Anime Time: Episodes 60-61
Beach Blank-Out Blastoise – The Misty Mermaid
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.
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.
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.
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.