What do you think of when you hear the words “Pokemon rival”? It’s likely that Gary Oak popped into your head. Or perhaps it was Blue, Gary’s inspiration from the original Red and Blue games. That’s because the Pokemon anime introduced many fans to the franchise, and Gary was Ash Ketchum’s first rival. He was easy to hate, and therefore immediately caught our attention whenever he appeared onscreen. However, Gary is only the tip of the Pokemon rival Bergmite. Later rivals have since benefitted from actual good writing, and they make Gary look like a spoiled kid by comparison.
Of course Gary is a spoiled kid–that’s sort of the point. He’s the grandson of the world’s most renowned Pokemon professor. This has to have given him some inside knowledge most 10-year-olds couldn’t conceive of, not to mention a chance to meet rare Pokemon. He also appears to be a naturally gifted Trainer. In the show, he flaunts his status and talent, always taking the chance to show off to Ash as he speeds off in his convertible, surrounded by adoring fans (who for some reason are total babes interested in a pre-teen).
In the games, he is Blue. You could name him Gary, but Blue is what he’s called when he appears in other official material like Pokemon Masters. Like Gary, he is Oak’s grandson and a snide jerk. He forces a battle at the worst times, often when you emerge from a series of tough encounters with a weakened team. Even in defeat, he leaves with a haughty “Smell ya later!” Beating him is a joy because of how annoying he is–doubly so if you imagine you’re Ash finally shutting Gary up for good. Yet, when you think about it, that’s all Gary has. He’s just annoying.
Compare this to Silver from the Johto region. He too plays the role of the jerk rival. The difference is he turns it up to 11. Your first encounter with Silver is seeing him case the Pokemon professor’s lab, where he eventually steals his starter Pokemon. This blew my mind as a kid, that this friendly series would depict a child committing crimes. Not to mention the implication that he’s abusive to his Pokemon. Like Gary, Silver becomes someone you love to beat.
It’s in HeartGold and SoulSilver that you learn why Silver is so malicious. It turns out he’s the son of Team Rocket Boss, Giovanni. As you might imagine, Giovanni was not the best father. He ignored Silver to plot his world domination (also, he named him Silver). The boy took it all as a lesson that the only way to earn his father’s attention was to become powerful. That’s his driving force as a Trainer, and why he pushes his Pokemon to win at all costs. Fortunately, when you defeat him by the Pokemon League, you force him to see the power of friendship. Later, you find him training to better understand his Pokemon and let go of his anger.
It’s funny that Silver is raised by a mob boss, believes that power is all that matters, and yet still finds redemption. Gary, on the other hand, is related to one of the nicest people in the Pokemon world and turns out to be an entitled jerk. That character arc gives Silver the ability to go beyond annoyance–he is the evil rival you relish in defeating, and yet he’s allowed to become sympathetic and exhibit growth. It’s worth noting that Gary/Blue do chill out. Adult Blue becomes a Gym Leader and guide to rising Trainers, and Gary hangs up his Poke Balls to pursue a career as a Pokemon professor. But many nostalgic fans crystallize the old jerk Gary in their minds. Even if you want to just go by that standard, Silver’s a way better antagonist rival.
Perhaps realizing that Silver was the pinnacle of mean rivals, Game Freak decided to make future rivals childhood friends or good Samaritans willing to help a new Trainer in town. It’s a move that hasn’t played well with many fans, as they believe these friendly rivals take away the urge to win. I disagree, but that’s an article for another time. The fact here is that Gary Oak established a fun dynamic for the Pokemon franchise–then Silver came along and perfected it.
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Sergio is the Lead News Editor for TheGamer. But usually he asks people to call him “Serg” because he wants to sound cool like the guy from System of a Down. He began as a convention reporter for FLiP Magazine and Albany Radio’s The Shaw Report to get free badges to Comic-Con. Eventually he realized he liked talking to game developers and discovering weird new indie games. Now he brings that love of weird games to TheGamer, where he tries to talk about them in clickable ways so you grow to love them too. When he’s not stressing over how to do that, he’s a DM, Cleric of Bahamut, cosplay boyfriend, and occasional actor.
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