Pokemon is renowned for many things, from its creepy and charming animalia and enchanted car keys to what seems to be a functional post-scarcity society. However, the cults of personality that act as its antagonistic forces are responsible for some of its funniest, darkest, and most intriguing moments. Their ideologies are sometimes a tad confused, but often align with sinister real-world ones.
Nintendo has already announced Team Yell as the Generation 8 bad guys, but Sun and Moon had two villainous teams, one of which was far more malevolent than the other. Team Yell can be likened to Generation 7’s rambunctious Team Skull, meaning that there might still be another ominous threat pulling the strings from the shadows like the Aether Foundation. Generation 8 is due to be set in the UK-inspired Galar region, so with Brexit looming on the horizon it could be the case that the true villainous forces in this game appear as exploitative Etonians playing politics for their own personal gain.
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Consider Generation 3’s Team Magma and Team Aqua. The former wants to expand the earth’s land mass, whereas the latter wants to sacrifice it to restore a world where Pokemon can live free of human disturbance. In each case, the leaders spearheading each organization attempt to enact eco-terrrorism and instigate radical climate change, which will inevitably be detrimental to the planet. Also, Team Magma doesn’t seem to realize that Groudon’s astronomical Drought ability will just melt the ice caps, causing sea levels to rise anyway. Maxie may be a scientist by trade, but it’s never specified that he’s a good one.
Team Galactic’s Cyrus in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum is a nihilistic sociopath hellbent on warping space and time in order to rid the world of human emotions. He’s got a lot of Nietzsche in him, particularly when he says things like “Pity and compassion are products of the weak and lacking human heart,” which is something Friedrich would write at 2 in the afternoon before talking about how a day without dancing is a day wasted 15 minutes later. Cyrus has a bit more conviction when it comes to edgy moodiness though, and manages to spend the entire game convincing you he is emotionally defunct when, in fact, having the drive to do something as magnanimous as ending the world itself sounds pretty emotionally-driven to me.
There’s much more to the vast ideologies interwoven into Pokemon. Generation 6’s Team Flare is composed of elitist big shots planning a mass genocide so they can take the planet’s scarce resources for themselves — even though a world where 10-year-olds drop out of school and set out on an adventure with their animal companion is definitely indicative of post-scarcity. And Team Skull from Generation 7 is a classic iteration of rebellious youth and anarchism (also, they’re pretty great). From 70s punk-inspired Hawaiian delinquents to a lunatic who has quite a lot in common with the man who started WWII — Lysandre literally says “only the chosen ones will obtain a ticket to tomorrow” — Pokemon draws more from real-world history than you might think. And that’s where Sword and Shield come in.
Boris Johnson, Galar’s Most Wanted
In June 2016, it was announced that the majority of voters in the United Kingdom had decided to leave the European Union. This decision soon became known as “Brexit,” and plans to determine how exactly to enact the British exit from the EU have been in the works since. During this time, several political upsets have occurred, the most recent of which saw the Tory leader Boris Johnson move into 10 Downing Street.
The Galar region from the upcoming Sword and Shield titles hasn’t explicitly been tied to the UK, but there’s enough evidence to suggest it’s highly likely. Its open-world pastoral countryside is akin to the rural areas of England, whereas the bustling city in northern Galar has a clock tower and ferris wheel not unlike Big Ben and the London Eye, respectively. It’s also got an environmental pattern carved into a hillside that stylistically resembles the Uffington White Horse!
Interestingly, Generation 6’s Kalos is based on France and has an unused train station. Given the real-world existence of the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, which connects France and England via the channel tunnel, it could also be the case that Generation 8’s new region could exist in close proximity to Generation 6’s Kalos. There’s also a monument not unlike Stonehenge in Kalos’ Geosenge Town, further implying a link between Kalos and Galar.
If we roll with that idea — that Galar is just a train ride away from Kalos — it’s not unreasonable to assume that Generation 8’s villainous team could be derived from the vast and bloody history shared between France and England. They could even sport a Team Galactic-esque knight outfit, taking inspiration from the medieval squabble that became known as the 100 Year War.
Or Pokemon could get brave and design Generation 8’s antagonists in the same vein as Generation 6’s Lysandre and his posse of arrogant Etonians. By implementing a criminal cult designed in the image of would-be exploiters seeking to oppress and shackle the people of Galar, Pokemon could comment on a real-world issue that isn’t steeped in historical innocuity. Even if it opts to shy away from politics though, a game set in an imagined UK is inherently political in today’s world.
Percy Bysshe Shellder
Ubisoft may claim that their post-Brexit Watch Dogs: Legion isn’t political. But it’s impossible to detach near-future depictions of the UK, or indeed of anywhere, from their real-world inspirations. Because the UK is divided on how to proceed with Brexit, any contemporary fictional depiction of it will inevitably lean to one side or the other, even if that isn’t the intention of those designing it.
Even the image of the sword and shield, seemingly innocuous, have been important, politicized symbols in English art for centuries. Consider English Romantic poetry. which often uses swords to evoke imagery tied to oppression. If you were to refer to some of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous poems, you’d come across the following passages in Mask of Anarchy, England in 1819, and Queen Mab, respectively:
“Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,
Give us glory, and blood, and gold.”
“A people starv’d and stabb’d in the untill’d field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edg’d sword to all who wield.”
“All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates
The sword which stabs his peace”
Similarly, Mask of Anarchy contains a passage that refers to a shield:
“As laws are in England — thou
Shield’st alike the high and low.”
Sword and Shield, therefore, are titles charged with historical significance. The pair can be considered as two sides of the same coin that represents English politics, and although the shield may seem ostensibly conservative in contrast with the radically liberal image of the sword, the latter can be equally dangerous as the former. Shelley’s poetry testifies to this, with the conservatively-charged sword laying waste to the people of England protected by a liberally-formed shield.
As a result, we might assume that each iteration of Generation 8 could come with its own antagonistic team, or a sort of villainous dual-existence like Generation 7’s Team Skull and Aether Foundation or Generation 3’s Team Aqua and Team Magma. Perhaps one will be driven by change, another obsessed with tradition, and neither right or justified in their approach.
Regardless of how Game Freak approaches a UK-inspired Generation 8, a comparison between the world of Pokemon and the real world it exists within seems inevitable. And if all else fails, a perfectly suitable roast of Boris Johnson occurs in Pokemon Platinum when Professor Rowan shouts at some grunts in Jubilife City:
“Quiet, you lot! Why must you be such a nuisance? Let me list some lessons you still need to learn. #1: Don’t loiter about for no good reason. #2: Don’t interrupt others while they are attempting to converse. #3: If you don’t get your way, don’t raise your voice to be intimidating. #4: Don’t think you’ve grown strong just because you’re in a group. #5: What is with those outlandish outfits you have on? My goodness… You call yourselves adults?”