Ah, yes, the wonderful world of Pokémon. A certain app released last month has kicked 90s nostalgia into high gear and made us all hyper-aware of those good ol’ pocket monsters once again.
But there has always been a darker side to this world.
Like most franchises with any kind of internet fandom, Pokémon has a list of bizarre (and even bizarrely plausible) conspiracy theories several miles long. I’m not going to get into the hypothetical war that killed off an entire generation of adults in the Pokémon world or Ash’s mysterious eternal youthfulness, though.
This one comes straight from this source — the Pokédex itself.
Allow me to introduce my buddy Yamask.
For the large majority who stopped paying attention after the first couple hundred Pokémon, Yamask is a ghost-type Pokémon introduced in the fifth generation of games, Pokémon Black and White, which came out in 2010. It lives — or, well, doesn’t live — in some desert ruins with a distinctly Egyptian flavor. This influence becomes even more obvious when it evolves into Cofagrigus, a haunted sarcophagus.
All of that is a little weird when you consider that the region of Pokémon Black and White is based on the USA, but historical accuracy might be a bit much to ask of a game that’s about capturing superpowered fantasy creatures in extradimensional baseballs and forcing them to fight for your entertainment. So, okay.
What’s important here is that Yamask is ghost-type.
Ghost happens to be my favorite Pokémon type, and it’s always been a little bit weird. The first Pokémon game features a very creepy town with a tower full of Pokémon tombstones. That’s already a little uncomfortable for the player, because by that point in the game you will have noticed that your Pokémon do not die when they’re defeated in battle. Now, suddenly you are confronted with their mortality. Pokémon die, just… presumably of old age or sickness? It’s not really clear.
What is clear is that this tower is chock full of ghosts, and by ghosts I mean ghost-type Pokémon — Gastly, mostly.
So… when your Pikachu keels over, does its spirit just… become a Gastly? Do all other Pokémon become ghost-type Pokémon when they die? Only some of them?
What about Pokémon eggs, though? Ghost-type Pokémon can breed. A Gastly that hatches from an egg is already a ghost-type. By the above logic, they’re born dead.
Sure, that’s pretty creepy — or sad, depending on how you look at it — but what does it mean for a unified theory of Pokémon mortality? None of these questions seem to have concrete answers in the Pokémon world. And this is just the beginning, the strange stage set for all ghost-types.
According to the Pokédex, it’s a pure ghost-type, further classified as a “Spirit Pokémon.” Nothing unexpected. It then goes on to clarify, depending on whether you are playing Black or White version.
In White version, the Pokédex says:
These Pokémon arose from the spirits of people interred in graves in past ages. Each retains memories of its former life.
Well… huh? People? That’s, uh, kinda weird. Let’s see what the Black version Pokédex says:
Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry.
holy shit what the fuck what the actual fuck
Let me get this straight. This is a Pokémon — a ghost Pokémon — that not only used to be a human being, but remembers its life as a human being and is sapient enough to mourn the loss of that life.
Take a minute. Just imagine that. Imagine living and loving and knowing who you are — imagine a life. Then, one day, imagine all of that gone. Your only keepsake is your face, now nothing but a mask. And when you try to voice your pain — on the remarkable off-chance that you see another person down in that abandoned ruin you call home — all that comes out of your mouth is, “Yamask.”
This is a being who has experienced life as a human and death as a Pokémon.
Given what we know about its intelligence, it’s not too much of a stretch to guess that it understands the difference between being human and being a Pokémon.
And that’s where things get really dark.
Remember the premise of this game? Yamask isn’t just a piece of set dressing — it’s not just allowed to exist and go on with its life.
You have to catch them all.
In fact — if you’re reading that Pokédex entry, you already have. Congratulations, it might as well say, you just captured a tortured human soul in an extradimensional baseball. Have fun forcing it to fight for your entertainment.
Pocket monsters my ass. You’re the real monster, Ash.