Episode 38: Pokemon and Hetalia - The Different Journeys We Take (Assuming We Do Anything...)


(Music starts)

            I wonder if this is true for other podcasters, but making this show is a bit of an adventure. And I’m phrasing it that because I’m genuinely lacking of a better term. Language might be important, but words are limited sometimes.

            Maybe it’s because of the short production time each episode has by sheer virtue of the way I’ve structured this show or some of the choices I have made, but honestly, there’s always a little action behind the scenes. Actually panic might be a better word for it all. (Pause) Nope. Panic is definitely the word I should be using.

            And I’m okay with this, even with the blood pressure spikes that come up. Or I’ve made peace with it, more accurately.  See, that’s how life works, I guess. Or that’s what my karate instructor taught me life was like. And he’s a pretty good life philosopher type. Jokes about stereotypes or The Karate Kid aside. He taught me that there’s always going to be surprises and hiccups and things that go awry. And as frustrating as that may be, it doesn’t have to be all that bad. In fact, it isn’t usually all bad. Or, at least, in my experience, it hasn’t been all that bad.

            For example, there was that episode on Pokémon that wasn’t supposed to be about my childhood cat. It just suddenly was. I started describing the premise of the show, and life happened.

            Which is fitting. If this is truly going to be a “subjective” review show, whatever that means, then I need to embrace the surprises that may come up along the way. Like those about Artemis who has been on my mind frequently ever since Midnight and his littermates were born.

            Also, if you were wondering, the podcats aren’t exactly rescues. A friend of mine took in a pregnant stray, and the podcats are from that litter. I’m not sure in this situation if the term “rescue” applies to those babies and not just the mama cat because D took amazing care of those babies. Like they have never known a kitty struggle. Ever.

            Tangent aside, none of that means I didn’t still have non-cat related thoughts about Pokémon, but it meant that by most standards these thoughts were going to wait. Which also means that they have addition time to stew in my head. And that might not be a great thing in all honesty because the longer I have thoughts the more confused and muddled they tend to get. Because nothing in my head can ever be that sequestered or protected. And that’s how I ended up with a thesis that mixed Tumblr and Hannah Arendt, so it isn’t all bad. Depending on your perspective.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            But that’s what happened here with this episode. I had a thought about Pokémon, refined it enough for an episode of this show and then put it back in the mixer to see what would happen.  And to be more specific, what happened was this weird marriage of two somewhat unrelated topics. Well, they’re kind of related. But not. I’m probably forcing it a little bit.

(Music fades out.)

            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to episode 38.

(Music fades in)

            Today is going to be something like a double feature. Or it’s not quite a double feature. I’m not sure what the exact terminology should be in this context. Even though it’s probably mine to figure out, but I just did an entire episode that was tangentially related to my insecurities. What are you expecting?

            With that line of thought dead on arrival, let me say this. Basically, this episode is going to be a (quote) review of two shows whose larger story—the part that involves me—took similar paths. Parallel but nevertheless similar.

            Now that metaphor didn’t land right. And it’s possible that nothing about this episode will. Regardless, I’ll make this attempt anyway. Today’s episode is going to feature two anime series. Pokémon, like I hinted at in the opening, and a lesser known show called Hetalia. So we have something fairly common versus something that feels akin to a cult classic. And you’re probably wondering if any of this is going to work, but I guess you’re going to have to keep listening for that.


            On one hand you have, this phenomenon. You see, Pokémon is something you’ve probably heard of. Especially in the aftermath of Pokémon Go and the initial chaos surrounding it. But the television show, or most if not all of its iterations, followed Ash Ketchum on his many misadventures in the course of becoming or trying to become a Pokémon master. Let’s not focus on his fail rate despite the temptation. Look, we all know that it’s not easy. Even for the best, never mind the best intentioned. And I’ll just leave it at that. No need for any extra shade. If that’s what you heard, of course. That’s definitely not what I meant. Definitely.

            On the other hand, you have Hetalia. Which is not so famous and in some ways not so straight forward. The easiest way to explain the premise of Hetalia is to bring up the question: “What if all the countries of the world were cute boys? And a few cute girls? And we put the emphasis on Italy because he loves pasta and is kind of useless and that’s going to make for some great humor?” Which is still not a great explanation. Because it ignores how much of it is lighthearted plays to stereotypes and the way the ongoing history of conflict between England and France is reduced to unresolved sexual tension. Or that America and Canada apparently look alike but no one knows who Canada is. Somehow.

            It’s complicated. And it gets worse when you actually watch the show and realize that there isn’t exactly a plot.

            It’s not a somewhat serial narrative like Pokémon is but an episodic one. And even Pokémon isn’t exactly serial, but you know Ash need to achieve a certain set of things as he goes to a specific place. Hetalia is quite a different beast. There is an occasional overlap or running gag, but it goes from being set in the battle fields of World War One to the personified representatives of all the countries being students at a boarding school. And, like, at one point all the countries are cats running a conference. And then there’s that whole thing with America’s storage closet that’s just… I mean, I can only recommend skipping that segment unless you like profound frustration. In which case, you have other things to be worried about. Why do you like profound frustration?

            Other than that, you should watch Hetalia. Because it’s a fun romp through the absurd. A very, very enjoyable one at that. But here we are.

            And here is me highlighting the key difference between these shows. As in, the difference that makes this episode so ill-advised. Pokémon is about a journey or several, and Hetalia is about living in the moment.

            Like I said, however, this isn’t about the shows so much as it is about the larger journey. And that seemed a little corny. Apologies.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)


            Pokémon the animated series came out in the late nineties, during what feels like the pinnacle of my childhood. But I might be misremembering all of that. The details aren’t so clear. Because childhood and because—despite my mother’s best efforts—I was a bit late to that party. Look, my mom focused on movies, which Pokémon wasn’t right away.

            At first, I only felt the undercurrent of this cultural roar. Enough to make some sense of it. I knew the basics: that it was a show with a card game. That much was pretty quickly conveyed because of the marketing component. The rest…. Well, I didn’t get that until my childhood best friend took an interest in it. I’ve talked about her in the past. We called her A then, so we can call her A, now.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            If you want to trace the spread of this phenomenon throughout my hometown to find something akin to a source, I’m not sure I can help you with that. Pokémon just hit the scene where I was growing up. In our case, it was very, very gradual. It might have never even hit critical mass, I mean. And I’m not even sure how A could have gotten into it when it just didn’t hit our school yard that forcefully.

            I think it started with A’s Girl Scout troop. Or maybe her basketball team. I’m not sure. But I’m pretty confident it didn’t happen at school. I say that as best friends go, we got really lucky. We were in the same classes, and we got recess together. And then, on top of that, we went to each other’s houses about every other week, alternating between homes. Though she always preferred going over to my house because I was an only child. And yeah, sibling rivalry-slash-drama and all that.

But one day it my turn to go over to her place, and while I was there, she pulled out her Pokémon card collection.

            I don’t remember what she said about them or how she explained them to me. Because she didn’t play the game so much as she just collected the cards and watched the TV show. Which… yeah I don’t understand it much, either. Because when you consider that the show’s catchphrase is “gotta catch ‘em all,” it feels a little… I don’t know not a great thing to do. Like I understand the general appeal of collection, but in this specific context, we ever want to admit to being THAT susceptible to a marketing pitch? I mean, obviously, it’s inherently wrong; it’s just this specific context when it doesn’t seem like they put all that much effort into being that subtle. I mean, it can be a bit off-putting as it forces us to admit that we aren’t as in control of ourselves and our commercial choices as we want to be.

            But none of that might mean anything because, yeah, I did collect the card too. I was super into it, actually. But that’s jumping ahead in this story.

            To pull it back, A pulled out her large binder full of Pokémon cards and started to explain all the different types. Or, at least, I think she did. I don’t remember that moment all that clearly. It only comes to me in flashes, and that’s a pity when you consider how badly I want to remember each and every one of those moments we spend together. Because remembering is a form of holding on. And you’ll see why that’s so relevant shortly. If you haven’t already figured it out.

            A pulled out the many duplicate cards she had accumulated over this endeavor and created a nice little starter pack for me. In my mind, she was smiling when she gave them to me. But who knows if that’s right. I mean, she was always smiling. And this was the start of our own little journey together. A Pokémon journey.

            Maybe she was the Ash to whoever I was. I don’t know. Ash Ketchum has had so many companions over the years it’s hard to keep track if you’re only half-heartedly watching or checking in on the franchise from time to time. Which… yeah, I play Pokémon Go from time to time, but in my defense, a couple of my coworkers are super into it and our office has a gym right out front. That I like to steal from them because I’m kind of a jerk.

            Pokémon became a large part of my childhood because, for several years, it was a major part of my friendship with A, and she did define my childhood. Because I can’t remember what it was like to not have her as a friend. We met when we were five. We picked a date in January to be our friendship anniversary even though, looking back that definitely couldn’t have been the right day.

            Pokémon was something we did together in the face of the many other activities we had to do separately. We’d spend hours comparing cards and trading. It was pretty easy to get them considering my grandmother would give me the occasional dollar for good grades, and I never spent that money on anything else. Then there were birthdays and holidays and any gift giving occasion

            Did we want to be Pokémon masters? Kind of. We wanted to collect all the cards as a sort of end goal. That’s just part of the game.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            But Hetalia was… Well it was a small mark on my college years, but it’s the kind of a mark that draws attention to itself. One day, I was sitting in my dorm room with my roommate and our dear friend-slash-adopted freshman. We were largely working, and I mean that. We actually were able to work in the same space without severely distracting each other.

            Of course, that didn’t not last forever.

            I think I was halfway through my Italian exercises when the subject came up. By then, we had all gone through quite a bit of that traditional sharing of information or act of disclosure that comes with the formation of a friendship, so this dear friend-slash-adopted freshman… Let’s call her L in honor of her Starbucks name... felt pretty confident making a recommendation this absurd.

            At some point, L and I had discussed our mutual love for anime. I don’t remember when, but I’m not as dismayed by that fact as I am when it comes to A. Partially because L is still a big part of my life to this day. But the point is that we talked about anime, about our love for the unique kind of hilarity therein and our openness to explore the shows that can be a bit more niche or fringe.

            So with the final piece being my interest in Italian, L recommended Hetalia to me, which at the time was on Netflix. So she pulled over my laptop that admittedly had Netflix up strictly as a motivational tool and typed it into the search bar. And yeah… I had hit the point where I wasn’t going to get anything else done that night anyway, so whatever.

            And my word, from that opening scene where Italy breaks the seriousness of the moment by yelling PASTA over several seconds is the best representation of that show. And with each episode being about five minutes, it’s easy to build up a momentum and stick with it until you have binged far more than you should have.

            But that doesn’t mean the show goes anywhere. I mean, it’s a journey, yeah, but in the metaphorical sense. The show itself doesn’t really go anywhere.

            And that doesn’t mean I have stopped watching it. In fact, whenever I visit L we end up watching an entire season in one night. Only to pass out afterwards and sleep through every alarm we have set for ourselves. We call it a Hetalia-coma. (Pause). And we never said that was a good word for it.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Pokémon isn’t that much a part of my life anymore. There’s the phone game yes, but other than that, maybe I’ll watch the occasional Game Theory episode on the subject, but that’s it. All the cards I’ve accumulated are still at my mom’s house. Or I think they are. If she gave them away, well, I don’t actually care as much as I probably should. But also, I never finished the basic 150 original Pokémon set. So there’s that.

            A also isn’t so much a part of my life. And if it turns out she’s listening to this. Hi… This is a little awkward and surprising, but I guess it’s nice to have you here. You have to admit that we live in different cities now and the distance is hard. And we quickly run out of things to talk about when we do get together once we get through work stories, cats, our families, and the weather. Then again, there are the multi-level marketing exploits of the people we used to know in high school who are only reaching out to us in a state of desperation. But hopefully that stops being a thing.

            I’m not happy about this. It’s an unfortunate part of our life journeys that we got taken in different directions.

            But even Ash Ketchum and his companions are each on their own journeys. They just happen to line up for a few episodes, but that couldn’t last forever.

            In so far as there is a lesson to be learned from Pokémon the animated series—which you might not think is true. Maybe you think this is all about merchandise. And to that, I say fair enough. But the stories we encounter can mesh with our own, creating new ones. So, in so far as there is a lesson to be learned from Pokémon the animated series, it is that the journey of life is one that comes not just with ups and downs but also with different people at the various stages in your life. People come and go in your life because—really—even if you are in the spotlight of your own life, everyone is the main character of their own stories, and they’ll be led in different directions as their plots demand.  

            It’s great when you can come together, but that’s not going to be a permanent arrangement.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Honestly, of all the lessons or takeaways I will ever discuss on this show, that one might be the hardest or the most unsettling for me. Because given my personal history, there’s obviously going to be an inclination to want to hold onto people. After all, I didn’t get to go through the normal losses of childhood that teach you how to process less that come when friends move schools or a teacher has to go on maternity leave in the middle of the year. And I don’t even know if that last one is in technically normal. I just… I just didn’t have that.

            My dad was sickly. So for me, loss equaled death. Death included a deep pain for whoever survived the person. And that pain was a weight I wasn’t sure how to bear.

            Add to that, A visited me when I was keeping vigil over him at the hospital, and that A was the only friend who was there to support me at his memorial service-slash-funeral. I don’t know why the difference meant so much to me at the time, but she put up with it. In this, it was clear to me that I could always len on her. And I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if that crutch was taken.

            But then our journeys kept going, bringing us to the crossroad that was college, also known as that moment when I was given a chance to leave Arizona to find some shred of my own happiness or a happiness that came on my own terms. Of course I took it. But she had all that there in Arizona, so obviously she had to stay.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Admittedly, even if I was happy to leave Arizona, once I was good I still thought about it. I still missed the parts of my life there that was good. Which highlighted the movement of my life. After all, I was moving away from it, despite my attempts to hold on. And handling those memories over and over again was only causing them to fall apart. I was lost. I was hurting. But I couldn’t stop moving. There was another class. Another assignment. Another dream to pursue. Not even that. There was always the knowledge that I couldn’t go bacj to Arizona

            It wasn’t really movement. It wasn’t really a journey. It was… It was looking back at one that already happened and wondering how it was I got here.

            Meanwhile there was Hetalia. Or meanwhile once I got to my sophomore year. A show that was largely without meaning but still joyful. And what’s interesting is that—from what I understand—the name “hetalia” is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for Italy and the endearing form of the words “useless” or “pathetic.” Which is accurate to the Italy character in the show.

            But to be fair, show Italy isn’t really useless. Like he could do things if he put his mind to it, but part of the joke is that he doesn’t see the point. He’s too busy enjoying what’s in front of him. Much to Germany’s chagrin, but even that then goes off the rails somehow in a later season. It’s… it’s all weird and unexpected.

            Hetalia is about living in the moment. Simple as that. In fact, once again, calling it a lesson in anyway is going to seem misguided at best. Because watching this show can make you worry that your brain is actually melting. It’s not, but you have to doubt your understanding of reality once you know that this show is capable of existing. But yes, that’s the lesson of the show. After all, as useless as the shows main character can be, he still makes people happy. Both in the show’s universe and outside of it.

            It’s worth noting that once I got to college, my forward momentum—by some standards—had stopped. Or not really stopped. It just wasn’t as frantic as it had been in the past. Because I wasn’t stuck in a place where I wasn’t happy anymore. Instead, I had found a place where I could safely grow into myself, trusting that acceptance would follow in the circle of people I had accumulated around myself.

            It wasn’t easy to settle down and think of this new place as home, but it was inevitable in so many ways. After all, with enough laughter, any place can become home.

            When you consider all the hijinks Italy gets into the show, it makes me wonder where it is I got to this conclusion. I mean, I doubt ideas could ever develop in a bubble. At least, I don’t think it’s possible. But who knows? To source every idea someone has had would take a lifetime of dissection, which is just not practical. But then again, people don’t live in bubbles, so that’s a point to my suspicions, I guess.

            But you can argue that either way until you are blue in the face. The question is: what does that get you? A sense of pride if you turn out to be right about the argument even having an end to it rather than dragging on. Maybe the real question is, what are you missing out on if you get too focused on achievements or journeys or anything of that sort: hose things we are taught to strive for least we be (in an endearing way) pathetic and useless.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            L and I live in different cities now. But we still text each other plenty of Hetalia jokes and other things. I’m not sure what set this relationship so far apart from those I have with other people. It’s hard to tell why we held on like we have. Maybe it’s the approach. That in college, we weren’t on such a clear trajectory to different places. So our relationships didn’t necessarily have to be casualties of a so-called journey.

            Comparing these two friendships raises a lot of questions for me. First and foremost, if I in anyway regret the twists and turns of my life, which—while an inevitable question—is not a fair one to ask. Though that then brings up concerns about how much control we have in our lives.

            The latter question is more interesting to me. To it, I would, yes, things are going to happen to us. And there will be challenges we need to push through and overcome. There will be battles. There will be losses. All of that will hit you at critical moments in your journey. But in the face of setback or victories, you can chose to be joyful, and that seems like a platitude or it sounds like one I heard a lot when my dad died. But I don’t mean it to be so let me backpedal real hard right now.

            Think about a Miyazaki film and the utmost care given to the framing mundane activities that shows how beautiful they really are. No matter what is going on in your life, there is still beauty in the day to day that should be embraced. Hetalia takes that to an extreme. Then again, laughter is incredibly important. It’s like—well—a critical but unrecognized component to air.

            Admittedly, it became hard to laugh with A from time to time especially before I left. My fault entirely. I was carrying a lot of pain and didn’t unload that burden until I got to college. And then we just weren’t seeing each other. And now we’ve drifted so far from each other that yelling across this gap is… Well, it isn’t all that feasible. Then again, I’m not sure what revisionist history could somehow keep us together from across a country. Long distance relationships can be done, but before you invest, you should probably do a cost-benefit analysis.

            And I don’t know what benefits I could offer A when I look at how different our lives have turned out. But I think we’re both happy. And isn’t that the point?

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Oh hey, I’ve still got that new audio drama. The Oracle of Dusk. It’s a story that’s really important to me. So maybe you want to give it a try while you’re here?

Here’s another trailer. Find it wherever you are currently listening to my voice.


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Trailer 4

(Beep. Music fades in)

I can't make you listen. I can't make you do anything. If I am a guide, then you are my client. And you are free to ignore me at any time. And you will ignore me. When it becomes too much for you to bear. And then you will come back when the curiosity tips the scale the other way.

I am here for you. It's hard to believe that when we don't even know each other's names. When we didn't chose to work together.

I can't fix much. Call me Delphi.

Now return the favor. And tell me. (Music cuts) Are you listening? (Music fades in)

(Music fades out. Beep.)