Monday, August 11, 2014

63. Abra

Is Pokemon science fiction, or is it fantasy?

Abra lets us ponder this, as the first pokemon in the dex that deals heavily with mysticism and the supernatural. It’s a psychic little fox-shrew-person that teleports all the time. All the Japanese names in its evolution line reference famous mystics. Plus in Pokemon there are literal ghosts running around. But hey, maybe Abra’s powers could be explained by science! Maybe its brain is just that powerful, or it’s normal-powered but accessing 100% of its capacity.

I think Pokemon, like a lot of my favorite things, is at the intersection of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s all about biologically speculative creatures doing sometimes-magic things. Unless you think that pokemon are all just manifestations of memes, which is cool (if a bit anthropocentric)(and a theory largely popularized by a jerk). But even then, I like to think about how those manifestations would physically work. The Pokemon journey itself is one of scientific discovery—a guy in a lab coat gives you an encyclopedia to fill. Also there’s the deal with Mewtwo being a gene-spliced clone of Mew, which in the mid 90s was as topically sci-fi as you could get.

One thing’s for sure: Abra is living out my fantasy in that it sleeps 18 hours a day and is still functional enough to teleport away from danger while still sleeping. That approaches Snorlax/Slowpoke/Slakoth levels of young adult aspirational quality. It’s too bad the Abra line isn’t bulky enough to run Sleep Talk well, because that would be perfect thematically. Still, the sleepy nature comes across in Abra’s sprites, which are all laid back—literally.

Most, like Red and Blue’s, are content to sit with their hands folded on their belly.

HeartGold and SoulSilver’s is so unconcerned with your presence that it does a little crotch scratch:

Diamond and Pearl’s is the same but picking its nose:

Crystal’s is so filled with mirth by your attempt to battle that it clicks its heels together and wags its tail:

And ranking highest on the Abra Investment scale, the Gold one deigns to OPEN ONE EYE at us!

My goodness. Abra is capable of standing up, as shown in several of its back sprites. But you only see this after you get a hold of one and presumably inject some motivation into its telepathic slacker lifestyle.

Speaking of which, one thing I love about Abra is how it’s encountered in the games. It’s elusive, first being a rare find and then teleporting away without fail. You go through 30 wild pokemon battles before you even see another one. To a kid who might not have Sleep Powder on a fast enough pokemon yet, and doesn’t understand that pokeballs have a pretty good capture rate on low level pokemon even when they’re at full health, capturing Abra is no mean feat. Abra is the ephemeral, the unattainable. It totally throws a wrench in the rhythm of normal pokemon capture.

Then when you do catch one, it doesn’t learn any attacks until it evolves at level 16, so training it requires patience and care. Considering Psychic was the imposing OP type of Gen I, it’s cool that they did this with the staple Psychic pokemon. Delayed gratification. I feel like recent pokemon games have done away with the idea of making certain pokemon harder to catch and raise—there are still rare pokemon, but you wander around in grass until you find it and then it’s smooth sailing from there. A Gen VI player training an Abra just goes “god this is SO BORING I’ll just turn the Exp. Share on and never use it in battle until it’s good”

Abra’s original name, Casey, is based on Edgar Cayce, an early-1900s psychic healer from Kentucky who kinda spawned the New Age and holistic medicine movements in the States. He was known for going into a trance or sleep-state to deliver readings on people from his subconscious—hey, sounds like Abra!

It’s too bad the references to historical figures were dropped when the Abra family got localized. For one, they’re educational, and have that Did You Know quality of other pokemon names that reference people like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Plus, a small character with psychokinetic powers and a mundane name like “Casey” gives me a very Mother vibe. But considering how many Mother developers were involved with Pokemon, the entire presence of Psychic types has a very Mother vibe.

The Winner:

R/G is a close second, as it forgoes cuteness for straight-up creepiness. It’s the most detailed and alien-looking, for sure. But ultimately I kept getting bothered by the weird perspective on the legs.

Gold’s winking and extra-casual pose won me over, as I feel it best captures Abra’s trickster persona. It still baffles me how much expressiveness you can give a sprite's eye with the change of one or two pixels. And this Abra overall feels very volumetric. Look at how much bigger its shoulder pads are than on every other sprite! Its whole profile feels more weighty and fleshed-out, which makes it cuter to me.

Later ‘bra.


  1. You're back! Woo!

  2. YAY! Oh my gosh YAY!!!

  3. Can't wait to see what your final entry will be like. And by that I mean I hope you'll keep doing these till Mew at least. :P

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oh hah, you updated just days after I discovered this blog. Good show!

      Did that trading card art really give Abra rosy cheeks? Now that is the cutest thing.

  5. I've noticed some broken images on a lot of older entries :(

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

  7. Dude, yearly updates are not cool! At this rate, I'd have to live 'till i'm 111 to find out what you think of Mewtwo's sprites. Seriously though, I'm assuming this blog is dead for good this time, which is a shame because back in the day it was thoroughly enjoyable (so much so that I still re-read the entries every now and again). With your kind permission, I would be quite interested in taking on the idea and re-doing this blog myself one day, with an aim to completing it within the average human life-span.

    Peace out Sprite Guy, we hardly knew ye.

  8. 3 years later and i'm still hangin in there bro