Monday, November 13, 2017

Rocket Man (Why Giovanni Is Pokemon's Best Villain)


UPDATE: Post has been updated to include mention of Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!

The Pokemon franchise has given us many villains, most of them being bosses and members of the various evil teams that come from the games. But to this day and 'til the end of time itself, none of the franchise's other Big Bads can ever quite measure up to the original - the boss of the first generation's Team Rocket, the one and only Giovanni. In various incarnations that have popped up in just about every generation of the franchise, Giovanni has stood head and shoulders above the other evildoers.

Why this is would be because in almost all interpretations of the character, Giovanni is the most logical and efficient of all the bosses, the most intriguing and charismatic of all the bosses, and above all, the most normal of all the bosses - he's not a well-intentioned extremist, he's not leading cults or crooked companies, he's not an abused child grown up bad, he's not a child abuser, he's not an omnicidal maniac out to exploit the powers of Legendary Pokemon for some outlandish "new world" scheme, he's not even a full-on megalomaniacal supervillain (most of the time) - he's just a greedy, ambitious, sociopathic mob boss who's run the gauntlet from simple thug to criminal mastermind.

Giovanni's debut appearance was in the original set of Pokemon games for the Gameboy - the Red version and the Green version (Red version and Blue version in the US). He was the boss of the Kanto region's mafia gang, Team Rocket, and his machinations saw Team Rocket completely taking over Saffron City and Silph Co. in an attempt to extort control of it's technology, particularly the newly made Master Ball, and exploit this for Team Rocket's uses such as containing prehistoric Pokemon revived from fossils, being able to detect Pokemon ghosts, and capturing the rogue man-made terror known as Mewtwo. On the side we saw Team Rocket engage in other crimes such as battle challenge traps, petty theft, running a crooked Game Corner right above their secret hideout in Celadon City, and even having murdered Pokemon! Clearly Giovanni is one bad dude to have okay'd all this. While Team Rocket itself is all about stealing, using, abusing, and exploiting Pokemon for profit, Giovanni's ambition is to control the world through the powers of money and Pokemon. You encounter Giovanni only three times in the game, once in Rocket HQ, once at Silph Co., and finally at the Viridian City Gym, where it's revealed that Giovanni is in fact the long-missing Gym Leader of Viridian City. This was a nice twist...in theory. But the execution was nonsensical and full of plot holes. Giovanni being the Rocket Boss was public knowledge so how come no one who'd ever challenged him at his Gym before ever spoke out about it? And why does he disband Team Rocket and pussy out of his life of crime just because he's beaten in a Gym battle that has no relation to the criminal empire he was trying to rebuild? Giovanni was an alright antagonist in these games, but was a flat, one-dimensional character like most were back then and his resolution was WEAK. This was not changed in the Special Pikachu Edition (Yellow version) either. Thankfully, the Gen 1 games were remade twice as Fire Red and Leaf Green in Gen 3 and Let's Go, Pikachu and Eevee! in Gen 7, and in both of them, especially the latter, Giovanni was given some more lines and a little bit more depth as a character, with his resolution being changed to him leaving Team Rocket to go train in isolation, planning on returning to lead them once he felt more confident in his strength, a plot point that carried over into the Gen 2 remakes, Heart Gold and Soul Silver. In these games we also learn that Silver, your cruel delinquent rival in that Gen, is actually Giovanni's son, which really explains a whole lot about him.

In the manga series "Pokemon Special" ("Pokemon Adventures" in the US), the first arc was naturally based on the Gen 1 games and so naturally that included Giovanni and Team Rocket as the villains. The characterization for Giovanni and the nature of his master plan, however, was a radical departure from the thuggish mob boss of the games. This Giovanni is a far more intelligent, sophisticated, ambitious and power-hungry individual, and is also notably crueler and more badass than his game counterpart. He's shown to be very well versed in the ways of Pokemon training, is a man of mystery in both his Rocket Boss and Gym Leader positions, is superficially charming enough to fool Red into thinking he's an alright guy prior to revealing himself as the Rocket Boss, and is so keen of mind that he's able to predict what moves his opponents will make, the timing of the moves, and how best to counter those moves in that time. His plan in the original Chapter was to, through a very complex smuggling operation, bring Pokemon to an ideal breeding ground where he could amass a Pokemon army strong enough to overtake the governments of the world, with an uber powerful Legendary Pokemon at the army's head - Mewtwo was his first option for this but when that went awry, a fusion of the three Legendary Bird Pokemon became his Plan B. Giovanni reappeared in the following Yellow Chapter, where he aided Yellow against the omnicidal misanthrope Lance and had Team Rocket temporarily disbanded. He returned to take charge of Team Rocket once more in the Fire Red/Leaf Green Chapter, where he took control of Deoxys in another hostile takeover attempt while also seeking to find his long lost son, Silver, and get him to join Team Rocket as his successor, as it was revealed that Giovanni had contracted a terminal illness of some kind. He made his last grand return in the Heart Gold/Soul Silver Chapter, teaming up with Lance and Pryce in an ingenious move that brought together villains who'd sought to control matter, space, and time, all against the three Legendaries that represent those elements, but the three villains were fighting for a good cause in this case. He ends up cured of his illness and taking the reigns of Team Rocket back from Archer, leaving his son Silver to follow his own path while Silver vows to one day prove that his ways are better in order to take his father off of the path he's chosen, something that Giovanni admires and respects. So as evil and ruthless as he is, Giovanni showcases respect, courtesy, and his own code of honor many times, all while refusing to actually reform from his criminal ways, giving him a lot of depth and nuance as a character and making him probably the best incarnation of Giovanni in the entire franchise.

Only one other adaptation could come close to matching the above Giovanni's awesomeness and that would be the Giovanni of the Pokemon anime TV show. Debuting in the original anime series, in the Kanto arc that's subtitled "Indigo League" in the US, Giovanni as seen here was also a departure from the source material games. While still a crime boss, he was depicted more like a James Bond villain, complete with sitting in the shadows and stroking a pet cat, or a Persian in this case. He first showed up in episodes 15 and 17, the first and last parts of the St. Anne arc, my personal favorite episodes. For the most part, though, he was an off-screen presence only referenced from time to time by the usual Team Rocket trio of Jessie, James, and Meowth, who always refer to him as "the Boss." He reappeared several episodes later when contacted by agents Butch and Cassidy, really just for the sole purpose of reminding the viewers that he exists. Shortly afterwards he was faced by Gary Oak at the Viridian City Gym, where he stepped out of the shadows and revealed he had a secret, one-of-a-kind, uber powerful and evil Pokemon in his possession - Mewtwo, which he used to utterly crush Gary and his team. Giovanni made three back-to-back appearances after this, each of them furthering this Mewtwo story arc, along with the "Birth Of Mewtwo" radio drama and opening segment of the first movie that was meant for release at around this same time. After this, Giovanni felt that the Rocket Trio had outlived any usefulness to him due to their streak of failures, so he gave them a false promotion in order to be rid of them. Unfortunately the anime was for the most part rid of Giovanni after this. He never showed up in the Orange Islands arc despite now being shown in the opening, and appeared only twice in the Johto arc, both appearances being Team Rocket-heavy episodes. Thankfully, the anime's original head writer, Takeshi Shudo, felt like he wasn't done with Giovanni or the Mewtwo saga, which led to the creation of the three-part TV special, "Mewtwo Returns", in which Giovanni accompanied Team Rocket's most elite forces in person to the border of the Kanto and Johto regions, where Mewtwo and his Clone Pokemon now resided. Here Giovanni revealed that his goal was the same as the manga version's - to create the world's most powerful Pokemon army, headed by Mewtwo, and use this to dominate the world. While our main heroes, Ash Ketchum, Misty, and Brock, got to briefly confront Giovanni here, the main focus was the conflict between Giovanni and Mewtwo, creator VS creation, which made for a gripping personal feud. In the end, Mewtwo refuses to submit to Giovanni's will and be enslaved by his evil desires, asserting himself as his own existence who is able to overpower all of Team Rocket, leaving Giovanni utterly defeated. This special served as a closure to the Mewtwo saga and a finale to the Team Rocket organization's major arc of the original series, and it also served to solidify what a fantastic villain Giovanni was in the anime. 

Which made how the anime's next series, "Advanced Generation", handled him so disappointing. Not only was he seen in just four episodes, each of them serving the same basic purpose between him and the TRio, characterizing him as a stern and grouchy employer easily agitated by the antics of his bumbling agents and not really utilizing him as an actual character, but the most face time he got was in the various "Boss Fantasies" that Meowth would frequently come up with in order to justify why the Boss could find use for whatever Pokemon the TRio was currently eyeing and why this would get them his respect. Said fantasies would depict Giovanni doing very silly, out-of-character things, sometimes in a comical super deformed style, and giving the TRio praise in a Meowthish voice. Once in a while these were funny. But when they came up so often that they were part of the show's usual formula and were the primary exposure to Giovanni that viewers were given, they were annoying and detrimental to Giovanni's image. Constantly showing us the boss of Team Rocket partaking in these wacky shenanigans that Meowth imagined took away all the mystique and intrigue from the character.

And unfortunately it only got worse in the "Diamond And Pearl" series. It was clear by now that the writers had no idea what to do with Giovanni or the larger Team Rocket organization that he ran, and the new head writer, Atsuhiro Tomioka, was perfectly alright with that. He kept things on the show going the way they were in "Advanced Generation" but with more of his own personal touches this time, none of which concerned Giovanni and Team Rocket. So once again Giovanni was only seen in four episodes, but now seemed as dull and ordinary as the boss of a big business corporation, having forgotten that Jessie, James, and Meowth even existed, thus only giving them permission to waste time in the Sinnoh region because he, much like Tomioka and his writing team, didn't know what else to do with them. But guess what? We got more Boss Fantasies! And next to none of these fantasies were even remotely funny, with many of them having homo-erotic undertones to a disturbing degree. At this point Team Rocket, like everything else in the anime, was broken and in need of some fixing...

The series finale of "Diamond and Pearl" hinted that Giovanni, along with his militant new secretary Matori, now had big plans for Jessie, James, and Meowth. As we found out in the next series, titled "Best Wishes!", this extended to all of Team Rocket, Giovanni himself included! Thanks to solid story arc composition and more competent direction from Norihiko Suto, Team Rocket was able to return to relevance in the anime, as Giovanni was given a new look with a communist dictator-inspired outfit and even a redesign of his hair and face to closer resemble his game design. Team Rocket as a whole was also rebooted to be more menacing and militant, with Jessie and James wearing darker uniforms for the first couple of episodes and acting more serious about their job, which allowed them to be more efficient and successful in their work too. Giovanni's new goal was to conquer the Unova region and use it as a stepping stone towards the completion of his Pokemon army ambitions. He tried this first through the study of Dream Energy, which led him to discovering the core fragment of the mythical Meteonite buried within the Desert Resort. As the Meteonite's energy was identical to Dream Energy, it could offer many possibilities for conquering Unova and putting Pokemon under Team Rocket's hold. So once the Meteonite was uncovered, Giovanni came to Unova in person to collect it and use the threat of it's nuclear power to ransom control of Unova from the region's elites gathered in Castelia City, but his efforts were thwarted by intervention from Team Plasma, Looker of the International Police, and Ash's Pikachu. Following the failure of this big mission, Giovanni flew back to Kanto and became too busy to give any more mission briefing, instructions or orders to any of his agents, leaving the TRio to answer to the executive scientist Dr. Zager as their commanding officer instead. Eventually Giovanni came up with a Plan B - controlling the forces of nature and turning them against Unova. The forces of nature were embodied by three Legendary Pokemon that Dr. Zager and the TRio had failed to capture before, but when they found an alternative way to control them, the Reveal Glass from the Abyssal Ruins at the bottom of the sea which had a seal that could only be unlocked by a song sung by the Pokemon known as Meloetta, they set up a plan called Operation Tempest, which climaxed with Giovanni making his return trip to Unova and leading the final stages of the mission himself in a truly epic finale to Team Rocket's story arc in Unova in which Ash and Giovanni finally faced each other down, Giovanni harnessed the powers of Meloetta and the Reveal Glass in tandem to control the Weather Trio, Pikachu defeated Giovanni with a super-charged giant Electro Ball, and the TRio even saved their boss' life when he was driven to madness by the Reveal Glass' power and threatening to bring destruction upon the entire Unova region. Cutting his losses and accepting his failure to take over Unova, Giovanni again retreated back to Kanto and decided to abandon his ambitions of conquest for a time, returning to simple organized crime instead.

With "Best Wishes" restoring Giovanni to his former villainous glory so well but deciding to not write him and Team Rocket out of the show at the end, we were left to wonder if the following series would continue to deliver on this or instead take a big step backwards? And regrettably, we got the big step backwards. The "XY" series saw Giovanni, now with a thinner face, rounder hair, and wearing a suit that seemed inspired by his look in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, sitting around in his dimly lit room at HQ giving the TRio permission to do their best work for Team Rocket over in the Kalos region and at least once checking in for a progress report but otherwise he was kept focused on unseen business ventures that had zilch to do with the TRio, who were mostly just interested in stalking the good guys and trying to capture Pikachu...again. For two whole years of this three year series we heard from Giovanni only twice, both times being brief interactions with the TRio where his demeanor swung a bit too far to the opposite extreme of the grumpiness of "Advanced Generation" or the disinterest of "Diamond and Pearl" - he now seemed too benign, never calling out the TRio's failures and taking them to task for them. Thankfully though, there were no Boss Fantasies this time. The handling of Team Rocket was improved significantly for the main story arc of the series' final year where it got re-titled "XY&Z", and that included Giovanni being notified of the activities of Team Flare in Kalos and of the existence of Zygarde, which peaked his interest enough to make him put it upon the TRio to claim Zygarde for themselves and destroy Team Flare. While they ended up accomplishing the latter, they failed to get either Zygarde and couldn't even exploit it's powers to combat Lysandre, as they were too enraptured in the journalist job that Malva had given them at that time. They edited the footage they had in an attempt to fool their boss into thinking they accomplished more than they did. While visibly not fooled, Giovanni still credited his agents with a job well done in dismantling another rival team.

Giovanni's current outing in the anime is the "Sun and Moon" series. His character model has been changed dramatically, as he now has darker hair, a more beady-eyed look to his face, and a sleeker looking business suit that helps bring his mob boss demeanor back in full force. Like in "Best Wishes", he sends his main agents to the region of the generation, in this case the Alola region, due to having an interest in what it could offer Team Rocket, in this case some special Pokemon that could be extra valuable for business ventures. This assignment allows TR more free time than they were shown to have in Unova, and they sometimes use that time wisely to set up Alolan businesses of their own to make more profit for the team. Giovanni's secretary Matori also seems to have more of a role and presence as a character this time around too. We've again only seen Giovanni twice in the first year of this series, but he's a lot cooler and more interesting here than he was in the generation prior, and given "Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon", I expect he might emerge as the series' true villain in due time.

Outside of the main anime series, Giovanni was adapted to animation two other times at both the start and the end of Gen 6. At the start was a 4 part film depicting the high points of the original Gen 1 games' story titled "Pokemon Origins", where Giovanni was featured as the centerpiece of Part 3. His design here was more beady-eyed, square jawed and handsome than he looks elsewhere, but his character and prowess as a trainer in battle was depicted wonderfully. He's the ruthless mob boss that he was in his conception but with a colder, more suave and sophisticated personality that closer resembles his "Pokemon Adventures" incarnation, and a much clearer sense of menace to him, owed largely to the pitch perfect voice acting in both Japanese and English versions of the film. This version also has a clearly articulated mindset towards Pokemon - in Giovanni's view, these creatures with all their extraordinary gifts and powers are meant to be used as tools for humans to conduct business with, with his "business" being organized crime and pursuing ways to take control of the entire world. Giovanni goes through an arc here where he's developed a resentment for the young trainer Red that goes far beyond him messing up his plans but he can't determine why until the two of them battle each other at Viridian Gym - Red reminds him of himself when he was a boy, a boy who wanted to be an honest Pokemon trainer and a friend to his Pokemon, as though the ghost of his younger self is haunting him, out to punish him for having lost his way and now seeing Pokemon as nothing more than tools for business. Seeing that Red has a fierce resolve to not turn out like he did, Giovanni comes to respect the boy after losing the match to him, disbanding Team Rocket so that he can offer him the Earth Badge not as a gang leader but as the Gym Leader of Viridian City. His role ends on a touching note as he contemplates that it might not be too late for him to turn himself back around.

Then at the end, a web series of animated shorts titled "Pokemon Generations" was released as a way to celebrate the franchise's 20th anniversary and count down to Gen 7. Giovanni appeared in two of these shorts and was unfortunately less impressive than the "Origins" incarnation. This version was based on the Gen 1 and Gen 2 remakes where the character did not reform and only sought to further strengthen himself and Team Rocket for a future comeback, and in the two shorts he's given, one where he's fleeing the International Police and going into hiding and the other that recreates a scene  between him and his son Silver from the Gen 2 remakes, he comes off as the two-dimensional thug he was in the games, and in both Japanese and English languages he has the voice of Ansem, Seeker Of Darkness for some reason. Both voice actors seem like good casting choices for the character on paper, but limited material and virtually no voice direction did them no favors in this role. While both his shorts, particularly the second one, were pretty good and his depiction was alright for what it was, this incarnation of Giovanni just didn't bring anything new to the table as it were.

OK, there was one version of Giovanni that wasn't just underwhelming but was actually truly BAD. That would be the Giovanni from the "Electric Tale Of Pikachu" manga by Toshihiro Ono. Despite this manga being based on the anime back in it's original Gen 1 days, the depiction of Giovanni had virtually nothing in common with the main villain from the show. The hair, the face, the suit, and the personality were all off - he more resembled one of Team Rocket's executives than he did the actual criminal mastermind. His one actual appearance very late into the manga painted him as a big business buffoon who's attempted several unsuccessful attempts at total world domination and his latest involved the "world's most powerful Slowpoke" in a scheme that seemed like it came right out of Meowth's crazy fantasies. The artwork for him, especially when effected by Slowpoke's good mood inducing Psychic power, made him look downright kooky and impossible to be taken seriously as a villain. Yet the manga tie-in for the first movie, also by Ono, tried to take him seriously to no success, with Giovanni grinning like the goddamn Joker and acting Stupid Evil rather than Smart Evil. Of all the adaptations in the franchise, this is the only Giovanni who I just cannot recognize as being Giovanni.

Another goofier version of Giovanni appeared during Gen 2 as the villain of the short-lived live musical stage show titled "Pokemon Live!". The character in the script was actually very well-written, with a clever idea for an evil plan that gave him actual reason to want the TRio to capture Pikachu for him, and even getting a little bit humanized by the stage show only plot point of him having dated Delia Ketchum when they were both younger and still having feelings for her, though of course this didn't stop him from trying to kill Delia's 10 year old son with the power of his Mecha Mewtwo. Plus he got some awesome musical numbers, with his villain song "It Will All Be Mine" and the face-off duet between him and Ash "You Just Can't Win" being highlights. However, his lines and songs were performed by Darran Dunstan, who relished playing the villain of a production primarily aimed at children a little too much, camping it up to Raoul Julia as M. Bison levels and making Giovanni come off more like the Gene Hackman version of Lex Lutor than the character depicted in the anime that this play was based on. I don't know how or why but somehow this really worked. Giovanni's hammy villainy is infectiously entertaining and makes him probably the best part of the whole show! 4Kids, the studio that dubbed "Pokemon", must've taken notice since after this they invited him into their pool of voice actors and cast him as the flamboyantly villainous Maximilian Pegasus in their "Yu-Gi-Oh!" dub.

Back in Gen 1, Giovanni was a character who showed up in the Team Rocket and Gym Challenge sets of the Trading Card Game, with artwork done by Ken Sugimori himself as shown above. His one card in the Team Rocket set was "The Boss' Way", which covered his sinister, smirking face in shadow and didn't even give the character's name. He was officially unveiled as the Viridian City Gym Leader in the Gym Challenge set, where he appeared on two cards - "Giovanni" and "Giovanni's Last Resort" -, had cards of Pokemon that specifically belonged to him, and even got his own theme deck!

Giovanni and Team Rocket made a comeback to the Trading Card Game in Gen 3 with the "EX Team Rocket Returns" set. Giovanni got a new card titled "Giovanni's Scheme" which came in two types - regular and full art, both with art by Sugimori depicting Giovanni in his new design from the remakes.

And if any doubt remains in anyone's minds that Team Rocket's Boss is by far the franchise's greatest villain, it should be dispelled with the coming release of the Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions of the current Gen 7 games, which include an expanded post-game that features a bonus episode to the story where Giovanni and the newly named Team Rainbow Rocket strike at Alola, taking over Aether Paradise and uniting the main villains of all generations past in a scheme to take over the multiverse! As evidenced by his use of Mega Mewtwo X or Mega Mewtwo Y depending on the version you'll be playing, Giovanni is putting out all the stops here, reinforcing once more why things are most personal between the player and him, and why he's the most diabolical and efficient villain in all of Pokemon.

BOSS GIOVANNI AND TEAM ROCKET FOR THE WIN!

Now for the sake of comparison, let's look at the Big Bad Bosses of the other generations, plus the Boss of Cipher from a spin-off game, to determine why Giovanni is by far the superior villain:

 Archer: The Team Rocket Executive who took the Boss position for Neo Team Rocket in Gen 2. In the actual Gen 2 games, this character didn't even have a name, much less a distinct design or personality. He was simply a generic criminal goon whose goal for the gang he was now in charge of was to make contact with Giovanni to let him know that Team Rocket was back so that he could come lead them again! You don't see or face him until the climax of the Neo Rocket plot, meaning he only shows up once and ends up pussying out and disbanding the team again after losing his battle to you. And even when he got a name and design in the remakes, his lack of personality and minimal role in the plot remained unchanged. As far as being a villain and a Team Rocket Boss goes, he's certainly no Giovanni. We know it, he knows it, everyone knows it.
 Archie & Maxie: The two imbeciles who led Team Aqua and Team Magma respectively in Gen 3. As characters they're fairly interesting and likable even, especially in the Emerald version and the remakes. But both of them put together cannot even begin to measure up to one Giovanni - not in the games, anime, manga, or Trading Card Game. Not only do they lack menace and are not truly evil at heart, but they're not very bright at all. They're both so dead set on showing up the other guy and proving that either expanded land mass or ocean is what the Hoenn region and all it's inhabitants need that they never once stop to consider that using Groudon or Kyogre to create an expansion of land or sea would end up either drying up or totally flooding all of Hoenn and possibly the entire planet, so either way the world is fucked and people would die. How in blazes did these two flunk Basic Ecology 101 this badly? How did idiots like them even get so many followers that they could form teams with? They're alright antagonists but nonsensical as Big Bads.
 Cyrus: The emotionally repressed and psychotic yet affable and charismatic leader of crazy space cult Team Galactic in Gen 4. Actually, Cyrus is a great villain. He has a threatening presence, a cold disposition, and a brilliant, calculating mind that works like a corrupted machine, and a full blown Messiah complex on top of that. His design is captivating, his character is super unsettling yet also very complex and even tragic especially given his backstory, his evil plan is well put together and as far as goals go, he shoots for the highest possible in that he wants total control over the powers of space-time so that he can tear the entire universe and all of existence asunder and then remake it all in his image as a reality devoid of spirit and emotion, which he believes to be the source of all strife and conflict in the world, based in logic that actually isn't entirely unfounded. But his solution to said problem being so self-defeating and ultimately less logical than he likes to think it is ultimately puts him below Giovanni in terms of villainy. Giovanni is sound of mind and far more rational, only attempting things he knows for certain could work, as opposed to Cyrus working towards something that would ultimately get him and all those he wishes to service nowhere good no matter how much he might delude himself into thinking otherwise. Also, the anime's take on him kinda sucked, which is certainly not something that could be said of anime Giovanni.
 Ghetsis: The mastermind and true leader of Team Plasma in Gen 5. Ghetsis is also an excellent villain. His showing in the initial Black and White versions was the best Big Bad in the core game series to date! But in terms of depth as a character, he's puddle deep. He's not in the same league as Giovanni or even Cyrus for that matter. His well meaning goals of setting Pokemon free from humans who he claims only misuse them? That's false - he's a charlatan who wants himself and his band of crooks to be the only ones able to use Pokemon in his new world order, and he's the biggest, cruelest exploiter of Pokemon around. His polite, benevolent gentlemanly demeanor? That's false - he's really a narcissistic, megalomaniacal psychopath who desires to be supreme emperor of the world. His connection to N? He might not even be his biological father and was horribly manipulative, abusive, and unloving in the guardianship and caretaking of his son, whom he considers to be an inhuman freak for being able to communicate so well with Pokemon. Literally everything about Ghetsis for most of the first games is a complete facade, and his true character is devoid of any nuance whatsoever. And whereas Giovanni tends to keep his head held high even after losing, Ghetsis is reduced to a raging, raving, tantrum throwing spoiled brat after losing in battle and having his plans fall apart, TWICE. He makes for a compelling villain in his own way, but were he not so effective at villainy he'd be as generic as Giovanni's original game incarnation. Giovanni overall has him beat in characterization, genuine charisma, and his own brand of stylish, efficient villainy.
 Lysandre: President of Lysandre Labs, owner of his own cafe in Lumiose City, and not at all surprisingly, the leader of Team Flare in Gen 6. This guy...could've been an incredible antagonist. But not only does he come across as Discount Cyrus most of the time, but his role, his ideologies, his master plan, the expression of his character, and even the framing of him and his actions within the narrative left quite a lot to be desired. Not only was his insane villainy made ridiculously transparent and obvious before it was officially revealed, but him as the boss of such an outwardly campy team of villains like Team Flare never felt right, as his presence as the boss and the reveal of what his plan was is what created a hard, out of left field case of mood whiplash in the game at a point where it just didn't seem justified or needed. His view point of "fuck all those filthy poor people, only the beautiful, strong, wealthy elites deserve to live and thrive in this world!" derailed any attempt to paint him as a sympathetic, well meaning villain who was seeking a way to save the planet and ensure the preservation of resources and natural beauty. His plan was perhaps the most unintelligible, self-contradictory, needlessly grimdark thing put in a Pokemon game (it centers around using the Legendary Pokemon of Life or Death to power an Ultimate Weapon that runs on Pokemon life energy to wipe out all life in the world except those who've literally bought their own survival and become affiliated with the Team Flare master race!). He ends up looking like a fool or a Straw Man rather than a compelling character, yet the narrative tries to paint him as being a more tragic and morally ambiguous character than what we see on screen. Lysandre was just a mess of wasted potential, as was almost everything that Generation, so he's no Giovanni either. The biggest irony here is that of all the Big Bads from the core game series, this is the one whose anime incarnation came closest to actually rivaling Giovanni's in awesome, well handled and well depicted villainy!
 Guzma: The big bad boss of Team Skull in Gen 7. Guzma really has no business being compared to Giovanni. He's a petty delinquent and a thug who wishes he was as strong, cruel, and intimidating as a pro gang leader like Giovanni. His Team Skull are Yakuza Wannabes rather than legit Yakuza - they're posers. Guzma's not no grand plans of his own or goals beyond wanting to be revered and respected by others, and because of that he's not even the true Big Bad of the Generation despite being the Alola region's resident evil team boss - that role went to Lusamine, president of the Aether Foundation. While Guzma and Lusamine are both well crafted and interesting characters with much more depth and complexity than what's on the surface, neither of them carry the same air of diabolical menace that the likes of Giovanni do, and going by what's been shown of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon so far, they end up as two of the least villainous villains we've got, as their thunder of evilness gets stolen by Faba of all people. Fucking FABA.
 Greevil: The greedy and evil (hence his name) grand master of the Cipher Syndicate. Greevil has a visually ridiculous design and practically no charisma, and the way his character was handled and written was just stupid. Him being the true mastermind behind Cipher cheapened the much better done reveal of Evice as Cipher's boss, it's obvious from the moment we meet "Mr. Verrich" that he's the villain so there's no surprise there like there was with Evice, and he's written as just a thoroughly deplorable, self-centered, power hungry old douchebag for the entirety of the story until out of freaking nowhere he listens to his son's pleas for him to give up on his evil ways, feels remorse and admits how wrong he's been, and turns himself in? Even when literally moments ago he was threatening to blow up a populated island! Come ON! A shame - with Cipher basically being Team Rocket on steroids, you'd think it's leader would be more formidable and impressive than Giovanni, yet Greevil, and Evice for that matter, can't even begin to compare.

Well, Pokemon: Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Versions will be released on November 17, and I for one look forward to seeing the Best Boss boss all those other Bosses (plus Faba) around in Episode RR!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Is Halloween!

[Entry Still In Progress - Full Descriptions Coming Soon.]

Classic Monster Movies

Horror Marathons

Halloween Specials

Halloween (1978)

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

Halloween Town

Hocus Pocus

Goosebumps

The Haunting Hour

Stranger Things

Trick R Treat

Scary Games

Death Note

Elfen Lied

Hellsing

When They Cry: Higurashi

The Watcher In The Woods

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Science Fiction Double Feature

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Scooby Doo: Mystery Inc.

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Top 100 Scariest Movie Moments

Ghost Stories, Count Chocula, Autumn Harvest Mix, Pumpkin Spice Flavor

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Death Note VS Death Note?


I've always stood by the rather unpopular opinion that the Japanese made live action movie duology  "Death Note" and "Death Note: The Last Name" is by far the definitive version of the "Death Note" story.  The original manga was an excellently written crime/horror/psychological thriller story but it had it's bumps and got really lame at the halfway point and dragged out the story until the end because the mangaka wanted to end with a particular "ironic" number of chapters, but at least the ending to the story was immensely satisfying.  The anime adaptation, on the other hand, threw out all sense of dignified subdued plot action in favor of over-the-top, "What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?" theatrics and melodrama, including overwraught plot or characterization points made up for the anime to make Light and L come off as more sympathetic characters than they really were.  And the ending got outright tampered with so that Light could get a sadder, more dignified (though still pretty pathetic) send-off.  This made the anime sometimes enjoyable but othertimes unwatchable, and it led to many fans getting the wrong idea about what the series really was.  So I gave thought to the reasons as to why I think that from an adaptation standpoint, the live action movie handled things better than the anime, and from a storytelling standpoint, handled things even better than the manga!  I wrote a forum post on the matter, and here it is:

More subtelty than the anime's overdramatic-ness. Overdramatic only worked a few times like when Light was first writing names in the Death Note, or in the final episodes. The manga was never as narmy and melodramatic as the anime was. (Take Light's room for example; we never get a good sense of what it looks like in the manga and in the live action films, it's a normal room. But in the anime, it's constantly dark and dimly lit because Light is eeeevil.) We're not talking about "Code Geass" here, "Death Note" was not meant to be bombastic and hammy. The movies were more true to the manga in being more subdued.  Now it's fine for people to enjoy overdramatic hamminess if they like it, but I got annoyed with the overdrama after a while simply because it got so gratuitous.

Light's fall from grace was more convincing and well done. It happens over the course of the first film. Even if he declares he'll become ruler of a new world early on, he's clearly of righteous intentions at the start and seeing how bad the criminals are, we sympathize with him. But then he kills Lind L Taylor out of spite. He later gets Raye Pembar to kill a bunch of FBI agents before killing him. Then there's the ending with Naomi Misora and his own girlfriend, Shiori, which is where he completely crosses the line into pure evil territory. And he just keeps going from there in the second film, even being willing to kill his own father for the sake of his plans.

L not being shown for awhile. In the manga and anime, we cut away to him at his computer a couple of times but never see his face until he's properly introduced to the task force. In the movies, we don't even see that. He's just a letter on a screen and a high pitched computerized voice until we meet him. I thought they made him alot more mysterious that way and gave his reveal more of an impact.

Raye Pembar and (especially) Naomi Misora were handled better. Raye wasn't a chauvinistic fool this time, and the imfamous sexist way they did in Naomi was avoided by changing the climax so that the circumstances of her death were beyond her control and she wasn't made to look like an idiot.  Okay, so she was kind of an idiot but I'd say the romance with Raye and devestation she felt when he was taken from her kind of rationalizes the foolhardiness. But even then, she only went as far as to shoot an innocent girl because Light manipulated the situation into happening because she let slip she was using a fake name, not knowing how smart Light truly was. And at the very least, her character was consistent, as opposed to the manga/anime Naomi being a strong, intelligent woman and as competent as L as tracking Kira only for her to be handed the Idiot Ball in order to do away with her. Naomi in the movies never got such Character Derailment.

The hidden cameras/potato chip scene being moved between Raye and Naomi's death. I liked that for some reason.

The "second Kira" incident being changed into a singular, terrifying event. It helped pick up the pace and made the idea of the second Kira as a threat more convincing.  In the manga and anime it went on for awhile and though the Second Kira was scary at first because h/she seemingly had no ideals and could kill a person more easily by seeing their name and lifespan, it became apparent all too soon that h/she wasn't truly as smart or dangerous as the one, true Kira. And we learn this before we know the identity. Here we're kept in the dark about what sort of trouble the Second Kira will be until Misa decides to meet Light in person and fess up.

Misa's character coming off as less shallow, mostly because her parents' murder was kept as a big aspect of her character. In the manga and anime, it's merely an excuse as to why she supports Kira when she first joins him. But since it's then never brought up again, her unwavering loyatly to Kira and Mad Love for Light came off as just her being a needy and irritating Fangirl. I mean, Misa's my favorite female character in the series but I was still often disappointed with the way she was handled from the Yotsuba arc and onwards. In the Yotsuba arc, she had no reason to be all clingy and say "I couldn't live in a world without Light" because the whole reason she was devoted to Light in the first place was because he was Kira and she didn't remember that!  It just made her seem too shallow and stupid.  But movieverse Misa was always fresh and well characterized.  I also like how she clearly sees what an evil monster Light is in the end but still says she loves him "no matter what he is." Very Harley Quinn-esque.

Kiyomi Takada is a better character in the movie. Easier to sympathize with despite her fall into becoming a selfish murderess.  As someone else put it "Takada in the original canon is bladness incarnate, if blandness incarnate purveyed propaganda".  Yeah, I mean, aren't propaganda spouters supposed to have more charisma?  Not to mention I hate killer sympathizing, propaganda spouting liberal media people to begin with, so being bland on top of that wasn't winning me much love for her. When she died in the original, I was more saddened by the circumstances of her death than the loss of her as a person.  Not so in the movie, where I was actually kind of outraged that she got offed while that annoying slimeball Demegawa was never shown meeting his demise.

Heck, the whole thing's less sexist in general. Naomi, Misa, and Takada are much more than what they were in the manga/anime, Shiori's a major character in the first film, and there's even a female member on the Task Force this time, and she doesn't feel tacked on at all.  The original creators of "Death Note" have some form of chronic sexism, as their later work like "Bakuman" showcases.  So, when it comes to female characters, things work out better for them in more caring, capable hands.

Souichirou Yagami keeping more character focus. In the anime and manga, I felt like he lost a good deal of importance once Light joined the force and L was there in person. He never fades into the background here.

Souichirou finding out that Light is Kira! Seriously, that he never found out in the manga/anime disappointed me to no end, since it ruined all the potential set up with the character and his relationship with his son. And I also liked that he lives in the end. I personally felt that the Yagami family losing BOTH men of the family was a bit much. I know the point is that Light brings tragedy upon his family, but don't push it.

The entire ending. L finishes the job himself by taking advantage of a Death Note rule and ensuring that he dies after Kira is brought down. Having L do it and finally confront Kira was much more satisfying than Near doing the job that L could've done anyway had he not died, and the way he did it was both brilliant and more simple than Near's way of catching Kira. And Light actually loses by getting outsmarted in this little chess match, not because of a fluke with Mello taking action that inadvertedly causes Mikami to slip up and give Near the opportunity to set up his plan to catch Kira. (I'm also perfectly fine with L outsmarting Light as opposed to the other way around because I always thought L was smarter anyway and the way he died was bullshit). We also get the same ending from the manga rather than the anime's one (thank goodness) but with L instead of Near and an extra level of tragedy added by having Souichirou there in the final confrontation and Light dying in his arms while STILL justifying his actions as Kira. Lastly, the self-sacrificing nature of L's actions and his acknowledging where he went wrong at times means that he finally got to be truly moral before he died, as opposed to being self centered to the end. His last talk with Soichirou was very moving, too.

And of course, the fact that the Mello/Near arcs get ommitted and the story ends at the point where it should. The only reason it got so stretched out in the first place was because the manga creators wanted a specific number of chapters, which led to a really crappy storyline that suffered greatly from Ending Fatigue.

There are things I didn't like or found inferior to other versions (Matsuda never really developed as a character, Rem's sex change was pointless, I miss some of the stuff that happened in the Yotsuba arc, and I miss Mikami) but overall, I think the movies' strengths over the other versions of  "Death Note" far outway the weaknesses. Look beyond the production value: beyond the movies' tacky looking appearace, wooden lead actor, and the CGI Shinigami, people. This is "Death Note" distilled to it's purest core.

And at least we can all agree it's leagues ahead of the Netflix adaptation!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Best And Worst Of Pokemon

[Entry Still In Progress - Full Descriptions Coming Soon.]

THE TOP 25 BEST

1. The St. Anne Trilogy (OS 15-17)
 2. The First Three Movies
3. The Kanto Starter Trilogy (OS 10-12)
4. Mewtwo Returns
5. Operation Tempest (BW 98-99)
6. Hollywood Heartbreak (OS 69-70)
7. Holy Matrimony & Sweet Baby James (OS48, AG 147)
8. The Cinnabar Island 2-Parter (OS 58-59)
9. The Sabrina Trilogy (OS 22-24)
10. The Meteonite Mission (BW 07-24)
11. The Snap Trilogy (OS 55-57)
12. Pikachu's Goodbye (OS 39)
13. The Striaton City 2-Parter (BW 05-06)
14. Enter Iris & Axew! (BW 02)
15. Episode N (BW 111-125)
16. The Fortune Hunters (OS 157)
17. Harley Rides Again (AG 160)
18. The Ghost Of Maiden's Peak (OS 20)
19. School Of Hard Knocks (OS 09)
20. The Road To Nimbasa Arc (BW 40-50)
21. Scare At The Litwick Manor (BW 29)
22. Dues And Don'ts (OS 231)
23. The Deoxys Crisis 2-Parter (AG 171-172)
24. The Kidnapped Riolu 2-Parter (DP 71-72)
25. Kyurem Vs The Swords Of Justice


THE TOP 25 RUNNER UPS

1. The First Five Episodes (OS 1-5)
Why it couldn't make it: Samurai
2. The Indigo League Tournament Saga (OS 74-80)
Why it couldn't make it: Weak battles and Ritchie
3. Any Orange Islands Episodes
Why it couldn't make it: Varying quality, badly paced arc, Tracy.
4. The Casey Episodes
Why it couldn't make it: Casey's arc went nowhere
5. The Poke' Spokesman (OS 195)
Why it couldn't make it: The most incompetent Officer Jenny ever!
6. The Legend Of Thunder
Why it couldn't make it: Waste of potential
7. The Silver Conference Saga (OS 265-273)
Why it couldn't make it: Weak at the beginning
8. A Poached Ego (AG 06)
Why it couldn't make it: Team Rocket's spiritual deaths
9. A Poke' Block Party (AG 039)
Why it couldn't make it: Hack writing is still hack writing
10. Jirachi: Wish Maker
Why it couldn't make it: Still follows the movie formula
11. Claydoll, Big And Tall (AG 104)
Why it couldn't make it: Not quite good enough
12. Do I Hear A Ralts? (AG 109)
Why it couldn't make it: Not quite good enough
13. Who, What, Wear, Wynaut? (AG 113)
Why it couldn't make it: Team Rocket wasn't necessary
14. Lucario And The Mystery Of Mew
Why it couldn't make it: Good ideas, shaky execution with wasted potential
15. The Mastermind Of Mirage Pokemon
Why it couldn't make it: Wasted potential and horrendous voice acting
16. Following A Maiden's Voyage (DP 01)
Why it couldn't make it: The end result is too sad
17. Arrival Of A Rival (DP 011-012)
Why it couldn't make it: Contests became a bore by now

18. Mutiny In The Bounty (DP 20)
Why it couldn't make it: Audience intelligence insulting writing
19. The Grand Festival Arcs
Why they couldn't make it: None of them are perfected
20. Zoroark: Master Of Illusions
Why it couldn't make it: Third act falters, wasted potential
21. Mega Evolution
Why it couldn't make it: The end result is too sad
22. Diancie and the Cocoon Of Destruction
Why it couldn't make it: The plot was nonsensical
23. The Korrina Saga (XY 30-34)
Why it couldn't make it: Wasted potential
24. The Z Saga
Why it couldn't make it: Recycled ideas, wasted potential, Ash and Alan
25. The Origins
Why it couldn't make it: Not in anime continuity


THE TOP 25 WORST

1. The Scuffle Of Legends (AG 97-98)
2. The Battle Finale Of Legend (DP 152)
3. The Whirl Islands Saga (OS 210-222)
4. The Battle Frontier Brains Saga
5. Different Strokes For Different Blokes (DP 06) & The Lake Acuity Battle (DP131-133)
6. The Unova League Saga (BW 104-110)
7. The Sinnoh League Saga (DP 182-189)
8. The Hoenn League Saga (AG 125-131)
9. The Kalos Showcase Arc
10. Half Of Decolore Adventures
11. Who Gets To Keep Togepi (OS 50)
12. The Mahogany Town Episodes (OS 235-238)
13. To Thine Own Pokemon Be True (DP 124)
14. Make Room For Gloom (OS 68)
15. The Misaltron Gym (BW 68-69)
16. Training Daze (HOSO 12)
17. A New Gym Leader In Town (BW 113)
 18. Primeape Goes Bananas! (OS 25)
 19. Pallet Party Panic (OS 81)
20. The DP Legendary Movie Trilogy
21. Manaphy & The Temple Of The Sea
22. Mewtwo: Prologue To Awakening (HOSO 26)
23. The Mosdeep City Gym Episodes (AG 99-100)
24. Battling For The Love Of Bug Types (BW 25)
25. Destiny Deoxys