Friday, December 20, 2013

My Eulogy For Team Rocket


In the past I've spoken of Team Rocket's characterization and how it shifted with each saga of the Pokemon anime. I give an update in regards to Kalos TR of the new XY series of the anime:

Kalos TR is a gross exaggeration of what Decolore TR was, but with Wobbuffet thrown in back with them. They look bad. They have no real character or presence anymore. They suck. That’s what happens when you keep characters going past their deadline, folks.

But that’s only the simplified version.

This TR, like how the TRio often was in DA!, have no real mission or purpose on the show and are instead back to actively stalking the twerps in hopes of capturing Pikachu. But whereas DA! was a filler arc where nothing had purpose, XY is the next big series with a big saga in the next big region, which makes the TRio's episodic nonthreatening antagonist status far more harmful to the show and characters. And while DA! TR could sometimes show a good deal of restraint and even real humor, this TRio holds nothing back when expressing themselves and as with DP TR, they have not said or done anything genuinely funny in all of their appearances so far (EDIT: That last part did change eventually.)

Wobbuffet is back with them for no damn reason at all. He literally just wandered onto the scene in the XY pilot episode that was called the last BW episode, and the TRio gave zero reason for why they took him back. In episodes 1 through 4 of XY, Wobbuffet actually did display some character again, being the source of jokes that were relevant to something rather than just popping up just to scream his own name. He even got to become a competent threat in battle with his new Mirror Coat. Sadly, this did not last. By episode 7, Wobbuffet was once again the annoying background Rocket Pokemon who only gets shoved in the forefront for forced, needless and really unfunny gags.

Their designs - the only thing XY Jessie and James have in common with their BW incarnations is the hair. The faces look different: now they both have very similar looking eyes that are basically pallet-swaps of each other and arch up slightly more than their eyes did on their previous models. Their white uniforms are now very white, with the grayish shading gone, and their gloves and boots are very dark black as well. Y'know, like in the movies. Worst is how these models are animated. Their faces, limbs, and body proportions look wrong and almost unrecognizable too often since the models for their designs, like other design models in XY, were slimmed down for the new animation.

Their character - two major problems here. The TRio are more or less back to their caricatured DP selves here, but the big difference is that they don’t even seem to have the Flanderized personality traits anymore. Jessie’s a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, James is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, and Meowth is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot. They all act like the same damn idiot. Now back in BW, the loss of individuality was a problem too, not gonna lie. Only Meowth really had his own distinct voice, while Jessie and James often acted like generic evil agents who exchanged pretty interchangeable dialogue concerning their missions. However, there was at least an excuse for this: it was how the characters chose to behave while “on the clock”, because they knew that acting otherwise would lead to miserable failure that would disappoint the boss. Here, there’s no excuse for why they’re all behaving like dipshits and not even trying to take a professional approach to do a good job for the boss. It’s so weird. (In light of recent events, I will add that Meowth is still the one who can most occasionally act like himself. Fitting as he's the only one who LOOKS like himself!)

The other problem is that I had predicted way back when that the staff, undecided on what direction to take the characters in now, would try to “combine the best of both worlds” and play them both ways in terms of the seriousness and comedy. Something like how them building up their diabolical plans would be played semi-seriously with the characters taking themselves, their work, and their approach seriously, but then they'd also display frequent bouts of wacky comedic idiocy and incompetence while making random grotesque or juvenile facial expressions and gestures, often not too shortly after their supposed serious moments, eventually proving not to be a true threat in battle, bungling their plan up, getting degraded, humiliated, beaten up, and sent blasting off into the sky for the 10,0000x time. And that’s exactly what we’ve got now. What I did NOT suspect was just how exaggerated and overplayed their characters would be for all this. They don’t just go over-the-top, they really go over-the-top! Their “serious” moments, rather than being subdued, calculating, and genuinely menacing like in BW, are now in-your-face about how dastardly and outright psychopathic the TRio is. When they’re deviously happy and pleased, they make faces that range from psychotic smirks to full on slasher smiles. When they’re mad, they look like they’re roaring in absolute fury. When they’re surprised or scared, they look on the verge of a mental breakdown. And their comedic moments are their DA! moments taken up to eleven. But whereas in AG, DP, and DA! they were presented as seemingly mentally challenged, here they go beyond that into being flat out mentally unhinged. These aren’t simply brainless idiots: these are absolutely psychopathic idiots. Just LOOK:

This is supposed to be a “balanced” moment of seriousness and humor. Instead, it’s frightening in
all the wrong ways. This TRio is a bunch of unfun, unlikable, and flat out unappealing characters who look like decaying zombies and act like mental patients devoid of style, class, and charisma, and in need of a lobotomy. Maybe even with a lobotomy! And the characters were never this crazy before. They were eccentric, not insane. What sucks the most here is that I can easily see Xerosic and the four female chief scientists of Team Flare acting this way and doing the kind of stuff the TRio is doing presently, except it would be to further an actual plot, of course. This yet again shows why TR should not be on the show anymore. They ought to have been discarded at the end of BW: move on to new arch enemies. Make the regional evil team’s members the actual recurring villains for once! But nope, TR is still around even though all signs pointed to their departure last series.

And they have no presence because of the way their roles play out now. They stalk, they watch, they plot, they enact their scheme, they recite the motto, they fight, and they blast off again. This role works only if there's some effort, unpredictability, and variety in there. But XY TR has none of these things. They just go through the motions, with their new crazy edge substituting for actual substantial characterization. There are fans who find them serviceable enough, but for me, they’re just not at all the same as what they were before. Even in DP, which was the last time they were stale and annoying idiot caricatures, they were at least caricatured characters rather than caricatured tools. They each had a distinct voice and characterization, regardless of how paper thin it was, but XY TR, as I've said, just feels like copies of one another most the time. And their “mixing of styles” just ain’t working. Going back and watching their BW pre-Nimbasa filler antics, their N arc episodes, and even their DA! episodes allows one to see a much better way to balance comedic moments and silly character quirks with being serious, efficient, and legitimate threats as villains. With XY TR, they have them doing some stuff efficiently or ineptly with no consistency except that they're always acting like mentally unhinged derpy dipshits, and in between they’re literally going through motions of their designated role and procedures as tools in the episodes’ plot with no sense of identity or personality whatsoever. It’s sad, and makes TR feel like needless relics now (which they are!). They actually shift between being super annoying and super boring constantly in this series. Oh, and those f***ing character models...skinny limbs, thin bodies, enlarged heads, weird looking eyes and faces - it just doesn’t look like them! Nothing about them works when they’re not treated seriously as characters. Just as they were in DP and the bulk of DA!, the TRio are just tools for the lazy hack writers to use, abuse, and discard in every episode they can be crammed into. Their characters have no worth, their existence has no meaning. At their present state, Takashi Shudo would weep.

Now in fairness, XY TR does have three things over DP TR. They don’t appear in every single episode (though they still appear in most of them, which in this series is one too many), they’re notably less overly hyperactive in their idiocy and thus are allowed more capability to be competent, efficient, and threatening on rare occasion, and they’ve still got Zager tech. Zager tech rules! But aside from that, they've got nothing in their favor. There was really only one way to handle them if they weren’t to be written out of the anime completely, which would be to assign them the status of recurring characters rather than regular characters, who've gone to Kalos for their own reasons and only occasionally pop up, sometimes as enemies, sometimes as allies, and sometimes as villains out shopping. But the writers didn’t take that path at all, so instead we're saddled with these overexposed abominations.

As for Giovanni - don’t let that redesign fool you, he is again completely irrelevant to the show. He’s not a character either. He was a tool used for a few seconds in XY03, and it was like the reverse of BW: there, he told the TRio about the Unova region and sent them over there to further his agenda. Here, the TRio, who’d heard about the Kalos region just from listening in on Ash and going ahead 
of him there so they could get the jump on Pikachu, told him about Kalos and he just gave them the okay to continue with their agenda. He has no involvement in this series’ “plot” and as a tool he has even less personality and presence than he did in AG and DP. And while that design isn’t bad
it needs tweaking 'cause it is the blandest, most forgettable look he’s ever had in the franchise.

They suck”. That’s how I could sum up Team Rocket in AG, DP, and now XY. But in the first two series’ mentioned, I could see why they were still around: in XY there is really no excuse for them to still be around. At all. There were plans to write these characters out of the show last year.  I’m 100% certain that TR were not in the rough draft for the XY series. Since the XY games were in prodcution around the same time as BW2, the XY series must have begun to be planned out while “Best Wishes Season 2” was in the works, and at that time, TR was going to leave the main cast after Operation Tempest and then only be used as guest stars for events like “Episode N.” But then by the time that arc actually came about, they were forced to bring TR back into the main cast, which explains the re-obsession with Pikachu, the balloon, the blast-offs, and the lazy recycled footage for every motto recital (of their original motto) that started happening around that time and still happens now. So TR are now characters the writers had no desire to continue frequently writing for. But since the mandate states they stay, they stay. But not handled by loving hands. The end of BW was the characters’ expiration date. And when something passes it’s expiration date, it goes irreversibly sour. That’s happened to TR (and honestly, just about everything in the entire franchise after Generation V, IMHO). These characters expired. What we see before us now are the characters in body but not in soul. Their soul departed with BW, leaving us with the rotted, deflated, decaying, forever pained bodies of what used to be the real TR. But it’s not the same. While they may still have their fleeting moments of relative decency, this is not the real TR: it’s a soulless imitation made for carrying out the writers’ worn out plot conventions for an easy-to-write formulaic kids’ show. And that’s why I’m glad that, while BW was ending, before XY even premiered, I said my farewell to the real Team Rocket. 


  1. I don't know.

    1. In BW, aside from their success in the subplot leading to the banned episodes, they still tended to have the same failure rate in the previous seasons, only lacking in the comedic mannerisms and others things which I'll get into shortly.

    I personally don't think their comedic status in the prior seasons were all that bad, but I don't think uber serious mannerisms (which granted weren't as bad as XY) alone cuts it. They need to actually have some success against Ash and company. Heck, even Captain Planet and the Planeteers had an episode which ended with Plunder succeeding in clear cutting some trees.

    2. While some things like Paul was a misstep in DP, Team Rocket for the most part? Specifically, while it's really my own personal opinion, I've often felt that the trio's biggest redeeming feature from Kanto to DP was that they could really be decent individuals at times who were making a really problematic life choice.

    In addition to episodes like "Once There Were Greenfields!" or "Crossing Paths", you had Jessie actually winning some contests legitimately rather than through cheating.

    I feel that if the status quo wasn't such a God, that the more natural outcome would be for them to try to atone for their past crimes (successful, attempted, etc.)

    With both points in mind, I'd say that during BW (in which the crew was willing to try something different with the Rockets to the point where they were allowed to be fully absent), I would say that Butch and Cassidy are the Rockets that need to be brought back to serious status.

    Yeah the trio's early appearances made them seem more serious, but B and C in contrast before their decay in Chronicles?:

    A. Were narratively specified to be competent and successful.
    B. They were respected by Giovanni to the point that he'd foot their prison bills.

    Plus they lack the humanity that the trio had from time to time.

    Speaking of, I'd aim to find a way to have Jessie, James and Meowth aiming for redemption (additionally willing to submit to jail time and community service as well as teaming up with Ash and company to foil plots by their former acquaintances).

    And if met with approval by the audiences, well they could still show up as occasional cast members with their new thing just traveling and working to make more honest lives for themselves, with their usual comedic results.

    1. 1. They succeeded in a ton of things in all of their mission subplots, only failing at the end of the plots because they're the villains and they have to be defeated in the end. At the very least, they took defeat with more dignity than everywhere else in the anime, often escaping relatively unscathed.

      "Episode N" actually allowed them to be uber serious criminal agents while also having comedic quirks to their characters and succeeding against Team Plasma in the long run. Why can't we have THAT TR in the current show?

      2. They've always been decent at best individuals making problematic life choices, but they've loved those life choices and wanted to be the best they could be in their lives as criminals, which is what made their arc in BW so rewarding. To see them revert to being losers who lag in terms of efficiency except for a rare few occasions, usually when against other villains, feels like a cheat.

      Jessie won one contest legitmately - against Kenny in the final match. Two of her wins with off-screen (so we have no idea how fair she played), one WAS cheating since she used James dressed up as her, and the last one was a pity ribbon.

      I'd want them to try to atone for their crimes only when Giovanni and Team Rocket as a whole started to go that direction, but that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon.

      Yes, Butch and Cassidy needed to be fixed a long time ago, but they seem to have been forgotten about along with all the other non regular Team Rocket members. Oh well.

    2. 2. Responding to your paragraphs here out of order:
      "Jessie won one contest legitmately - against Kenny in the final match. Two of her wins with off-screen (so we have no idea how fair she played), one WAS cheating since she used James dressed up as her, and the last one was a pity ribbon."

      Point taken.

      "They've always been decent at best individuals making problematic life choices, but they've loved those life choices and wanted to be the best they could be in their lives as criminals, which is what made their arc in BW so rewarding. To see them revert to being losers who lag in terms of efficiency except for a rare few occasions, usually when against other villains, feels like a cheat."

      Perhaps, though considering how their occasional attempts at legit business' are met with success, I think it could easily be a result of them succeeding because a part of them would prefer an honest life and their failures are more a case of them holding back on some level.

      Okay it's really editorial mandate prompting them to fail, but I figure it's a workable explanation in-universe.

    3. Of course a part of them want an honest life - all three of them tried for an honest life before becoming criminals. Jessie and James wanted to become legit trainers but flunked all their tests and ended up becoming delinquents instead, and Meowth...need I go there? I think a part of them wants to finally get to that sort of life upon retirement from a successful criminal career, and their big issue is that they can't comprehend any way to a good life that does not come as a result of being in Team Rocket. They feel like it's either "become successful Rockets so that we may become successes at life!" or in some cases "become successful at side legit businesses so that we may becomes more successful Rockets so that we may become successes at life!"

  2. Just to note, XY TR's major failings are the following:

    - TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime.
    - XY TR’s character models make them look horrendous in animation.
    - When they look horrendous, they’re barely recognizable as TR.
    - The three of them have no distinct characterizations any more.
    - They look and act like bland, obnoxious, childish, charmless psychopaths.
    - They have no distinct style or presence whenever they appear.
    - TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime.
    - They follow the exact same formulaic plot beats in so many episodes.
    - They blatantly act as literal plot devices for the show’s patterns.
    - Too often they intrude on plots that didn’t need their presence.
    - They have no good motivation to be following Ash in Kalos.
    - Their Pikachu obsession is back and handled ridiculously.
    - TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime.
    - Wobbuffet is back with them for no given reason whatsoever.
    - Wobbuffet yet again does nothing funny but pop up to scream his name.
    - Their comedic and serious moments are played over-the-top.
    - Therefore, the balance between silly and serious doesn’t work.
    - They have moments in which they’re stupider than ever before.
    - They’re often always getting degraded by others or themselves.
    - TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime.
    - They use too many tired old TR tropes and plans yet again.
    - They recycle that same damn motto sequence over and over.
    - The background music is cheap and using the original motto is lazy.
    - How competent and credible they are varies from episodes.
    - They get sent blasting off, with no more means of escape.
    - TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime.
    - They have no plot or missions, so their presence is superfluous.
    - They play villainous roles that other villains could have played.
    - It’s blatant what a tacked on afterthought they are to this series.
    - Sometimes, they act HORRENDOUSLY out-of-character.
    - We rarely hear from Giovanni, so he’s no longer relevant.
    - They’ve only been relatively decent in around 12 and a half out of 80+ episodes so far.
    - Oh, did I mention that TR shouldn’t still be regularly appearing characters in the anime?

    Aside from that one reason I kept restating, that’s well over 25 reasons as to why XY TR doesn’t work.


      Taking the Kalos League and beyond out of the equation, it's almost a DA!'s length of times the XY team managed to do them even partially right! It's like the spirit of the old TR still lingers and comes over XY!TR from time to time, though even then their look and style barely improves and Meowth's usually the only one who gets a full characterization. A damn shame. I hope for better in SM.