Pokemon Movies Retrospective: Arceus – To a Conquering Space-Time (2009)

Arceus uses its signature attack, Judgment, to rain chaos down on humanity. How will our heroes stop the end of the world?

Arceus uses its signature attack, Judgment, to rain chaos down on humanity. How will our heroes stop the end of the world?

 

This is an entry in the Pokemon Movies Retrospective

Movie #12: Arceus and the Jewel of Life

“The time has come! The humans…must accept my judgment!” – Arceus (Japanese dub)

The twelfth film of the Diamond and Pearl subseries, Arceus and the Jewel of Life, known in Japan as  「アルセウス 超克時空へ」(lit. “Arceus: To a Conquering Space-Time”), launched in Japanese theaters on July 18, 2009 and in America via Cartoon Network a few months later on November 20, 2009. The movie trilogy encompassing the stories of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina comes to a close with this film and marks the debut of the trio’s master, Arceus, a Pokemon so ancient it is said to have created all time and space. How will this story about these primordial Pokemon come to a close? Let’s take a look and find out.

Click here to open the plot summary

Satoshi (Ash Ketchum), Takeshi (Brock), and Hikari (Dawn)’s journey finds them in Michina Town, a land flourishing with nature. The local residents suggested the group take a look at Michina’s famous ruins. Along the way, the group stop by a lake to rest, but a wormhole appears, sucking into it the water from the lake. The group attempts to run, but Satoshi’s Pikachu and Hikari’s Piplup are caught by the vacuum.

Before Pikachu and Piplup are swallowed by the wormhole, a woman named Sheena appears on the scene. Sheena calls forth a mysterious power and summons Dialga, who under her orders, not only saves Pikachu and Piplup, but seals the wormhole before the damage spreads further. Before they can ask any questions about who she is, Giratina appears from the lake’s surface through a new portal. Still enraged at Dialga and Palkia for damaging the Reverse World, Giratina begins to attack Dialga.

To stop the fighting, Sheena begins to channel a mysterious power to communicate with Giratina and calm it down, but Giratina’s rage prevents her power from working. Meanwhile, Satoshi and Pikachu throw themselves in between the fighting to get Giratina’s attention. Giratina, remembering that Satoshi and Pikachu helped stop Zero from destroying the Reverse World, calms down to prevent harm from coming to them. Sheena takes the opportunity to once again establish communication with the now calm Giratina. She succeeds in conveying her thoughts to Giratina, stopping the conflict with Dialga. The two Pokemon return to their respective dimensions, leaving the group and Sheena behind.

After the two Pokemon depart, Hikari asks Sheena about her mysterious power. Sheena explains that her mysterious ability allows her to communicate directly with the hearts of Pokemon. She also explains to the group that she and her partner, Kevin, are also guardians of Michina Town’s ruins. Sensing that the travelling trio have a close relationship with Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina, she takes them deeper into the ruins where she explains the cause of all the conflict between these three primordial Pokemon. 

In the ancient past, life on earth was on the brink of extinction by a meteor set on a collision course with the planet. In order to save the earth, Arceus stopped the meteor and destroyed it, but in the process the Life Plates that give Arceus its strength were ejected from its body and scattered across the land. A man named Damos, Sheena’s ancestor from this distant past, took it upon himself to restore Arceus’ strength by finding the sixteen Life Plates and returning them to Arceus. Besides maintaining Arceus’ life force, each of these Life Plates corresponds to the basic Pokemon types, granting it protection from attacks so long as it has the corresponding plate.

In return for saving its life, Arceus forged five of its Life Plates into a gem called the Jewel of Life and gave it to Damos, telling him to use it to restore life to the land ruined by the collateral damage from the meteor. Damos was meant to return the Jewel of Life to Arceus on an appointed day during a solar eclipse, but according to history, Damos betrayed Arceus, stealing the jewel for himself and heavily wounding Arceus in the process. Arceus returned to its home dimension to recover from its wounds, but vowed that it will return to bring judgment upon humankind.

Sheena and Kevin took it upon themselves to guard the ruins and researched just when Arceus would return back to earth. Sheena explained that Arceus has only recently recovered its strength, and its rage is affecting time and space itself, causing the dimensions of Dialga and Palkia to intersect, and by extension causing great damage to the Reverse World where Giratina resides. Sheena hopes to atone for what her ancestor did, and to do so she tracked down the Jewel of Life itself that Damos stole in the past, intending to return it to Arceus when it returns to earth. 

Right on cue, Sheena’s equipment detected that Arceus is warping in to their dimension. As it makes its way to the ruins, Arceus uses its signature ability, Judgment, to rain down a storm of energy upon the town. Sheena rushes outside with the Jewel of Life, and offers it to Arceus apologizing for her ancestor’s mistake. However, Arceus crushes the Jewel of Life underneath its foot, revealing that the jewel that Sheena’s been guarding this whole time was a fake. 

With his rage rekindled, Arceus once more begins to destroy the town, starting with these ruins where it was first deceived by Damos. Sheena attempts to soothe Arceus’ anger by communicating with its heart, but just like with Giratina, Arceus’ anger is too strong to listen. 

Just as Sheena and the rest of the group are about to be destroyed by Arceus’ Judgment, Dialga and Palkia warp in from their respective dimensions to stop Arceus’ attack. The two Pokemon attempt to subdue Arceus with their own attacks, but although Arceus is missing five of the plates it used to create the Jewel of Life, the remaining plates prove enough to repel their attacks. Giratina also joins to help Dialga and Palkia, but even with their combined powers, they are no match for Arceus. 

In a desperate last effort to calm Arceus’ anger, Dialga sends the group back in time to the day before Arceus was betrayed by Damos. There, the crew is captured by the soldiers lead by Damos’ second, Gishin (English: Marcus), who tells his Bronzong to subdue the group using a Hypnosis attack. Sheena manages to avoid the Hypnosis, and pleads for an audience with Gishin, who agrees after her claims that she knows what will happen when Arceus returns.

After Satoshi, Takeshi, and Hikari come to, they find themselves in a jail cell with Pikachu and Piplup removed to a different holding cell for Pokemon. In the cell, the group find Damos himself confined and acting very different from the way Sheena described. Takeshi figures out quickly that Gishin must be pulling the strings and forced Damos to do his bidding via his Bronzong’s Hypnosis. The group tells Damos everything they know about his betrayal, whilst Damos in turn tells them the full story of how Arceus saved the earth and how the land was restored.

Meanwhile, Sheena also conveys to Gishin the happenings of the future, where she tells him how Damos in the legend stopped Arceus using a horde of Electric-type Pokemon, one of the plate types that Arceus gave up. However, she does note that Arceus did awaken and returned after his woulds were healed. Gishin, hearing this, came up with a new plan to kill Arceus for good by trapping it underneath mounds of “silver water” (basically liquid cement) and suffocating it.

At around the same time, Pikachu and Piplup managed to escape their jail cell with help from a native Pichu, who led them around the grounds. Along the way, they free a few of the captured Pokemon slaving under Gishin’s rule and locate the keys to the jail cell where Damos and the rest of the crew are being held. Pikachu, Piplup, and Pichu deliver the keys to Damos who, with help from his still-loyal guard, Tapp, open the cell doors and escape.

However, by this point, Arceus already made its way down to the temple to reclaim the Jewel of Life and Gishin put his plan into motion. Using Sheena as the representative in place of Damos, he lures Arceus deeper into the temple and then, like in Sheena’s vision, uses electric-type Pokemon attacks to subdue Arceus, knocking it into a large pit which he commands his soldiers to fill with the silver water. Like in Sheena’s timeline, Arceus flies into a rage, angry that Damos betrayed him, but because of the silver water hardening around its body, Arceus is unable to move. 

While Damos and Takeshi make their way to Sheena’s side to save Arceus, Satoshi and Hikari make a beeline for Gishin to reclaim the Jewel of Life. Thanks to the efforts of the Pokemon Pichu, Pikachu and Piplup freed along the way, they stop Gishin’s Heatran and Bronzong and Satoshi manages to snatch the jewel from Gishin’s hand. Damos and Sheena use their combined powers to reach out to the hearts of the electric-type Pokemon, and convince them to stop attacking Arceus.

But, when they try to reach out to Arceus itself, Arceus flies into an even deeper rage, rejecting their combined efforts to communicate. Its rage is so fierce that even when Satoshi hands it the Jewel of Life, Arceus does not respond. Suddenly, Satoshi, Sheena, Takeshi, and Hikari’s bodies all begin to disintegrate. Gishin triumphantly exclaims that Arceus is slowly dying, and without Arceus around, there is no future where the group needs to be sent to the past. 

Damos, in order to save Arceus, tries once more by himself this time to communicate with Arceus’ heart. Though the resistance Arceus’ anger puts up is fierce, Damos manages to reach Arceus, just in time before everyone is erased from the timeline. Finally calm once more, Arceus accepts the Jewel of Life Satoshi held before him. With fully restored powers, Arceus breaks free of the silver water and thanks the group for saving its life. 

With their task completed, the group is returned to their present time thanks to Dialga’s power. At first glance, it appeared that nothing from the past changed the future. However, before striking the last blow to Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina, Arceus sees Satoshi and Pikachu out of the corner of its eye, recognizing them from the past. In this instant, time froze and history corrected itself, repairing the damage caused by Arceus’ rampage. When the flow of time returns, Arceus comes to its senses, realizing that all of its Life Plates have returned to him. 

Once again, Arceus thanks Sheena, Satoshi, Takeshi, and Hikari for returning the Jewel of Life to him and stopping his rampage in the past during Damos’ time. As Arceus and the other three primordial Pokemon depart back to their respective dimensions, Arceus reflects back and says how wonderful this world is.

The temple Damos built to honor Arceus. It's got nice Greco-Roman motifs!

The temple Damos built to honor Arceus. It’s got nice Greco-Roman motifs!

Remember Mew and the Hero of the Wave: Lucario? The part of that movie I loved the most was that it explored the history of the Pokemon universe, that is to say Pokemon in ancient times, not just in the contemporary. Lucario gave us just a small taste of what we could see in the Pokemon universe. In Lucario, we saw what the world of Pokemon was like back in the times of castles and knights and princesses that rule over the land.

We saw a grittier reality where Pokemon were used as weapons of war, where not everything was peaceful and nice with frivolous luxuries like Pokemon Beauty Contests or highly regulated battles. Unfortunately, that’s all we got: a small taste. It didn’t go very much in-depth with that world at all and it left me a bit disappointed.

A guard watches over the Pokemon working in the kitchen while Pikachu, Pichu, and Piplup sneak around in the back.

A guard watches over the Pokemon working in the kitchen while Pikachu, Pichu, and Piplup sneak around in the back.

Thankfully, Arceus: To a Conquering Space-Time (hereby Arceus) delivers views of Pokemon history in spades. The better three quarters of this film takes place in the far distant past in a civilization that takes a lot of cues from ancient Greece and Rome. Through snippets in the film, we got to see a world before mankind’s established nations, when towns and cities were first built. More importantly, we get to see a world before the invention of the Pokeball or regular acceptance of Pokemon as friends and companions.

We see Pokemon working throughout the film as servants to the humans in an almost slavelike existence. Subjugated with restrictive harnesses and collars, the humans clearly didn’t consider the Pokemon friends and partners. In fact, in this world, Pokemon were treated no better than wild beasts (they’re actually called “magical creatures” in this time) and feared about the same as one too!

When some of the Pokemon in the film were released from their collars, the soldier such as the one in the picture above became quite afraid. And, when Satoshi, Sheena, and the rest first dropped into the time period, Gishin pacified them and brought them into a jail cell using a Hypnosis attack from his Bronzong. This was clearly an age when Pokemon were little understood and people didn’t yet know just how powerful they are or how they could be abused.

Arceus with all 16 of its Life Plates.

Arceus with all 16 of its Life Plates.

One thing I was particularly surprised about was how well the film portrayed Arceus, its titular Pokemon. I mentioned in the review for Darkrai that this Diamond and Pearl generation of games was my least favorite of them all. I could never wrap my head around the idea that the being responsible for all life, all space, and all time is a mere Pokemon that could be shoved into a tiny mechanical ball.

Thankfully, I never had to deal with any of that inconsistency in this film. Arceus’ portrayal reminded me a lot of myths and tales from ancient stories, particularly those of ancient Greece and Rome. This makes sense considering the motif of this ancient civilization, but I digress.

Gishin, the true mastermind behind Damos' betrayal, holding the Jewel of Life.

Gishin, the true mastermind behind Damos’ betrayal, holding the Jewel of Life.

Though an incredibly powerful primordial being, Arceus is shown to have very human emotions and possesses a clear weakness, much like the gods in ancient myths. Heck, the movie’s plot and the story behind Arceus’ unbridled anger at humanity flows very much like one too. A human helps Arceus recover its strength, Arceus helps the human by sharing some of its power, the human betrays Arceus for his own selfishness.

Simple, yes, but again, those old myths are never particularly complicated themselves. Even some of the weirder details such as Arceus being thwarted by liquid cement (laughably called “silver water”) felt right, despite their strangeness. When you compare that to stories about gods birthing from the cut open thighs of their parents (the birth story of Zeus), a man who died staring at his own beautiful reflection for eternity (Narcissus), and others, you can appreciate the strange details of this myth-like story.

The Four primordial Pokemon gathered together after Arceus' power is fully restored.

The Four primordial Pokemon gathered together after Arceus’ power is fully restored.

All of this comes at no cost to its narrative. After I finished watching Arceus, there were no loose ends I could find that didn’t get tied up. Everything I wanted to know about what’s happened throughout the trilogy was answered by the end of Arceus, from why Dialga and Palkia were fighting in the first place, to Giratina’s involvement in the whole ordeal. In fact, in the post-credits sequence, we’re treated to short clips of the characters we met in the previous two films, as well as Darkrai and Shaymin. Arceus is both a delight on its own, and it provides a satisfying end to a movie trilogy. I haven’t felt this satisfied watching the final movie in a trilogy since Return of the Jedi.

Next time, we’ll finish up the final film in the Diamond and Pearl subseries, Zoroark: Master of Illusions. Stay tuned folks, and get ready to welcome in the next wave of Pokemon films!

 

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