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Why N is a Successful Character: He is not a Rival

Posted October 18th, 2012 at 06:33 PM by Rivvon
Updated November 9th, 2012 at 05:48 PM by Rivvon

I'm thinking I might make this into a "series" of blog posts about why N is a successful character. And no, I won't be fangirling about him (unless I make a "His Design is Great" post, which I actually might...but let's not worry too much about that for now). I want to analyse, as someone who looks forward to seeing how the narrative of the Pokémon main-series games improves, what makes his character so beneficial to the Pokémon series as a whole.

Right now I want to focus on why N not being a rival makes him a successful character. Too bad it involves him...being a rival.

Yes this will be convoluted. Please follow along--I'd really appreciate it if you did!

One of the things that always bothered me was when people (N fangirls especially) would classify N as a rival. He is not a rival. He is the leader of Team Plasma.

The guidelines for being a rival are not very definite. We could say they receive the starter Pokémon with a type advantage to your own, but where does that leave Wally? We could say that we see them receive their first Pokémon, but that would mean excluding Silver. We could say that they receive their starter from the regional professor, but again, that would upset little Wally. And we can't say that it's because we battle them multiple times during our adventure, because trainers like Giovanni and Gabby & Ty certainly do not fall under the category of rival.

So what is a "rival?" A rival, simply put, is like an elephant: it's easy to spot when you see it, but difficult to describe. We know Blue and Silver are our rivals because of their title, but when they stopped using the title in Ruby and Sapphire, we could still tell that Wally and Barry were our rivals.

Then there is N. Cheren and Bianca are clearly our rivals in Black and White. But then N shows up--what do we make of him? He doesn't follow any of the conventions of a typical rival. He never uses any sort of starter Pokémon at all (at least Wally had Gardevoir!); for goodness sakes, he's the leader of the villainous team! So why do some people consider N a rival? Does having multiple battles throughout the course of the game with the title "Pokémon Trainer" instantly classify you as a rival now?

To describe what's happening, we have to consider exactly what rules N is breaking, and why. N is not following the set guidelines, which are essentially that you need to have a starter Pokémon and have follow-up battles with the protagonist. N has a goal, and it clashes with yours. So N wants to stop you. This seems similar to the previous rivals, Wally (and Brendan/May, if you wish to include them) excluded. So now N is linking the previous rivals not by some rules on what Pokémon they have, but rather by a theme, a more conceptual idea. Why? Because N exists to mix things up.

Bulbapedia does not list N as a rival. No major source of Pokémon information does, if I remember correctly. But people still argue whether he is a rival or not. No one argues Wally, some argue Brendan/May, but not to the extent of N. This is why N is a successful character.

He makes us uncomfortable.

And not just because he is creepy, socially awkward, and likes ferris wheels. No, he makes us uncomfortable by challenging the rules Game Freak has already established. No longer can we easily identify who is our rival and who is the king of Team Plasma. Things are not so clear-cut anymore; we need to think for ourselves who we believe to be our friends, foes, and rivals.

Don't believe me? Look at Hugh. He's older than the protagonist, had his starter Pokémon since it was an egg, and doesn't actually want to defeat you--he wants you to be stronger than he is! He just wants help in his own mission! And he's considered the rival of Black 2 and White 2.

The line between rival, friend, and foe is becoming blurrier and blurrier. Wally helped to some extent, but he did not appear enough in his games to really make as big a difference. N's success comes in his ability to break away from traditions and allow for more "mobility," more "wiggle room" within the tight constraints Pokémon has placed upon itself.
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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    Hikamaru's Avatar
    Nice opening blog post Rivvon, and welcome to the supporters club!
    Posted October 18th, 2012 at 09:54 PM by Hikamaru Hikamaru is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Rivvon's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Hikari10 View Comment
    Nice opening blog post Rivvon, and welcome to the supporters club!
    Yay, thank you! :D I'm very happy to be able to blog here!
    Posted October 18th, 2012 at 10:03 PM by Rivvon Rivvon is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Hikamaru's Avatar
    Yeah, I love the blogs. So much fun!
    Posted October 18th, 2012 at 10:04 PM by Hikamaru Hikamaru is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Lornami's Avatar
    A rival is a kid around your age who is also starting a journey, who you battle. :p
    Posted October 19th, 2012 at 07:03 AM by Lornami Lornami is offline
  5. Old Comment
    bobandbill's Avatar
    I suppose whether he is successful is subjective. I did not feel he was successful because of what you said for instance:
    Quote:
    This is why N is a successful character.

    He makes us uncomfortable.

    And not just because he is creepy, socially awkward, and likes ferris wheels. No, he makes us uncomfortable by challenging the rules Game Freak has already established. No longer can we easily identify who is our rival and who is the king of Team Plasma. Things are not so clear-cut anymore; we need to think for ourselves who we believe to be our friends, foes, and rivals.
    Said creepiness and social awkwardness felt more defining to me rather than what he was fighting for and all. He admits that every Pokemon he talked to was happy, and yet he continued to try to convince people he was right. That doesn't sit well with me, especially as he went and says stuff like 'I don't care what you say or that you beat me in a battle to show how much your Pokemon believe in you, becaise I'm going to get a giant legendary dragon and make people listen to me!' (outside the second gym, iirc).

    Any pity factor like how Ghetisis contributed to him being like that came too late in the game to be a significant factor too imo; by the time that was revealed I already disliked N too much.


    So I would argue he wasn't successful in the viewpoint that the theme of the games - should Pokemon be caught/trained/etc - was not given a decent portrayal given how N acted and various other factors. But that's another rant.

    As for 'is ___ a rival' stuff, I imagine part of it is down to the fact people know about these characters typically before the games come out. N was one of the first things revealed in BW for instance, many months before it game out in Japan, which was a half-year before it came out in English! And as the 'pattern' of Pokemon is fairly known (the general gist remains 'get starter catch pokeymans beat gym leaders become gym leader meanwhile beat Team ___ from *some plot*'), it's easy for people to assume 'I guess that guy is the/a rival!'.

    Case in point, the new scientist guy in B2W2? When he was first revealed people assumed he was 'the professor', as every gen game has had some new professor.
    Posted October 19th, 2012 at 05:37 PM by bobandbill bobandbill is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Rivvon's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bobandbill View Comment
    I suppose whether he is successful is subjective. I did not feel he was successful because of what you said for instance:
    Said creepiness and social awkwardness felt more defining to me rather than what he was fighting for and all. He admits that every Pokemon he talked to was happy, and yet he continued to try to convince people he was right. That doesn't sit well with me, especially as he went and says stuff like 'I don't care what you say or that you beat me in a battle to show how much your Pokemon believe in you, becaise I'm going to get a giant legendary dragon and make people listen to me!' (outside the second gym, iirc).

    Any pity factor like how Ghetisis contributed to him being like that came too late in the game to be a significant factor too imo; by the time that was revealed I already disliked N too much.


    So I would argue he wasn't successful in the viewpoint that the theme of the games - should Pokemon be caught/trained/etc - was not given a decent portrayal given how N acted and various other factors. But that's another rant.

    As for 'is ___ a rival' stuff, I imagine part of it is down to the fact people know about these characters typically before the games come out. N was one of the first things revealed in BW for instance, many months before it game out in Japan, which was a half-year before it came out in English! And as the 'pattern' of Pokemon is fairly known (the general gist remains 'get starter catch pokeymans beat gym leaders become gym leader meanwhile beat Team ___ from *some plot*'), it's easy for people to assume 'I guess that guy is the/a rival!'.

    Case in point, the new scientist guy in B2W2? When he was first revealed people assumed he was 'the professor', as every gen game has had some new professor.
    For me, the fact that he is so conflicted (believing that he should separate people and Pokemon, but then sees the protagonist and starts to be hypocritical and feels bad about it) makes him even more successful. He has an interesting psychological thing going on where he knows that Pokemon shouldn't be separated from people, but he doesn't want to change his actions so he simply changes his words. Still, I can definitely understand how that would make him not the most likable character for everyone. But wouldn't that in a way also signify to his success? And by success I don't mean that he's the "greatest character," heavens no. But most other characters are liked or disliked because of their designs--N is liked or disliked because of his actions, which are the main factors that contribute to character.
    Posted October 19th, 2012 at 06:35 PM by Rivvon Rivvon is offline
    Updated October 19th, 2012 at 06:51 PM by Rivvon
  7. Old Comment
    bobandbill's Avatar
    Quote:
    For me, the fact that he is so conflicted (believing that he should separate people and Pokemon, but then sees the protagonist and starts to be hypocritical and feels bad about it) makes him even more successful. He has an interesting psychological thing going on where he knows that Pokemon shouldn't be separated from people, but he doesn't want to change his actions so he simply changes his words.
    My issue with that is that it is shown too late in the game, or hardly touched upon. He admits that yes, he had Pokemon show they are happy with people... but this happens in the castle part of the game, not before. His confliction was not shown steadily, and so when it was revealed it was a bit hard to 'believe', as everything before it not not show this fact very well.

    What are these most other characters that are liked/disliked just due to design? Hardly anyone comments on Blue/Bary's looks for instance. People like/hate Silver because he is a douche. And so forth. Can't say this is a common problem that doesn't generally just effect any character anyway more than others as well (bar Lyra, she's the most polarising of that issue imo), and I've seen people like N just because he looks cool/pretty too. *shrug*

    Not that some of the characterisation and attempt at plot isn't a step in the right direction, but imo there's work to be done yet on Game Freak's part if they intend to improve that. Even from what I've played of b2w2 there's still areas to improve in. Guess nothing's perfect though, eh?
    Posted October 19th, 2012 at 07:01 PM by bobandbill bobandbill is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Rivvon's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bobandbill View Comment
    My issue with that is that it is shown too late in the game, or hardly touched upon. He admits that yes, he had Pokemon show they are happy with people... but this happens in the castle part of the game, not before. His confliction was not shown steadily, and so when it was revealed it was a bit hard to 'believe', as everything before it not not show this fact very well.

    What are these most other characters that are liked/disliked just due to design? Hardly anyone comments on Blue/Bary's looks for instance. People like/hate Silver because he is a douche. And so forth. Can't say this is a common problem that doesn't generally just effect any character anyway more than others as well (bar Lyra, she's the most polarising of that issue imo), and I've seen people like N just because he looks cool/pretty too. *shrug*

    Not that some of the characterisation and attempt at plot isn't a step in the right direction, but imo there's work to be done yet on Game Freak's part if they intend to improve that. Even from what I've played of b2w2 there's still areas to improve in. Guess nothing's perfect though, eh?
    Thankfully we see enough of rivals to get a general feel of their personality; I was thinking more along the lines of the Gym Leaders, who weren't really active in the story until gen 5.

    The way Game Freak went about characterizing N could definitely use some refinement, but it's a step in the right direction, which is mainly what makes me happy about it. Noting his success in the fandom and merchandise, there's no reason for Game Freak to go back to bland characters; they can only move forward from here.
    Posted October 23rd, 2012 at 07:18 PM by Rivvon Rivvon is offline
 

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