Sunday, April 15, 2012

52. Meowth

Meowth might just be my favourite pokemon. It never used to be, but in writing this entry I have been converted. Meowth is one of the things that makes Pokemon great. Its design doesn't blow you away at first; it's a cat with a koban on its head, fine. They drew inspiration from Satoshi Tajiri's pet cat, cute. But we need to go deeper.

Most of Meowth's elements come from Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat, a sculpture common in Japan and China and intended to bring good luck to places of business. The legend goes that a dude is trying to stay dry under a tree, and a beckoning temple cat saves him from being struck by lightening. Then the guy turns out to be loaded and makes the temple owners rich in return? There are other stories too, about cats whose heads fly off to kill deadly snakes, and cats who appear in dreams and demand statues be made of them, but they all end in luck and money. Cat statues will make you so paid, is what they are trying to get across.

Maneki Neko always have one or both paws raised to show that beckoning gesture. Observe Meowth's original GameBoy sprites. Paws raised CHECK. This even carries over to the anime: “Meowth that's right!” tends to put Meowth in pretty classic Maneki Neko poses. There's also the Team Rocket balloon. The Meowth likeness would be just as clear if it were his head only, but did they stop there? Nope, they worked in the paw too.

Fun fact: “beckoning” paws face outward because apparently waving is the “come here” gesture in Japan, instead of “go away.” Doesn't it make more sense to bring your fingers towards yourself to beckon someone? Whatever. If you're curious about Meowth's breed, by the way, Maneki Neko are supposed to be based on the Japanese Bobtail. Meowth's tail is a bit long for that, but it does have a bob on the end? Sort of?

The kabon placement on Meowth's forehead is a reference to “a Japanese myth dealing with the true value of money, in which a cat has money on its head but does not realize it.” I'm actually having trouble finding confirmation of that, but Meowth's Wikipedia page said it so it must be true. At any rate, Maneki Neko are often shown with kabon too, or have coins stored in their forehead piggy-bank style, or coins placed around them for luck, similar to tossing coins in a fountain. COINS. Do you get the association with coins yet?

I like how there was an episode in the anime ("A Chansey Operation") where he appears to lose his koban, answering all our unspoken questions about whether that thing comes off, or what? But then it turns out it was just jammed into his head. Hmm.

The coolest thing about in-game Meowth is Pay Day, which is still Meowth-exclusive by level up (in Gen I it was a TM, and can now be bred onto Purrloin). It may strike you as a bit nonsensical, given its ability to apparently make unlimited money out of thin air. But it's based off a common expression: in Japan the move is called Neko ni Kabon, “coin for a cat,” a phrase like “pearls before swine” which implies that cats have no use for money. Ironic, given that people want to throw money all over them. I wish they would translate moves with Japanese meanings like that directly, but I guess it ran over the character limit. Aerial Ace/Swallow Cut, you still have no excuse.

In Generation I, Pay Day is the only way you can keep making money after you've sold all the game's items and beaten all its trainers. Combine that with Meowth getting Pickup as an ability in Gen III (my all-time favourite ability), and I defy you to call Meowth a useless pokemon. It's the pokemon most deliberately created to be scoring you swag, at all times.

So basically, Meowth's design is a composite of about three different bits of folklore regarding cats. That's not too shabby for looking at a friend's cat and thinking “Let's make this a pokemon.” If a Western franchise made a cat character, it would have to incorporate lolcats, Egyptian cat worship, and maybe unlucky black cats just to match that creative sourcing.

Meowth's character in the anime is one of the things it really gets right. With Ash and Pikachu, the anime sort of suffers, like many franchises, from Harry Potter/Tidus/Naruto syndrome, in which the supporting characters are all more interesting than the main characters. The show is never better than when it's spotlighting Meowth. Unfortunately my anime literacy is spotty, so I can't point you to all that many instances of Meowth greatness. But I remember Maddie Blaustein's uncommonly good dub work. I remember there were lots of puns in the show, and that Meowth was particularly good at dispensing them. So many cat puns. Later on there were the boss fantasies, which supplied some of the most WTF imagery in the show's run, from Geovanni riding Deoxys to space, to Geovanni in a speedo being slathered in oil and humped in a heap of bug pokemon, to Geovanni generally getting naked a lot.

We get glimpses of what the show would be like if it revolved around Meowth; I recommend the episodes “Meowth Rules!” (Meowth discovers a Meowth cult and gets fed by catgirls) and especially “Go West, Young Meowth!” (Meowth's heart-wrenching origin story, possibly the series' most meta and tightly-written episode). He just has this knack for poignant moments, like when he pulls out his guitar like a feline K.K. Slider, or when he confronts his clone in Mewtwo Strikes Back.

But Meowth isn't just about emotional depth. He can also bring the party, as with the infamous Gamecube tech demo, totally-should-have-been-a-game, Meowth's Party. It's an 80 second surrealist masterpiece.

Paper-thin Jesse and James rock through space. Meowth walks across the wall and ceiling of a stark white, infinite chamber. The 3D models from the N64's Pokemon Stadium rave in worship. It ends with Meowth's giant disembodied head.

As if that didn't solidify Meowth's party god status enough, there was then the Pikachu short “Gotta Dance!” in which Meowth invents a baton that forces pokemon to dance against their will, a pre-NPH Music Meister.

Clearly this is the best possible use for Pokemon intellectual property. If you ever looked at pokemon like Cacnea and Mudkip and thought, “What I would really like is to see those two get down,” then this is the film for you.

But can we reconcile Meowth's videogame and anime selves? I like how, canonically, Meowth in the anime can't use Pay Day because his last move slot was spent learning how to speak like a human. So that's why your pokemon can't talk to you in the games, people: it would mean you could only teach them three moves. Also, Bulbapedia likes to point out that Meowth having to learn to walk upright is inaccurate since common Meowths are shown on their hind legs in the games. This wasn't really true until Pokemon Yellow, though. Going back to Sugimori's original artwork, Meowth is always on his haunches. It would appear then, that the anime's characterization of this individual Meowth has influenced all Meowths in subsequent pokemon games. In this case, I don't think that's a bad thing.

The Winner:
Diamond and Pearl

I like all Meowth's sprites from Green through Gold. R/B is an almost exact pixel-trace of that old Sugimori artwork, which is the first time I have noticed that in a GameBoy sprite. R/B, Y, and D/P all show a lot of character; I think D/P is the most fit to fight.

The sequence after D/P shows everything missing from sprites these days. First they're like, "Mouth open? Too lively. Better close that up." Then draw back the limbs so it stands all boring. NOW they've got a base they can do choppy animations with.


  1. LOL! I was like, "WTF am I watching?" throughout the first video. XD I love Gotta Dance! :D I kept going back to my Jirachi Wishmaker DVD just to watch that! :D It's may favorite, although Pikachu's Pikaboo is a really close second. :P

    Feline KK slider FTW. :3

    Lolcats, egyptian cat worship, and unlucky black cats? A black cat, standing on hind legs with it's paws up to it's chest. It has an adorable yet derpy expression, and a crooked egyptian head dress on. It's tail could be shadowy, making an evil cat shape behind it. Like ---> ( )as a shadow behind the cat.

    ^Someone should make this. :3

    Anyway, great job! :) This always entertains me, keep writing!! :)

    1. I will have to check out Pikachu's Pikaboo now. I don't think I saw any of the Pikachu shorts after the first couple.

      I like how you imagined the western cat pokemon in such detail.

    2. It's one of the Johto ones. :P I'm pretty sure that's what it's called. :)

      I was randomly inspired. XD I thought'd I'd share. XD

      10 Readers, unless I was in your first estimation. XD I've been reading this for a while, it's great. :D

    3. The headdress will be made from a lime peel, surely.

  2. Dude, I seem to remember in one of your older posts you referenced 'all two' of your readers (or something like that). Well,sir, you have a third. As mind-bendingly dorky and trivial as it is, I find this blog really entertaining and, on occaisions, genuinly interesting (the mind control parasites featured in the Parasect entry comes to mind). Keep writing, man!

    1. I will! The readership has grown quite a bit since then. It's more like seven now.

  3. The Nyaasu's Party video reminds me of the party scene from "Pichu Bros: Party Panic" short in Pokemon Channel:

  4. Make that 9! I love this blog. :D

  5. Number 10. I last read this blog in March. Entertaining stuff :)

  6. I've been reading since Last year sometime. Great to see you've returned! I did miss the updates to your sprites. I do hope everything is okay. I adored your Meowth analysis, it's one of my favourite pokemon too.

    1. Things are okay, thanks for the concern! I have just been moving and working and being easily distracted. One day I will post more to a schedule. One day.

  7. I think Red/blue meowth is one of the very best red/blue sprites.

  8. What's weird also is that in the anime Meowths are typically quadrupeds, but all of the game sprites suggest otherwise.

  9. That silver sprite reminds me of abra

  10. Pokemon - Emerald - Hack (all pokemons) GBA ROM+SAVE+CHEAT