The long-awaited Pokémon Presents has finally arrived, bringing to light the new titles of the brand. Between the two chapters presented, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has created a lot of curiosity in gamers, curious to undertake this new adventure in "feudal Sinnoh". But what if I told you that the new Game Freak project isn't inspired by feudal Japan? Here are the reasons explained by a former student of oriental history.
This is a tale from a long long time ago
With this sentence opens the trailer for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a phrase that to us Westerners could make us think of a period that is now very distant in time. If we add to this what was said later, our idea can only become even more rooted: "When the Sinnoh region was still a vast expanse of unspoiled nature". It would all do back hundreds of years ago, right? Of course, if only we excluded one small but huge detail: many eastern countries, including Japan, have completely changed in an extremely short period of time. An example? Exactly 100 years ago, Japan was mostly like this:
Why a photo of Hokkaido in particular? Because as perhaps the most passionate about the Pokémon brand will know, the Sinnoh region is inspired by the Japanese island located in the extreme north of Japan.
The devil is in the details
I must admit that the idea for this article only came to me after the third viewing of the game trailer. This is because initially I, like everyone else, connected what was shown and what was said to a feudal period, such as the now abused Sengoku period (1467-1603) or the equally recognizable Edo period (1603-1868), but at the third vision I began to notice something suspicious, but something that was in plain sight. The trailer opens with an ever-closer shot of books resting on a desk, complete with vintage Poké Balls that we will examine later.
Now, what is wrong with the image described and shown above? Simple, in Feudal Japan there were no bound books, but they were written on parchment giving life to those tales called Emakimono. This style of writing developed between 1000 and 1500 AD combined text and images on rolls of paper or silk. No books in sight for another 300 years or so.
From this we could already understand the historical period of inspiration for this Pokémon title, but there are still two details to examine in this scene: the kerosene lamp and the desk itself. That type of lamp, as well as the books previously mentioned, belong to the same historical period: the Industrial Revolution of 1800.
Revolution born in Victorian England, but it arrived in Japan only at the end of the XNUMXth century thanks to the forced opening towards the West and the birth of International Treaties of 1850. The aforementioned desk is just the umpteenth proof of this theory, as until the country was opened to world trade, there were no raised and massive tables on which to write, but only low tables to which one sat cross-legged.
The village and its architecture
In the trailer we can also take a first look at the village in which our adventure will begin, and here too many small interesting details are hidden. Let's start from the houses: the Japanese houses have been characterized for centuries by an extremely simple wooden structure, thatched roofs and spaced buildings.
This type of architecture was adopted to cope with the numerous earthquakes that have always plagued Japan, but also for convenience. In case of demolition or very frequent fires it was easier and cheaper to rebuild a house in wood rather than in stone, as well as in case of necessary movements, dismantling the house to rebuild it elsewhere did not require an enormous effort. Only in the Edo period (1603-1867) did the first named terraced houses begin to be seen Machiya complete with tiles on the roofs and exterior paint. Now, what do the houses look like in the Pokémon Legends trailer?
The houses are clearly modernized Machiyas, this is because they not only show the typical post Edo period tiles, a stone base at the entrance adjacent to the street, but also the presence of what appears to all intents and purposes glass on the windows! Before 1868, the windows were covered with rice paper and, only with the arrival of the Meiji Restoration, glass is starting to be used in homes. Definitive proof, the presence of real street lamps on the sides of the road. Very medieval, right?
Steam Poké Balls and Ambassadors
In the movie, Poké Balls are shown that are very different from what we are used to. With a bare wooden structure underneath and lacquered above, a manual closure in the center and a hole in the apex, once launched it releases a sort of steam from the blowhole before capturing the Pokémon. This vintage Poké Ball and its operation closely resemble thesteampunk aesthetic, an artistic movement inspired by the aforementioned industrial revolution, therefore late 1800. All perfectly coherent.
We then come to the most interesting part of the entire trailer in my opinion, the selection of the starter. Let's start from the location: this time no professor is framed, but we only see Cyndaquil, Rowlet, Oshawott in what is in effect the office shown at the beginning of the CGI trailer. The Pokémon are standing on a carpet at the entrance of the aforementioned office adorned by two banners bearing the same symbol on the protagonists' uniform, but we'll get to that later. The building in which we find ourselves, considering what has just been said, is much more reminiscent of a Western style embassy than a Japanese palace.
This reminded me of something that really happened in Hokkaido: with the Meiji Restoration, Ezo was renamed Hokkaido and the Hokkaido Development Commission was established. Together with the Hokkaido government they focused on the development and promotion of agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, civil engineering, construction, and education (Japan in the early 900s was the first country in the world to literacy rate). Now, what seems to be the purpose that will set the storyline of Pokémon Legends: Arceus in motion? Develop the first Pokédex and learn about every species present in Sinnoh. Ah yes, this was the office of the Hokkaido Development Commission, in full Western style:
A well-considered choice
Let's go back to the Starters: Cyndaquil, Rowlet, Oshawott they come from different regions, but they all have a solid link with Japanese culture:
- Cyndaquil is inspired by the legendary Fire Rat mentioned by Princess Kaguya in Taketori Monogatari (Story of a bamboo cutter), a work of fundamental importance in Japanese reading;
- Rowlet is inspired by an archer and, the art of archery named Kyudo, it was fundamental for the Japanese warrior class;
- Oshawott and his evolutions are clearly based on Samurai, and this has always been clear to all gamers.
Game Freak has opted to insert the creatures with the most rooted background in the history of the Land of the Rising Sun in the most revolutionary title of the whole brand. A choice consistent with what appears to be the game's plot: Sinnoh's technological and cultural development.
A look at the protagonists
In closing, let's take a brief look at the main characters in Pokémon Legends: Arceus for the only thing we can currently examine: aesthetics. Young people very closely remember the protagonists of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, both for the facial features and for the clothes worn obviously adapted to the historical period preceding the fourth generation titles. Both protagonists wear a sort of cross between the typical snow boots called Fuka-Gutsu and much lighter sandals Zori. Although trade with the West had introduced modern shoes, these were mainly used by the wealthier social class. The lower middle class continued to use these straw footwear until the 1900s, even reaching the present day.
The robe used by both boys is reminiscent of a haori, a sort of overcoat to be worn over the Kimono to stay warm, mainly used in cold regions such as Hokkaido. These are decorated with the same Kanji found on the flags of the professor's office. Kanji that is very reminiscent of the symbol of Team Ginga, that is Team Galassia of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Could the new Professor be the founder of the future evil team and therefore ancestor of Cyrus?
But the fundamental element to understand the historical inspiration is the protagonist's hat: in addition to remembering the headdress of the protagonist of Diamond and Pearl, this is based on the hat included in the Japanese school uniform called Gakuran.
Worn by primary and secondary school children, this uniform was modeled on the European military uniforms (precisely Prussian) following the modernization of the country, therefore always the Meiji era, simultaneously with the introduction of compulsory schooling on a Western model throughout the Japan.
Pokémon Legends: Don't call it Feudal Japan
There are still many things to say, such as the inspiration of the indigenous Ainu society and the banners of the clans, but I would not like to bore you more than I could have done with this historical-cultural papyrus. Definitely, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is clearly inspired by the historical period between 1868 and 1912 called the Meiji Periodthe Meiji Jidai if we want to flex the Japanese.
A Pokémon title set in Feudal Japan already exists: it's called Pokémon Conquest and, as you can see from a quick online search, it has nothing to do with this new project.
I expect Game Freak was inspired by this era of great change and modernization for a really interesting storyline and that, like Japan during the Enlightenment Kingdom, the new Pokémon Legends strand can finally keep up with the times.