Why N is a Successful Character: He is not a Rival
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.
Posted October 18th, 2012 at 9:54 PM by Hikamaru
Posted October 18th, 2012 at 10:03 PM by Rivvon
Posted October 18th, 2012 at 10:04 PM by Hikamaru
Posted October 19th, 2012 at 7:03 AM by Nina
Posted October 19th, 2012 at 5:37 PM by bobandbill
Posted October 19th, 2012 at 6:35 PM by Rivvon
Updated October 19th, 2012 at 6:51 PM by Rivvon
Posted October 19th, 2012 at 7:01 PM by bobandbill
Posted October 23rd, 2012 at 7:18 PM by Rivvon