A Pokémon Trainer is You! VIII: Seriously, kid, you should know his name by now

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What do you say to Whatshisname?
– Ask about the health of his Pokémon.

You’re honestly not sure how trainer etiquette is supposed to go in these situations, but it seems to you like the polite thing here is to ask the other guy about how his Pokémon is doing.

“Uh…”  He blinks, fumbling for a second.  “Squirtle’s doing great.  Uh, aren’t you, buddy?”  He glances down at Squirtle, who is poking around some brush with Scallion.  Squirtle looks back up at him and replies with an affirmative-sounding squeaky grunt.  “You know a bunch of nerd stuff, right?  Think you’d be able to tell if a Pokémon was sick or hurt?”  You do, of course, know a spectacular amount of dumb nerd $#!t, but most of it isn’t directly related to Pokémon health.  You can certainly observe a Pokémon’s behaviour and take note of even fairly subtle changes, and it does occur to you that Squirtle seems to have a little more spring in its step, so you tell Prussian(?) as much.  They’ve only been together a day and a half, but some Pokémon seem to become more lively just from being in the company of humans; it’s a phenomenon that Professor Oak has always been fascinated by.

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A Pokémon Trainer is You! IV: Get Going, Kid!

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

How do you approach your first battle?
– Play it safe and wear them out with Leech Seed

You’re pretty confident you know all the angles here.  You and whatshisname are both using Pokémon you just met, and won’t be able to try any funny business.  Squirtle is tougher than Bulbasaur thanks to its shell that it can hide inside at will, so if they have any sense they’ll try to outlast your Grass attacks and then counterattack with a shell slam or something.  But there’s an easy way to keep that from working…

At your order, the bulb on your Pokémon’s back pulses and fires a single glowing yellow seed that arcs through the air towards Squirtle.  The turtle Pokémon reacts instantly by dropping to the floor and pulling its head and all its limbs into its shell, quick as you can blink, but that won’t stop a Leech Seed.  It hits Squirtle’s shell, sticks, and immediately sprouts a web of green that grows with supernatural speed, climbing around and into the shell.  The other guy is pretty shaken; you don’t think he’s actually seen this attack before.  He manages to call counterattacks, and Squirtle is able to fire Bubbles that knock your Bulbasaur off its feet, but it’s no good.  Water attacks deal only superficial damage to Grass-types, the Leech Seed is gradually sapping Squirtle’s strength, and all Bulbasaur has to do is use its vines to parry attacks and occasionally lash out whenever Squirtle emerges from its shell for too long.  Eventually, Squirtle sinks to its knees, too weak to go on attacking, and Professor Oak calls an end to the battle.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! IV: Get Going, Kid!”

A Pokémon Trainer Is You! III: A Battle You Has!

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

What do you do when Oak offers you a Pokémon?
– Ask Professor Oak to let the Pokémon decide.

You turn to Professor Oak.  All three of these Pokémon are great, you explain, and you feel confident that any of them would make a powerful and versatile partner, but it seems unfair to make this choice without their input.  Maybe it should be up to them, which one goes with you?  Blue rolls his eyes, but the Professor nods sagely and smiles at you.
“I think that would be a very interesting way of making this decision!  Well, everyone, come on out!”  With a single fluid wave of his hand, he somehow activates all three Pokéballs at once, and the three Pokémon inside them emerge in a blaze of blue-white light: Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle.

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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.

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

Anime Time: Episodes 60-61

Beach Blank-Out Blastoise – The Misty Mermaid

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, eat your hearts out.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

With Ash’s Volcano Badge in hand at last, it’s time to leave Cinnabar Island… but our hapless heroes are about to miss the last boat of the day!  As they run for the ferry terminal, a Wartortle appears out of nowhere and crashes into them, knocking everyone to the ground.  Pikachu calls on Squirtle to interpret, who immediately decides that this is an emergency worthy of BADASS SHADES, and leaps into the ocean with the Wartortle.  The kids steal a motorboat and follow.  They soon reach an island, with a beach filled with snoring Squirtle and Wartortle, and a single Blastoise.  Brock is excited by the possibility that they have found the mysterious breeding grounds of the turtle Pokémon, but there’s something off about the scene.  When Ash and Squirtle run up to Blastoise, they fall asleep too, so Pikachu attempts his universal solution – electrocute everything – and wakes up Ash, Squirtle, and most of the wild turtle Pokémon.  When Ash has recovered, he claims to have heard music echoing within Blastoise’s shell.  Misty, true to form, decides that whatever’s going on here, getting mixed up in it is more trouble than it’s worth, and suggests they leave, but Ash and Brock want to figure out what’s going on.  They establish, through conversation with all the Squirtle and Wartortle, that Blastoise fell asleep while swimming a few days ago, and was dragged back to shore by the others, who all fell asleep too once they reached the island, except for the one Wartortle who went to Cinnabar Island to find help.  Brock examines Blastoise with a stethoscope, but the huge turtle Pokémon wakes up during the process, stretches his arms, swivels his cannons… and finds that he has a blockage stuck in his right cannon.  A round, squishy, pink blockage that begins singing when he tries to dislodge it.  Everyone falls asleep again under Jigglypuff’s spell, and Team Rocket show up to try and snatch Blastoise with their Gyarados submarine’s grabbing arm.  When the turtles wake up and find Blastoise gone, Ash’s Squirtle assumes command using his BADASS SHADES and rallies his brothers.  Meanwhile, Team Rocket fall asleep themselves, and their sub sinks.  The turtle Pokémon retrieve it, along with Blastoise, allowing Ash and Misty to resuscitate James and Meowth, who are grateful, and Jessie, who screams “they’re our mortal enemies; how DARE you be grateful they saved our lives!?”  Team Rocket promptly hop back into their submarine, which rolls onto the beach and starts grabbing for Pokémon.  The Wartortle can’t stop it, but Pikachu and Squirtle together manage to extract Jigglypuff and awaken Blastoise, who has the strength and firepower to grapple with the submarine and blast it away.  Squirtle even manages to rescue Jigglypuff, who winds up on the submarine somehow.  Peace is restored in the turtle kingdom, and the kids go on their merry way.

 How has it escaped Kanto's government that a Jigglypuff in the wrong place at the wrong time could doom entire ecosystems?  This one very nearly deprived the region's primary Wartortle colony of their leader.

So, not for the first time, we see in this episode that evolved Pokémon are considered the natural rulers of their species: Blastoise is the oldest and the strongest of the turtle Pokémon on the island, and probably the most knowledgeable and experienced.  There is no shortage of reasons he should be in charge, really, and it mirrors what we see in plenty of other episodes… so why do I even care?  Well, Ash’s Squirtle is neither old nor powerful… more knowledgeable than the rest, maybe, but Wartortle are supposed to live for hundreds of years, so who knows?  When Squirtle marshals the other turtle Pokémon to go after the submarine, they obey instantly and cooperatively, treating him without question as a commander.  Misty and Brock seem to think it’s his BADASS SHADES, and, well, I guess that’s not impossible, but I think it’s giving them too little credit; I’m pretty sure Pokémon are consistently portrayed as being more sensible than that.  What Squirtle does have is experience of the wider world, something the other turtle Pokémon probably lack since their community is implied to be fairly insular, as well as powerful allies with a wide range of capabilities (he’s also familiar with their enemies).  If nothing else, the turtle Pokémon recognise that humans are very useful friends to have; as a result, they will readily accept a human-trained Pokémon as a leader because Squirtle is likely to have experience thinking on his feet and dealing with unusual situations, and because he can keep things going smoothly with Ash and the others, whose assistance might be important.  This brings us back, in the end, to the BADASS SHADES: a human item, and an outward symbol of Squirtle’s experiences in and ties to the human world.  As far as insignias of rank go, they’re an unusual choice, but I think they represent what it is about Ash’s Squirtle that really makes the other Squirtle and Wartortle accept him as a leader so unquestioningly.  My mind wanders back to that one strange line from Ash’s Pokédex in the first episode: “wild Pokémon are often jealous of human-trained Pokémon.”  I’m gradually beginning to believe this statement is actually false, or at least oversimplified, and possibly even propagandistic (but that’s another entry entirely).  Pokémon and humans are both stronger together; this has been the franchise’s stance from day one, and echoes through its every iteration – games, anime, manga, whatever – and wild Pokémon do recognise that.  They don’t necessarily want to be partnered themselves, but many of them will still treat human-trained Pokémon with a certain respect, and may defer to their experience in crisis situations.

Moving on…

 The Magical Mermaid relaxes in her lagoon.

As Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu strike out for Viridian City, Misty realises that her Horsea isn’t getting enough freedom and exercise (something which never seems to be a problem for Goldeen – I’m pretty sure Misty’s Horsea is just a bit frail and sickly), so the kids decide it might be a good idea to visit Misty’s sisters in Cerulean City and let Horsea relax in the huge pool at the Gym for a few days.  When they reach Cerulean City, they learn that the Gym is advertising a new ballet, featuring a talented water dancer returning to Cerulean after a long absence.  Misty soon learns, to her shock, that she is this legendary ballerina.  Lily, Violet and Daisy explain that their traditional shows haven’t been pulling the crowds like they used to lately, so they’ve decided to spice things up by writing a water ballet to be performed underwater!  Tomorrow!  Please help us, Misty, or the Cerulean Gym will be ruined!  Misty will play the ballet’s star, the Magical Mermaid; Lily and Violet will be the evil pirates who intrude on her peaceful lagoon, and Daisy will play the handsome prince who arrives at the climax to save the day… and clearly the sisters do need Misty as the Gym is ludicrously short-staffed – they aren’t just the actresses; they run everything at these shows, ticket sales and all.  The ballet is performed in an enormous glass tank filled with water.  Misty, as a budding Water Pokémon Master, can hold her breath for a crazily long time, and the show is structured to give her moments out of sight of the audience to use her underwater breathing apparatus.  The show goes well initially, with Misty’s underwater dance holding the crowds enthralled, but when Lily and Violet are cued to enter, two quite different pirates appear, wearing… interesting… costumes: who else but Team Rocket?  Their motto is a huge hit with the crowd, who think it’s all part of the show.  Ash and Brock maintain the illusion by taking Daisy’s cue to leap into the pool to help.  Weezing floats harmlessly to the surface, but Arbok proves to be quite an impressive fighter underwater, and manages to corner Starmie, Seaking and Squirtle.  The sisters’ much-ridiculed Seel, however, saves the day, outmanoeuvring Arbok and hammering it with an Aurora Beam before evolving into Dewgong and deep-freezing the lot of them.  The kids haul all the Water Pokémon onto a platform in the centre of the pool so Pikachu can blast Team Rocket with impunity in a grand finale that makes the show a huge success, revitalising the Cerulean Gym’s business overnight.  In thanks for her part in saving the Gym, Misty’s sisters confiscate her Horsea and Starmie so that they’ll have enough Pokémon to keep performing the show.  Truly, their gratitude is an example to us all.

 ...you quickly learn to stop questioning it.

Every time I see these three I wonder how the hell they can possibly be allowed to run a Pokémon Gym.  They’re clearly more concerned with ticket sales than with challenges, and regard their Gym’s fate as resting on the success of their next water ballet, not on their ability to train Pokémon and instruct other trainers in doing the same.  The Misty Mermaid does go out of its way to point out that they are decent Water Pokémon specialists – when Seaking and Horsea initially attempt to tag-team Arbok, and Seaking lands a nasty Horn Attack, Ash comments on its skill, to which Misty responds “thank my sisters; they trained it.”  However, when push comes to shove, much of the effectiveness of the climax, and of Seel’s evolution into Dewgong, is drawn from the fact that Lily, Violet and Daisy have completely and blatantly failed to comprehend Seel’s potential, ever since they declined Ash’s challenge in the Waterflowers of Cerulean City on the grounds that Seel wasn’t strong enough to be worth trying (Seaking, who seems to be their star battler, had been injured in a previous battle with one of Ash’s Pallet Town rivals).  They do little, if anything, to earn our respect, and serve mainly to demonstrate that some Gyms are indeed more challenging than others.  They’re also making me change my mind again on a question that has me go back and forth repeatedly; whether Pokémon Gyms enjoy any sort of league funding.  Like Erika, the Sensational Sisters seem to run a successful business; then again, their Gym is unusually lavish – hardly as expensive to build and maintain as Blaine’s, but the start-up capital for their huge aquarium, water fields, and auditorium must have come from somewhere.  My working theory is that the sisters inherited the Cerulean Gym from their infinitely more capable parents, and the Pokémon League would rather allow their incompetent but largely self-sufficient Gym to continue as it is than attempt to revoke its official status and replace it with a more efficiently-led one.  This, I am convinced, would be a long and difficult process, possibly with nasty effects on the League’s internal politics, and would eventually result in a Gym that didn’t cover nearly as much of its own funding.  For aspiring Water Pokémon trainers looking for a place to practice, just having a large purpose-built pool is probably far more important than having competent instructors anyway, so the League may be happy to let the sisters maintain a fairly hands-off approach to running the place and concentrate on their water ballets.

So, my theme for these two episodes was that they are both about Water Pokémon.  Yep.  Totally planned it that way and didn’t just stick them together because I had other plans for the episodes on either side.  Um.  So there are only two episodes left in this block, and they’re both getting entries of their own.  The last one is the Viridian Gym episode.  The other one is… interesting.  See you next time.

Squirtle, Wartortle and Blastoise

Squirtle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; do unto Nintendo as you would have Nintendo do unto you.It’s funny, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Water-type starters.  Funny, because some of my favourite Pokémon are Water-types.  Maybe it’s because they’re always juxtaposed with the Grass-type starters, which for me is no contest.  If that’s the case, then perhaps examining them in isolation will make the truth come out.  Let’s give it a try…

Squirtle is adorable.  As far as cuteness goes, amongst the first-generation starters Squirtle’s nailed it.  Of course, I think turtles are just adorable animals by nature, but it’s hard not to go all warm and gooey inside when you see him staring up at you in Sugimori’s art over there.  However, this does bring up my problem with Squirtle, since, sadly, I do have one; he’s… well, just a turtle.  Apart from the squirrel-like tail (which does, I must concede, further multiply his cuteness factor) the designers haven’t really done much with him, which I think is typical of the flaws in many of the less creative Water-types and symptomatic of a problem in the way Water Pokémon are designed: Water, compared to Fire and Grass, is an element with requirements that are relatively mundane and easy to meet.  All you need is for your Pokémon to live in the water.  This is part of the reason there are so damn many of them; more than 1/6 of all Pokémon are Water-types, which makes it the most common element by a comfortable margin, and a lot of them are just ‘this Pokémon is an animal that lives in the water!’  Not all Water Pokémon fall into this trap, of course (like I said, some of my favourites are Water-types), nor is Squirtle without merits, but I can’t help but feel that he is, overall, a less creative concept than Charmander or Bulbasaur.  Evolution to Wartortle makes him a bit more elaborate; the rudder-like ears and luxuriantly furry wave-crest tail are nice touches, and although his cultural association with longevity is a bit predictable for a turtle Pokémon, it’s still good background detail.  If Squirtle is too little changed from a standard turtle, I think Wartortle is just right; the development of the tail into an actual eye-catching feature that’s evocative of his element was exactly what that design needed.  Finally we have Blastoise, who feels a little odd to me.  Venusaur and Charizard both feel as though they continue the same changes that we see in Ivysaur and Charmeleon; the flower bursting into bloom on Ivysaur’s back as he slowly takes on a primeval appearance, the horns growing on Charmeleon’s head as he begins to leave behind his lizard form and become something more.  Blastoise, with his stubby tail and understated ears, reverses the changes we see as Squirtle evolves into Wartortle, in particular losing the physical aspects that are responsible for Wartortle’s connotations of age and experience, almost as though he’s just decided to go in a different direction entirely.  He suddenly begins to look a lot more like a real-world turtle again… except of course that Blastoise has high-powered water cannons, for no other reason than because they’re awesome.  What’s the deal with these, anyway?  Are they made of bone?  Metal?  Either raises odd questions, so again, it’s best to go with the awesome and not try to explain it.  The fun thing about Blastoise is that his cannons aren’t just for direct attacks; he can also use them as boosters to increase the speed and power of his tackles (so presumably he can rotate them backwards?), which makes him sound even more badass.

 Wartortle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

You might have guessed I’m a bit conflicted about Blastoise.  It’s impossible to deny that he’s a brutally awesome Pokémon.  However, I’m bothered by a lot of the details, particularly the way the whole evolutionary line fits together.  I do like Squirtle, Wartortle and Blastoise, particularly Wartortle, but I don’t think this design is as carefully thought-out or coordinated as those of the other two starters – and I think I know why.  This is the list of hexadecimal index numbers used by the game engine of Red and Blue to identify all of the first-generation Pokémon.  This list has prompted a lot of fascinating discussions I don’t really have time to get into, but what matters today is that many people believe it represents the order in which the first-generation Pokémon were designed and programmed into the game (mainly because Rhydon, who is independently known to have been the first Pokémon ever created, is at the top, and there’s no other ordering principle to the list).  What’s interesting is the position of the starters.  Ivysaur is one of the oldest designs, while Bulbasaur and Venusaur come in together at a much later point, suggesting that they were designed around Ivysaur, giving the whole line cohesion.  Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard seem to have been thrown in almost at the last minute, all together (so they’re essentially a single design), at the same time as Squirtle and Wartortle – I’m guessing this represents the moment the Grass/Fire/Water starter paradigm was created – but Blastoise is much older.  You can construct a number of other interesting patterns from this list.  Dragonite predates Dratini and Dragonair just as Blastoise predates Squirtle and Wartortle.  Psyduck and Golduck were not created together.  Gastly, Haunter and Gengar were all designed at different times, and Haunter came last.  Assuming that the index numbers do indeed represent what they are often taken to represent, this might explain my frustrating little details; Blastoise was originally a stand-alone design, and Squirtle and Wartortle were much newer pre-evolutions that fit with each other, but don’t quite match the original idea.

 Wartortle being awesome but somehow also adorable, by Salanchu (http://salanchu.deviantart.com/).

That’s quite enough of my baseless speculation, though; if you’re reading this you probably want to know what I think of Blastoise’s capabilities.  Blastoise kind of fell flat in Red and Blue because he didn’t really do anything that other Water-types didn’t; all of them could learn Water and Ice attacks, most of them were tanks, and (unlike Charizard) Blastoise wasn’t unique in his ability to learn Earthquake.  Gold and Silver gave Blastoise the tools that have been his mainstay ever since: superior special defence, from the splitting of the special stat, and Rapid Spin.  Rapid Spin is one of the vital necessities of competitive Pokémon, since it’s the only way to get rid of ‘entry hazards,’ traps that damage your Pokémon every time you switch; relatively few Pokémon can actually learn it, so those that do are almost guaranteed a niche (except for Delibird, because he is silly), as Blastoise has been for all these years.  He also picked up a couple of amusing tricks like Curse, Roar and Mirror Coat, followed by Yawn and Iron Defence in Ruby and Sapphire, adding to his talents as a defensive utility Pokémon.  Most of the fourth generation’s presents for Blastoise were diversifications of his offensive movepool – Focus Blast, Flash Cannon, Zen Headbutt, Aqua Jet, Signal Beam and, in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, the coveted Water Spout – but he’s not fast enough or powerful enough for aggressive strategies to make sense for him, and he didn’t really gain anything that added to his specialist role.  Blastoise still is, and probably always will be, a support Pokémon first and foremost; in addition to all the utility powers he had before, he’s picked up Dragon Tail, so he can smack Pokémon around while forcing them out of play, and like most of the Water-type crowd, he now has access to Scald, a less powerful trade-in for Surf that can cause burns, crippling physical attackers.  What Blastoise lacks in Black and White is a conspicuously game-changing Dream World ability (also Shell Smash, which would let him do something with that aforementioned offensive movepool, but I guess Carracosta would still be better at that anyway).  Chlorophyll and Solar Power fundamentally alter Venusaur and Charizard’s capabilities, while Blastoise’s Rain Dish… well, if you were planning on building a rain team anyway, the extra trickle of healing will certainly help Blastoise to do his job better, but it’s no substitute for an actual healing technique, the absence of which is one of the main things holding Blastoise back.  It’s not a bad ability, especially not for a defensive Pokémon, but Venusaur and Charizard’s new toys kinda leave Blastoise in the dust on this one.

 Blastoise.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I really wish I could think of something as nice to say about Squirtle and his evolutions as I did about Bulbasaur and Charmander, because I don’t think they’re bad Pokémon by any measure.  I’m just… sort of ambivalent.  They’re… y’know.  They’re okay.  They don’t make me want to rave about how wonderfully designed they are, or how versatile and powerful they are; nor have they committed any real sins, and if I had been looking over Red and Blue prior to their original release, I probably would have passed over them without comment.  Whoo.

That is all.

You may go.