Okay; things are heating up. We’ve only got eight of these damn things left, and if I know me like I think I know me, I’m bitter, jaded and cynical enough to come up with good reasons to hate all eight of them, so let’s see which ones I hate the least!
Celebi vs. Darkrai
I’ve been largely positive about Celebi so far, while expressing a more neutral view of Darkrai. To make things fair, and also more interesting, I think it would be best now for me to talk about the problems Celebi causes: namely, the problems inherent to time travel powers. Very few authors can pull off a time travel plot without stumbling at least once and creating a situation that contradicts either itself or the established ‘rules.’ Writing a good time travel plot takes a great deal of forethought and tremendous attention to detail.
I will remind you that this is Nintendo we are talking about.
Celebi is far less blatantly ridiculous than Dialga, Palkia and Arceus, and can’t just rewrite the universe on a whim the way they can, but with the ability to move through time at will, one imagines she could alter history quite significantly if she had a mind to. Since time travel is a natural ability of hers, she can probably avoid, instinctively, most of the pitfalls that fill time travel stories about humans (such as ‘whoops, I just prevented my grandparents from meeting,’ ‘whoops, killing Hitler just made everything worse,’ and the ever-popular ‘whoops, I stepped on a butterfly and caused the extinction of humanity’). One also presumes that, as a legendary Psychic Pokémon, she is at least as intelligent as a human, possibly much more. What’s more, her stated raison d’être is to ‘watch over the forest from across time,’ which seems like it can only mean adjusting historical events in order to protect and preserve forest ecosystems. The very existence of a creature with powers like this fundamentally changes the way the whole setting has to be viewed, especially since the relationship between nature and civilisation is one of Pokémon’s most important themes, and it only becomes worse if we contemplate the possibility of Celebi using her powers on behalf of her trainer (see this recent entry for my reasons for not being too bothered about this sort of thing).
Now, I must be able to think of something positive to say about Darkrai… surely… I’ve mentioned that I disagree with the route Game Freak have chosen to take with his characterisation – and really, of all the legendary Pokémon they could have picked to cast actual doubt on the in-universe depictions of his powers and nature, did they have to pick the one whose powers don’t have massive implications for the integrity of the entire setting? There are good things to say about Darkrai, though. His relationship with Cresselia – ‘the disease and the cure,’ so to speak – is interesting, as is the way he deliberately stays close to her home so that her powers can counteract his own. The whole idea of a Pokémon capable of trapping people in nightmares is chilling and evocative as well, although I don’t think Darkrai’s concept actually necessitates that he be a legendary Pokémon. Despite everything I’ve said already, though, I honestly like Celebi better. My main problem with her is that I don’t believe the creators have actually thought through the full implications of the abilities they’ve given her, which is sort of nothing new – and unlike Arceus, who just gives me a headache, I actually like the idea of thinking that through myself.
My vote goes to CELEBI!
Mewtwo vs. Giratina
Mewtwo and Giratina? Looks like it’s time for a good old-fashioned angst-off.
Mewtwo’s angst comes from being designed as the ultimate fighting machine, using the heavily augmented genetic code of Mew, the legendary firstborn Pokémon, but raised without love or compassion. Giratina’s angst comes from being banished by his creator to a demented shadow world where he lives his life in solitude, looking back at the world he was cast from. Mewtwo’s story seems to be largely about the dangers of playing god (although, as I’ve already complained, Mewtwo’s creation used science that was fundamentally similar to that involved in the resurrection of fossil Pokémon, and possibly designed by the same people), and the series’ general stance seems to be that, although his creation was a mistake, he still has all the basic rights of a living creature now that we’ve got him, and is to be pitied for his painful birth and upbringing. Giratina, by contrast, is implied to have deserved everything he got – he was “banished for his violence,” presumably by the creator god of the Pokémon universe, Arceus (who is, if nothing else, very concerned with justice). Then again, Giratina’s position as protector the Distortion World seems, to judge from the climax of Platinum version, to be quite important to the stability of the cosmos, as the Distortion World serves to anchor our world and work against major shifts in reality. Furthermore, Giratina is in fact free to leave the Distortion World by taking on an altered form. I suspect there’s a lot we haven’t been told about Giratina, and for once it seems like the myths aren’t necessarily intended to represent the truth of things. The whole ‘antimatter’ spin Game Freak put on Giratina is interesting and fits with both the space/time idea Dialga and Palkia already had going, as well as with the nature of Giratina’s apparent role, although I still think I preferred things as they were in Diamond and Pearl, where Giratina is basically implied to rule the land of the dead, and remain convinced that the ‘antimatter’ thing was a quiet retcon. While Giratina is big on fundamental nature-of-the-universe stuff, Mewtwo is more about smaller-scale ethical questions, which I personally find more interesting, and which I honestly think Pokémon as a whole is better-suited to dealing with. In his original context in Red and Blue, he was also interesting for being an apparently blatant contradiction of the maxim that there is no “strongest Pokémon” – even Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres could be beaten by specific opponents, but there was no Pokémon that could take Mewtwo one-on-one, full stop, arguably not even Mew. As Mewtwo was, in-universe, created specifically to fill this position, he directly references the enormous clusterf*ck that is Pokémon’s game balance in a way that subsequent legendary Pokémon don’t, actually encouraging us to think about ideas of fairness for ourselves.
Honestly? I actually think both of these are decent. I’m okay with either one getting through to the semi-finals.
Mew vs. Groudon
I think we’ve established by now that I have problems with both of these, but am fairly lenient towards Mew in general because of her lack of apocalypse-bringing lunacy and probably more likely to be well-disposed towards her than towards Groudon. I would like to comment, though, on something they have in common: both Mew and Groudon are paired with other legendary Pokémon who significantly overshadow them. Mew is insanely versatile, but the fact is that there is very little she can do that Mewtwo does not do better, thanks to his ludicrous stats (she is marginally tougher than him, and can use Baton Pass, but most of the roles in which she would hope to excel are better filled by Mewtwo – even, arguably, some of her possible support roles). This is probably intentional, given Mewtwo’s background as an engineered ‘super-Mew’ of sorts, but I think that whether it supports or hinders their flavour is questionable, since much of the point of Mewtwo’s backstory is that the scientists who created him ultimately failed in a number of respects, creating a savage creature with no kindness or mercy. I can’t help but feel that it would be better if Mewtwo’s superiority were less clear-cut. For Groudon, of course, it’s all much worse. Groudon and Kyogre are clearly intended to be equal and opposite. They are rivals who battled for millennia without a victor appearing, their feud tearing the surface of the earth as they boiled oceans and drowned continents. One on one, it probably comes down to who moves first (even though, in principle, Water beats Ground) but in fact Kyogre is demonstrably better in a number of respects. Groudon enjoys little synergy with his own weather effect – his primary attack, Earthquake, receives no benefit from sunlight; for boosted Fire attacks, he must choose between Fire Blast, which works with his lower special attack stat, and the relatively weak Fire Punch; Solarbeam, coming from Groudon, is just a bad joke. Kyogre, on the other hand, can pull off the most powerful attack in the entire game with a rain-boosted Water Spout, and enjoys the benefit of accurate Thunder. Furthermore, although their weather abilities make them both good Pokémon to build teams around, rain is, broadly speaking, a more powerful weather effect than sun, and tends to benefit more powerful Pokémon. I find it amusing that, when Game Freak try to create legendary Pokémon to serve as evenly-matched rivals (Groudon/Kyogre, Reshiram/Zekrom), they manage, apparently by accident, to make one significantly stronger, while creating much more balanced pairs when the Pokémon aren’t necessarily meant to be opposed at all (Lugia/Ho-oh, Dialga/Palkia). I’m not even sure any of this affects my vote much. If you’ve been following my previous entries you’ll know my thoughts on both of these two, and as you’ve probably guessed…
My vote goes to MEW!
Rayquaza vs. Lugia
Urgh. Haven’t these two plagued me enough yet?
Although remarkably different in battle – Rayquaza is an all-offensive destroyer-type Pokémon, while Lugia is one of the most absurdly resilient Pokémon in the game – these two are actually very similar Pokémon conceptually. Both are extremely reclusive, spending most of their time in remote areas – Lugia deep beneath the ocean, Rayquaza high above the clouds – and as a result are so rarely seen that their very existence is difficult to prove. Both are also thought of as balancing influences; Rayquaza keeps balance between Kyogre and Groudon, while Lugia is portrayed as a mediator between the legendary birds in the Power of One. Lugia uses a mystical calming song, while Rayquaza’s power to end Groudon and Kyogre’s feud is a little vaguer but presumably has something to do with his Air Lock ability, which nullifies their power to control the weather in the area around him. In fact, the similarities don’t end there… both conflicts – the one between Kyogre and Groudon in Emerald, and the one between Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres in the Power of One – involve disruption of the earth’s climate when forces normally in balance attempt to conquer each other and gain power. Both imbalances are caused by a villain attempting to capture one of the legendary Pokémon in question without understanding their importance to the balance of nature. Both plots involve magical glass orbs tied to the energies of the warring Pokémon that supposedly have the power to calm them.
Y’know what? I’m starting to think Game Freak were just recycling the plot of the Power of One when they wrote Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. The difference is that – and yes, it is always going to come back to this when I talk about Rayquaza – in the movie, Lugia couldn’t do it without help. Alone against Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, he puts up a good fight but can’t overpower all of them at once. Ash, along with Melody from Shamouti Island, is the one who really saves the day – although Lugia provides them with some much-needed muscle. Lugia is vitally important in solving the crisis, but can’t do it alone. In Emerald, the player’s agency in ending the battle between Groudon and Kyogre is nothing more than going to get Rayquaza; once he arrives on the scene, the plot is essentially over. It is now my contention that Emerald not only ripped off the plot of the earlier movie, but did so poorly, and with blatant disregard for Pokémon’s long-standing emphasis on partnership and co-operation.
So, yeah. No surprises here.
My vote goes to LUGIA!