Today’s question: Is this weird town a place where we see some dramatic class divide or a hippy commune village of people who espouse some pretty deep ecology-type ideology? Maybe both? Let’s find out!
In episode 1.41 Ash, Brock, Misty, and Pikachu find themselves in a small village that seems to be facing famine because their irrigation ditches have mysteriously run dry! After struggling deep into the woods through thick, thorny vines, they find that the massive, bear-like snorlax seems to be blocking the water flow! They spend a lot of time trying to wake it up, and when they do they find it’s the thorns that were clogging the irrigation channels. Snorlax saves the day by eating all the thorns and trundling off to sleep elsewhere.
This episode stands out not only because of that nightmarish kissyface from TR’s ‘mon, but also because this village is suffering from a fairly basic agricultural issue that, in Kanto’s hyper-tech society, seems like it shouldn’t be an issue. Why can’t they teleport food? Or at the very least, order supplies from elsewhere?
I wondered at first if this was somehow a glimpse of class divide. Maybe there’s a sort of peasant class, farmers who do some grunt work but don’t get a lot of technological support. This is, I guess, an option, but the degree of difference between cities we’ve seen, that have teleportation tiles and hi-tech pokémon centers, is pretty striking. Even developing nations have internet.
The way space is presented changes, too. Before Ash and the gang head up the river to find the source of the clog, the mayor (or whatever) of the town warns, “No one dares go upstream anymore. You never know what you might find!” Since when do we find inaccessible and uncertain space in Kanto? Maybe, though, it’s because no one in this town seems to have a pokémon. Ash and the others have a hard time struggling through the vines, but with their ‘mon it isn’t really that difficult for them to find snorlax.
And visually, the village doesn’t look like the cluster of of peasant hovels you’d expect from people who are afraid to go upstream and for whom irrigation failure spells disaster. Look at this town–it’s bigger and nicer than Pallet!
The key to our mystery and the hero of the episode are one and the same. For answers we must turn to…
The Old Hippie!
Who doesn’t love hippie references in 1990s Japaense animation?? The Old Hippie plays his flute along the road, trading melodies for munchies and money. Later, though, the gang finds out that his flute is actually a special flute with the power to energize or wake up pokémon. In the end we find out that that’s actually his “job,” sort of. He says that the snorlax is actually his, and he wakes it up once a month so it can eat 900 lbs. of food and get some exercise before sleeping for several more weeks. He even has a little timer that tells him when to wake up other snorlaxes in the area. He’s basically a shepherd, of sorts, but with seemingly fewer returns.
Maybe, then, this village isn’t a place where peasants are ignored by the rest of Kanto society; maybe it’s an intentional/alternative community. No one in the town seems to “own” pokémon. Even the hippie who claims snorlax as his doesn’t really exploit or even transport it (at most he uses it to graze on the vines and control their growth). This community, then, may intentionally eschew the kinds of technology and human/nonhuman ecology that are so important elsewhere.
There is still a kind of inequality in play, even in this case. Regardless of whether the community is intentionally rejecting the use of tech and ‘mon that we see elsewhere, it seems to have a dramatically limiting effect on their lives. Not only is “upstream” a vaguely threatening place (and, as we’ve seen, wild ‘mon can be dangerous, esp. when traveling off the beaten path), but they lose the ability to travel through certain places. Using their pokémon the gang can find snorlax, but the villagers seemed to have some difficulty.1 There is little or no support for those who reject the form of ecology so prevalent in Kanto society. If you don’t want to capture and use pokémon, or if you don’t want the problematic use of certain forms of technology, you have no choice but to live in a fairly precarious state in which the failure of an irrigation ditch threatens famine.
1. The fact that the hippie flute player can, presumably, travel to where his diff. snorlaxes slumber is one of the many weird contradictions in the ep. Another bizarre bit is where Team Rocket and Ash get really competitive about who can get to the hippie first, because they both really want to wake snorlax… even though the hippie is going to the same place regardless of who gets to him first? Or when they try to get their noblest ‘mon to kiss Snorlax into wakefulness. It’s all pretty bananas, basically. ↩