So the fifth generation was the point at which I felt they really "got back in the groove" in terms of character and creature design, and at the time, it was easily my favorite generation ever. I couldn't have expected a generation with far fewer new Pokemon to blow it out of the water, but X and Y delivered with gorgeous aesthetics and an amazing display of imagination behind its monsters. Set in a pokeverse counterpart to France, its overall theme was said to be "beauty," and it definitely shows throughout the 'mons they introduced...but are the trainers as pretty?
PROFESSOR AUGUSTINE SYCAMORE
Well, if you ask most people, yes, Pokemon X and Y has some of the best looking human beings in the franchise, though the majority are probably just thinking of Sycamore, which the fandom was quick to dub "Professor Hotdad" back when the game's content was still just leaking to the public. I don't think he's actually anybody's dad as far as I know, but I can't deny he's pretty dashing compared to pretty much every other professor, besides maybe Oak. Sorry, I just think Oak has a bit more personality to back it up.
Sycamore is a professor specializing in mega evolution, the star gimmick of this generation.
This time, you've got a band of three rival friends, though I'm afraid I forgot everything about them like I usually do. Shauna is the energetic, uncertain one, which we've all seen before. At least she has some fairly cool fashion sense, but that's kind of a running thing this generation, so even that's going to be quickly outclassed.
It really is remarkable how thoroughly my memory purged these poor kids, especially because Tierno is actually a little more distinct than the usual rival. He isn't just interested in the generic Pokemon Adventure experience, but has a dancing hobby on the side and keeps changing his pokemon team throughout the game, searching for pokemon he thinks will make the coolest dance team. I admire them giving one of the kids such a specific interest that they express through their team, and can I just say how grateful I am that a "husky" kid in a pokemon game, or any Japanese property for that matter, isn't just "the one that loves food?" They really threw me with that Vanillish shirt.
Your final rival doesn't have anything that distinct going on for him personality-wise, but he does have a sadder story than most. His parents apparently left him and his sister all alone to travel the world with their Pokemon, and instead of calling child protective services or anything, which we all know doesn't exist in this world, Trevor just wants to be like them and be a traveler and sightseer with his Pokemon.
This isn't a character we ever battle against, but she works as a reporter and runs into us at almost every turn of our adventure, following our progress because I guess another kid going on another Pokemon quest is somehow still newsworthy. At least she gets some cooler stuff to talk about courtesy the region's villains. Forgettable as a character to me, but fills an alright role.
Another character with a major hobby other than Pokemon training. In case you couldn't tell from the two cameras at once, Viola is a professional photographer, known as "The Camerawoman who never lets a single smile escape her focus." That's kind of a mouthful for these gym leader titles.
So what type of Pokemon does she specialize in? Bug type! Duh!
Photographing insects is practically an entire hobby and subculture all of its own, distinct from either general entomology or general photography, so it's really a perfect fit here, even if it doesn't make as much sense in the Pokemon world as it does in ours; much of the appeal and challenge in this particular hobby comes from just how tiny insects are, and we know that really doesn't apply to the world of pocket monsters.
"The Wild, Yet Cool and Collected, Rock Climber" is just what you expect, and once again, his non-Pokemon hobby is a perfect match. The rocks in his hair are an interesting touch, which we're told is now a popular trend he pretty much invented. Uniquely for a rock type leader, he only uses this region's two fossil Pokemon!
Korrina is known as "The Evolution Fighter," because she's a fighting type gym leader and the first gym leader to use mega evolution in battle. She primarily just uses two Lucario, which you may recognize as my least favorite Pokemon, and she even tries to dump one of the mangy things off on us! No thanks, lady!
Putting her poor taste aside, however, this one has even more going on in her personal life than the other leaders. She likes to make "PR videos," she enjoys dressing in costumes, she's a master at rollerblading and apparently trains her legs to the point that they can "shatter rocks." That sure went from innocent to terrifying at lightnign speed.
This guy's title as a gym leader is simply "The Old Growth is Still in Bloom." I wonder how old he had to be before his title changed from something descriptive about him to a joke about the fact that he still isn't dead.
"Being old" is kind of all there is to his characterization, complete with calling other people "whippersnappers," but I like his huge giant scissors, and the fact that he's also really into making tea from different leaves. I feel like they missed an opportunity to get into the notion of using grass type pokemon to make tea, but it feels strongly implied regardless.
I don't recall much of a point to Bonnie, but she's the little sister of the first gym leader, and operates the gym's puzzles leading up to her big brother. I guess it's interesting to see a leader's family involved in their work in-game, but it feels mostly just sort of tacked on.
"The Inventor Lighting up the World" is Bonnie's aforementioned brother, and not only the electric type gym leader, but a genius inventor talented enough to build fully functioning robots! We don't see much of this in-game, but in the anime, they decided Clemont should be one of the trainers accompanying Ash on his journeys, and Clemont builds quite a few robots throughout, including a pretty cool looking android kid who takes over for him at his gym:
It's really fun to see a Pokemon character so interested in robotics, isn't it? They're usually too obsessed with Pokemon to seem like the sort of people impressed by a non-pokemon mechanized being. Clemont certainly DOES have a fondness for machine-like pokemon, however, getting terribly excited by his eventual meeting with the legendary Magearna, and of course, he trains a Magneton!
"The Maiden From a Land With History" shows off the fairy type this generation just introduced, and do you need to be told that she's also a fashion designer? A fashion designer with a specific goal of looking like she's some sort of fairy-type Pokemon. Not even any specific one, just generally evocative of the type. That's actually a very cool idea, and her outfit is honestly pretty killer.
"The Person who Makes Paths With Starlight" is a psychic type leader who's also heavily into astrology, which may be pure fantasy in our world but seems to really mean something in the Pokemon world. Truly dedicated to a mysterious, cosmic fortune-teller image, she also speaks all of her dialog in haiku.
And I know Valerie is supposed to be the fashionista, but she has NOTHING on Olympia's outfit. Let's be real here, when somebody wearing all this specific shit speaks, you listen.
Oh my god, this guy is precious. Besides the fact that he's seemingly modeled himself physically around a walrus, Wulfric's whole thing is being a big strong badass who's also incredibly sensitive and emotional, or "Tough as an Iceberg, Hot as a Furnace." He keeps a picture of his favorite pokemon with him in a little locket, though we're never told which pokemon that even is. We ARE told that he's a fan of the Brycen-Man movies mentioned last generation, and that they make him cry. He also regularly visits and tends to a secret grove known as the "Pokemon Village," where Pokemon live who were once mistreated by humans, and may be one of the only humans its inhabitants still fully trust.
Don't lie, you would already do ANYTHING for this big walrus man.
Hey, how come the gym leaders get special titles but not the Elite Four, anyway? Aren't the Elite Four supposed to be bigger deals?
Malva is probably one of the coolest yet, a fire type leader who not only wears the sickest pants I've ever seen in these games, but reveals she was actually a member of this region's villain team, all the way up until you defeated them shortly before facing her. Apparently you can be a member of the Pokemon league and a member of world-destroying mobsters and nobody really cares, at least as you're hot I guess.
Whereas nearly every other Elite Four in the series gives you an upbeat pep talk, Malva pretty much tells you to go fuck yourself. Those aren't her exact words, obviously, but they may as well be.
Even so, she ends up helping you later to defeat one of her fellow villain's plans...
...But for now, here's Siebold! The water type Elite Four, and a high-class chef! You know, I know almost every past Elite Four and Gym Leader had some kind of secondary theme or job, but it never felt as drastic and fun as this generation. MOST water type trainers were just people who really liked water, right? Surfers, sea captains, things just way too "on the nose," but now we've got this classy chef who cooks up his dishes with the help of a damn Clawitzer and a Barbaracle and stuff.
At least...I HOPE they're "helping" in the traditional, innocent sense, because I'm sure those are all awfully delicious pokemon when you prepare them right. Did you know there are barnacles people eat? They are crustaceans, after all. Big enough goose barnacles are just one big fat blob of crabmeat waiting to be steamed or fried. I'm onto you, Siebold.
Oh my god.
"Well met, young challenger! Verily am I the Elite Four's famed blade of hardened Steel, Wikstrom!"
They don't tell us what this guy's "day job" or "other hobby" is, but we all KNOW what it is. This titanic dork always dresses and always talks like a medieval knight, or at least what modern people believe a medieval knight talks like. He is totally, totally just a damn LARPer. Just someone living his own 24/7 Renaissance festival in his head, and nobody makes fun of him for it to his face, because he climbed to the Elite Four with his murderous team of Klefki, Scizor, Probopass and what the hell else but an Aegislash, his signature partner. I shouldn't find this guy so lovable, really, but in the context of Pokemon's ultra-modern world there's no way he's not just a completely overblown fantasy geek living out his geeky dreams here.
Sadly, after such a streak of stronger concepts, Drasna is the one Elite Four member we know very little about and can't even extrapolate or theorize much about, and wouldn't you know it, it's yet again the dragon type member that's a weak point. No backstory? No special interests? No personality quirks besides, once more, "a super cool one who likes dragons?" You were doing so well with last generation's dragon-loving princess kid!
At least Drasna makes up for it by being a badass older woman with an even more badass dress style, wearing what I think we have to assume are real, actual claws and fangs off of actual dragons in every way she can think to wear them. I'm gonna have to give her a four for that alone, honestly. We've handed them out for less.
Possibly attempting to recapture the appeal of Cynthia in a whole new character, the local champion is another cool, tough and super fashionable lady who just prefers an all white wardrobe to Cynthia's black. She's also a famous movie star of her region, which you can practically guess by looking at that glamorous accessorizing. Unfortunately, celebrity life even in Pokemon-land is as stressful as it is here, as her first appearance in the anime has her disguising herself so nobody notices who she really is while she waits in line for her favorite chocolate cake. Her Pokemon choices are interestingly varied, too: a Hawlucha, Goodra, Gourgeist, and Gardevoir. That's a lot of G's! Pure accident, since none of them start with G in their Japanese names.
Now it's time for the bad guys! TEAM FLARE! The name was chosen not just for its "fiery" connotations, but its "stylish" connotations, because Team Flare's goal is ostensibly to create a "more beautiful" world.
It's a shame, really, that they fail to realize they already met their goal by existing. Have you EVER seen a radder outfit than this? Well, you're possibly about to, because this kind of look is signature to the whole team. Aliana is one of four female scientists at the head of Flare, and they'll all make you feel like you and your wardrobe are big piles of crap.
Looks aren't everything, though, and sadly, this is yet another case where most of our villains have all the depth of cardboard stick puppets. Aliana is the "grr! We're mean!" Pokemon mobster we've already fought 90 times before.
Bryony, too, is just kind of generically villainous, but she's the one with green hair and the green visor, which it really looks like she's just playing tetris on constantly. I would too if I had to recite the same cookie-cutter dialog all day about our nefarious plans. Still giving these girls extra credit for sheer aesthetic, though, like we did for some other characters, not to mention the overall cool factor of being a rad team of evil scientist girls with cyber-goggles.
Wow, uh, they sure did draw this one like a pinup photoshoot, didn't they? Of course, if you dressed like this, you would probably strike sexy poses practically in your sleep. Celosia has the habit of calling herself and her team "sooooo LAME!" whenever any of them lose a battle, which is genuinely the only thing distinct enough I could find to talk about. They still all deserve fours, though.
It's really, really hard to decide, but I think Mable might look the coolest of the four. Maybe I'm just partial to blue, or the goggles with the two distinct glowing eyes just look the coolest and most menacing to me. Whatever it is about Mable, she's the one I'd want to look like if I had to look like any of them.
As cool as it is that this team's core bosses consist of that sinister science lady squad, they unfortunately answer to a bunch of dudes as always, and the writers put a little more effort into writing for said dudes. At least Xerosic is interestingly eerie looking, the fifth and oldest Flare scientist and creator of several experimental weapons.
Even after the rest of the team's defeat, Xerosic continues his own personal evil plans until they're thwarted by you, Looker, and even some help from Malva. At the very last minute, he has a change of heart, but that's something we'll discuss more in another upcoming character.
The boss of Team Flare isn't half as cool looking as his subordinates, but he does boast a plan far darker and more maniacal than any we've seen before, even compared to the child-abusing cult leader of our last game.
Lysandre believes that humans are inherently evil, that war and suffering are inevitable as long as they continue to exist, and that Pokemon, while "magnificent," are better off gone than being used as weapons by humans. He dreams of a beautiful new world inhabited only by those very few he deems worthy - namely himself, of course - and to that end, seeks to reactivate a legendary "Ultimate Weapon" powered by the energy of living beings and capable of both mass destruction and granting immortality. He basically intends to feed the whole world to the thing, make himself and a few others immortal, and live forever in what he thinks will be a paradise of eternal peace.
It's kind of typical JRPG villain fare, but for Pokemon, it's pretty heavy.
We talked about this guy when we talked about the Flabebe evolutionary line, but we'll go over it all again for this posting to stand on its own. Az is by far one of the most tragic and fantastical human characters in the series, if indeed he even qualifies as a mere human anymore. He is, in fact, the actual creator of the very real doomsday artifact Lysandre seeks, and created it three thousand years before the game takes place. Honestly, I think this time I just need to show you an actual cutscene from the game:
...How do you like THEM apples? How do you like knowing there was ever a time someone's Pokemon got drafted into a war and came back "in a tiny box?" JESUS.
So, this guy created a weapon capable of bringing the dead back to life at the cost of innumerable other souls, and his own resurrected little Floette was subsequently so horrified that it cursed its trainer to wander the Earth immortal. Holy hell. Intense. As usual, I think the games could have played all this out a bit better - Az is just sort of an ongoing, mysterious presence before his whole backstory is dumped on us in one shot - but it's still a pretty powerful one, as far as these games go.
The last character to talk about is part of another strikingly cool story you actually unlock after completing the main game. "Essentia" is really a code name for a mysterious pokemon thief who seems to be able to holographically mimic almost anyone, and may be carrying out missions for what's left of Team Flare. Namely, Xerosic.
Essentia ends up having an extremely detailed story and characterization by series standards, but the short of it is that she's just a sweet, innocent young woman named Emma used by Xerosic as a guinea pig for the "Expansion Suit," an invention that gives its wearer superhuman strength, aforementioned camouflage powers and the ability to override the programmed ownership of any pokeball it gets ahold of.
The suit can also be remotely controlled, making Emma a mindless slave who blacks out and remembers none of her supervillainous deeds.
Xerosic eventually realizes this is an incredibly unpleasant thing to be doing and apparently sympathizes too much with Emma as a person to continue these experiments. In the end, he permanently deactives the remote control function, and implores Emma to not only keep the suit, but use it for the benefit of others, basically creating a superheroine I really hope we might hear from again, some day, some way.
Just as I remembered - because I DID play this one! - they really went all out with this region's characters. Not a single one of them feel completely bland to me, whether they've got a fun personality twist, dress superbly, or both. I can't say many of them jump out to me as fictional people I feel really attached to, sadly, but they come pretty close. They definitely feel like slightly more than the usual fare. In other games, the humans are just sort of an accessory backdrop to the Pokemon, but by the sixth generation, they were really starting to feel, to me, more like rightful stars in a storyline.