The Best Pokémon Story: Unity in Diversity

Written by Gabriel Rodrigues

Pokémon games are known for being silly and having weak plots and dialogues, not to mention generic villains that only want to rule the world. Unfortunately, that is true sometimes. But the franchise also has a few great examples showing the contrary. And, in my opinion, the greatest is Gen V’s Pokémon Black & White. Its intricate antagonists and interesting themes make it perfect for someone looking for a more complex plot. It’s also perfect for new players, as all Pokémon in the main game are original.

I couldn’t start discussing the game without touching upon the central theme first. It connects every aspect of the story. Pokémon Black & White is about unity in diversity, focusing on our relationships with Pokémon; despite being so different, we coexist and improve. We can see the theme in tiny elements, like the use of bridges throughout the game, symbolizing our efforts to connect with others, and the diversity of the Unova region, united by something resembling a Poké Ball in the middle. That can be traced even to the name of the games, Black & White, two opposites but still the same. Each version has a specific aesthetic in determining regions, with Black having more technology and White focusing on nature. Again opposites, but there to represent harmony, not a destructive contrast of ideas.

However, the theme is most evident through Team Plasma and its king, N. If you know at least a little about the game, you’re aware that the fans love N with all their heart, even if you don’t understand why. In the beginning, the player sees Team Plasma grunts and Ghetsis in Accumula Town, encouraging people to free their Pokémon and let them reach their full potential without being mistreated by trainers. N appears and questions if Pokémon are happy to be confined in Poké Balls. He is the principal advocate of that idea, and throughout the game, you see many valid points and people that agree with him. It’s so great because it makes you question. Is it fair of us to confine our Pokémon until we have some use for them? To invade their territory like it was ours? Are we unable to unite?

A great example is the Chargestone Cave, a beautiful electric cave perfect for Pokémon to relax and live. You encounter many players that agree people should stay away from it—N included—because Pokémon are happy there, and we would ruin that. It’s a valid point worth considering. But it doesn’t make the argument flawless and correct. And soon, you start realizing the mistakes of N and Team Plasma.

In Nimbasa City, Bianca, your other rival, and her dad argue about her journey. She wants to keep traveling, but her dad insists she’s already done enough and should follow his way of doing things and return home. Then, Elesa, the gym leader, arrives and helps Bianca, saying there are many ways of thinking, but you should value these differences and understand that it’s okay to have distinct opinions. That makes her dad think about and realize his mistakes: and he decides to let her keep traveling. Cheren, your third rival, arrives at a similar conclusion at the end of his journey. He only valued strength and wanted to become the champion to prove he was the most powerful trainer. But, at the end of the story, he realized winning battles wasn’t everything and opened his eyes to many different things.

The theme of diversity is not only related to relationships but also opinions. If you have tunnel vision and can’t consider more than one aspect of something, you get stuck in your idea of the world. N and Team Plasma represent that narrowmindedness; they refuse to listen to opinions besides theirs. So, they are our main antagonists, not because of an evil plan or something like that, but because, by rejecting diversity, they stop people and Pokémon from uniting. Later, we meet an ex-member of Team Plasma who says he left the organization for that reason.

Some people mistreat their Pokémon, but that doesn’t apply to everyone; N is partially correct but doesn’t use the proper methods to address the problem. The more he travels and battles you, the more unsure he becomes; he finds hope for coexistence and Pokémon that are happy with their trainers. Right at the start, one of the NPCs says people and Pokémon likely stick together because they are different, succinctly summarizing the message N discovers. Another situation that perfectly expresses the themes is a quote by Alder, the Champion of Unova, near the end: “N, even if we don’t understand each other, that’s not a reason to reject each other.”

Pokémon Black & White is incredible because it develops many other side characters in addition to N and your other rivals. By the end, you realize that many Team Plasma grunts started being influenced by different perceptions or at least have Pokémon that became quite attached to them. It makes the entire world feel alive. While you were getting gym badges and exploring new places, other characters also had their adventures. All of them, mainly N, believed in the idea of liberation because Ghetsis only showed people being harmful and cruel. That made them develop tunnel vision and reject the concept of coexistence (and any other contrasting opinion). In the end, N is only another victim; Ghetsis is the real villain.

The game has many other elements supporting the theme. Like the three Legendary Pokémon beginning to embrace coexistence when they meet the player, the gym leaders uniting to help you defeat Team Plasma, and the Japanese name of the region, Isshu, being derived from the expression “one variety.” Pokémon Black & White is a perfect try for someone who wants to be entranced by great antagonists and learn how the theme affects world-building and storytelling.

Gabriel Rodrigues is a Brazilian writer who spends too much time thinking about pop culture. He has bylines at Comic Book Herald, Hear Us Scream, and more.

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