One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
As part of my eternal contract of service to the Dark Council of my highest-tier Patreon supporters (to whom special thanks, and a mighty tribute of souls and magic, are as always due), I regularly solicit topics from them to discuss in longer articles – and once again, that time has come. Today I’m supposed to be talking about the (so far) three generational flagship mechanics of the Pokémon games – X and Y’s Mega Evolution, Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves and Sword and Shield’s Dynamax – in all their aspects, both how they practically work in the game and how they influence the story and lore of their worlds. “Flagship mechanics” is my own term for these, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else say it, but I like it better than “gimmicks” because I think it’s a better reflection of what the developers seem to want them to be, so I’m gonna keep using it, and you all just have to deal with that because… it’s my blog, so shut up.
Let’s start with a summary for people who might not be familiar with one or more of the games that introduced and featured these mechanics:
Today, for… some reason… I have decided to try to bridge the gap between Alola and Galar by reviewing all four of the Ice-type regional variant Pokémon: Alolan Sandslash, Alolan Ninetales, Galarian Mr. Mime and Galarian Darmanitan. This obviously took far too much time and the article is far too long, but I’ve written it now, and if I had to write it, then you all have to sit down and read it; that was the deal, that’s how this works. The Ice type is an interesting choice for regional variations, because real animals also kind of have Ice-type regional forms: as animals move into more extreme latitudes, they have to deal with longer and colder winters, and tend to adapt accordingly. Cold-adapted animals tend to be bulkier than their relatives living in temperate climates, with more compact limbs, thicker fur or feathers and often a white colour scheme to blend in with snow. Adaptation to different climates in Pokémon can be a mixed bag as far as realism goes, and we’ll see multiple different takes on that with today’s four Pokémon. Let’s get started.
The regional variant Pokémon we’re looking at today all evolve from Pokémon that do not have regional variant forms of their own – a Pikachu, Cubone or Exeggcute caught or hatched in Alola will look much the same as a Pikachu, Cubone or Exeggcute caught or hatched anywhere else. In fact, they don’t just look the same, they are the same; an Alolan Pikachu that is sent to Galar will evolve into a standard Raichu (even though Sword and Shield do know what an Alolan Raichu is, and Pokémon games do track each individual Pokémon’s region of origin), while a Pikachu that arrives in Alola from anywhere else will evolve into an Alolan Raichu. That’s weird, because other regional forms don’t work this way (with the exception of two Galarian forms, Weezing and Mr. Mime); you can take an Alolan Rattata to any region of the world and keep it there for as long as you like, it’ll still evolve into an Alolan Raticate. Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on here.
In the second instalment of my exploration of regional variant Pokémon, we’re going to deal with two Pokémon whose regional forms are related to Alola’s geology: Alolan Geodude/Graveler/Golem and Alolan Diglett/Dugtrio. Geology, like archaeology and ecology, has always been in the background of Pokémon, but these games have never been the kind of stories that need a whole lot of scientific verisimilitude in those areas – or, to put it another way, who really gives a $#!t whether or not there are actually Cretaceous fossil deposits in the part of western France that corresponds to Ambrette Town? I could tell you that I care, and you’d probably believe me because, frankly, I give off a certain vibe, but the truth is I haven’t looked it up, and I’m not going to. Alola, in my opinion, cares more about the fact that it is Hawai‘i than any of the previous Pokémon regions cared about being each of those places, and at a guess maybe half of Alola’s new Pokémon are in some way influenced by that, but there are still limits – no one cares that there aren’t actually toucans or koalas in Hawai‘i, for instance, because Alola is also just a pastiche tropical paradise that should have whatever Pokémon, locations, characters and rocks seem fun. Today we have one Pokémon that cares a lot about having a specifically Hawaiian inspiration, and another that takes a somewhat more casual approach – let’s talk about that.
I think we should talk about regional variants, don’t you? I was going to do the Alolan forms at the end of generation VII, and the timing got so tight at the end, but now that we’ve got a bunch of Galarian forms as well, it seems like something we could do all at once. So here’s the plan: Alolan forms first, Galarian forms after that, and I dunno if I have all that much to say about each one individually but I could certainly take ‘em three at a time, trying as far as possible to put them into groups that are in some way thematic. Sound good? Okay. We’re going to begin with the Alolan Rattata and Raticate, Meowth and Persian, and Grimer and Muk – not because they are all Dark-types, which is a reason, but not a very good one; we’re putting them together because all three forms exist in Alola as the result of human intervention. Let’s discuss.
In a way it feels strange to do all three of these characters together – like, it makes sense to have Hau and Gladion together because they both fit Pokémon’s existing “rival” archetypes, and it makes sense to have Lillie and Gladion together because (uh… SPOILERS, I guess???) they’re family, but the three of them don’t fit together quite as neatly at first glance. In fact, though, they play off each other in ways that I think are worth talking about. Hau, Lillie and Gladion all act as foils to one another – Hau’s carefree optimism, Lillie’s self-effacing dutifulness, Gladion’s edgy pragmatism. All three of them also have certain issues with their parentage (granted, in Lillie and Gladion’s case, it’s the same parent), which is important not just in terms of their own characterisation but because tradition (and, by extension, ancestry and inheritance) is a minor theme of Sun and Moon. Lillie’s relationship with her mother is also basically what the entire climax of the game turns on. So let’s talk about these three, their personalities and what happens to them, and see what we can be come up with – starting with Hau.
I dunno, should I say something else? I posted articles on Chairman Rose and Hop, we continued the epic saga of A Pokémon Trainer Is You by venturing into Viridian Forest with a group of bug catchers, and there were a bunch of reader questions about things like Dynamaxing, trainers fighting Pokémon, Acerola’s shiny Mimikyu, the nature of Ghost Pokémon and what I would do with a Pokémon gym. There are, as always, more to come. However, some sad news: I need to take break from Pokémon writing so I can put more time into my research (yeah, if you’re new or don’t pay much attention, I’m sort of doing a PhD in Roman archaeology; it’s a whole thing, I miiiiiiight write something about that since people usually seem to like it when I talk about my work, but no promises), so for the next month, don’t expect to see much from me. I’m working to answer all the questions currently in my inbox, so that those can be posted slowly over the course of the month. Also, Jim the Editor has suggested that he take over weekly updates to “A Pokémon Trainer Is You” for the moment, and we aren’t quite sure how that’s going to work yet, so there may or may not be one this Friday, but stay tuned. I’m thinking long-term I may have to bump that series to once every two weeks, since I have all my generation VIII articles to work on now, and it’s fun but it also can’t be my main thing – let me know if you have any opinions on that. I haven’t yet decided what my next article topic will be when I return, but the whims of my mysterious dark patrons are currently swaying me vaguely in the direction of cleaning up the tail end of generation VII by writing something on the rivals of Sun and Moon – Hau, Gladion and Lillie.
Thanks as always to my noble Patreon supporters – Don’t Call Me Bradley, Leo M.R., James Crooks, hugh_donnetono, Esserise and Hamish Fyfe – for their continued self-sacrifice in the face of cosmic oblivion. I posted about this on the Patreon page already, but in case some of you haven’t seen it, I’m suspending donations for this month since I’m not going to be writing, so Patreon won’t take any money from you at the start of March.
So Mimikyu theory you may not like: it’s always been weird to me that ALL Mimikyu dress like Pikachu, especially since Pikachu never struck me as universally popular in-universe as it is in real life, at least not to the point where EVERY Mimikyu would base itself on it. But what if that’s the point? What if Mimikyu is breaking the fourth wall and is, for lack of better phrasing, meant to be self-aware? After all, it’s a ghost type, and in some psychological horror games there are characters that become “aware” of the player and even obsessed with them (yandere style). Maybe Mimikyu is meant to reflect that as a ghost Pokémon that’s aware of the real world and wants to appeal to players and not necessarily in-universe characters. The anime characterizes it differently, with Jessie’s having its own motivations, but that IS a different canon and GF might have had different intentions (and it’s not like the games ever avoided breaking the fourth wall). I have a feeling you’re not into fourth wall breaking as it completely ignores in-universe lore, but what are your thoughts on this reasoning?
Well, I’m not sure all Mimikyu do dress like Pikachu, actually – just the ones we’ve seen. The Sun and Moon website actually claims that it’s a recent phenomenon, so Mimikyu in the past must have looked like something else, or simply never revealed themselves to humans at all. Mimikyu seems to me like a Pokémon that’s ripe for regional variation, with other forms imitating other locally popular Pokémon, or even inanimate objects. But then again, the website’s reason for Mimikyu dressing like Pikachu is itself very fourth-wall-break-y; it claims that they picked Pikachu because of “the rising popularity of Pikachu-styled merchandise around 20 years ago.” Sun and Moon were released twenty years after Red and Blue, the first Pokémon games, so it seems like this is referring to the real worldwide Pokémon boom of 1996-1999 (especially given that the internal chronology of the core games – to the extent that there even is one – is not real-time; we know that generations III and IV are contemporary with I and II, while Blue and Red the characters are in their early 20s at most when they appear in Sun and Moon). I’ve also never really had the sense that Pokémon is particularly averse to breaking the fourth wall. So I guess my answer is… mayyyyyybe?
This piece is in principle about the Aether Foundation, and we’ll start by talking a little about them. In practise, though, as I hinted last time in my review of Team Skull, it’s actually more a character study of Lusamine, since a lot of the real “villainy” happening in Sun and Moon is a result of her personal actions, either independently of the Foundation itself or abusing her position within it. The interesting thing about Sun and Moon is that, although Team Skull clearly aren’t the villains by the end of the game, the Aether Foundation aren’t really the villains either. In fact, I’m not even sure Lusamine is. Let’s talk about that.