Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Everything Changes" - Pokémon Fanfic Review

Continuing my series of fanfic reviews is Pokémon fanfic "Everything Changes", by Dragoness, posted February 5th, 2000--February 13th, 2001. The name comes from a Pokémon song released, and it's appropriate because, good golly, do things change! Ash is put into lots of exciting angst-inducing situations after Team Rocket abducts him and makes him work for them, leading to a spiritual evolution with a surprising manifestation. I totally remember this fic! I used to read it all the time, and it was fun to read it again, though I think it's only of an okay quality overall.

"Everything Changes" has a nice blend of seriousness and silliness that loosely matches the source material. Canonical Team Rocket is both evil and silly, and its actions in the fanfic are appropriate to its nature. When Jessie, James, and Meowth cover Ash in superglue--an outrageous action--it causes Ash realistic distress and thus adds to the formidable specter surrounding Team Rocket.

One interesting aspect is how the fic describes Ash's name as being short for Ashura. In the English dub, Ash's name is simply part of a theme of tree names where his rival is named (Gary) Oak. Its etymology may come from the middle of his Japanese name Satoshi, which when pronounced in a muddled American way can sound like "Sat-ash-i". I like the idea that Ash's name might be short for something longer and prettier like Ashura.

The main theme for the story is change. The author came up with the story through experimenting with changing the plotline of an episode to create an alternate universe, and the story seems more or less improvised with progressive changes shaking up the expected plotline in a manner similar to Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. First, Team Rocket wins against Ash, then Ash joins them to save Pikachu, and things get progressively worse. A big change occurs about halfway through when Ash decides to live in the wilderness and things become quite violent when Team Rocket comes after him. The conflict escalates until Ash finds spiritual enlightenment through his empathy with Pokémon, and then the whole plot changes into a different kind of story as Ash undergoes a physical change.

"Everything Changes" plays with the Pokémon mythology with regard to evolution and its mysterious Legendary Pokémon, specifically Mew. The metamorphosis-like evolution in which Pokémon mature into different Pokémon likely derives some inspiration from Buddhist concepts of transformation across different lives, and "Everything Changes" takes it a bit farther by indicating that humans have the potential to evolve. Ash is the only human in a very long time who has the ability to evolve, and he becomes a Mew. The reason Mews are so rare is because humans lost their connection to Pokémon and forgot they could evolve. As an ascended being in a modern world, Ash then has to decide how best to live his life, which is the main theme of the plots of "Everything Changes"'s many sequels.

Another theme is what Ash is willing to do for the ones he loves and how much he's willing to compromise his morals. Team Rocket threatens his loved ones, so Ash agrees to be a member of the gang to save them. As such, he's pressured to steal for the crime syndicate and otherwise help them gain power.

The main antagonist is Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket. Giovanni horribly mistreats Ash through coercing him into joining Team Rocket, using corporal punishment of a fantastic Pokémon style with realistically described suffering, and using a Porygon to reprogram his mind to make him subservient. It then comes out that Darth Vader Giovanni is actually Luke's Ash's father. Though a cliche, I think Dragoness uses the trope in an interesting way where it's implied that Giovanni has abused him so much because he wants to spend time with Ash but is of such an evil nature that abuse is the only way he can relate to anyone.

Due to the nature of most Pokémon only speaking with parts of their names, it makes their verbal communication with humans difficult to convey to the reader in a fanfic. Dragoness does it pretty well with the literal dialog stated first and followed by the Pokémon's meaning in italics on the next line. This is actually kind of true to the source given that the exact meanings of their words are only ever revealed in subtitles. It's a little awkward at first, but I don't blame her for that, and I got used to reading both lines around chapter 10. On the other hand, I don't like the telepathy being written as plain text without quote marks, as it is hard to read as dialog and not just narration. It is especially difficult when Ash and Mewtwo are having telepathic discussions back and forth.

Here's an excerpt from chapter 32:
When I had finished destroying their pitiful lives and their shameful laboratory, I found what I had mistaken for a friend…The very human that had ordered my creation…He tried to train me, but I soon realized his true intentions. He only wanted to use me for his own gain…I wouldn't let him do that. I had to leave.

Wow…I know how you feel…

That comment finally sparked a reaction from Mewtwo…I think it was curiosity…
The first line is a telepathic statement by Mewtwo. The second line is a telepathic statement by Ash. The third line is Ash's first-person narration. They are indistinguishable and have to be interpreted based on context alone. That is just annoying.

I think "Everything Changes" is a little lesser in quality than I remember it being. I have bigger standards for literature now, so even though it isn't bad as fanfiction goes, it's too simplistic to be very interesting for me now. I once found the part where Ash is imprisoned in superglue to be very engaging (probably due in part to the bondage aspect), but now it comes across as just kind of an odd problem that gets resolved quickly. A few chapters are entirely made up of Pokémon battles, and the fights aren't nearly detailed enough to make me invested. It's pretty much 'Pidgeotto did whirlwind; it's super effective!', and it made me want me want to skip most of the chapters and just glance at the results. In fact, a lot of conversations seem like poor attempts to flesh out simple plot actions like Billie taking Ash somewhere or Ash getting a certain set of Pokémon on his belt. The climatic battle is suitably detailed and engaging, however.

In the end, "Everything Changes" is just okay. It's fun for me to reread because I liked is so much ten years ago, but I can tell it's not very high quality. It presents some interesting ideas, but it isn't written too well. I think that this is one fanfic I'll be taking off of my favorites list.

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