If you gauge a world’s safety by how often a new terrorist group arises, then the Pokémon world might be the most hazardous place in the universe. Every few months, a new team with a new grandiose name (I’m not sure what Team “Plasma” is supposed to mean, but it sounds cool) pops up to threaten existence itself, and it’s up to fourth graders to stop them. Luckily for those 10-year-olds, Pokémon terrorists are good at their jobs in the same way that putting a bucket on my head makes me a good Robocop. They’re terrible at everything, so it was pretty easy to find five Pokémon terrorist plots that fall apart before you can say, “Prepare for trouble.”
Team Rocket really wants to sell animal parts
Poaching is a subject that doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the Pokémon world, mainly because everyone you meet is downright fanatical about how much they adore Pokémon. You break into people’s houses all day, and the first thing the residents tell you is how great the magical monsters are that outnumber them a trillion to one. They adore them. Plus, I don’t know how much use you’d get out of Pokémon parts. A decent number of Pokémon are made of steel or fire or ACTUAL POISON, and since Pokémon have evolved to survive one another’s lasers, I doubt there’s much comfort to be found in their pelts.
That doesn’t stop Team Rocket, though, who in Red/Blue and Gold/Silver, make two separate efforts to sell Pokemon parts to humans. In Red/Blue, they invade Pokémon Tower to kill Cubone and sell their “valuable” skulls. They’re so invested in this plot that they take an old man hostage at the top of the tower for no reason. What do they want out of him? “Hey, dude that’s 90-years-old. Let us kill more Pokémon.” They could easily just trip the dude and steal skulls to their hearts’ content. But no, apparently they have to kidnap a senior citizen, take him to the top of a massive Pokémon graveyard building, and yell at him until he does nothing.
But aside from that, who is gonna buy these skulls? Certainly no one that I, the protagonist in these games, know. How am I so certain? Well, since I’ve talked to every nonplayable character in the universe, and not one has ever been like “Man, I love Pokémon. But ya’ know what I love more than Pokémon? Their corpses,” that doesn’t leave many potential customers. So the only people that Team Rocket has to sell to is other Team Rocket members. And considering the fact that most of their plans involve marching into casinos and research centers, I’m gonna guess that money might be a little tight for them.
Then, in Gold/Silver, they start chopping off Slowpoke Tails and selling them to the “black market.” But YOU’RE the black market, Team Rocket. Also, on a lighter note, gross. What am I supposed to do with them? I can’t just leave them in my living room to show off to all the 10-year-olds that might drop by. And while the description of them says they are “tasty,” I’m going to look weird chewing on Pokémon when the number one hobby on earth is Pokémon activism.
Team Aqua just wants to make a lake
In Pokémon Sapphire, the main villainous group is Team Aqua, who, aside from being very adept at color schemes, just wants there to be more water. Mind you, they live in Hoenn, an area that is filled with water to a sometimes annoying extent. But who am I to judge? When I have six hot dogs, I usually want more hot dogs. I understand the need for excess.
One of their schemes in Sapphire is stopping a volcano from erupting so that it can be filled with rainwater. If you haven’t guessed by now, this is a very long-term goal. First of all, it’s a volcano, which is both hot and large. So even if you stop an eruption, a lot of the initial water that goes in there is gonna be turned into steam. And even when it’s cooled down entirely, you still have an entire volcano to fill. Mind you, this is before they’ve awakened Kyogre, a legendary water Pokémon, who is surely going to appreciate the pond they spent a decade making for it.
In the Pokémon Adventures manga, it’s established that the heat from the volcano evaporates any water around it. So why not just build your lake elsewhere? Are you that vengeful against heat or the color red that you need to turn a volcano into a water park before you get to your actual plan? Even with all the ocean, there are still plenty of places where you can dig some holes and bring out some garden hoses, all without having to literally perform a reverse volcano procedure. I’m sure Kyogre will be just as happy with a few wading pools around Hoenn as it would be with the spa that you painstakingly prepared for it at the top of a damn mountain.
Team Magma wants more land for no reason
In Pokémon Omega Ruby, the antagonists are Team Magma, led by Maxie, a thin man who looks like he was probably really good in high school theater. He wants to awaken Groudon, a big Ground Pokémon that will create more land mass when it wakes up so that humans have more places to live. That’s their hope: that this Godzilla that’s been asleep for hundreds of years is gonna wake up and instantly become invested in their real estate plans.
Maxie says that humans need to “continue onward and upward,” but he also lives in a world where there are tiny balls in which you can capture dragons forever. And then, if you somehow get bored with owning copious dragons, you can store them in, or trade them through computers. I don’t know if having another few acres on your property is gonna help top that, Maxie. I’m not great at science, but when you have a machine that instantly heals the wounds of the giant predators that you’ve collected and does it for f***ing free, you may have reached the ceiling of human ingenuity.
Also, who is complaining? When I’m struggling through a desert in Hoenn or trudging through the snow in Sinnoh, my thoughts aren’t “You know what this metropolis needs? More desolate nothingness.” This is only Maxie’s problem. There are plenty of unnecessarily open spaces in the Pokémon world, most of them infested with Zubat. Just pick a spot and build a lab there. Plus, you’ll be closer to actual civilization. When you awaken Groudon, you’re just building land way out in the middle of the ocean and hoping that the Pokémon world will be so thankful that you destroyed their beaches that they join your construction cult.
Team Galactic's leader has no chill
In Pokémon Platinum, Cyrus, the leader of Team Galactic, announces “AS THE BOSS OF TEAM GALACTIC…” as if it was ever a secret beforehand. There is no Pokémon terrorist leader that should’ve been arrested as fast as Cyrus. Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket, hides behind his role as a gym leader. Lysandre in Pokémon X/Y just seems like a chipper dude with a great haircut when you first encounter him. And the leaders of Team Aqua and Magma outright tell you what their dumb plans are with enough enthusiasm that almost makes you think they’re kidding. Cyrus, on the other hand, talks to himself in public and then expects you to be in shock whenever he reveals himself as the villain.
When does he first show up? Oh, at Lake Verity, which is a short jog away from the player’s hometown. When you start Platinum, you immediately meet your mom, your best friend, and a guy vaguely threatening legendary Pokémon for no reason. So it’s pretty easy to pick out the dude that might be an asshole later.
I like Cyrus, mainly because of how weird his plan is. He wants to destroy the emotion and spirit in the world by creating a whole new world. I don’t know how he would go about doing that, and I think that Cyrus might not either, especially since he pops back up in Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon to ask a child in swim shorts “IS THIS WORLD THE NEW WORLD?” Usually, Pokémon terrorist plots have a pointless Point A and an irrational Point B, but Cyrus’s goal is a Point A stretched out into infinity. Mainly because most of his plans involve standing beside lakes and in mountains and griping out loud about how he will conquer time and space.
So if I’m playing Pokémon Platinum, I will be even more ready to defeat the main villain than usual, as I met him and heard about his delusional ideas about six seconds into the game.
Team Skull is full of rejects (but in a good way)
Let’s say you failed your Team Rocket entrance exam, you couldn’t pass the Team Magma/Aqua physicals, your psychological evaluation wasn’t up to Team Galactic standards, you couldn’t quite understand the entrance paperwork for Team Plasma, and you slept in and didn’t make it to the Team Flare Career Day. What do you do? Well, you join Team Skull, who are the biggest losers in the Pokémon world, but in a good way.
Team Skull is adorably terrible. They rarely pose a threat to anyone, Pokémon included, and their leader, Guzma, doesn’t explode into extended bits of Pokémon philosophy. Here is how Cyrus would introduce himself in Sun and Moon:
“Ahhh, the light. The heat. I can hear the waves crashing down on the beach… on existence, like the clock ticking down to the end. The end of all things and the beginning of the new. I AM THE NEXT WAVE OF HUMANITY. I AM CYRUS.”
And here is one of Guzma’s actual self-introductions:
“-it’s your boy, Guzma!”
Guzma will never be able to keep up with the other Pokémon terrorist groups and their extended metaphors and thematic weights. He and his clan are just pissed off that they’re not as good as the Pokemon Sun/Moon island Kahunas, and so they kind of lash out at random -- like kids throwing tantrums. And speaking of kids, it’s fitting that near the end of Guzma’s story, he moves back in with his parents to think his life over and maybe go to grad school or something.
People might diss the Sun/Moon games because they lack “importance,” but Team Skull actually makes them stand out. You don’t have a villainous team that is terrible because their plans make no sense. You have a villainous team that was deemed too terrible to probably even be considered to join the bigger villainous team with the plans that make no sense. All of the bad guys that couldn’t cut it in the big leagues wound up in Sun/Moon, waving their arms to an incredibly catchy theme song.
In that way, before the Pokémon franchise moves to the Switch, the final few Sun/Moon games are wrapping up the loose ends of the first era of the series. “You fought some pretty tough guys from Red/Blue to Black 2/White 2. Now find out what happened to the guys that sucked.”