Hello, friends. I’m back, and more or less recovered from my surgery. Thanks for being patient! Once I was ret-2-go again, we plunged deep into the holiday season at work, so I had to hit the ground running (well, limping a bit, to be honest). TGTG fell off to the side for a little bit as a consequence.
Nothing special to report. The surgery went well and the pain wasn’t too bad. Um, oxycontin helped. A lot. I did get a bout of post-op depression, but it passed quickly. I was less prepared for the violent dreams that followed for about a week afterwards, but apparently, that’s par for the course with abdominal surgeries.
There are also certain post-op events I can’t remember, though I desperately wish I could. I vaguely remember talking about King’s Quest with the recovery room nurse. Why the hell did I do that?
I really enjoy Pokémon Sun and Moon, which I played a lot of while on the mend. I was expecting to like it, but not as much I as ultimately do. It’s warm, it’s personable, it has a cast of fun characters, and its tropical Hawaiian environment is just divine. Better still, Alola is formed around Hawaiian culture and legend, and Game Freak successfully funnels all that lore (and even some island biology) into Sun and Moon.
Pokémon Sun and Moon also has your boy Guzma and a drunk bitter motherfucker named Nanu who’s one of Alola’s “Kahunas,” i.e. Gym leaders. While you battle both for rewards and prestige, there’s an important differentiation between the two: Gym leaders seek out and embrace their roles, whereas Kahunas are selected by Alola’s gods. So while Nanu would much rather retreat to a corner of his mouldy police station and dangle a ball of tinfoil on a thread for his eight Meowths and one Persian, he can’t say “no” to his position as a Lord and protector of Alola. Nanu is perpetually sleepy and probably very sad about something that went terribly wrong in his life, but he’s not stupid enough to tell Alola’s gods to fuck off somewhere else with their “Kahuna” title.
Nanu isn’t Pokémon Sun and Moon’s only poignant narrative device, though. This game about fuzzy little fluff-fluffs has some weirdly adult moments, and I don’t mean the kind of “adult” that shows up on the second page of a Google search for Pokémon images. You’ll meet, for example, a woman who’s taking care of her husband’s Machamp after a car accident leaves them widowed and orphaned. Not only is Machamp too traumatized to go back into a PokéBall (said husband shoved it in there at the last second so it could survive the accident), but the wife admits it’s difficult to hate the man who caused the accident because he has a young wife, too.
Certainly an “Oof” moment, but admittedly not a hard one to connect with. Who doesn’t get teary-eyed at stories of young couples torn apart, even when those stories involve four-armed lizard-monsters (seriously, what is Machamp)?
So while I appreciate the story of the Maiden and the Machamp, the Pokémon Sun and Moon moment that really caused me to turn my head and say “Hey, wow,” is an interlude / side quest that revolves around that one inexorable journey we all undertake just as surely as a Pokémon Trainer hits Route 1 after selecting its starter: The food-gumming, shit-smelling adventure titled “Growing Old.”
In order to acquire the Z-Crystal that lets your Eevee pal use Extreme Evoboost – and good luck finding footage of that move that’s not plastered with Power Rangers music or a Sonic the Hedgehog theme or whatever – you have to find and challenge eight Eevee trainers who used to travel as a troupe of battling bad-asses.
Each trainer had their favoured Eevee type and matching personality traits. The Jolteon user, Jane, was a ferocious battler capable of striking down rivals before they could give her a second glance. The Leafeon user, Linnea, embodied healing and rebirth. The Umbreon user, Braiden, was made imposing and mysterious by rumours that he could cheat death itself. The Sylveon user, Sakura, appeared ever-ageless and fae. And so on.
You’re initially prompted to take on the now-elderly Eevee battlers by Kagetora, a normal-type Eevee user whose cashier job at a thrifty market and the burdens of raising a family leave him pining for the days when he used to travel with the group.
Kagetora’s position in life is enough to tip you off that his assigned Eevee subquest isn’t a bundle of happy endings. He’s not sad or unfulfilled; he just recognizes that he left one part of his life open and flapping in the wind to get married and have kids. He wants to know how his old friends are doing and maybe get one more fight in, but given his responsibilities to his family, he’s not able to chase his dreams. It’s up to you to find the trainers, check up on them, and report back to Kagetora.
The variance between the Eevee trainers’ stories is what make them memorable. Out of the characters you track down and visit, no two are dealing with similar circumstances in similar ways even though they’re all growing old at the same clip.
The Umbreon trainer reminisces about the long-lived legend he built up for himself as a man who “came back from the dead” – though, as he points out amusedly, his frequent need for hospitalization simply makes it seem as if he’s cheating death. The Leafeon trainer, once renowned for her youthful beauty, still looks young because she’s been paying for plastic surgery, even though she’s starting to realize she can’t keep it up forever. The Jolteon trainer, once quick and sharp-witted, is suffering from dementia.
And Sakura, the Sylveon user who embodied innocence and childishness? Well, she’s just plain ol’ dead.
Sun and Moon’s Eevee sidequest, though optional, obviously has a lot of thought and feeling behind it. If the quest had simply involved tracking down a more average team of trainers – say, the Eevee users in their prime, as Kagetora describes them to you in the supermarket – no-one would’ve thought twice about it. A series of more traditional encounters certainly wouldn’t have hurt the game score-wise. That’s not what Game Freak did, though. It took the time and effort to tell its audience an emotional story through a series of otherwise generic PokéBattes.
Game Freak clearly understands Pokémon is a franchise with old and young fans, and it means to keep treating it accordingly. The average ten-year-old isn’t going to give a shit about Sun and Moon’s message about growing older, but oh boy, does it ever strike a chord with those of us who’ve been with Pokémon since the very start.
Those of us who need occasional surgeries to tune-up bodies that aren’t working quite as well as they used to.