The evidence for far-future earth

This one’s pretty basic.There are several hints that the pokéverse is actually a far-future earth rather than its own universe or an alt-reality. As of now there are three main things I think are worth discussing.

The mention of actual places

In episode 1.9, “The School of Hard Knocks,” Misty has a daydream about how much she loves Paris. This one is the weakest because I think this mention of real-world places happens infrequently, and also because there could be an alt-version of Paris if the pokéverse is simply an alternate universe (AU), roughly parallel to our own except with pocket monsters. On a Compelling scale of 1-10, 10 being “Super compelling,” I give it 6/10.

Noah’s ark

This one is weird. In episode 1.16, when the gang is adrift on a raft, we get this exchange.

Brock: I remember the story of Noah, who, when he had to find dry land, sent a bird to find it and return with a branch.

Ash: What a great idea! We’re gonna do the same thing as Noah!

Okay, wow, we get a casual reference to Judeo-Christian lore from Brock, the font of random wisdoms. This bit of evidence is pretty hard to explain away. I guess we could write it off as another possible AU, except that I’m pretty sure elemental creatures being very clearly not mythological would have changed how world religions developed, especially if they’ve been used by/as companions to humans throughout history. I know that later in the series we get creation myths and a creator-deity, but as of season one those things don’t exist, and I’ve never seen those eps/films, so I’m going to say that the existence of Noah is extremely compelling evidence that the pokéverse is far-future earth. I give it a score of 8/10.

“A dream-eating tapir” 

A final bit of evidence is in episode 1.27, “Hypno’s Nap Time,” when Ash whips out his Pokédex to get a description of a drowzee. The ‘dex description tells us that drowzee is a species “Descended from a dream-eating tapir.”

Two possibilities–one, “a dream-eating tapir” refers to one specific, unique dream-Drowzee_OOOOHHHYEAHeating tapir whose babies became a whole line of pokémon. This is… possible, I guess?

More likely, though, “a dream-eating tapir” refers to “a species of dream-eating tapirs.” This would indicate that pokémon, in their present state, evolved from more recognizable species that had begun to develop special powers. In this scenario, drowzee is descended from a species of tapir with powers who, in turn, is descended from the less powerful but still adorbs tapirs in our own world; this would explain, too, why there are so few real-world critters–they’re all the observed evolutionary progressions of species that we have around us now. While the ancestral forebears of pokémon aren’t around anymore (except for a few primary consumers like fish, insects, and worms), humans have cataloged and still remember those ancient species, which is why they sometimes refer back to them when describing or naming ‘mon.

This is at least as compelling a piece of evidence as the reference to Noah–it establishes that humans in this world know how pokémon have evolved over time and establishes that some are descended from species we have here. It loses a point or two because of grammatical ambiguity and because, well, tapirs in our world don’t eat dreams. (That we know of, I guess…). Take off another point for the fact that I guess it could still be an alt-world with alt-evolutionary development. Score for this bit of evidence is 7/10.1

As you may or may not know, later seasons of the show will begin to build up a mythology of the universe that spans from creation and the primordial world to the present day. A creator-pokémon and various minor deity or demiurge-like ‘mon pop up, and legends of pre-human earth begin to become important. This doesn’t disqualify the pokéverse as a far-future earth, since mythologies and religions change. It is interesting to see, though, how much narrower and less fantasy the series is at this point. I’ll have to keep an eye out for if and when the series starts to pull away from its affiliation with the real world. Will they mention Paris or America again? Will we get more references to Judeo-Christian or other religious narratives? We shall see!

1. (This gets some sub-conscious bonus points because in a few seasons we’ll find out that there’s another psychic-type, tapir-esque pokémon called munna, perhaps an evolutionary cousin of drowzee and descended from that common ancestral tapir. This doesn’t really count for the same reason that I’m not factoring in the creator-deity pokémon Arceus–it doesn’t exist as of ep. 1.27.)

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Assorted notes and queries

Time to ponder out a few aspects of the pokéverse. Today I update, clarify, and introduce a few small, random speculations about the culture, inhabitants, and governance of Kanto. Each section is standalone, so this post is long but made of individual sections. Bite-sized, like poképuffs! Pick and choose what you like! Also, if you have questions, comments, corrections, or theories of your own and you feel like sharing, leave a comment or contact me on tumblr.

Aggression against humans

Way, way back I suggested that wild pokémon would attack trained and captive ones not out of jealousy, but because they recognized that humans were only as threatening as the pokémon that accompany them. I flagged this theory, imagespeculating that wild pokémon might not attack humans very often because their behavior had been conditioned from years of being sought and caught.

There are various ways in which this theory is disproved, but “Primeape Goes Bananas” (ep. 1.25) most conclusively shows us that wild pokémon do, indeed, attack humans. Mankey and its evolved form, primeape, are basically a cross between a cotton ball and a baboon. Both are known for being particularly aggressive, so it may be an outlier, but other pokémon–a gyarados, zubats, even the ghosts–explicitly attack humans, not just their pokémon. Pokémon behavior, then, varies widely and includes aggression against humans as well as their trained ‘mon.

Pokémon language

In ep. 1.17 we spend a lot of time with just the pokémon characters. They’ve been separated from their trainers, so they spend a lot of time talking to each other in their poké-speak. We get subtitles of what they’re saying. Most of it is normal conversations, although Ekans and Koffing, Team Rocket ‘mon, speak in ways that are coded as less Photo 2015-05-29, 2 34 10 AMintelligent (3rd person, no pronouns, etc.). Keep in mind that they’re all speaking using only the syllables that make up their species name–sucks to be, like, a spheal and have only one syllable. The fact that they can articulate complex ideas leads me to conclude that poké-speak is 1, excessively tonal in ways that we can’t always hear with our human ears, or 2, not only verbal but also somatic. That is, many animals use non-verbal communication like scent, posture, movement patterns, and colors to communicate (often complex) ideas or information. Elephants use sound, but it’s sound pitched at frequencies humans can’t hear. Pokémon may use any and all of these methods to supplement their rudimentary syllabic abilities.

There’s support for some non-verbal element in that Meowth can communicate with other pokémon, but even Ash, who understands most of his pokémon, does so with less complexity than Meowth. If scent or subtle body language are in play, it might explain why Meowth can comprehend poké-speak better than any human.

Finally, on a somewhat tangential note–the fact that pokémon can communicate with varying degrees of sophistication is taken for granted by the characters. I do think that Pikachu is more intelligent than other species–say, caterpie or magikarp. But even insectoid Butterfree had an undeniably complex personality. For, you know, a bug. All pokémon are persons and are seen as such, even if they aren’t legally protected from being caught and trained as bloodsport entertainers.

State oversight 

Back in 1.20, “Maiden’s Peak,” we discover that Pokémon Centers have curfews, strictly enforced by Nurse Joy and by a metal shutter that closes off the PC after a certain time (I want to say 11 pm?). Seeing the metal shutter descend, Ash tries to leave–Brock is still out there, staring at the rock/statue of the ghostly Maiden–but Nurse Joyce stops him, scolding him about his “bedtime,” and Ash can’t go rescue Brock.

The way Joy actively prevents Ash from leaving makes me think that the Joys aren’t just healthcare drones but also surveillance, a way to oversee and gently manage the large population of trainers. The free healthcare and overnights for traveling youngsters keeps them safe, sure, but I’ve already noticed and noted how the Nurse Joys pass on information to each other about trainers that pass through their Centers. The takeaway is that the Joys perform certain disciplinary and surveillance functions, managing not only the health of pokémon but also the activities of humans. It’s not necessarily sinister, but in light of the rather authoritarian “curfew” it’s not unproblematic, either.

Ghosts again

Speaking of ghosts, I want to more clearly articulate the difference between real-world ghosts and ghosts in Kanto. In our world, ghosts are fragments of the past with unfinished business. The fear is that the past will burst into the present again. We in the West are afraid of the past, of what we’ve done or don’t know what to do with. In Kanto/the pokéverse, though, ghosts represent an opposite movement. Ghosts move from the present into parts of the past that are supposedly stable, familiar, traditional. Slapstick and the local legend of the ghostly Maiden are reawakened and use by ghosts in unfamiliar, scary, dangerous ways. This may be a contrast between Western and Japanese cultures–although this is speculation based on no formal research, my sense is that a lot of Japanese narratives are about how tradition survives in a quickly changing present. Regardless of the real-world source, in the pokéverse ghosts (dis)embody the way the present can reawaken and defamiliarize a seemingly stable past.

Oak’s lab

Oak’s lab is the coolest. We get a very brief look inside in ep. 1.25, so let’s break it down. image

Apart from being idyllically built on top of a wooded hill, backed by forests and mountains, there’s a wind turbine! This makes a lot of sense–I’m guessing that a lot of the energy in Kanto is produced in ways that are more easily integrated into the environment. I talked about Kanto being a dystopia, but there are some positive aspects of god-like technology and imageenvironmental control.

imageNext we get some closer views–here’s Oak meditating. Behind him is a pond, the same pond as in the second picture. It’s home to many pokémon, whom Oak presumably studies. This study of captive ‘mon aligns with Oak’s fairly sedentary research. Still, he seems to have a breeding population of the poliwag line (their second-stage evolution, poliwhirl, is peeking out from behind the rock), which means that they must not be too unhappy.

I was prepared to think more favorably of Oak because of all of this set-up. But then, during his meditation, the phone rings. Oak doesn’t move or even react. Then Krabby appears next to him holding a portable videophone. People, Oak has trained Ash’s krabby to be his phone butler.

imageApart from being exploitative of our crustacean-like friend, it crosses an in-world cultural line, and speaks to Oak’s character, albeit obliquely. Back in episode 11 when the gang encounters an abandoned charmander, they’re very uncomfortable about this pokémon who isn’t wild but is seemingly unattached. Although they want to help, they conclude that it would be best if its trainer cared for it. They go back for it eventually, but it’s clear that people prefer to leave other trainers’ pokémon alone if possible. It’s probably related to the pervasive paradigm of ownership–that is, trainers tend to see pokémon as either owned or things that can and will someday be owned, and have trouble talking about pokémon in any other way. Finding a pokémon who is owned but not cared for may trouble this, undermining their faith in the essential goodness of training culture. They don’t like it and aren’t sure how to handle it, and part of the solution is not interfering with others’ ‘mon and thereby culturally honoring the responsibilities and the power of ownership.

Part of Oak’s job is caring for pokémon over the six-per person limit, and allowing Krabby to roam around is sweet–yay, Krabby gets exercise! But Oak training Krabby to be his butler crosses a line. He’s interfering with another trainer’s pokémon, which we know is a no-no. Oak acts trangressively because he can–he works from a position of privilege and control, above the rest of Pallet Town (literally, up on that hill) and most of society as a whole. Oak is, in the end, still a total butt.