Anonymous Nobody asks:

I am sorry but reading your last answer to Ty and seeing the part where you said “unless Mewtwo is somehow half human, which I don’t think is what anyone ever intended to imply”… well, that is actually the case in Pokémon Aeventures manga at least in which Blainehad to use some of his own cellsto create Mewtwo as they did not have enough Mew cells. I am just curious to know what you think about that.

Well, Pokémon Adventures does tend to have a lot of independence and I don’t think it necessarily says much of anything about the “intent” of writers working on the games or anime.  I suppose more than anything I think it’s a little encouraging that I’m not the only person who played the games and thought “you know what would be a plausible explanation for Mewtwo’s background?  Human DNA.”

Ty asks:

I’m familiar with your thoughts on how the games try and paint Mew as the ancestor of Pokemon and how backwards their logic is claiming it’s due to Mew having the DNA of all Pokemon. That, as you’ve pointed out multiple times, is not how ancestry works.

I wanted to share with you an idea I’ve had about how I’d handle the Mew situation and what your thoughts about it are. For me, since Mew is the only Pokemon barring Ditto that can learn transform, I really like the idea that Mew could be the ancestor of all Pokemon, or at least the Mew species. In how I’d handle it, Mew would be #1 in the Pokedex and would be the original Pokemon that could change shape at will. As the curious creatures as they are, mews explored endlessly, tackling any environmental challenges by changing shape into the various Pokemon species we’re familiar with to suit that environment. Over time, those mew who grew older and decide to settle in their areas in whatever shape they were in, over thousands of years, lost the ability to transform and remained in that shape as whatever new species they were. Because so few environments are comfortable for Mew’s natural form, and/or so few mew continued to travel endlessly, modern day mews are fairly rare, hence their legendary status. This would really help explain a lot of artificial Pokemon since the mew that originally became that species took on an artificial form for one reason or another somewhere down the line, rather than Pokemon like Klinklang, Electrode, and Klefki existing and being able to breed in some degree for no particular reason.

Continue reading “Ty asks:”

Random Access asks:

The only Pokémon with multiple mega evolutions are Charizard and Mewtwo. In Pokémon Origins, Red is given a key stone and a Charizard mega stone by Mr. Fuji, who was also said to have a hand in creating Mewtwo. Do you think there might be some sort of connection?

Ehh… honestly… no, not really.  If that was supposed to be a significant detail, I think Origins probably would have found a way to show one of Mewtwo’s mega evolutions.  I don’t really see anything there that rises above the level of coincidence.

Pokémon Origins: Episode 4

Blastoise seriously reconsiders the life choices that brought him to this point.

With Giovanni and Viridian City behind him, Red’s journey takes him to Indigo Plateau and the headquarters of the Pokémon League.   He narrates, briefly, his conquest of the Elite Four, accompanied by only brief clips from each battle, and is finally sent through by Lance to meet the Champion, who turns out to be – spoiler alert – Blue.  Red is surprised, but seems almost pleased to find him there.  Blue gives an adapted version of his classic overconfident and egomaniacal entrance speech, complete with his line about being “the most powerful trainer in the world,” and hurls his Pidgeot’s Pokéball to start the battle.  We skim through most of it in a few seconds – Blue’s team is the same as he would use with Blastoise in the games, while Red uses Jolteon, Lapras, Persian, Scyther, Dodrio and Charizard.  Eventually, of course, the battle comes down to their starters.  Although Blastoise shrugs off Charizard’s initial Mega Punch and then nearly ends the battle with Hydro Pump, Charizard is able to endure the damage, trap and weaken Blastoise with Fire Spin, and finally nail him with what I imagine to be a critical hit with Fire Blast.  Blue is confused and upset by his loss, but covers it up quickly – and then Professor Oak arrives.  Professor Oak’s lines in this scene were sort of forgivable in the games, where all the dialogue was pretty simplistic, but a lot more jarring in this medium: he initially ignores his grandson completely to give embarrassingly glowing praise to Red instead, and when he finally does acknowledge Blue, his first words are a condescending “what a shame…”  Blue shrugs that off – and gets accused of forgetting to treat his Pokémon with trust and love, something which rings a little hollow given that we’ve never really seen the way Blue treats his Pokémon.  Once Professor Oak has finished being a douchebag, he leads Red backstage to enter him in the Hall of Fame.  Red is a little self-conscious here, but is assured by Professor Oak that he’s earned it, so he vows to uphold the honour of the position.

 The mysterious Dr. Fuji. The games, too, contain hints that Mr. Fuji is more than he seems, in the form of a photo of him prominently displayed in Cinnabar Labs, the institution he founded years before.

Of course, Red’s not done – becoming Champion was never his goal; he only went to the Indigo Plateau in the first place because Giovanni told him he would need to become stronger, and fittingly this is merely the first eight minutes of the episode.  He still has his real quest to finish – completing the Pokédex – so we get a montage in which he does just that.  Finally, with all 149 known Kanto species recorded, he returns to Pallet Town triumphant, only to find the lab empty.  One of Oak’s lab assistants enters behind Red and, when asked where he is, only responds “well, it’s…” and trails off, with a pained expression on her face.  Honestly at this point I thought she was about to tell Red that Professor Oak had died while he was away, which would be a very sad but poignant way to end the Pokédex story, but no – that’s not where this episode is going.  In fact, Professor Oak is sitting with Blue, who has been hospitalised after an encounter with a terrifyingly powerful Psychic Pokémon, a hitherto unknown 150th species.  Oak wants Red to go and check it out immediately, but Blue (characteristically) objects that if “it was beyond even me, then you wouldn’t stand a chance against it either,” words which ring a bell for Red, though he doesn’t quite know why.  Oak takes Red back to the lab to get his Pokémon checked out, and finds the Mega Stones in his bag.  He has no idea what they are either, but decides to get them tested when he hears the name “Mr. Fuji.”  Red, while taking a break and fishing, remembers that he’s seen the phrase “it is beyond even us” in the journals he read in the burnt-out Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island, and realises that Blue’s new species might be the “Mewtwo” they mentioned.  Oak, troubled, suggests that these may have been the notes of “Dr. Fuji,” a renowned scientist whose research became dangerous and ethically questionable after he discovered a new species of Pokémon, until he mysteriously disappeared.  Red’s “Mr. Fuji” could be the same man – especially given the connection Oak’s instruments have detected between the two stones, and between the larger blue stone and Charizard, something that reminds him of one of Dr. Fuji’s earlier projects.  Oak recommends letting Charizard hold onto the large stone, and sends Red off.

 Mewtwo shoots down Articuno.

Meanwhile, in Lavender Town, Mr. Fuji learns from Reyna that Red is heading for the Cerulean Cave and realises, to his horror, that Red is trying to catch Mewtwo.  Their thoughts are intercut with the battle between Mewtwo and Red.  Mr. Fuji predicts that Mewtwo will be far too powerful for Red’s Pokémon to defeat – and, indeed, they are all overwhelmed, even the legendary Articuno – but still has hope.  When he met Red in the Pokémon Tower, he was reminded of a Kalosian legend about a trainer and a Charizard who shared a particularly profound bond, capable of awakening the power in the stones.  Meanwhile, Charizard is getting his ass handed to him by Mewtwo, but refuses to give up, even when both he and Red are flung into the water by Mewtwo’s telekinesis.  Red, getting desperate, realises that he owes it to Charizard not to give up either.  This triggers the Mega Stones they’re holding, and Charizard transforms with a blaze of light into the dark and terrifying Mega Charizard X.  To Mewtwo’s shock, Charizard’s souped-up attacks are powerful enough to overwhelm even his psychic defences, and after a brief but intense battle (during which Red imagines little Charmander fighting in his place, thinking back to how far they’ve come), Mewtwo is overcome.  Red’s second Ultra Ball finishes the battle, and the Pokédex, Charizard returns to his normal form, and they return to Pallet Town triumphant.  There is a brief epilogue, in which Red, Professor Oak, the lab assistant, and a still-disgruntled Blue have lunch together and celebrate – and Red realises, with a start, that Mewtwo’s predecessor, Mew, must still be out there somewhere…

(As it happens, “somewhere” is right outside the window behind them, because Mew is a massive troll.)

 'Don't worry, Charizard!  I'll catch yo-I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!'

We should talk here about Mega Evolution, because this has been the occasion of a long and complicated argument between me and Jim the Editor, who has very strong feelings on the matter.  Obviously, including Mega Charizard in the final episode of Origins is a big move, and a very clear break from the nostalgic tone of the rest of the series, something which he regards as a betrayal of what the series was, y’know, supposed to be about – namely, a reimagining of our experience of the original games – in favour of trying to popularise a silly unbalancing gimmick (Jim the Editor also has very strong feelings on Mega Evolution).  Furthermore, he feels that it actually cheapens the whole series to know that the creators had a sleazy marketing goal buried in the nostalgia all along, and thinks that, as Charizard’s Mega Evolution is the only post-first generation element anywhere in Origins (not even attacks from the second generation or later are used, to our recollection), the sudden introduction of this very recent addition to the game has a bizarre and jarring effect on the viewer’s experience of the story.  Upon reflection, I don’t think this is an unreasonable stance.  Origins very self-consciously targets the nostalgia market, and the somewhat abrupt departure from that (the foreshadowing at the end of the second episode notwithstanding) causes the whole purpose and message of the series to change almost without warning.  The first three of Origins’ four episodes, taken together, are a very different beast with a very different point from the full set.  The writers must have known this would be jarring to some viewers, but they chose to do it anyway, which is sort of bound to have upset people.  As I said, though, I’m not one of those.  Maybe that’s partly just because I have fewer reservations about Mega Evolution as a concept, but of course I have other reasons which… probably also make sense.

 Mega Charizard takes the stage.

Compared to the anime’s lack of subtlety in attempting to ‘sell’ spin-offs or gimmicks in the past, I actually don’t think it’s that bad.  I’m reminded of an episode of the Hoenn series featuring Solana from Pokémon Ranger, along with her Plusle, as a guest star, and had me cringing from start to finish at the transparency of its attempts to plug the new game and the laziness of its efforts to integrate the character, her role and her skills into the established setting of the anime.  Charizard’s ascension, if nothing else, makes sense in the context of the way Origins has portrayed Red and his partner in the past; Red relies on Charizard above all his other Pokémon, at times beyond reason, and with the exception of Jolteon, Charizard is the only Pokémon who isn’t rotated out of Red’s team between their second battle with Giovanni and their Elite Four challenge.  They are, almost without a doubt, as close as Ash and Pikachu.  I like that, at the end of all this, he gets to unlock this special power that humans and Pokémon can only wield together, through absolute trust and dedication to one another, that he gets to become the charizardiest Charizard who ever charizarded.  It’s not the only way they could have reached a crescendo in portraying Red and Charizard’s relationship; I must emphasise that.  There are many other ways this ending could have been written.  However, I think there is a method to this madness, a reason for Mega Evolution to be flung into a story to which it so manifestly does not belong: in order to make the claim, brazenly and unashamedly, that it does belong there.  By making it the culmination of the relationship Red has been building with Charmander from the beginning – that we all imagined building with our starter Pokémon from the beginning – Origins stresses that Mega Evolution is only the newest (and perhaps most dramatic) expression of themes that have been central to Pokémon all along.  This last, desperate play to defeat Mewtwo, though completely different from anything that has come before, works because of the same qualities that allowed Red to defeat Giovanni and Blue.

It’s precisely because Mega Evolution is so strange that Origins does this.  Nothing else introduced in generation six – arguably nothing else ever introduced to Pokémon – sticks out in the same way or provokes the same feeling of being a complete departure.  It demands justification in a way that nothing else does.  Things like new Pokémon, new items, new attacks – we know that new generations do that.  They require no defence, and so they are absent from this series.  Even the addition of a whole new type is something that we’re familiar with from Gold and Silver – if anything, a significant faction of the community has been disappointed at the absence of new types from generations three, four and five.  The Fairy type, whatever else you might think of it, is not something that would ever have seemed impossible, and it already came pre-packaged with a tie to the old world in the form of Sylveon, an evolution of Eevee (something else we’re used to seeing every other generation).  Mega Evolution, though, is weird, and by its very weirdness was bound to have people declaring that Pokémon had finally jumped the shark, or abandoned its roots (such outcries are of course nothing new, but these ones have, arguably, more justification than ever before).  The fourth episode of Origins, to me, is an ostentatious attempt to refute any such argument and give the creators a chance to reclaim their own past.  Is it obnoxious?  Well… insofar as it serves the creators’ broader aims at the expense of the mini-series itself, it kinda is, yes.  On the other hand, I think the way it changes what Origins is really about is interesting in itself, and in some ways I actually like how it tries to say that Pokémon’s past is still an important part of what it is today, rather than just putting it on a pedestal like something separate and untouchable. Ultimately, the only reason it is able to have this effect is because the contrast it creates between past and present is so sharp, so jarring.  Does it work?  I guess that’s up to you.

Aftermath

Let’s recap.

I am the Champion of the Kalos region.  Team Flare has fallen by my hand.  Xerneas, the embodiment of life itself, stands by my side.  Lumiose City is under the thumb of a likely unstable robotic ninja with some newfound delusions of grandeur and an app specifically built to steal Pokémon.  I control several of the precious Mega Stones, and possess the means to find more.  I have an enemy in the Elite Four, but I know her identity and can destroy her in due course.  All is as it should be.

Of course, there are still one or two little things we have to take care of.

Armed with my newfound authority as a Pokémon League Champion, I return to the Pokémon Village and enter the Unknown Dungeon.  I fully expected a large, complicated cave system on the model of the original dungeon outside Cerulean City, but no – this ‘dungeon’ is a single chamber, with Mewtwo meditating in the centre.  I am a touch disappointed; after seeing some of Kalos’ amazing scenery, I had hoped for more from the lair of the so-called ‘strongest Pokémon,’ but I suppose I can’t have everything.  I quickly realise that this Mewtwo can Recover from damage, and in my irritation decide to use my hard-won Master Ball.  It’s been a long time since I last bothered to actually fight a legendary Pokémon with healing powers, and my go-to Pokémon for sleep is weak to Psychic attacks.  As Mewtwo is dismissed to the PC network, I notice a glint on the floor – a Mega Stone.  Mewtwonite X.

Oh.  Right.  The two new Mewtwo-looking things that were revealed right at the start of the X and Y pre-release hype.  I’d forgotten about them.  Mega Mewtwo X and Mega Mewtwo Y.  Because Mewtwo desperately needed more power and the ability to transform into a godlike physical attacker at the drop of a hat.  Seriously, though, I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Once you get Pokémon as powerful as Mewtwo charging around the game my brain gives up even trying to complain about game balance and just gives them a sort of startled “um… yes!  Well done!”  Mewtwo is particularly weird in that part of his flavour is that he’s supposed to be the strongest Pokémon, but for a long time now that hasn’t really been true; things like Lugia, Kyogre, Arceus and  Reshiram can give him a serious run for his money, and by their standards he’s pretty frail.  With Mega Evolution an option now, he might well have a shot at the top again… then again, from memory, Mewtwo’s physical movepool isn’t great for a legendary Pokémon, and he can already do physical damage with Psystrike anyway, so who knows?  I can’t speak for Mega Mewtwo Y.  If that’s just Mewtwo with more speed, special attack, and defences, we’re all dead.

Next stop is the formerly guarded bottom level of the Terminus Cave, where I meet a third Kalosian legendary Pokémon: the great serpent, Zygarde.  This one doesn’t heal itself, so a traditional Sleep Powder-and-Ultra Ball battle ensues, and the creature is eventually subdued so I can get a look at it.  Zygarde is a Dragon/Ground dual-type, known as the ‘Order Pokémon,’ that supposedly “reveals its secret power” when “the Kalos region’s ecosystem falls into disarray.”  Its ability, Aura Break, reverses the effects of other ‘aura’ abilities – and since the only other ability I can think of with ‘Aura’ in the name is Xerneas’ Fairy Aura (Yveltal presumably has some equivalent), I have to wonder exactly how useful that would be, especially given that Zygarde is still weak against Xerneas’ Fairy attacks anyway.  All this seems to mean that Zygarde has a similar relationship to Xerneas and Yveltal as Rayquaza does to Groudon and Kyogre – its job is to maintain the balance between life and death, either of which would do a number on any ecosystem if they got out of hand.  Following a hunch, I take Zygarde to the move relearner in Dendemille Town, and discover that it has a signature move: Land’s Wrath, a decidedly underwhelming Ground attack that seems to act like a slightly powered-down version of Earthquake (the description seems to indicate that it’s ‘party-friendly,’ so if nothing else it’d be great for double and triple battles).  People are saying that Xerneas, Yveltal and Zygarde represent some of the denizens of Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse mythology – four stags, an eagle, and Nidhogg, the dragon who gnaws at the tree’s roots.  Alternatively, the serpent could be Jormungand, the sea monster whose body encircles the world.  Personally, I want some love for Ratatosk, the squirrel whose job is to carry insults between Nidhogg and the eagle, but hey, whatevs.  The thing that bugs me here is that Nidhogg and Jormungand are both unambiguously bad news.  Nidhogg’s stated aim in life is the death of the World Tree, whereas Jormungand is one of the major players on the evil side of Ragnarok, the ‘Doom of the Gods’ (Jormungand, in particular, is a much more important figure than any of the other proposed identities for any of the three).  Cheery stuff.  What, if anything, does this mean for Zygarde?  Maybe nothing more than that it’s the harbinger of momentous events – when Zygarde actually starts taking an interest in things, $#!t’s about to get real – or maybe that Zygarde is actually capable of far worse than either Yveltal or Xerneas.  I’m not sure.  Definitely a Pokémon to tread very carefully around in… well, I want to say ‘Z,’ but after Black and White 2 I’m taking nothing for granted.

And for now… that seems to be it.

Since I seem to have reached the end, more or less, of what this game’s story will provide, it seems appropriate to give a brief (HAH!) retrospective.  To the surprise of absolutely no-one in the world, the basic eight-gyms-elite-four-champion structure remains firmly unchanged.  The Team Flare storyline had its merits, but it was nothing particularly special – the plot of Black and White remains my favourite from the series for another year.  Lysandre’s characterisation gave me major flashbacks to Cyrus, their motives and goals being quite similar, although Lysandre was marginally more subtle about it – both turned to villainy through despair at the human condition and a realisation that their ideals could never be fulfilled with the world in its current state, and both decided that wiping out the old world to make way for a new one (somewhat more literally in Cyrus’ case) was the only way forward.  Both, I think, are best described by the phrase “messiah complex” – Lysandre is less explicit about it, but as you may have gathered from my indignant speech in the Team Flare headquarters, I have little difficulty seeing a desire for self-aggrandisement as a major factor in Lysandre’s motives.  The plot itself follows what has become the standard: prevent the legendary Pokémon-induced apocalypse.  However, like Black and White, there seems to be something of a retreat from the idea that the Pokémon in question are, in and of themselves, forces capable of ending the world as we know it – Xerneas and Yveltal are very powerful beings, of that there is no question, but I don’t think there’s any indication in the story that they really embody life and death in the way that, say, Dialga embodies time.  The threat of what they can do to Kalos, and the world, largely has to do with the amplification of their powers by the Ultimate Weapon (so, the combination of human and Pokémon abilities).  There’s nothing about them to suggest that the very fact of their being in a trainer’s possession could disrupt nature or the cosmos, which is reassuring.

In terms of the game’s mechanical changes from the fifth generation, the two big, obvious steps are Fairy Pokémon and Mega Evolution, both of which I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, fairly ambivalent about.  I want to discuss Fairy Pokémon on their own later, and, hell, maybe Mega Evolution as well; we’ll see how that goes.  I do want to take the opportunity now, though, to rave once again about Pokémon Amie and Super Training, both of which I love as additions to the game, because there hasn’t really been a good moment to do that since I first met them.  Pokémon Amie makes a relationship with a Pokémon something you really have to work at, rather than something that just kinda ‘happens,’ it puts the interface for those relationships right in front of you as you move around the world so that they’re always on your mind, and it links them to direct, if minor, mechanical benefits – Pokémon with high affection in Pokémon Amie can avoid attacks, withstand finishing blows, purge status effects, and score more critical hits, all of which is described as resulting from the concordance of the trainer and Pokémon’s thoughts and desires.  Like Mega Evolution, it adds to the idea that Pokémon can do extraordinary things not just through being with humans but through being friends with humans, which is one of the concepts that allows the whole setting to function.  My only real complaint is that it’s difficult to conceptualise how Amie and the affection ‘stat’ are supposed to relate to the traditional friendship mechanics – although people are pretty sure they do affect each other, they seem to be separate, so what exactly is friendship supposed to represent?  To put it another way, how do we imagine a Pokémon with high ‘friendship’ and low ‘affection’?  Super Training, similarly, helps the ‘feel’ of the game by demystifying the effort system, something we all recognise as very important to high-level play but which past games made almost no attempt to introduce players to, leaving that task to the internet and the fan community.  X and Y are up front about this aspect of the games; they tell you from the start “okay; this is something you should probably figure out how to use at some point” instead of tip-toeing around it as previous iterations always have.  Attentive readers may remember that when I spoke last year about what I would do If I Were In Charge, themes like this were among my greatest concerns – specifically, I dealt with friendship here and effort training here – and while my ideas for dealing with them were rather different to what Game Freak presented to us in X and Y, I think the results show an interest in similar goals.  It should hardly need to be said that I approve!

As for all the new Pokémon… well, I really suppose I’d better talk about them individually, don’t you?  That is why I started this blog in the first place, early in the Unova era.  It’s a daunting project, but this is a much smaller generation than Black and White – indeed, the smallest yet, where Unova was the largest – so maybe I can pull it off.  There are a few other things to get out of the way first, of course: we need to talk about Fairy-types, Team Flare and Diantha both deserve fuller, more focused discussions to go with my old series on villains and Champions (as does Iris, for that matter), I have to review Origins, and I do want to spend some time thinking about attacks from a flavour perspective as well.  The game is over, but the show, as ever, must go on!

Anime Time: Episode 63

The Battle of the Badge

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

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

Well, I thought it was interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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