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.

Interlude: The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 2a

Unsurprisingly, the internet has failed to take my advice and tossed Mesprit, Raikou and Jirachi.  There is still hope for my other picks, though, so let’s talk about the next round…

Arceus vs. Celebi

 

Okay, so, anyone who’s been paying attention will know that this part of the entry is a total sham anyway because I have an irrational vendetta against Arceus, but let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not horribly biased and talk about these two.

Arceus is a creator god.  To say otherwise is to argue semantics.  I don’t think Game Freak ever actually use the word “god” of Arceus, and everything they tell us is couched in “it is said that” and “described in mythology.”  However, we do know from direct observation that Arceus can create complex life from nothing and imbue it with the power to rewrite the universe.  This goes well beyond just “Pokémon are wondrous creatures from whom we have much to learn.”  The problem is that Game Freak seem to hold two conceptions of Arceus simultaneously – as they do for most other legendary Pokémon, actually, but it’s most blatant for Arceus.  There’s the mythical Arceus, who created Dialga, Palkia and Giratina in the void to bind space, time and antimatter, shaped the world with his thousand arms, and brought about the birth of life and the soul.   There’s also the mundane Arceus, who is a Pokémon like any other, was born and will die, and is exceptionally rare and powerful but can be caught, befriended and trained.  This latter Arceus – or a member of his species – may in ancient times have accomplished some fantastic achievement that inspired an early version of the creation myth, but he’s not actually the creator.  When we capture Arceus and use him in battle, we’re clearly meant to have the mundane Arceus in mind.  The problem is that Game Freak shove the mythical Arceus in our faces at every opportunity and readily provide us with apparently solid proof of his existence, while repeatedly failing to provide similar evidence for a mundane Arceus.

Celebi, by contrast, has done nothing more heinous than introduce the possibility of time travel into the franchise.  I must emphasise that I think this was a bad idea, but at least Celebi has the grace to keep it low-key, unlike “now I shall unravel the universe” Dialga.  Celebi’s role is to “watch over the forest from across time,” which I take to mean that she moves back and forth, always appearing in the right place at the right time to ensure that there have always been and will always be enough forests in the world to provide habitats for forest Pokémon and keep the earth’s climate in balance.  Believe it or not, despite this potentially enormous power and this possibly vital role, she’s one of the legendary Pokémon who won’t give me too much of a headache at all if you capture her.  She’ll just wait for you to die and then get back to what she was doing.  She won’t even be upset about all those years spent waiting.  She’s a time traveller; she’s not exactly in a rush.  She’ll also let you believe that she can’t take anyone with her on her little time jaunts.  Celebi is thus, surprisingly, one of the few legendary Pokémon who actually make total sense.

Can anyone say “forgone conclusion”?

My vote goes to CELEBI!

Kyogre vs. Darkrai

 

I’ve been trying for a while now to pin down what it is that I like about Kyogre, and I think I have it.  Kyogre – like Lugia, actually – evokes one of the most mysterious parts of the known world, the deep ocean, and the fact that something like this could actually be down there and we wouldn’t know it.  I mean, it seems very unlikely from a modern scientific standpoint, but a) most people are not modern scientists and b) it has been said, with a fair degree of justification, that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deepest parts of the ocean.  It’s a dark, forbidding, mysterious, wonderful place and you could hide some pretty massive things down there (as evidenced by our painful lack of detailed ecological data on giant squid) – Kyogre isn’t actually all that big, but he’s big compared to most Pokémon, and gives an impression of size because of his whale-like design.  In short, Kyogre taps into a series of ideas and emotions that have held humanity spellbound since ancient times, and captivates us (or… well, me, anyway) in a way Groudon can never match.  Darkrai evokes a similar place: the world of nightmares, a place most of us visit but few can remember in detail, where we are most often powerless against the whims of our own subconscious minds.  Darkrai, fittingly enough, takes the shape of a spectre, vague and insubstantial, like a shadow in a dream.  However, I take issue with Darkrai’s characterisation.  According to the games, Darkrai’s nightmare powers are just a means of self-defence, meant to chase people and Pokémon away from his territory, and he actually hides himself away from others to protect them from his power.  Now, this type of characterisation – the misunderstood noble pariah who is hated and feared by those he tries to protect – is fun in itself, but I don’t think it was the best use of the concept.  First of all, I think Absol did it better.  Second, it doesn’t totally make sense: he has these powers to keep people out of his territory, and he needs to keep people out of his territory to protect them from his powers.  It’s like a bizarre, sadistic, evolutionary Catch-22.  I actually prefer the way Rise of Darkrai interpreted Darkrai’s nightmare powers – the horrific dreams he sends are actually visions of the future, sent to warn people – because that evokes all sorts of wonderful old ideas about the purpose of dreams and the fearful nature of prophecy (again, this is sort of Absol’s schtick, but Absol experiences the visions herself while Darkrai inflicts them on others).  The movie, of course, has problems of its own that I discussed in more depth a while ago.  For today, my point is that I think Darkrai would be more interesting and have more potential if he were morally ambiguous, and that Kyogre has enjoyed a more flattering interpretation of his concept.

My vote goes to KYOGRE!

Mewtwo vs. Latios

 

I hinted earlier that I have problems with Mewtwo.  Let’s talk about that, because there’s nothing I love more than complaining.  In truth I don’t hate Mewtwo, but I think that his backstory invokes another one of those awkward tensions I like to natter about: Mewtwo’s backstory belongs to that class of moralising tales that characterises scientists as hubristic ivory-tower academics who overreach themselves in their single-minded quest for knowledge and are destroyed by their own creations (you all know the story; Jurassic Park is one notable example).  This is all very well in itself.  It does rather clash with the overall portrayal of science in the Pokémon franchise, which almost universally presents it as wondrous and beneficial, particularly as the Pokémon world’s technology is, in general, more powerful than ours and has fewer side-effects and drawbacks (this is hardly surprising coming from a company that makes its money out of the proliferation of ever-improving technology).  This arguably provides opportunity for interesting conflicts, though.  What really irks me is the more specific clash with fossil resurrection, which works on essentially the same principles as the science that created Mewtwo but is consistently portrayed as cheap, easy, risk-free and not at all ethically contentious.  After all, it wouldn’t do to have the player forced to do anything shady to complete the Pokédex.  Fortunately for Mewtwo, Latios is not guilt-free either.

As I mentioned the last time Latios came up, against Jirachi, my issue with the Eon Twins is quite different, and one on which I’m aware there are many who would disagree with me.  I am of the opinion that legendary Pokémon should have legends, which add something to the background and general aesthetic of the whole Pokémon world.  I hold this opinion because legendary Pokémon (with many notable exceptions, though Latios is not one of them) simply enjoy massive advantages over most mortal Pokémon, with superior stats and often with powerful type combinations and excellent movepools (I am making the tacit assumption here that we want the game to be balanced, an assumption which I am aware is not self-evident and does not seem to be shared by the game’s designers).  In brief, I think that if legendary Pokémon are going to have these advantages, they need to justify them, and that if they are going to harm the game’s balance they should offset this harm by improving its background and lore.  Latios does not do this.  Latios’ characteristics are as follows: he understands human speech (most or all Pokémon implicitly do), he can outpace a jet (this quality is shared by a number of flying Pokémon), he can detect the presence of others through telepathy (a quality shared by a number of Psychic Pokémon), he dislikes fighting (so does Togepi), and he can create illusions.  This last characteristic is interesting and a perfectly valid concept to build a Psychic Pokémon around.  However, there is nothing in this list that requires ‘legendary’ status, ludicrous stats, Latios’ fundamentally obscene movepool, or the insanity that is the Soul Dew.

It’s funny, but the more I think about legendary Pokémon, the more they stick in my craw, so to speak.  My arguments in this match-up have been broadly analogous to those I made in my shorter “Mew vs. Heatran” passage, so I suppose I ought to follow the same rationale in casting my vote: a problematic story is better than none at all…

My vote goes to MEWTWO!

Dialga vs. Giratina

 

Up until now, I’ve been judging members of trios primarily by the characteristics of their trios, but Dialga and Giratina are both members of the same trio – the one that infamously raised Pokémon to the level of deities and forevermore rendered the setting’s cosmology utterly incomprehensible.  Nonetheless, I’m sure I can pick one of them to hate more.  Quite apart from simply giving us the opportunity to capture and command celestial beings, Dialga and Palkia draw attention to one of the more egregious rifts in Pokémon’s conception and style: it keeps thinking it can be science fiction.  Pokémon is not science fiction.  Pokémon barely passes as science fantasy.  This would not be a bad thing, except for the fact that it sometimes wants to be.  Thus, we get Pokémon who are described entirely through myth in order to create ambiguity about what they can actually do (see my complaints about Arceus) but have power over extremely abstract concepts like space and time – did “space becomes more stable with Palkia’s every breath” really come from the commonplace campfire stories of ancient Sinnoh?  I can in fact think of at least one ancient reference to time travel; Pythagoras – yes, the triangle guy – was said to have been able to move freely through time (I’m serious; it’s in a fragment of Aristotle), and many cultures have a mythic personification of time, so maybe this is more a problem for Palkia than Dialga.  I will bet my copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey, though, that no ancient civilisation ever had a mythic personification of antimatter, which is what Game Freak have told us Giratina is supposed to represent.  I don’t believe them; I think Giratina is the personification of death in the Pokémon universe and was quietly retconned when the designers began to wonder whether they’d gone too far.  I mean, really.  “It appears in an ancient cemetery”?  How about “it was banished for its violence”?  If Game Freak try to claim that isn’t a reference to the Devil, or some equivalent mythic being, I’m calling ‘Death of the Author’ on them.  What would make the most sense out of this, though, would be to claim that Giratina was viewed by the ancients as a personification of death.  This would make Giratina the only one of the trio to have a believable distinction between his mythic role and his actual powers, thus escaping (to a small extent, anyway) the trap that I spent Arceus’ section ranting about.  Like Dialga and Palkia, he still occupies a ridiculously high place in the setting’s cosmology and it makes little sense for anyone to be capturing him in a tiny ball, but I’d regard him as slightly better done (even if only by accident).  I also think Giratina has – and achieves – far better-defined aesthetic goals than Dialga; he’s meant to be creepy and he is, while Dialga looks like a robot space dinosaur and is meant to be… I don’t even know.

My vote goes to GIRATINA!

Interlude: The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 1a

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Pokémaniacal post to bring you a word from our sponsors…

Okay, so, Pokémon.com is currently running an event called the Pokémon Power Bracket, which you will find here: http://www.pokemon.com/powerbracket.  Basically, they’ve got thirty-two legendary Pokémon competing in a tournament-style setup, with the winner of each matchup being decided by the votes of the fans over the course of a week (you can vote once a day).  Now, initially, I was only mildly amused by this until I took a look at the criteria for choosing a winner: “There is no set criteria for how you vote. Cast your vote for whatever reason you want!”

So, what you’re saying is… you want us to judge these Pokémon based on whatever nebulous and ill-defined criteria should strike our capricious fancies as we stagger blindly through the Pokémon universe, violently lashing out at anything that violates our unappeasable expectations of “good design”?

That’s what I do all the time!

So, yeah.  For the next two months I’m going to spend some of my entries (not all – Anime Time will continue in between) commenting on this little popularity contest they’ve got going, and talk about where my votes are going and why, in the hopes of influencing my small-minded minio- sorry, my charming and learned readers to follow my lead.

Now, without further ado, the current matchups being contested are:

Arceus vs. Raikou

 

Whoo, yeah.  Way to give Raikou a fair bite at the apple, Game Freak.

So, Arceus against Raikou, whether in a one-on-one fight or in a comparison of how they each contribute to a team, really is no contest.  Raikou’s fast, has a vicious special attack score and can boost up with Calm Mind until his special defence is nigh untouchable and his Thunderbolts can shred boulders, but the fact is… Arceus can grab a Zap Plate, become an Electric-type, and do all of that, only better.  Pretty much the only thing Raikou has over Arceus is Volt Switch, which… well, don’t get me wrong, it’s a game changer, but Arceus still flattens Raikou.  So, which has the better, more pleasing design?  Well, they both look majestic and mythical enough.  I particularly love Raikou’s storm-cloud, though, and his trio have a pretty cool backstory – they were killed in the fire that destroyed Ekruteak’s Brass Tower, resurrected by Ho-oh, and given new powers, symbolising the lightning that started the blaze, the fire that destroyed the tower, and the rain that extinguished it.  Arceus, on the other hand, I can’t help but feel goes a little bit too far.  I could just about accept everything up to and including Rayquaza, but capturing and training the creator of the universe has always been a bit of a blow to my suspension of disbelief.

Of course we all know the factor that really decides this matchup for me:

I still haven’t forgiven Arceus for Jewel of Life.

My vote goes to RAIKOU!

Celebi vs. Cresselia

 

Well, this seems a little bit fairer.  Celebi and Cresselia are both excellent defence and support Pokémon who can be tremendously difficult to take down, but there are a couple of important differences.  Cresselia is all-defence.  Her resistance to damage is much greater than Celebi’s, but she doesn’t have a lot to fight back with; her offensive scores would actually be pretty mediocre on a mortal Pokémon.  She’s basically got Toxic, Thunder Wave, and Calm Mind-boosted attacks to hurt stuff with.  Celebi, on the other hand, has access to a devastating Leaf Storm, and can heal much more easily with Leech Seed, Giga Drain and Recover against Cresselia’s Moonlight.  Again, they’re both lovely designs, though with rather different goals; Celebi is playful, fey and lively, while Cresselia is untouchably beautiful.  I also think that both designs support their in-game abilities.  Cresselia’s dream/nightmare duality with Darkrai is interesting (it seems incomplete, though, since Darkrai represents the new moon, while Cresselia represents the crescent moon – shouldn’t there also be a full moon Pokémon?), as is Celebi’s ability to travel through time (although, granted, letting time travel into the franchise was probably a bad idea), and I honestly can’t choose one over the other.  That being the case, I have no choice but to vote for the stronger battler…

My vote goes to CELEBI!

Kyogre vs.  Regice

 

…oh boy.

Kyogre is just about the only Pokémon who legitimately might be as good as or better than Arceus.  The ruler of the deep ocean is constantly surrounded by violent rain that powers up his already devastating Water attacks and lets him use Thunder with absolute precision.  Not only that, it makes him the absolute best Pokémon ever, no argument, to put on a rain team.  Whereas Regice… I guess is a pretty awesome special wall, or at least it would be if only Ice weren’t the worst defensive type ever?  Anything with both Ice Beam and Thunderbolt is generally fun to handle, and it really is a cool Pokémon, but it’s also a defensive Pokémon with few support moves, multiple common weaknesses, and no easy way to heal.  As for design… well, Regice and its siblings were imprisoned by humans in ancient times because they were too powerful to control, and represent three ages of humanity’s past – Ice, Stone, and Iron – which is neat and clever and implies some cool stuff about the influence of Pokémon on humanity’s development, but they’re just so expressionless, so much more like lawn ornaments than Pokémon, that I just can’t find it in me to like them.  Kyogre, on the other hand, has all the majesty they lack (partly because whales are just awesome), and he and Groudon actually provide similar storytelling and world-building opportunities to the legendary golems anyway.

My vote goes to KYOGRE!

Darkrai vs. Mesprit

 

Hmm.  Tricky.

Okay, Darkrai is stronger than Mesprit, yes.  Better stats, a less vulnerable element, a wonderful signature move that would be incredibly useful even if it didn’t tie in with his powerful ability, and basically every move a special sweeper could want.  Mesprit is no slouch either, of course; she’s one of the most underappreciated Pokémon in the game, I feel (probably because of her Psychic-type vulnerabilities), and makes for a powerful and versatile supporting tank; her main problems are her lack of healing powers and that she’s so thoroughly eclipsed by the other crazily versatile legendary Psychic Pokémon, Mew.  In flavour terms, though… I’m not a fan of the way Darkrai’s been handled.  Saying that Darkrai’s nightmare powers are just a defence mechanism opens up the whole noble pariah characterisation he gets in his movie, but I think that actually makes him less interesting – if we go to such trouble to say that nightmares are not part of Darkrai’s true nature, he’s really just another Pokémon who happens to have certain mental powers.  Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf, however, as the embodiments of emotion, knowledge and will, bring up my old favourite theme of the influence Pokémon have on humans, particularly when you trace the implications of their legendary past (not to mention, they can be just as terrifying as Darkrai if you cross them).

My vote goes to MESPRIT!

Mewtwo vs. Entei

 

…y’know, if anything, this is even worse than Arceus vs. Raikou, because at least Raikou is actually a good Pokémon.  Entei suffers from what I’ve just now decided to call Flareon Syndrome, which is where Game Freak give a Fire Pokémon a massive physical attack stat and an abysmal physical movepool, including no physical Fire attacks better than Fire Fang (okay, yes, that one shining Entei that you have to transfer from a fourth-generation game has Flare Blitz, but COME ON!)  The fact is, Entei is a bad Pokémon.  I don’t even mean “bad by legendary standards;” he’s just bad; I’d prefer Arcanine any day.  It sort of doesn’t seem fair even to mention how terrifying Mewtwo is by comparison.  I’ve mentioned already why I like Entei, Raikou and Suicune, I’m impressed by how well Entei manages to convey physical strength and stability without coming off as a brute, which is surprisingly difficult, and I admit I’m honestly not that fond of Mewtwo, whose backstory is basically “science is evil BLARGH; now I will angst in the dark for twenty years,” in a world that is utterly dependent on its ludicrously advanced technology… but I don’t have nearly enough of a problem with him to eclipse Entei’s massive and blatant incompetence.

My vote goes to MEWTWO!

Latios vs. Jirachi

 

Latios is a nasty Pokémon to face.  If he’s allowed his signature item, the Soul Dew, he effectively gets a free Calm Mind boost and can shrug off most energy damage while blasting away with some of the most powerful special attacks in the game.  Even without it, though, he’s a frightening sweeper whose only notable flaw is the vulnerabilities that come with being a Psychic-type.  Jirachi isn’t so obviously devastating, but her incredibly resistant Steel/Psychic typing and neatly balanced stats make her a brilliant supporting tank.  Jirachi’s signature is abusing Serene Grace and Iron Head, but with Calm Mind, multiple good special attacks, and a wide support movepool, the sky really is the limit with this one.  Jirachi is said to sleep for a thousand years at a time, waking for only a single week, but can grant any wish in that time.  Personally, I just think wishes are fun to work with, as a long-established feature of fantasy and folktale with a rich cultural background.  It’s sort of a shame Game Freak are stuck in the whole “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality because it really limits what they can actually do with Jirachi.  Latios and his sister Latias don’t really seem to have a story or background… just a bunch of cool powers.  They’re wonderful Pokémon and I have no desire to talk them down, but I’ve always judged legendary Pokémon mainly on their potential for storytelling (and I don’t think Latios and Latias actually have any characteristics that require them to be legendary Pokémon anyway), so purely for reasons of design philosophy…

My vote goes to JIRACHI!

Dialga vs. Registeel

 

…Dialga wins.

Giratina vs. Shaymin

 

Both Giratina and Shaymin are effectively two different Pokémon: the absurdly tough Altered Giratina, whose Dragon/Ghost typing and small but useful support movepool make him pretty much the toughest Pokémon in the game barring Lugia, the serpentine Origin Giratina, who picks up an extra immunity from Levitate and can dish out some fierce attacks, the neglected and unassuming Land Shaymin, whose only real selling points are his bulkiness and the horrifying Seed Flare, and the flimsy but powerful Sky Shaymin, affectionately nicknamed Skymin, who utterly steals his earthbound cousin’s thunder by flinching everything to death with Air Slash and Serene Grace.  Land Shaymin is pretty depressing for a legendary Pokémon, but Skymin is downright evil, and at the very least gives Giratina a run for his money.  Giratina is just about the closest thing the Pokémon universe has to the devil, though officially he’s the ruler of antimatter, which is… weird, but cool, I guess, and his characterisation – trapped outside, staring back in at the old world from which he was banished – is creepy, evocative and fascinating.  Shaymin, who is the embodiment of gratitude and guardian of meadows, is interesting too, if only because it’s an unusual idea to base a Pokémon around, and his ability to break down toxins into water and light is a very dramatic way of showing his role as a protector of nature.  Much as I love Shaymin, though, I can’t actually see what gratitude, supposedly the centre of the design, has to do with his powers, his role, or… well, anything.  Sorry, Shaymin…

My vote goes to GIRATINA!

This round of the tournament is only going to be up for a day or so longer, so my next entry will probably be another one of these, but after that I think I’ll be alternating, for the most part, between this and anime reviews.