Here it is, folks! The climax of the generation which make "gritty reboots" a cool, mainstream phenomenon. The setting of the first Pokemon game is not a happy world of monster/human companionship, but rather, the rebuilding of a civilization after a destructive war wiped out a generation of humans and Pokemon alike.
Apparently, this theory of a massive apocalypse in Pokemon has been around for quite some time, but this is the first I've seen all the ideas collected into a single, cohesive spot. PBS Idea Channel dishes out on the state of the Pokemon world and calls into question a few things you might have overlooked back when you first played this game at 10 years old.
Like, how come there are no adult males? Every normal male civilian in Pokemon is either a child or an old man. The hero's father has passed away, the rival lives with his grandfather, and every surviving adult male is either linked to organized crime or a military role, like Lt. Surge, who proclaims:
"I tell you what kid, electric Pokèmon saved me during the war!"
Other ideas point towards a lack of entertainment options in this world, like movie theaters, and a fascination with gyms, hospitals, and combat among younger children. Professor Oak sends you on a quest to collect and observe Pokemon, meaning that what he really wants to record is which ones survived the firebombs.
However, most of these ideas fall apart once you stop using selective memory. There are plenty of adults in Pokemon: swimmers, tamers, scientists, hikers, sailors. And much like normal JRPG traditions, taking the visual population, as in only the inhabitants you see, as the only people in existence drops the population numbers of entire planets to mere hundreds or even dozens. Plenty more people exist in these worlds than just the ones the developers were able to program in.
Maybe Red's father is not alive… maybe or maybe not, but the game mentions nothing about Blue's parents being dead. Lots of Japanese video games aimed at little boys have absent father issues because fathers tend to stay at work late hours in Japan. Earthbound even makes a joke about it because you only talk to your Dad on the phone.
And Pokemon has plenty of entertainment beyond gyms and fighting, like cruise ships, shopping malls, bike ramps, casinos, and video game consoles. Don't forget that children in any culture have a fascination with combat, again, even in pacifist nations like Japan.
It's possible because no world knows peace forever, even Pokemon's, but more importantly, who cares? Most likely, this is just the overthinking of a generation who made "dark" and "brooding" cool. The same breed of people who want Capcom to confirm the canon and make a game that connects classic Mega Man and Mega Man X just so they can essentially see Mega Man die. I mean… eww, who actually wants to see Mega Man die?
Hey, I like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight too, but there is a limit to how much "mature" grit my brain can take.
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