A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXIV: At the Mountains of Moonness

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

Who do you want to spend time with?
– Magikarp

You really need to hurry to reach your destination and get on with that… mission… thingy… or whatever.  I mean, not that I give a $#!t but it seemed important to you.  The going’s going to be much slower now that you’re climbing the mountain and trekking through caves.  Still, Mount Moon isn’t completely inhospitable.  Yeah, the cave floors are pretty uneven – lots of stalagmites and unexpected potholes – and gravel and dust keep falling on your head in a very unsettling way.  Your Pokédexes have GPS, but with so much rock over your heads they might as well be cardboard compasses.  On the other hand, you and Blue both have torches (plus the glowing tail flame of Blue’s new Charmander) and Brock’s map shows the layout of the caves on your direct route in fairly high detail.  There are even a couple of softly-glowing phosphor lanterns that must have been left by the dig team as waypoints.  You more than once trip over an unruly Geodude, but Scallion and Aura both have Grass attacks that can quickly send them packing; with Blue’s Squirtle on your flank, they’re no trouble at all.  There are also Zubat just… everywhere.  You love all Pokémon, Professor Oak groomed you to be a paragon young trainer and scientist, but if there were ever a Pokémon that could stretch your patience to breaking point, it’d be the one constantly trying to perch on your shoulder and give you a quick anaesthetic bite so it can suck your blood unnoticed while you walk onward through the dark caves.  Fortunately, Nancy the Negator isn’t having any of that bull$#!t.  On top of everything else, you have this uncanny sensation of being watched by something just outside your torchlight.  When you bring it up, the Pokémon just seem to think you’re being paranoid, but Blue bites his lip and mutters something about how it’s not paranoia if “they” really are out to get you.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXIV: At the Mountains of Moonness”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXIII: Unconventional Acquisition

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What do you do?
– Follow Blue’s lead

Screw it, may as well ask what he has in mind.  You quietly gesture for Blue to continue.  He waits for the Magikarp seller to reach a crescendo of enthusiasm in describing the virtues of his “product” (his words, not mine, just to be clear).  Then, he presses something into your hand.  You glance down at it.  It’s… a plastic drinking straw?  From… the restaurant you had lunch at in Pewter City yesterday, you guess?  Has this just been in his pocket the whole time?  Why did he even keep this?
“Use that Pokémon you have,” Blue whispers to you under his breath.  “The one you used in the gym battle.”  Jane?  How-?  You look down at the straw again.  Oh.  You interrupt the Magikarp seller to cheerily ask him whether it would be all right for you to take a closer look at the merchandise.
“By all means!”  He waves a hand towards the tank.  “See for yourself how smooth and soft its scales are!” 
Blue clears his throat.  “So, uh, how exactly did you get into the Magikarp business, anyway?”
“Oh, my young friend, you shouldn’t be asking about my story, but about how you can get into the Magikarp business!  Let me explain…”

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXIII: Unconventional Acquisition”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXII: Fishy Business

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What do you do?

  • Question the Magikarp seller

You’re a little tempted to just pay the asking price and take the damn fish.  A Pokémon is a Pokémon, no matter how proverbially useless.  Besides, you kinda feel for the stupid thing.  Even if you decide later that you can’t be bothered training it until it evolves, you can probably find a better life for it than… whatever this carnival snake-oil setup is.

On the other hand, you’re curious now.  You still don’t see any direct evidence that this Magikarp has been mistreated and you doubt Blue (who is currently on the other side of the Pokémon Centre lounge, practising his trash talk against an annoyed-looking hiker) would have anything to add on that score.  But the idea of selling Pokémon has piqued your curiosity.  Is that even a thing?  Is it actually legal?  You voice these questions to the Magikarp salesman.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXII: Fishy Business”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXI: Firestarter

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

Try to remember the other guy’s name?

  • You already know his name; the Narrator’s being a jerk

Excuse you, I am a fµ¢£ing delight.  But whatever, if it’s that important to you I guess I’ll put in an effort.  What’d you say his name was?  “Blue”?  God that’s so fµ¢£ing dumb.  Blue is, like, at best a passable name for a small predatory dinosaur.  Kids got no damn business being named Blue.  Who gave him that, his dumb parents?  Probably named him that so he’d be, like, “calm” and “sensible” or some bull$#!t?  Ugh, no wonder he’s such a basket case.  We gotta see about changing it.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, I heard you, get off my ass already.

Which Pokémon do you try to catch?

  • Try to find the source of the fires [you might not catch anything]

Aren’t you supposed to be, like… doing… something?  Eh, whatever, not like it’s any of my business.  Scallion and your other Pokémon have a pretty vague and subjective concept of time, and Blue has no sense of responsibility or commitment.  Besides, you’ve made surprisingly good time this far, so if you want to spend a couple of hours clambering up and down dry dirt hillsides looking for an unknown Fire Pokémon, no one’s going to stop you.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXXI: Firestarter”

vikingboybilly asks:

I heard that farfetch’d was put in the game to teach players a ‘lesson’ about trading a spearow that could evolve into a fearow for something that will only have limited usefulness (because fearow is so godly, right?), just like magikarp is there to be a lesson. You know what I did with magikarp? I put it in the daycare until the end of the game. It was at level 31 by that time and evolved into gyarados with no effort. Isn’t that what everyone did? Their lesson was lost.

Everyone?  I beg to differ.  Personally I’ve never done anything of the kind.  And I think the point is there all the same – you evolved your Magikarp with no effort, but waited until the end of the game for it to reach a high enough level on its own, so you certainly had to exercise patience.  Even if you catch a Magikarp at level 19 and use a Rare Candy to evolve it immediately, Magikarp still expresses one of Pokémon’s central themes, that something small and weak can grow into something great and powerful with the right kind of care.  I don’t think we have to interpret Magikarp in such a narrow way.  The lesson is “lost” if you choose to ignore it, but that’s always been the case for everything.

As for Farfetch’d… well, yes and no.  It makes sense with Farfetch’d’s… wait, that doesn’t look right.  Farfetch’ds?  Farfetchd’s?  Farfetch’s’d?

Continue reading “vikingboybilly asks:”

Moves, Movepools and Flavour

Pokémon are, almost by definition, creatures with incredible abilities, often ones which exceed the boundaries of what we believe to be possible.  Normally I like to make a fuss of the aspects of the Pokémon world that have nothing to do with the powers, like history and ethics and society and culture and all the rest, but let’s face it, I’m at least partly in it for the thrill of having a flying murder-dragon with four different kinds of exploding death lasers.  What you can do and what you can’t is fundamentally a part of who you are, and what Pokémon can and can’t do is expressed in the games through their stats, their abilities, and in perhaps the greatest variety through their moves.  I like to say that Pokémon “should be good at the things they’re good at” – that is, they should possess the skills we would expect them to, based on their designs, and those skills should in turn contribute to the way we see them and use them.  Mechanics and flavour should work together – well, at least that’s what I think.  Let’s talk about how that works (or fails to).

As of the release of X and Y, there are 609 moves in the Pokémon games: 609 effects which are available in various combinations to different species.  Some are basic, and others are complicated.  Some are effective in a wide variety of situations, others require a great deal of forethought to be useful at all (with varying degrees of payoff).  Some are powerful, others are weak.  Some are available to many Pokémon, or to almost all of them, others to only one or two.  All of them say something about the Pokémon capable of using them – and that includes the ones that would never see any use competitively, or even in a normal playthrough!  Let’s take as our first example the unanimously agreed worst move of all: Splash, which has no effect whatsoever, and is useful only in the most contrived of situations (say, if your opponent is trying to stall you down to Struggle, and Splash’s 40 PP allow you to sit on your butt for longer without running out of moves, or something).  For all that, only a handful of Pokémon are actually able to learn this non-technique; indeed in Red and Blue it was unique to Magikarp, hailed in-universe as the weakest Pokémon of all – the only one so pathetic it had a move that allowed it to flop around doing absolutely nothing.  Since then the move has been bestowed (either as a level-up move or a hereditary one) upon Poliwag, Horsea, Hoppip, Cleffa, Delibird, Azurill, Wailmer, Spoink, Feebas, Wynaut, Luvdisc, Buneary, Finneon, Mantyke and Clauncher.  What is the common thread with these Pokémon?  Like Magikarp, some of them are portrayed as being particularly helpless, like Poliwag, who can barely walk on land, Hoppip, at the mercy of the breeze, Wynaut, whose evolved form is unable to take spontaneous action, or Spoink, whose heart actually stops if he doesn’t continually keep bouncing around uselessly.  Most of them are on the cute end of the spectrum as well, adding to the impression of vulnerability.  The enduring message is that these are Pokémon who require particular nurturing and attention in order to grow and succeed (although they won’t necessarily be helpless forever – Gyarados certainly proves that, as does Kingdra).  One of these things is not like the others, though – what’s Clauncher doing on this list?  To me, the fact that Clauncher starts with Splash conveys a certain weakness that would not otherwise be immediately apparent from his design – and it’s not entirely inappropriate, since he isn’t exactly a physically imposing Pokémon.  I would also suggest a link with the fact that Clauncher is incapable of learning many of Clawitzer’s most powerful attacks, like Dark Pulse and Aura Sphere; more than most Pokémon, he has a lot of growing to do, and is especially vulnerable in his infancy.

X and Y added a lot of moves with very specific uses; in particular, there are a number of support moves which seem like they would only be useful in a triple battle, and only then with a fair amount of planning.  Take Rototiller, for instance, which raises the attack and special attack of all Grass Pokémon in battle.  To begin with, only two Grass Pokémon – Paras and Cacnea – are capable of learning this move (and even them by chain-breeding via Buneary), so for most Pokémon it can only be useful in a double battle.  Even then, a Rototiller boost is functionally equivalent to the boost provided by Growth… which, y’know, most Grass Pokémon can learn… so really in order to get the proper bang for your buck you want to set things up in a triple battle so that two Grass Pokémon at once are getting the bonus.  As contrived a situation as it takes to make Rototiller useful (and believe me, as a card-carrying Grass Pokémon Master, my next project is to contrive the heck out of it for a Battle Maison triples team), as a move that expands what we know about the Pokémon who learn it, it’s solid gold, because it conveys the ecological function that the Pokémon who possess it – Sandshrew, Dugtrio, Onix, Rhyhorn, Linoone, Bibarel, Lopunny, Watchog, Excadrill, Dwebble and Diggersby – have in aerating soil and helping plants grow.  In the case of Dugtrio and Excadrill, we knew that already, but for the others it’s neat new information (although one does wonder how important a desert Pokémon like Sandshrew would be in that capacity).  For a Pokémon like Rhyhorn, who doesn’t really dig tunnels habitually, it even prompts me to imagine early human farmers hitching up their first rudimentary ploughs to domesticated Rhyhorn.  Another bizarre little trick is Vivillon’s signature move, Powder, a priority attack that causes a Pokémon to explode and take damage if it tries to use a Fire attack during that turn.  There are numerous disadvantages here – 1) you have to predict an incoming Fire attack, 2) it’s unlikely to work more than once in a battle, especially given that Vivillon’s defences are so bad it doesn’t really take a super-effective attack to bring her down, and 3) it requires you to actually use Vivillon in the first place.  On the other hand, I feel like all that is totally worth it to see an attack backfire in such a spectacular fashion, and it does establish Vivillon as a clever, tricky Pokémon who will take no $#!t from anyone.  Probably my single favourite ‘WTF’ attack in X and Y is Ion Deluge, another priority technique which turns all Normal attacks used that turn into Electric attacks.  Again, it seems like this could only be useful in double or triple battles, because although most of the Pokémon that learn it do have some kind of ability that lets them absorb Electric attacks, you still have to predict an incoming Normal attack, and even then the benefit you get is not huge.  Even in doubles or triples, I have difficulty imagining a situation (let alone thinking of a reliable way to set one up) where it would not be equally useful just to… y’know… use an Electric attack, something all Pokémon with Ion Deluge can do.  I’m not sure what kind of ‘characterisation’ Ion Deluge is supposed to create either, which is a shame.

Other times, we get Pokémon whose techniques conspicuously fail to express what they’re supposedly all about.  My favourite example is probably Gigalith, whose ‘thing’ is his ability to store, magnify and direct solar energy using the crystals on his body, creating devastating blast attacks that can destroy mountains.  Great, except that Gigalith needs a TM to learn Solar Beam, and has a very discouraging special attack stat to back it up.  Drowzee and Hypno, famously, still require human intervention to learn Dream Eater after all these years, despite the fact that eating dreams is literally how they survive.  In Red and Blue this almost made sense because the Dream Eater TM could only be used by Hypno, Gengar and Mew anyway, so it was sort of an unlockable signature move like Softboiled (which no Pokémon learned on its own, but could be taught to Chansey with TM 41).  Now, though, there are literally hundreds of Pokémon, including some who can’t even induce sleep like Ambipom, Lickilicky and Aurorus, who are just as good at eating dreams as the dream-eater Pokémon themselves.  Just as strange is Sceptile, introduced in the last generation before moves started to be assigned “physical” or “special” individually rather than by type.  By now, Game Freak had gotten the hang of the way their own system worked.  Sceptile seems like a physical Pokémon but, like poor Feraligatr, all his best flavour-appropriate attacks – Leaf Blade, Dragon Claw and Crunch – were special, so they made Sceptile a special attacker.  Things became very weird when Diamond and Pearl rolled around, though; all Sceptile’s favourite moves were suddenly keyed to the wrong stat.  As a result, he now favours Dragon Pulse, Focus Blast and Leaf Storm, and is actually quite bad at using his own signature move.  Would it not have made more sense if, when Sceptile’s entire movepool flipped from special to physical, he had flipped with it?  A happier example is Lickitung, whose key characteristic is his enormous tongue.  The obvious problem with Lickitung, in the mad old days of Red and Blue, was that he couldn’t actually learn Lick.  The interesting problem was that although he got Lick in Gold and Silver, it was much longer before he gained effective attacks that could be visualised as using his tongue.  Slam was his mainstay from the beginning, but Slam is terrible.  Wrap, which he got in Gold and Silver, is scarcely worth mentioning.  Knock Off in Ruby and Sapphire was an improvement, but it was really Diamond and Pearl that gave Lickitung and Lickilicky properly useful attacks that fit the way we’re supposed to imagine them fighting: Power Whip and Wring Out, which relatively few other Pokémon learn.  They’re not the best attacks around, but both can argue for a place on a serious moveset, and they provide a good example of updating an old Pokémon in an appropriate and interesting way.

Then there are attacks that everything learns, or almost everything, at any rate: Hyper Beam, the ultimate expression of a fully-evolved Pokémon’s might, Protect, the standard “no” technique, and Hidden Power, whose universal availability hints at a kind of soul energy that can be drawn upon by all living things.  There are also things which are… harder to explain or justify.  All Pokémon can learn Toxic.  What?  I’ve actually been asked to explain this before, and settled on the idea that since Toxic is supposed to be a ninja technique – that is, a human technique – it probably uses principles that are accessible to humans, and to all Pokémon.  Pokémon who’ve been taught Toxic can recognise, collect, store, and use poisonous substances that they might not actually be able to secrete on their own.  A bit unfortunate, perhaps, for the poor Poison-types, who have to live down the fact that their most powerful ability is available to nearly every Pokémon in existence, but at least X and Y threw them a bone by giving Toxic perfect accuracy when used by a Poison Pokémon.  It gets worse, though; most Pokémon can create illusionary duplicates of themselves, with varying degrees of substance – almost all can learn Double Team and Substitute.  Weather manipulation, too, is shockingly common; Sunny Day and Rain Dance are normally denied only to Pokémon who would specifically be disadvantaged by them in some way.  I have to imagine that, in all but a few cases, these techniques are more like prayers (to Groudon or Kyogre?) than actual exercises of a Pokémon’s own powers – think of the connotations that the phrase “rain dance” has in English, and the fact that Rain Dance’s Japanese name, Amagoi, refers to a prayer for rain – while the rarer and seemingly effortless Drought and Drizzle abilities imply a real connection with the weather on some level.

Other moves available by TM are not quite so universal, but in general they are still far more often seen than most Pokémon techniques.  Many of these are go-to attacks for competitive movesets – staples like Thunderbolt, Ice Beam, and Surf.  Being so widely available means that these moves don’t tell us all that much about the specific Pokémon who learn them, but their prominence in strategy means that they contribute something to how the types themselves are portrayed.  When we think of the Ground type, for instance, we don’t just think of Ground-type Pokémon – we think of the ubiquitous Earthquake, one of the best physical attacks in the game.  When we think of Fire, we think of Flamethrower, but also of Fire Blast, which, being more accurate than Thunder or Blizzard and often a better choice than Flamethrower, is much more likely to come to mind than its Ice or Electric equivalents, so that Fire becomes a type associated with overwhelming power (Overheat only adds to the effect – Grass has an equivalent attack, Leaf Storm, but very few Pokémon can learn it, while Overheat is widely available).  The closest thing Psychic has to a go-to physical attack isn’t a physical attack at all, but a special attack which hits the target’s physical defence, Psyshock, thus reinforcing the typical view that Psychic types do not rely on their bodily strength.  Conversely, Rock has no common special attack at all.  The popularity of U-Turn and Volt Switch, accessible to many Pokémon through TMs, links Bug and Electric with speed, cleverness and changeability.  Sometimes I am concerned that the steady proliferation of techniques with every generation will eventually erode the differences between the types completely; we’re moving steadily closer to a situation where every type has both a physical and a special attack with a power rating of 80-90 and 100% accuracy, which would rather be throwing the baby out with the bathwater as far as establishing balance.  On the other hand, if only a few Pokémon get to flout the stereotypes of their elements – like Lucario and Beartic do, like Gigalith could have – then what we’re really getting is opportunities for specific Pokémon to be awesome in specific ways, which is the primary virtue that should be kept in mind here.

Finally, since we’re talking about TMs, we inevitably come to my pet hate, a move that not everything can learn, by any stretch of the imagination, but available to a truly bizarre selection of Pokémon who seem as though they should have no business learning it: Aerial Ace.  I offer first the usual disclaimer: I know Aerial Ace in Japanese is called “Turning Swallow Cut” and is named after an old katana technique.  Fine.  I have no problem with this move being available to Pokémon who can’t fly.  However.  The move’s description implies that it involves great speed and agility, which is why it never misses.  Also, it’s a Flying-type move and the Pokémon who learn it on their own are mostly birds, continuing that theme (the exceptions being Heracross, who can fly, Honedge, who is a living sword, and Gogoat, who… um… yeah, I got nothing).  And indeed, many of the Pokémon who learn it out of TM 40, as well as favouring cutting or slashing attacks, possess either great speed or flight… but then there’s Slaking.  Bouffalant.  Tyranitar.  Shelgon.  Ferrothorn.  Mr. Mime.  Crustle.  Aggron.  Regigigas, of all things.

And, of course, my favourite: Slowbro, but not Slowking.

Mechanically, very little separates Slowbro and Slowking.  Slowking’s special defence is higher, and he can learn Nasty Plot, Swagger, Power Gem, Quash, and Dragon Tail.  Slowbro’s defence is higher, and he can learn (in addition to a few moves that Slowking could get as a Slowpoke by delaying his evolution) Aerial Ace.  That’s the one move Slowbro has that Slowking can’t mimic.  Think about this in the context of everything else I’ve talked about in this over-long entry, and it all adds up to one thing.

Someone over there has a very strange sense of humour.

Anime Time: Episodes 15-17

Battle Aboard the St. Anne – Pokémon Shipwreck – Island of the Giant Pokémon

Fresh off Ash’s victory at the Vermillion Gym, Ash and his friends are given free tickets by a pair of teenage girls to a lavish Pokémon trainers’ convention aboard the world-famous luxury cruise liner, the St. Anne!  THERE IS NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE A SCAM!

 This is going to be a boring day for art since I couldn't find any relevant fanart for these episodes; here's Sugimori's Raticate art instead.

We quickly learn that the ‘teenage girls’ were Team Rocket in disguise (yes, James too), and that they were giving out free tickets to all the trainers they could find on the orders of their shadowy Boss, Giovanni, who appears for the first time in this episode.  The Boss (who seems to be the closest thing Meowth has to a formal ‘owner,’ but has come to prefer his Persian – this will be a constant source of insecurity to Meowth during the series) is displeased with the time and energy they have expended failing to catch Pikachu, but still seems to have enough confidence to put them in charge of the ambush planned on the St. Anne.  His confidence, of course, is misplaced – not only do the Team Rocket goons fail miserably to steal even a single Pokémon, James also loses a ludicrous amount of money buying into a Magikarp-breeding pyramid scheme, and the entire ship capsizes and sinks with Jessie, James and Meowth still on board (not to mention our plucky heroes).  This, of course, is all totally incidental as far as I’m concerned.  I want to talk about what happens in the meantime: Ash encounters a dapper gentleman with a top hat and moustache, whose name is never given, challenging other trainers to exhibition battles with a powerful Raticate.  Ash, being Ash, takes up the challenge and finds that Raticate and his Butterfree are very evenly matched; however, just as Butterfree begins to gain the upper hand with Stun Spore, the Gentleman – to Ash’s annoyance – recalls his Raticate and suggests calling it a draw.  The Gentleman later proposes a trade, his Raticate for Ash’s Butterfree, which Ash hesitantly accepts but later regrets.  Luckily, the Gentleman reluctantly agrees to trade back at the end of the episode, just as the ship is sinking.

When you think about it, Pokémon trading is a pretty bizarre practice from the perspective of a trainer like Ash, who regards each and every one of his Pokémon as a close personal friend (which I think counts as further evidence that Ash’s way of doing things is actually quite unusual, since Pokémon trading manifestly isn’t).  The Gentleman’s ideas about trading are interesting ones – he believes that trading Pokémon is a way of deepening and widening new friendships and spreading relationships between trainers all around the world; basically, a form of social networking.  You could argue that he’s running what amounts to a scam here, proposing a trade for the first Pokémon he could find that was stronger than his Raticate and then dazzling the Pokémon’s kid trainer with some pretty rhetoric, but since he does agree to trade back when Ash asks him, I think it’s more likely he actually believes it.  Misty’s perspective on the situation is almost as interesting because it shows, I think, that she relates to Pokémon in a very different way to Ash: although she is sympathetic when he begins to regret trading away Butterfree, her response, “look on the bright side; you got a Raticate!” seems to indicate that she doesn’t really understand the depth of Ash’s attachment to his Pokémon yet.  I’m kind of disappointed to miss Brock’s opinion; Ash does ask him before the trade, but he’s too busy getting goo-goo-eyed over the Gentleman’s lady friend to offer a coherent response.  For a person like Ash, trading away a Pokémon is basically signing away the health and wellbeing of a close friend to someone else.  If Ash’s attitude is at all typical, you wouldn’t expect Pokémon trading ever to happen except between good friends but, again, this is manifestly not the case.  I think this indicates that for a ‘typical’ trainer, a Pokémon is less like a friend and more like… not a possession, but… perhaps a colleague, co-worker, or subordinate – basically, someone with whom you have a formal, rather than an emotional, relationship.  I should qualify that, like most complex issues, this is probably more of a spectrum than a dichotomy; Ash is at one end, and trainers like the Gentleman at the other, but a lot of people probably fall somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, the ship flips upside down and sinks, and due to the captain’s gross incompetence no-one notices that a few of the passengers were still on board.  There’s still plenty of air in the ship, but it’s steadily filling up with water from the bottom, and it’s balanced precariously on a huge spire of rock over a deep ocean trench…

 Fun fact: in the beta version of Red and Blue, Gyarados' English name was "Skulkraken."  It works on so many levels, each more terrifying than the last!  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; render unto Nintendo what is Nintendo's, etc.

Pokémon Shipwreck is kind of a ‘meh’ episode, if you ask me.  It’s basically supposed to be about Ash’s party and Team Rocket having to work together to escape their mutual dilemma, but it’s actually about Ash’s party working together to escape their dilemma while Team Rocket cling to their coattails and scream incoherently.  Suffice to say, they eventually escape the ship by blowtorching through the hull with Charmander’s Flamethrower and swimming to the surface with the help of their Water Pokémon (Team Rocket use the Magikarp James bought on the St. Anne and nearly die, but to Pikachu’s immense displeasure they recover).  Once they’re all on a raft cobbled together from the debris of the St. Anne, James throws a fit, kicks his Magikarp, and renounces his ownership of the useless thing… which, of course, prompts it to evolve into a Gyarados, summon its brothers, and go all you-ain’t-in-Kansas-no-more on their asses, which leads to the next episode, Island of the Giant Pokémon

I love Island of the Giant Pokémon.  If I had my way the whole damn series would be done like Island of the Giant Pokémon.  The set-up is that Gyarados’ waterspout separated Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander from the rest of the group on an island which is, for no immediately obvious reason, inhabited by Pokémon of unusual size (hereafter known as POUSes).  Ash, Misty and Brock do stuff in this episode too but it is irrelevant and distracting, because this is the episode in which everything the Pokémon characters say is subtitled, which means we get a closer look at their personalities.  Squirtle is laid-back and irreverent, and has something of a black sense of humour (among other things, he upsets Pikachu and Charmander by joking that Ash might have been eaten by wild Pokémon).  Bulbasaur is stoic, pessimistic and cynical; he’s the one who suggests that Ash might have abandoned them, which I think speaks to the way he views humans in general.  Charmander… well, Charmander is kind of boring, actually.  He seems nice.  He’s quite trusting, maybe a little naïve.  Mostly he just goes along with Pikachu (who, as we know from the rest of the series, is defined mainly by fierce loyalty to his friends).  Odd that there’s no foreshadowing of the problems Ash is going to have with him after he evolves into Charmeleon in episode forty-something; maybe they hadn’t planned that far ahead yet.  And then… there’s Ekans and Koffing.  They’ve also been separated with their trainers, along with Meowth, who orders them to attack Pikachu and his friends when they run into each other.  Ekans and Koffing seem to be portrayed as not particularly bright, even by Pokémon standards (especially Koffing, who mostly parrots Ekans); their dialogue is subtitled in broken English, and their worldview is basically “we do as our masters tell us”… and Meowth, they are most emphatic, is not their master.  They claim that if Pokémon do bad things, it’s out of loyalty to bad masters (contrast Meowth, who points out that his master is never around and he’s as rotten as Jessie and James on his own); they apparently understand morality but think it either isn’t important or doesn’t apply to them.  Alone, Meowth is easily overpowered and tied up, while Ekans and Koffing join the group.  As they eat dinner, and Squirtle taunts Meowth with the promise of food if he’ll just apologise (which, of course, he refuses to do), they hear a loud rumbling sound and are nearly crushed by a rampaging POUS.  Pikachu goes back to untie Meowth as the others leg it (like Ash, he’s a kind soul), and they eventually spend much of the night running away.  Then… then there is this one wonderfully mad scene in which, later that night, the whole group stops at a bar.

When I was a kid, I could accept this without any problem.  As an adult, I've played Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon.  Then again, even in Mystery Dungeon I'm pretty sure they never go to a bar and get wasted.  Screenshots from www.filb.de/anime.In the middle of the jungle.  Run by a Slowbro.  Bulbasaur and Squirtle get totally hammered and start drunkenly arguing over something (hard to say what, since this scene doesn’t have subtitles) while Meowth quietly passes out, and Pikachu and Charmander try to comfort Ekans and Koffing, who have been reduced to tears (and are presumably pretty deep in their cups themselves).  At a random bar in the middle of the jungle run by a Slowbro.

…I’m not even going to question it; I’m just going to accept it.

They all go to sleep together, curled up with Ekans coiled around everyone else.  This is a lovely scene; it illustrates very well how ready Ash’s Pokémon are to trust, even when Ekans, Koffing and Meowth have been their enemies for the whole season so far – or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that Ekans and Koffing work for their enemies.  Off-duty, they’re no more hostile than anyone else.  Anyway, the next day, they try to negotiate with the POUSes they encounter, fail miserably, wind up getting chased by them, and eventually run into Ash, Misty and Brock being chased by more POUSes, as well as Jessie and James in a mine cart dragging another one behind them (they… had an interesting couple of days, put it that way).  Everyone reunites, there is much rejoicing on both sides, and all the POUSes trip over each other, get tangled together, and are completely destroyed – they’re robots, it turns out, and the whole thing is a theme park called Pokémon Land (a theme park, incidentally, run by Giovanni, who gets a call shortly afterwards to tell him of its destruction).

Again, I wish every episode were like Island of the Giant Pokémon.  Most of Ash’s Pokémon are surprisingly expressive considering they can’t really speak, and Pikachu in particular builds up a reasonably developed character by sheer weight of screen-time alone, but the characterisation of and relationships between all the Pokémon characters we see in this episode are just wonderful stuff, if you ask me.  That they never did this again is probably one of my biggest regrets for the whole series.