Pokemon's villains have always been difficult to pin down. Team Rocket is an iconic part of the series, so much so that I've argued they should have a game of their own, but they haven't been involved in a mainline game (Let's Go aside) for over a decade. The idea of Team Rocket has remained, with each new generation producing a glorified clone of what came before. There's always an evil but not too evil organisation, usually as efficient as they are bumbling, supported by grunts, fronted by a couple of named characters, and all led by a single leader – in Rocket's case, they're fronted by Jessie and James and led by Giovanni. What games have never quite gotten right is the sense of panache that those three characters brought. Scarlet & Violet is here to right that wrong.
In some cases, it's not for a lack of trying. Team Magma and Team Aqua have a penchant for the melodramatic, but they're too serious and dour in their ambitions and a little overdone. It's a decent attempt, but things have been derailed in recent years. Team Skull, the villains of the Alola region, are just a bunch of silly goofballs. They're like kids outside the corner shop playing music too loud and kicking a football off the wall. They're a bit of a nuisance, but not bad people. Team Yell, their Galarian successors, are even less villainous, to the point where they're not villains at all. They're a strange mix of football supporters and heavy metal fans who travel around the region telling rivals that they stink. Less Ultras than they are ultra annoying.
Team Flare are the outliers, an attempt to turn the tide, but they felt too dull (and weren’t helped by how forgettable X&Y was) to make much of an impact. Legends: Arceus prompted fellow Pokemon connoisseur at TheGamer Ben Sledge to describe the villainous sisters as the best baddies since Team Rocket (a view I largely agree with), but even they were reduced to camp comic relief in the end. We've seen the same happen with rivals – where Gary told us he'd smell us later and Silver was a literal criminal, Hop just wanted to be our buddy. Bede was the closest we got to a real enemy, and even then he was softened around the edges in ways Silver never was. Team Star, Scarlet & Violet's bad guys, are just rival high schoolers and still quite wholesome, but they're finally bringing a sense of splendour back.
My biggest gripe with Teams Skull and Yell was that they were in on the joke. Even when they were acting tough, they knew it was all for a laugh. Team Star seem to have a firmer grasp on the dramatic, and are bringing a lot more flair to the table. In the latest trailer, we meet their leader, Mela, who looks like what happens when the Drama Club Kid and the Goth Kid are the same person. Dressed in red vinyl thigh highs with plastic flames attached, dark eyeliner, and a thick metal choker, she is a cautionary tale about not letting your kids listen to too much Paramore. That's what you get when you let your heart win.
Mela drives around in a massive hot rod spouting with flames, piping, and roaring engines everywhere, standing atop the monstrosity like a giant parade float. It's a little silly, and I'm sure her aim will be to gain control of the school PA system so everyone has to listen to emo rock as opposed to destroying all of the world's trees or some other dramatic bullshit, but she's playing for keeps. She's not the comic relief. She's here to annoy, irritate, obfuscate, and look fabulous doing it. Pokemon has enough comedians. It's time we had a rock star.
Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is shaping up as a Pokemon game that’s too good to be true, and Pokemon being Pokemon, I'm sure there will be some feet with holes shot in them fairly soon. Right now though, each reveal has been a big win, and Team Star is sitting right at the top of the pile, riding their hot rod to glory.
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