Bye Bye Butterfree and Pokémon Migration

This is the first of what will, in principle, be a monthly “series” of investigations into topics chosen by the unfathomable whims of my shadowy advisors, the Dark Council.  The Council is made up of everyone donating at least $12/month to me on Patreon – at the moment that’s one person, the newly appointed Lord President of the Council, Verb, who therefore gets THE SUPREME POWER to dictate the direction of these studies.  However, if you value what I do, think I deserve something in return for my work, and would like me to maybe someday be able to do more of it, YOU TOO could be inducted into the Council’s hallowed ranks, nominate topics for future months, and vote on them (listen, bribing your way to power and prestige is totally on theme with the whole “cult” thing I’m going for here).

Here is the prompt I was given this month:

“I’ve often thought about the episode of Indigo League in which Ash’s Butterfree is released in order to join the migration, and it’s caused me to wonder the effects that similar migrations might have on Trainer culture, with their inherent desire to remain with their chosen partner Pokemon potentially conflicting with the Pokemon’s own desires.”

So let’s talk about Pokémon migration and what happens when Pokémon leave their trainers!

Continue reading “Bye Bye Butterfree and Pokémon Migration”

Anime Time: Episodes 68 and 71

Make Room for Gloom – To Master the Onixpected

Bulbasaur 'chasing the Dragonite' and biting off more than he can chew.  Or, uh... sniffing more than he can smell.  Yeah this metaphor is kinda getting away from me.
Bulbasaur ‘chasing the Dragonite’ and biting off more than he can chew. Or, uh… sniffing more than he can smell. Yeah this metaphor is kinda getting away from me.

As we join our heroes today, Ash is still at home in Pallet Town, staying with his mother Delia and her Mr. Mime, Mimey, and supposedly training for the Pokémon League tournament… not that he spends a lot of time doing that.  In fact, like a schoolkid with an impending exam, it’s largely while avoiding the process of actually training that he gets up to the stuff that happens over the course of these two episodes.  In the process, though, he inadvertently winds up learning some interesting things about what it means to be a trainer – and so can we.  Let’s get to it.

In Make Room for Gloom, Ash, as he tries to escape the horror of doing chores for his mother, inadvertently leads Misty and Brock to the very place she’d wanted them to pick up gardening supplies for her – a huge domed greenhouse called the Xanadu Nursery.  Ash spent a lot of time there with his mother when he was young, but thought it had closed years ago when the owner moved away.  The kids are let into the greenhouse by one of its workers, a man named Potter, and Ash decides to let Bulbasaur out to play among the plants.  Bulbasaur has great fun at first, getting high off a herb known as Pokénip (like catnip, geddit?), but soon runs into trouble when he sniffs another plant, stun stem, which can paralyse humans and Pokémon.  Luckily, the nursery’s new owner Florinda and her Gloom are on hand to help.  Having worked with stun stem for so long, Gloom has developed an immunity to the plant’s toxin, and can even produce an antidote nectar to cure other Pokémon who have been exposed.  While Bulbasaur promptly starts flirting with his saviour, Brock – in more or less the manner we have come to expect from him – takes the opportunity to get to know Florinda.  Florinda is cripplingly insecure, and believes that she’s a failure at both training Pokémon and running her family’s business.  Potter explains to Ash and Misty that when Florinda bought a Leaf Stone for her Gloom, it failed to evolve Gloom into Vileplume, and she believes this is because she’s a poor trainer.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episodes 68 and 71”

Anime Time: Episodes 66 and 67

The Evolution Solution – The Pi-Kahuna

Professor Oak did you really just spend all morning making this crappy Powerpoint of a Slowbro with question marks all over it?
Professor Oak did you really just spend all morning making this crappy Powerpoint of a Slowbro with question marks all over it?

These two episodes cover a brief (?) excursion to tropical Seafoam Island, where Delia and a group of her friends from Pallet Town are enjoying a relaxing holiday (it’s a very different place from the Seafoam Islands in the games).  Misty and Brock are both invited to join their group, but Ash – who is theoretically supposed to be training for the Pokémon League – is left behind, until he manages to con Professor Oak into giving him an excuse to go anyway.  The Evolution Solution, upon watching it again, is not as interesting an episode as I had hoped it would be, and The Pi-Kahuna has themes that are pretty standard for the Pokémon anime.  However, the former gives me an excuse to ramble at length about Shellder and Slowbro, while the latter… let’s just say its themes are open to creative reinterpretation.  Anyway – without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episodes 66 and 67”

Anime Time: Episode 65

Showdown at the Po-Ké Corral

That's it.  That's the episode.
That’s it. That’s the episode.

Now safely back in Pallet Town, Ash has to start preparing for the Pokémon League tournament – and in order to do that, he has to visit Professor Oak to find out when and where the tournament actually takes place (evidently, the answer is: in exactly two months, at exactly the same place as every year – the Indigo Plateau).  It apparently never occurred to him before now to look this stuff up.  When he arrives at the lab with Misty and Brock, Oak is apparently more excited to see Togepi than to see him, but nonetheless welcomes the gang into his sitting room, where they find out that – as always – Gary is two steps ahead of Ash.  They are almost immediately at each other’s throats, but Professor Oak protests that it would be a shame for there to be a feud between Pallet Town’s two “top trainers” – to the indignant disbelief of both.  Ash and Gary snipe each other for a while as the Professor examines their Pokédexes, and then it’s time for a tour of his facilities.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episode 65”

Anime Time: Episode 64

It’s Mr. Mime Time

Yeah, this is totally happening again!  Because I feel like it!  At the moment!  To be honest there are probably a fair few people following me now who have no idea that I used to write ridiculously in-depth commentaries on episodes of the Pokémon anime, but that was totally a thing and it’s going to be again, so let’s get this calamitous misadventure on the road!  Now… where were we?  When last I left Ash, which was… over three years ago… eh-heh… (look; I’ve been doing other stuff, okay?)

When last I left Ash, he had just… well, I hesitate to use to use the word ‘won,’ so let’s say he ‘obtained’ his eighth and final official Pokémon League badge, the Earth Badge.  Now it’s just a hop, skip and a jump back home to Pallet Town so he can start training for the upcoming tournament – or, at least, it would be, if he hadn’t encountered an unexpected obstacle on the way.

Continue reading “Anime Time: Episode 64”

Brick3621 asks:

I take it you haven’t fiddled around that much with Pokémon-Amie, but I personally think it’s one of the absolute best additions to the series simply because of how much thought went into each Pokémon’s uniqueness; try petting Slugma or feeding Kangaskhan or touching Honedge’s tassel and you’ll see what I mean. What’s your favorite interaction you’ve had so far in Amie?

I’m extremely fond of Pokémon Amie, just because of how it changes the way players relate to their individual Pokémon.  Personally, I like the idea of feeding cream puffs to really big, scary Pokémon like Gyarados – or Wailord, who just sloooowly opens his mouth wide and gulps the whole thing down in one bite.  The fact that you literally cannot touch Slugma without burning yourself is cool but also kinda sad.  I want to pet my adorable little lava slug abomination!  Note to self: triple-thick asbestos gloves…

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.

Anime Time: Episode 54

The Case of the K-9 Caper

Ash’s location: Rhode Island.

 The illustration on Growlithe's card from the Secret Wonders expansion of the TCG, by Kagemaru Himeno.

I can’t remember ever actually seeing this episode as a kid.  I was missing out; I really like this one.  It makes for a great opportunity to get back into one of my old favourite subjects, the ethics of Pokémon training, and to start asking new questions about whether the series considers Pokémon to be ethical agents in themselves, or merely instruments of their trainers.  Seriously, if I had my way this is what the whole series would be about.

Ash and company are innocently strolling through the woods when they hear the cry of “stop, thief!” and see a suspicious-looking man carrying a bag of loot fleeing pursuit.  Ash, not one to take this sort of thing lying down, commands Pikachu to stop him, but the more observant Pikachu has noticed that the man is carrying a handgun and, to Ash’s annoyance, refuses to attack… until a Growlithe bursts from the undergrowth and tackles the thief, causing him to drop his gun.  Pikachu merrily begins blasting away and brings him down, but the nine other Growlithe who arrive immediately afterward, led by Officer Jenny #40, don’t seem particularly happy.  It turns out that Ash and Pikachu have just interrupted a training exercise and assaulted a plainclothes police officer.  Whoops.  Jenny quickly gets over it once she realises it was an honest mistake, and invites Ash, Misty and Brock back to the police station for a hot meal.  This particular Jenny runs the academy that trains Kanto’s police dogs, specially drilled Pokémon capable of taking on humans with firearms at relatively low risk to themselves.  Jenny and Misty both admonish Ash for ordering Pikachu, who has no such special training, to attack an armed man, which annoys and offends him.  He asks for Jenny’s permission to enrol Pikachu in her training program so he can become stronger.  Jenny warns him that the training is difficult, but gladly allows it.  The next morning, she wakes Ash and Pikachu at 4am for a race against one of her Growlithe – and Ash and Jenny will be running too, because a trainer should never expect more of his Pokémon than of himself.  Ash and Pikachu are faster than Jenny and Growlithe, but are defeated by their obstacle course (which Jenny completes in her high heels).  While Ash and Pikachu recover, Brock tries to remind Ash that Pikachu is great even without special training.  Ash responds that he wants Pikachu to keep getting even better, though Pikachu himself doesn’t seem so sure anymore.

 You have to hand it to them... they've got style.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

Then Team Rocket crash through the wall of the academy in the Mutt Cuts van from Dumb and Dumber, pull on some gas masks, and start blasting away at everyone with canisters of Gloom spores.

I really feel sorry for other anime shows that have to trudge through the bleak desolation of existence without Jessie and James to brighten their lives.

This week, Jessie, James and Meowth have gotten it into their heads that it would be a good idea to steal all of Jenny’s Growlithe and use them to commit crimes, because the irony is just too delicious to pass up.  Jenny insists that her Growlithe would never be party to Team Rocket’s criminal schemes, but Jessie and James seem unconcerned, and pull out more gas canisters – this time to dose everyone with helium.  Between the overpowering stench of the Gloom spores and the helium raising the pitch of her voice, the Growlithe can’t recognise Jenny’s scent or the sound of her voice, and stop responding to her commands.  Jessie and James then change into police uniforms, produce voice synthesisers and use Jenny’s own voice to command the Growlithe to arrest her, which they do, taking ropes in their mouths and tying her up.  Meanwhile, Ash, Brock and Misty have stupidly left their Pokéballs back in the station’s dormitory, so Pikachu is all they’ve got.  Jessie tries to command him too, using Ash’s voice, but Pikachu is not impressed; Brock claims that Pikachu knows Ash by what’s in his heart, and can’t be fooled by a cloud of foul-smelling gas and a voice synthesiser.  Pikachu unloads a Thunderbolt on the Growlithe, but there are just too many for him to handle on his own and he quickly runs out of power.  Jigglypuff appears, tries her song, finds that the helium renders her enchanting voice powerless, and wanders off again.  Finally, Jessie orders one of the Growlithe to attack Jenny, but as it bites down on her wrist, she looks into its eyes and invokes the Power of Friendship to remind it who she is.  Team Rocket try to command the others to deal with her, but their synthesisers choose this moment to malfunction, and the Growlithe turn on them and chase them away.  The episode ends with Jenny commending Ash and Pikachu on the strength of their partnership: “you two recognise what’s in each others’ hearts, and that’s what count.  I’ll try to keep that in mind.”  Also Brock uses one of the discarded voice synthesisers to deliver an incredibly creepy ode to himself in Jenny’s voice.  Because he is Brock.

 Lock and load, bitches.

Let’s talk about these Growlithe.  Jessie, James and Meowth have – for once – actually come up with a pretty damn solid plan for their daily mischief.  To a human, it seems ludicrous that a Growlithe could have trouble telling Jessie in a police uniform apart from Jenny – who is, after all, their trainer – but humans rely on sight a lot more than most animals do and consequently have unusually good vision compared to other mammals.  Most mammals – like dogs – compensate with their keener hearing and sense of smell, and this episode suggests that many Pokémon are much the same.  Once Team Rocket have deprived the Growlithe of their usual means of identifying their masters, they have only their sub-par vision to fall back on, and they are left following orders given in the voice they were trained to obey.  Then Pikachu comes in.  Pikachu isn’t fooled; although Ash sounds and smells nothing like himself, Pikachu can recognise his trainer anyway – not immediately, he has to think about it for a few seconds, but he gets there.  I suppose the obvious explanation is that Pikachu is simply much more intelligent than the Growlithe (an attribute that is sorely neglected in the games’ portrayal of many Pokémon).  He’s been paying attention to what’s going on, and although he doesn’t exactly understand what Team Rocket have been doing to confuse him, he knows they’re an underhanded lot and is on his guard for tricks.  As a result, he’s able to decide to ignore what his trainer’s voice is telling him and do what he figures makes sense, whereas the Growlithe latch onto a voice they know and follow its orders, even though Jenny has been standing right there the whole time and they should know who she is even if they can’t hear or smell her clearly.  What’s interesting is that the Growlithe eventually figure it out too – or, at least, one of them does – by staring into Jenny’s eyes and having a touching flashback montage of all their happy times together.  The obvious explanation – the Growlithe aren’t as intelligent as Pikachu – doesn’t quite seem to make sense anymore; the tone of the scene doesn’t fit with Growlithe suddenly putting together the information and figuring out that Jenny’s voice is being faked.  It’s a lot more consistent with Growlithe knowing who she is the whole time and only now wondering why he’s being ordered to attack her.

 These guys seriously never get old.  Wait; does James have breasts in this scene?

Pokémon follow orders; this we know.  The Growlithe, in particular, are probably being trained to follow orders from any police officer (or perhaps simply from any Jenny; there are non-Jenny police officers in this episode, but I get the impression that the Jennies are the ones who most often work with Pokémon), so they aren’t necessarily supposed to have the same deep personal relationship with their handlers as Pikachu does with Ash.  There’s a further point to this, though.  Jessie and James are both quite convinced that they will be able to order the Growlithe to commit robberies, and Jenny is equally convinced that the Growlithe would never do such a thing.  The story is structured so as to suggest to us that Jenny is actually wrong – her comment is immediately followed by Team Rocket successfully taking control of her Pokémon and ordering them to restrain her.  The difference between their views is that Jenny regards the Growlithe as moral agents in and of themselves, capable of understanding that certain actions are ‘wrong’ and refusing to take part in them, while Jessie and James think that they’ll be able to order the Growlithe to do just about anything once they establish themselves as authority figures (and I feel I should emphasise again that the structure of the episode immediately shoots Jenny down).  I’m reminded of Ekans’ dialogue in Island of the Giant Pokémon – “Pokémon not bad; Pokémon do bad things because Master bad” – which suggests that, although Ekans and Koffing are totally aware that they are aiding their trainers in committing morally repugnant acts and would never do such things on their own, this is trumped by the principle of loyalty to their masters.  The Growlithe – who have been taught to view anyone who knows how to command them as ‘master’ – would find themselves in just the same position if they were taken by Team Rocket.  When you think about it, this has to be the case in order for Team Rocket even to exist as an organisation: their modus operandi is to steal Pokémon for use in other crimes with more direct rewards.  This could hardly be practical if a significant number of stolen Pokémon were likely to rebel against trainers who committed crimes.  As Pikachu and Growlithe remind us, though, Pokémon are in fact capable of understanding that an action is ‘wrong.’  It’s much easier for Pikachu – probably because Ash places an unusual amount of emphasis on treating his Pokémon as friends and individuals – though even Growlithe, raised specifically to be part of a squad, can do it when ordered by a new ‘authority figure’ to attack an old one.

In short, Pokémon do understand human morality – it’s just that most of them are used to thinking that it doesn’t apply to them.  They simply don’t see themselves as moral agents – thinking about that stuff is their trainers’ job – unless they’re been strongly encouraged to, one way or another.  I think this is what Brock and Jenny are talking about when they say that Ash and Pikachu “understand what’s in each other’s hearts;” Pikachu recognises Ash not merely as his trainer, but as an objectively good person, and would continue to emulate Ash’s moral character even if they were somehow torn apart.  As she acknowledges at the end of the episode, Jenny and her Growlithe could stand to learn a lot here.

Anime Time: Episodes 49 and 52

So Near, Yet So Farfetch’d – Princess vs. Princess

Ash’s location: Oregon.

Misty and her Psyduck have something of a love-hate relationship, thanks to Psyduck’s total dearth of useful skills, constant debilitating headaches, and inexplicable habit of bursting from his Pokéball at the worst moments imaginable.  On the other hand, he does occasionally get to be awesome, thanks to his latent psychic powers, which is generally enough to mollify Misty for about five minutes and convince her not to pitch him off a cliff.  Today’s two episodes are among Psyduck’s rare but glorious good days.  Let’s take a look.

 This Farfetch'd appears in one episode, and manages to accomplish more than Team Rocket normally does in twenty.  Maybe *he* should be the villain.  Screenshots from filb.de/anime.

So Near, Yet So Farfetch’d sees Ash, Misty and Brock travelling through a forest where a rare and extremely delicious bird Pokémon called Farfetch’d can be found.  When Ash and Brock leave Misty alone for a moment, she sees one twirling its leek like a baton.  Intrigued, she follows the Farfetch’d, but loses it when she collides with a young boy in the woods (his name is never actually mentioned, but Bulbapedia calls him Keith) and drops her bag.  Misty returns, downcast, to Ash and Brock, only to find that Keith has switched bags with her: he has her Pokéballs, while she has only rocks packed in newspaper.  Meanwhile, Team Rocket stumble into Farfetch’d and Keith, who leads them to his rowboat tied up on a riverbank.  Claiming to have left something in his tent, he runs off, leaving his bag with Jessie, James and Meowth, who promptly steal it, the boat, and Farfetch’d.  Their gloating soon turns to anger when they realise that Keith’s bag is full of rocks and his boat is full of holes.  As their own Pokéballs float away, Farfetch’d scoops them up and flies off.  By this point, Misty and the others have learned from Officer Jenny #354 that Farfetch’d and Keith are notorious thieves…

“We’ve been together for a long time, Farfetch’d,” Keith tells his Pokémon, in case he has forgotten, “right after I found you injured on the road and nursed you back to health and started stealing.  I wish there was some… other way for us to get by, but… how else will we survive?  You’re just too weak to battle.”  Oh, cry me a river of clumsy exposition…  Anyhow.  Team Rocket find them and demand compensation.  Keith returns their Pokémon, along with a whole bag of Pokéballs.  Psyduck finally tracks down Farfetch’d, and Ash challenges him despite Keith’s objections.  To everyone’s surprise, Farfetch’d turns out to be more than Bulbasaur can handle, with his brilliant Agility technique.  Farfetch’d then pummels Psyduck for a while, until Psyduck flips out and mind-crushes him.  At that very moment Team Rocket, who are floating overhead, realise that all Keith’s Pokéballs contain explosive Voltorb, and frantically start pitching them out of the balloon… right onto his head.  Keith surrenders and agrees to return all the Pokémon he stole to their trainers.  Everyone, including Jenny, instantly forgives him, because he’s really sorry, and he promises to go off and live the life of an honest trainer with Farfetch’d.

I like to think he murmured the word “suckers” under his breath as he walked away.

 Lickitung in heaven, by the ever-brilliant Endless Whispers (http://endless-whispers.deviantart.com/).

In Princess vs. Princess, the day of the annual Princess Festival rolls around: a celebration of rampant commercialism, where women buy clothes, accessories and delicacies by the tonne at rock-bottom prices.  Misty and Jessie both eagerly join the shopping spree.  Jessie’s doesn’t end so well – she takes the opportunity to buy expensive gifts for Giovanni, to help the trio ooze their way back into his good graces, but runs into a wild Lickitung who slurps up the lot.  Jessie, furious, hurls a Pokéball and captures the Lickitung, whom she threatens to deal with later.  When she returns to the shopping malls, she and Misty get into a fight over a blue dress, and agree to settle the matter in the Queen of the Princess Festival Contest.  Both of them are independently desperate to win the contest because of the prize: a one-of-a-kind set of extremely valuable Pokémon Princess Dolls.  For Jessie, dolls like these are a symbol of everything she could never have during her childhood of poverty; for Misty, of everything she always got as a ragged hand-me-down from her three older sisters.  The contest appears at first to be a beauty pageant, which Misty and Jessie enter in their finest clothes, however it turns out that there is a second component: a Pokémon tournament!  How exactly the two halves of the contest fit together is never explained; and the winner of the tournament is the one who takes home the prize, so… maybe the pageant is just a qualifying round?  Anyway, Misty co-opts Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Vulpix to create a balanced team of four with her Staryu, while Jessie seizes Weezing from James and literally throws Meowth into the ring.  Predictably, Misty and Jessie squash all comers and make their way up to the finals, where Pikachu unceremoniously fries Arbok, Weezing and Meowth in quick succession.  Jessie despairs, but Meowth reminds her that she has one more Pokémon: Lickitung, whose stupefying Lick attack puts a quick end to Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Vulpix.  Misty calls on her final Pokémon, Staryu… but instead, out pops Psyduck.  Psyduck proves to be unaffected by Lickitung’s numbing slurps, which leads to a stalemate since neither Pokémon possesses any other useful attacks… until Psyduck’s powers kick in and Lickitung is walloped.  Misty wins the contest and the dolls, and promptly ships them back to Cerulean City, for the express purpose of making her sisters mad with jealousy.

…gods, she’s weird.

 Psyduck hits Farfetch'd with his Limit Break.

In both of these episodes, Psyduck gets the opportunity to prove his worth: he’s probably Misty’s strongest Pokémon once he gets going.  He’s not the only one, though: Farfetch’d and Lickitung both dramatically exceed the expectations of their respective trainers when they enter the ring.  Farfetch’d has been with his trainer for some time, but despite their experiences together, Keith remains convinced that Farfetch’d is too weak to battle.  Sound familiar?  Like Keith, Misty seems to feel responsible for her dead weight Pokémon; even though she clearly doesn’t want Psyduck, she never appears to think that releasing him is a viable solution, and in spite of her constant biting sarcasm towards him she seems no less protective of Psyduck than she is of her other Pokémon when he’s in trouble.  Unlike Keith, she has yet to find some way for Psyduck to be useful in non-combat situations, which probably isn’t helping their relationship.  Both Farfetch’d and Psyduck reveal their true strength only when things get desperate, which is when they prove to be ridiculously powerful.  Farfetch’d, who has presumably never been trained for battle and probably hasn’t fought in a long time, wipes the floor with a well-trained, experienced and extremely disciplined Bulbasaur.  I mean, yes, Flying beats Grass, and yes, the tone of Keith’s expositional onslaught implies that he’s been massively underestimating Farfetch’d for a long time, but that can’t change the fact that Farfetch’d has very little battle experience and, in all probability, doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  We’ve all heard the stories about mothers temporarily gaining super-strength when their children are in danger; I think this may actually be something similar.  Farfetch’d has realised that Keith is cornered and has nothing to fall back on, so he pulls out all the stops, physiologically and psychologically, to keep his partner safe – and, until Psyduck takes the field, it works.  Psyduck, of course, is quite different in that he isn’t really conscious enough of what’s going on around him to be particularly set off by a threat to Misty, though the connection between his psychic abilities and his headaches does imply that they’re a mechanism for dealing with very stressful situations.  In either case, the enduring message is that Pokémon, like people, are capable of being however strong they need to be.

 "Right.  Okay; that's it.  This was *not* in my contract.  Ash, if you ever make me fight one of these things, I swear I will murder you."

Lickitung is something quite different.  When Jessie uses Lickitung, he’s clearly something of a Hail Mary play on her part.  I don’t think she really expects to win by that point, but is hoping at least to go out with some dignity.  Lickitung, however, astonishes everyone by defeating not only Pikachu but Bulbasaur and Vulpix as well.  Despite Lickitung’s apparent power, Arbok remains Jessie’s main Pokémon in subsequent episodes, and his addition to the team doesn’t result in a marked change of Team Rocket’s fortunes; they stay useless and Lickitung is never so effective again as he is in Princess vs. Princess.  Why?  All things considered, I think it has to come down to the element of surprise.  None of Misty’s Pokémon knew what they were getting into with Lickitung.  His unconventional fighting style is a challenge to deal with, since they don’t know its weaknesses or limitations, and this is compounded by the way it works – delivering a slobbery Lick that leaves an opponent helpless from the sheer grossness of it, which is undoubtedly much worse as a surprise (if you know what’s coming, it probably doesn’t seem so bad).  Psyduck, in turn, overcomes Lickitung because he is remarkably weird as well, and simply doesn’t care about being licked.  Deprived of his one big trick, Lickitung has no other viable tactics in his arsenal.

 Misty's Psyduck, inexplicably, cannot swim.  Luckily, Musical Combusken (http://musicalcombusken.deviantart.com/) has kindly given him a life preserver.

“Are you going somewhere with this?” you may well ask.  The thing about the anime is that it often gives weak or highly unusual Pokémon – and their unique powers – a moment in the sun.  As far as the games go, Farfetch’d has never been worth using except in masochistic self-imposed challenges, and probably never will be, but here we see that he is actually very intelligent and therefore a useful partner in Keith’s cons (amusingly, the inspiration for his design – the Japanese expression kamo negi, literally “a duck with a leek,” figuratively “a person naïvely walking into danger or a con” – refers in this episode not to Farfetch’d but to Misty, which is a rather nice twist).  Lickitung fares much better in the games, but still isn’t exactly ‘good;” moreover his mighty tongue, which was supposed to be the point of the design, never really came through in the way he fights until the comparatively recent additions of Wring Out and Power Whip to his movepool, since Wrap, Slam and Lick are, let’s be fair, terrible attacks (for heaven’s sake, in Red and Blue he didn’t even get Lick).  Arguably, for a long time Lickitung never got to be Lickitung in the games.  That brings me to Psyduck, because for Psyduck the relationship between the games and the anime is actually a very interesting one.  This is the original Pokédex entry on Psyduck from Red and Blue: “while lulling its enemies with its vacant look, this wily Pokémon will use psychokinetic powers.”  That’s… an extremely different portrayal from the Psyduck we know and ‘love,’ suggesting that his dim-witted appearance is just a facade.  It’s only in Yellow version, which is based on the anime, that we first get “always tormented by headaches. It uses psychic powers, but it is not known if it intends to do so,” which has dominated since.  Furthermore, when Misty originally met Psyduck in Hypno’s Nap Time, Nurse Joy #558 introduced him as one of the Pokémon adversely affected by Hypno’s psychic waves, who for some reason never fully recovered.  I don’t think Misty’s Psyduck was ever supposed to be typical of his species; rather, the whole species was subtly rethought with the release of Yellow version to bring them in line with his individual characterisation, and this shift has persisted to this day.

So, I totally intended for this entry to be about Misty’s relationship with Psyduck, but then it was about the games’ relationship with the anime instead.  That’s okay, though, because it’s one of the topics I really want people to think about when reading my Anime Time entries.  Occasionally the anime just plain defies reason, but a lot of the time the nature of the medium gives the writers more freedom to portray the Pokémon the way they’re supposed to be, and in at least one case, they apparently did a good enough job of it that the games actually followed suit.

Food for thought.

Anime Time: Episodes 43, 44 and 46

The March of the Exeggutor Squad – The Problem with Paras – Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon

Ash’s location: Belgium.

I have way too much to talk about in this entry so I’ll just get going.

...I...I don't know.  I just don't know.Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock find a carnival!  Hooray!  Ash and Brock promptly get changed into… I don’t even know.  Frills.  Misty and Pikachu, in a fit of embarrassment, ditch them and run into a down-on-his-luck magician named Melvin and his Pokémon partner, an Exeggcute.  Misty foolishly agrees to fill in as his beautiful assistant for a little while… and is mortified when Ash and Brock turn up to watch the show.  Melvin has zero stage presence, lacklustre juggling skills, and a fire spell that singes the audience and sets off the tent’s sprinkler system, causing everyone to leave in disgust.  Ash tells Melvin not to give up, and devises his own magic act by stuffing his Pokémon into a chest and pretending to conjure fire and water.  Misty watches in mock amazement until Charmander accidentally sets the others on fire and the whole thing dissolves into chaos.  Ash notes that Exeggcute doesn’t do much… so the Pokémon uses Hypnosis to turn Ash into Melvin’s obedient mind-slave.  They run off into the nearby Leaf Forest, without Brock and Misty, where Ash helps Melvin to capture a herd of Exeggutor, so he can brainwash people into… enjoying his magic show.  Dream big, Mel.  Dream big.  Team Rocket appear and capture the ineffectual magician, and his Exeggcute evolves to save him, but unfortunately his newfound powers drive the other Exeggutor insane and start a stampede.  By the time Misty and Brock find Ash and get him back to the carnival, the ringmaster has planted a bomb to destroy the rampaging Exeggutor before they cause too much harm.  Ash quickly realises that only Charmander’s fire can snap them out of their trance, but Charmander isn’t strong enough to deal with all of them at once.  Misty convinces Melvin that his fire spell WILL work if he really tries, and he does, and it does.  The stampede ends, the Exeggutor go home, un-exploded, and Charmander is rewarded for his perseverance by evolving into Charmeleon.

Ash, stop it.  Where are you even getting these clothes?I really have only a couple of minor points to bring up for this episode.  The first is that Hypnosis, which in the games just puts Pokémon to sleep, is used here (as in some other episodes) as a mind-control power.  The fact that a power of this nature exists is clearly awesome, if a little worrying.  The second is that Melvin’s Exeggcute apparently manages to evolve without the use of a Leaf Stone, as did, presumably, all the other Exeggutor in the herd.  No-one questions this at the time; Ash is too stoned to care, Melvin probably doesn’t know how Exeggcute are supposed to evolve anyway, and Brock and Misty aren’t there.  I can think of three explanations for this.  1) The writers screwed up… and, let’s be honest, this one has Occam’s Razor on its side here.  2) Stones aren’t the only way to make Pokémon that use them evolve; they’re just the easiest way, which, of course, massively affects the arguments in play in Electric Shock Showdown and the Battling Eevee Brothers.  3) The area is named the “Leaf Forest” because there are actually Leaf Stones buried there, or crushed and mixed through the soil, or something similar, and these unusual conditions allow Grass Pokémon to evolve there when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to (years later, it was established in an episode of the Johto series that Leaf Stones and Sun Stones can in fact remain potent if crushed and distributed on the wind, though obviously the writers of this episode didn’t know that yet).  You may decide for yourself which seems most likely.

Paras in a secluded grotto, surrounded by glowing spores, by Aeris Arturio (http://aerisarturio.deviantart.com/).A few days later, near a hick town called Mossgreen Village, Meowth succumbs to a terrible fever.  Jessie and James shrug; “he’s got eight lives left.”  They are approached by a woman called Cassandra, who admonishes them for not taking better care of him and gives them some powerful medicine to cure the fever.  Meowth, who has a bit of a human fetish, immediately falls in love with her.  Later, looking for a Pokémon Centre and finding none, Ash himself meets Cassandra and learns she has a problem.  Cassandra and her grandmother run a small shop selling herbal medicines, and she wants her Paras to evolve into a Parasect so she can use his spores in creating new miracle potions, but he’s too cowardly to fight, and can’t gain any experience points.  Ash tries to challenge Cassandra and throw the match, but even the tiniest spark from Pikachu and the gentlest spray of water from Squirtle send Paras reeling… and then Ash tries Charmeleon.  Charmeleon has no interest in toning things down and chases Paras off with a Flamethrower.  In the woods, Paras falls in with Meowth.  Meowth thinks that Cassandra will love him if he helps Paras, and drags Jessie and James into the scheme with promises of the vast wealth Cassandra’s miracle potion will bring.  He quietly sabotages Arbok and Weezing when they battle Paras, and then pretends to faint from a gentle poke.  Drunk on Exp., Paras goes to challenge Pikachu to a rematch, which Pikachu throws once again, this time successfully.  Charmeleon remains unruly, but Team Rocket show up to cheer for Paras, who manages to stab Charmeleon into submission and evolves into Parasect at last, before finishing Charmeleon off with Spore.  Unfortunately for Meowth, Cassandra refuses to take him on as the mascot of her company – she could never break up his team!  Besides, her grandmother has just dragged in a random wild Persian that will serve just as well.


The Problem with Paras
is a weird episode.  It’s one of a scant handful of episodes that explicitly mention “experience points,” and seems to go out of its way to imply that they work exactly the same way as they do in the games, which is so counterintuitive it becomes absurd.  How on earth is Paras ‘gaining experience’ or becoming stronger in any concrete sense by repeatedly having his ass saved by Meowth in his battles with Arbok and Weezing?  The whole thing seems like a reference to the way we normally train weak Pokémon in the games – if you switch a Pokémon out of a battle, it will still gain an equal share of experience points, however little time it spent actually fighting (if any), but I doubt anyone thinks of this as anything more than an abstraction designed to simplify gameplay.  I am convinced that this episode is actually a stealth parody of the whole concept of experience points.  The repeated direct references to “experience points” are just so blatant, so far out of step with the series, and draw so much attention to the absurdity of what they’re doing that I really don’t see how they can be meant seriously.  What’s actually going on here, then?  The episode becomes far less logic-defying when viewed through the lens of evolution being a largely psychological phenomenon, which has always been hinted to be the case.  Paras isn’t kept from evolution by needing more of some kind of abstract ‘points’ which are accrued when a Pokémon is formally declared the winner of a battle; he’s kept from evolution by a major psychological block, born of his own conviction that he is a poor fighter.  When Paras appears to defeat Arbok, Weezing, Meowth and Pikachu, these false victories – although they do nothing to increase his actual strength – allow him to imagine himself as a winner (this remains true even if Paras is actually aware, subconsciously, that his victories are being staged; it’s still possible for him to become immersed in the fantasy).  The lucky shot he gets in against Charmeleon finally pushes him over the threshold, causing him to realise that there’s no physical reason for him not to have evolved a long time ago.

"Hooray!  Charizard's evolved!  He's going to save me!" FWWOOOSH! "Oh God!  Charizard's evolved!  He's going to kill me!"

So, now that we’ve seen Charmander become Charmeleon, and his reaction to his newfound powers, let’s see how he gets the rest of the way.  It all starts when Ash runs into Gary, who has joined in a Pokémon Fossil Rush at Grandpa Canyon.  Because Ash and Gary compete over everything, Ash joins the dig as well.  Team Rocket are lurking nearby as well, and planning to dynamite the whole place so they can scoop up the fossils at their leisure.  Ash finds them and, one botched explosion later, he, Pikachu, Jessie, James and Meowth are trapped in an underground cavern, surrounded by supposedly extinct Pokémon.  Pikachu’s electrical powers prove ineffective against the fossil Pokémon, so Ash brings out Charmeleon… who settles down for a nap.  Luckily, the fossil Pokémon hear something that scares them off.  Unluckily, that something is an Aerodactyl, who clocks Charmeleon on the head, grabs Ash, and breaks out through the roof of the cave, with Pikachu and Charmeleon clinging to his tail.  Once they’re on the surface, Charmeleon challenges Aerodactyl, who just taunts him and flies away with Ash.  Charmeleon decides he will take no more of this; he wants his wings NOW.  He evolves into Charizard and pursues Aerodactyl through the sky, sniping him with Flamethrowers.  Ash is overjoyed until he realises that Charizard will happily write him off as collateral damage.  Misty realises the same thing, finds Jigglypuff, and convinces her to sing Aerodactyl and Charizard down.  Aerodactyl drops Ash and falls back into the caverns, while Charizard grabs Ash as he falls and sets him down on the ground before falling asleep himself.  When everyone wakes up, Officer Jenny #869 declares that IT WAS ALL A DREAM AND WE ARE SHUTTING DOWN THE SITE NOW BECAUSE OF REASONS.  Ash remembers, though… and suddenly has a mysterious red- and blue-spotted egg in his possession…

The terrifying awesomeness that is Aerodactyl, by Kezrek (http://kezrek.deviantart.com/).

First things first: this episode is basically the poster child for evolution being triggered by psychological factors.  There is no way Charmeleon has gotten from level 16 to level 36 in three episodes; he evolves not by gaining experience but through a supreme act of will, brought on by his overwhelming desire to reduce Aerodactyl to cinders.  What I really want to talk about, though, is Charmeleon’s character development.  Ash is astonished by Charmeleon’s sudden disobedience in the Problem with Paras, which Cassandra’s grandmother puts down to Ash’s own insufficient skill and Charmeleon’s lack of respect for him.  It’s true that, by game logic, Charmeleon is an ‘outsider’ and can’t be expected to obey Ash past a certain level, but considering Ash’s strong relationship with his Pokémon, and the fact that Charmander was always so nice, it’s still a striking turnaround.  There is a hint at the end of March of the Exeggutor Squad that Charmeleon is going to be quite a handful, but I think the problem really starts in the next episode.  Charmeleon has just evolved, and was already Ash’s strongest Pokémon aside from Pikachu.  He was probably expecting to face ever stronger opponents in his new form… but instead, for his very first battle after evolving, Ash sends him against a cowardly weakling Paras, and tells him to go easy on it.  I think he found this unbelievably insulting, and was still in a bad mood when Ash called on him in Grandpa Canyon.  When he was able to evolve into Charizard all on his own, he came to the conclusion that he simply didn’t need Ash anymore, and decided to act accordingly until Ash was prepared to treat him with more respect.  Notably, though, he does have the presence of mind to catch Ash when Aerodactyl drops him, and bring him safely to the ground, even as he’s drifting off to sleep himself.  He still regards Ash as his human, and clearly still feels he has some responsibility to him.  I suggested in a recent entry that Ash’s relationship with his Pokémon has an almost parent/child cast to it; this works with relatively few problems when his Pokémon are small and cuddly, but grows problematic when they take on more mature, powerful forms.  It takes sixty episodes before he and Charizard finally start working as a team again.