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Lolita fashion has made quite a few appearances in Pokemon, so I decided to write about them. If I were to allow more of my personal taste in though, it’d mostly be a post about how Valerie/Mache is the best Kalos Gym Leader.

Large bug eyes and elaborate “Wa Lolita” outfits are totally my speed.

I wrote a short post on onigiri over at the Waku Waku +NYC Blog. Why not take a look, and then think about what you’d like to put in a Japanese rice ball?

Upon hearing Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U for the first time, I was convinced that they had brought back the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, from the film Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, it actually turns out to be someone doing an excellent imitation (with the help of a voice filter), and whose acting chops are impressive in their own right. While the new actor Fujiwara Keiji might not have the cred of being an established theater actor like Ichimura is (he’s most famous for playing the titular character in the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera), you might know him for some of the following roles:

Ladd Russo in Baccano!

Nohara Hiroshi in Crayon Shin-chan

Kuzuhara Kinnosuke (Biker Cop) in Durarara!!

Holland Novak in Eureka Seven

Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist (both original and Brotherhood)

Ali-al Saachez in Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Hannes in Attack on Titan

Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny

I actually had my suspicions because Mewtwo makes certain sounds in the new Smash Bros. that I don’t recall from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I chalked it up to my own faulty memory. It’s also a lot more difficult to hear because only the Japanese version has voiced victory quotes. It was the same in Melee, except you could change the language settings there to Japanese, which is how I and a lot of other people learned that Mewtwo had victory quotes in the first place.

Here are videos of the old and new voices for you to compare:

Old (ignore the skins; they’re from a mod)

New

And for fun, here’s a video of Ichimura Masachika as the Phantom of the Opera:

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It’s been six months since Mewtwo was announced as a downloadable character for Smash 4, but it’s felt more like a lifetime. With the vague arrival date of “Spring 2015″ and not a single image beyond a basic character model, information was scarce, and it left Mewtwo fans such as myself starving. Then came the April Nintendo Direct, which not only showed Mewtwo in action and gave an April 28th release date (April 15th for people who registered both games through Club Nintendo), but also revealed the return of Mother 3 hero Lucas as well as a worldwide poll asking who you want in Super Smash Bros. Suffice it to say, it’s been crazy.

(More on the poll in the future. Stay tuned!)

That brings us to today. As one of the many people who bought and registered both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions, I’ve had the privilege of getting early access to Mewtwo, and I’d like to give my impressions. This comes from the perspective  of someone who used the character avidly in Super Smash Bros. Melee (though not so much in a high-level competitive sense), as well as a long-time fan of Mewtwo as a character.

On an aesthetic level, Mewtwo looks so much better than it did in Melee, with body proportions closer to more recent depictions (taller, smaller head, etc.), as well as much more detailed animations. Though all of Mewtwo’s moves are more or less the same as they were back in the Gamecube era, they all have an extra bit of flair that really captures the essence of the character. When Mewtwo does a back throw, it effortlessly lifts the opponent through its telekinesis and, with its eyes closed as if it’s discarded a piece of trash, launches them. The voice, which I know was a bit of a concern for people, is actually just the same as its Melee voice, veteran theater actor Ichimura Masachika. Actually, it’s literally the Melee clips re-used, only that we don’t get the option of changing the game language to Japanese and hearing Mewtwo speak actual lines. I’m not totally against English dubs, but a part of me would have been a bit sad if this had been replaced.

In terms of gameplay, the first thing I want to say is that it actually took me less time to figure out how Mewtwo is supposed to function as a character than it did for me to learn Mega Man, who has been my primary character (the spotlight will now be shared between Blue Bomber and Genetic Pokemon). Once you get a sense of Mewtwo’s attributes, including its attacks, its speed, and its weaknesses, its game plan becomes clear. Mewtwo is a glass cannon, with an overwhelmingly powerful offense contrasted by being one of the lightest characters in the game who’s also one of the largest targets out there.

Especially coming from the perspective of a Mega Man player, Mewtwo’s attacks flow together incredibly well. A lot of its attacks, namely down tilt, up tilt, Side Special (Confusion), and Down Special (Disable) are designed to set opponents up for juggles or follow-ups. There aren’t very many reliable combos from Mewtwo, but a lot of the character is about forcing 50/50 guessing situations that favor you in terms of reward, and you can do things like Confusion -> down tilt, dash attack, forward air, second jump into up air. If you’re not someone who plays and found that a bit confusing, just know that Mega Man by comparison is lucky to get more than 3 hits on an opponent while juggling.

Another feature of Mewtwo’s is that it’s actually much faster on the ground now compared to Melee, and both the range and power of its attacks have been increased. Dash attack in particularly is affected positively by this new-found speed and range, as it’s easy to catch someone landing with it, pop them up in the air, and start a juggle. Mewtwo also now sports some of the most tremendous and reliable kill power in the game. Shadow Ball has more kill power than Samus’s Charge Shot and can be spammed more reliably than Lucario’s Aura Sphere. Up Smash comes out quickly and is absurdly strong, KOing many opponents off the top at about 90%. Forward Smash and Down Smash are slow but powerful, and their weak points can be mitigated through setups such as Confusion and Disable. In particular, if you Disable someone at about 80% and charge a smash attack, they’re almost assuredly going to get taken out.

Mewtwo also eats shields for breakfast, and it’s kind of frightening to see just how effective it is at whittling them down. Many characters have attacks that can either destroy shields or do massive damage to them, but none are quite as reliable and effective as Mewtwo’s Shadow Ball. Its only real weakness is that it takes a while to charge, but once you have it at full power, it has positive effects whether it hits or is blocked, and its erratic trajectory can make it difficult to avoid through dodging. Even if it doesn’t hit anything, Mewtwo can act quickly out of the move allowing follow-ups, and for those characters that love to reflect projectiles, Mewtwo now has a properly-working Confusion that can send it right back for a game of Ocarina of Time-esque volleyball.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Mewtwo without some strong throws, and it sports some of the best around. All of them do significant amounts of damage, somewhere between 9-11%. Back throw is a decent kill move, and up throw is the strongest in its class. With a good amount of rage (in Smash 4, characters become stronger as they take more damage), up throw can KO most opponents between 120-140%. While that might not seem too impressive, and it’s actually weaker when compared to Melee, it’s important to remember that, unlike many other killing throws (which are mostly back throws), Mewtwo’s is reliable at pretty much any point on the stage, instead of requiring you to be closer to one side or the other.

That’s Mewtwo on offense. Mewtwo on defense is another matter, as it is actually one of the lightest characters in the game, even easier to KO than Mr. Game & Watch. Combined with its large frame, it takes attacks easily, and doesn’t have many moves that can keep it from being juggled. Somewhat similar to Mega Man, Mewtwo’s main game plan is to drift towards the edges to avoid follow-ups, and thankfully a combination of excellent air speed, huge jumps, and the best teleport in the game means that it can often escape. However, because Mewtwo is so frail, it sometimes doesn’t matter, as a stiff breeze can send it reeling. In other words, the basic principle of Mewtwo is to deal a crazy amount of damage before the opponent gets the chance to touch you, otherwise you’re probably in trouble. In this way, Mewtwo somewhat resembles Akuma from Street Fighter, another character known for having high damage and low health.

Regardless of how good Mewtwo is as a character in the end, the collective effect of all of this is that Mewtwo feels more representative of the character’s original concept. In the original Pokemon games, Mewtwo is among the strongest in the game, with insanely high offensive stats and relatively good defensive stats. In an effort to promote game balance, the creators of Smash 4 clearly decided to make these aspects more extreme by giving it such terrible defenses, but I think this plays into Mewtwo’s character more than what it had in Melee, which generally amount to having a few decent moves wrapped up in a bunch of terrible qualities. Now, at least those terrible qualities are equally met with terrifying potential on offense. Destroy or be destroyed.

I do find it kind of interesting that the two characters I picked are the ones that are deceptive in terms of size to weight ratios. Mewtwo is very large and extremely light, while Mega Man is much heavier than he looks. It also means that their game plans are also somewhat opposite, as Mewtwo is a very unforgiving character while Mega Man can be afforded more mistakes. Whether they complement each other or succumb to the same issues, only time will tell.

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Back in 2008 when Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released, it was a bittersweet victory. While the new game was huge, and it had a ton of amazing new characters (King Dedede! Captain Olimar!), it came at the expense of one of my favorite Pokemon of all time and my favorite character to play in the previous game Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mewtwo. How cool was it that Mewtwo didn’t hold items with his hands but with his mind? How great was it that Mewtwo was voiced by Ichimura Masachika, his actor from the original movie and also the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera? I wasn’t depressed about his exclusion or anything, but I’d hoped he would be back next time.

Fast forward a few years to the impending release of a new Smash Bros. Not only did they announce another long time wishlist character of mine in Mega Man, but 2013 was a different time for Mewtwo. While it hadn’t really gotten anything new back when its position was essentially supplanted by Lucario, Mewtwo had developed further within its own games. It received the devastating Psystrike as its signature technique. It was upgraded to have two Mega Evolutions. It even appeared in a new Pokemon movie (albeit that Mewtwo was different from the first one). Surely Mewtwo had a chance now, right?

After another year, after closely following all Smash Bros. updates looking for any hints and being taken for a ride (the Greninja trailer not only makes it look like Mewtwo at first, but also conspicuously does not feature Mewtwo as part of the background Pokemon), the 3DS game was released and the final roster revealed. The bad news: no Mewtwo. I said to myself, “It’s not so bad, I at least got Mega Man, which in a way I’d hoped for even more.” And I’ve been having a ton of fun using Mega Man, getting used to all of his odd quirks. I also began using Palutena, who is sort of like Mewtwo. I was content.

Then came Thursday and the 50-Fact Extravaganza (not really 50). Mewtwo as DLC.

I freaked. Inside, that is. I’m not the type who loses all control of himself even in emotionally exciting times. The dream is real, Mewtwo strikes back, and he has a fancy new 3D model to boot. I have my most desired dual mains. The only thing left for me to do is buy a Wii U.

Now, given Mewtwo’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U, one question still remains in my mind: how will the game implement Psystrike? Will it be a Final Smash, or will that be reserved for one (or both?) of its Mega Evolutions? If it’s a special move, how would they translate the particular properties of Psystrike, if at all?

Here’s my idea. In the Pokemon games, there are different forms of offense, Physical Attacks, which are resisted by Physical Defense, and Special Attacks, which are resisted by Special Defense. Mewtwo in those games has long been famous for having an absurdly high Special Attack stat, and so the best way to combat it would be to use Pokemon with high Special Defense. However, Psystrike flips that relationship on its head. Instead, if calculates Special Attack against the opponent’s Physical Defense, allowing Mewtwo to more effectively attack opponents that it might have trouble with otherwise. While Super Smash Bros. doesn’t have Physical and Special stats, what it does have is horizontal survivability and vertical survivability. Mewtwo’s Smash rendition of Psystrike could play off of this distinction by having it be a vertical KO move but calculate its launching power based on the opponent’s horizontal survivability (or vice versa).

The easiest way to understand horizontal vs. vertical survivability is to look at some examples. Take Bowser vs. Dedede, for instance, where Bowser is generally the heaviest character in the Smash series without modifications and is thus the most difficult to KO off the left and right sides of the screen. Dedede, while also very heavy, isn’t quite as robust in this regard. However, try to take them out by launching them off the top of the screen, and Dedede lives longer. There are even more extreme casse: Samus is very difficult to KO horizontally but quite easy to dispatch vertically, while Fox and Falco are the opposite. Thus, assuming that Psystrike KOs vertically based on the opponent’s horizontal survivability, it would mean that the move is relatively ineffective against Samus but great for taking out team Star Fox.

I also decided to try and express these thoughts in audio, just as a fun test. Tell me what you think!

So in short, Mewtwo hype all around. See you on the Battlefield.

The depiction of race and culture in Pokemon over its nearly 20-year history has been a work in progress. Much of this has to do with the very Japanese origins of the game and their exportation to the rest of the world. A mostly assumed Japanese cast of characters suddenly wasn’t, like when the character Sakaki was renamed Giovanni to evoke the image of an Italian mob boss. At the same time, Pokemon with seemingly innocuous elements within Japan such as Jynx became a legitimate concern against the increased awareness in the United States of the history of discriminatory visual depictions of black people. Since then, thanks in all likelihood to its international success, Pokemon has taken considerable steps to try and be more culturally sensitive and inclusive, mainly through the depiction of characters with different skin tones and features. In some cases, the characters have more definite racial features, and in others they’re left vague, and the question of whether or not an “ambiguous brown” is for the better becomes an especially difficult question that is nevertheless worth exploring.

124Jynx_OS_animeJynx

The change to include characters who are neither vaguely white or Asian in appearance began with Pokemon Black and White, a series which I would argue not-so-coincidentally takes place in Pokemon universe equivalent of New York City, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the entire world. Unlike the regions of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh (all based on areas of Japan), the Unova region (Isshu in Japan) would not reflect the NYC influence properly if everyone was of the same skin color (what sometimes gets referred to as Friends syndrome).

Black_White_IrisBlack_White_MarshalBlack_White_Lenora_2

Iris, Marshal, Lenora

Major characters of color were introduced during these games, such as the Gym Leaders Lenora (Aloe) and Iris, as well as the Elite Four’s Marshal (Renbu), all of whom are bosses one must face before eventually challenging the final opponent, the Pokemon League Champion. All three of these characters are shown to be strong trainers, and Iris even featured prominently in the Pokemon anime. At the same time, all three possess varying degrees of ethnic identifiers. Iris is difficult to pinpoint, Marshal has features which indicate black, and Lenora is undeniably black to a possibly stereotypical fault. Originally wearing an apron in her official design, the proximity of this depiction to the Aunt Jemima-esque mammy stereotypes of the United States (in a game based on a US city!) prompted a revision which portrays Lenora simply slinging the apron over her shoulder (though she still wears it in the in-game sprite). This is far from a Jynx scenario, as Lenora is both a clever gym leader and the curator of her own museum, and her design is still fairly restrained, but it is rather telling that the approach taken with the next generation of games, Pokemon XY, lean closer to Iris’s style.

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Grant, Olympia

Pokemon XY, which takes place in the France-inspired Kalos region, features not only Gym Leaders Grant (Zakuro) and Olympia (Gojika) but also individual trainers throughout the game such as the male Pokemon Ranger and Rising Star. As is evident from their designs, a greater amount of care is put into them as well. The location of not-France is also perhaps an influence here, as taking into account the centuries-old Arabic influence in Europe, colonialism, and even just recent immigration from other continents creates a complex milieu of cultures that differs in significant ways from that of the United States. The vagueness of these character designs may be a reflection of that aspect.

However, the biggest change is undoubtedly the fact that Pokemon XY actually allows you to choose the skin color (and eventually hair color) for your player character. Now, in addition to choosing gender (a feature available since the second-generation Pokemon Crystal), it is possible to get closer to having your avatar appear the way you do (or don’t, as the case may be). The ethnic vagueness idea comes to the forefront here, as only three skin tones are available, which leads to the question of whether or not this is the right direction to take, if it’s perhaps a washing out of cultural identity.

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I’m of two minds about this. With some characters such as the Gym Leader Marlon (Shizui), it’s actually difficult to tell if he’s supposed to be a darker skin color or just someone with a nice tan. The lack of concrete information, as well as the fact that many of the characters have very Japanese-sounding names in Japanese regardless of appearance, makes it easy to accuse them of just taking “white/Asian” designs and swapping the hues. On the other hand, it’s erroneous to assume that certain features are meant to evoke one race rather than another. After all, it’s a classic mistake to assume that anime characters “look white” because of their large eyes. When the racial features are relatively nondescript, perhaps it gives them a versatility that prevents those features from being abused as stereotyped caricature. That’s not to say that future games couldn’t benefit from adding more skin tones, for example, but there’s something to be said about allowing players to make their own interpretations.

Whether or not the racial ambiguity of character designs in Pokemon helps or hinders (or both), one positive that is hard to deny is the benefit of just having so many depictions of characters of color being happy and successful. They talk to dragons, climb mountains, run museums, practice martial arts, and go on adventures. They’re intelligent, dedicated, compassionate, funny, people you can look up to and want to know better. They’re role models with limitless potential. It’s especially notable that, in the follow-up games of Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, Iris would go from being a Gym Leader to being the Pokemon League Champion herself. The Pokemon games have always done a good job of portraying female characters, with three of the most recent games featuring female Champions, and to have a woman of color be the strongest and most celebrated individual in the land is nothing to scoff at.

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In the end, what I see as the greatest contributing  factor in the depiction of diversity in Pokemon is that the series has not gotten complacent. With every passing generation of games they continue to make improvements, and it’s a likely sign that this will continue as long as Pokemon stays alive.

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In the world of Pokemon, Diantha (Carnet in Japanese) is not only the Pokemon Champion of the Kalos region and the final boss of Pokemon Xbut also a movie star with renowned beauty. It shows in her character design, but there’s something I find interesting about Diantha’s attractiveness. As far as I can tell, rather than being the perfect woman for guys, Diantha appears to be closer to women’s general perception of the ideal feminine beauty.

I’m not especially well-read on the differences between how men and women view beauty except to know that there is at least some appreciable difference between the sexes. From my own experience talking to others about this, if you were to look at the female chefs on the Food Network and ask who is the most attractive, men often prefer Giada De Laurentiis while Claire Robinson appeals more to women. A lot of it seems to do with the men and women focusing on different features, though I can’t say for certain which is which. When I look at Diantha’s design she leans closer to Claire than she does Giada in terms of facial structure, and her pose and overall stature exude less of an alluring, sensual quality, and more a powerful, statuesque grace. It also might be the eyebrows.

Of course, tastes between individuals can vary even within the same gender, and there are also cultural differences to account for. In this sense I’d say that Diantha is more of a European ideal than an Asian one, but as with all of this it’s more my own impression than anything else. Obviously I can’t speak about how women perceive beauty firsthand, and if there’s something you think I’m overlooking or just plain wrong about, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Though, if we’re talking about ideal Pokemon girl for guys, I imagine it’d be either Cynthia (Shirona) or Flannery (Asuna).

 

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I made this just for this post

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a fascinating social experiment. Through the magic of streaming video and live chat, tens of thousands of users try to collectively play a single game of the original Pokemon Red by inputting simple commands such as up, down, and a. The result is inevitably chaos as our hero Red looks to be religiously checking his items, pacing back and forth, throwing away valuable items, and never ever being able to walk in a straight line. Fans have lovingly crafted a lore around the whole endeavor, taking the idea of active participation to arguably another level.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you about it, because Twitch Plays Pokemon has absolutely exploded in popularity, getting coverage on a number of major sites. Given this, I do have to wonder to what extent the popularity has to do with Pokemon itself? Pokemon is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all times, and inevitably many people have experienced Pokemon in one form or another, even if they haven’t played the original game. This is why you can get anywhere between 40,000 to 100,000 people on the stream simultaneously 24 hours a day, because much like the British Empire the sun never sets on Pokemon fandom.

I’m no exception as I’ve inputted a few commands myself. I’ve watched in horror as the convulsing young Pokemon Trainer threw away two of his most valuable Pokemon, and witnessed the serendipity of Digrat, the Rattata who keeps resetting the progress of the game by digging back to the beginning of caves and secret hideouts. What I’ve also learned is that Pokemon Red is still really fun in and of itself. While the latest games in the series, Pokemon X/Y, are by far the best Pokemon games ever in terms of level of refinement, things to do, and even ease of finally creating that competitive team to beat down your friends/people on the internet, the enjoyment that the first-generation games brought was not simply a matter of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a huge factor for me personally, as the familiar tunes are ingrained deep into my psyche and I realized I could recognize that a Drowzee was sent out just from hearing it cry, but the elaborate yet ultimately forgiving sense of exploration you get in Pokemon Red/Blue just feels right.

This isn’t to say that the collaborative aspect of Twitch Plays Pokemon is subordinate to the game itself, as it’s being part of a greater crowd that is (for the most part) trying to aim towards success but often unintentionally stifling it that gives the whole experience much of its charm. With the Pokemon games, you’ve always had an environment where success feel great, but with Twitch Plays Pokemon failure often feels just as satisfying. Either way, it makes for great stories to share.

If ever there was a “nostalgia anime,” Pokemon Origins is it. An intentional recreation of the first Pokemon games, it limits its world to 151 Pokemon instead of the steadily climbing total count of later generations. There’s a lot to look at in terms of how it portrays a simpler time for the Pokemon franchise, but one thing I wanted to focus on is the main character Red’s team when he fights Blue for the championship, because it’s actually extremely deliberate and meant to reflect the experience of going through those first games, as well as the diversity of choices available to you along the way.

From left to right:

Scyther was a Pokemon exclusive to Pokemon Red and represents one half of the version exclusivity which helped to define the games and the necessity of trading to get all of the Pokemon. Being that the main character is named Red, the implication is that he caught this one in the wild.

Persian represents the other half of version exclusivity, being only in Pokemon Blue (or Green for the Japanese). This implies that Red at some point traded for it or its pre-evolution Meowth.

Lapras, unlike most of the Pokemon which are caught, evolved, or traded (or in the case of Porygon purchased), is a gift. In the games you receive it from an employee in the Silph Co. headquarters, so Lapras represents the “Pokemon by plot event,” and shows how he went through Silph Co. dismantling Team Rocket along the way.

Jolteon evolves from Eevee, a Pokemon which like Lapras you receive as a gift. Unlike Lapras, however, it also represents the act of the permanent choice: in the first games you were supposed to only get one Eevee (barring any creative glitches), and the choice of whether to evolve it into a Jolteon, Flareon, or Vaporeon was permanent, so the choice of Jolteon is meant to make you think, “Ah, so Red went with this one.”

Charizard is of course the Starter Pokemon, the first choice a player has to make in the game. Once again Red is Red, so the choice for which starter he’d go with is pretty obvious.

That leaves Dodrio. Its pre-evolution Doduo is available in both versions, is caught in the conventional manner, and also evolves in a normal fashion. However, the fact that Dodrio is common is what makes it special within the context of this team.

If you look at the rest of the battles in Pokemon Origins, you’ll find that the choice of Pokemon reflects this idea that the anime should give a sense of the progress Red has made. For instance, both Hitmonlee and Kabutops appear as Red’s Pokemon, and both are Pokemon whom you have to choose over others in the game (Hitmonchan and Omastar). Snorlax is a Pokemon you have to encounter because of the way it blocks certain routes, and a sign that the Poke Flute was used. Using the Legendary Birds against Mewtwo also shows how Red intended to go against it at full strength. Perhaps the most interesting decision of all, however, was having Pikachu appear only towards the end, to acknowledge its value to the franchise but to prevent it from overshadowing everything else or associating it too closely with the other anime.

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