Happy holidays, everyone, and welcome back to Eight Nights of Deus ex Machina, where we celebrate holiday miracles with pop culture and literary devices. If you missed the first night and want to know a little more about Deus ex Machina, be sure to check it out here!
It’s the second night of Chanukkah, and tonight we’re unpacking a childhood favorite— Pokemon: The First Movie. (This will contain spoilers for the end of the first Pokemon movie, if the internet hasn’t collectively spoiled it for you yet.)
Night Two: Pokemon: The First Movie
Before we get into the Deus ex Machina aspect of this film, let’s package up the main body of the narrative in as short of a summary as possible:
In the beginning of the movie, a team of scientists works hard to genetically clone and “improve” an ancient pokemon called Mew. The result is a super-powerful, hyper-intelligent pokemon that they call Mewtwo. Immediately disenchanted with the world it was brought into, Mewtwo proceeds to destroy the facility, kill the scientists, and start a quest to replace real pokemon with genetically modified creations of its own.
In order to realize its quest, Mewtwo invites a collection of pokemon trainers to its island (including Pokemon’s central protagonist, Ash) and traps them there with their pokemon. When Mewtwo’s natural-born counterpart, Mew, shows up, Mewtwo launches everyone into a battle to the death between the genetically modified and natural-born pokemon.
Watching the ruthless battle unfold, Ash grows desperate to end the violence and charges in to end the battle, throwing himself in between Mew and Mewtwo just in time to be caught between two massive energy blasts. The energy balls meet in an explosion that rocks the island and disrupts the surrounding battles, allowing the exhausted and injured pokemon to rest momentarily. When the dust settles, Ash collapses and turns to stone for… dramatic magic reasons (possibly because being blown up wouldn’t have been as easy to fix…).
The natural and lab-born pokemon watch on as Ash’s heroic little buddy, Pikachu, tries in vain to revive him with repeated thunderbolt attacks. It becomes more and more obvious with each failed attempt that there is no reversing whatever just happened. Pikachu begins to cry. And for some reason, all of the other pokemon begin to cry, even the genetically modified ones. They all appear to feel deep sorrow at losing this human that they only met several hours ago in such a frightful way (while writing this, I’ve come up with a number of possible explanations, but I won’t elaborate because they’re never specifically mentioned in the film).
Miraculously, the pokemon tears fly across the field and collect on Ash’s stone body, returning him from the grave just when all hope was lost! Nobody can believe what just happened! They’re so stunned, in fact, that they don’t even question it and move on with their lives. Mewtwo realizes that killing the natural pokemon was wrong, releases all of its prisoners, and flies off with its genetically modified buddies to start a new life somewhere else.
As mentioned on night one, there are a number of stories out there that use sudden and unexplained magic to save the day much like this film. The writers could have easily worked magic pokemon tears into the film earlier on, and then it wouldn’t have been Deus ex Machina. Someone could have told a legend about pokemon tears bringing someone or something back from the dead, or walked past an ancient carving that showed something similar. None of that happened, however, making this event Deus ex Machina.
Now, admittedly, it is vaguely mentioned once in the beginning of the dub that pokemon tears are thought to have life in them, but it is only a vague mention that is never elaborated on or thought of again, and doesn’t occur in the original Japanese dialogue.
I’m not suggesting that there’s anything inherently wrong with Deus ex Machina. Some people love it, and others feel like it is overdone and a sign of weak or lazy writing. Whether you feel that it is a weak device, or delight in the satisfaction of the unexpected, Deus ex Machina can be a useful tool for writers in every genre and medium.
And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!