Who Gets to Keep Togepi?
Ash’s location: Sweden.
This episode gets an entry to itself not so much because I think it’s really interesting, more because it was sort of awkwardly left over after I blocked out all of the others for this chunk of the series, and I suppose it is a fairly important one. I may yet think of something clever to say in this entry, though – I never really know until I write the damn things. Here goes nothing…
At the beginning of this episode, Ash calls Professor Oak to check in. The professor has a gift for Ash: the latest patch for his Pokédex, which contains updated information on dozens of species of Pokémon. Ash delightedly downloads the upgrade and goes on his way. He, Misty and Brock briefly discuss the possibility of heading for another Pokémon Gym… after all, it has been eighteen episodes (close to four months, by my reckoning) since Ash earned his Soul Badge… but they have something way more important on their minds today: the egg Ash found at Grandpa Canyon. As the party’s breeder, Brock has been responsible for looking after the egg since Ash found it, going so far as to sleep with it to keep it warm. Misty’s hoping it will hatch into a Tentacruel, a Pokémon she inexplicably finds adorable, while Brock wants a Golem (you’d think a Pokémon breeder and a Rock-type specialist would know better than to expect a fully-evolved Golem from an egg… I mean, I know the games hadn’t laid out the mechanics of Pokémon breeding yet, but surely there are reasonable assumptions you can make), and Ash is simply praying that it won’t be another Aerodactyl. As they speculate, they run into a pair of old women carrying baskets filled with brightly-coloured Pokémon eggs. When Ash insists that he doesn’t want one, the women fling their baskets in the air, knock Ash’s egg from Brock’s hands and reveal themselves as Jessie and James. With eggs flying everywhere, they manage to grab the real one while the kids are sorting through the fake ones, and abscond. James wants to cook the egg so they can have a decent meal for once in their miserable lives, but Meowth wants to mother it instead, keeping it warm in the remote log cabin they suddenly seem to own. Meowth spends all of his attention on the egg, singing to it, cuddling it, bathing with it, and genuinely seems to find a spark of actual decency in himself. However, Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock eventually track Team Rocket down and attack their cabin, leading to a confused mêlée in which the egg is tossed back and forth across the room several times, until it eventually ends up in Pikachu’s hands… and starts to hatch. Everyone crowds around to look, Misty butting in to get closest.
I would like to point out that the “who’s that Pokémon?” silhouette for this episode, which appears at just this moment, is Aerodactyl. I never noticed this as a kid, but it made me laugh out loud when I saw the episode again.
Most of the eggshell stays intact, but a set of tiny arms and legs pop out, along with a rounded, three-horned head. No-one can identify the baby Pokémon, but the kids don’t mean to hang around with Team Rocket to figure it out, so Pikachu drops a Thunderbolt and they flee the scene with their child. Once the kids get back to civilisation, they ask the Pokédex – after all, it’s just been upgraded. It successfully identifies the baby as a Togepi, but is unable to produce any further information. For some reason, the kids immediately start arguing over who owns the damn thing. Ash found the egg and Brock cared for it, but Togepi seems to like Misty best. Team Rocket soon show up, and declare that they deserve a say as well, citing Meowth’s tender care of the egg. The kids eventually decide on a six-way tournament, but Meowth declares that neither Jessie nor James ever did a thing to help look after Togepi’s egg, and consequently they have no right to compete, so instead it comes down to a four-way tournament between Ash, Misty, Brock and Meowth in an empty stadium. As Meowth stares down Brock’s Onix, he suddenly realises that he doesn’t own any Pokémon, and looks to Jessie and James for help, but they are sulking over being excluded. Meowth eventually remembers that he is himself a Pokémon, and spends the match jumping in and out of the ring, alternating between shouting commands and carrying them out. He quickly realises that he can’t harm Onix, but notices some buckets of water by the side of the field, and throws them over Onix, weakening him enough to finish up with Fury Swipes. Ash and Misty step up next. Ash chooses Bulbasaur, and Misty means to pick Staryu, but gets Psyduck in its place. Misty tries in vain to get Bulbasaur to attack Psyduck’s head and trigger his powers, but Ash instructs Bulbasaur to lick and tickle Psyduck into submission instead. Finally, Meowth faces off against Pikachu… and gets fried to a crisp in five seconds flat. When Ash tries to claim his prize, though, Togepi gets visibly upset whenever anyone other than Misty tries to hold her. He consults the Pokédex, and learns that Togepi imprint on the first things they see when they hatch – and the first thing Togepi saw was Misty.
…which… y’know, would have been a really good thing to know earlier, when the Pokédex told them it didn’t know anything else. I swear the thing was designed by a nitwit.
So, aside from the fact that Brock apparently doesn’t know much about how Pokémon actually breed, what did we learn today? Well, Ash and Brock are surprisingly slow to consider Togepi’s feelings in the question of who gets to be her trainer. Misty points out from the start that Togepi likes her the best, and it’s clear from the end of the episode that Ash is willing to let that sway his decision, but that doesn’t stop them from having a tournament over her anyway. Considering that Togepi is just a baby, it does make some sense that Brock would put what he feels is best for her over what she wants, and as a breeder he is probably the best choice to care for a baby Pokémon from a purely objective standpoint. That viewpoint also makes sense for Ash if we accept my past arguments that he generally believes he knows what’s best for his Pokémon better than they do, though his motivation here seems to be more “I found it; it’s mine.” Strictly speaking, he found Togepi’s egg on a palaeontological site, which probably puts him on shaky ground as far as ownership goes, but he likely neither knows nor cares. I can’t think of any real reason Togepi should be particularly desirable to him; she clearly isn’t going to be ready for training for quite some time. He’s probably just exercising his famous stubbornness. Brock’s being a little weird about it too, since he cares for the whole group’s Pokémon anyway, and would presumably help look after Togepi as long as the three of them stayed together, regardless of who was formally her owner. I suppose Ash and Brock may have simply assumed that Misty was just making stuff up as an excuse to take Togepi for herself because she’s so cute, which… well, okay, that…wouldn’t really be out of character for Misty and might actually be true.
What this episode doesn’t tell us – and which I don’t think we ever actually learn – is where the heck Togepi came from in the first place. At the end of Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon, while Ash is slumbering under the influence of Jigglypuff’s song, her egg just… sort of rolls down from somewhere and gently comes to a stop resting against him. I think maybe the implication is supposed to be that the egg was unearthed in the excavation, and had somehow been preserved in the same way as the fossil Pokémon who attack Ash and Team Rocket (who were supposedly in some kind of incredibly deep hibernation). As for how the egg got into the site… well, although Togepi was introduced to the games in Gold and Silver, the species isn’t native to Johto or Kanto. I suppose it’s possible that Togepi and Togetic used to live in Grandpa Canyon and were subsequently driven out by climate change – probably quite recently, since Togepi aren’t actually extinct (seeing as how every fossil Pokémon ever revealed has subsequently appeared in the show, alive and well, I’m not sure extinction is even really a thing in the Pokémon world, but let’s pretend that it is for a moment). The idea that the egg was in some sort of dormant state does make some sense in relation to the rules the games later established for Pokémon eggs, which are stimulated by the activity of other Pokémon and can gestate for an indefinite period without suffering any harm… of course, Togepi is rather pushing it to the limit.
The other thing that’s important today is how the addition of Togepi to the party affects Misty. In the past, I’ve characterised Misty as snarky, cynical and, in general, a great deal more pragmatic than either Ash or Brock, both of whom have very strong idealistic streaks. Two moments that define the difference between Ash and Misty (for me, anyway; there are others, but these are the two that stick out in my memory) are her comment to Ash after he trades away his beloved Butterfree – “look on the bright side; you got a Raticate!” – and her question to Bulbasaur when he confronts the ancient Venusaur in the Mysterious Garden – “don’t you want to have that kind of power?” Misty does have a sentimental side and we do see it from time to time, but until now her relationships with her Pokémon have tended to suppress it rather than exhibit it. Her signature Pokémon are the inscrutable, alien Staryu and Starmie, whose emotions – assuming they even have them – are impossible for the audience to see. Goldeen gets so little screentime as to be a nonentity, because she can only fight in water. I suspect Horsea was meant to provide Misty with an outlet for her softer emotions, but she falls into the same trap as Goldeen and almost never does anything. I think Togepi may have been brought in when the writers realised they didn’t have enough flexibility with Horsea (and, lo and behold, Horsea actually leaves the team permanently ten episodes later). Finally, the idea of Misty openly admitting to any sort of tender feelings towards Psyduck is almost laughable. When Togepi becomes her sixth Pokémon, however, Misty takes to her new role as Togepi’s ‘mother’ wholeheartedly. She’s as prickly and sarcastic as she ever was, but we get to see in her the same concern for Togepi’s safety as Ash has for Pikachu, which she never shows for her other Pokémon. Misty is used to thinking of Pokémon primarily in terms of their relationship with her as a trainer, but Togepi – who can’t fight – gives her the opportunity to think about Pokémon in an entirely different way, as well as indulge the stereotypically ‘feminine’ traits she’s preferred to downplay for most of her life to keep her sisters off her back.