OGIUE MANIAX

Anime & Manga Blog | 50% Anime Analysis, 50% Ogi

Player Avatars No More: Pokémon Masters and the Granting of Personalities to Heroes Past

It’s a testament to the longevity and popularity of Pokémon and its characters that a game could come out where you collect not so much the Pokémon themselves, but their trainers. Whether it’s Sinnoh champion Cynthia or Pewter City Gym Leader Brock, the humans of the Pokemon world have garnered their own fanbases, and the mobile game Pokémon Masters takes advantage of this by bringing them all into one convenient place.

While I find the game itself fun, though not without its problems and quirks, I want to focus one one particular aspect of Pokémon Masters I find interesting. Specifically, it’s the ability to summon player characters from multiple generations of Pokémon as non-player characters that catches my attention because it means Pokémon Masters has to create personalities for them when they were previously empty shells.

Within the main games, only Red (the hero of the first generation) has made multiple appearances as a computer-controlled character, and his personality can be charitably described as “strong and silent.” The only thing he ever says in any game is “…” as a reference to that being the only thing you could say in link battles on the original Game Boy. After that, while certain characters may have had personalities established in adapted material like anime or manga, many liberties end up being taken that causes those narratives to differ significantly from the games. For example, in the anime, May (a character based on the female player character in the third generation games) is the daughter of the Gym Leader Norman. But in Pokémon Masters, it’s Brendan (the male player character) who is Norman’s child. While there’s nothing necessarily “canon” about Pokémon Masters, it still means the developers had to decide how these player avatars behave without a player.

As a result, fans of Pokémon may potentially view these old characters in a new light. Rosa, the heroine from the Gen-5 Pokémon Black 2/White 2, is expressive and quirky, garnering many fans in the process. Brendan appears eager and energetic. Kris, from Gen 2’s Pokémon Crystal, is kind yet feels she needs to improve. Without any real meat to go on, I have to wonder how the developers decided to give which traits to these old player characters. Will these become their established personalities moving forward in the games, or is it a one-off thing only for Pokémon Masters? Personally, my hope is that they end up sticking. The only question left is what’ll happen to the actual player characters of Pokémon Masters in the future—what qualities will the two of them have if/when they show up elsewhere?

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Ash Ketchum and the Case of Filler Arc Character Growth

Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in Japan) is an ageless character. Whether it’s 1998 or 2017, Ash will always be 10 years old, will always be traveling with Pikachu, and will always be just not quite good enough to win a major championship. When he’s fighting through Kanto or Kalos, he won’t dominate the competition with his massively powerful Pikachu, and he’s perpetually more of a learner than a master in spite of his experience. It makes sense, because that’s how his character’s supposed to be. When he points his Pokedex at the same Pokemon for the 10th time in 10 years, it’s not because he’s supposed to be dumb but rather for the sake of a young audience who might be watching Pokemon for the first time.

Ash doesn’t always act as the impetuous rookie, and at times he’s allowed to shine as the battle-hardened veteran. Curiously, however, these mainly come when the Pokemon anime is not trying to go through its main narrative. During the filler arc that was the Orange Islands (taking place between the first and second generations of games), Ash was allowed to have a 6 on 6 battle and even defeat the Orange Islands champion. When Ash was participating in the Battle Frontier, post-game content within the context of the games, he would call upon his entire previous roster. The opening video during that arc reflected the full range of Ash’s experience by showing every Pokemon at his disposal (and even cameos by ones since released such as Butterfree). Ash eventually won the Battle Frontier, again showing how strong he was, but only within the between-games storylines.

Perhaps the biggest exception to this rule was when Ash finally got to face Gary in a full on 6-on-6 battle in the Johto League finals. The context behind this was that Gary’s Japanese actor was taking on less of a role in the series so they wanted him to go out with a bang and they succeeded. Just like his eventual Battle Frontier victory, Ash was allowed to show just how much he had learned over the years, at least for one climactic confrontation. It reminds me of how the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics kept running even during the years-long lull of no new Sonic games, and it was during those times that they dared to go as far as killing Dr. Robotnik. To a lesser extent, it makes me think of how during the infamous Naruto year-long filler arc, characters such as Hinata were allowed to get new techniques and grow more powerful.

I find Ash’s situation this interesting because it reflects both the realities of making an anime based on an wildly popular game and a desire to provide continuity or growth when the opportunity arises. Ash has to be eternally youthful, yet his viewers grow up and remember all of his adventures. The anime’s creators likely also have to mindful of the source material, especially as the series has grown to such international success (the earliest seasons played rather fast and loose with the rules).

What do you think of this balance? Do you wish Ash could be 20 years old by now, training atop a mountain like Red in Pokemon Gold, Silver, & Crystal?

Pokemon Sun & Moon: Why Ash Ketchum’s Design Was Updated…Again

In 2010, the Pokemon anime decided to spice things up a bit by modifying its character designs. More than a simple change of wardrobe, the denizens of the Pokemon TV world had changes to their faces and hair, and the result was an Ash with green eyes. With the release of Pokemon Sun & Moon, the characters have transformed once more, and this time it’s even more drastic than before. While it’s not like Ash is seven feet tall with a goatee now, it looks noticeably different compared to his adventures in the Kalos region. With such a major change, the inevitable question is “why?”

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Fortunately, I just so happen to have answered this question the last time around, and it turns out that the answer applies just as well, if not better.

At the time when green-eyed Ash was revealed, I wrote a post explaining how this was a clear attempt at making the characters in the Pokemon anime match more closely with the character designs of the games. The main artist for Pokemon has always been Ken Sugimori, and while the designs of the anime characters were based on his work back in the mid to late 90s, he’s continued to refine his art style over the years. If you look at Ash and other characters in Sun & Moon, they veer even closer to Sugimori’s current aesthetic. Characters appear rounder and softer, and the way their eyes are drawn have that distinct Sugimori look. This is probably most evident in the new Alola region characters, such as Lillie.

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Anime Character Design

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Game Character Design

That explains a good chunk of why Ash’s adventures in Not-Hawaii look so far-removed from past generations of the anime, but another significant one is that a simpler art style means being easier to animate. That’s not to say that the old Pokemon anime styles were especially complex, but being softer and more simplified in this way means the animators can put more effort into making things move well instead of making sure each character has all of their necessary details.

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My Favorite RPGs

Compared to many of my friends over the years, I’ve barely grazed the surface of RPGs. I remember in high school listening to my friends debate Kefka vs. Sephiroth, then going online and seeing my internet acquaintances gush over Lunar: Silver Star Story. My experience with RPGs is but a fraction of others, but in my limited exposure I do have my favorites.

Honorable Mention 1:  Dragon Warrior

Dragon Warrior (aka Dragon Quest), one of the granddaddies of Japanese RPGs, does not hold up particularly well. It’s a pretty long and tedious game where most of your time is spent walking around leveling up. However, the first time that you see the Dragonlord reveal his true self, and the entire fight with his dragon form, is such a memorable experience for me. What stands out, and is kind of hard to convey in videos, is that whenever the Dragonlord attacked the screen would freeze temporarily (instead of shake as it normally would), making it feel as if his attacks were different and more powerful compared to his minions. You might notice that most of my subsequent entries have something to do with how much I like boss fights.

Honorable Mention 2: Pokemon

In actuality, Pokemon as a whole is one of my favorite game franchises ever. From the thrill of discovery to the depth of competitive battling, it’s been a part of me for a long time. However, in a way I think it overshadows other RPGs because of its prominence, so I’m leaving it off this list.

Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II)

In terms of SNES RPGs, I find that Final Fantasy VI gets much more praise, but I find that my heart lies closer to Final Fantasy IV. The two moments that I think really define the game for me are when Cecil becomes a Paladin, and the final battle against Zeromus. The thing I love about Cecil as Paladin is the way that his transformation is reflected in the gameplay. When Cecil is a Dark Knight, his special technique is to shoot a destructive wave of energy, but when he’s a Paladin he runs to cover his allies and take the damage instead. As for Zeromus, while his appearance in the plot is kind of dumb as a last-minute final boss, the actual battle is wonderfully intense. You have to constantly keep pace with Zeromus’s devastating attacks while music very much befitting a final battle plays. I could actually just fight Zeromus over and over and be happy.

Fire Emblem GBA (aka Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword)

My early experience with Fire Emblem is something I assume to be fairly common. I first learned about the series through Super Smash Bros. Melee, and then got to play a game for the first time with the Game Boy Advance release—the first Fire Emblem game released in the US. I’d heard stories about how unforgiving the series and its infamous permanent deaths were, and while the game was noticeably difficult, it was the satisfaction of seeing my characters successfully take down army after army, and seeing their stories as they interact with each other, which makes it one of my favorites. By the time you reach the end and Lyn, Eliwood, and Hector are in command of their legendary weapons, it makes you feel as if you’ve earned all of this power through your hard work.

Lufia and the Fortress Doom/Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

Known as the Estopolis series in Japan, Lufia and Lufia II are pretty by-the-numbers RPGs, but I find them to be so incredibly charming and impactful. In The Fortress of Doom, your very first battle takes place in the distant past, when you and your fully decked out team have to fight the biggest baddies in the world, the Sinistrals. After your victory, you move to the present and control the descendant of the hero Maxim (whom you had just been controlling in that climactic battle moments ago), as well as a mysterious girl named Lufia. Seeing the story come full circle as you learn about what happened in the decades between then and now is immensely satisfying. Lufia II is a more refined game and a prequel which goes more in depth about the life and times of Maxim, but it’s the combined package that make them forever memorable.

Dragon Quest VIII

In terms of just standard RPGs that don’t really mess with the formula, Dragon Quest VIII is one of the most refined games I’ve ever played. It never feels like a slog, and the narrative twists are small but powerful. What stands out to me above all else (aside from Jessica Albert <3) is a way a major plot point is hidden throughout your playthrough in a simple and subtle mechanic. When you fight the first boss, it shoots a wave of cursed energy at your party. While one character gets hit by it pretty regularly, it appears to keep missing the hero. It’s an easy detail to forget as you play through the game, but when you learn that he’s literally immune to curses because *SPOILERS*, it really speaks to how clever the game is.

Super Robot Wars R

Does this count? In any case, it’s my first Super Robot Wars game, and the one that introduced me to so many cool and interesting giant robot anime. Getting to see in detail the various attacks and quirks of classics such as Zambot 3, Voltes V, and Gear Fighter Dendoh was such a big step in my further appreciation of the giant robot genre. Fun fact: my Japanese was still really rudimentary at the time, so it took me 65% of my entire play-through to figure out how to dodge. Ha ha ha.

So those are my favorite RPGs. I think it’s kind of an eclectic yet somehow boring list, but it’s straight from the heart.

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Pokemon Go: Catching is a Dream, Evolution is a Bore

Pokemon Go is by far the most clear indicator of Pokemon‘s cultural impact in the United States. While there are plenty of other examples, from perpetually high sales numbers to the unprecedented Twitch Plays Pokemon, the way that Pokemon Go literally became an overnight sensation and has people of all ages running around their towns and cities trying to catch Pokemon takes the presence of the franchise to another level.

While I personally am not as obsessed with Pokemon as I was 14 years ago, I still find myself drawn to this new take on an old idea. What I’ve found is that the catching element has made me fall in love with Pokemon all over again, but the way that evolution works still leaves something to be desired.

Over the years, catching Pokemon in the main games has felt fun but also kind of like a chore, especially after playing them for so many years. However, I still remember what it was like to first venture into Viridian Forest in Pokemon Red, the first time I encountered Articuno in the Seafoam Islands, and just that overall sense of wonder when one unexpectedly comes across Pokemon. Even though all of the current species in Pokemon Go come from the classic 151, and so I’m more than familiar with all of them, I find myself getting excited over spotting a Jynx or running into a Squirtle. Even though the ARG elements of Pokemon Go don’t feel like a perfect immersion, they’re good enough.

Where I think the game falters is its current approach to evolving. Instead of leveling up or using stones or trading as one could in the first games, all evolution and strengthening of one’s Pokemon is done through collecting candies and stardust. All candies and stardust, in turn, are obtained by catching more of the same species. This makes it so that, while the catching mechanics are fun, I feel no sense of personal connection to the Pokemon I am catching because I cannot use them in anything other than gym battles. When I get a Pokemon to evolve, they do not feel like comrades with whom I have developed a bond over the course of an adventure, but rather just something I feed sweets without their participation.

Pokemon Go has only just come out, and in spite of its numerous bugs it’s still quite fun to play. This speaks well for the basic appeal of the game, and I think it won’t go away even as it eventually adds newer Pokemon. I just hope that the game will let me feel like the Pokemon I catch matter more than they do, and that I can share my victories, defeats, and growths as a trainer with them.

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#Pokemon20 and What I Miss Most from the Original Pokemon

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokemon franchise, and I for one am happy to see one of my favorite video game franchises thrive and improve to this day. With each generation of games, Pokemon has expanded its world view by drawing inspiration from cultures around the globe, taken advantage of newer technologies that help to connect players, and have refined themselves to be fun, accessible, and even a bit challenging once the human element comes into play. Although I think the games have evolved for the better, however, there is a certain experience I miss from the earliest days of Pokemon.

To celebrate, Nintendo is releasing the original Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow on Virtual Console (Japan gets Green as well). Yet, having it on virtual console means that new (and old) players won’t have that feeling of being able to instantly recognize a fellow Pokemon player.

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I started with Pokemon Red myself. I would play everywhere while keeping an eye out for comrades. If I saw a bright red or blue cartridge sticking out the back of a Game Boy (often at this time the Game Boy Pocket), I would go up to them and ask if they wanted to trade or battle. The cartridges were beacons that drew Pokemon Trainers together, and sadly with the way that Nintendo’s portable devices have been designed over the past 15 years or so it’s not really possible anymore.

It’s not all Nintendo’s doing: I got older and I learned more and more about competitive Pokemon. I used to participate regularly on sites such as Smogon and its old school predecessor, Azure Heights. From there, I eventually became too aware of what it took to make a strong team. As time passed I found myself with less of a desire to create my perfect ideal team, leveled up to 100 with lots of synergy and strategy but also full of the Pokemon I like, and I stopped being eager to challenge people. Either that, or Stealth Rock is total BS and I wish it were removed from the game or was not so danged powerful (seriously!).

Maybe that’s the day this all changes. Maybe I can dive back into the intricacies of Pokemon. I mean, I do own a Pokemon XY 3DS so maybe I can use that as a calling card like the days of old. In the meantime, here’s a list of some of my favorite Pokemon blog posts throughout the years:

Shudou Takeshi, Pokemon, and Me

In Honor of Twitch Plays Pokemon Crystal

Random Thoughts on Twitch Plays Pokemon

A Form of Evolution Perhaps

The Beauty of Diantha

Pokemon Omega Ruby and My Fabulous Pageantry Adventure

Pokemon and Color

PS: Fun fact, I tried to find my original Pokemon Red…then remembered it got stolen out of my locker during gym class. Ah memories.

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My Shirona: Nendoroid Cynthia and the Sinnoh Champion’s Amazing Popularity

nendoroidcynthia-official_pose-closeup Merry Christmas from the Sinnoh Champion!

This year, I received from a very good friend of mine an awesome gift I wasn’t expecting at all: Nendoroid Cynthia! Also known as Shirona in Japan, as well as “the best Pokemon champion ever” by most fans of the franchise, her presence continues to be felt over 9 years after her debut in Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.

As you can see, Cynthia comes with one slightly bent leg and one bent arm so that you can faithfully recreate Cynthia’s pose from her official artwork. The attention to detail on this figure is so good…it comes with a second figure!

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I knew beforehand that Cynthia came with a Garchomp, but I didn’t realize how large it actually is relative to the Cynthia Nendoroid. It’s a crazy time we live in where the accessories for figures are at a higher quality than what official merchandise used to look like back in the late 90s for Pokemon.

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Though I originally wanted to just show off Nendoroid Cynthia, I ended up also thinking about the fact that she got a Nendoroid figure in the first place. Consider this: Cynthia is only one of two Pokemon characters to get a Nendoroid in the first place. The other? That would be Red, the original protagonist of the Pokemon series.

That means, more than Misty, Brock, Lorelei, Lance, Flannery, Roxie, or any number of other characters, Cynthia is a fan favorite and flagship character. To a certain extent, given the excitement of battling her, the personality she shows throughout the games, and even her overall visual design, it’s not surprising that she is so beloved, but she seems to have some other “X Factor” that puts her over the top. In comparison, Diantha, the XY Champion, seems to get hardly any fanfare. Maybe it’s her amazing battle theme:

So do you think Cynthia’s popularity is justified? Is there any Pokemon character you’re dying to see as a Nendoroid? Just the fact that Nendoroid Pokemon characters are even a thing still amazes me.

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