Lessons in Love from Pokémon Origins A Guest Chapter from Chris Cooke of One Cross Radio
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. - John 15:13
Full disclosure - this is heavily inspired by both Faith and Fandom, and the blast and a half of an episode I got to be a part of with Redeemed Otaku. Both of these wonderful ministries and podcasts do amazing work of showing how we can find God's word and teachings in our fandoms and where we may least suspect it.
I originally was introduced to Pokémon way back in 97/98, through the cards (which would be played daily in the G.A. Brown middle school cafeteria) and the original Game Boy games Red and Blue. From there, I got swept up in Pokémania. I bought Pokémon Yellow for the Game Boy colour and Pokémon Snap and the first Pokémon Stadium for the N64. I got swept up in the show, played through and loved both Silver and Gold on the Game Boy, and saw Mewtwo Strikes Back (the first movie) in theatres. I even bought the Pokémon: The Movie 2000. I have fond memories of all of these, and some I can thankfully still enjoy.
But then, it kind of died down for me. Fewer people were wanting to play with the cards and games during lunch in the cafeteria. Other things were vying for my attention, and by the time the show got through the Orange Islands season, I just lost interest. Outside of playing Yellow on a simulator or appreciation of the film scores - the only time I revisited Pokémon was purely for nostalgic purposes with the first two films.
And then, Origins happened.
Released in 2013, Origins was a more direct adaptation of the first-gen of games. The characters were named Red and Blue (or Green, in the Japanese cut), the Pokémon made animal noises instead of saying their names, and the final battle was with Mewtwo. It was mature (without being rated M or gritty), it was engaging, and jam packed with biblical applications of love. I hadn't always noticed that, but that's something wonderful that both Hector (from Faith and Fandom) and Bex (from Redeemed Otaku) tend to teach you. You can see biblical teaching in almost anything, even if it's not inherently part of the story.
Origins is chock-full of these lessons. But to me in particular, the main one is love – both sacrificial and unconditional.
Now, to be fair, some of these lessons existed in the show or earlier films, but I think they were executed much better here. No Poké-tears brought anyone back from becoming a statue in this one, and that hurts your brain a lot less.
Alright, let's look at some examples, shall we?
In the fourth episode, during his battle with Mewtwo, Red's Charizard is repelled by an attack and begins falling to the ground from the air. Red dives under his Charizard right before he hits the ground to soften the blow. Now, Charizard weighs roughly 190.5 pounds, and Red is an 11-year-old boy. This could kill him. But with no thought for himself and only a desire to protect his Charizard (his first Pokémon and his friend), he dives under him to protect him so Charizard will feel less pain. How selfless is that? How often can we say we’ve put others before ourselves like Red does here – especially when we know pain (in this case, insane physical pain) will be coming?
In the second episode, in a tragic flashback, we are shown a young Cubone desperately trying to get away from team rocket. As it’s being cornered, the team rocket goons are suddenly attacked by Cubone's mother Marowak. Marowak tells Cubone to run and to not look back. As Cubone keeps running, we hear some high-pitched screams, and soon find out that Marowak died, sacrificing herself for her son's safety. Throughout the rest of the episode, we see Cubone not trust anyone with the exception of Mr. Fuji, who literally picks up and comforts a weeping Cubone (reminding me of the Sermon on the Mount – “4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”– Matthew 5:4).
Later on in the episode, Cubone learns through seeing Red in action that he can be trusted. While Red may at times act rashly (in this and the next episode’s case), it’s always coming from a place of love and doing the right thing. He sees Red act tender-heartedly with rival Blue, as well as the spirit of his mother Marowak when she revealed herself (“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32).
This episode was so full of examples of biblical love. Marowak's sacrifice, in particular, was a big one, as it reminded me of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. He died (and rose again) to save those who would believe in Him. He saved us not from team rocket grunts, but something far worse.
Finally, in episode three, Red again demonstrates his love for Pokémon (and doing the right thing), putting himself directly in harm's way by taking on countless grunts to free the Pokémon and workers at the Silph Company building and thwart Team Rocket's plans. Though he saved the day, Giovanni left him and Charizard in a heap. Later on in the episode, Red battles Giovanni to prove to him that his ways are wrong; Pokémon aren't just things to be used, but friends to love. Throughout the battle, Giovanni is continually caught off guard by how much Red loves and believes in his Pokémon, which ends up re-igniting the passion he once had. In defeat, he awards Red the earth badge, and then dissolves Team Rocket and restarts his own journey with hope.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute – how many times have we been more like Giovanni then we have Red? In this battle, we learn that Giovanni started off much like Red, but somewhere along the way, he became very different. He became evil. Now, I know none of us would say we’re out-and-out evil, but we have all probably gone a-bits away when the fire gets quenched and gone into sinful territory. I know I need to daily feed that fire for the Lord – and how much of a difference it makes when I don’t. I want to encourage anyone reading to do the same, as the Lord can use our passion and fire as light to bring back and lead others (“12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”– 1 John 4:12)! Seriously, how awesome and wonderful is our God?
This wonderfully short show demonstrates biblical love numerous times. When it comes to his Pokémon and how he treats others, Red does everything in love (“14 Let all that you do be done in love.” - 1 Corinthians 16:14). He loves sincerely, hates what is evil, and clings to what is good. He was devoted to his Pokémon in love, and honored them above himself (“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” - Romans 12:9-10).
Pokémon Origins is something that has come to mean a lot to me. Not only is it something that taps into that “nostalgic- reminds-me-of-easier-times” vibe that we all love. It’s something I can appreciate on its own merits and is something I can point non-Poké-people to as well. (What Wrath of Khan and First Contact is for trekkies, Origins is for us). But more importantly, for me it represents learning.
This is the first time I’ve been able to take the lessons from Hector through Faith and Fandom and Bex through Redeemed Otaku have been teaching and apply it myself! I was able to watch this show and see these “Lessons in Love.” I didn’t force them in – heck, I wasn’t even searching for them. But through the grace of God, and the great examples provided from people like Hector and Bex, I was able to both see and be hyper-beamed by them! This is something not only great to read (and hear) from others, but do yourself. It made me look at this, and now other media in an exciting way. I really encourage you dudes and dudettes to do the same!
Alight, let's get loving each other like Red loves his Charizard, how Marowak and Mr. Fuji loved Cubone, and (most importantly) how Christ loved the church.
And while we're at it, let's get some gym badges.
God bless my friends!
--- Chris is a lifelong Christian, who has served in his home church of Calvary Church Toronto, before moving to Hamilton with his wonderful wife Jill. Chris has worked for various Christian and non-profit social ministries such as Youth For Christ Canada and Living Rock Ministries. One Cross Radio is a passion project of Chris and friends to look at Christianity and things from pop culture that they love and want to discuss such as comic books, films, old tv shows, and anything you can geek out about. One Cross Radio can be found on Podbean, iTunes, Spotify, Overcast, and more, as well as their website onecrossradiopodcast.com