The World We Must Defend: War, Peace and Pokemon

 

 

by Andy Lee

So the trailer the next generation of Pokemon is out!

I still remember the joy of getting Pokemon Blue on my birthday… and then I realize that was nearly 16 years ago. Pokemon has persisted since then, each generation bringing another 100 critters to collect (and more multimedia tie-ins), adding new gameplay elements, and also building upon its incredible lore. So let’s talk about that lore.

Every Pokemon generation has carried a core theme that shapes the story, setting, and legendary Pokemon to catch. But it’s the antagonists of each generation that really define what the game is about, and their theme builds upon the generation before them.

TEAM ROCKET
art-eater, ken sugimori, pokemon, team rocket drawing concept art illustration

 

Pokemon Red/Blue and Gold/Silver is about coming into conflict to attain powerful WEAPONS. The pokedex is full of colorful quips about the violent power of Pokemon able to melt steel with their breath or reduce buildings to rubble with a swing of their tail. From the Koga ninjas to Lt. Surge, we’re shown that Pokemon have fought alongside humans in conflicts ancient and recent, though there is peace in the present day. The image of Pokemon is softened through a trainer program where young kids are given Pokemon to treat as their friends and companions.

Enter Team Rocket, an underground organization that holds on to the archaic view that Pokemon are weapons to be wielded, and use them against their fellow man. When scientists obtain the genes of the phantom Pokemon Mew, they use its immense genetic potential to craft the ultimate weapon, Mewtwo. But its immense power proves uncontrollable, and the scientists are destroyed by their own creation.

pokemon the first movie ewtwo giovanni art-eater

 


TEAM AQUA/MAGMA
ken sugimori pokemon official concept art illustrations team aqua magma art-eater

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire is about coming into conflict to attain TERRITORY. The towns you visit are dotted among islands (some even manmade), past vibrant rainforests, through parched deserts, and even inside dormant volcanoes. The unique properties of each environment are cherished by its human occupants, for land is a finite resource and they respect what they have

Enter Team Aqua and Team Magma. Magma seeks the legendary Groudon, who can make land rise from the ocean depth. Team Aqua seek the legendary Kyogre, who can send landmasses sinking beneath the waves. Team Aqua and Magma battle to control them for they give their wielder the power to create new land by raising the earth, or making existing land scarce by raising the seas, power that would fundamentally change the human view of territory as set and finite.

Emerald adds a 3rd being, Rayquaza who dwells in the stratosphere, and the extraterrestrial Pokemon Deoxys. This generation’s movie centers around Deoxys arriving on earth as a meteor, which Rayquaza considers a violation of his territory. Conflict for territory is also within the realm of Pokemon.


TEAM GALACTIC
ken sugimori pokemon concept art official illustration team galactic art-eater

Pokemon Pearl/Diamond is about coming into conflict to attain ENERGY. Towns in the game are themed after different energy resource such as wind power, solar power, and even coal mining, which is presented in a matter-of-fact way to show how humans harness energy.

Enter Team Galactic, an organization that is studying the energy released when a Pokemon evolves and find that it disregards the law of conservation of energy, there is more energy being created than expended. They then investigate this phenomenon as a potential new energy source. Team Galactic’s research leads them to seek the legendary Dialga, creator of time, and Palkia, creator of space. To be able to create energy from nothing is the power of creating a new world.


TEAM PLASMA
Ken Sugimori Pokemon official concept art illustration team plasma art-eater


 

Pokemon Black/White is about coming into conflict for IDEAOLOGY. Team Plasma believes catching pokemon is cruel, and will forcibly ‘liberate’ Pokemon from their trainers. Unlike previous antagonist teams, Team Plasma is actively preaching their message, and will even go to such measures as using Pokemon to enter people’s dreams to incept their ideology among the masses. Team Plasma is driven by intense righteousness and view the world in Black and White terms.

Their uniforms are based off the real-world Christian crusaders, who warred to spread their beliefs. The symbol of Team Plasma also bears resemblance to the “Chi-Rho”, a symbol used by the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constatine. When Constantine was in a war of succession for control of Rome, the Chi Ro appeared to him in a dream. He put the mark upon the shields of his men and the next day they were victorious in battle.

Left: The historical Chi-Rho Right: The symbol of Team Plasma

The ideology of Team Plasma attracts philosophers from around the world, known collectively as the Seven Sages.

Their in-game dialog uses lines from classic Chinese philosophical works.

Gorm

“I say… Know your enemies, know yourself, and know you need not fear the result of a hundred battles… “

-Sun Tzu, Art of War

“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, that is a second mistake”
-Confucius


Bronius

“When the Way is forgotten, duty and justice appear.”
-Dao De Jing

Is the line Bronius speaks when you confront him at Plasma’s castle, but the complete verse reads as follows:

When the Way is forgotten, duty and justice appear. Then knowledge and wisdom are born, along with hypocrisy.


Rood

“Superior men understand what is right. Inferior men understand what will sell.”
-Confucius


Zinzolin

“There are not two suns in the sky, nor two sovereigns over the people.”
-Attributed to Confucius by Mencius

“It is the way of the universe to take from excess and fill emptiness.
-Dao De Jing


Giallo

“Those in accord with Fate are preserved, and those who rebel against Fate perish.”
-Mencius


Ryoku

“We can only do our best and leave the rest to fate”
-Hu Yin, Song Dynasty philosopher

Despite this trend, their ‘leader’ Ghetsis never speaks any line from Chinese philosophy. It is ultimately revealed that the goal of Ghetsis was to seize all the Pokemon and rule the region unopposed. Ghetsis seeks the power of the Tao Dragons to fulfill his goal.

The lore of Black/White speaks that in the distant past, twin heroes created the Unova region with the aid of a mighty Dragon Pokemon. But the two brothers held different values in high esteem, the older believed in Truth, the younger in Ideals, and so they began to fight one another. The ideological war between the brothers split the Dragon thus split into two halves, the Yang Dragon Reshiram and the Yin Dragon Zekrom. The war of the brothers was inherited by their descendants, and their battles ruined the land until the dragons disappeared. But it had gone unnoticed that a third dragon also formed, one that embodied Wuji, the absence of Yin and Yang, Kyurem.

What is a ‘Hero’? The one who knows he is ‘right’! What is a ‘villain’? Anyone who stands in the way of your beliefs!

But… maybe lofty ideals are just an excuse for seizing power. Maybe the Ideals preached by your leaders aren’t actually the Truth. Maybe the world shouldn’t be viewed in Black and White terms.That is what Pokemon Black & White is about.

Power, Territory, Energy, Ideology, these are all things humans have used violence to attain.

Pokemon Training is taking force of violence, and transforming it into a sport which brings people and Pokemon, together in friendship.

That is what Pokemon is about. And we will see how Pokemon X/Y builds upon the lore.

Andy Lee is a historian and game designer working in Beijing China.  Andy does much of the research that goes into Art-Eater articles.  I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter, Tumblr and Quora.

If you enjoyed this article, check out the interview that Andy conducted with Wolf Smoke Studio, creators of Batman of Shanghai!

art-eater, wolf, smoke, wolfsmoke, studio, studios, batman, bat, man, of, Shanghai, Cat Woman, bane, Chinese Animation

Wolfsmoke Studio! The dynamic duo behind Batman of Shanghai and Kungfu Food Girls.

 

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About Richmond

I am a professional game artist who wants everyone to love art as much as I do!
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8 Responses to The World We Must Defend: War, Peace and Pokemon

  1. Yamato-san says:

    Oh god, thank you for using lines from the Japanese version of that movie.

    Anyway, really interesting read, though I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t go into how Plasma changed between Black/White and its sequels, essentially splitting between a peaceful organization trying to redeem its past actions, and a radical group that continues to follow Ghetsis’s ambitions for conquest (speaking of which, I wonder if a certain spin-off game seems relevant to this topic).

    3rd gen gets quite a bit of hate, with the environmental terrorists often being viewed as complete morons, but I think you make a nice point about its themes being expanded through the use of its environments. Though, I DON’T think that excuses all the damn water routes it had. Given the theme of duality between the games’ villains, I gotta wonder why the hell the Hoenn region had extremely few Fire-types (outside the typical starter, there were only four different evo lines, and two of them were from previous generations, a pathetic count that would only get out-done by Sinnoh just a generation later) yet such a ridiculous amount of Water-types (not only did it have the largest number of newly released Water-types outside of generation 1, it also included a rather extraneous amount of Water-types from older generations… and they still felt the need to populate the surfing routes almost exclusively with Tentacool -_-). I guess it is worth noting that this is the first time the franchise even allowed you to explore volcanic areas, but the lack of balance nonetheless seems very striking.

  2. Lateef says:

    Great read. Always enjoying discussing Pokemon with you guys. Will do my best to spread this to new readers.

  3. Bryant says:

    Fascinating analysis. So excited for my 3d Pokemon journey to begin.

  4. Richmond says:

    Haha yeah, I remember reading that post too! That’s what lead to this one here. Andy is always dropping gems like that wherever he goes. I’ve been trying to collect them and give them a more permanent home here.

  5. Physics Harris says:

    Always a good read!

  6. Tyrone Fecho says:

    Very well written! I remember that this was written in Kotaku’s post on N ( Team Plasma ) – on a side note, it was far more entertaining to read your post than Kotaku’s. Ever since that post, I never saw Pokemon the same way ever again and possibly, it changed the way on how I view my games. You sir, changed my gaming life!

    • Richmond says:

      Haha yeah, I remember reading that post on Kotaku as well! That’s what led to this post here. Andy’s always dropping gems like that wherever he goes. I’ve just been trying to pick them up and give them a more permanent home here.

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