Okay Jim, you take over!
Jim: This is so depressing.
Chris: What are you talking about? We have a BADASS SUPER RAT! The greatest lab rat of all time!
Jim [sobbing]: Where’s our starter?
Okay Jim, you take over!
Jim: This is so depressing.
Chris: What are you talking about? We have a BADASS SUPER RAT! The greatest lab rat of all time!
Jim [sobbing]: Where’s our starter?
Pokémon Paparazzi – The Ultimate Test – The Breeding Centre Secret
Ash’s location: Belarus.
These episodes happened. They were a thing. Let’s talk about them.
One day, as the kids are eating, Ash glimpses what he takes for a rifle scope poking out of some nearby grass. Thinking quickly, he knocks Misty and Brock down and summons Squirtle to flush out the gunman… who turns out to be just an egotistic young photographer named Todd. Todd quickly gets over the misunderstanding and invites everyone back to his cottage for pancakes. He tries to get some shots of Pikachu eating, but Pikachu gets nervous and fries him. He explains that he refuses to take pictures of Pokémon posing, since his art is to capture a Pokémon’s natural image – and, far more strangely, is only interested in Ash’s camera-shy Pikachu. When the group leaves, Todd follows stealthily, but Ash playfully springs into all of his shots, and complains that Todd is being disrespectful to Pikachu’s feelings. He persists, since he was hired to ‘capture’ Pikachu by a tearful old couple, figuring they must have once owned a Pikachu themselves. When Ash and the others fall into a pitfall trap (courtesy of the ‘old couple’), Todd notices that Pikachu and Ash are positioned perfectly for a photo… until the bottom of the pit crumbles and Ash falls into an old aqueduct pipe. Todd leaps in after him and gets Ash to grab the end of his tripod before he is swept away, soaking the camera (so he has learnt A Valuable Lesson). Team Rocket appear and start lobbing grenades as Ash dangles over a sheer drop, but Ash twists the camera around to get them to pose, and James forgets to throw the grenade in his hand. Once Ash is rescued, Todd sets up his (spare?) camera to take a photo of himself with his new friends, but trips as he dashes to join the picture, bowling the others over and ending up with a naturalistic, unplanned scene of laughter. Todd joins the team briefly after this, and will be with us for the rest of the entry.
I couldn’t care less about this episode, and I couldn’t care less about Todd, who is a transparent tie-in to the photography game in which he stars, Pokémon Snap, though I suppose his insistence on photographing Pokémon as they appear in nature, which the episode presents in a positive light, is at least a fairly admirable way for someone in his position to do business. If there’s anything about this episode that interests me, it’s Pikachu’s reluctance to be photographed, which none of the other Pokémon Todd is offered seem to share. Pikachu has never before, in my recollection, been shown to be particularly shy or self-conscious; in fact, aside from his initial rocky start with Ash, he’s generally very friendly. Then again, he’s never been the subject of a photographic study before, and he may find Todd’s somewhat obsessive manner off-putting. Ash’s irritation at Todd for not respecting Pikachu’s wishes is, of course, entirely in-character.
In the Ultimate Test, Misty makes a suggestion to Ash: “you haven’t gotten a badge in a long time… maybe you should make another Gym Leader feel sorry for you.” Ash furiously challenges her to a battle but Todd interrupts to suggest that Ash try taking the Pokémon League entrance exam, and conducts them to a testing centre where he can sit it. Also at the centre are Nurse Joy #84, and a disguised Jessie and James. Joy tells the kids a bit more about the test: it’s an alternative way to earn membership in the Pokémon League, which is great for people who are too old, sick or busy to travel between towns for badges. The first two sections of the exam are theoretical: one section of true-or-false questions, another of pictures and silhouettes to identify (how can anyone tell the silhouette of a Jigglypuff, seen from above, from that of a Voltorb?). Ash manages to come third-to-last, out of more than five hundred candidates, ahead of only James and Jessie (who is disqualified for insulting the examiner). The third section is a three-on-three battle against the examiner, using only rental Pokémon. Ash gets off to a good start, defeating the examiner’s Flareon with a Weezing, but his Arbok tries to Wrap a Jolteon and gets filled with spikes for her trouble, and his Meowth is frozen solid by a Vaporeon. James, meanwhile, tries to take down a Graveler with a Pikachu’s Thunderbolt, and is then disqualified for calling out both his remaining Pokémon (an Ivysaur and a Charizard) at once. He refuses to return the rental Pokémon, but the examiner commands the Pokémon to turn on Jessie and James, and Ash finishes them off with his Weezing’s Explosion. Team Rocket’s presence has apparently invalidated the whole exam, and Ash is offered a chance to retake it, but can’t be bothered.
This is one of those episodes that really start me thinking. It gets me thinking because it offers a way to bypass the eight Gym battles normally necessary to become a member of the Pokémon League and compete in the Indigo tournament – in other words, to bypass what is normally the point of a good chunk of each game. There is nothing in the exam that even requires you to own Pokémon at all. Joy mentions that the exam provides a way for those hampered by age, sickness or full-time employment to join the League, but there isn’t necessarily anything that prevents someone in such a position from owning or training Pokémon – only from travelling to collect badges. In fact, the exam is very deliberately set up to strip trainers with powerful Pokémon of any advantage they might have, by forcing them to use rental Pokémon only. The implication seems to be that the exam is meant to invite people who aren’t Pokémon trainers at all to become members of the Pokémon League. This in turn implies that the League isn’t purely a sporting organisation, that it has reasons for wanting to attract hobbyists, academics, and specialists to its ranks, and that there are benefits to membership beyond simply being able to enter tournaments (just about any random ten-year-old can become a trainer, so it stands to reason that there are some restrictions on non-members… one hopes). Membership in the League may be the first step to finding employment with them, or a beneficial addition to one’s credentials in searching for other jobs (heaven knows, anyone seeking to enter the Pokémon healthcare profession would need one heck of a resume to break the Joy family’s iron grip on all the senior positions). What I mean to suggest is that the Pokémon League is responsible for general Pokémon-related affairs in Kanto, not just the practice of competitive battle, and therefore benefits by having a roster of sanctioned experts in fields such as Pokémon breeding, human-Pokémon relations, and Pokémon ecology, upon whom it can call for consultation, and who in turn benefit from enfranchisement. Pokémon trainers likely make up the bulk of the League’s membership – after all, the entrance exam is implied to be extremely challenging, and Ash scores dismally despite his generally decent knowledge of Pokémon, so it is by no means an easy way in, as Jessie and James seem to think – but it seems clear that other people with quite different interests in Pokémon are a significant minority.
As they continue their journey through a small city, the kids see an advertisement for a breeding centre that claims to be able to evolve Pokémon. Todd says that centres like this are the newest big thing, so Ash decides to check it out. The woman working the front desk gives a ludicrous spiel about “Pokémon love power! Love love love!” but people seem to be getting results, so Misty decides to leave Psyduck there to see if they can’t knock some sense into him. Soon afterward, the kids meet a restaurant owner who’ll give a free meal to anyone who can show him his favourite Pokémon… Psyduck. Misty decides to double back to the breeding centre and, finding it closed, the kids slip in the back door. All the Pokémon, including Psyduck, are caged in a dark room. As Todd starts taking pictures to document what’s happening, the kids overhear the centre’s owners in the next room gloating over their plan to steal all these Pokémon. As Misty attempts to free Psyduck, Jessie and James arrive to steal some Pokémon themselves, and the ensuing argument attracts the attention of the owners, Butch and Cassidy, Jessie and James’ hyper-competent rivals with far higher standing in Team Rocket. The duos start quarrelling, and the kids slip away, but the centre’s security system cages everyone except for Misty, Pikachu and Togepi. Jessie and James are caught as well trying to retrieve a Victreebel, which supposedly belongs to James… even though we’ve never seen it before… and it promptly begins a long-running gag by trying to eat its trainer… Anyway. Butch and Cassidy call the police, and Officer Jenny #319 arrests everyone. Misty, however, returns the next day in disguise and distracts Cassidy so Pikachu can slip inside and grab Todd’s camera, which she uses to prove Butch and Cassidy’s guilt. The breeding centre is shut down and the kids all go to the restaurant for their free lunch. Finally, Todd leaves the group to go climb some mountains, but not before finally pointing Ash in the direction of Cinnabar Island.
There’s no single theme I really want to draw attention to in this episode, but there are a couple of little points, so I’ll comment on each. The breeding centre, first of all, is interesting. How do Butch and Cassidy actually run this place without being caught? They could probably delay people who asked for their Pokémon back, possibly for days, but eventually someone would surely grow suspicious. We do see them handing Pokémon back to trainers, so obviously they don’t steal everything. The centre is marketed towards people who are too busy to exercise and pamper their Pokémon, so it’s possible they target people who could go for weeks before getting concerned. When that happens, they claim to have lost the paperwork… and only once several people are seriously annoyed do they pack up and vanish with all the Pokémon. It seems possible that some amateur trainers might neglect their Pokémon to an extent if they think the breeding centre is taking care of things; indeed, when Misty first decides to leave Psyduck in the breeding centre, Ash suggests that she’s just trying to ditch him. Misty, interestingly, insists that she caught Psyduck and she’s going to stick with him; she just wants to see if the breeding centre can accomplish anything with him in a couple of days. This is interesting because – remember – Misty didn’t catch Psyduck at all. He just… kinda climbed into her empty Pokéball. Despite this, and although she doesn’t really like him very much, Misty apparently does feel responsible for Psyduck. For better or worse, he came to her and she is his trainer, and that is just the world she lives in and has to accept, which I think is an interesting perspective and testifies, if nothing else, to Misty’s stubbornness. Finally, Butch and Cassidy. I like these two. Unlike Jessie and James, they’re actually credible villains, and generally presented as coming near to success with their fairly intelligent plans. In that, they fulfil the same dramatic function that Jessie and James would, much later, come to fill in their scarily competent Unova incarnations (and, similarly, they don’t appear all that often; overexposure would make their defeats stand out a little too much). I think I may bring them up again in the Viridian Gym episode, but for now, I’d just like to point out their importance in demonstrating that Team Rocket as a whole is in fact a very real danger.
So, yeah. These episodes happened. They were a thing. That is all.
Who Gets to Keep Togepi?
Ash’s location: Sweden.
This episode gets an entry to itself not so much because I think it’s really interesting, more because it was sort of awkwardly left over after I blocked out all of the others for this chunk of the series, and I suppose it is a fairly important one. I may yet think of something clever to say in this entry, though – I never really know until I write the damn things. Here goes nothing…
At the beginning of this episode, Ash calls Professor Oak to check in. The professor has a gift for Ash: the latest patch for his Pokédex, which contains updated information on dozens of species of Pokémon. Ash delightedly downloads the upgrade and goes on his way. He, Misty and Brock briefly discuss the possibility of heading for another Pokémon Gym… after all, it has been eighteen episodes (close to four months, by my reckoning) since Ash earned his Soul Badge… but they have something way more important on their minds today: the egg Ash found at Grandpa Canyon. As the party’s breeder, Brock has been responsible for looking after the egg since Ash found it, going so far as to sleep with it to keep it warm. Misty’s hoping it will hatch into a Tentacruel, a Pokémon she inexplicably finds adorable, while Brock wants a Golem (you’d think a Pokémon breeder and a Rock-type specialist would know better than to expect a fully-evolved Golem from an egg… I mean, I know the games hadn’t laid out the mechanics of Pokémon breeding yet, but surely there are reasonable assumptions you can make), and Ash is simply praying that it won’t be another Aerodactyl. As they speculate, they run into a pair of old women carrying baskets filled with brightly-coloured Pokémon eggs. When Ash insists that he doesn’t want one, the women fling their baskets in the air, knock Ash’s egg from Brock’s hands and reveal themselves as Jessie and James. With eggs flying everywhere, they manage to grab the real one while the kids are sorting through the fake ones, and abscond. James wants to cook the egg so they can have a decent meal for once in their miserable lives, but Meowth wants to mother it instead, keeping it warm in the remote log cabin they suddenly seem to own. Meowth spends all of his attention on the egg, singing to it, cuddling it, bathing with it, and genuinely seems to find a spark of actual decency in himself. However, Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock eventually track Team Rocket down and attack their cabin, leading to a confused mêlée in which the egg is tossed back and forth across the room several times, until it eventually ends up in Pikachu’s hands… and starts to hatch. Everyone crowds around to look, Misty butting in to get closest.
I would like to point out that the “who’s that Pokémon?” silhouette for this episode, which appears at just this moment, is Aerodactyl. I never noticed this as a kid, but it made me laugh out loud when I saw the episode again.
Most of the eggshell stays intact, but a set of tiny arms and legs pop out, along with a rounded, three-horned head. No-one can identify the baby Pokémon, but the kids don’t mean to hang around with Team Rocket to figure it out, so Pikachu drops a Thunderbolt and they flee the scene with their child. Once the kids get back to civilisation, they ask the Pokédex – after all, it’s just been upgraded. It successfully identifies the baby as a Togepi, but is unable to produce any further information. For some reason, the kids immediately start arguing over who owns the damn thing. Ash found the egg and Brock cared for it, but Togepi seems to like Misty best. Team Rocket soon show up, and declare that they deserve a say as well, citing Meowth’s tender care of the egg. The kids eventually decide on a six-way tournament, but Meowth declares that neither Jessie nor James ever did a thing to help look after Togepi’s egg, and consequently they have no right to compete, so instead it comes down to a four-way tournament between Ash, Misty, Brock and Meowth in an empty stadium. As Meowth stares down Brock’s Onix, he suddenly realises that he doesn’t own any Pokémon, and looks to Jessie and James for help, but they are sulking over being excluded. Meowth eventually remembers that he is himself a Pokémon, and spends the match jumping in and out of the ring, alternating between shouting commands and carrying them out. He quickly realises that he can’t harm Onix, but notices some buckets of water by the side of the field, and throws them over Onix, weakening him enough to finish up with Fury Swipes. Ash and Misty step up next. Ash chooses Bulbasaur, and Misty means to pick Staryu, but gets Psyduck in its place. Misty tries in vain to get Bulbasaur to attack Psyduck’s head and trigger his powers, but Ash instructs Bulbasaur to lick and tickle Psyduck into submission instead. Finally, Meowth faces off against Pikachu… and gets fried to a crisp in five seconds flat. When Ash tries to claim his prize, though, Togepi gets visibly upset whenever anyone other than Misty tries to hold her. He consults the Pokédex, and learns that Togepi imprint on the first things they see when they hatch – and the first thing Togepi saw was Misty.
…which… y’know, would have been a really good thing to know earlier, when the Pokédex told them it didn’t know anything else. I swear the thing was designed by a nitwit.
So, aside from the fact that Brock apparently doesn’t know much about how Pokémon actually breed, what did we learn today? Well, Ash and Brock are surprisingly slow to consider Togepi’s feelings in the question of who gets to be her trainer. Misty points out from the start that Togepi likes her the best, and it’s clear from the end of the episode that Ash is willing to let that sway his decision, but that doesn’t stop them from having a tournament over her anyway. Considering that Togepi is just a baby, it does make some sense that Brock would put what he feels is best for her over what she wants, and as a breeder he is probably the best choice to care for a baby Pokémon from a purely objective standpoint. That viewpoint also makes sense for Ash if we accept my past arguments that he generally believes he knows what’s best for his Pokémon better than they do, though his motivation here seems to be more “I found it; it’s mine.” Strictly speaking, he found Togepi’s egg on a palaeontological site, which probably puts him on shaky ground as far as ownership goes, but he likely neither knows nor cares. I can’t think of any real reason Togepi should be particularly desirable to him; she clearly isn’t going to be ready for training for quite some time. He’s probably just exercising his famous stubbornness. Brock’s being a little weird about it too, since he cares for the whole group’s Pokémon anyway, and would presumably help look after Togepi as long as the three of them stayed together, regardless of who was formally her owner. I suppose Ash and Brock may have simply assumed that Misty was just making stuff up as an excuse to take Togepi for herself because she’s so cute, which… well, okay, that…wouldn’t really be out of character for Misty and might actually be true.
What this episode doesn’t tell us – and which I don’t think we ever actually learn – is where the heck Togepi came from in the first place. At the end of Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon, while Ash is slumbering under the influence of Jigglypuff’s song, her egg just… sort of rolls down from somewhere and gently comes to a stop resting against him. I think maybe the implication is supposed to be that the egg was unearthed in the excavation, and had somehow been preserved in the same way as the fossil Pokémon who attack Ash and Team Rocket (who were supposedly in some kind of incredibly deep hibernation). As for how the egg got into the site… well, although Togepi was introduced to the games in Gold and Silver, the species isn’t native to Johto or Kanto. I suppose it’s possible that Togepi and Togetic used to live in Grandpa Canyon and were subsequently driven out by climate change – probably quite recently, since Togepi aren’t actually extinct (seeing as how every fossil Pokémon ever revealed has subsequently appeared in the show, alive and well, I’m not sure extinction is even really a thing in the Pokémon world, but let’s pretend that it is for a moment). The idea that the egg was in some sort of dormant state does make some sense in relation to the rules the games later established for Pokémon eggs, which are stimulated by the activity of other Pokémon and can gestate for an indefinite period without suffering any harm… of course, Togepi is rather pushing it to the limit.
The other thing that’s important today is how the addition of Togepi to the party affects Misty. In the past, I’ve characterised Misty as snarky, cynical and, in general, a great deal more pragmatic than either Ash or Brock, both of whom have very strong idealistic streaks. Two moments that define the difference between Ash and Misty (for me, anyway; there are others, but these are the two that stick out in my memory) are her comment to Ash after he trades away his beloved Butterfree – “look on the bright side; you got a Raticate!” – and her question to Bulbasaur when he confronts the ancient Venusaur in the Mysterious Garden – “don’t you want to have that kind of power?” Misty does have a sentimental side and we do see it from time to time, but until now her relationships with her Pokémon have tended to suppress it rather than exhibit it. Her signature Pokémon are the inscrutable, alien Staryu and Starmie, whose emotions – assuming they even have them – are impossible for the audience to see. Goldeen gets so little screentime as to be a nonentity, because she can only fight in water. I suspect Horsea was meant to provide Misty with an outlet for her softer emotions, but she falls into the same trap as Goldeen and almost never does anything. I think Togepi may have been brought in when the writers realised they didn’t have enough flexibility with Horsea (and, lo and behold, Horsea actually leaves the team permanently ten episodes later). Finally, the idea of Misty openly admitting to any sort of tender feelings towards Psyduck is almost laughable. When Togepi becomes her sixth Pokémon, however, Misty takes to her new role as Togepi’s ‘mother’ wholeheartedly. She’s as prickly and sarcastic as she ever was, but we get to see in her the same concern for Togepi’s safety as Ash has for Pikachu, which she never shows for her other Pokémon. Misty is used to thinking of Pokémon primarily in terms of their relationship with her as a trainer, but Togepi – who can’t fight – gives her the opportunity to think about Pokémon in an entirely different way, as well as indulge the stereotypically ‘feminine’ traits she’s preferred to downplay for most of her life to keep her sisters off her back.
So Near, Yet So Farfetch’d – Princess vs. Princess
Ash’s location: Oregon.
Misty and her Psyduck have something of a love-hate relationship, thanks to Psyduck’s total dearth of useful skills, constant debilitating headaches, and inexplicable habit of bursting from his Pokéball at the worst moments imaginable. On the other hand, he does occasionally get to be awesome, thanks to his latent psychic powers, which is generally enough to mollify Misty for about five minutes and convince her not to pitch him off a cliff. Today’s two episodes are among Psyduck’s rare but glorious good days. Let’s take a look.
So Near, Yet So Farfetch’d sees Ash, Misty and Brock travelling through a forest where a rare and extremely delicious bird Pokémon called Farfetch’d can be found. When Ash and Brock leave Misty alone for a moment, she sees one twirling its leek like a baton. Intrigued, she follows the Farfetch’d, but loses it when she collides with a young boy in the woods (his name is never actually mentioned, but Bulbapedia calls him Keith) and drops her bag. Misty returns, downcast, to Ash and Brock, only to find that Keith has switched bags with her: he has her Pokéballs, while she has only rocks packed in newspaper. Meanwhile, Team Rocket stumble into Farfetch’d and Keith, who leads them to his rowboat tied up on a riverbank. Claiming to have left something in his tent, he runs off, leaving his bag with Jessie, James and Meowth, who promptly steal it, the boat, and Farfetch’d. Their gloating soon turns to anger when they realise that Keith’s bag is full of rocks and his boat is full of holes. As their own Pokéballs float away, Farfetch’d scoops them up and flies off. By this point, Misty and the others have learned from Officer Jenny #354 that Farfetch’d and Keith are notorious thieves…
“We’ve been together for a long time, Farfetch’d,” Keith tells his Pokémon, in case he has forgotten, “right after I found you injured on the road and nursed you back to health and started stealing. I wish there was some… other way for us to get by, but… how else will we survive? You’re just too weak to battle.” Oh, cry me a river of clumsy exposition… Anyhow. Team Rocket find them and demand compensation. Keith returns their Pokémon, along with a whole bag of Pokéballs. Psyduck finally tracks down Farfetch’d, and Ash challenges him despite Keith’s objections. To everyone’s surprise, Farfetch’d turns out to be more than Bulbasaur can handle, with his brilliant Agility technique. Farfetch’d then pummels Psyduck for a while, until Psyduck flips out and mind-crushes him. At that very moment Team Rocket, who are floating overhead, realise that all Keith’s Pokéballs contain explosive Voltorb, and frantically start pitching them out of the balloon… right onto his head. Keith surrenders and agrees to return all the Pokémon he stole to their trainers. Everyone, including Jenny, instantly forgives him, because he’s really sorry, and he promises to go off and live the life of an honest trainer with Farfetch’d.
I like to think he murmured the word “suckers” under his breath as he walked away.
In Princess vs. Princess, the day of the annual Princess Festival rolls around: a celebration of rampant commercialism, where women buy clothes, accessories and delicacies by the tonne at rock-bottom prices. Misty and Jessie both eagerly join the shopping spree. Jessie’s doesn’t end so well – she takes the opportunity to buy expensive gifts for Giovanni, to help the trio ooze their way back into his good graces, but runs into a wild Lickitung who slurps up the lot. Jessie, furious, hurls a Pokéball and captures the Lickitung, whom she threatens to deal with later. When she returns to the shopping malls, she and Misty get into a fight over a blue dress, and agree to settle the matter in the Queen of the Princess Festival Contest. Both of them are independently desperate to win the contest because of the prize: a one-of-a-kind set of extremely valuable Pokémon Princess Dolls. For Jessie, dolls like these are a symbol of everything she could never have during her childhood of poverty; for Misty, of everything she always got as a ragged hand-me-down from her three older sisters. The contest appears at first to be a beauty pageant, which Misty and Jessie enter in their finest clothes, however it turns out that there is a second component: a Pokémon tournament! How exactly the two halves of the contest fit together is never explained; and the winner of the tournament is the one who takes home the prize, so… maybe the pageant is just a qualifying round? Anyway, Misty co-opts Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Vulpix to create a balanced team of four with her Staryu, while Jessie seizes Weezing from James and literally throws Meowth into the ring. Predictably, Misty and Jessie squash all comers and make their way up to the finals, where Pikachu unceremoniously fries Arbok, Weezing and Meowth in quick succession. Jessie despairs, but Meowth reminds her that she has one more Pokémon: Lickitung, whose stupefying Lick attack puts a quick end to Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Vulpix. Misty calls on her final Pokémon, Staryu… but instead, out pops Psyduck. Psyduck proves to be unaffected by Lickitung’s numbing slurps, which leads to a stalemate since neither Pokémon possesses any other useful attacks… until Psyduck’s powers kick in and Lickitung is walloped. Misty wins the contest and the dolls, and promptly ships them back to Cerulean City, for the express purpose of making her sisters mad with jealousy.
…gods, she’s weird.
In both of these episodes, Psyduck gets the opportunity to prove his worth: he’s probably Misty’s strongest Pokémon once he gets going. He’s not the only one, though: Farfetch’d and Lickitung both dramatically exceed the expectations of their respective trainers when they enter the ring. Farfetch’d has been with his trainer for some time, but despite their experiences together, Keith remains convinced that Farfetch’d is too weak to battle. Sound familiar? Like Keith, Misty seems to feel responsible for her dead weight Pokémon; even though she clearly doesn’t want Psyduck, she never appears to think that releasing him is a viable solution, and in spite of her constant biting sarcasm towards him she seems no less protective of Psyduck than she is of her other Pokémon when he’s in trouble. Unlike Keith, she has yet to find some way for Psyduck to be useful in non-combat situations, which probably isn’t helping their relationship. Both Farfetch’d and Psyduck reveal their true strength only when things get desperate, which is when they prove to be ridiculously powerful. Farfetch’d, who has presumably never been trained for battle and probably hasn’t fought in a long time, wipes the floor with a well-trained, experienced and extremely disciplined Bulbasaur. I mean, yes, Flying beats Grass, and yes, the tone of Keith’s expositional onslaught implies that he’s been massively underestimating Farfetch’d for a long time, but that can’t change the fact that Farfetch’d has very little battle experience and, in all probability, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. We’ve all heard the stories about mothers temporarily gaining super-strength when their children are in danger; I think this may actually be something similar. Farfetch’d has realised that Keith is cornered and has nothing to fall back on, so he pulls out all the stops, physiologically and psychologically, to keep his partner safe – and, until Psyduck takes the field, it works. Psyduck, of course, is quite different in that he isn’t really conscious enough of what’s going on around him to be particularly set off by a threat to Misty, though the connection between his psychic abilities and his headaches does imply that they’re a mechanism for dealing with very stressful situations. In either case, the enduring message is that Pokémon, like people, are capable of being however strong they need to be.
Lickitung is something quite different. When Jessie uses Lickitung, he’s clearly something of a Hail Mary play on her part. I don’t think she really expects to win by that point, but is hoping at least to go out with some dignity. Lickitung, however, astonishes everyone by defeating not only Pikachu but Bulbasaur and Vulpix as well. Despite Lickitung’s apparent power, Arbok remains Jessie’s main Pokémon in subsequent episodes, and his addition to the team doesn’t result in a marked change of Team Rocket’s fortunes; they stay useless and Lickitung is never so effective again as he is in Princess vs. Princess. Why? All things considered, I think it has to come down to the element of surprise. None of Misty’s Pokémon knew what they were getting into with Lickitung. His unconventional fighting style is a challenge to deal with, since they don’t know its weaknesses or limitations, and this is compounded by the way it works – delivering a slobbery Lick that leaves an opponent helpless from the sheer grossness of it, which is undoubtedly much worse as a surprise (if you know what’s coming, it probably doesn’t seem so bad). Psyduck, in turn, overcomes Lickitung because he is remarkably weird as well, and simply doesn’t care about being licked. Deprived of his one big trick, Lickitung has no other viable tactics in his arsenal.
“Are you going somewhere with this?” you may well ask. The thing about the anime is that it often gives weak or highly unusual Pokémon – and their unique powers – a moment in the sun. As far as the games go, Farfetch’d has never been worth using except in masochistic self-imposed challenges, and probably never will be, but here we see that he is actually very intelligent and therefore a useful partner in Keith’s cons (amusingly, the inspiration for his design – the Japanese expression kamo negi, literally “a duck with a leek,” figuratively “a person naïvely walking into danger or a con” – refers in this episode not to Farfetch’d but to Misty, which is a rather nice twist). Lickitung fares much better in the games, but still isn’t exactly ‘good;” moreover his mighty tongue, which was supposed to be the point of the design, never really came through in the way he fights until the comparatively recent additions of Wring Out and Power Whip to his movepool, since Wrap, Slam and Lick are, let’s be fair, terrible attacks (for heaven’s sake, in Red and Blue he didn’t even get Lick). Arguably, for a long time Lickitung never got to be Lickitung in the games. That brings me to Psyduck, because for Psyduck the relationship between the games and the anime is actually a very interesting one. This is the original Pokédex entry on Psyduck from Red and Blue: “while lulling its enemies with its vacant look, this wily Pokémon will use psychokinetic powers.” That’s… an extremely different portrayal from the Psyduck we know and ‘love,’ suggesting that his dim-witted appearance is just a facade. It’s only in Yellow version, which is based on the anime, that we first get “always tormented by headaches. It uses psychic powers, but it is not known if it intends to do so,” which has dominated since. Furthermore, when Misty originally met Psyduck in Hypno’s Nap Time, Nurse Joy #558 introduced him as one of the Pokémon adversely affected by Hypno’s psychic waves, who for some reason never fully recovered. I don’t think Misty’s Psyduck was ever supposed to be typical of his species; rather, the whole species was subtly rethought with the release of Yellow version to bring them in line with his individual characterisation, and this shift has persisted to this day.
So, I totally intended for this entry to be about Misty’s relationship with Psyduck, but then it was about the games’ relationship with the anime instead. That’s okay, though, because it’s one of the topics I really want people to think about when reading my Anime Time entries. Occasionally the anime just plain defies reason, but a lot of the time the nature of the medium gives the writers more freedom to portray the Pokémon the way they’re supposed to be, and in at least one case, they apparently did a good enough job of it that the games actually followed suit.
Food for thought.
Pokémon Scent-sation – The Ninja Poké-Showdown
Last anime review for a few weeks so we can look at something else, so let’s make it a good cut-off point: Ash’s next two Gym battles, against Erika of the Celadon Gym and Koga of the Fuchsia Gym. Can he defeat these fearsome foes? Don’t be silly; of course he can. He’s the main character.
When the gang arrives in Celadon City, Misty immediately drags them into a perfume shop to do girl things while Brock ogles the shop assistants. Ash scoffs, declares to everyone in earshot that perfume is foul-smelling, overpriced garbage that “turns guys into zombies,” and is thrown out of the store by the bitterly offended manager. He doesn’t care, because he’s only interested in getting to the Celadon Gym anyway. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Gym manufactures perfume, and the trainers there are none too pleased with him. They refuse him entry and he wanders off, dejected, until serendipity strikes. Jessie, James and Meowth have been trying to infiltrate Celadon Gym to steal their secret perfume recipe – unsuccessfully; they ran into the Leader’s Gloom, whose stench was bad enough to overpower even Koffing. They concoct a cunning plan to get both Ash and themselves inside. Because they are Team Rocket, this plan involves cross-dressing. They disguise themselves as parents wanting to enrol their ‘daughter’ – Ash in a dress and a blonde wig – in a Pokémon training class at the Gym, so they can slip inside too. Ash is permitted to enter the Gym’s inner rooms, where he finds not only that the Gym Leader, Erika, is the manager he insulted in the perfume store, but also that Misty, Brock and Pikachu are there already, participating in one of Erika’s classes. Misty asks why Erika’s Gloom doesn’t stink, and she responds by telling the story of how Gloom saved her from a wild Grimer when she was a child, and explains that Gloom’s stench is purely defensive and won’t trigger if Gloom feels safe. Ash can’t maintain his disguise for long once Misty and Pikachu start talking to him, so he drops the act and challenges Erika. Bulbasaur is unable to defeat Erika’s Tangela, but her next Pokémon, Weepinbell, quickly loses to Charmander. Erika grudgingly acknowledges Ash’s skill, but declares that “there’s one thing you don’t have – empathy for your Pokémon!” Erika’s… kinda full of it; Ash has many shortcomings as a trainer but empathy is probably his greatest strength. Anyway, she calls out Gloom and Charmander passes out within seconds. Pikachu volunteers to step into the ring, but the battle is interrupted by Team Rocket appearing and blowing themselves up by mistake (although they do escape with a vial which, sadly, turns out to be only one ingredient of Erika’s perfume – “essence of Gloom”). The Gym is now on fire. The trainers rush around frantically to evacuate the Grass Pokémon, and once they’re all outside Squirtle and Misty try to put out the blaze. In the chaos, however, Erika… somehow left behind her Gloom. Y’know, her partner Pokémon, her dearest friend. Ash charges back into the burning building, finds Gloom, manages to calm her down enough to get her to stop filling the area with noxious fumes, and carries her out. Erika is sufficiently impressed by all this to concede that Ash really does possess true empathy, and decides to write off their battle and award Ash a Rainbow Badge for going beyond the call of duty (for those counting, that’s 1/5 badges so far that he’s earned by winning a legitimate Gym battle).
Some weeks later, we find Ash and his companions lost in the forest, as usual. They’re looking for the Fuchsia Gym, but the problem is that, in the anime, there doesn’t seem to be a “Fuchsia City,” or if there is, they never visit it; the Gym is very remote. As they weave across the landscape, they find a walled mansion built like an old Japanese castle, and enter through the front gates to see whether anyone’s home. The mansion is full of traps – rotating false walls, Voltorb concealed under the floorboards, glass panels that spring up to block their path – and the only inhabitant seems to be a Venonat who keeps leading them into trouble (we know, from our privileged position as the audience, that this Venonat has been watching Ash and his friends for some time). Venonat turns out to belong to a pink-clad ninja girl named Aya, who introduces herself by nailing Ash’s jacket to the wall with a fistful of shuriken, and refuses to let them leave without a battle. Ash’s Bulbasaur counters Venonat’s Stun Spore with… Whirlwind… which is not a thing Bulbasaur has ever been able to do in any version of the games, although, to give them credit, it doesn’t come completely out of nowhere because Bulbasaur actually pulled the same thing on Butterfree when Ash first met him (Bulbasaur’s Whirlwind just involves puffing up his cheeks and blowing really hard). Finally Bulbasaur saps away all of Venonat’s power with Leech Seed. Aya’s older brother, Koga, shows up to critique her battling, and explains that the mansion is, in fact, the Fuchsia Gym and he is the Gym Leader. He accepts Ash’s challenge and meets Pidgeotto with another Venonat, who rather dramatically evolves into Venomoth the moment the battle begins. Venomoth’s powder attacks are too strong for Pidgeotto’s Whirlwind, and Ash is forced to switch in Charmander, who is rapidly becoming his powerhouse Pokémon and can handle Stun Spore quite effectively with his Flamethrower. Jessie and James show up to interrupt and hurl sticky webs around the room to disable everyone’s Pokémon, and the heroes are forced to retreat from Arbok and Weezing through the Fuchsia Gym’s traps. Eventually, to Misty’s dismay, her perennially confused Psyduck is the only thing standing between Team Rocket and the good guys. Ash flips open the Pokédex to help her figure out what Psyduck can actually do, and his pathetic attempts at Scratch and Tail Whip attacks reduce Jessie and James to hysterics. Meowth is getting impatient, however, so Arbok eats Psyduck’s head. This turns out to be a mistake, because – as the Pokédex helpfully explains – when Psyduck’s perpetual headaches become worse than usual, he gains phenomenal telekinetic powers, which he uses to crush Arbok and Weezing and send Team Rocket flying. Ash and Koga resume their battle outside, and although Koga’s Golbat proves quite a challenge with its blistering speed and horrible Supersonic attack, Charmander manages to overcome it with Fire Spin and earn Ash his Soul Badge.
The Ninja Poké-Showdown is the first of many episodes with subplots that revolve around Misty and Psyduck. Misty never wanted Psyduck and it’s not entirely clear that Psyduck understood what he was doing when he climbed into Misty’s Pokéball either. She tolerates him, barely, but his tendency to leap out of his Pokéball when she wants a different Pokémon (usually Starmie) grates on her nerves, especially since he invariably has no idea what’s going on and can’t actually fight. Whenever his headaches get bad enough to unlock his powers, however, he becomes probably the strongest Pokémon in the whole party. At the beginning of this episode, Misty suggests that she trade Psyduck for Brock’s Vulpix in order to get rid of him, but by the end, she’s turning down Koga’s generous offer of a trade for his Venomoth. Although she never stays happy with Psyduck for long, I feel that his sporadic successes do gradually wear her down over the course of the series, softening her less attractive character traits, like her impatience and her superficiality, and increasing her capacity for empathy.
Anyway, this entry was supposed to be about Gyms, so let’s look at those some more. Again, we see that Pokémon Gyms are fundamentally very independent. No-one questions Erika’s decision to bar Ash from the Gym for insulting her profession, or her later decision to confer a Rainbow Badge, even though he was actually losing their battle (hey, the guy did run into a burning building to save a Pokémon; he deserves something). More importantly, one can suppose that Erika isn’t reliant on Pokémon League funding to maintain the Celadon Gym, because the high-quality perfume the place produces probably earns her and her trainers a fair amount of money. I’m not sure I even want to guess what Koga and Aya might do to supplement their income, but presumably they don’t live in the middle of nowhere practicing ninja arts just for their health, y’know? The isolation of Fuchsia Gym is another interesting point; the games like to portray Gym Leaders as pillars of the community, but anime Koga is almost a hermit and the Fuchsia Gym doesn’t even announce itself as a Pokémon Gym. In both the games and the anime, it’s a historic ninja training ground, presumably with a long tradition of Pokémon training, and probably predates the formation of the Pokémon League. It’s odd that the League would award official status to such a remote compound; it’s unlikely they get many visitors or take many challenges. It seems like common sense that a Gym is supposed to provide a place for local trainers to practice their craft, and the way Erika runs the Celadon Gym – offering classes on Pokémon training – seems to back this up, but the Gyms Ash visits in the anime have such wildly varying administrative structures and community roles that it’s difficult to work out what on earth is supposed to constitute ‘normal’ for these people. We can strike off the Saffron Gym right away because it’s inhabited by a maniacal cult; likewise the Viridian Gym, which is a crime lord’s den. The fact that the Cinnabar Gym even exists is one of Kanto’s best-kept secrets. The Pewter and Vermillion Gyms seem like dark, forbidding places occupied only by the Gym Leader and (in Vermillion) a couple of sidekicks. The Cerulean Gym, worst of all, is run by Misty’s sisters. No-one has a particularly clear idea of what a Gym ought to be or do other than that it should accept challenges and give out badges, as appropriate. Celadon seems like a good model for how a Gym should be run, but it’s the exception, not the rule, and I doubt the Pokémon League has much say in any of this.
I can’t help but assume that Koga, like Sabrina, has some excuse for operating his Gym the way he does, because his is one of the weirder situations. If I can be allowed to speculate a little, the Fuchsia Gym – since we know it has a long history – might have been involved in creating the Indigo League in the first place; it’s been a Gym for as long as there have been Gyms, and has stayed the same as conceptions of ‘what a Gym should be’ have changed around it. Any attempt to get rid of it now would deny its historic contributions, so Koga is free to sit in his ninja castle and give Soul Badges to anyone crazy enough to trek out to the Gym, pick through all his traps, and get past his lunatic pink ninja sister. It’s a little unfortunate I haven’t had much to say about Celadon Gym today but, well, I’m drawn to things that require explanation and, frankly, Erika’s Gym is almost freakishly normal considering what whacked-out places most of the Kanto Gyms are…
Hypno’s Naptime – Pokémon Fashion Flash
(Apologies for the delay on this entry – internet connection conked out last night and I wasn’t able to post it. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from writing, so my next entry will be up on schedule.)
There’s little to connect these two episodes other than the fact that Misty and Brock each happen to gain new Pokémon, so for the most part I’ll be dealing with them separately. That’ll take time, so without further ado…
In a place inexplicably known as “Hop Hop Hop Town,” Ash is suddenly accosted by an enormous pair of breasts calling him Arnold. Once Ash explains that he is not Arnold, the woman attached to the breasts calms down and tells his group that her son has disappeared recently. Ash wonders whether Arnold might have just wandered off to become a Pokémon trainer, which is apparently not an unreasonable thing for a young boy to do on a whim without telling anyone, but the mother has her doubts. In fact, as they soon learn from Officer Jenny #309, Arnold is only the most recent of several young children to go missing over the last three days. Ash, in his official capacity as a random wandering trainer, offers to help Jenny solve the case. They check the Pokémon Centre for kids who know the missing children, but none of them have any information. Nurse Joy #558 doesn’t know anything either, and has her hands full with her own crisis; all the Pokémon in her care are becoming lethargic, and she can’t understand why. It all started – gasp! – three days ago. Jenny suddenly remembers that she possesses a piece of technobabble known as a Sleep Wave detector, and that it’s been acting up recently. She hasn’t been following up on it because, honestly, she’s just a terrible officer, but now she decides to follow the Sleep Waves to their source: a mansion on top of a skyscraper. Because, y’know, what better place to build a mansion. Ash storms the mansion, and finds that it houses a society of well-to-do aristocrats, who term themselves the Pokémon Lovers’ Club, as well as a Drowzee and a Hypno, their favourite Pokémon. Apparently, the members have been using Hypno’s powers to combat their crippling insomnia ever since their old Drowzee evolved… three days ago. Brock suggests that their mysteries might be connected to Hypno modifying his Hypnosis for use on humans… so they do the sane thing and sit Misty down in front of him to see what happens! Misty promptly becomes convinced she is a Seel and flees the building, leading the team to a park where they find the missing children, who all think they’re different kinds of Pokémon. Brock has the idea of dragging Misty back up to the mansion to have Drowzee zap her, on the theory that Drowzee’s “Dream Waves” will cancel out Hypno’s “Sleep Waves” because… whatever. Despite a characteristically incompetent intervention from Team Rocket, Drowzee cures Misty and puts the other kids to sleep. When they wake up, they all remember who they are and rush back to their homes. Nurse Joy’s Pokémon, likewise, all recover after a short nap… except for a single Psyduck, who remains totally dazed. Psyduck doesn’t seem to have a trainer and no-one really wants him, but he manages to capture himself in a Pokéball Misty drops by accident, so she’s stuck with him.
This is one of many episodes that I think would make a good one-off side quest to stick in a game; it’s fairly simple, there’s a clear motive for most reasonable people to help, and most importantly you learn something about a particular species of Pokémon in the process. Given the chance, I’d probably stuff the games with diversions a lot like this. What we learn from Hypno’s Naptime specifically is that Psychic Pokémon are really friggin’ dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing with them. Granted, I can’t make head or tail of why Hypno’s powers affected either the kids or the Pokémon in just the way they did, and I’m pretty sure the writers didn’t know either, but it’s clear that exposure to his abilities can cause chronic psychological damage at tremendous range even when he’s aiming at someone else. Even though the aristocrats seemed healthy, it’s possible they too would have begun to suffer some other totally unpredictable mental disorder if they had kept using Hypno to treat their insomnia. I’m inclined to suggest that this is at least partly due to the absence of a proper Pokémon trainer or Psychic-type specialist to help Hypno learn to control his newly enhanced powers, and that practice will keep his Hypnosis from causing negative effects on the townspeople. However, if this were the real world, I’d want to keep all Hypno away from major population centres if at all possible until I had the results a couple of independent studies on the effects of long-term exposure. In the Pokémon world, of course, no-one does studies like this because, hey, if a Pokémon drives your kid insane, why not just throw other Pokémon at him until you find one that fixes him? Although Hypno is clearly a risk, no-one even considers trying to get rid of him. Legislating to restrict the freedom of people to own and use Pokémon is probably unthinkable in this world; Pokémon are just too great a part of their industry and culture.
The gang’s next misadventure is all about fashion, and the things people will do to stand out. Brock has dragged his companions to Scissor Street, a district famous for both breeders and fashion, so he can meet one of his idols: a young woman named Susie who runs a Pokémon grooming and healthcare shop. She and her Vulpix, according to Brock, are world-famous in breeder circles. Brock is here to tell Susie that, in his words, “I wanna breed like you!” (I mean, breed with you! I mean, wanna come back to my place and check out my rocks?) Brock wants to become Susie’s apprentice. She’s not interested, but invites them all out to lunch anyway, where she forlornly tells them that she’s been losing a lot of business to a big new salon. Salon Rocket (pronounced “Ro-KAY”) makes its money selling gaudy Pokémon makeup, clothing and accessories, and is making Susie wonder whether she’s right to spend all her time focussing on a Pokémon’s ‘inner beauty’. Ash affirms that yes, of course she’s right, but Misty muses that looking pretty on the outside can be nice too. Even though she’s not actually saying he’s wrong, they have a massive argument and Misty eventually stalks off to Salon Rocket to check out the latest trends. Meanwhile, Brock and Ash plan to draw customers back to Susie’s shop with seminars on Pokémon healthcare, and the line outside Salon Rocket dwindles as people wander over to Susie’s lecture on Pokémon massage technique. She eventually calls on Ash to demonstrate what he’s learned by massaging Pikachu’s electrical cheek pouches. Ash performs perfectly, Pikachu seems to enjoy the attention (I like to think this becomes part of their daily routine), and several members of the audience sheepishly remove the tasteless decorations from their Pokémon as they listen to Susie and Brock discuss Pokémon nutrition and grooming. Meanwhile, Misty is having the time of her life at Salon Rocket. Jessie and James (who else?), presented with only one customer to spend their time on, are enthusiastically covering her with face paint, glitter, bracelets, bangles and every other item of tween fashion they can lay their hands on. Tragically, Meowth grows impatient, blows their cover and has Jessie and James take Misty hostage. Meowth explains their dastardly plan to make obscene profits peddling trashy fashion items, then steal any rare Pokémon a trainer brought in, which… would have worked exactly once, I expect, so I hope they were waiting for a good one. Psyduck escapes and dashes off for reinforcements. Ekans and Koffing apparently get some kind of defensive edge against Pikachu and Geodude from all the frills and other nonsense they’re wearing, but also trip over themselves a lot. Eventually Susie gets annoyed and commands Vulpix to burn them to ashes with her Fire Spin. Later, Susie reveals that she’s going to close down her shop to go on a journey and learn more about breeding… and has decided to give Brock Vulpix, since he’s the only other person who’s ever managed to gain Vulpix’s trust or appease her discerning palette.
This seems like a good time to talk about how the series portrays Brock and Misty, because their reactions are actually important to the plot in this episode. Pokémon Fashion Flash really does its best to show off Misty’s superficial side, which raises its head from time to time throughout the series: she gets along with Jessie and James astonishingly well up until Meowth has them break cover. Her new look is played for laughs when Ash and Brock arrive, but Misty sincerely thinks it’s great, and so do Jessie and James. In general, Misty likes Pokémon that are “cute” and distastefully rejects ones that aren’t, like poor Caterpie – with the corollary that she thinks all Water Pokémon are cute – and regularly has lines suggesting that she doesn’t really ‘get’ a lot of the things that are important to Ash. She’s the least idealistic of the group, tends to adopt a ‘whatever works’ approach to the rules, and doesn’t regard her Pokémon as close friends or understand how much Ash cares for his. Although generally practical, she’s as stubborn as Ash and can be irrational where Water Pokémon are concerned (see Tentacool and Tentacruel, where she’s worried about protecting the Tentacool who are destroying the city). None of this makes her a bad person, though – just flawed, like anyone. Her heart is very much in the right place, and if nothing else she’s loyal, which this series values highly. Brock, likewise, has his issues. If a pretty girl – Susie, for instance – needs help, he will happily drag the whole group out of their way to take care of things, which gets him into a lot of trouble in the Ghost of Maiden’s Peak. His desperation to get a date notwithstanding, Brock is generally patient and level-headed. Although he has powerful Pokémon, he rarely fights except in episodes that are particularly important for him personally; he’s not a serious trainer and just wants to become a good breeder. He prepares meals for Ash and Misty’s Pokémon as well as his own, and presumably keeps an eye on their general conditioning as well – based on this episode, advising people on how to take better care of their Pokémon seems to be a breeder’s primary role in society. Brock’s strong sense of responsibility probably plays into this; he’s passionate about teaching people how to raise Pokémon well and bothered by the idea that a renowned breeder like Susie could be forced out of business by people who don’t really know what they’re talking about. Although a lot of what Brock and Susie say about raising Pokémon in this episode, like the importance of healthcare and nutrition, seems like common sense, it pays to remember that most people who own Pokémon aren’t actually dedicated trainers and would probably never put much thought into it of their own accord, which makes Pokémon breeders tremendously important players in the relationship between humans and Pokémon.
You will have noticed by now that I’ve skipped over episode 26 – Ash’s battle with Erika in Celadon City. I want to do that episode together with episode 32, the Fuchsia Gym episode, so those will both be coming up soon. Before that, though, we have two environmentalist episodes to get through: Sparks Fly for Magnemite and Dig Those Diglett. See you next time!
Showdown at Pewter City – Clefairy and the Moon Stone – The Waterflowers of Cerulean City
In which Ash… earns… his first two Gym Badges. Arguably. Also stuff happens with some Clefairy.
When Ash and Misty arrive in Pewter City, they are greeted by an aged hobo selling rocks. Don’t scoff; rocks are the whole basis of Pewter City’s economy. The hobo leads them to the Pokémon Centre where Misty points out a poster advertising the Indigo League tournament, which explains that contestants need to earn eight official Gym Badges to enter. Ash… apparently didn’t know this. Why the hell was he going to Pewter City? If he didn’t know about collecting badges, what could he possibly have wanted to do there? Buy rocks? Misty cautions Ash not to rush into a Gym battle and offers to lend him some of her Pokémon, but Ash ignores her, challenges the local leader, Brock, and quickly learns that Brock’s signature Pokémon, Onix, is fifty times Pikachu’s size and invulnerable to electricity. Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu from being turned into red paste, and leaves the Gym in despair. On the street he meets the hobo, Flint, who explains that Brock is a very powerful trainer and could go much further than being Gym Leader of a hick town, but is kept in Pewter City by his countless younger siblings – Brock’s father ditched the family to become a Pokémon trainer, this sort of thing being socially acceptable in Kanto, and his mother died soon after (or… so the English translation claimed… long story). Despite his sympathy for Brock, Flint provides Ash with a “strategy” to defeat him: overcharge Pikachu by hooking him up to a derelict hydroelectric paddle-wheel… which Ash will turn manually (realism is cast aside so Ash can work for his victory and prevent this whole episode from being a blatant exercise in cheating… I mean, it kind of is anyway, but they were trying). Although Pikachu nearly explodes, Flint’s plan works: the next day, he fries Brock’s Geodude with relative ease. Onix is still too strong, but unfortunately for Brock, Pikachu’s wild electrical blasts set off the Gym’s fire suppression systems, drenching Onix and rendering him vulnerable. The characters’ reactions are fascinating. Ash declares that he doesn’t want to win on a fluke and leaves the Gym, which makes sense; he’s still far too proud to accept this kind of victory. Misty, who’s watching, seems to think Ash should have taken his lucky break and finished Onix, because all’s fair in Pokémon and war, so she clearly has no moral compass. And Brock… Brock follows him and just gives him the Boulder Badge, because he doesn’t really give a damn about this whole Gym Leadering thing anyway. Flint turns up and reveals himself as Brock’s father; apparently he was an appalling trainer and returned to Pewter City not long after leaving, but decided to become a rock salesman instead of going home to care for his vermin offspring. I guess Ash has reminded him how not to be a massive jerk, because he’s decided to become a proper father again (and also run the Gym, presumably… despite being a self-confessed failure as a trainer…) so Brock can go on a road trip.
Ash, Misty and Brock leave Pewter City together and travel past Mt. Moon, where they meet a… ‘scientist’… named Seymour and have to deal with Team Rocket, who are trying to steal an ancient meteorite known as the Moon Stone from Mt. Moon (this meteorite, presumably, is the source of all the smaller Moon Stones we’re familiar with from the games). Team Rocket is dealt with quite comprehensively by the community of Clefairy who inhabit Mt. Moon; their Metronome chorus results in a powerful explosion that actually blows the Moon Stone itself to smithereens, but no-one seems to mind because the shards cause many of the Clefairy to evolve into Clefable. Then Seymour decides to go and live with the Clefairy because he’s nuts. Honestly, I could probably spend an entire entry just talking about this episode. It’s the first time we see a Pokémon using an evolutionary stone in the anime, which is interesting in itself, but the Clefairy and Clefable relate to the Moon Stone in a way that’s so weird and unique that it adds a whole extra dimension to the matter. Sadly that doesn’t really fit with the ideas I want to talk about today, but I’ll probably come back to it when I discuss episode fourteen (which is definitely getting a whole entry to itself).
Despite Misty’s inexplicable protests, the group’s next destination is Cerulean City, where Ash wants to try for his second badge in as many weeks. When they reach the city, Misty vanishes in a huff, and Brock wanders off to take care of some unspecified “stuff,” returning only at the end of the episode. Ash makes his way to the Cerulean Gym-cum-aquarium, where – to his surprise – he witnesses the end of a water ballet performed by a trio known as the “Sensational Sisters.” As he explores the Gym later, he meets the sisters, Lily, Violet and Daisy, and learns that the three of them are, in fact, the Gym Leaders. As it turns out, however, they’re just as sick of their Gym Leader gig as Brock was, having just suffered three devastating losses to the other three trainers who left Pallet Town at the same time as Ash. In fact, apart from a Goldeen and a low-level Seel, all of their Pokémon are resting at the Pokémon Centre. Lily, Violet and Daisy would rather focus on the water ballets that have made their Gym famous than deal with challenges so, with a collective shrug, they decide to hand Ash his Cascade Badge just for the asking… until Misty bursts in. Misty, it turns out, is the family’s fourth and youngest sister, and she is none too pleased about the way her sisters are handling their Gym (or failing to). She answers Ash’s challenge herself, and soundly defeats his Butterfree with her Staryu. They both switch Pokémon, and Pidgeotto nearly beats Misty’s Starmie, but Team Rocket interrupts the battle by attacking the Gym with some kind of giant vacuum cobbled together from cannibalised household appliances they stole earlier in the episode. They intend to use this godawful device to suck up all the water in the Gym, and all the Water Pokémon with it, but Ash, of course, defeats Team Rocket and saves the sisters’ last few Pokémon. Lily, Violet and Daisy decide to award Ash the Cascade Badge for services rendered to the Cerulean Gym, and point out to Misty that Pikachu could have flattened her Water Pokémon anyway if he’d wanted to (Pikachu refused to fight a friend – he doesn’t yet follow all of Ash’s orders without question; he can also be troublesome about going into battles he doesn’t think he can win). They meet up with Brock, who never does explain what his “stuff” involved, and move on to their next misadventure.
These episodes begin Ash’s extremely chequered career of earning Gym Badges under questionable circumstances. Of his eight Kanto badges, only three were totally legitimate (you could certainly make arguments for some of the other five, but they’re definitely suspect). Gym Leaders appear to have a lot of latitude in running their Gyms and handing out their badges, and once you get your hands on one of the things, no-one ever really questions it. Strange as it might seem, this is actually something I would like to put in the games; Black and White made a decent effort at showing the Gym Leaders as people rather than just bosses, but Claire from Gold and Silver remains the only one in history ever to demand something other than a battle as proof of a player’s worthiness. A Gym Leader’s job is to certify that a challenger possesses a certain degree of skill as a trainer, and a battle is the most straightforward and obvious way to do that, but it’s plainly not the only way. Providing a service to the Gym or to the city, in a manner that demonstrates one’s abilities to the satisfaction of the Gym Leader, seems like a perfectly sensible way to earn a badge. Arguably, so is putting up a good fight when your main Pokémon is plainly unsuited to the task at hand. Happening to show up just as the Gym Leader gets sick of battling… not so much. How Lily, Violet and Daisy became the Gym Leaders of Cerulean City in the first place is beyond me, since they don’t appear to have much commitment to their position, which suggests to me that general oversight for the whole system is relatively slack. I think two or three years pass before someone picks up on their uselessness and Misty has to come home and run the gym for them. Honestly I suspect that the Pokémon League just quietly overlooks Cerulean City in exchange for a percentage of their ticket sales.
The other important thing about these episodes is that they introduce Brock and fill in Misty’s backstory. Brock is the oldest (I don’t know if his age is ever mentioned but I think he’s supposed to be about sixteen) and most responsible member of the team… until he sees an attractive woman, at which point he turns into a drooling idiot. He’s used to taking care of a huge family, and probably finds it a welcome break to have only two demented children on his hands. Although Brock is quite powerful, he doesn’t actually like fighting and wants to become a Pokémon Breeder – a somewhat nebulous term in the anime, since any actual ‘breeding’ would probably spoil the show’s G-rating; basically Brock is a specialist in Pokémon nutrition and general healthcare. Misty is a lot of fun. She’s often described as a tomboy – she normally wears boyish clothes and she’s as adventurous, outgoing and stubborn as Ash – but she does regularly show interest in stereotypically ‘girly’ things, and loves anything that’s pink, cute, sparkly, or all three, so I think the tomboy aspect is something she developed as a gesture of rebellion against her sisters’ obsession with fashion and beauty. She can be superficial at times and is prone to romanticising, but she’s also capable of being a very determined, practical person when she needs to be. Misty and Brock will, of course, both get fuller treatment in episodes to come… so let’s get going!