This post (with pictures!) is also available at my blog (More Than Ephemeral Femme) looking at the presentation of female bodies in video games.
My first review of Pokémon Sun/Moon spoke to ideas of colonialism and sexism but made the critical mistake of not addressing these concepts in tandem. Having remarked that the application of the sexist paradigm “that troubles Japan's gender matrix onto the Alolan née Hawaiian people also works towards erasing the strained history between Japan and Hawaii as well as Hawaii and its oppressors,” I actually failed to merge the two concepts (sexism and colonialism) (2016, para. 2). This post, structured on academic discourse, is basically a rant about the passive prominence of Lillie, a main character in the game, as a modern artefact of colonizers upon the indigenous peoples of Hawai’i through a colonized body.
Lillie is one of the newest occupants of the white savior role, not without an added layer of gender politics atop her positionality. In the game, she commenced the main plot by requiring the rescue of the main (almost always male, if the facilitated online Poké community is any indicator) character (Matsumiya et al., 2016). Her story is already that of the damsel, incapable of exploration on her own without male escort. Like the main character, she revealed that she was also a foreigner to the island, her home an invasive laboratory off the coast, marking her part of leisure- and moral-based tourist constants that maintain the nonfictional Hawai’i we know (suddenly applied to a misappropriate Alola). Despite her “ditzy-ness,” she ended up being the unbeknownst savior of Alola, the key to the safety of the world in her (proven again and again) inept hands. After the story, she left the scope of the player forever, not without heteronormative enforcement from the usually chipper and unaffected Hau, both characters around the age of ten (a scene easily analogous to scenes in christian-moralizing films where the Polynesian natives (played as children) are sad to see the stimulating (adult) christians leave). Conceived as wise yet clumsy, Lillie passively changes the function of Alola (no longer a marvel of Poké science available to all) and indifferently moves on to her next vacation.
Lillie’s nonchalance is easier to view as one delves into Japan’s relationship with a transcolonial, dependent Hawai’i. According to one handout, Japan still exerted a passive economic colonialism on the Polynesian state, on which Hawai’i is completely dependent (University of Hawaii, n. d., para. 1). Capitalism, the greatest accelerant of globalization, is controlled remotely in the case of Hawai’i; the modernization of the state can only occur at the commercial behest of an external influence. Even more, the commodity of tourism, a practice laced with exoticism and intimately linked with a history of white women travelling to places where whiteness and family dubbed that traveler “above” those witnessed during those adventures, entrapped the fate of Hawai’i (Enloe, 2002, pp. 419-20). The capital sustaining Hawai’i is the tourist dollar, heavily supplied by Japan. This renders a Japanese view of the islands as one of inexhaustible entertainment, exoticism, and need, translated into the setting (and influencing the actions allowed players within) Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon.
Being part of a nuclear family that claims permanent tourism and scientific residency across the islands of Alola sets Lillie apart from someone like, say, Hapu, a native Alolan and the only named woman of color in the entire game.
Intriguingly, Lillie’s aesthetic is directly influenced by American and christian colonialist pasts, simplifying the perspective of the observer. Lillie was white, from head to hair to skin to shoe; she contrasted with the environment in her impeccable cleanness as well as her impracticality (Matsumiya et al, 2016). She is “savior” and “savor,” the object in the gaze of the viewer as she almost unnoticeably affects the story. Analyzing the object-conscious video of Jennifer Lopez’s song “If I Had Your Love,” Lisa Nakamura (2008) identified a “paradigmatic dichotomy” between the viewer (both in and of the video) and Lopez, where the video presented the body, “of the Latina [. . .] and the mind is that of a white man” (p. 19). Lillie, as the product of Japanese heterosexed (and most likely heterosexual) males, undergoes gendering (as girl) and racializing (as ambiguous white or Asian, races both contributing to the colonialism of Hawai’i) in relation to her suspected positionality in Hawaii, where the expected audience (Japanese and American male and boy children and teens) is anticipated to have a relationship with the colonization of both female bodies and Hawai’i. Lillie is a code-enforcing object with an established history (religious and national colonialist practices) that aids the player, pulling that person into the logics that construct her.
Lillie is the product of bad, of something modern and unapologetic erected in the pretext of play.
Enloe, C. (2002). On the beach: Sexism and tourism. In I. Grewal & C. Kaplan (Eds.) An Introduction to women’s studies: Gender in a transnational world (pp. 416-22). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
Matsumiya, T., Nakatsui, S., Matsushima, K., & Masafumi, N. (2016). Pokémon Sun/Moon [Computer software]. Tokyo, Japan: Game Freak.
Nakamura, L. (2008). Digitizing race. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Tetu, L. (2016, November 23). Pokémon sun & moon: A short, critical review. Retrieved from http://liztetuoneverything.weebly.com/blog/pokemon-sun-moon-a-short-critical-review
University of Hawaii (n. d.). Hawai’i’s ties with Japan. Retrieved from http://www.hawaii.edu/news/docs/japanese-in-hawaii.pdf