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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Teenage Pokemon taught me about my teenage self


Teenage Pokemon is a webseries about Pokemon who haven't fully evolved yet, stuck in the awkward space between cute and badass. Written by Jonathan Holmes and put together by quite the talented group of people, it is a mixup between commentary on gaming culture and just growing up. While it's definitely a funny show, I didn't think it would make me think about my grade school years as much as it did. These weren't feelings of gaming nostalgia, either. They were surprisingly more personal. After some reflection, I found a surprising amount of depth to this show, though that may be through my own hindsight.

I'll admit, I didn't really enjoy Teenage Pokemon all that much when I first saw it. It made me laugh, but something felt...off. It grew on me week by week though, and by the end of its second season, I figured out what had been bugging me all that time. Specifically, one character: Wartortle.


Wartortle embodies all the insecurities and silly opinions I had growing up. He's angry at the world around him, feels misunderstood by his parents and peers, wonders why girls don't like him, and is just plain miserable. He's not very likeable as a character, but after rewatching some of those early episodes, he's a hell of an entertaining trainwreck. He's naive and adventurous, yet at the same time is abrasive and thinks he knows it all. He gets caught up in console wars, tries doing things he doesn't like so girls will like him, and has some, erm, interesting encounters with Ditto.

Ditto is now forever Jim Sterling in my mind.

As much as I sometimes dislike Wartortle, I can't help but think the little ball of anger is kind of adorable. Honestly, he reminds me of myself in middle school (Though instead of Ditto, I had the internet). I was a lone nerd in what seemed like a school of "cool" kids. I wanted girls to like me who were really just mean people with no interest in me. I felt inferior to my peers yet also felt like they just didn't understand me. These weren't all terrible things though. I had an irrational hatred RPG's and "grew out of" Disney until a girl I liked mentioned Kingdom Hearts. I tried it because I wanted her to like me and ended up loving it. I even found myself discovering new games I previously refused to play out of stubbornness. I hated talking with my peers, but discovered I loved discussing things with strangers online. My online voice was angry and whiny at first, but through the time invested I grew a voice for argument and discussion. I started as a pissy kid venting anywhere I could, but eventually calmed down when I realized just how awesome the world outside my school and home was.

You kind of haven't lived until you've heard Holmes' old man voice.
Now, while I was reflecting on all these things from middle school, I found myself thinking back to another character: Pikachu. The intro to every episode in Season 2 deals with Pikachu and his "emo" phase. God, I had one of those. Pikachu's trainer doesn't understand how to help him, and his therapist is too old and out of touch to relate to him. Well-intentioned fellows like Brock do nothing but unintentionally condescend him. All of his superiors are completely disconnected from him while he is going through a huge existential crisis. Times where he's most coherent are times when no one's listening, and when someone is, he doesn't have the ability to say more than his own name. Pikachu's segments in Teenage Pokemon are the most hilarious, but also the most relatable to me. I was often made fun of for being "emo" in school. I listened to different music than everyone else, I wore black clothes often, and was generally very confused why everyone was so happy all the time. I knew nothing but the walls of the school I went to. Work seemed repetitive and meaningless, and the adults that were supposed to help me figure it out had figured it out so many years ago they forgot how they even did it. It was frustrating, and my words probably meant nothing more than "Pika pi" to them, but I figured it out for myself. There's something kind of awful yet special about that experience, and everyone seems to forget it all swiftly after they graduate.


The reaction to Teenage PKMN has been pretty split at this point, and I wonder if it's because of how old some of the viewers are. For all I know, some kid has seen this and completely relates to these characters. I was just as irrational and naive as Wartortle growing up, and just as confused and existential about life as Pikachu. If I really dug into every character in the show, I could probably find an element of myself or someone else from my teenage years. These Pokemon are probably the most realistic teenagers I have ever encountered in fiction, and that's because they're not all written to be likeable. I may cringe about a lot of the stuff it reminds me of, but these things were really necessary for me to develop into the person I am today, and definitely make me laugh looking back. Wartortle might not be someone I'd want to spend time with, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in the Blastoise he'll grow up to be.