Ghetsis’ original design from Black and White.

The Dark Council has convened, and by the will of my mysterious Patrons, my fate is ordained: we’re talking about Ghetsis, the villain of Pokémon: Black and WhiteBlack and White have always been games that I have very mixed feelings about, for all sorts of reasons, and Ghetsis and his role in the story are inextricable from those feelings.  I love the story of Black and White and their sequels; taken together I still think they have the best plot a core Pokémon game has yet produced (although more recent games have different strengths of their own).  I also think they’re deeply flawed and could easily have been so much more.  Ghetsis is a fantastic character – but he and his relationship with the games’ anti-hero (anti-villain?), N, are at the heart of what holds Black and White back.  I’ve talked about Team Plasma, N and Ghetsis before in places, but that was ages ago and some of that old stuff is a little patchy, so this has been a long time coming.  Let’s talk about what makes Ghetsis arguably the most evil character in Pokémon’s history and how he shapes the story of these now-classic entries in the series.

Continue reading “Ghetsis”

Anonymous asks:

Hey apparently I can’t post links here so if you click on the reddit page for Pokémon conspiracies, there’s a great read called “Pokémon Cults, Infinite Energy, and how it shaped the Pokémon world”. There’s part one and two. I hope you enjoy the read!

(oh god there’s been a third part in the time since you sent this question in; that one deals with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, which I haven’t played yet, so I’ll stay away from that for now)

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3

I feel like this is going to be one of those things where a detailed response/discussion would take me hours, so let’s… try and just see what I think of the main points, shall we? Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”

Anonymous asks:

I’ve always wondered about the peculiarities of Techno Blast; one, why did Team Plasma use CASSETTES, of all formats, to work with it? Two, how exactly does one use a cassette to change a laser’s properties? Three, how the heck do you give a laser the properties of water of all things?

Well, (2) is probably the easiest part of this question – the cassettes record predefined settings for Genesect’s laser cannon that change various properties of the beam (frequency, amplitude, etc).  Those settings could be changed manually, but doing so without knowing exactly what you’re doing would be extremely dangerous.  To (1), if you want an in-universe answer, it could be that Team Plasma has kinda retro aesthetic sensibilities (they dress as knights, they have a king and a castle, and just look at Ghetsis), and heck, maybe something to do with the length of the development time on the Genesect project.  The out-of-universe answer… well, believe it or not, cassettes tapes aren’t obsolete in Japan.  Despite having access to plenty of much newer technology, people still use them for recording dictations and notes in office settings, and you can still buy recent albums on cassettes in music stores.  It probably doesn’t seem incongruous at all to the hometown audience.  (3)… oh, I don’t bloody know; magic.  The laser delivers a concussive force like that of a breaking wave.  It resonates with water molecules in the air in such a way that it draws them into a pulsing beam.  I need someone to write better technobabble for me…

Pokémon Generations: Episode 14

This episode of Generations features Team Plasma’s assault on Opelucid City from the second half of Black and White 2, in which the city is frozen by blasts from their flying ship’s Kyurem-powered cannons.  It’s another one of those episodes that is basically showing us something we’ve already seen and know about, but manages to make it just that little bit more evocative through the cartoon medium than the games could originally manage.

Continue reading “Pokémon Generations: Episode 14”

Pokémon Generations: Episodes 12 and 13

The last two weeks’ Generations shorts were… less inspiring to me than the previous couple, although I will admit that this may be partly because I have irrational hatred for Looker, who once again appears in a central role in episode 12.  Then again, 12 at least does something different, even though I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to mean; 13 seems like it’s going back to Generations’ now-accustomed role as a cheerleader for the games.  Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “Pokémon Generations: Episodes 12 and 13”

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 6: The Plot Thickens

Team Plasma in their new trendy get-up.I hurry through the streets of Virbank City towards the ferry terminal, my eyes darting left and right, ever-watchful for Stu Deeoh’s accountants, whose wrath shall surely follow me to the ends of the earth.  As I safely draw near to the docks, however, I am confronted with an obstacle: a six-way Pokémon battle in the open streets.  To my surprise, Jim, Hugh and Roxie are all involved, and are being pressed hard by a trio of ginger ninjas.  No, really; I mean actual ninjas who happen to be ginger.  I realise that I know one of the ginger ninjas – the fellow who lobbed a DVD at me back on Floccesy Ranch – and reason that this must be Team Plasma.  I briefly weigh up in my mind the relative importance of following Pokémon League rules, helping my friends, my distaste for Roxie, fighting crime, and my own massive laziness and apathy.  Eventually I realise that Hugh, Jim and Roxie are battling with Pignite, Falk the Magby and Whirlipede, respectively, and that Pignite and Falk will be absolutely fine if I tell Barristan to scorch the area.

When they realise they’re outnumbered, the Team Plasma goons quickly recall their Pokémon and scatter.  Hugh, not missing a beat, chases after one of them, screaming something about never forgiving them.  Hmm.  Forgiving them for what, exactly?  Come back, Hugh; I think we’re on the verge of a real breakthrough here!  No, never mind, he’s gone.  Well, now that that’s taken care of with absolutely no negative consequences, I guess we’re off to Castelia City now, right?  No… no, Jim wants to help Hugh look for Team Plasma.  Come on; are we running a charity here now?  I elect to wait at the ferry terminal for him to get bored.  Jim, meanwhile, pursues the Team Plasma goons out of Virbank City into Route 20.  He manages to track down one of them, about halfway back to Floccesy Town, and knocks him to the ground with Elisif’s Thunder Wave.  As he flops around helplessly, Jim manages to extract a little information – the man was trying to come around and head back to the coastline.  Unfortunately, the Team Plasma grunt manages to flail onto a hillside and starts rolling before Jim can get anything else out of him.  He disappears into the bushes at the bottom of the hill, and has recovered from the Thunder Wave and scarpered by the time Jim gets down there.  Still, he and Hugh agree that the man’s comment can only mean Team Plasma are travelling by ship.  They return to the ferry terminal and are met there by Roxie.  Roxie thanks both of them on behalf of Virbank City and presents them with a pair of Cut HMs.  She presents me with a death glare and a silent threat to break her guitar over my head if I ever return to her city again, then departs.  Well, it’s not like I wanted that particular HM anyway.  The three of us board the ferry at last, and reach Castelia City before the day is out.

 Castelia City, in all its glory.

Castelia City is as absurd and wonderful as I remember from Black and White – the largest city in Unova, possibly in the entire Pokémon world, teeming with people and packed with businesses as absurd as they are numerous.  I pay a visit to the Battle Company, a huge corporation whose workers are devoted entirely to having Pokémon battles with each other and with visitors to their building, and Passerby Analytics, a group whose name, I can only assume, comes from the fact that they do absolutely no work themselves, but instead enlist random volunteers to conduct surveys for them.  We indulge in a few battles in the city, and little Tyrion evolves into a Whirlipede.  Eventually Jim suggests that maybe we should try to hunt down Team Plasma, and decides to seek the assistance of the Castelia Gym Leader.  I grudgingly agree and we head for the Gym – only to find it closed for business.  Luckily, help is at hand, in the form of… good grief, is that Iris?  The Opelucid City Gym Leader from White version?  What on earth is she doing here?  Is she after Team Plasma too?  Oh, whatever.  Iris confidently explains that she knows exactly where everything shady goes down in Castelia City (I can only presume she’s involved in half of it) and leads us to the easternmost pier of the city docks, where one can enter…

…the sewer level.

Why is there always a sewer level?

I refuse, point blank, to enter the sewer level.  The Virbank Gym was bad enough.  Jim and Hugh can muck around down there with the rats and the sludge monsters and goodness knows what else; I am going to the Café Sonata for antipasto and a glass of sweet white.  Iris doesn’t want to enter the sewer level either but she tries to hide it by claiming she’s standing guard on the surface, the sneaky little brat, so I do not invite her to join me.

 The Sewer Level.

Jim and Hugh enter the sewer level and, in fact, find Team Plasma remarkably quickly.  There are only two grunts in the area, who fall very quickly under their joint assault and flee the scene.  Burgh, the Castelia Gym Leader, emerges from the tunnel near where the goons were standing and declares that there are no other suspicious characters in the area.  Hugh’s thirst for vengeance is slaked for now, and he leaves, as does Burgh, who is returning to his Gym – well and good, but it leaves us no closer to finding their damn ship.  What kind of Bug Pokémon Master doesn’t keep a String Shot or Spider Web handy for just this kind of situation?  Immediately after Burgh leaves, having declared that there are no other suspicious characters in the tunnel, an extremely suspicious character steps out of the tunnel – the blonde white-coated scientist fellow who appeared in the games’ title sequence.  He reveals that he had been watching Jim and Hugh battle, and was impressed by their power, but slips away before Jim can call out a Pokémon to detain him for further questions.  Since Burgh has now been revealed as just about the most incompetent Gym Leader in the history of ever, Jim elects to remain in the sewer level for a while to make absolutely sure there’s no one else suspicious down here.  In fact, he finds that there are a great many suspicious people in the sewer level, though none of them seem to be affiliated with Team Plasma.  The tunnel, which is known as the Relic Passage, turns out to have been built by an ancient civilisation and links up to… somewhere, but Jim isn’t able to get very far inside.  He does find an extremely dodgy scientist who asks him, apparently in total seriousness, whether he is part of the sewer.  As fascinated as Jim is by the Relic Passage, he leaves as quickly as possible to search the sewers, making a mental note to report the scientist to the nearest asylum.

The sewers turn out to be full of Pokémon trainers, one or two of whom appear to have legitimate reason to be down there, though most of them just like hanging around in sewers.  Jim finds no trace of Team Plasma, although in one room, he finds a female scientist who claims to be attempting to create medicines from the venom of Poison Pokémon and other substances from the sewers.  She proclaims her day’s experiment a minor success, and hands Jim an oddly murky-looking Potion to test.  Jim smiles charmingly at her, saying that he’ll try it out later, leaves the room as quickly as possible, and promptly tips the Potion back into the sewer water from which most of it probably came.  He elects to get the hell out of this hive of madness and returns to the surface, where Iris congratulates him on whatever it was he just did and wanders off.  Jim scrapes the sewer muck off his shoes and decides to find me.  I have just finished my meal, and meet him on Narrow Street as I head back towards the Pokémon Centre.  We take a moment to discuss recent events before turning in.  Team Plasma is back, clearly, and they seem to have discarded their former facade of a movement for social change and Pokémon rights; now they’re just perfectly standard Pokémon thieves.  That’s fine by me; it makes them someone else’s problem.  Let the police deal with them.  Jim points out, not unreasonably, that teenaged Pokémon trainers are the closest thing this universe has to a police force.  I mutter that this is clearly the public’s own fault and the inevitable price of their low taxation, and propose returning to Aspertia as soon as we can use Fly to bypass Virbank City.  For now, though, we’re in Castelia… so we may as well stay long enough to take on that cloud cuckoo of a Gym Leader…

The Ethics of Pokémon Training

When you get a title like that, you know there’s some serious sh*t gonna go down.

So, I’m writing this because of a question that turned up in my ask box a couple of weeks ago, which I will reproduce here:

“You’ve touched on the moralistic complaints about the Pokemon franchise before (your post on Torchic, Combusken and Blaziken). I’m on a similar ground to you, seeing teamwork etc being more of what Pokemon is about, but you can’t ignore the fact that violence and animal abuse seem to be essential in fostering that partnership between trainer and Pokemon, can you? Teamwork it may be, but the Pokemon take 100% of the physical side of things. Would you consider doing a post on this issue?”

This is, as it happens, a particularly good time to be talking about this.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has just gotten a lot of attention in the Pokémon community for producing a short online video game, Pokémon Black and Blue, in which Pokémon free themselves from their cruel and sadistic trainers and start a rebellion with the intention of showing humanity a better way.  I urge readers to take a look at the page and the game for themselves, however the gist of it is as follows: Pokémon trainers are horrible people who keep their Pokémon trapped in Pokéballs most of the time, keeping them from getting exercise, and let them out only to have them beat each other bloody, and provide them with medical care only so they can send them back into the arena more quickly.  PETA has gotten a lot of flak for this, as they do for a lot of their stunts; from what I can tell, even the people who are theoretically on their side often think they’re insane.  Naturally, jumping on the bandwagon and attacking them would be too easy.  As always, I like to think I can outline a more nuanced view of the matter.  Here goes nothing.

I’m actually not convinced any of this is meant seriously.  I think the game itself was clearly made by someone who has more than a passing familiarity with Pokémon Black and White – in fact, I half suspect it was made by a fan with a black sense of humour.  I strongly doubt anyone at PETA actually believes that Pokémon is a genuine threat to their cause; it’s more likely that the game is a tool for sparking controversy and drawing attention to PETA than a real attempt to damage Pokémon.  I think there is something of a risk that going after Pokémon like this will risk trivialising the very real abuses they spend most of their time trying to tackle; however, I also think that attacking not just real instances of animal abuse in the world but also the cultural phenomena that appear to tolerate those abuses (in, I must again emphasise, what seems to me like a fairly tongue-in-cheek way) is actually a quite insightful strategy.  They’re probably not going to make any Pokémon fans change their mind about the franchise (they certainly haven’t changed mine), and I think they must know that, but they are going to make people react to what they’re doing, and in the course of that reaction people will be made to think about what makes real animal abuse different from Pokémon battling.  This, of course, means that people are thinking about animal abuse and why it’s horrible, which is exactly what PETA wants you to do, so the moment we even start having this conversation, the game has done its job.  Since I actually quite like what they seem to be doing here, I’m going to go along with it and discuss some of these ideas myself.

First of all, I wish to acknowledge one very important fact: they have a point.  Pokémon is a game about capturing wild animals, stuffing them into tiny balls, keeping them in there most of the time, and letting them out mainly so they can fight other animals, often for the amusement of spectators.  You can argue – and I’m going to – that this is a very simplistic reading of the ideas in the franchise, but bear in mind that it’s actually not the absence of good, wholesome ideas in Pokémon that’s the problem.  It’s very easy to point out the themes of partnership, discovery, charity, heroism and all the rest that we see everywhere in the Pokémon franchise; this is exactly what you see hordes of fans doing whenever PETA’s recent stunt is discussed.  The problem is that this doesn’t actually address their complaint at all.  It’s not the absence of good, wholesome ideas in Pokémon that they’re objecting to – it’s the way those family-friendly themes are mixed up and bound together with a premise that potentially has a lot of morally repugnant implications.  To quote the game’s website, “the difference between real life and this fictional world full of organized animal fighting is that Pokémon games paint rosy pictures of things that are actually horrible.”  Of course cockfighting is okay – after all, it’s no different to Pokémon training, and Pokémon don’t seem to mind… right?  That train of thought probably sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me, but people believe and do ridiculous things every day.  Can you imagine that train of thought passing through the head of someone who already endorses cockfighting anyway?  How about an eight-year-old kid who’s never heard of cockfighting before and doesn’t know whether it’s supposed to be good or bad?  Frankly… I can.  For most people Pokémon is only going to be one of a hundred different influences pushing and pulling in different directions, but it’s still there, pushing very subtly in a direction the creators never intended.  So, again, yes: I actually do think PETA have a legitimate point here.

How, then, do we avoid this problem?  Don’t even try to, says I: tackle it head on.

The basic premise of the Pokémon franchise is really quite morally ambiguous.  That’s part of the reason I find it so interesting, and part of the reason I write for this blog at all.  In general Game Freak likes to avoid touching on the moral ambiguities, but when they do it creates some of the most fascinating stuff the franchise has to offer.  This is exactly why I’ve always felt that Black and White leave all the previous games in the dust as far as storytelling goes – the idea of Pokémon liberation trumpeted by Team Plasma (whom many people see as a pastiche of PETA) is potentially a perfectly noble goal.  Black and White, for the first time, actually acknowledge that there is something slightly fishy about the basic assumptions on which the series operates.  Maybe Pokémon shouldn’t be forced to battle – are we really so sure this is right?  Many of the characters in the game are indeed won over by Team Plasma’s questioning of the established order, and even the Castelia Gym Leader, Burgh, admits that they might be onto something.  The problem is that the debate eventually winds up being very one-sided.  The Team Plasma grunts you meet are brutal, unthinking zealots.  Their leader, Ghetsis, is cynically manipulating his followers to achieve his aims of conquest.  Even N, the undoubtedly benevolent spiritual leader of Team Plasma, turns out to have been deliberately raised in the company of Pokémon who had been hurt by humans in order to influence his worldview, which begins to collapse once he sees what real Pokémon trainers are like.  What about the Pokémon N was raised with?  What about the people in this world who really do mistreat Pokémon horribly, like Team Rocket, such a major fixture of earlier games?  What about Team Aqua, Team Magma, and Team Galactic, who tried to destroy the world by enslaving Pokémon?  N is presented as naïve, his worldview as noble but warped… but would he really seem that way with Team Rocket on the scene?  I think the best path for Pokémon to take from here is to look at what Black and White have done and improve on it: find ways to highlight the moral ambiguities instead of whitewashing everything, and explain through their storytelling “this is good, and this is bad, and here’s why.”

What’s my take on the ethics of Pokémon training, then?  Well, if you’ve read a lot of my anime commentaries, you’re probably aware that I think there are a lot of unwritten and unspoken rules connected with Pokémon training, a code of conduct that regulates the way trainers and Pokémon relate to each other.  Although explicit references to this code are few, I believe that most characters in the franchise do implicitly follow it.  The first and probably the most important point to discuss is what it means to “capture” a Pokémon.  The anime rarely presents capturing a Pokémon as requiring a trainer to beat it into submission; often, particularly in the later series, it’s more a question of winning a Pokémon’s respect.  Furthermore, when the villains capture Pokémon, they rarely use Pokéballs.  When they do, no-one seems to mind.  When they try to capture Pokémon in other ways – even wild Pokémon, who should in theory be fair game – all the law-abiding characters are outraged.  I think what this implies is that the process of battling a wild Pokémon and capturing it in a Pokéball is in fact about convincing it that you are worthy of being its trainer.  This, in fact, is the reason knocking out a Pokémon in the games renders it impossible to capture: if you’ve beaten it completely unconscious, you’ve deprived it of the opportunity to test your skills and perseverance to its satisfaction.  Capturing a Pokémon under such circumstances would be an unforgivable transgression of the rules that govern interaction between humans and Pokémon.  Capturing Pokémon without Pokéballs – by physically restraining them, for instance – likewise violates the somewhat ritualised process of capture.  So, now that we’ve established that Pokémon have to permit trainers to catch them, why would they even want to?  The obvious reason is that they become more powerful under human training, but this is an oversimplification of the issue.  Gaining “levels” represents a Pokémon gaining a greater understanding of its own innate powers, coming closer to becoming an ideal paragon of its species.  This is most noticeable in species that experience evolution, of course (which, incidentally, I believe to be closely connected to the removal of psychological blocks and the achievement of a more advanced state of mind) but all Pokémon have unique abilities which even they may not fully understand by instinct alone.  At the same time, travelling with humans forces Pokémon to learn a wider range of skills and use their abilities for a wider range of purposes than they ever would in the wild.  As a result, they develop greater versatility and creativity than their wild counterparts.  They may even gain skills of leadership and cooperation as a result of working together with Pokémon of other species (if you watch the anime episode Bulbasaur the Ambassador you’ll see exactly what I mean).

But what good does all this serve, beyond making them better able to serve humans and fight in human tournaments?  Simple.  I don’t think Pokémon are ever necessarily supposed to spend their entire lives with humans once caught.  Many may decide later to stay with their humans forever, but I believe most Pokémon initially join trainers with the assumption that, like Ash’s Butterfree and so many of his other Pokémon, they will eventually leave, either returning to the wild to use their newfound powers there, joining other trainers to explore their abilities from a different perspective, or even assimilating completely into human society in one way or another, like Squirtle eventually did.  Pokémon, in short, should not be viewed as passive tools to be used and discarded by trainers.  They are independent, thinking beings who may partner with humans, temporarily or permanently, in order to further the goals of both, in accordance with an unspoken but well-established and very complex code of honour that dictates the actions and conduct of both sides.

Yes, I did just try to completely change the way you view every aspect of Pokémon training from the ground up.

Damn, it feels good to have my honours dissertation finished.

Team Plasma


I’ll start by giving you the short version.

There’s this group of hardline animal rights activists who dress up as mediaeval knights and-

Yeah, you’re right; that does sound stupid.

The truth is, just like Team Galactic, Team Plasma are pretty silly.  The grunts wear costumes that look like mediaeval tunics and chainmail (and yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re meant to look like) and they don’t help matters by using “Plasmaaaaa!” as their battle-cry (it gets worse when one of them decides to coin an adjective to describe anything bad for Team Plasma: “Plasbad”).  As for their leader, Ghetsis… well, he looks like he’s accidentally stumbled in from a high fantasy setting, wearing an enormous blue-and-yellow robe with huge eye-like patterns embroidered on it and some kind of angular monocle made from red glass; the whole ensemble simply defies description and is lacking only a ludicrously ornate sceptre to complete the image (his colleagues, the other six of the so-called “Seven Sages,” wear mercifully plain clothing which, while very old-fashioned, would not seem horribly out-of-place on oriental wise men).  The only explanation I can think of for making Ghetsis so ridiculously over-the-top is that Game Freak wanted to make absolutely sure that the kids would know when playing the game that he’s the bad guy – because, believe it or not, if you don’t already know that anything called a “Team” in Pokémon is a bad guy, you might not immediately realise it.  Continue reading “Team Plasma”