"The new generation isn't as cool as the old generation." We've all heard statements like this before whether directed at generations of people or generations of Pokemon. Sometimes these statements are followed by valid arguments. Many times, however, the supporting reasons rely on vague notions of "cool" and feelings of nostalgia. When challenged such arguments fall apart. One of the best parts of having access to a critical language for articulating your feelings is that you might teach yourself something about yourself. And in the process, you'll most likely dig deeper into an issue than ever before.
Human beings don't do very well with new situations or new material. We've been known to ignore new information, resort to highly inefficient methods of trial and error, or utterly freeze in the face of a challenge we've never conceived of before. Because we use long term memory and muscle memory for so many of our daily functions, it's no wonder we generally have a very strong attraction to the familiar. Sometimes, this attraction is felt as nostalgia. Rather than go through the somewhat numbing and insecure stages of learning the new, sometimes we'd rather just hold on to the past. Furthermore, our emotions can disproportionately affect our memories. Seeing a bad movie with a good friend can influence us to think quite fondly of the movie upon reflection.
The only way to see clearly is by breaking down your emotions, thoughts, and experience based on some simple or objective criteria. The following is an evaluation of the fictional creativity and aesthetic values of Pokemon through all 5 generations. That's all 649 Pokemon. If you haven't seen them all by now, consider this as your spoiler warning. The four categories are as follows:
- Represents Real World Animals/Plants. One of my favorite parts about Pokemon is that many of them are very comparable to animals. Our real world contains many frightening, elusive, and mysterious creatures. Likewise, so does the Pokemon world. This includes Pokemon that look like animals/plants to Pokemon that are designed with a realistic evolutionary and ecological balance.
- Humanoids. Though humans are animals, compared to nature there are very few species of us than all the other animals in the world. The Pokemon that fit this category wear clothes and perform human activities and functions.
- Represents Mythological Creatures/ World Wonders/ an Abstract Idea. Our real world is filled with phenomenon and mystery. From the Easter Island heads to the curses of the Pharaoh tombs in Egypt. Human kind has been known to create stories to explain the unexplained. Likewise, there are Pokemon that are designed to play an explanatory role of the phenomenal.
- Other. If the Pokemon is too imaginative, too exaggerated from real plants/animals, inspired by a nonliving object, or a hybrid of too many concepts it falls in this category.
Some Pokemon may represent multiple types. The following is an image with all 649 Pokemon. Seeing them all at once is the most effective way to observe any changes across generations.
- generation 1: Real , Humanoid , Mystical/Abstract , Other 
- generation 2: Real , Humanoid , Mystical/Abstract , Other 
- generation 3: Real , Humanoid , Mystical/Abstract , Other 
- generation 4: Real , Humanoid , Mystical/Abstract , Other 
- generation 5: Real , Humanoid , Mystical/Abstract , Other 
Judging mainly on Pokemon appearances, according to my numbers each generation of Pokemon has a very similar distribution of Pokemon types. Still, just seeing the numbers isn't enough to change many players' opinions, me included. At least, I held certain opinions in the back of my mind until I took a much closer look at all 649 Pokemon. It turns out that I didn't really know all the Pokemon as well as I thought. I didn't even know the names of a few of them. If each Pokemon is a creature designed to represent some kind of animal, plant, mystical idea, or otherwise mainly through the function of battling, it stands to reason that the best way to thoroughly understand each Pokemon is by battling with them. You can either catch, raise, and battle with each Pokemon or researching them. In other words, a Pokemon's fictional role is mostly defined by its functional role in the game's design space. As long as people judge Pokemon by how they look, they're practically judging a book by its cover.
Now, I have a great appreciation of all Pokemon generations. Though I'm particularly fond of the first generation, I'm not overly so. Sure, there are some Pokemon that I think are ugly or poorly designed compared to others. But over all, I think it's good to have some Pokemon that I don't like. Before reaching this point of acceptance, I had to do a lot of research. The following are some of the issues I had to resolve.
- Extraneous Decorations. One feature of Pokemon that I generally disliked was extraneous decorations. Obviously this is very subjective. The basic idea is arbitrary dots, stripes, and other markings should be kept to a minimum especially if the Pokemon represents something from the real world. When I looked at Zangoose (see Pokemon just above #3 in image above) or Excadrill (top right Pokemon in image above) I initially cringed. They looked like animals wearing clothes with lame patterns. At the time I thought that Pokemon designs like this was a trend of the newer generations. But when I looked at all the Pokemon, I found several from all the generations that are similarly designed. Over time, I just got used to the way each Pokemon looks.
- Not creative enough. This gripe I carried against Pokemon directly contrasts the previous gripe. There were times when I disliked Pokemon just because they looked too much like real world animals/plants. I looked at Ducklett a 5th gen Pokemon (2nd from the left top row) and was somewhat disappointed. It's a blue duck. It's blue because it's a water type. Big deal. Then I realized that I can't hate Ducklett for being a blue duck when one of my favorite Pokemon, Articuno, is basically a blue bird. In fact, the "plainer" Pokemon contrast nicely with the more elaborately decorated ones. After letting go of the grudge, I've found many things to like about Ducklett including his move set and funny in game animation.
- Duplicates. Some have complained that Pokemon in later generations are too similar to Pokemon in previous generations. I've never had a big problem with this. Just like in the real world, there are many different Pokemon that can be grouped into similar categories across the 5 generations. Having multiple tiny bird, dog, mouse, and fish Pokemon makes each region distinct. As I've explained, the differences between Pigeot, Fearow, Staraptor, Enfezant, and Braviary is best expressed through their unique movesets, base stats, and abilities. For example, only Braviary (top right in image above) learns Sky Drop a method of killing prey that actual eagles use. Function fits form fits fiction.
If you think all 649 Pokemon aren't creative enough, then you should check out some of the Pokemon that fans have created. This video contains many. It's clear that these Pokemon are generally modeled after a few basic types.
In part 3 we'll look at Pokemon Black/White. How has it evolved as the 5th game in the RPG series? What's the established formula? How does the game story mesh with the Pokemon fiction?