Team Skull

Team Skull grunts.

Well, I finally got my act together and reviewed every Pokémon from generation VII, but we’re not done yet.  While I was reviewing the Pokémon of Unova, I wrote a series on Pokémon’s villains – Team Rocket, Teams Aqua and Magma, Team Galactic and Team Plasma.  Those articles… are fine.  I mean, they’re not bereft of insight, but they’re from the first six months of this blog’s life and they’re far from the most interesting things I’ve ever written.  Having written those, though, it seemed only logical that after finishing the Kalos Pokédex I should write about Team Flare and Lysandre, and that one holds up much better in retrospect.  Which means that now… well, where would we be if I didn’t write about Team Skull (and, after them, the Aether Foundation)?  My Team Flare review focused pretty heavily on Lysandre himself and his beliefs, because his characterisation is very important to the plot of X and Y and central to how I understood and reacted to a lot of the events of those games.  That’s probably going to be true of my upcoming piece on the Aether Foundation as well, which I anticipate will concentrate on Lusamine, but I think Team Skull demands a different approach.  The two named characters of Team Skull, Guzma and Plumeria, do matter, but Team Skull’s story isn’t really about either of them, in my opinion; it’s about Team Skull as a group, with Guzma and Plumeria exemplifying different facets of that group’s values and experiences.  So let’s talk about that. 

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A Pokémon Trainer Is You! II: For Real This Time, ‘Cause You’re Getting A Pokémon!

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

Are you a boy or a girl?
– Yes

What are your special skills?
– Compassion: You are less of a $#!tbag than most kids your age, allowing you to empathise with people and Pokémon, and intuit their desires or concerns.
– Science: You hang around Professor Oak’s lab a lot, and have picked up a lot of debatably useful trivia about everything from astronomy to marine biology.
– Tactics: You watch televised Pokémon battles obsessively.  You know Pokémon type advantages by heart, and know how certain moves can be used in creative ways.

What is your rival’s name?
– I think it’s like a colour or something

Okay, let’s get on with it!

You’re at Professor Oak’s lab, ready for the beginning of the rest of your life!  The floor is tiled in pristine white – or at least, it used to be; they do a lot of experiments here and the cleaners can’t keep up.  You can still pick out most of the stains that are your fault.  Thick textbooks on Pokémon behaviour and anatomy line every wall and are scattered over most of the tables, complex machines with lots of enticing buttons litter the main room, and the lab assistants are that particular kind of dishevelled that says “we barely know how to feed and clothe ourselves, but give us grant money and we’ll work 36 hours a day!”  You nod cheerily to each of them as you pass.  You have a lot of fun memories in this place – culturing bacteria in Petri dishes, mixing chemicals to create violent colours and beautiful explosions, learning to predict the weather from air pressure measurements, helping the Professor’s assistants to draw up charts of Kantonian habitats and biomes.  It’s almost a shame to be leaving, but there’s so much to do out in the world: people and Pokémon to meet, natural phenomena to explore, battles to win!  Professor Oak is standing, magisterial and dignified, but with a kindly smile on his face, just next to a high bench with three glittering round objects.

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James Crooks [Patreon cultist] asks:

Now that you’re at the end of the Alolan Pokédex, can you tell us your favourite Pokémon, least favourite and one that you liked more after reviewing?

Tricky.

Spending more time on each Pokémon and each review tends to make me appreciate almost all of them more, because I come to see the references and the meaning in each design, and my feelings about the Pokémon itself come to be bound up with anything interesting I’ve learned during the process I generously call my “research.”  The exception, of course, is when there seems to be simply nothing to find, but I think those are rare in Alola.  And in another direction, over the course of doing the Alola reviews I’ve started trying to incorporate the anime’s portrayals of each Pokémon a bit more, so even if a design is ‘meh,’ I can develop some positive feeling towards it if that Pokémon’s episode is a good one.  I just put out my Zeraora article, and Zeraora’s frankly not a very interesting Pokémon, but it’s one of the stars of the 21st movie, The Power of Us, which I am not going to stop talking about because I think it’s easily the best one (aside from Detective Pikachu), and there is a certain degree of affection that just… well, rubs off on Zeraora.  Having said all that, of course there are winners and losers.  With some designs, I feel “rewarded” for the extra work I do in trying to break them down, because I feel like I’ve solved a puzzle that the designers have left for me; other times it just seems like there’s not much to find.  So there are Pokémon for whom my opinion of them, or at least my affection towards them, increased a lot as I reviewed them, and I don’t know if I can pick just one, but some good examples are Celesteela, Oranguru, Tsareena and Minior.

My favourite Pokémon of generation VII is a tough one, because there are a lot that I’m generally well-disposed to, but few that really stick out to me as brilliant.  It may actually be just one of the Pokémon I’m attached to because I used them on my first playthrough of Moon, probably Golisopod, Salazzle, or my starter, Decidueye.  Other than that… well, actually Dhelmise sticks out to me as a really weird and creative design that speaks to me on a kind of “what even is this?” level, and Wishiwashi has an interesting concept that creates a great moment in the game’s story.  As for least favourite… I’m sure I’m being very predictable here, but I’m still very down on Togedemaru, and to a lesser extent Gumshoos, for not doing enough to break free of Game Freak’s persistent habit of template-based Pokémon design (as Talonflame and arguably Diggersby did in generation VI, and as I think Toucannon more or less does in generation VII).

Anonymous asks:

Re-reading your old Genesect review, I noticed “this doesn’t look like a Pokémon” was a complaint you had with it. Which got me wondering; are there any other cases of Pokémon that might have been better suited to being part of other IPs, free from the expectations and restrictions The Pokémon Company imposes on the franchise?

Uggggggggggghhhhhhh I knew I would have to deal with that one someday

even as I was writing it, all the way back in the Year of Our Magic Space-Deer two thousand and eleven, I knew I would eventually have to say something about it

So, just to cover my own butt for a minute, I’m going to point out that I prefaced that complaint with the words “I know this is a cheap shot and even thinking something so blatantly subjective makes me feel dirty inside.”  It’s a fairly drastic thing to say, and it’s not a comment I was willing to make about any other Pokémon in my reviews of generations V, VI or VII.  Anything older than that has had over 10 years to burrow into my conception of what a Pokémon is, so it’s difficult for me to separate them off anymore – even the ones I don’t like.  The only exceptions are some of the Ultra Beasts, and… well, in their case, not looking like Pokémon is kind of the point.

Having said that… well, when you mention being “free from expectations and restrictions,” there are a bunch of Pokémon, particularly in the Ghost-Dark-Psychic sort of area, which, while not exactly un-Pokémon-like, do feel a bit stifled by the kid-friendly ratings that Pokémon has to maintain.  You know what I mean, I suppose – Pokémon like Spiritomb, and Hypno, and Yamask, and Cacturne, and Shedinja, and so on, whose Pokédex entries hint at incredibly sinister abilities and behaviours that can’t be fully explored in official Pokémon media, because Pokémon has so much trouble with serious long-term consequences.  And of course there’s fan-fiction for that, but 98% of fan-fiction is either unfinished or terrible (or both, in the case of my dramatized Nuzlocke of X version). Still, that isn’t even really “these would be better if they were part of something other than Pokémon” as “I would like Pokémon to be something different.”

Ashe asks:

You mentioned a while back that if you had your way, Pokémon would have less types, and Water would be one of the types on the chopping block. Can you elaborate more about which types you’d cut and why, and what would remain in your ideal type chart?

It goes through… iterations, depending on how much wild abandon I’m feeling from day to day, and what kind of scope I’m imagining for whatever hypothetical redesign of the Pokémon games that would give me this opportunity.  The common thread of my logic is that (contrary, I think, to a lot of fans) I don’t believe more types actually make the game better. Once you have about seven or eight you’ve probably already exhausted 90% of the strategic depth they add to the battle system (compare the TCG, which originally had just seven, although it was more or less forced to expand to eleven by the introduction of new types in generations II and VI, as well as the proliferation of Dragon-types starting in generation III). Having more just makes it harder to memorise all the relationships, and makes the game harder to get into. Like, I get it because I had the bulk of it seared into my impressionable child brain when I was nine, changes in generations II and VI notwithstanding, but if I picked up my first Pokémon game today, in my late 20s, I’m not sure I’d think that was worth my time (though I admit it helps that recent games in the core series display the type effectiveness of your moves against your opponents).  There’s an argument that more types enable a wider range of creature designs, but I think you can actually achieve the same result with fewer types more broadly defined. But let’s actually take a stab at answering this question.

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