Pokémon and Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet (Act II, Scene II): “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Centuries later, the creators of the Pokémon: Indigo League anime series made an episode titled, “Island of the Giant Pokémon”. In this, Team Rocket’s Pokémon Ekans and Koffing defend their actions against Ash Ketchum’s partners, claiming that they are not bad–rather, their human trainers are.

These two scenes, despite being from distinct media and stories, are related. Both deal with morality, without explicit use of the term “evil”. Hamlet says to Rosencrantz that morality is merely relative to a given observer’s subjective perception and interpretation. Team Rocket’s Pokémon have a somewhat distinct take: they state that good and evil are determined by particular kinds of beings, i.e., authoritative humans.

It is we who have the power to attach ethical valence to actions (or even things, e.g. the atomic bomb); yet we also are characterized by said valences, ourselves. To quote Rafael from the Yu-Gi-Oh! Season 4 dub, speaking to the Pharaoh of Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle: “Are you good? Or, are you evil?” This becomes the question for each of us to wrestle with.

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