugia

 

I like Latias.  I do.  I really, honestly do.

I just don’t think there’s anything ‘legendary’ about her at all.

When I covered Latios, I mentioned a list of the characteristics he and his sister share that don’t, in themselves, imply or necessitate ‘legendary’ status, so I won’t do that again.  I’ll just point out that they are explicitly herd animals, which seems at odds with both the norm for legendary Pokémon (who are solitary and often implied to be unique, although for some this is contentious) and their own portrayal in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, where a single Latias or Latios wanders Hoenn alone.  No explanation has yet been offered for the fact that these social Pokémon are only ever encountered alone, and I doubt one ever will be.  Against this, Latias has a number of interesting powers, including the ability to render herself invisible by bending light, as well as an odd but inventive physical design.  Add just a little bit of detail about the relationship between Latias and Latios, who are imagined to be females and males of the same species, and I think you’d have a really excellent design… it’s just not a design for a legendary Pokémon.  Lugia, of course, is as legendary as you get.  Rumour and folktale connects Lugia with the terrible storms that are created by the flapping of his great wings, so it’s odd that dragging Lugia up from beneath the Whirl Islands doesn’t cause the same kind of catastrophe as awakening Kyogre does in Sapphire.  It’s easier to accept, though, for two reasons; first, no-one has ever claimed Lugia can actually sink continents; second, we never actually see Lugia cause storms of the magnitude we hear about, which makes it easier to chalk it up to exaggeration in the stories (we experience Kyogre and Groudon’s powers firsthand, and all the characters involved with that part of the story take the myths absolutely seriously; there’s much less room for interpretation).  Lugia does begin to slide in the direction of ‘this Pokémon is a cosmic lynchpin which MUST NOT BE CAPTURED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES’ in the Power of One, where his role is actually to calm and contain storms, as in his Pokédex entry for Crystal version.  My eventual conclusion has been that Lugia’s actual ecological role is a bit more complicated than we’re told and probably involves both causing storms and quieting them to manage the development of ocean ecosystems in his territory, and that although he certainly could cause one of those mythic forty-day storms we’ve heard about if he really wanted to, it would take a lot more exertion than simply flapping his wings.  I’m worried that I may be getting to the point where I’m judging my interpretation of Lugia more so than what we’re actually shown, simply because what we’re shown isn’t totally consistent.  However, my issues with Latias stand, so I’m fairly comfortable siding with him against her.

My vote goes to LUGIA!

Rayquaza vs. Palkia

 

Everyone remembers, from the last round, why I think both of these Pokémon were terrible mistakes?

Yes?

Good.

So, my issues with Rayquaza, in and of himself, are not all that great compared to those I have with Groudon and Kyogre.  Kyogre has the power to flood continents.  Groudon has the power to dry oceans.  Rayquaza has the power to make both of them shut the hell up.  He is as mysterious and powerful as any legendary Pokémon should be, but as far as cosmic ridiculousness goes, he’s fairly low-key – his special relationship with Kyogre and Groudon is pretty much it; he doesn’t have the ability to reverse gravity or turn forests into ozone or anything.  My problem with Rayquaza is solely in the way he figures into the plot of Emerald version, where he reduces the player’s role in the climax to an extremely simple fetch-and-carry assignment, which I shall here dramatise for your enjoyment.

Wallace: “Where the hell is Rayquaza?”

Player: “I don’t f*cking know!”

Wallace: “Of course; that must be it!  Now go get Rayquaza!”

Player: “Oh, hey; that was easy.”

Rayquaza: “LOLZ GO BAK 2 SLP GAIZ”

Kyogre and Groudon: “kk lol”

Rayquaza: “kthxbai”

The anticlimax is much the worse for the fact that, up until this point, Emerald is so much better-done than Ruby and Sapphire in many ways.  So, that’s what’s wrong with Rayquaza.  Now let’s talk about what’s wrong with Palkia.  This, of course, is the old “I just captured a god!” chestnut.  Supposedly, catching Palkia (or Dialga, for that matter) in a Pokéball will somehow cut her off from her cosmic powers to some extent, which is the reason Cyrus creates the Red Chain on Pearl version instead of just capturing Palkia with his Master Ball.  This explains why you can’t subsequently use Palkia to destroy the universe, like Cyrus wanted to, although there’s no word on the long-term effects (Palkia is supposedly responsible for the stability of space, so I’m not entirely sure capturing her is really the best idea if it will weaken her powers…).  Moreover, no-one ever hints at how a Pokéball can do this.  Even if the explanation raises as many questions as it answers, though, I am glad they at least tried to handwave it, since we can retroactively apply the same vague rationalisation to Kyogre and Groudon, and probably stick it onto Arceus too, for all the good it will do him.  Back to Palkia herself, because there’s one more thing I had a conversation about with a reader a few days ago and I think it deserves a mention: her element.  When I first met Palkia, I thought Water was a pretty weird element to give her, but when I think about it, ‘space’ isn’t exactly an easy concept to squish into an element.  I remain convinced that Dark does not fit, since Dark Pokémon are almost universally associated not with actual darkness but with treachery, malice and fear.  Short of jamming both her and Dialga into Psychic, on the grounds that Psychic covers everything weird, I think Water probably is the best choice to represent a vast emptiness… so, yay Palkia?

Anyhow, Palkia bothers me, but she hasn’t offended me as directly as Rayquaza has, so purely out of spite towards Rayquaza…

My vote goes to PALKIA!

Interlude: The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 1b

This week’s Pokémon will be all those involved in the tournament who didn’t compete last week, so we’re looking at a completely different set of match-ups, some interesting, others… a little bit one-sided (although, with both Kyogre and Arceus on the other side of the table, the most absurd ones have already been decided).  Here we go…

Deoxys vs. Suicune

 

I never liked Deoxys.  Maybe I was just annoyed at not being able to get one (Nintendo rarely bothered to hold events in New Zealand, so event-exclusive Pokémon were pretty much off the menu until the Wi-Fi age), but that hasn’t tarnished my opinions of Mew or Celebi.  Maybe the whole “shapeshifting psychic virus from space” thing was too weird for me, but normally I like quirky designs.  Did I hate it for being so gimmicky?  Usually I hate gimmicks because Game Freak think they’re a valid excuse for a Pokémon to be terrible (see: most of my Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever), which Deoxys isn’t.  Anyway.  All of Deoxys’ four forms are quite superior to Suicune, though she’s certainly not a bad Pokémon either.  Possibly the strongest of her trio, Suicune, like Raikou, is known for Calm Mind tactics, though hers tend to emphasise gradually building power while absorbing hits with her brilliant defences (unfortunately for Suicune, Rest has lost its lustre in Black and White).  I’ve mentioned already why I like the Johto beasts, so I won’t rehash it, and Suicune, the embodiment of the north wind, has always been my favourite, but even though it makes me vaguely uncomfortable for reasons I can’t put my finger on, I have to admit that Deoxys is a really interesting Pokémon who dares to be different, and you could probably do a lot of cool stuff with the concept if you wanted to.  I actually like Suicune better, but objectively…

My vote goes to DEOXYS!

Heatran vs. Mew

 

Mew is sort of a problematic Pokémon, because she’s supposedly the common ancestor of all Pokémon, which clashes rather unfortunately with Arceus, the Original One and creator of the universe, whose first children were Dialga, Palkia and Giratina, followed by Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf.  All of these are Pokémon, Arceus definitely came before Mew, and the others probably did as well.  My working theory is that Mew was the first creature to be born with a complete soul consisting of intellect, emotion and will, courtesy of the lake trio, and that the seven primordial Pokémon are either ‘soulless,’ or possess something else fundamentally different from a soul.  Anyhow.  Heatran’s story, mercifully, is contradicted by nothing because there is nothing there to contradict.  I think he’s something of a throwback to the days when “legendary Pokémon” just meant “Pokémon with ludicrous stats” but even Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres had the decency to be mysterious creatures, spoken of in hushed tones, whose existence remained a subject of conjecture.  Heatran just kinda chills in his volcano being awesome, with his phenomenal Fire attacks and incredible toughness.  Mew, of course, can traditionally do everything and do it well, but she’s stayed a jack of all trades and master of none while other Pokémon around her have been mastering more and more as the generations roll by.  She remains a brilliant Pokémon, though, and although her flavour is hard to reconcile with the creation myth, I sort of prefer a problematic story to none at all, because it at least provides fodder for speculation (besides, she was there first; it’s not her fault Game Freak disregarded her established backstory).

My vote goes to MEW!

Groudon vs. Regigigas


Oh, Regigigas, you poor sad creature.  You towed continents in your time!  You shaped the face of the earth as we know it!  Or… wait, wasn’t that Kyogre and Groudon?  Ah, whatever.  Regigigas, master of the legendary golems, has clearly fallen far from his glory days.  He is utterly useless in a fight, with his Slow Start ability making him totally unable to use his ludicrous attack and good speed unless he stays in play for five turns straight… which, without any healing (no, not even Rest) and without Protect, just isn’t going to happen.  Though his physical design is more complex and interesting than his rather bland progeny, he has none of their intriguing backstory; he’s just a great big Pokémon who dragged continents in ancient times, presumably for reasons, created three other Pokémon in his own image, presumably for other reasons, and then went to sleep far beneath the Snowpoint Temple, presumably for further reasons.  Against this, we have the creator of the continents, Groudon.  Like Kyogre, he has a powerful presence, as well as a fascinating dual characterisation in his Pokédex descriptions, being portrayed as a destroyer in his own game, Ruby, and as a saviour (from flooding) in Sapphire.  He is, almost unarguably, weaker than Kyogre, because he gets relatively little direct benefit from the brilliant sunlight he creates around him – his Fire attacks are mostly for backup, while Solarbeam is at best a gimmick.  Still, though… are you really going to argue with him with Ho-oh and Reshiram at his side?

My vote goes to GROUDON!

Ho-oh vs. Uxie

 

Little Uxie is probably my favourite of the lake trio, partly because his sleepy eyes and large, creased skull give him a little character-appropriate differentiation that his siblings, sadly, lack.  What I really love about Uxie, though, is his frightening hidden power.  “It is said,” the Pokédex notes, “that it can wipe out the memory of those who see its eyes,” leaving them totally lost, not even knowing who they are or where they come from.  This also clues us in on how to interpret one of the myths found in the Canalave library, so we learn that anyone who touches Mesprit’s body will lose all emotion, while anyone who harms Azelf will slip into a coma.  Sadly, none of these abilities come up in fights; Uxie is sadly underwhelming in battle, as a supportive tank whose excellent defences are undermined by his difficulty with healing.  Ho-oh not only has obscene special defence, as well as Recover to rid herself of Uxie’s problems, but also packs a huge punch with her Sacred Fire.  Ho-oh’s flavour seems pretty one dimensional – the rainbow phoenix is a source of joy to all who see her, a being of absolute purity, goodness, and light.  Actually, though… there’s no other Pokémon like this.  Most legendary Pokémon are portrayed as primal forces; Cresselia and Shaymin are possibly the only others who are unambiguously benevolent towards humankind.  Ho-oh does fill a necessary niche, and I feel that she also represents the ‘sweet spot’ after the designers started making legendary Pokémon that were really ‘legendary’ but before they decided every game had to include an ‘avert the apocalypse’ plotline and started creating Pokémon with the power to unravel the universe or what-have-you.  I love Ho-oh just for that.

My vote goes to HO-OH!

Lugia vs. Manaphy

 

So, two rival ‘guardians of the sea’ – Lugia, who despite being an ocean spirit is not a Water-type but a Psychic-type, and Manaphy, who despite having notable psychic abilities is not a Psychic-type but a Water-type.  Hmm.  The thing to get out of the way straight off is that Lugia is possibly the toughest Pokémon in the game, though Manaphy can be pretty damn dangerous if he gets a free turn to cast Tail Glow, which sends his special attack score through the roof.  One-turn Rests as long as it’s raining, courtesy of Hydration, is great too.  I don’t think there’s really enough to choose between them to decide this contest on battling ability.  Lugia’s place in the world is… odd.  It’s stated repeatedly that he stays hidden beneath the ocean to protect others, since his power is so great he can inadvertently cause storms when he surfaces.  Then again, he’s also said to have the ability to calm storms.  I’m left imagining that Lugia’s relationship with storms and the ocean is actually rather complicated; possibly he’s the lynchpin of some sort of fragile balance, and has to create and calm storms to regulate the climate of large areas.  If Lugia has oddly large-scale powers, Manaphy’s are oddly low-key.  His one significant ability is that he’s really good at making friends.  I’m sort of left feeling that he’s a little out of place in a game that gives only cursory attention to emotions and relationships, as Pokémon does – which is a shame because that’s one of the very things that I think Pokémon should give more attention to.  Theoretically this is a game about partnership, and I think Pokémon with abilities like Manaphy’s are quite underutilised… so, much to my own surprise…

My vote goes to MANAPHY!

Latias vs. Phione

 

…wait, what?

Phione?

Game Freak, what is Phione doing here?

Phione… Phione isn’t just bad, she’s barely even usable; her stats would be average even on a mortal Pokémon; her movepool is pretty bland, with all the Water-type standards and nothing of real interest bar U-Turn; Hydration is great, but Lapras, Vaporeon and arguably even Dewgong do it better (and when you’re being outclassed by Dewgong, it’s time to pack up and go home).  Heck, I’m not sure Phione is even officially a legendary Pokémon!  Apparently Game Freak have both confirmed and denied her legendary status at different times.  She’s inexplicably banned from the Battle Frontier and Battle Subway, as well as from most official tournaments, which pretty much eliminates most of the chances she ever gets to do anything.  I don’t think she’s ever been the star of anything, and she has no interesting powers, other than the ability to dissolve her body into water, which she shares with Vaporeon.  She’s basically just Manaphy’s useless, gimmicky little sister, and Game Freak have tossed her into the Pokémon Power Bracket and put her up against one of the bloody Eon Twins, for goodness’ sake, probably just so they can laugh at her.

Ah, you know what?  Screw it.  If any other Pokémon wins this tournament, it’ll be “just another awesome thing I did.”  If Phione wins, it’ll be the one and only moment in the sun she’s ever likely to get. 

My vote goes to PHIONE!

Palkia vs. Regirock

 

(I’m coming to think I gave Registeel a bit of a raw deal in the last entry, so take everything here as going for Registeel vs. Dialga as well)

I don’t actually hate Regirock, Regice and Registeel.  I think the concept is very interesting.  The fact that they were entombed by humans to keep them controlled has fascinating implications for the history of the relationship between humans and Pokémon.  Even the fact that they’re so inscrutable and alien arguably helps by emphasising the divide between them and humanity… but that’s something of a double-edged sword.  It’s hard to look at them as living things, near impossible to relate to them as we can to more expressive Pokémon designs.   Other Pokémon pull it off, somehow; maybe it’s because most of them have eyes and humans are obsessed with eyes, but Staryu and Starmie have none, and manage to be mysterious but also attractive.  Honestly I think I would really like the legendary golems if Pokémon were less of a breeding-training-fighting game and more of an exploration-discovery game, but we are where we are.  Against this, we have Palkia.  Apart from undeniably being ludicrously powerful in comparison to Regirock, she, like Dialga, represents the way Diamond and Pearl pushed the boundaries of sanity to their absolute limit by introducing Pokémon that might actually be legitimate divine beings.  I’ve always been a little annoyed by this because I feel it’s symptomatic of Pokémon’s irrational need to be ‘epic’ when ‘epic’ is neither inherently desirable nor a particularly good fit for the basic premises of the franchise… that’s a discussion for another time, though.  For now, the point is that Regirock and Palkia each annoy me in their own ways, but Palkia clearly blows Regirock out of the water as far as battling goes.

My vote goes to PALKIA!

Rayquaza vs. Azelf

 

Undeniably the strongest of his trio, Azelf, the embodiment of will, is good at blowing things up.  That includes himself, because Azelf has always been quick to pull an Explosion when things start looking bad.  He’s noted for using his excellent attack and special attack to commit serial murder, but also has a useful support movepool and can use it quite well thanks to his great speed.  Rayquaza is a similar idea on a grander scale, with his fundamentally ridiculous offensive scores, access to Dragon Dance, and wide offensive movepool.  Rayquaza is stronger, obviously, but I’ve always maintained that mechanical strength matters to me much less when analysing legendary Pokémon, since power is their birthright anyway, and I care more about their background and story.  Rayquaza, unfortunately, has offended me: I must doggedly insist that, as I suggested long ago, his presence in Emerald is actually detrimental to the storyline, rendering the events of the Sootopolis crisis upsettingly anticlimactic and denying the player agency in their resolution to a large extent.  Deus ex machina stopped being trendy when Euripides died, people.  Azelf and his siblings do something similar in Diamond and Pearl, but there the player still has to fight Cyrus and Palkia/Dialga to resolve the climax, and the lake trio are implied to have shown up in the first place because of their gratitude to the player for saving them earlier (and possibly because the player has a special bond with Mesprit).  To get Rayquaza to help you just have to show up and say “yo.  Ray-dogg.  Shiz be goin’ down.”

…I’m paraphrasing, but you see what I’m getting at.

My vote goes to AZELF!