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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.