I recently had the pleasure of battling my younger cousin. No, I don’t mean we wrestled in the front yard and hit each other over the head with metal chairs. I don’t mean fencing either, trying to hit each other with swords. And I certainly don’t mean boxing (I outweigh the kid by at least a hundred pounds).
No. We had a Pokémon battle.
Go ahead. Laugh, smirk, jeer. I don’t care. I’ve never cared. I’ve been playing Pokémon for sixteen years. I’ve seen all the movies (and am very excited about the new Mewtwo movie, by the way), played all the games (even the Pokémon Puzzle League and Pokémon Channel), and I was even into the trading cards for a little bit.
I remember when I fell in love with Pokémon. I was nine years old, spending the night at a friend’s house. The next morning, we sat on the old couches eating cereal from bowls set on the coffee table, eyes glued to the WB. The first episode I ever saw was “Electric Shock Showdown.” It held me in thrall. The way Pikachu believed in its own merits and refused to change itself for a single goal. The underdog victory against Raichu and Ash shutting the arrogant Lt. Surge down have stuck with me since then and taught me that speed and cleverness can take down power any day.
My first game was Blue and my first starter was Squirtle. Water types are still my favorite because I adored Misty from the anime (this actually serves me well in battles—Water types have good special attack). My favorite Pokémon is still Starmie. My friends had Pokémon, but we didn’t battle that often. Probably because you needed a Game Link cable and it took me forever to convince my grandmother to buy me one. Even then, I only battled my friend Raul once, and we might’ve traded afterward.
There was a handbook for it, too. Remember this:
I can’t accurately put into words how much I loved this book. I read it cover to cover at least a hundred times, maybe more. I memorized Pokémon elements, types, weaknesses, strengths, attacks, levels of evolution. I still remember that Shellder is a water type but Cloyster is a dual water-ice type. They are both bivalve Pokémon. Charizard is fire-flying, not dragon. Likewise, Gyarados is water-flying, not dragon.
I guess most kids have childhoods filled with baseball games, music recitals, gymnastics, ballet, or whatever. For me, Pokémon was a huge chunk of my childhood. I dreamed of Pokémon battles, devoured Pokémon episodes, and when the first movie came out, I insisted that my grandmother drive me forty minutes early to the premiere. I got a Mew card for my efforts. And I cried when Ash got turned into stone. My friends laughed (because they were assholes), but Pikachu understood. Whenever Pikachu shocked Ash in the anime, he fell sideways, snapped out of whatever funk he was in. But he didn’t this time.
One of the highlights of my childhood was defeating the Elite Four and the Champion for the first time. The only Pokémon I remember using are Blastoise and Parasect. I honestly don’t recall the other four. At nine years old, I really wasn’t the best battler. I just kind of picked the highest Pokémon I had caught and hoped for the best. The notion of level grinding didn’t come until later, when Gold and Silver came out.
I only remember the end of the Champion battle. I had already lost to my rival eight or nine times. I was frustrated. I took down one of his Pokémon, he took down one of mine. He finally took down my Blastoise with his Venusaur. All I had left was my Parasect. I was prepared to lose. Parasect had been the last Pokémon I chose, and I thought it sucked. It knew Slash, Fury Swipes, Mega Drain, and Spore. I looked at the moves. Slash might help me because it got critical hits. But I was desperate and I had never used Spore before, so I selected it.
Venusaur fell asleep.
My breath caught. This was it. This was my chance. I used Slash over and over again. Venusaur never woke up. It fainted.
I became the Pokémon League Champion.
This isn’t one of the best moments of my childhood. This is one of the best moments of my life. It was something that I did by myself, through my own effort, without anyone to help me. It was the moment I realized I could achieve anything as long as I persevered and never let failure stop me I know this sounds like something out of an anime (Never give up! Dreams come true! You can do anything if you just believe it!), but it’s how I felt then. And it’s how I feel now.
That’s why I get kind of frustrated with people who say they’re into Pokémon, but “only first gen because the rest suck.” No. You suck. And if the only Pokémon you know are Pikachu and Jigglypuff, you’re not into Pokémon. You sort of, kind of, have maybe heard of Pokémon—maybe saw an episode once.
Don’t be this.
I’ll admit, I didn’t really like second gen that much, but third, fourth, and fifth have all been really amazing. Dark types finally got some cool moves, there’s a whole slew of legendaries, and Mewtwo now has a new form. I didn’t really get into the card game, but I did play the GB Pokemon Trading Card Game. Remember?
And although I didn’t really like Johto League, I thought “Johto League Champions” had the best theme song:
Finally, to round out this discussion, I’m going to put my ideal team below. I know we all have one. That perfect team, the one we would have if Pokémon was real and we were all trainers. This is mine:
Blastoise (yes, even after all this time)
Swampert (Water-Ground types are the best–but you have to watch out for Grass type Pokémon and moves)
Starmie (honestly, once I learned that Starmie could learn electric moves–which I figured out when I played Pokémon Stadium [and which blew my mind, by the way]–I knew that it would always be my favorite Pokémon. It can use water, psychic, ice, and electric attacks, making it one of the most well-rounded Pokémon I’ve ever used.)
Jellicent (I can’t believe it took Nintendo this long to make a Ghost-Water type. Cursed Body is also one of my favorite abilities)
Dragonite (I know, I know—not a Water type. But in the anime, Dragonite are supposed to live in water, and I’ve always loved the way Dragonite look.)
Ludicolo (I guess I have a propensity for interesting dual-Water types. And a passive recovery ability like Rain Dish can go a long way in a battle).
I know I’m a grown(?) man, but Pokémon will always be part of my life. If you have a fantasy team you’ve always wanted, let me know in the comments below.
but it’s fiddly
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