The Webcomic Overlook #190: Mokepon
It would probably be fair to say that I was too old to get into the whole Pokemon phenomenon. Oh, I watched the episodes when they first aired on the Kid’s WB. I did have a younger brother and sister after all, who, I suspect, actually watched the show semi-ironically.
The magic of the show, too, was that it was one of those rare instances that a young adult or adult can watch a kid’s show without feeling too weird about it. Frankly, I blame Beanie Babies and Tamagotchis… which, for you youngsters, were like NeoPets but way, way more annoying.
However, if you asked me to identify a Pokemon beyond, say, the core 20, I’d probably be at a loss. I would totally fail those infamous “Who’s that Pokemon?” stingers, thus bringing shame to my ancestors. I never played the game on the Game Boy, nor was I part of the card craze, nor am I familiar with the show after Ash, Misty, and Brock disappeared. I don’t remember the name of that lame-o Brock replacement guy. Hell, I was totally befuddled by the whole “Gary F***ing Oak” meme and had to google it just to get caught up. Let me tell you, when you have to resort to “Know Your Meme,” then you know you’ve truly lost the pulse of what makes young people tick these days.
So you’d think that I’d be the totally wrong audience for Mokepon, a webcomic on Smack Jeeves written by someone who apparently goes by “H0lyhandgrenade.”
Au contraire, mon ami! Mokepon turned out to be a surprisingly fun read, full stuff that can entertain even a reader with only a passing familiarity of Pokemon. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Strangely enough, despite my a-little-more-than-cursory knowledge of Pokemon, the Mokepon webcomic and I go back a long way. I first came across it when had just started up back in 2008. There were perhaps only 20 pages up. While the idea of a cynic’s take on Pokemon was a promising one, I didn’t have much material to go on. It was mentally earmarked as something I would get to later.
And now it’s three years later, which is a surprisingly long time for a Pokemon fanfiction comic to be going. And yet, somehow has H0lyhandgrenade found new twists on age-old Pokemon gags, she’s also figured out how to craft an enjoyable cast of characters.
Mokepon is set in the world of Pokemon, the same one with cities named Pewter City and Viridian Forest and populated by the likes of Ash Ketchum and Professor Oak. Our hero — of you can call him that — is a sneering, sarcastic slacker named Atticus Brent. He can be easily be identified by the permanent scowl on his face and the cigarette dangling from his lips. And he doesn’t want anything to do with Pokemon. He seems more like the kind of guy who’d enjoy kicking back, watching General Hospital, and popping Vicodin pills, if you catch my drift.
How can you not like this guy?
Unfortunately, his mom doesn’t feel the same way. For being a master at Pokemon means everything. EVERYTHING. So Atticus gets thrown out on his butt and he’s not to come home until he makes a big name for himself in the world of Pokemon.
And so that is how Atticus got his first Pokemon. He calls him “Dragonthing.” (It’s Charmander.) Atticus decides to train Dragonthing the best way he knows how: through utter neglect. He figures Dragonthing can learn more by learning how to fend for himself, and lets him wander around, getting into fights.
Surprisingly, it turns out to be a pretty effective training technique. You know what they say: give a Pokemon a command, they’ll fight for a day. Leave the Pokemon alone so he can figure out how to breathe fire by himself … well, he’ll probably bite you, but at least it didn’t cut into your brooding time.
Atticus finds a rival in Kahn Miles. Atticus has a pretty irrational hatred of Kahn (KAAAAAAHHHHHHNNNN!!!!), mainly because he’s good and unselfish and is pretty devoted to becoming a champ in this Pokemon thing. Their relationship is a bit like the Homer Simpson/Ned Flanders dichotomy. It’s one part Atticus’ refusal to accept defeat, one part jealousy, one part a petty and innate desire to destroy anything pure, good, and innocent. Hey, who can’t relate? I’m pretty sure we’ve all had moments where, like Edward Norton in Fight Club, we’ve wanted to destroy something beautiful.
To fuel his hatred, Atticus accuses Kahn of stealing his Bulbasaur. They’d dueled earlier for the Pokemon. Kahn had wanted to win it for his sister, Mana (who, compared to Kahn, is quite bubbly). Atticus, though, is a little miffed. Though he was definitely outclassed by Kahn, he didn’t think that they’d finished the fight and that Bulbasaur was still up for grabs. They reignite their duel. Atticus sends out his Dragon Thing to fight off Kahn’s three Pokemon.
And surprisingly, Atticus wins.
It turns out, though, that Kahn had been training his team all day, and his three Pokemon were already half dead. Kahn, though, is such a chill bro that he didn’t have the heart to tell Atticus about it. The battle, though, catches the attention of a masked stranger who assumes Atticus has been poaching helpless Pokemon trainers. He summons a towering, dinosaur-sized Pokemon, and Atticus realizes he’s suddenly in for the fight of his (and Dragon Thing’s) life.
Half the fun of Mokepon is how Atticus just does not buy in to the “Pokemon training is about friendship” mantra. It’s easy to forget that he’s supposed to be 14 years old, given his
world-weary demeanor. Driving that point home is how much older Atticus seems than the other contestants. A lot of the trainers he’s competing against are cherub faced kids with big saucer eyes.
There’s George, for example, a Pokemon obsessive who will follow Atticus around like a lost puppy. She guesses, probably correctly, that Atticus (who she calls “Brent,” since Atticus doesn’t think they’re on a first name basis) has the potential to the a great Pokemon champion. However, she’s appalled by his coarse attitude and his slash-and-burn tactics. They make a good pair, actually: the wide-eyed innocent that could probably use a few few lessons in how the world is a brutal place, and the hardened cynic who could probably stand to lighten up a little.
And besides, it’s not that Atticus is completely in the wrong about the way he views Pokemon. His more practical view of matters turns out to be an asset, especially when he comes face to face with a new, more homicidal Team Rocket.
So maybe you Pokemon fans … Poke-fans … um … Poke-heads … Poke-men? No that can’t be right. Anyway, you Pokemon fans can probably refresh me on this: what were Team Rocket up again on the show? Were Jesse and James really given the one job of capturing Pikachu, which they failed to do day in and day out? Why? Was it a special Pikachu? Or did Team Rocket HQ know that Jesse and James were totally useless and had them casing the world’s most thankless assignment?
Anyway, that seems like small potatoes to what the new Team Rocket has up their sleeves. This version of Team Rocket, Thad and Trix, look more like charter members of the Pewter City Biker Club. They’re cruel, they’re murderous, they swear a storm, and they have no use for Meowth. That’s right! Their plan is to breed so many of the insect Pokemon in Viridian Forest that random encounters become inescapable. I think this crosses the line beyond denouncing the evils of truth and love and into outright terrorism.
Maybe … just maybe … the only thing standing in their way is a cynical jerk with a nicotine addiction.
H0lyhandgrenade generally sticks to a very solid and very appropriate manga style for Mokepon. She does add a few flourishes of her own — the hand written word balloons, for example — that lend her own personal touch without straying too far from the Pokemon house style. She’s especially adept in setting up the sight gags. They remind of Rumiko Takahashi’s work on Ranma, where she would similarly set you up for one scene (say either a heroic attack or a sad, inflective scene) and then completely undermine your expectations on the very next panel. Which is to say that while Mokepon is, in one way, just following one of the now standard conventions of manga, H0lyhandgrenade executes it so well that it doesn’t matter.
And, well, Mokepon is just so much fun. What impressed me is how much I did genuinely like the characters, and how, when I reached the last page, I was a little sad that I couldn’t follow their adventures any longer. It got to the point where it no longer mattered if this was Pokemon fanfiction in the first place. I thought that Brent, George, Dragonthing, and Kahn were highly enjoyable characters in their own right, characters owned and licensed by the Nintendo Corporation be damned.
Is this … is this truly the magic of Pokemon? To view these fictional characters as … friends? As George says in a wisdom beyond her years: “This journey’s all about making friends. If you don’t have friends, or people to enjoy the adventures with, is there really that point in doing them?”
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on December 20, 2011, in 4 Stars, adventure webcomic, anime, comedy webcomic, manga style webcomic, pop culture caricatures, The Webcomic Overlook, video game webcomic, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.