Revisiting Kanto: Pokemon’s Human Stories Are What Keeps It Going

So far, my adventure through Kanto has been easily divided into neat little sections. If you're wondering 'what adventure, what are you talking about, I only clicked this because it came up on my phone', then first, thank you, and secondly, I'm currently replaying Pokemon Blue trying to experience Kanto as a tourist – you can catch up on it here. Anyway, because Pokemon Blue is all about going from town to town, each week I've been able to write about any given down in turn. The most complex it has gotten has been spending two weeks in Cerulean, first focusing on the surprisingly soulless city itself, and then on the surrounding area that is likely responsible for why Cerulean is held in such high regard. This week, like any good Nickelodeon award show, we're gonna get messy.

I don't have a neat name for this week's travels. It's kind of Diglett's Cave, but it's mainly going to be my journey through Routes 11, 9, and 10 – in that order, because Pokemon is silly sometimes. This feels from the outset like a little bit of filler ahead of the Rock Tunnel, Lavender Town, and then on with our insatiable quest for badges. It feels even more like filler for a journey like this one, where battling is unimportant to our story. But surprisingly, I found this to be one of the most human episodes in my story so far.

Diglett's Cave is just a straight line and it's empty. The only interesting thing is when you encounter a Dugtrio, which is invariably too high levelled and will therefore disrupt your team. You catch it anyway because everyone wants that advantage in a game as monstrously difficult as Pokemon Blue (Pokemon fans struggle with sarcasm so let me just take a second to point it out), but then you realise you hate Dugtrio because, well, who likes Dugtrio?

I had expected the Cave to be the only bright spot this week, but it was easily the dullest part of this cavalcade of route walking. Most of the battles I have had so far, even against gym leaders, have felt like irritating roadblocks in my path. The one exception has been the Nugget Bridge, where the battles were used as a platform for storytelling, setting Team Rocket up like dealers, luring you in with a free taste before you end up forever in their debt. The characters on the Routes are different. There's no connected story, it's just a bunch of random people you meet, and it feels like a crucial part of my Pokemon journey has just fallen into place.

So far, I have mashed A through forced conversations with trainers, wanting the battle to end so I can get on with exploring. This time, I tried something different. Despite this column, I'm not much of a tourist. Holidays for me consist of plane, taxi, pool & bar repeated back and forth for the duration, taxi, plane. The closest I get to real tourism is listening to the many, many (many, many) songs Miranda Lambert has about wandering around and making friends with strangers. I'm terrible at making friends with strangers. I'm not all that great at making friends with my friends.

This time around though, I could stroll up to NPCs and while away the hours with a nice, easy chat. Sure, some of them bark strange sentences about shorts at you, but each character has something unique to say and even within predefined character tropes and with often just a single line (plus no name back in the days of Red & Blue), they feel enough like distinct characters that you can start to tell yourself their stories. First, there’s the Jr Trainer who compliments me for how good looking my Pokemon are even though they’re in balls – at least he didn’t compliment me for how good looking my balls are. There’s also another Jr Trainer who complains of not being able to beat a gym leader despite having a level 20 Pikachu, and it’s a shame I can’t tell her to just fight Misty. And finally, shout out to the Hiker who is standing on his own out of the way from everyone and complains of how bored he is despite never interacting with any one – I feel you man.

Most of my time so far around Kanto has been a lonely journey – I'm not complaining, that's the way I like it. But even though it's not quite swapping stories by the jukebox over a quart of whiskey like the Miranda Lambert records, I feel like a new kind of tourist, and I'm grateful for the journey. See you next week when we're back to our regularly scheduled isolated misandry in the Rock Tunnel!

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