Pokemon Character Reviews: Generation V
Here we go...the generation that, in terms of Pokemon design, I absolutely consider the best
up to this point in the franchise, a dramatic uptick that only continued to climb, and to many people, the generation with some of the best storytelling.
It is also the only Pokemon generation I never actually played.
Yeah, I know. It introduced my favorite Pokemon of all time
along with several others in my permanent top ten, but even so, the same old gameplay and same old interface just wasn't grabbing me enough to warrant the $100+ it would have cost my jobless ass at the time to get the game along with a new DS. I had to sit this one out, and I found myself honestly not really missing it as a gaming experience
, even if I fanboyed harder than ever for the new monster selection.
So, this time around, I'll be reviewing characters from a generation I never actually got to experience first hand; characters I'm ONLY secondarily familiar with, but I'll be doing my very best not to let that have a negative impact on their final scores.
At long last, Pokemon saw its first-ever lady professor, which is cool. I like Professor Juniper, even if she doesn't offer any other twist on the role. Black and White's Unova region, based on the United States of America, was handled somewhat like a soft reboot of the game series, including many shout-outs to the first generation. Besides her age and gender, Juniper is pretty much Professor Oak .2, a generalized Pokemon scientist with a typical upbeat, helpful personality.
THE OTHER PROFESSOR JUNIPER
Juniper also differs from previous professors in that she still hangs out with immediate family; her father, Cedric Juniper, was the region's lead professor before his daughter surpassed him, but he's still a renowned specialist in Pokemon biology and is the guy to talk to when you want your pokedex evaluated and upgraded.
I generally like him, though he feels kind of superfluous, like he was thrown in just to further rationalize why this generation's professor is a younger woman instead of an old guy, I don't know. This is the America-themed Pokemon region. Do they just think of us as hanging out with our dads more? I don't know.
While they're at it, these games throw in a second lady scientist, Juniper's friend since college who specializes in studying Pokemon's dreams. This generation included the unique "dream world" feature, which allowed players to send their pokemon to an online dream realm, collect items, meet even more pokemon and even customize a little house. It's another one of those gameplay features that felt pretty important to the ongoing expansion of Pokemon canon, but was unfortunately left behind and replaced by other features in subsequent games.
Fennel has a little more of a distinct personality than Juniper, a little more passion and emotion for her work, and it's always cool to see these professors with more focused fields than just "studying pokemon."
Once again, you've also got more than one rival in this game, but they're also once again really close childhood friends of your character. Officially, the story and setting of Black and White are supposed to have a theme of "truth and ideals" as two forces that can be contradictory or complementary, and Cheren, an intellectual and hard working school student, represents "ideals," pursuing what he thinks is best no matter what. An interesting idea, not pushed very far, but I like the idea of having a straight-A schoolboy rival friend in these games.
Your other rival is supposed to contrast with Cheren and represent "truth." Bianca is honest and reliable, even if she's sometimes a screwup and not always strong, which she's also honest about. She has the more interesting conflict of a father who disapproves of her pursuing the life of a Pokemon trainer and adventurer, which we're meant to find mean and bad, but isn't that kind of one of the first sensible parents we've ever heard of in this setting?
If you think the "truth and ideals theme" is intriguing, though, we've already kind of reached the end of its immediate relevance. Gamefreak considers every generation to have an underlying high concept principle like that, but it's generally rather subtle, and more of an internal creative guideline than something the player is really made all that aware of.
The first gym of the game presents a novel new twist; it has three possible leaders to fight, depending on which starter you chose, with Cilan here being a grass-type challenger to your water-type starter. The gym itself is also a butler themed cafe where these three characters are also the waiters.
In the games, Cilan has a somewhat polite but shy personality. In the anime, he tags along with Ash because he craves a variety of experiences in life and is always commenting on the different "flavors" of people, Pokemon and places they encounter. You can't just evaluate EVERYTHING as food, Cilan!
The fire-type waiter, so of course he has the more energized, outgoing, "fiery" personality. Predictable, not that fun.
Haha, like "water cress." I get jokes. Another predictable personality, unfortunately. The water guy is the more mellow, carefully spoken one.
It took them this long to have a black gym leader? Really? Figures it'd only happen once the series took place somewhere other than an expy of Japan. Lenora is a nice concept all around, an archaeologist who runs the museum and even gives you this generation's fossil Pokemon in the sequel games, though her specialty as a trainer is the normal type, rather than the expected ground or rock! Her main partner is her Watchog, and I guess a burrowing mammal with super keen vision is pretty handy in her line of work.
Just looking at this guy, I feel like he wants to lecture me about the health benefits of kombucha. I swear this is every single white guy I see walking by on the streets of Portland, and I don't want to relate to him...but "The Premier Insect Artist" is, as that title implies, both an artist and a bug type trainer. He just loves to draw bugs, he loves to talk about how beautiful bugs are, and a local newspaper apparently spreads a rumor that he might be a giant bug himself, citing a claim that he produced silk from his hands and was seen eating an apparently suspect amount of honey.
"The Shining Beauty" is both the electric-type gym leader and a fashion supermodel, another novel combination. She apparently also enjoys bad puns, despite a reserved and serious image she has in the public eye...and isn't really happy with, either.
...So, we meet Elesa again in the sequel games, Black 2 and White 2, which take place a year or so later. Elesa has now loosened up her image and personality, truer to herself, and dresses as outrageously as she feels, even converting her whole gym into a runway! I feel like this is a pretty thoroughly realized character compared to the average gym trainer, and that is a RAD ensemble there.
Eh, no thanks. Japan might think America's Big Texas Businessmen are a cute, charming foreign archetype, but those of us sharing a continent with the real thing know just the kind of guy Clay would be. His business is even mining, you know, that thing that makes the bosses filthy stinking rich but makes the workers filthy stinking dead. Looks like a loudmouth who probably golfs a lot and thinks poor people just need to "get a real job." Maybe I'm not being fair and not researching him enough, but if Clay had strong redeeming qualities, why didn't anyone bother to upload his artwork any bigger to Bulbapedia? I rest my case.
Flying trainers have a history of being kind of forgettable to me, and Skyla is no exception in terms of personality, but it's cool that "The Highflying Girl" is actually a pilot and owns an entire airport. I'm not sure why people necessarily need to be pilots or have airplanes at all when you can ride your pet dragon to anywhere in the world, but whatever, cool!
This trainer's title is nothing but "Ice Mask." That's kind of ominous, but Brycen's story is on the sadder and sweeter side. He used to be a famous movie actor until injuring himself with a stunt, retiring from acting, and adopting a new persona as a mysterious, masked trainer. He does, however, still show up in Pokestar Studios as some of his old characters, including "Mecha Cop" and "Brycen-Man."
Another trainer who joins Ash in the anime, "The Girl Who Knows The Hearts of Dragons" is a young, inexperienced gym leader, sometimes unsure of herself, as fond of dragons as the vast majority of kids would really be if dragons were an actual pet option and terrified of ice-type pokemon, what with them being the only type strong against her scaly pals until fairy's introduction a generation later.
It's in Black 2 and White 2 that Iris's concept really takes off, because how gosh-darn cute IS it that a dragon type character would have a fairy tale princess motif?! It's just all too perfect thematically, and it reflects how much more confidence she's built up since your first encounter. Now, she even uses a full six-Pokemon team, and it's more diverse than dragon types alone! In addition to a Hydreigon, Druddigon and Haxorus, she throws in an Aggron, Lapras and Archeops, adding elemental diversity without straying from her aesthetic tastes, like I wish all gym leaders would do, though in this case, she's also upgraded all the way to regional champion!
A good reptile kid.
Interestingly, though, Iris is only the dragon-type leader in Pokemon White, or in both the sequel games. In Pokemon Black, the dragon leader is the town's mayor, Drayden, and......
Sorry, I need a second.
THAT BEARD. IS HE SERIOUS?! BEARD JAW!?! BEARD JAW. BEARD JAW!! IS THERE ANY POSSIBLE WAY TO MAKE THAT NOT LOOK HILARIOUS!?
OH MY GOD. THERE ISN'T. THEY TRIED BUT THERE ISN'T.
Just like that, we're up to the elite four, and off to a flawless start with this complete and utter nerd who also happens to be a fashionable goth nerd, a ghost type trainer, and a fanfiction writer.
Sorry, "novelist." Novelist who happens to writer her novels about other famous people, including her fellow trainers, elite four members past and present, and even novels about Looker! We know this because in a later appearance, the lovable creeper will read us a passage from her latest work.
Also, her giant colar is shaped like a ridiculous kitty head.
We're two for two in quality E4 characters! Grimsley is the dark type trainer, and one of the first Elite Four members to be kind of a mess. He apparently came from a rich, prestigious family that lost all its money, and ruined himself even further with a gambling addiction. No wonder he turned to dark types, the Pokemon adept at cheating, stealing and the pokemon you would most want on your side if you need to dispose of evidence and go on the run.
Spoke too soon, I guess. Marshal is the fighting type leader, but unfortunately as drab as those almost always are. Just another martial arts guy, really. This definitely surpasses their record for characters that aren't just white looking, though.
So we originally met Caitlin back in Diamond and Pearl, when her butler fought in her place, and she seemed kind of like she was just spoiled, impatient and bratty. As it turns out, she probably couldn't have fought her own battles because she had an incredibly dangerous combination of psychic powers and a hair-trigger temper. They don't go so far as to say she exploded heads or started fires, but I'm sure the outcome was pretty terrifying for everybody involved.
Years later, it seems she's traveled the world to discipline herself and wound up one of Unova's elite four, and while she still shows some signs of upper-class snobbery and a minor mean streak - even calling you "impudent" for interrupting a nap - she also shows a lot of self awareness and desire to continue being a better person. As with Grimsley, this kind of imperfection goes a very long way to making even the most minor character more interesting.
The champion of the region gets a rather more exciting story than we're used to. A sadder one, too. Alder apparently went on a prolonged soul-searching journey after his original starter pokemon died, pushing itself too hard and eventually falling ill. His personality is just a sort of cool, calm, tough older man we're fairly used to from trainers, but we do get a great deal of dialog and interaction from him. That's something, anyway.
It later turns out however that this guy's lost pokemon was the Volcarona line. Where the heck are they giving that out as a "starter!?"
We don't normally review the villain grunts or other no-name trainers, but I feel like this is one point to make an exception. In Black and White, our villain team are fixated with the idea of "liberating" Pokemon, believing that pokemon and humans were never meant to live together and that all Pokemon should be wild and free. You may note that this is the same stance Peta takes on pets, though I don't know why they dress like medeival knights. Because they want to plunge their world back to the dark ages?
By Black 2 and White 2, they began dressing more like actual ecoterrorists, and in general it's pretty interesting to finally see this kind of radical viewpoint in the Pokemon world. You would certainly have expected it to exist, but we usually only encounter characters who love training Pokemon as much as we do, no matter whose side they're on.
So most of our "main villains" thus far in these games have been kind of interchangeable, power-mad badical dudes with somewhat shallow backstories and motivations, but "N" here is the point at which this starts to change. As the official figurehead of Team Plasma, N has all the disarming charisma you might expect from basically a cult icon, and just as little awareness that he's a "bad guy" at all. He truly loves his Pokemon pals, and even treats you and basically everyone
he meets with care and respect. It's just that he also truly, deeply believes that Pokemon and humans need to be segregated at all costs, and it's not even his fault.
Abandoned in the forest as an infant, N was actually raised
by Pokemon until a mysterious man claimed to be his real father, convinced N that he was supposed to be a "king" and carefully controlled his education into adulthood, showing N only the cruelest side of the human race.
It's all an incredibly
dark, nuanced story compared to our villains from previous games, and I really commend the entire concept as well as the execution of this well-meaning antagonist.
I will say, however, that his real, full, actual name is 100% impossible to take seriously and I love it to death.
Those of you who don't know it can't possibly be ready for it, but here goes:
N's surrogate dad is, of course, the true villain of this story and real head of Team Plasma. He's also a lot closer to the "interchangeable power-mad badical dude" I was just lamenting, but he certainly has one elaborate master plan. He really does intend to create two separate dimensions for humans and for Pokemon, but he also plans to keep some pokemon for himself - the legendary dragons of the region - to rule the human side uncontested. I have to hand it to him, that's a pretty menacing idea that fits well into the logic of the setting! He had to start a fanatical cult to do it, sure, but even if it weren't possible to pull off, he'd still have the fanatical cult to fall back on, yeah? That's also one heck of a cool robe he's got, too.
Perhaps the story of Ghetsis, N and Team Plasma is the point at which "truth and ideals" become an overt theme again, though not very much more than you could argue for a lot of our previous villains.
We now get to the characters introduced only in the sequel games, which offer an entirely new story and even entirely new player characters, including a new friendly rival, Hugh. Hugh is a good kid who cares mostly about his family, including his little sister, who inherited a Purrloin from their late grandfather only for Team Plasma to swipe it. Not often we get a Rival with a personal vendetta against the villain team, do we?
Aw, man, finally, FINALLY
we get a new poison-type gym leader, and it's actually
cool and thematic to the type! Roxie's rad if slightly confounding title is "Poison days, poison on the stage!" I don't know what the "poison days" part means, but this kid is the bass player in her own punk rock band. It's not exactly
the most impressive punk band I've ever heard, but it's certainly the most appropriate side role I can think of for the poison type.
Roxie's signature Pokemon are Venipede and Garbodor, though she opens early fights with a Koffing and will later rotate her teams with Crobat, Drapion, Toxicroak and Amoonguss, all superb choices for her aesthetic. She even talks about how important it is to use the pokemon she likes,
and obviously I want to say this kid is totally me, but I don't have any musical talent and I'm not a little girl.
I guess it'd make more sense to say this would be my
kid in the Pokemon world, but most kids rebel against their parents and do the exact opposite of what they want, so my good-for-nothing offspring would probably just run off into the woods with a Gardevoir and complain about every other pokemon being "ugly."
Ugh. Why couldn't my garbage child be more like that cool Roxie from a town over?!
Oh, like "Marlin!" The fish! This dreamy body surfer, "A Bigger Splash Than the Sea!" is the leader of a new water type gym in the region, and he loves playing around in the water so much that he seems completely oblivious to anyone and everything else, including the existence of Team Plasma and whether they're "bad people." Who can really blame him, though? How does anyone manage to keep paying attention to the rest of a world where you can surf on the back of a giant friendly shark or fight a demigod in the mouth of a volcano with the help of a flying ice cream cone? Marlon's got life all figured out.
The last new character of any particular significance, Benga is the son of the champion, and while he's not really noteworthy to me otherwise, it's kind of sweet that he has a Volcarona. He's following in his dad's footsteps, and presumably with his father's help and advice, Benga is going to try and do better by his giant killer moth.
It wouldn't be a proper sequel game without at least one new addition to the villain team, of course, and Colress here was almost instantly popular with fans for his unique style and approach. Though appointed by Ghetsis as the new second-in-command of Team Plasma, Colress turns out to have no particular loyalty to them or even share any of their beliefs and goals. Instead, he's simply interested in researching the "true power" of Pokemon, and determined that joining Team Plasma would give him the resources he needed.
This big ol' nerd is quick to help you out and turn on his boss when it comes down to it, and would later reappear in Pokemon Sun and Moon to continue his Chaotic Neutral Nerdery. He is definitely a fun character, and I can see why a lot of fans also find him really attractive even if his hair is evocative of the internet explorer logo, which I'd expect to be pretty boner-killing for all but the most masochistic of geeks.
I'm among the rare few who think that the fifth generation was exactly when the actual pokemon designers really got their act together, streamlined things and started giving it their all, and it does feel to me like this extends to the human cast; this is overall a much more fun and exciting selection of friends and foes than I think the series has ever previously offered, even if a lot of them are still somewhat simplistic.
Over the next two review pages coming, we'll see how this did, in fact, signal the beginning of a new trend.
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