Pokémon: the Rise of Darkrai (Part 2 of 2)

So, Alamos Town is surrounded by thick fog, no-one can leave, most of the town’s Pokémon trainers have just been summarily crushed by a living nightmare, and apparently there is an extradimensional god/pink magic dinosaur hanging out somewhere in the town.  Also the local baron is a Lickilicky.

That’s great odds.

 The Space-Time Towers, which are almost certainly not going to be vitally important to the climax of the movie.  This screenshot is swiped from Bulbapedia.

Once Ash and his friends learn that Palkia is in Alamos Town, they rush out to the square, where Darkrai has managed to detect the Spatial Pokémon hiding invisibly inside a little pouch of folded space above the Space-Time Towers.  Darkrai begins to attack Palkia with his freaky shadow powers, so Palkia bursts out of hiding and banishes the fog enveloping the town – revealing that the whole place has been yanked into a pocket universe and is now floating in space.  They can still breathe and stuff because physics is having an off day.  Palkia will do that to you.  Also, all of the freaky dream things stop happening, the victims of Darkrai’s Dark Void wake up and Alberto is no longer a Lickilicky, because… I don’t know.  I don’t think the movie ever really gave a reason; it just sort of happened.  Palkia and Darkrai throw explosions at each other for a bit, until Palkia’s enemy the blue magic dinosaur (alias Dialga, the god of time) shows up, bearing even more explosions, and all hell breaks loose.  With every blast they lob at each other, the fringes of Alamos Town begin to disintegrate as their space- and time-warping powers destabilise Palkia’s pocket universe.  Alice runs out into the middle of the square and tells the two combatants, in what I imagine to be her very sternest voice, to “stop fighting right now!”  This, predictably, has absolutely no effect and Darkrai has to rescue her when Dialga and Palkia nearly fall on her head.  To be fair to Alice, no-one else seems to have any better ideas.  They just watch the two magic dinosaurs blowing each other up and taking the town with them, while Darkrai flies around intercepting any attacks that endanger the Space-Time Towers, until both Dialga and Palkia get annoyed and blast Darkrai to the ground.  This leads to a scene where Darkrai mistakes Alice for her grandmother, Alicia, and a touching little flashback in which a young Alicia encounters an injured Darkrai in the gardens, sees past his fearsome exterior, and heals him with the music of her leaf whistle (okay, okay, it’s clichéd, but “the healing power of music” isn’t exactly out of place in a setting like Pokémon), encouraging him to stay as long as he likes because “this garden is everyone’s.”  Ash apologises for assuming Darkrai was the bad guy, and Darkrai just gives him a dirty look (I’m not sure whether this was intentional but it’s hilarious).  Once he’s gotten his breath back, Darkrai flies back to the battle.

It’s at about this point, I think, that Tonio starts reciting the description from Godey’s journal of his nightmare, which seems to be playing out right in front of them, as well as the part about “leaving Oración for the world.”  The name Oración rings bells for Alice, since it’s the name of the song her grandmother taught her to play on the leaf whistle – the one that magically calmed down the squabbling Pokémon in the first act (odd that she hasn’t tried this song already, come to think of it, since it was her go-to option earlier in the movie – and even odder that Tonio hasn’t already asked her whether she’s heard the word before).  Light bulbs start coming on in everyone’s heads.  The Space-Time Towers aren’t an insanely extravagant and recklessly impractical tourist attraction… well, okay, they are, but they’re also Godey’s way of “leaving Oración for the world” – his contingency plan for the prophetic nightmare Darkrai sent him.  There’s no music disc labelled “Oración” in Tonio’s rooms beneath the towers, but Alice manages to find it hidden amongst the relief sculptures on the ground floor.  She, Tonio, Ash and Dawn head for the control room on her balloon, which doesn’t last long in the crossfire of Dialga and Palkia’s battle.  Ash and Dawn somehow manage to jump over to the control tower without shattering their legs, while Alice and Tonio fall, but are rescued by Tonio’s Drifblim and Alberto’s Lickilicky.  Unfortunately, Ash and Dawn now have to climb the rest of the way up the control tower… which is starting to disintegrate, like the rest of the town… and here I have to stop and talk about this disintegration business because it really bothers me.  Whatever dimension-twisting power is causing the effect has obviously reached the towers by this point, but it isn’t causing them to collapse, even as their foundations begin to dematerialise.  What’s more, Ash, Dawn and their Pokémon suffer no harm at all (apart from the obvious danger of falling as the steps vanish from beneath their feet), while the objects around them are being taken apart at a subatomic level by the sheer ridiculousness of it all.  Because it’s Pokémon, my suspension of disbelief will just about stretch to accommodate that, but to crown it all, the other trainers in Alamos Town are attempting to slow the progress of the advancing wave of disintegration by attacking it with their Pokémon.  I… honestly can’t even articulate how little sense that makes.  Luckily for the movie, I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be working.

For the first time in recorded history, a Lickilicky almost does something useful (yeah, almost - he actually drops her, and Tonio and Drifblim grab her at the last minute).  Screenshot from Pokemon.com.

Anyway, Tonio’s computer decides (using SCIENCE) that one more collision between Palkia’s Spatial Rend and Dialga’s Roar of Time will collapse the pocket universe and destroy everyone.  Darkrai seems to have worked out the same thing and pours all his strength into trapping both of them in a swirly energy thingy, defiantly shouting, in his deep, booming voice, the strangest battle cry I have ever heard: “THIS GARDEN IS EVERYONE’S!”  The swirly energy thingy doesn’t last long, and Darkrai is quickly annihilated for daring to intrude, but he’s bought Ash and Dawn enough time to get the song disc to the control room.  Pikachu and Dawn’s Pachirisu have to supply the towers with electricity, since the dematerialisation has cut off their power source, but the delicate mechanisms that create the towers’ music seem totally undamaged.  Oración plays, and Dialga and Palkia suddenly think “wait… why were we fighting again?”  This scene… this scene bothers me.  I think it would have been a perfectly effective scene if it had just focussed on the dragons’ reactions to the sound of Oración as the song played… but this is the climax to a Pokémon movie, which means that sparkly things need to happen.  A bunch of extra protrusions, which remind me of the hands of an old-fashioned clock, unfold from the sides of the towers (this I can deal with).  The towers start glowing.  The clock hands actually start to grow and blossom.  Finally, two enormous golden wings of light unfurl and bathe the entire town (or what’s left of it) in their radiance.

…I’m guessing no-one has ever actually played Oración on these things in the hundred years since they were built, ‘cause that really would have given the game away.

 The Space-Time Towers play Oración.  Notice all the extra frilly bits springing out. (Again, swiped from Bulbapedia)

Seriously, though, this climax has a perfectly respectable age-old theme – “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast” – which can stand on its own two feet just fine, thank you very much.  Invoking extraneous sparkly things and making the whole business literally magical just puts more distance between reality and an idea that isn’t at all out of place there.  Isn’t the monumental architecture of the Space-Time Towers themselves spectacular enough?

Not that anyone ever listens to me.

Dialga shrugs and flies off back to his own dimension, leaving Palkia to clean up the mess.  Ash and Dawn give Palkia a very stern talking to, commanding her to put Alamos Town back the way it was… and Palkia is like, “whatevs,” does it, and flies away.  Ash and his friends are all distraught that Darkrai is dead, and have a little mourning scene complete with a greyscale montage of their memories of Darkrai… which is quite poorly done, if you ask me; the music playing is slow and sentimental, exactly as you’d expect from a scene like this, but since they have no soft, gentle memories of Darkrai, the montage is mainly comprised of the coolest explosions Darkrai was involved in during the battle.  Honestly, it feels like a parody of eulogistic montages, but I think they mean it.  None of that really matters though; as they very quickly learn, Darkrai isn’t dead at all, because Pokémon movies have a huge difficulty with allowing their heroic sacrifices to stick.  It actually does make sense with reference to the movie’s internal logic; when Palkia restored Alamos Town, she restored everything – including all the living things that were destroyed, like the trees – so it stands to reason that Darkrai would be back too.  I just find the effect on the movie’s emotional tone unnecessary and irritating, especially after that godawful montage – did Victini get one of those in movie 14?  I’m not sure, but I don’t think he did.

Then the movie ends.  During the credits we see footage of the Pokémon Contest they came to Alamos Town for in the first place, but it’s basically over.  Rise of Darkrai… has its moments; I’ll give it that (not all of them are good moments, mind you).  I quite like the idea that the Space-Time Towers had been Godey’s defence against his nightmares all along (although I question the wisdom of some of his decisions, like not explaining the towers’ true purpose to anyone, storing the unclearly-labelled Oración disc in a completely different place from most of the other songs, and putting the control room halfway up the towers).  I’m also generally pleased with Darkrai’s characterisation, which is almost a complete one-eighty from the way he’s portrayed in the games.  On the other hand, the movie is very prone to putting funny words in Tonio’s mouth and expecting you to accept them because he’s a scientist.  Also, although the movie’s obsession with sparkly things isn’t noticeably greater than that of any other Pokémon movie, it definitely bothers me more, simply because of the way it manifests.  Finally… what’s up with the name “Rise of Darkrai”?  Darkrai doesn’t really do anything in this movie that could be described as “rising” in the sense that the title implies.  I realise “a Film with Darkrai in it” doesn’t have quite the same punch but, honestly, it would have made more sense.  On balance, I think I’d probably rate Victini and Zekrom higher, but Jewel of Life remains immovably upon its last-place throne (no; I’m not writing a review of it, so don’t ask me to – this means you, Jim).

Gonna do some other stuff for a while, then Giratina and the Sky Warrior when we eventually get around to watching it.  Stay tuned.

EDIT: I WAS MISTAKEN.  Darkrai’s characterisation in the games is similar to this movie’s.  I APOLOGISE TO ALL THOSE I HAVE MISLED.

Pokémon: the Rise of Darkrai (Part 1 of 2)

This movie…

Oh, this movie…

My so-called “best friend,” Jim, gave me the DVD for this movie, the tenth in the series, (along with the eleventh, Giratina and the Sky Warrior) for Christmas.  A couple of weeks ago I managed to make him watch it with me.  This movie…

It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, because it does eventually, it’s more that the whole first half of it is one great big long “what the hell is going on and why do I care?” It opens with a scientist guy reading cryptic nonsense from a dead person’s journal, intercut with scenes of the nightmare the journal describes: two enormous magic dinosaurs fighting in the middle of an electrical storm in space, a place the narration calls the “space-time rift.”

One quickly learns that in Rise of Darkrai it’s generally best just to go with it.


The pink magic space dinosaur gets the blue magic space dinosaur in a headlock (I think this actually happens later in the movie but I found the picture too hilarious to leave out).
 The pink dinosaur is injured by the blue dinosaur and attempts to flee, as they continue to lob explosions at each other.  The scientist’s hourglass falls and shatters.  This is SYMBOLISM; I’m pointing it out because it’s very subtle and I was worried you might not catch it.  We then cut to our dearly beloved heroes Ash and Pikachu, and their current minions, Brock and Dawn.  Like Iris and Cilan in Victini and Zekrom, these two don’t really contribute a lot to the movie but you can tell the writers were still trying on this one.  Ash’s quest for Pokémon ‘mastership,’ to use the narrator’s ‘word’, has taken the trio to a place called Alamos Town.  On the way, they meet a young woman named Alice who can play music with a leaf (this is actually a thing, apparently) and, to Brock’s astonishment, is not in his “little blue book of babes” (presumably a journal of his life as an incredibly creepy stalker).  She gives them a lift into town on her hot-air balloon, during which they experience a strange and disconcerting but apparently harmless shockwave of some kind, and points out Alamos Town’s major landmark, the Space-Time Towers.  Team Rocket show up in their own hot-air balloon but are blown out of the sky by a group of Drifloon without even managing to attract the attention of the real cast.

When they land, Alice shows them around, they have some battles, and then they visit Alamos Town’s public gardens, which were built by the same architect who designed the Space-Time towers, a fellow named Godey.  There are some cute scenes where the team’s Pokémon play with the wild Pokémon that live in the gardens and get into a fight over an accident, but Alice uses her mad leaf whistling skillz to calm everyone down.  While the kids are complimenting Alice’s music, a wild Gallade shows up to warn her about something.  They all follow Gallade to an area of the gardens where some stone pillars have been twisted out of shape somehow, which the local pompous aristocrat, Baron Alberto, is quick to blame on Darkrai, a mysterious Pokémon associated with nightmares.  Alberto notices a rustling in the bushes and, sensing Darkrai, sends out his Pokémon partner – a Lickilicky (proving once and for all that Nintendo know the easiest way to make the audience hate their designated antagonist is by giving him a Lickilicky).  Alberto’s strategy with Lickilicky throughout this entire movie is to Hyper Beam everything, and this is just what he does here, but the rustling unfortunately turns out to be a man named Tonio, the scientist from the prologue and Alice’s sort-of-boyfriend, who is… doing science things… to investigate the distortion effects.  While he recovers from this wacky misunderstanding, there is another shockwave and Ash spots the real Darkrai appearing in the shadows.  Alberto is quick to aim a Hyper Beam at him but fails to understand how massively outclassed his Lickilicky is against the embodiment of all nightmares.  Darkrai evades Lickilicky’s attacks without effort by turning into a shadow and then hurls a sphere of darkness back at Lickilicky, but misses and hits Ash, causing him to trip out and have a vision of the enormous magic dinosaurs from the prologue.

 "My god!  The levels of SCIENCE in this area are off the charts!"

Hours later, Pikachu manages to shock Ash awake in the local Pokémon Centre, where Nurse Joy explains that anyone who falls asleep near Darkrai suffers from terrible nightmares, so he is shunned by just about everyone.  While they’re talking about this, Tonio obsesses over what looks to me like a knot in the wood of the floorboards, which he is convinced is another space-time distortion, and runs off back to his study beneath the Space-Time Towers.  He spends the night there reading the journal, which belonged to Godey the architect (Tonio’s great-grandfather), and recounts how Darkrai appeared in the gardens long ago and was befriended by Alice’s grandmother, Alicia, when she was a little girl.  Tonio then finds an early schematic of the Space-Time Towers, accompanied by Godey’s statement that his nightmare had made him understand “for the future, I needed to leave Oración for the world.”  The journal fails to explain what Oración actually is, though.  Tonio falls asleep in his study and is found in the morning by Alice, who is giving Ash, Brock and Dawn a tour of the Space-Time Towers.  While Alice berates Tonio for sleeping on the floor and Tonio goes over his discoveries of the previous night, Pikachu and Dawn’s Piplup discover a shelf of heavy brass discs, about the size of film reels, filled with clockwork mechanisms and dotted with complex patterns of holes like the punch-cards used to program the first computers.  Tonio explains that these ‘music discs’ are used to make the towers play songs and, at Dawn’s insistence, leads the group up to the control room that sits between the two towers, about halfway up.  When an impressive-looking machine is activated with a disc in its slot, an array of enormous hammers positioned up and down the insides of the towers play the music encoded on the disc by striking a series of taut cables, like a ludicrously oversized piano.  THERE IS SURELY NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE IMPORTANT LATER IN THE MOVIE.

 Darkrai.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Shortly after the group leaves the Space-Time Towers and Tonio returns to his lab, Alamos Town experiences more shockwaves.  We cut back to the space thunderstorm for a minute and see the pink magic dinosaur trying to escape the blue magic dinosaur by diving through a tear in space, through which the Space-Time Towers are visible.  This is accompanied by an especially impressive shockwave, which Tonio, down in his lab, realises is emanating from “between the dimensions”…whatever that means (for something to be between dimensions it’d have to be outside them, and does the word “outside” even have meaning when excluded from physical space, and how the hell does Tonio measure this nonsense, and I don’t think they even really know what the word “dimension” means, and you know what I’m just going to go with it).  Without warning, Darkrai appears in the town square, where Ash and his friends are enjoying more battles against the trainers they met the day before, and gives the terse command “go away!”  Alberto and his Lickilicky are on the scene instantly (accompanied by Team Rocket, who are pretending to be reporters doing a story on him) but fail just as spectacularly as before to make any impact on the mysterious Pokémon, who puts a dozen Pokémon in the square to sleep with his Dark Void attack and then flees.  Ash and Alberto pursue him, but he quickly escapes after putting Lickilicky to sleep.  They are then confronted with a hallucination of a Bibarel floating in the air and walking through walls… which… is weird, don’t get me wrong, but the movie’s just getting started, because Alberto then turns into a Lickilicky.  He can still speak normally for some reason, despite now having a tongue twice the length of his body; in fact at a later point in the movie he even manages to talk while using his tongue to restrain Darkrai with Wrap.  Like I said at the beginning, it’s best just to go with it – especially as it prompts Alberto to wail what is easily the best line of the movie: “MY ROYAL TONGUE!!!”  When Ash, Team Rocket and Alberto arrive back at the gardens, they learn that images of all the Pokémon Darkrai put to sleep are running around them in circles.  Tonio deduces – through SCIENCE – that the space-time distortions are merging their dreams with reality, and suggests that Lickilicky is dreaming about being Alberto.  I’m pretty sure this makes no sense at all.  Shouldn’t there just be an image of Alberto wandering around nearby making Lickilicky noises?  Besides, if all the other dream effects are just illusions, why does Alberto actually gain all of Lickilicky’s powers?  All this aside, I am delighted by the implication, which Jim pointed out after the movie had ended, that Lickilicky’s worst nightmare is being Alberto.

The other trainers discover that the town has been surrounded by a thick, impassable bank of fog, which prompts Baron Lickilicky (as Jessie of Team Rocket quickly dubs him) to start a witch-hunt for Darkrai.  Alice isn’t sure Darkrai’s behind it all, though, and Tonio agrees, recounting a day from their childhood when (he suspects) Darkrai saved Alice from a fall in the gardens, though she had always believed Tonio saved her.  They return to Tonio’s lab and review some video footage of the biggest shockwave, collected by Tonio’s Drifblim.  Zooming in and enhancing the image, Tonio sees, for a fraction of a second, the pink magic dinosaur from the prologue appearing at the epicentre of the shockwave, and identifies it as Palkia, an ancient godlike Pokémon that rules over the spatial dimensions.  Darkrai’s earlier command, “go away!” was directed at Palkia, and, after dealing in short order with Alberto’s phenomenally poorly-conceived witch-hunt, Darkrai is now on his way to enforce that command…

Dun-dun DUNH!

Pokémon White: Victini and Zekrom (Part 3 of 3)

Where I left off last time, Ash was chilling with Zekrom in the basement while Damon continued his ill-advised plan to return the Sword of the Vale to its original site.  While Ash is gone, Mannes (who has been doing recon in his crazy-awesome home-built Klinklang-powered helicopter) tries to suggest to Damon that something might not be quite right here, since the Dragon Force appears to be doing a few minor things it probably shouldn’t, like incinerating the forest.  Damon is unconcerned.  Meanwhile, Juanita decides to have another go at Reshiram with her Golurk, because she apparently has terrible pattern recognition; Golurk lobs a couple of Hyper Beams at Reshiram but quickly winds up embedded in the castle wall.  Just as Reshiram is about to nuke it, Ash and Zekrom explode out of the base of the Sword of the Vale and intercept the white dragon’s attack.  As soon as he gets the chance, Zekrom drops Ash off at the tower and goes to deal with Reshiram, which involves a great deal of incredibly flashy CG explosions, lasers, shockwaves and miscellaneous sparkly bits (okay, I’m disdainful, but as Pokémon battles go, Reshiram vs. Zekrom is pretty spectacular).  Reshiram loses and nearly falls into the chasm created by the seething Dragon Force as it flows across the land, but Zekrom saves her at the last minute.  By this point, Pikachu has gained the upper hand over Damon’s Reuniclus up in the tower, and Ash is trying to break Victini free from the six miniature Pillars of Protection at the centre of the room.  He isn’t having much luck, until Reshiram suddenly turns up and obliterates the pillars.  Then this exchange happens.

Damon: Reshiram!?  What the hell!?  This was totally not in the plan!

Reshiram: Oh, hey, Damon… so, about that plan?  That little project we had going?  Turns out it might destroy the world a little bit.  My bad; this is totes my bad.  But, you know, who’d have thought, right?

I’m writing this from memory, so that may not be an exact quote.

Green good.  Purple bad.

Anyway, the Sword of the Vale doesn’t immediately drop out of the sky, which leads me to wonder what exactly Victini was doing that was so important, since all the Solosis and Duosion seem perfectly capable of holding it up without him.  Reshiram and Zekrom make another fantastically sparkly CG explosion to blow the clouds away, so Damon can actually see what’s going on down on the ground and goes into “my god, what have I done?” mode.  The two dragons then attempt to mitigate the damage by redirecting the excess energy of the Dragon Force into the Sword of the Vale, which… kind of works.  The progress of the chaos is slowed, and the castle absorbs a lot of energy.  Unfortunately Sigilyph, who’s still piloting the castle, can’t handle the strain and abandons ship, along with all the other Psychic Pokémon.  It still doesn’t drop out of the sky; in fact it flies even higher and shows every sign of intending to go into orbit.  I have long since stopped trying to figure out what is keeping it up.  Everyone evacuates using Mannes’ helicopter and Carlita’s Hydreigon, but Damon stays behind to man the controls, and Ash refuses to let go of Victini and gets stuck behind the Pillars of Protection, which are closing in on the castle.  Damon falls out, and I’m not sure why they even bother to show this, because he’s absolutely fine; Golurk rescues him and brings him back within five minutes.  In that time, the six pillars have continued to close in on Ash, Pikachu and Victini and eventually lock together.  Reshiram, Zekrom and Golurk blast them repeatedly, to no effect, while Ash begins to freeze to death from the cold of the upper atmosphere.  He apologises to Victini for not being able to take him to the ocean and then slips into blissful unconsciousness.  This scene, with Pikachu in tears and trying to wake Ash up… well, don’t get me wrong, it is touching, but it’s kind of clichéd and I’m having flashbacks to the climax of Mewtwo Strikes Back, which had, y’know, pretty much the exact same scene.  Also, for me anyway, the earlier scene from Victini’s memories actually had a far bigger impact, maybe because we know the King is actually dying, whereas Ash is contractually obliged to stay alive at least until he finishes the Unova series.  After all the ridiculousness Ash has survived over the years, including facing off with honest-to-goodness not-even-joking deities, I have trouble believing that this is going to finish him off.

 You teared up.  ADMIT IT.

Whatever I may think, Victini is certainly affected by Ash’s impending demise.  He suddenly remembers that he knows the most absurd attack in the entire game, V-Create, then sets himself on fire and rams the pillars at full speed, causing the movie’s most dramatic explosion yet, in which the pillars are completely destroyed and a huge flare of unstable Dragon Force is released into space (where, ten million years later, it will reach a peaceful planet on the other side of the galaxy and scourge it of all life).  The Sword of the Vale, incidentally, still doesn’t crash back to the ground.  When Ash wakes up, Sigilyph and the other Psychic Pokémon are back on board and Reshiram, Zekrom and Golurk are helping to guide the castle (this is the only indication the movie ever gives, by the way, that the Sword of the Vale is even slightly impaired by losing Victini and the Pillars of Protection).  Victini is nowhere to be found, and they all believe he’s given his life to destroy the pillars and save Ash and Pikachu.  Damon lands the Sword of the Vale in an entirely new location, a forested headland just in front of the oncoming stream of instability rushing through the Dragon Force.  This finally settles the chaos down, because of the plot.  Ash has a sad moment on the beach, because he’s brought the castle to the ocean but not Victini.  That lasts for about five seconds before – in the most predictable twist of the entire move – Victini turns out to be alive after all… in fact he doesn’t even seem to be particularly tired, which raises the question; if Victini could destroy the Pillars of Protection without killing or even severely weakening himself, why didn’t he do that centuries ago?  In the context of the movie’s efforts at characterisation, it’s because his desperation to save Ash caused him to unleash powers well beyond what he’d ever realised he had, but you’d expect him to be very much worse for wear after pulling something like that (and let’s not forget that his wish to escape the barrier has been weighing very heavily on Victini’s psyche for a long time, so I’d expect him to have tried absolutely everything to get out of there before now).  Anyway, there is much rejoicing, the end credits roll, and they all go back to the Vale, where Victini works his magic and begins to return life to the place.

Actually, I kind of liked it, mostly because it didn’t make my brain hurt the way Jewel of Life did.  I realise this may not seem like a major selling point, but bear in mind that my expectations were low.  I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t a Pokémon fan, but it won’t actually make you stupider when you watch it.

 <em>Arceus and the Jewel of Life</em>: a simple film, but one that taught us so much.

I assume this movie has a moral, but I’m not entirely certain what it is.  At the moment I’m in favour of “don’t mess with what you don’t fully understand,” although “just follow your dreams and everything will work out, although you might risk destroying the planet along the way” works too.  I think the moral of Jewel of Life was “don’t let the High Priest brainwash you with his magic bell,” so either is a definite step up.  Speaking of not fully understanding things, the vagueness of the Dragon Force bothers me.  I don’t mind this kind of vagueness in a story with a lot of complex characters because it’s fairly easy to accept that a fuller explanation would just get in the way, and that the plot device only matters anyway because it provides something for the characters to react to.  Pokémon doesn’t do stories with deep characterisation, though.  What’s more, Victini and Zekrom/Reshiram places a great deal of emphasis on the Dragon Force itself; visually it gets a lot of attention because it’s one of the shinier things in the movie.  The movie resents having to explain how it actually works or make it behave consistently, though.  Why does the original battle between Reshiram and Zekrom turn it into a destructive force?  Why does moving the Sword of the Vale fix it?  Why, for goodness’ sake, does moving the thing again, a thousand years later, turn the Dragon Force chaotic again?  These are, incidentally, exactly the kind of questions people don’t bother asking if they’re more interested in your characters anyway.

Finally, I know I complained about Reshiram and Zekrom already, but I want to do that some more.  Compared to everything the Pokémon series has produced before them, Black and White (the games) were a triumph of storytelling.  I mean, I realise that’s not exactly saying much, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.  The movie offered an opportunity to expand on that by developing Reshiram and Zekrom as independent characters with motives and ideals (shut up, Zekrom), in a context that didn’t demand that they be freely interchangeable the way the games did.  Instead, by using that weird two-movies-for-the-budget-of-one gimmick, it embraced the same bizarre line of thinking that forces the two dragons (who are supposed to be opposites, mind) to become blandly identical.  The result is that they act more like plot devices than the pivotal characters they should, by all rights, be.  When you think about it, Reshiram – who symbolises truth – should be the last person (…dragon…whatever) to rush into action without fully understanding a situation, but this is exactly what Damon and Reshiram do in this version of the movie, a mistake which ought to be more characteristic of the brash and idealistic Zekrom.  In contrast, I could see Reshiram being prepared to accept Victini’s suffering in the Sword of the Vale as a necessary evil, with Zekrom demanding much more persuasion from Damon to go along with it.  This is an issue in the games as well, of course, but I’m much less prepared to accept it here because the games are, first and foremost, games, not stories; I would certainly like better stories out of them, but I’m happy to take what I can get.  My expectations are a bit higher for something that is, first and foremost, a story.

 No, really, I swear they're in the movie somewhere.

There you have it, then; my thoughts on- oh!  Wait!  I almost forgot!  Team Rocket are totally in this movie too!  Because… well, I don’t really know why and I don’t think the writers did either; they just are!  Team Rocket show up right at the beginning wearing absurd disguises and overhear Juanita as she tells Ash the legend of Victini, which, of course, they believe instantly.  They then spend the rest of the movie flailing around trying to capture Victini, pretending that they’re going to have some kind of impact on the plot but never actually getting close enough to do anything, to the point that the none of the real cast members even see them (much the same way as in Jewel of Life, except not quite as mind-meltingly stupid).  Like Iris and Cilan, they’re completely superfluous to the plot, but kind of form a package deal with Ash and Pikachu.

Anyway, that’s the movie, and I hope you enjoyed my rambling; see you next time!

Pokémon White: Victini and Zekrom (Part 2 of 3)

Now, where were we?  Ah, yes; Ash, Pikachu, Iris and Cilan were in mayor Mannes’ office with him and Damon, who were about to tell our plucky young heroes the history of Eindoak Town and the Sword of the Vale.  Right.

 Continuing to snatch screenshots from Pokemon.com.  Here we see Reshiram demonstrating her special skill: she is made of explosions. (Incidentally: yes, I know Reshiram has a male voice actor in the film, but she was explicitly designed to have a feminine appearance and I've always thought of her as feminine, so nyeh)

One thousand years ago, according to Damon and Mannes, their ancestors lived in the Vale, a now-lifeless area which is just visible from the battlements of the castle.  At the time, the Vale was a paradise, thanks to a mysterious power called the Dragon Force, which is basically the life energy of the planet; the flow of the Dragon Force through the Vale made it one of the most naturally temperate and fertile places on Earth.  The Dragon Force… has never been mentioned in the series before now, to my knowledge, and will probably never be mentioned again.  It doesn’t come completely out of nowhere because it’s well-established that some sort of “life force” is as much a part of the Pokémon universe as gravity, and that Dragon Pokémon have a particularly close connection with it, but as we’ll see, the Dragon Force has an alarming tendency to function in whatever manner the plot requires it to.  Anyway.  The Vale was ruled by a benevolent old king – Victini’s master – and his two sons, who were known as the “Hero of Truth” and the “Hero of Ideals” because of their “unique qualities” (yes, that’s as specific as the movie ever gets) and partnered with two almighty Dragon Pokémon: the white dragon Reshiram and the black dragon Zekrom, respectively.  For reasons that are never explained and which cannot be extrapolated because we’re never told anything else about the heroes or their beliefs, the two princes quarrelled, and their argument gradually escalated into a full-scale war that devastated the Kingdom of the Vale.  The King, whose Pokémon partner had the power to make him unbeatable at everything ever, including diplomacy, sat his sons down for a good long talk that resolved all of their disputes and made everyone happy again.  This is exactly what didn’t happen because then there wouldn’t be a story.  The King… I don’t know, watched, I guess.  Reshiram and Zekrom nearly killed each other and were turned into two small round stones, at which point the princes stopped to think about it and realised that they were shredding their kingdom.  Unfortunately, the chaos of the battle between two of the most powerful Dragon Pokémon ever had infected the Dragon Force and caused it to become destructive, because of the plot.  The King, in desperation, created the Pillars of Protection to channel Victini’s power and used them to cast the spell that moved the Sword of the Vale, with all his surviving people crowded inside, to the castle’s present location at Eindoak Town.  At the same time, he altered the flow of the Dragon Force to restore its balance, but had to cut off the Vale to do so, leaving it a wasteland.  Unfortunately, the exertion was too much for the King and he died before he could dismantle the pillars, causing Victini to become trapped in Eindoak Town.  Most of the People of the Vale, bereft of their ancestral home, left the region for good.

 Zekrom's special skill is very similar to Reshiram's.  He is made of explosions also.

This is where Damon comes in.  When he was a child, Juanita once told him about her dream of seeing the Kingdom of the Vale restored to life, which he apparently took to heart, leaving Eindoak Town to travel the world and reunite the scattered People of the Vale when he grew up.  Most of them seem to have thought he was insane; they probably didn’t even believe in the old legends anymore.  Dejected, Damon returned home, where he heard a mysterious voice telling him to seek the truth.  The voice led him and Mannes to the crystal caverns beneath the Sword of the Vale, where Damon found the Light Stone and reawakened Reshiram, who told him that “the truth within you has been judged worthy.”  Suddenly his distant cousins find him far more credible.  Now, he’s brought everyone he met back to Eindoak Town and wants to re-enact the King’s spell, return the castle to the Vale and restore the original flow of the Dragon Force.

By the time all this has been explained, it’s late at night, so Ash and his friends go to bed.  In the garden.  Cilan has a sleeping bag, Iris climbs a tree, and Ash just leans against the trunk and drapes a cloth over his knees.  I guess hard core badass Pokémon Masters can get a good night’s sleep anywhere.  While they sleep, Ash appears to share Victini’s dream: a vision of the old King dying.  It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the poor little guy was horribly traumatised when his master died right in front of him and left him trapped and alone for a thousand years.  The next morning, Ash resolves to find a way to free Victini and, rather rashly, promises to take him to the ocean.

Meanwhile, Damon has gone up to the central tower of the Sword of the Vale, where his Sigilyph helps him to coordinate the vast numbers of Solosis and Duosion who live in the tower and provide the psychic energy required to move the castle.  Victini realises something is going on and flies up to the tower.  He doesn’t like what Damon is up to one bit, but Sigilyph uses a set of six miniature Pillars of Protection to trap Victini on the altar in the middle of the room.  The full-size ones are now airborne and revolving steadily around the castle.  The pillars use Victini’s power to fire up the horde of Duosion and Solosis, and the castle takes flight, granting Damon control over the Dragon Force.  Ash, Iris, Cilan, Juanita and Carlita lean out over a balcony and watch joyfully as Damon redirects the flow of energy back to the Vale… until Ash hears Victini cry out in pain.  He runs to the tower, sees Victini trapped, and tries to free it, but Damon calls out his Reuniclus to stop him.  Pikachu and Reuniclus are fairly evenly matched, so Damon plays his trump card and summons Reshiram.  Juanita tries to fight Reshiram with her Golurk, which goes better than you might expect, in that Golurk is not instantaneously reduced to a heap of molten glass and actually manages to keep Reshiram busy in aerial combat for a few minutes (yes, Golurk can fly; it is perfectly aerodynamic).  Damon is confused that they’re trying to stop him, which is not entirely unreasonable; everything seems to be going according to plan.  Victini clearly isn’t happy about it, but they’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before, so Damon has no reason to think he’ll cause Victini any long-term harm.  We the audience, however, were watching when Victini and the King did this the first time, and Victini wasn’t struggling or in pain then.  Something is wrong here.  With his dreams so close to fulfilment, though, Damon won’t listen to his family or friends, and Reuniclus knocks them all out with its Psychic attack.

 The set-up in the central tower of the Sword of the Vale that allows Damon to control everything.

While Ash is unconscious, he receives another vision from Victini, which shows him what the problem is: Victini is resisting Damon because the King’s last words were to tell his friend that the Sword of the Vale must never be moved again; its new position in Eindoak is essential to keeping the Dragon Force balanced, because of the plot.  So, to summarise, Victini watched his beloved master die, was imprisoned alone for a millennium, and is now being forced to violate his master’s dying wish.  Also he met Ash.  This movie really hates him.  Reshiram doesn’t understand the danger, so Ash goes to explain and- oh, no, wait, he’s Ash, so instead of that he goes down into the crystal caverns (which are attached to the castle’s foundations and lifted off with it) to find Reshiram’s opposite, Zekrom.  I’m not sure why they think this will help, since Zekrom doesn’t know anything more about the situation than Reshiram does and is no more likely to listen to reason.  Nonetheless, like Damon before him, Ash is inexplicably able to navigate the maze inside the caves when no-one else can, and finds Zekrom sleeping at the bottom in the form of the Dark Stone.  Zekrom demands to know what Ash’ s ideal is, to which Ash stammers that he wants Victini to see the ocean.  This… is apparently good enough for Zekrom, and here I really have to talk about this “truth and ideals” stuff.  See, the one major difference between the two versions of this movie is that in the other version, Damon found Zekrom and Ash finds Reshiram, which means that, in theory, Damon’s ideals and Ash’s truth should be put to the test in the other story.  The writers, however, weren’t keen on actually having to write two separate plots for their two movies with separate character arcs for both Ash and Damon in each one, so what they’ve done instead is whitewash (no pun intended) the concepts of “truth” and “ideals” to the point that they are completely interchangeable, and translate out to “your vision of how the world should be”.  As a result, Reshiram talks about “truth” as though it’s an incredibly subjective thing that each person has to find inside him or herself, and both of them, in their respective versions of the film, are perfectly satisfied that Ash’s wish to take Victini to the ocean exemplifies each of their respective virtues.  As in the games, therefore, Reshiram and Zekrom both represent exactly the same things: desire and the will to pursue it.

…suddenly it makes perfect sense to me that they wound up fighting.

Pokémon White: Victini and Zekrom (Part 1 of 3)

A couple of weeks ago I went, against my own better judgement, to see the new Pokémon movie, Pokémon White: Victini and Zekrom.  Is there, you may well ask, a Pokémon Black: Victini and Reshiram?  Yes, there is.  Only White was actually released here in New Zealand though (and that only for one weekend), and the reason for this is that they are the same damn movie.  You see, Pokémon has finally taken its policy of always releasing two nearly-identical games at a time to its most insane possible conclusion by releasing two nearly-identical movies at the same time.  There are, I am lead to understand, numerous little cosmetic differences, but the plot is the same, which leads me to wonder what the point is supposed to have been.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though… let’s talk about what happens.


Damon's official art.  The clothes seem to be traditional dress for the People of the Vale.  The hair is either an oddly neat example of genetic mosaicism, or just weird hair.

Victini and Zekrom opens in a desert (Victini and Reshiram opens in a frigid polar area; either way, we see the other area later in a flashback) where a hooded man and his Reuniclus encounter an injured Blitzle on the dirt road and return it to its owner, a little girl in a nearby village.  The villagers thank the man, whose name we learn is Damon, but tell him that “the answer is still no.”  Damon and the villagers are both descendants of a race called the “People of the Vale,” and Damon has concocted a zany scheme to restore them to their ancestral homeland.  They’re very diplomatic about it, but they clearly think he’s off his rocker and are humouring him because he’s kind of a nice guy.  Luckily for Damon, he soon gets a chance to prove he isn’t completely insane when a huge herd of Bouffalant, frightened by a tornado, stampede towards the village.  As the villagers panic, Damon summons Reshiram, a mythical white dragon Pokémon with absolutely no concept of subtlety, who solves the problem by hurling ludicrous quantities of cerulean fire at it.  Reshiram tells the villagers to follow Damon, and this time they readily agree, because, well, Damon doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to nuke their village if they don’t, but you never know with these Destined Hero types.

After that little prologue, we join Ash, Pikachu, and their travelling companions for the most recent season of the anime: Cilan, one of the Gym Leader triplets of Striaton City, and Iris, a young Dragon Master-in-training.  I’m sure these two are great, interesting characters in the TV series, but they don’t actually do anything in this movie and their views and opinions on what’s happening mirror Ash’s on just about every point.  The only thing I really took away from it was that Cilan likes using culinary metaphors and figures of speech… a lot.  Seriously, he makes a food pun practically every time he opens his mouth (I’m guessing he does this in the TV series too, but I haven’t seen any of the Unova season).  The movie wouldn’t really have been changed notably by their absence, but it would have been a little awkward to explain, so I suppose the writers figured it was easier just to stick them in, give them some throwaway lines, and have them compete in the tournament that takes place during the opening credits.  Again, though, I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we first meet up with our unlikely heroes, Cilan is checking his Nintendo DS for directions to their next destination: a place called Eindoak Town, which hosts a Pokémon tournament each year as part of the harvest festival celebrations.  Just as they come into sight of Eindoak’s major landmark (a towering castle known as the Sword of the Vale, because its architecture resembles the hilt of a sword) Ash spots a pair of Deerling on a crumbling ledge of rock.  Unseen by Ash and his friends, a small orange fairy Pokémon tries to talk to the Deerling, but startles them and nearly causes one to fall off the ledge.  Ash, apparently forgetting that he has Pokémon who are much better than him at this sort of thing, edges out along the rock face to help the Deerling, but quickly overbalances.  However, the orange Pokémon reaches out invisibly from the crevasse where it is hiding and touches Ash, imbuing him with a golden energy just before he falls.  Ash miraculously manages to slide down the cliff face, find his balance when he lands, perform a leap that would put an Olympic athlete to shame, while keeping hold of both Deerling, and reach another ledge facing the first one.  Presumably Ash pulls this kind of stunt off-screen all the time, because everyone is perfectly happy to chalk this one up to luck.  Ash can’t see a way to get back, but he can feel a breeze from a nearby cave mouth and guesses that it will lead him to Eindoak Town, so he tells Iris and Cilan to go on without him.  The fairy Pokémon follows him, still unseen, as he is inexplicably able to lead Pikachu and the two Deerling through a labyrinthine crystal cave and into one of the basement rooms of the Sword of the Vale.  Iris and Cilan reach the castle to find Ash waving at them from a balcony.

Screenshot of the Sword of the Vale, shamelessly ganked from Pokemon.com.

Ash, Iris and Cilan release the Deerling in one of the two massive rooftop gardens and then start exploring the castle.  No-one seems to mind that there are three kids and a number of Pokémon wandering around the historic castle uninvited and unsupervised.  In fact, there doesn’t seem to be anyone there to mind – except for an invisible something that keeps stealing Cilan’s macarons from Ash.  Eventually the group runs into Damon, the fellow from the prologue, who is working on restoring the castle.  By himself.  Oh, the uphill battle of cultural heritage management… Anyway, Damon shows them the quickest way out of the castle so they can take part in the harvest festival.  As they check out the town, Ash, Iris and Cilan meet a woman named Juanita who runs a souvenir stand with the help of her Golurk, selling trinkets modelled on a legendary Pokémon called Victini, who has the power to make people (or Pokémon) insta-win at everything.  He’s also kind of a klutz and keeps banging into things invisibly as he follows Ash around the town.  Iris buys a pendant for good luck, and they move on to enter the festival tournament.  Cilan is quickly overpowered, while Iris is disqualified when her Excadrill (who’s kind of a douche) breaks out of his Pokéball when she has a Pokémon in play already, but Ash works up an impressive winning streak.

EDIT: Having watched some of the Unova series since writing this review, I have learned that, although Iris’ Excadrill is kind of a douche, this incident was actually the fault of her Emolga, who is a gigantic douche, and has a habit of using Volt Switch without warning and at the most inconvenient moments possible.

Victini flips out after being dragged into an invisible wall by Ash (again, ganked from Pokemon.com).

When Ash’s Tepig defeats a powerful Samurott (despite a type disadvantage, as Iris and Cilan explain for us just in case someone in the audience has never heard of Pokémon before), Juanita’s daughter Carlita, the trainer who defeated Cilan, begins to suspect that Victini may be helping Ash and challenges him with her Hydreigon.  Hydreigon is a tremendously destructive Dragon Pokémon and a fundamentally ridiculous thing for a teenage girl to have, and marks Carlita as probably one of the most powerful trainers Ash has ever met.  None of this merits comment from anyone (except for Iris, who thinks Hydreigon is adorable because she’s a shameless dragon fangirl).  Ash’s Scraggy meets Carlita’s challenge and is quickly knocked into the bushes.  Carlita, watching carefully, notices Victini appear and power up Scraggy, who leaps back into the fray and pulverises her Hydreigon.  She tells Ash what’s been happening, and explains that Victini can become invisible.  This is apparently Ash’s first clue that maybe his recent run of success has not been all luck.  The four of them manage to persuade the Victory Pokémon to emerge from hiding by offering some of Cilan’s macarons, and the tournament is quietly forgotten.  Ash, being Ash, immediately tries to hug the poor thing and nearly crushes him.  How Ash always manages to be the one who gets all chummy with the legendary Pokémon is beyond me; if Victini’s experience in this movie is at all representative I’m surprised there are any legendary Pokémon left.  Pikachu is able to smooth over his partner’s glaring faux pas, however, and Victini joins the group.  Ash soon manages to injure him again by grabbing Victini’s hand and dragging him along as he runs to check out one of the six massive dark purple pillars scattered around the town.  Victini crashes painfully into an invisible force field while Ash runs straight through, and Victini (reasonably enough) decides he’s sick of this lunatic and flies away.  Carlita explains that the pillars, known as the Pillars of Protection, mark a boundary line; according to the legends Victini can never pass the pillars or leave Eindoak Town.

Juanita helps the group find Victini again in the rooftop gardens of the Sword of the Vale, where Ash apologises profusely for repeatedly injuring the tiny Pokémon and manages to regain his trust.  At the castle they meet Damon again, who turns out to be Juanita’s son (and a terrible son he is too; Juanita didn’t even realise he was back in Eindoak since he apparently never talks to his family or tells them anything).  Damon and Mannes, the mayor of Eindoak, tell Ash, Cilan and Iris about the People of the Vale, the legend of Victini, Reshiram and Zekrom, and Damon’s plan to return their people to their ancient homeland, which means… it’s exposition time!