I choose YOU!

Quite suddenly, it is all about Pokémon here. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first off, a little Pokémon lesson for those who need it, like I did. I was in the right generation to dig Star Wars, so I was totally in my element for that obsession, but for this one I’m learning a lot, quite rapidly. Like, for example, I’m learning that Pokémon is still totally a thing. I really thought it was long over, but then again, I never paid that much attention to it to begin with.

So: Pokémon is a thing that started with a 1998 Japanese video game targeted for Nintendo’s handheld platform, the GameBoy. The game is set in a world with lots and lots (and lots) of quirky little animals named “pokémon” (a contracted transliteration of a Japanese phrase meaning “pocket monsters”), and the basic idea is that you capture them and train them by having them battle other pokémon. (Yes, the plural of “pokémon” is “pokémon,” like sheep.) Each pokémon has its own powers, attack style, species, etc. It’s pretty much a CRPG, with the twist that instead of leveling up your own character, you level up your character’s battle-proxies. (If only I’d known about this when I reviewed Cryptozookeeper!) Your character is called a “pokémon trainer.”

The video game was adapted into an anime series that follows a pokémon trainer named Ash, who carries around a pokémon called Pikachu. (6 weeks ago, the extent of my Pokémon knowledge was: “I think there’s something called Pikachu? And is the boy named Ash?”) It’s quite a bit like the videogame, in that Ash spends most of his time battling his pokémon against others, and encountering the game’s plot elements in various combinations. This cartoon was a big hit, and fueled sales of the video game, and before long it was a bona fide cultural phenomenon, with movies, trading cards, manga, toys, and so forth. So much so that it is still, even 15 years later, a thing.

Which brings us to today. Dante is completely enamored with a classmate of his, who I’ll call Kylie. That’s a whole post topic of its own, but I mention her here because she is into Pokémon, which means that now Dante is into Pokémon. He started coming home telling us about Pokémon recess games he’d played with Kylie, before he really had any idea what Pokémon is. We like to nurture his interests, so we started searching for Pokémon stuff he could dig into. For me, that meant finding a GameBoy emulator we could use to play around with the first generation of the video game. Laura was the real jackpot, though. She works at the library now, so tons of stuff passes through her hands each day, from which she plucks various choice morsels.

She brought home the Pokémon Ultimate Handbook, which is pretty much page after page of pokémon names, descriptions, and pictures. He devoured it. I think he has it about 85% memorized at this point. I’m not exaggerating — yesterday we were in a waiting room and I started quizzing him about random facts from random pages in the (300 page) book. He answered about 85% of questions correctly. It reminds me of how I dove into Marvel at age 6 — you could have quizzed me about the Marvel Universe back then and the results would have been similar. (Not that this ever really changed, ahem. Wonder if Dante will still be following Pokémon in 2048?)

Then she brought home some DVDs of the anime, and he embraced those as well. For me, the anime style takes some getting used to, and there is a lot of facepalm-worthy gender stuff, but I find it pretty enjoyable overall. The stories are pretty benign (usually having to do with some lesson about cooperation or trying your best) and even the battles are rather gentle — lots of cartoony blasts and punches, but the worst thing that ever happens to any pokémon is that it faints. Then the trainers give an encouraging speech to both the winner and the loser, which I rather like. The villains (who are called “Team Rocket”) are not menacing in the least — they’re pretty much comic relief, with recurring catchphrases played for laughs as variations on a theme. Also, there are some references built in there for adults — I’ve seen a character based on Groucho Marx, a joke based on O. Henry, and some cute fourth-wall breaking, among other things. We watched a whole episode based on Romeo and Juliet — pokémon in love with each other (and named Tony & Maria, heh) whose trainers are feuding and want to keep them apart. As you might predict, the plot swerved into a happy ending, with somebody saying, “This almost turned into a tragedy! Luckily, all’s well that ends well!” Gave me a nice opportunity to teach a little Shakespeare.

So now what we do around here is read about Pokémon, watch Pokémon, play Pokémon video games, draw Pokémon, and play Pokémon live games of Dante’s invention. In the show, whenever a trainer wants to send a pokémon into battle, he tosses a ball (pokémon are magically stored inside tennis-ball-sized containers) and yells out something like, “Charizard, I choose YOU!” So Dante has invented a pretend game where we’re battling pokémon trainers. He’s drawn up an ever-expanding list of (so far) 14 pokémon to choose from, with a reduced power-set for each pokémon, so there’s less to memorize. You roll a die to see who chooses first (choosing second confers an advantage, because some pokémon types counter others, rock-paper-scissors style), and then throw a superball and exclaim the name of your pokémon of choice. Then each player takes on the role of their pokémon, attacking each other in roughly turn-taking fashion with the appropriate powers. Finally, one or ther other pokémon faints, and you start all over. Pleasantly, Dante is not competitive in the game, and so each player wins and loses in a roughly equal ratio.

The latest thing is a game where one person draws a pokémon or two on a sheet of paper, and the other person draws one of Team Rocket’s many giant mechanical contraptions. The Team Rocket player must recite their very long motto, and then the battle commences. Team Rocket always loses, at which point the Team Rocket player must recite their other catchphrase: “Looks like Team Rocket’s blasting off again!” as they fly away to become a twinkle in the sky. Trade roles, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. It’s sometimes a challenge to remain interested in these games, but Dante’s obvious delight goes a long way towards making it fun. Plus, now I may be somewhat less hopeless at those many Sporcle Pokémon quizzes. That’s a fringe benefit.

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