The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 2b
I can’t believe Phione got voted out! This is SO UNFAIR!
Hmph. Whatever. I suppose I’d better make the best of it…
Deoxys vs. Mew
Mew and Deoxys both have interesting implications for the question of what a ‘Pokémon’ actually is, which contradict each other in places…
Mew is – and always has been – held up as the ancestor of all Pokémon (or, if you accept my interpretation, the ancestor of all Pokémon except the ones who feature in the Sinnoh creation myth). This theory is based on the belief that “[Mew’s] DNA is said to contain the genetic codes of all Pokémon,” which is not how genetics and evolution work. Like, at all. Evolution is ‘descent with modification’ – that is, organisms gain new features that are distinct from those of their ancestors. As you follow the family tree backwards, you should start seeing Pokémon that have fewer and fewer of those distinguishing traits, becoming more and more similar, until you’re left with the basic genes common to all Pokémon, where we should expect to find Mew. I can think of two ways Mew could possibly have anything like a complete genetic library of all Pokémon: either she is not their common ancestor but their common descendent, the end result of millions of years of crossbreeding between formerly distinct Pokémon species (which probably requires us to assume that she is from the future), or she was the seed from which Arceus intended all the extant species of Pokémon to spring, and was given all the necessary genetic material in advance (which I suppose finally answers that question: no, Pokémon don’t ‘evolve’ in the traditional sense; every species was planned from the start and programmed into Mew’s DNA). I’m pretty sure neither of these is actually what Mew’s designers had in mind.
Then, of course, we get Deoxys, who is a shapeshifting psychic virus from outer space, and blithely turns the whole thing on its head.
Deoxys resulted from a mutation in a virus from space that was struck by a laser beam, which… well, okay, first of all, that is not how mutation works either, but there’s something else I’m much more interested in. Deoxys demonstrably is not descended from Mew. It is more closely related to the common cold than it is to Pikachu. It’s debateable whether viruses are technically even ‘living things’ at all (to my knowledge, viruses do not respire); Deoxys clearly seems to have moved beyond that, but it must deserve, at the very least, its own taxonomic domain. So why, in the name of all that is good and holy, is it considered a Pokémon? Any traits it has in common with other Pokémon are plainly coincidental and not the result of shared descent, so calling Deoxys a Pokémon makes no more sense than calling a hornet a bird simply because it happens to fly. The only objective defining factor I can think of is that Deoxys, like all other Pokémon, can be captured in a Pokéball… so is that what makes it a Pokémon? The way it happens to interact with a particular piece of human technology? That seems like a rather arbitrary definition. Then again, perhaps I’m going about this the wrong way… what I’ve been saying about Mew seems to suggest a radically different set of founding principles for evolution in the Pokémon universe, so…
…phylogenetics…Jean-Baptiste Lamarck…finches and fruit flies…Archaea, Bacteria, Eukarya…William bloody Paley’s watch…
CAN’T YOU SEE I HAVE FAR MORE IMPORTANT THINGS ON MY MIND?!
Ho-oh vs. Groudon
I am running out of things to complain about.
Let’s recall my last words on these two. Ho-oh I like because she’s one of the only unambiguously benevolent legendary Pokémon, which I think is a necessary role one of them should fill, and also because of her part in the origin story of the Johto beast trio, which is one of my favourite Pokémon legends because – in my opinion, anyway – it doesn’t get too crazy, like the Sinnoh stories where Dialga and Palkia’s souls are tied to the physical properties of the universe itself, but there’s an actual story to it, unlike for Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, who are just really mysterious and enigmatic. Honestly, of all the legendary Pokémon remaining in the top 16, I think Ho-oh is the one who comes closest to getting that balance right (if you’re interested, I also think that Thundurus, Tornadus and Landorus, who aren’t in this tournament, do quite well). The only real downside to Ho-oh, for me, is that she gets a little bit one-dimensional with the life-light-and-happiness theme. This, actually, is one point on which I think Groudon and Kyogre are relatively strong; when we meet them in Ruby and Sapphire, we experience their full potential for destruction, but – as their Pokédex entries very deliberately point out, and as Team Aqua and Team Magma never stop telling us – they have tremendous creative potential as well. Groudon, for instance, is remembered in myth for saving people from catastrophic floods, and, of course, humanity could not have come to exist in the Pokémon world without the creator of the continents. Groudon’s dual characterisation helps to hammer home the essential message of the plot of Ruby and Sapphire: that ‘nature’ isn’t a single force but a complex balance of conflicting impulses held in a delicate equilibrium, each of which can be beneficial in its proper place, but harmful when thrown out of balance. This is all great stuff, and it’s the reason I do like Kyogre and Groudon. Their weakness in my eyes is their position on the slippery slope that led to capturing the creator of the universe in a tiny plastic ball. Groudon and Kyogre escalated the events of the plot of Ruby and Sapphire to near-apocalyptic proportions, threatening to parch or drown the whole world, respectively. Try as I may, I cannot accept that it makes sense for a ten-year-old kid to be in control of this kind of power. Ho-oh and Lugia straddle the boundary a little – Lugia can create storms that last for weeks, and Ho-oh raised the dead (once) – but building and sinking continents is something else entirely. The closest I can get to making sense of any of this is through a statement Cyrus makes in Diamond and Pearl, which seems to imply that legendary Pokémon captured in Pokéballs lose many of the more cosmic aspects of their power. Why? We don’t know. What effect does this have on the delicate balance between the earth and the sea? We sure as hell don’t care!
My vote goes to HO-OH!
Latias vs. Lugia
I like Latias. I do. I really, honestly do.
I just don’t think there’s anything ‘legendary’ about her at all.
When I covered Latios, I mentioned a list of the characteristics he and his sister share that don’t, in themselves, imply or necessitate ‘legendary’ status, so I won’t do that again. I’ll just point out that they are explicitly herd animals, which seems at odds with both the norm for legendary Pokémon (who are solitary and often implied to be unique, although for some this is contentious) and their own portrayal in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, where a single Latias or Latios wanders Hoenn alone. No explanation has yet been offered for the fact that these social Pokémon are only ever encountered alone, and I doubt one ever will be. Against this, Latias has a number of interesting powers, including the ability to render herself invisible by bending light, as well as an odd but inventive physical design. Add just a little bit of detail about the relationship between Latias and Latios, who are imagined to be females and males of the same species, and I think you’d have a really excellent design… it’s just not a design for a legendary Pokémon. Lugia, of course, is as legendary as you get. Rumour and folktale connects Lugia with the terrible storms that are created by the flapping of his great wings, so it’s odd that dragging Lugia up from beneath the Whirl Islands doesn’t cause the same kind of catastrophe as awakening Kyogre does in Sapphire. It’s easier to accept, though, for two reasons; first, no-one has ever claimed Lugia can actually sink continents; second, we never actually see Lugia cause storms of the magnitude we hear about, which makes it easier to chalk it up to exaggeration in the stories (we experience Kyogre and Groudon’s powers firsthand, and all the characters involved with that part of the story take the myths absolutely seriously; there’s much less room for interpretation). Lugia does begin to slide in the direction of ‘this Pokémon is a cosmic lynchpin which MUST NOT BE CAPTURED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES’ in the Power of One, where his role is actually to calm and contain storms, as in his Pokédex entry for Crystal version. My eventual conclusion has been that Lugia’s actual ecological role is a bit more complicated than we’re told and probably involves both causing storms and quieting them to manage the development of ocean ecosystems in his territory, and that although he certainly could cause one of those mythic forty-day storms we’ve heard about if he really wanted to, it would take a lot more exertion than simply flapping his wings. I’m worried that I may be getting to the point where I’m judging my interpretation of Lugia more so than what we’re actually shown, simply because what we’re shown isn’t totally consistent. However, my issues with Latias stand, so I’m fairly comfortable siding with him against her.
My vote goes to LUGIA!
Rayquaza vs. Palkia
Everyone remembers, from the last round, why I think both of these Pokémon were terrible mistakes?
So, my issues with Rayquaza, in and of himself, are not all that great compared to those I have with Groudon and Kyogre. Kyogre has the power to flood continents. Groudon has the power to dry oceans. Rayquaza has the power to make both of them shut the hell up. He is as mysterious and powerful as any legendary Pokémon should be, but as far as cosmic ridiculousness goes, he’s fairly low-key – his special relationship with Kyogre and Groudon is pretty much it; he doesn’t have the ability to reverse gravity or turn forests into ozone or anything. My problem with Rayquaza is solely in the way he figures into the plot of Emerald version, where he reduces the player’s role in the climax to an extremely simple fetch-and-carry assignment, which I shall here dramatise for your enjoyment.
Wallace: “Where the hell is Rayquaza?”
Player: “I don’t f*cking know!”
Wallace: “Of course; that must be it! Now go get Rayquaza!”
Player: “Oh, hey; that was easy.”
Rayquaza: “LOLZ GO BAK 2 SLP GAIZ”
Kyogre and Groudon: “kk lol”
The anticlimax is much the worse for the fact that, up until this point, Emerald is so much better-done than Ruby and Sapphire in many ways. So, that’s what’s wrong with Rayquaza. Now let’s talk about what’s wrong with Palkia. This, of course, is the old “I just captured a god!” chestnut. Supposedly, catching Palkia (or Dialga, for that matter) in a Pokéball will somehow cut her off from her cosmic powers to some extent, which is the reason Cyrus creates the Red Chain on Pearl version instead of just capturing Palkia with his Master Ball. This explains why you can’t subsequently use Palkia to destroy the universe, like Cyrus wanted to, although there’s no word on the long-term effects (Palkia is supposedly responsible for the stability of space, so I’m not entirely sure capturing her is really the best idea if it will weaken her powers…). Moreover, no-one ever hints at how a Pokéball can do this. Even if the explanation raises as many questions as it answers, though, I am glad they at least tried to handwave it, since we can retroactively apply the same vague rationalisation to Kyogre and Groudon, and probably stick it onto Arceus too, for all the good it will do him. Back to Palkia herself, because there’s one more thing I had a conversation about with a reader a few days ago and I think it deserves a mention: her element. When I first met Palkia, I thought Water was a pretty weird element to give her, but when I think about it, ‘space’ isn’t exactly an easy concept to squish into an element. I remain convinced that Dark does not fit, since Dark Pokémon are almost universally associated not with actual darkness but with treachery, malice and fear. Short of jamming both her and Dialga into Psychic, on the grounds that Psychic covers everything weird, I think Water probably is the best choice to represent a vast emptiness… so, yay Palkia?
Anyhow, Palkia bothers me, but she hasn’t offended me as directly as Rayquaza has, so purely out of spite towards Rayquaza…
My vote goes to PALKIA!