Reflections of the Pokémon Anime, Part 2
Occasionally, and it never fails, when one turns to a Pokémon-themed forum, one encounters a thread topic that addresses the reality of Pokémon or their origins from our cultures. One cannot truly appreciate the world we are addressing until we realize that Pokémon are not just fantasy creatures dreamt up for the sake of children; they are modern spins on age-old traditions. These traditions, whether from sacred scriptures, folk songs, vision quests or popular culture, run the risk of being hijacked by those who wish to turn them into weapons of war or of being forgotten in a world secularizing and perhaps sadly forgetting the deep roots of cultural tradition. There are many lessons we can garner from Pokémon, not the least of which is to appreciate our own traditions.
Perhaps the reader will notice that not all Pokémon will be addressed in this essay. "But, ImJessieTR and Serge165," the reader protests, "you said this was going to be comprehensive!" Yes, it is supposed to be comprehensive, yet some Pokémon are better suited to this essay, whereas other Pokémon are better suited to future essays. So, please be patient. After all, readers can private message us about including those not featured in this initial post.
We shall begin by examining the real world influences behind Pokémon. This essay shall not examine the real world equivalents of the regions or various movie locations, as the focus for now is entirely on the Pokémon themselves. Future essays shall address the regions.
Wikipedia contains a list of Pokémon and possible influences behind their names and characteristics. A Charmander, for instance, "is a portmanteau of char (to burn) and salamander (a small amphibian traditionally associated with fire)." The salamander, according to Wikipedia, is associated with fire because humans inadvertently burned the logs in which salamanders hibernated, who then awoke and scurried away. It did not take long before the salamander's "fire powers" became ever-more impressive (see a future essay about the ease with which humans deify misunderstood persons or conditions) to human minds.
Many Pokémon are taken as fictional versions of creatures from our world. Examples include larvae Pokémon such as Caterpie, Weedle, and Wurmple (who progress through metamorphosis into a winged state in quite possibly their shortest-lived stage); Pidgeys, Taillows, Wingulls and Hoothoot (all birds of various species); Ekans and Seviper (snakes); and Magikarp (the evolution of which, Gyarados, is mythical in nature and will be discussed shortly), Goldeen, Feebas, Relicanth, Totodile and Omanyte (various aquatic creatures). Of course, then there are the various plant Pokémon, such as Oddish, but they will be discussed in a future essay.
A small rant that cannot be helped: In various places, from various people, both online and offline, it is noted by some (usually Christian) people that Pokémon is of the devil or some such thing because their powers do not come from God. However, since many Pokémon are based on real animals or plants, with the capacity in our world to poison, bite, peck, splash, sedate, shock, scratch (the reader, I'm certain, gets the picture)-- how can these Pokémon "powers" not be considered natural? If I bit such a person, wouldn't that be natural? Sure, the way it is animated in the show and in even more stylized fashion in the games, it looks unrealistic (for example, a Bite attack appearing as a big scary mouth over the opponent in the games instead of the creature simply latching onto the opponent with its jaws), but this does not make it supernatural, only stylized. There is a big difference between supernatural occurrences and lazy animation. The anime, admittedly, tends to over-dramatize certain attacks, but this does not mean magic is involved (and it would take another 100-page rant to discuss magic in religion).
So, now that this complaint is off our chests, let us turn to some mythological sources for Pokémon. Let us return to the lowly Magikarp, hated for its uselessness (all it does is splash around ineffectively). Based upon goldfish, it also has mythological interpretations. In one episode, on board a luxury liner, a character believes a Magikarp will bring him good fortune, not knowing how unsuited for battle this fish is. This assumption brings to mind two stories heard in my (ImJessieTR's) chilhood: the Christian story of Jesus pulling a coin out of a fish's mouth and a Chinese Cinderella story where a large goldfish/koi acts in a typically fairy godparent role by magically acquiring the means for the young woman to marry the prince. Wikipedia also notes that karp/goldfish/koi were once believed by the Chinese to swim up waterfalls and become dragons, hence Magikarp's evolution/transformation (and I will state it this way for those who dislike the implications of evolution) into Gyarados, a rampaging blue dragon similar in look to the kinds you see in Chinese New Year parades, with people dancing in line to make the large dragon costume flail about in the streets.
According to Wikipedia, Jynx, a humanoid Pokémon with dark skin and bleached-blonde hair, is possibly a parody of Japanese fashions or a wintry vampiric female spirit who seduces with kisses (or otherwise). The mythic origin makes more sense (and has greater dramatic value). The mythical origin also seems to have greater support in the anime, as Jynx is usually trying to kiss somebody, which invariably harms them in some way, as well as creating huge gusts of freezing winds. It has psychic powers, which ties into the ghostly/spiritual nature of the character. ImJessieTR has always found something unsettling about this particular character, so we won't dwell on it too much.
Let us now get started on the legendary Pokémon, since they are heavily influenced by mythology, perhaps more so than "normal Pokémon". Only their mythological sources shall be discussed, as their places in Pokémon history shall be addressed in a future essay. For starters, we will begin with Entei, as ImJessieTR fails to understand why Wikipedia does not see certain connections. Wikipedia says that the creature's name simply means heat and majesty. However, one idea we have not seen mentioned is the possibility that it refers to Inti, an Incan Sun God. Fire (or the putting out of fires) is part of the mythology of Inti, as well as its guardianship/creation of civilization, much like Entei, with the other legendary dogs, watch over humanity for their lord Ho-Oh, who resurrected them when humans killed them for their powers. In the third Pokémon movie, a storybook and several pictures on Professor Oak's computer show various cultural interpretations of Entei, one being his face within the sun, much like how Inti is portrayed in their religious iconography.
Ho-Oh and Moltres, the phoenix Pokémon, (and we're not going to discuss just fire legends) are taken from various phoenix legends, but both are capable, at least, of rebirth. Wikipedia noted that Moltres is an Arabian phoenix while Ho-Oh is Chinese, but, to ImJessieTR at least, it would seem like Moltres is Chinese while Ho-Oh resembles the art style of Central or South American civilizations like the Mayans, Aztecans or Incans. The origin of Ho-Oh is difficult to assess because the artists are inconsistent when drawing it. Sometimes it is portrayed nearly as sleek as Moltres, but sometimes it is blocky, garish, and frightening. So, like Entei, it seems there is still some difficulty pinning down some of the origins of certain Pokémon. Or, it could be all of the above. Take your pick.
Finally, we shall discuss four legendaries that have great importance in terms of human ethics: the Regis and Mewtwo. In both cases, humans created or at least exploited these artificial beings. The Regis, Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, are golems, powerful inorganic creatures, apparently brought to life using the designs on their featureless faces. Just as in Jewish and other mythologies, these ancient robots served human purposes until their powers became dangerous and they were deactivated/imprisoned. However, because they are never truly destroyed (read: obliterated), they can return to cause damage at any point in time if reactivated, usually by humans. Wikipedia described these Pokémon robots as personified Ages of Humanity (Stone, Ice and Iron/Space) as well as golems. Once the United States gets the eighth Pokémon movie in which they appear, the authors can possibly say more about them. Mewtwo is like the Regis in the sense that he is created and exploited by humans because of their lust for power. A clone of the Pokémon origin, Mew, Mewtwo might possibly relate to the concept of the cosmic egg or other such primordial creation stories. Over the millennia and throughout multiple cultures (I used Wikipedia to look this stuff up quickly; the fastest way is to look up cosmic egg), the idea that life began through a cosmic egg, a creator, a burst of light, etc. is given form in the Pokémon world by Mew, said to resemble both perhaps the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet (since it is powerful and motherly) and an embryo, since embryos early on are difficult to distinguish among all animal species (in other words, a human embryo resembles a fish, which resembles a cat, etc.). During these creation stories, differentiation occurs: light and dark, sky and earth, fire and water, male and female, etc. The cloning of Mew seems to perpetuate this concept. Mew is fun-loving, feminine and a creator, while Mewtwo is brooding, masculine and a destroyer. Mew lives strictly in the present (at least, that's how it's portrayed, since we never get to hear Mew's thoughts like we do Mewtwo's) while Mewtwo obsesses over the past.
An interesting event occurs at the end of the first movie, where Mew and Mewtwo seem to synchronize their auras and peace returns to the island where they had been fighting. We submit that this is a metaphor for our own future, that the past, both secular and mythological, are important parts of ourselves that must not be forgotten. They must be accepted and learned from. Which brings us back to the original point-- Pokémon is just as much about reminding us of our traditions as it is creating new ones in a fictional world. Those who decry either run the risk of taking from themselves a depth of insight that cannot occur through any other means.
The next column, How to Make a Pokémon: Fire, Water, Grass, Ground/Rock and Dragon, will be posted on Bulbanews Sunday.