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Friends and Partners Contest - Results

Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
Friends and Partners One-Shot Contest Results

The judges have been hard at work reading and reviewing this year's crop of one-shots, and now at last we're ready to reveal the results! We had sixteen entries this year, for what was maybe the most diverse and interesting crop of one-shots that I've seen for a contest yet. I'm sure you're all anxious to get to read some of them, and the authors anxious to post them, so I'll just give a quick overview of what to expect, and then we'll dive right in!

The next post in this thread is an index with summaries of all the stories submitted to the contest, with links to anywhere they've been published, a link to their highlight post in this thread, and an interview with the author (if available) giving some insight into their entry. It'll give you a quick overview of the entries and help you decide which ones you'd like to read!

After that, each submitted story gets its own highlight post. Each of these contains an excerpt from the story to give you a taste of what it's like, links to anywhere it's been published, and the judges' feedback for the story.

Each judge ordered the list of stories from their number one pick to their last pick. Their score for a story was determined based on the point scale below, and then the points awarded to a story by each judge were summed up to yield the story's final overall score. Stories were ranked based on their overall score, and the top three became our winners!

Place - Points
16th - 10
15th - 20
14th - 30
13th - 40
12th - 50
11th - 60
10th - 70
9th - 80
8th - 90
7th - 100
6th - 110
5th - 125
4th - 145
3rd - 165
2nd - 190
1st - 225

The ranks and point totals are not published with the results, but have been retained in case they're needed.

After all the story highlight posts, the thread will be open for your comments, discussion, congratulations to the winners, or whatever else you'd like to add. I'd also love feedback on how the contest was run, its timing, and any suggestions you might have for next year's theme!

Before I announce the winners, I'd also like to thank Dragonfree, HelloYellow17, kyeugh, and Umbramatic for all their hard work on this contest. It was a pleasure working with you, and you did a fantastic job. I'd also like to thank Cresselia92, unrepentantAuthor, and Wildboots for providing prizes for this event!

And finally, the big reveal: congratulations to this year's one-shot contest winners, Equitial in first place, Shiny Phantump in second, and Wildboots in third!
 

Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
Friends and Partners Contest Entries

"Ballast" by Wildboots
Third-Place Winner
“Saint Bonapisa’s good luck for trainers,” Cass told me once. Maybe she should’ve kept some of that luck for herself. The drifblim was still following me, but if Lake Valor was what Cass wanted, then I’d find a way to get her there.
Links: AO3 | FFN | TR | Judges' Comments


Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

At the start of the story, Jenna is repulsed by Bonapisa, the drifblim that belonged to her late friend. By the end of the story, she’s gained a kind of respect for her. They’re not grieving in the exact same way, but they are sharing both the loss and a kind of healing.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

I wasn’t sure at first what to do with the prompt, so I ended up smashing together all of the potential contest themes: a reunion in Sinnoh with a human + pokemon partnership at the center of it. Now that I’m revisiting the idea, a reunion with a pokemon could look like a lot of things I didn’t choose, but I decided it was going to be for a funeral. I wanted to tell a story about a human and a pokemon being forced to cooperate for a reason that wasn’t necessarily a battle, something that wasn’t for glory or money or fame. I like that, because neither of them “belongs” to the other, they each have a lot of freedom to choose what they’ll do. Neither is beholden to the other, but both are beholden to the memory of Cass.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

The Arcean worship, of course! Arceus gets plugged into a lot of fics as a substitute for the Judeo-Christian God in a way I don’t usually find very satisfying or interesting, so I had a lot of fun imagining what Arean worship might look like. How it differs from Catholicism and how it doesn’t. How it affects the way worshippers see their relationship to pokemon. What role pokemon play in that worship.

I was also happy to put Patrick’s Rune to use. I’ve liked it ever since I encountered it in Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the calls for aid to all the elements felt especially apt for a pokemon story.


"Burner" by kintsugi
Six months after Lysandre nearly obliterates Kalos, a first-year art student accidentally starts a graffiti tag war with an unlikely competitor.
Links: Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I wanted to explore a partnership that didn't really center around violence, just to shake things up--how could pokemon and humans live together in a world beyond battling? What other strengths could we learn from pokemon, and what other strengths could they learn from us? I'm often drawn to the whimsy and fantasy of pokemon: the world is so open, and there are so many new adventures to be had, so I went very meta here and chose to explore how humans and pokemon would explore creation and art.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

I really wanted a partnership about learning and growth, and my (self-imposed) rule here was "no destruction/no death" promptly broke that. At the time, and I suppose still now, I grapple with the question of if art can even be destructive, if by doing something that is a pure act of creation you have the power to destroy something else. And more recently my answer has been an idealistic 'no'--I've learned so much from TR, and those questions of learning from watching others create were fresh on my mind when I was writing this.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

I learned a lot about graffiti terminology and best practices, and got to watch/browse a lot of street art. There is so much talent in that field, wow.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

The name Rosetta is a pun on Rosetta stone so I'm still very deep into maintaining my streak of "X rethinks their rock collection".

"Dark-Clothed Small Human" by Shiny Phantump
Second-Place Winner
The last unfrozen Type: Null is preparing for the end, when a child breaks into the lab and frees them. They discover that there's a whole world beyond the dark room they've spent their whole life in, and that they have a friend willing to be at their side in the unfamiliar largeness of the world.
Links: Judges' Comments


Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I've seen a some stories centred around the idea of a human getting to explore the world with pokemon, it's kind of a classic part of the series. I wrote the same thing, really, but from the other perspective: Pokemon gets to explore the world with the human who offered that freedom to them.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

I like writing things from whatever sort of "outsider's" perspective that I can get my hands on. That's what originally drew me towards PMD, but it is, of course, also applicable to other setting. Null is, in a way, an outsider to the entire world, which makes for a nice chance to explore their world unfolding from a dark room in a deep lab to the vastness of the world beyond it.

More importantly, it also means that they're an outsider to what a healthy relationship is like! Null isn't only learning about the world, but also that it contains a person who cares about them and wants them to be happy.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

The most fun part to write was the way Null interprets the behaviour of machines. Null's a got some machine in them, and they know they're alive. They don't really get the idea that there's a difference between that and an electronic device.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Null is a good bean.


"Disfigured" by Farla
A girl's beloved pokemon is stolen from her.
Links: AO3 | Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I wanted to do a story about humans helping pokemon, that didn't rely on wild pokemon as the villain or someone who just existed to be evil, and had the human's contribution be something more than telling their pokemon to do it for them.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

As a long-time pet owner I think there's a lot of tension between loving and providing for an animal. Some people will go to enormous lengths to take care of a sick animal. Are they good people for it?

Pokemon have a lot more capacity to understand what's happening and make an informed choice about what they want, however.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

The robbery.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Hm... The characters of this are ones from my OC thread, and it's been fun trying to use them in things because the way characters are designed for that thread is very different than my usual method of writing characters.

"A Flicker in the Night" by Flaze
A Flicker in the Night revolves around a young electryke that's just been adopted by a trainer named Carla. Unfortunately, the electryke has led a life filled with trauma after being raised by an illegal breeder that kept him and his family in very poor living conditions, even after being rescued he still holds a lot of resentment, fear and rage towards humans. At the same time, Carla herself is not a very experienced trainer and has her own underline reasons for choosing to adopt a pokemon anyway.
Links: Judges' Comments

Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

While it's a touchy subject, I've actually been wanting to write this story out for a few years, it was originally a fic concept (I might still do that later) but mainly I wanted to write a story that explored how humans and pokemon could help push each other forward and get through trauma together. I wanted to write a story about a trainer and pokemon each going through their own issues that keep them from connecting but eventually being able to look past that and at each other.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

I've been thinking about this concept for a while like I said before, but mainly I wanted it to be a way for me to try and work out the kind of "ideal" relationship between trainer and pokemon for me. But I didn't want to just have one of them help the other and wanted to instead showcase how their baggage impacted the two and how they themselves impacted the other.

I don't know how well it came through, I still have my own doubts and will most likely revise it, but another reason I wanted to do it was also cause I've been reanlyzing the way animals are treated in real life and I wanted to ground that a bit by focusing on someone that wants to have a pet thinking it'll solve their problems without understanding how that pet feels. It's something I started thinking on after my own dog died a few years back and how much she helped me by stopping me from just closing off to the world when I felt like I was all alone.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

I've never written in second person before, like at all, I took a lot of inspiration from some of the most well known stories in the forums (you know who you are) and I don't know if I quite got it or if I botched it. But it was still cool to think about how prose functions in this POV and the advantages and limitations that come with it.

I also probably had too much fun with the most tragic aspects of this story. I don't usually get to delve too deeply on the raw feelings behind a character's actions so I really enjoyed getting to just explode with emotion while writing out Carla's and Flicker's scenes. I don't know if other people will have the effect it did on me but it definetily teared up.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Feel free to leave comments if you like! This was very much an experimental piece for me and I'll be super curious to see what people think of it and if they'll like to see more, there's still a lot more stories about Flicker, Carla and the people and pokemon around them that I'd like to explore.


"The Man Who Would Empty the Ocean with a Spoon" by The Walrein
Following years of ecological devastation, humanity has adopted a philosophy called the Way Of Harmony, under which humans strive to interfere with nature as little as possible. The world is finally at peace. But one young scientist wonders if this state of affairs is really as good for Pokémon as it seems...
Links: Judges' Comments

Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I guess you could say that it focuses on the relation between the two species as a whole rather than individual relationships. Rather than showing a particular aspect of that relationship, it's trying to address the question of what that relationship should be. Do humans have a moral responsibility to alleviate the suffering of wild Pokémon, even if that means going against nature?

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

The concept of wild animal suffering being something that altruistic humans might want to one day try to address intrigued me ever since I heard about it, and I wanted to see what that idea would look like applied to the Pokemon world. Also, I've long been interested in the question of how the modern system of humans going out and catching Pokemon presented in the games came to be, so I was interested in exploring that from a less commonly-seen angle.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

I think that would be the classroom discussion Samuel has, as unrealistic as it might be for six-year-olds. I enjoyed doing worldbuilding for the pre-league world and trying to figure out how a teacher could try to explain difficult ethical questions to children.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

I actually wrote the story entirely in the 24 hours before it was due, although I'd come up with the idea for it before then. I don't think I was really able to give its concepts the careful treatment they deserved. In particular, I wanted to have gone into a lot more detail about what the post-Way-of-Harmony relationship between humans and Pokemon actually looked like in practice, and also to do a better job of presenting the counter-arguments against human interference (right now the fic is pretty obviously one-sided). If anyone is interested in learning more about wild animal suffering, I'd suggest looking up some of Brian Tomasik's essays on the subject, which are what first persuaded me of its importance.

"Methods of Support" by Equitial
First-Place Winner
Snapshots into the lives of six Pokemon as they support their humans in what ways they can.
Links: Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

Humans and Pokemon trekking across regions in sprawling adventures is always going to be a great pull of the franchise, but another aspect that always fascinates me is how Pokemon can fit into everyday life. In writing this piece, my main points of interest I wanted to explore were twofold:

1) How do disabled people fit into the Pokemon world?

I like to take an optimistic view of the Pokemon universe in that, while the world is far from perfect, Pokemon make it better place. As a disabled person, I don't directly see myself in the main Pokemon franchise. When I was a kid I fantasized about being isekai'ed into my own Pokemon journey, but it always came with a niggling fear that—even in a better world—I still wouldn't be able to do what most others could. In this piece, I wanted to fill in the main series' gaps to explore how disabled people can still have unique and powerful experiences with their Pokemon helpers and partners.

2) How do Pokemon fit into the Pokemon world?

While my starting concept was "what if support animals but Pokemon," a key focus in writing this was that Pokemon aren't animals but sapient individuals with their own agency and worldviews. I chose to write via the POV of the Pokemon themselves to explore what would inspire these creatures to aid their companions. I tried to give each Pokemon I wrote a unique voice to honor the different ways they attempt to make their world a better place.


"Over the Winds and Waves" by Inkedust
A postmon's job is never done! When a wingull apprenticing at one of the continent's largest post offices fails an important assignment, he's thrown into a chance encounter with a strange pokémon who shows him a world far beyond the scope of the post office.
Links: AO3 | FFN | TR | Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

When I first came up with the plans, I wanted to focus more on the metaphysical aspects of the relationship between the two as a means of trying to answer why pokémon trust humans so easily; especially so in the Mystery Dungeon series with the player character and partner while also trying to keep things vague enough to leave things up to the reader’s imagination. I like to think that, in a world without humans, pokémon have a harder time detaching themselves from their human partner—feeling incomplete without them—which gave me the grounds to add that obsessive edge to Crest and Elliana’s relationship. Admittedly, I feel that this part of the relationship could’ve been explored more and probably would’ve had I not been compromising to keep within the 10K word limit.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

Over the Winds and Waves was going to be an entirely different story inspired by works like Princess Mononoke. The original idea would’ve been set in the mainline world and was focused on exploring “Sinnoh Folk Story 2”, revealing that the pokémon described in the myth was a human child who ran away from home, hiding in the forest to avoid being found by their parents. The contest theme would’ve been explored two-fold here, the first being the relationship between the pokémon of the forest and the nearby town and the second being between the child and the aforementioned forest pokémon.

The idea ended up getting scrapped for two reasons: first, I realised that it would’ve revealed a major spoiler for my fic before it was even released. Second, it was a bit too ambitious for the contest. I felt that I would’ve been a lot more satisfied with the story if it didn’t have a 10K word limit hanging over it and after seeing how long my “scaled back” idea ended up being, it would’ve certainly exceeded the limit unless I stripped it down to the most barebone level.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

The ending, definitely. My favourite aspect being how readers can discern what ended up happening to Elliana from the contents of her letter while the characters remain oblivious which, to me, adds that extra layer of tragedy.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Just that I’m grateful to readers for taking the time to read it. I had a ton of fun working on this one, so thank you!

"Pizza with a Slice of Pain" by zion of arcadia
No Pokémon has ever escaped the dungeon of Mt. Travail, but the legendary Raine Whiffletwist is hardly an ordinary Pokémon! In fact, the stories claim he isn't a Pokémon at all...
Links: Judges' Comments


"Purity" by Seren
After the events of Pokemon Colosseum, Kaeli is trying to earn a promotion at the Phenac Pre-Gym, but her type disadvantage keeps doing her in. Seeking to remedy the problem, she comes across another shadow pokemon. With Wes no longer in Orre, Kaeli is on her own trying to figure out how to comfort the terrified pokemon.
Links: Thousand Roads | Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

The whole point of Colosseum was to "open the door to the pokemon's heart", so I felt that was a natural go-to option for the theme. I alternated between Kaeli's and Cooper's point of view to try to show them growing to accept each other. (Or, well, to show Cooper opening up to his new friend.)

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

Besides being an obvious human/pokemon relationship theme, I'm fully on board with the "more Orre rep" train.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

Personally I enjoyed writing the battle scene at the end, where Cooper realizes he can utilize his shadow powers to protect Kaeli. And it was fun to have a one-vs-??? melee.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Only thing else to add is that I wish I could have made this longer than it was. I felt like I had both too much space and also very little to work with. Overall, I really feel like I could expand on this a lot further and go much more into depth, because I don't know if I got across well enough how they came to bond with each other. (Also, masquerain and minior rep!)

"Small Beginnings" by Panoramic_Vacuum
Sic Parvis Magna: The motto of our vocational school, plastered over the school's entrance in flaking gold letters. I saw it every morning on the way to class, but I didn't know what it meant. So one day, I figured I might as well look it up. Turns out it means "great things from small beginnings." I’m not entirely sure greatness applies to me, just another one of the many who wasn’t cut out to be a trainer. But, thinking about it, it definitely applies to my partner. Maybe that makes it "Tic" Parvis Magna.
Links: Judges' Comments

Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

This story focuses on a working relationship between humans and pokemon for occupations other than a pokemon trainer. There are so many possibilities for humans and pokemon to interact and team up and coexist beyond the aspects of training and battling. To me, the pokemon world would be a place where pokemon could be more than pets or battling companions. They could be our day-to-day coworkers, working hand-in-hand together to create a better world for everyone.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

This story focuses on a working relationship between humans and pokemon for occupations other than a pokemon trainer. I always imagined the pokemon world to have humans and pokemon working together in all sorts of ways. Whatever job a human could do, a pokemon could do it too, and lend their help and specialized skills to make tasks safer, easier, and more efficient than just humans working alone. It always brought the partnership between humans and pokemon full-circle for me, and I love to imagine a world where someone can live a fulfilling life working alongside pokemon without being a trainer.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

The appealing thing to me with this contest was the ability to showcase bonds with pokemon that weren't overly deep or powerful. Even new bonds and friendships are meaningful, and friends can be found from a series of random decisions. In a way, it was a representation of everyday life, instead of the shoes of the usual game protagonist.


"A Song of Sorrow" by Sparkfire
Even legendary heroes don't live forever.
Links: Judges' Comments



"Swamping Ground" by Flyg0n
Swamping Ground focuses on a wild Marshtomp who dreams of being a trainer pokemon. Unfortunately, his attempts to find a trainer don't turn out as simple as he hoped.
Links: Thousand Roads | Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I guess what really inspired me was the desire to write a story about being a pokemon trainer but address how pokemon feel about being with pokemon trainers. My end desire was to focus on a relationship that to some on the outside, might seem unusual. Marshtomp's trainer at the end seems like someone who is almost like the typical 'bad' trainer. But he isn't! I wanted to imply that he cares about his pokemon, but his care is shown in a different way, in how he pushes his pokemon to be their best. Almost like a fitness/personal trainer I guess! Strength and skill is important to him and his pokemon, so thats what they focus on, and it works for them.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

Full truth be told, I guess I had a heated moment of being eyeroll tired at those types of um. ignorant? articles that er. Just call all pokemon hapless slaves and all trainers evil and act like the world should abide by our logic? (not bashing different takes just. Looking at anime primarily, and one or two silly internet articles!) But yeah, that was part of it. The other part was I genuinely thought it would be interesting to explore how pokemon might view the training relationship, and what they want. As you can see, there's quite a few pokemon he meets.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

I really enjoyed writing both from a pokemon POV, and writing Simon. Examining a relationship that appears a little non-traditional felt neat. I also really liked coming up with nicknames for all the various side-character pokemon! As well as giving Thel a bit of attitude.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

Two of the characters may or may not be very very loosely derived/based on characters from the anime, with little nods. I wonder if anyone can figure out who I'm referencing? :wink:


"A Trainer's Love" by Sinderella
The one-shot follows the MC of White Swan, Black Swan Odette, and her then-Gothorita, Solene, as the two of them are set to compete in a dance competition. Solene is suffering from a bout of stage fright and doesn't want to perform, and Odette is set only dancing with her.
Links: Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I wanted to try focusing on a trainer/pokemon relationship, but with an abnormal twist. While most trainer/pokemon interactions involve battling, my one-shot centers on the trainer and pokemon acting as dance partners in a dance competition. The pokemon is suffering from stage fright, and the trainer is second-guessing themselves as a trainer. They ultimately decide to swallow down their collective apprehension, and end up performing to the best of their abilities--resulting in a triumphant outcome, and a closer bond.

I mostly wanted to show readers a different aspect of the trainer/pokemon bond, one that has a moment or two of weakness too. Not many stories revolve around Pokemon participating in the performing arts, and I figured it would be a fun little thing to experiment with.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

Truthfully, I mostly did it for world-building and character-building reasons. I wanted to build more into the world of White Swan, Black Swan, and touch a little more on the idea of Pokemon participating in the arts (as I briefly mentioned they did in chapter 1). I also wanted to write a little more about Odette's relationship with her Pokemon.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

I'm definitely an angst writer, but for once in my life, I really enjoyed writing the happy climax of the story, where Odette and Solene run off the stage, happy with their performance. It was super cute and super pure, and made my heart warm.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

I definitely wrote this the day it was due, please don't roast.

"A Way to Reunite" by IFBench
After saving the world, a human and their partner long to see each other again, even if the laws of reality prohibit it.
Links: AO3 | FFN | Thousand Roads | Judges' Comments



Tell us about the kind of human/pokémon relationship your story focuses on! What did you want to show readers about how humans and pokémon relate to one another?

I wanted to show the relationship of a PMD human and Pokemon partner after they had been separated for quite some time, as I haven't seen many examples of that. I wanted to show that no matter how long the distance, or how long it's been, or even if reality itself demands you'll be forgotten by your partner, that bond between a human and their Pokemon partner will never go away.

Why did you choose to focus on the sort of relationship you did?

Gates to Infinity had my favorite cast out of all the Pokemon games, and even if I preferred Super's partner more than Gates', Gates' partner is still amazing, and so is its protagonist. Gates to Infinity is also the only PMD game with a human protagonist where the protagonist actually returns to the human world. I wanted to focus in more on that, and showcase the bond between the protagonist and their partner even after being a world apart for months. I also added in Emolga, since he's my favorite character in the franchise, and I found the bond between at least one of the other Paradise members and the protagonist worth exploring.

What was the most fun or interesting part of your story to write?

Definitely the reunion. Writing these two seeing each other again for the first time in months put a wide smile on my face. It made me so happy to write them being happy.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your story?

This is meant to be an alternate epilogue to PMD: Gates to Infinity, if the Worldcore couldn't be used. The Gen and Vernir in this story are also in my longfic PMD: Eternal Shadows, though this oneshot is noncanon to that.


"Whine-Yelp" by canisaries
No descendant of Garad would dream of becoming some human's spoiled pet.
Links: Thousand Roads | Judges' Comments
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Ballast" by Wildboots
Third-Place Winner

I was on the last bus down Mt. Hokulani when I found out about Cass. Mom had called hours earlier, but there hadn’t been cellphone service on the mountain. I listened to the voicemail once, then immediately played it again, mashing my phone to my ear as if the happy chatter of tourists was the problem. It wasn’t. I’d heard—I just couldn’t understand.

When I stumbled off the bus, I finally noticed that I was pressing my still-wet canvas to my chest like a security blanket. Through the hairpins turns all down Route 10, I’d been careful to hold it stiff-armed away from myself, despite the surrounding crush of bodies. Now the canvas stuck fast to me. I peeled it back, leaving behind a dark stain, shirt and painting both ruined. For a moment, I stared at the Payne’s gray smear that cut through my landscape, obliterating the skarmory I had delicately picked out from the sky, but there wasn’t much to do about it: I had to pack for the funeral.


Read the rest on: AO3 | FFN | Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This was absolutely gripping and beautiful. My favorite thing about it was the sense of emotional detail, the rich way your writing hits on little subtle specific thoughts and actions that really punch in what the characters are feeling: Jenna carefully holding the drying canvas away from her until the phone call with her mother makes her cling to it for security and ruin her clothes in the process, for instance, just hits really hard right out of the gate. But there's a real layered tapestry of things going on here and they're all really good.

I think you used the religion theme really well here. You struck a good balance of keeping it distinctly familiar and making it easy to comprehend and relate to and extrapolate (I feel Jenna's vague awkwardness at being in church trying to respectfully follow along while not really believing in any of it to my core) while also making it properly a Pokémon thing and making some neat original worldbuilding out of it. You've created what feels like a fairly coherent Arceus-themed religious philosophy and symbols and rituals around it, and I quite enjoyed that. And the way that it plays into the two girls' relationship, and Bonapisa, is nuanced and interesting, beyond just being a pretext for characters' homophobia. The way it's all so alien to Jenna, and she's repelled by it because she knows Cass's hyperreligious family disapproves of who she is, to the point of throwing away Cass's bracelet when she leaves; the way Cass really was a genuine believer, the sort who'd name all her Pokémon after saints, but in a more compassionate interpretation of the faith than her family, where she's determined that Arceus created ghosts too and Bonapisa deserved help; the fact that Cass was probably also wrestling with coming to terms with who she was and whether she deserved compassion and understanding for how she had been created; the way she finally comes to that conclusion in the letter; the way Jenna is willing to let Arceus 'come along' towards the end as Bonapisa starts humming the blessings of the saints that she presumably learned from Cass. It's really well integrated and feels genuine.

And I really enjoyed the way that the prejudice against Ghost-type Pokémon is used generally, too. The sweet irony of Cass's family and the priests trying to erase Bonapisa's memory and chase her away from her trainer's funeral, taking the idea that she might steal Cass's soul dead seriously (even Tim, who you make clear is a genuinely good person, believes this), only for her to ultimately be the one to scatter her ashes and ensure her last wishes were carried out, is really cathartic, after one of Cass's distinguishing qualities was her refusal to buy into that prejudice. But also, the way that Jenna doesn't believe for a second that Ghost Pokémon can steal anyone's soul, and sort of clings to the importance of Cass's compassion for Bonapisa (perhaps because it symbolized the chance that she could accept Jenna's lesbianism, too) - but still initially finds Bonapisa creepy and offputting and kind of grotesque, and only fully comes around to appreciate her after she's saved her life twice, because prejudices aren't limited to religions or those with specific motivations for them. And there's something that really sticks with me about the brief bit regarding Fantina - a trans woman who, in this framing, one can't help but imagine picked her type specialty specifically to defy the religiously-rooted prejudices against them and herself.

You got me invested in Jenna and Cass's relationship very quickly. The way that it takes a while to actually reveal what happened between them is a well-done choice, I think; one definitely gets a sense that it was something like this from early on, but the tension of wanting to know and see it confirmed easily carries the reader through the first half, pushes you to read onward. Jenna's emotional arc throughout all of this is heartbreaking - feeling like the image being presented of Cass at the funeral doesn't match the girl she knew, being unsure if Cass told her family about the kiss and whether she's actually welcome in their home, feeling that Cass was afraid of her when she was really more afraid of her own feelings and her family, the way that she was so ready to not even go to Alola despite how much she wanted to, simply because what she really wanted more than anything was for Cass to get the same escape, while Cass symmetrically insists that Jenna has to go because she needs this. The horrible moment with Tim of silently wondering if she'd committed suicide. The way she lashes out at Bonapisa on the journey, briefly blames her for not having been there to save Cass. I just feel a lot for these girls, in a way I rarely feel about romances. It's really well done.

With all of that said... I do feel this is less a story about the relationships between Pokémon and humans than about relationships between humans. It's a really good, deeply heartwrenching story about relationships between humans... but this is a contest with a particular theme, and it feels distinctly like this is a story that wasn't quite written about that theme. We're two thirds into the story before we even see Jenna significantly interact with any Pokémon at all!

That isn't to say this story has nothing to say on that theme. You do portray the role Pokémon play in Arceism, the Ghost-type prejudice, and I think you do do a nice job portraying the Pokémon there in the last third - Luci so distinctly a cat, Bonapisa weird and unsettling with this alien body language and the way Jenna can't understand her at all at first but grows to recognize her playful nature and the way she just wants to help give Cass the sendoff she wished for. But it feels almost like a footnote in the story, and I do feel like for an entry in this contest it could have been emphasized significantly more. In particular I wish we'd actually gotten to see more about Cass's relationship with Bonapisa, which strikes me as potentially really interesting but we only see it briefly in this one flashback and have to vaguely infer the rest. This isn't a flaw in the story - it's just as good of a story without that being the main point, I think. But it does make it not quite as well suited to this contest as it could have been, and gives me a tough time ranking it, because as a story I sincerely really loved it, but I don't think it quite makes the best possible use of the theme.

I also confess to being confused on a couple of things. First, a nitpick: there are three Pokémon whose portraits are on the altar at the funeral, a Purugly, a Floatzel, and a Roserade. But later, in the scene with Tim, he appears to discuss four Pokémon aside from Bonapisa: Adjuto the Floatzel, the Purugly who's going to "someone in Unova" who'd "better be good to him", Gertie who could be returned to the wild, and Fiacre, who's being taken in by a "Ms. Duncan" who needs the company. The only way this could work out to being just those three Pokémon is if the Purugly is Fiacre - but the way he describes who's taking the Purugly suggests it's some total stranger off in another region, while Fiacre is being taken by "Ms. Duncan", which sounds strongly like it's referring to someone local that Tim and Jenna would both know personally. This doesn't seem to add up, unless for some reason another one of Cass's Pokémon is going unacknowledged at the funeral. I'm not 100% sure whether this is a mistake or just so subtle I can't make out what you're going for at at all, but either way it's probably worth clarifying.

More importantly: I'm having a really hard time puzzling out exactly why Cass's letter is with Tim at the funeral. It felt slightly odd to me that Tim didn't mention when Cass wrote this letter for Jenna and why he had it, and Jenna didn't ask either - if I were Jenna that'd be the first thing I'd want to know about a letter like this - but reading the contents only confused me even more. After a while of reflecting on it I think what's going on here is that Cass wrote it while in Hearthome (she refers to it as "here" in the letter once), and the solstice was going to be the next time after that that she'd visit, and when she left to continue her journey she left the letter behind with Tim and never mailed it anywhere. But then why didn't she actually mail it?

It definitely doesn't seem like it's actually a suicide note or anything, since she's making a whole point of wanting to meet up with Jenna in person at the solstice, right - I'm interpreting Jenna's laughter as she finishes reading partly as relief at learning Cass did thoroughly want to live after all. And at least Jenna doesn't seem to be interpreting the fact she didn't send it as her having chickened out and decided she doesn't want to see Jenna again after all - she's imagining Cass being eager to get home in time for the solstice, and the only thing Cass seems excited about in that regard is meeting Jenna. But the only reason Jenna ever actually did come back to Hearthome was because it was Cass's funeral, so in the timeline where Cass lives and returns for the solstice, Jenna would never have gotten the letter and wouldn't have actually been there! And Jenna in fact is explicitly imagining Cass knowing the letter was unmailed, because she's ready to "fly far, far away" which I would have assumed meant she was ready to actually talk about her feelings to Jenna and come with her to Alola? I don't know if something's just flying right over my head here or what, and I'm sorry if it's just me being slow, but all in all I'm just not sure what you're implying with this bit. It was a minor distraction in the grand scheme of things, but it did dampen the catharsis of the ending a bit for me as I was just trying to work out what was actually going on here.

All that having been said, this was definitely one of my very favorite stories in this contest, and I think you did a fantastic job with it all in all.

HelloYellow17

Well right away, in the first paragraph, you’ve gripped me. The summary was incredibly well-done and intriguing, too.

Hhhh not the canvas!! I can’t imagine trying to tote a still-wet canvas through public transportation. Jeez, just thinking about it stresses me out, lol.

Interesting that the Pokémon aren’t allowed inside the church—and the pastor guy even called them “creatures.” For a world that’s hugely centered around Pokémon, this raised a lot of questions for me! Do some people view Pokémon as just dirty animals?

Ohhhh I see why he referred to it as a creature now. Actually, that’s a very interesting thought, that certain religions would be wary of or even antagonistic towards Ghost pokemon (maybe Dark ones, too?)

...oh, Cass isn’t family? For some reason I thought she was the MC’s sister, but I guess I was wrong there. And...”reborn,” eh? They believe in reincarnation?

The ceremony was really fascinating. I love the brief moment when Jenna compares it to a religion she encountered in Alola—really nice blend of worldbuilding and the MC’s thoughts about the ceremony.

If I have one nitpick so far, it’s that the MC’s feelings about religion (or at least, Cass’ particular religion) have been made very clear from the beginning, and it feels a little heavy-handed to keep bringing up her doubts and negative thoughts about it. We already know how Jenna feels about this, so there isn’t really a need for her to mentally comment on every little facet of their traditions, or to mentally scoff every time it’s brought up.

Oh man, the way Jenna and Cass parted ways breaks my heart. :( There’s a lot of regret and lack of closure here.

Gonna give a big *chef’s kiss* to all your scene-setting so far! Very immersive and vibrant, I love the way you use all kinds of senses to bring a scene to life. Really well done!

Luci is best kitty. I love her.

I’m really curious about what Bonapisa wants...the poor thing is just trying to help, I think, but is being misunderstood at every turn. It’s interesting that even Jenna, without any religious prejudice of her own, still doesn’t like her and would rather she stay away. I mean, I get that Ghost types are creepy, so it’s not exactly uncalled for on Jenna’s part. But aren’t Drifblim among the cuter looking ghosties anyway? Lol. Still, I’m glad Jenna gives her a second chance.

The ending was serene and peaceful, which honestly felt fitting for the whole story. Though, the letter itself was pretty vague—I’m glad it brought Jenna peace and comfort, but knowing that my friend had something to tell me in person and was never able to would definitely leave me still lacking some closure. But it’s sweet to know that Cass never held anything against Jenna, and that she was preparing herself to spread her wings.

Some final thoughts here! Overall, I really really loved this. Your prose is soooo nice and smooth like buttah, and I really felt like I got to know Jenna and her personality (and Cass!) well throughout the story.

Just a few nitpicks here: first and foremost, it did feel like this story was much more about Jenna and Cass than it was about Jenna and Bonapista. Which, on its own, I have no issue with! But considering this is meant to go with the theme, I can’t help but feel like it didn’t quite nail that theme like I was hoping it would.

There were also a few small details that had me all “Oh?? 👀” only to not get much of an explanation for, if any at all. For example: the brief hint that Cass’ death wasn’t an accident. Are we hinting at suicide, then? That raised a lot of questions and I don’t feel like I got my answer, which ended up distracting me from the other themes.

The priest calling Jenna “My son” really threw me for a loop and it wasn’t until reading over that scene again, after finishing the whole story, that I realized it meant he just briefly mistook her for a boy due to her haircut? That wasn’t super clear the first time, and so the whole time I was reading I found myself wondering “Is Jenna trans?? Is this gonna play a role in the story??” LOL. It’s highly possible that this is just me overthinking tiny details, but it did cause a misunderstanding for me that became a huge distraction as I read, and my search for trans themes was also heightened by the brief mention of Fantina—Jenna calls her a “she,” but Mrs. Greer refers to her as male. So I ended up looking for something that, ultimately, wasn’t actually a part of the story. 😅 So, all in all, my biggest complaint is that there are a handful of details thrown in here that aren’t exactly needed for the story this fic is trying to tell, and a few of them turned into big distractions that pulled away from the main message—but also, I’m pretty sure most of it is just me over-analyzing things, aha.

There’s also a LOT of themes being explored here! Religious beliefs and other philosophies, grief, closeted feelings, unrequited love, etc. Considering that this story is less than 10k, I’m really really impressed with how well you’ve managed to handle all of these themes at once! You did a great job, and honestly the only downfall from doing this was that it kind of pulled away from the theme that fic was meant to be centered on (human and Pokémon relationships). But even then, I feel like that’s a nitpick specific to the contest this fic is entered in and doesn’t reflect on the actual prose itself.

This was a rich, engaging, beautiful story that contained SO much depth and worldbuilding, I’m blown away. You should be proud of this!

kyeugh

Hoo boy.

There’s a lot in this one! Accordingly, I have a lot of thoughts. This story fits within the word count with almost a thousand words to spare, but it has the feeling of a much longer story—not in the sense that it drags, but in the sense that a whole lot happens. You’ve got a pretty complete arc going on here, spanning the grief of loss to the first steps to recovery within 10,000 words without it feeling rushed. It jumped out at me right away that this is a story with a strong voice that’s very intentional with where it’s going, but still takes great care with the heavy subject matter. Also, I just have to say, the part where the letter flutters out of Jenna’s hands made me more anxious than anything I’ve read in ages.

Jenna’s characterization is this story’s strongest element, I think. She doesn’t just fit perfectly into the plot, but drives it just by her choices, by the virtue of who she is and what she’s been through. Her outsider status in the church and her personal relationship with Cass makes her a perfect perspective for the thematic elements of your worldbuilding and plot; she’s able to look in on the strangeness of the church and other interesting worldbuilding details with a critical eye that’s similar to the audience’s own, and she’s also able to show compassion to Bonapisa in a way that others can’t/won’t (as well as project her unresolved emotions onto her!). Her memory with Cass on the bench is so raw and real, and it makes Cass’s sudden, tragic death feel that much more sudden and tragic.

Cass is an enigma of her own, and I appreciate that you’re content to sort of leave it that way. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in her life that’s hinted at—her religious questioning, her sexuality, her mental health in general, even the cause of her death—that’s never resolved, and I think that’s fitting. It doesn’t feel unsatisfying and I’m not particularly left wondering, because it’s just right that we don’t really get all the answers here; very probably she didn’t get them either before dying, and it’s the people she left behind that are left to try and make sense of those too-short threads. The feeling of incompleteness there is resounding. In a way, this story is very much about Cass, but it’s not about her thoughts or decisions or whatever else. It’s about the impressions that outlive her, on her family and on Jenna, and Bonapisa is a very real, in-your-face symbol of that: the ghost that Cass left behind in a literal and figurative sense, the ghost she never should have had and only could because of the questions she asked and never had time to answer.

Because I’m me, the worldbuilding really jumped out at me more than anything else despite how strong the characters are. Trans Fantina was a neat touch (Trantina!) that did some nice work showing us how exactly Cass’s parents might have felt about her burgeoning sexuality (ooooof). The Arcean religion is pretty cool and feels just right for a religion in the pokémon world. There’s a definite Christian feeling to it, but also a strong connection to nature that you don’t quite see in Christianity, which feels about right for a religion based around a pokémon whose whole schtick is being any/every type. I liked the pseudo-divinity of the Tapus a lot, too.

It’s a bit difficult to describe the take on the contest theme that I got from this entry, exactly, but I certainly did pick up on one. I think it’s complicated a bit by the fact that it takes a few different but related forms: there are the pokémon that are worshipped (Arceus, the Tapus), and pokémon that are reviled (ghosts, Giratina). But Bonapisa is more than a pokémon that’s reviled; she’s a symbol of what Cass left behind, and that is related to the religious worldbuilding you’ve done, but it also suggests the broader (albeit vague) theme I picked up here: pokémon are creatures that human project onto. They’re more than just creatures minding their own business. Maybe they’re getting the creation of the natural world projected onto them, or maybe the collective whole of society’s ills, or maybe the baggage left behind by a young adult. In any case, the throughline regarding the human-pokémon bond seems to be that humans prescribe meanings to pokémon that are greater than the pokémon themselves. That can manifest as worship, mistreatment, and everything in between.

It’s a novel and nuanced take, and one that inspires some thought about the real world, too, although I won’t get into that. I think the story does serve it well, although I think it is a bit human-centric. There’s something to be said about that—humans are phenomenal at parsing things, even other living beings and even the lives of other humans, in terms of themselves—but I think in this story, the pokémon really feel more like symbols incidental and supportive to a human character’s very personal arc and not much else, which left me a bit unsatisfied with regard to the theme. While the human-pokémon relationship is explored somewhat in terms of symbology/projection as expressed above, it’s not really touched on so much in terms of real, personal bonds, which is what I was really looking for. Bonapisa is our only pokémon character and doesn’t feel like a character of her own. She only really exists in the context of her human. I really wanted to see more agency from her, as well as deeper insight into her relationship with Cass, beyond the religious issues she presented by virtue of existing.

That’s sort of my main criticism of this entry, I think. It feels like a story about humans where there happen to be pokémon, and while I’m probably the last person that ought to complain about that, it just didn’t feel quite right for the scope of this contest. In other words, I thought this story was phenomenal for what it is, but what it is doesn’t quite align with what I was looking for with regard to the contest theme. It’s hard because, again, I really did love this story on pretty much every other count—the end had me legitimately choked up—and so it’s still placed pretty high on my book for its strength on those fronts, but unfortunately I can’t place it as highly as I otherwise might have. Still, though, this is a fantastic work of fanfiction and I’m grateful you shared it with us.

Umbramatic

This is like, very beautifully written. It's genuinely deep and moving and seeing the protagonist's journey and coping with loss and befriending balloon goast frien is a delight. Also lel you capture the essence of conservative Christian families very nicely.

(Also allusion to trans Fantina? Heck yes.)

The problem is it's slow going on the thematics. Half opf the actual human/pokemon bonding stuff is smooshed into the second half of this fic, and a disturbing amount of said first half features no Pokemon at all, a pet peeve of mine. I know balloon frien really can't show up until the second half, but maybe have some presence from Luci and other Pokemon early on to tide us over and cram more of the theme in.

But this was still good! Real good. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to cry now.

 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Burner" by kintsugi

Roller, spray, gloves, mask. Nico chanted the checklist over and over again as he approached the alley.

Act natural, he reminded himself, even as his hands shook. He was faintly aware of a couple walking down the street behind him, engaged in loud conversation. They didn’t notice him, which made sense. If he didn’t look like he was doing something wrong, no one would care.

The spray paint came out of the can with a smooth hiss. A bit of it blew back on his gloved hand, cold to the touch. Nico stared at his handiwork, his heart hammering in his chest: the grey cinderblock of the wall was unmistakably black now. Absently, he rubbed at it with his right hand and found that, as expected, it didn’t come off. He’d done this. There was no turning back.

The second pass was easier, and his hand steadied. Press lightly; this would allow for fast, even strokes. The instincts flooded through his muscles as his heartbeat slowed to a manageable rate. The spray paint sputtered as arching lines formed. Block in the outlines. Fast, cutting lines of gold for the sun-kissed horizon. Slowly, Nico fell into a rhythm. By the time he’d gotten the roller out for the blue paint, his entire world was two-dimensional, an interplay of paint and brick.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This one was really interesting. I quite liked the immersive portrayal of graffiti culture you went for here, and the casual integration of it into Kalos in the aftermath of the Team Flare crisis, with a bit of an undertone of allegory for the sorts of fascistic groups no one takes seriously until they do something horrific. I think you made the world feel genuine, and whether you're personally familiar with graffiti culture or just did research, at least from my outside perspective it feels convincing. I like that you portrayed not just the lingo and the actions of the characters but the philosophy driving them to rebel in this particular way - the whole theme of freedom of expression and the etiquette around it is a neat thing to explore. And grappling with the fallout of canon's many huge near-disasters and how they would affect regular people in this context was an intriguing choice, I think! Lots of unexplored material to work with there, and I think you did a good job of working with that in a world that feels real.

Although I did enjoy the graffiti culture, I felt sometimes the use of lingo went beyond being immersive and into being a little obtuse to understand. For the most part you manage to make it reasonable to pick up what matters about the terminology from the context, but I often felt unsure if I had the right read on something or the idea I had was quite vague or I didn't get much of an idea until a while after the term was first used. For "toys" in particular, the explanation you do include of the acronym only rendered me more confused - does referring to people as "toys" for "tag over your shit" mean "toys are people who tag over your [other people's] shit" or "other people should tag over your [toys'] shit" or "you [toys] should tag over your [own] shit"? Without the acronym, from the context, I would've figured it just meant something akin to "noob", but once you gave it I just spent a while trying to puzzle out what it was even getting at, and I honestly still have no idea how to parse the acronym.

I found the central character arc here a little opaque too - I had a difficult time on my first read fully making sense of what exactly Nico's takeaway here was. On the second read I felt I got a better grasp on it: Nico's got this brutal, angry outlook on the Flare disaster that he's trying to express through his art, this focus on the horror that almost happened and how they can ever presume to just move on from it like it never happened. Rosetta's vandalism adds a sense of hope to his pieces: rebuilding, growth, healing. Which he initially hates, because it's changing his message, and he becomes obsessed with rooting her out, even at the cost of his satisfaction with his own art (I liked how you showed his emotional state regarding this a lot). But by finally talking to Rosetta and getting her perspective, he comes around to seeing it differently, to finally shifting his focus away from Flare's misanthropy and toward the people who helped and supported one another during the crisis, the ability to rebuild. Xerneas refused to destroy, because I am creation, and at the end Nico embraces that part of the message of the legend with Rosetta, and accepts her constructive contribution to his work.

Assuming I'm not wildly off-base there, I think that's an interesting and compelling arc and enjoy it a lot - but it really took the second read, and some thought and doubling back from there, for me to properly get there. Even after doing a third full read of the story I still feel it's just a bit too vague; it feels like there's a long chain of inference going on in the last few pages that isn't very direct or easy to follow, and even Nico's feelings on Team Flare at the beginning were kind of unclear. There's a lot of fascinating stuff going on here but I really feel like I'm having to squint to decipher the point.

The actual human-Pokémon relationship element here is pretty interesting. In the first half, Nico muses on how Lysandre was right that Pokémon will always be exploited by humans and an equal partnership isn't possible, but as it turns out his own view on Pokémon is definitively part of the problem (something I would kind of have liked to see the story address more explicitly or do more with, since Nico seems to have theoretical ideals that don't match his actual everyday attitude but the story doesn't tackle that to the extent I expected). Part of the character arc is that Nico at first can't even conceive of a Pokémon being the culprit, and once he does he views Rosetta in extremely dismissive terms - assuming she's doing this because she just doesn't understand what she's doing, his biggest beef was with a dog, kneejerk thinking he should have her caught to stop her being a nuisance. It's only Maevis who snaps him out of it (I quite enjoy their relationship, this pretty bickery friendship where she's willing to support him but also extremely willing to call him out on his shit - also liked the accompanying detail of Nico assuming the artist is a him while Maevis uses them), and gets him to finally go to actually talk to her and come to this more open-minded understanding with her. The way that Rosetta prefers to communicate in images, and this is one of her only ways of publicly expressing herself, is really neat and feels nicely appropriate, and I also found the bit about human monuments versus the stones that (I'm gathering) are a Pokémon monument to the events of 3000 years ago, and how they're different, to be fascinating and stirring in the way it was presented.

That said, I did kind of wish there was more of that actual Pokémon-human connection here. We spend most of the story with Nico and Maevis, and while Rosetta's presence is sort of felt in her additions to his murals, we don't actually meet her until two thirds in, and don't actually get to know her until page eighteen out of 23. They connect in this one specific way, and it's an interesting one, as is the portrayal of Nico's hypocritical attitude towards Pokémon and the way it shifts, but the two of them only barely get to know each other, and for the most part the story feels like it's about other things entirely - about the Ultimate Weapon, Team Flare, graffiti, Nico and Maevis. Those are all good things, but a bit less relevant to the theme of the contest - for an entry here, I would have liked to see more insight into Rosetta's character and the relationship between them beyond this one vague sort-of conversation about the Ultimate Weapon that they manage to have at the tail end of the story.

Finally, some nitpicks and confusions. Maevis has a whole line of reasoning about the mystery artist striking the Friday after Nico's pieces go up, but when she says this, both his pieces had gotten hit by the morning after he originally put them up, as best I can tell; how's she concluding it has anything to do with the day of the week? She also insists the mystery artist is 'crazy skilled', while also maintaining they're 'some toy in secondary school', which seems a little incongruous, and maintains after they first meet Rosetta that she recognizes the shade of green that Rosetta uses despite that it sounds like Rosetta can do a whole range of green shades and if the green color was so distinctive one would've thought she could've recognized it earlier from the murals themselves. The narration refers to Rosetta as 'she' once just before Maevis actually tells Nico about Rosetta - assuming that's just a mistake. And finally - at the end you describe how "Nico had always thought that there was a more sacred spot, that there was something worth memorializing more than the place where everything had almost ended, where evil had almost won." But I thought the whole point of his character arc was that originally he was hyperfocused on how everything had almost ended and it wasn't right to move on from it, and that's the whole message he was originally getting at with the murals, so saying he'd "always" thought actually that wasn't important feels very strange and makes me doubt whether I understood any of what I just read correctly - which maybe I didn't, but if so I'm not sure how I actually should be reading it.

Despite the criticisms above, though, I enjoyed this entry a lot, especially after the second read when I could better appreciate what (I think) it was going for. I really dug the characterization both human- and Pokémon-wise, I like the themes it touches on, and especially towards the end there were bits of prose I found powerful and stirring. "The world didn't want to look at your pain unless you made it beautiful, palatable to them somehow, but if you could do that, they'd let you live forever" was a sentence that really stuck out to me, as did the whole contemplation on monuments. So all in all I really liked it, as a story, even if it could do somewhat more with the theme.

HelloYellow17

Whoops, it looks like your formatting for line breaks didn’t translate well in Google docs! Not sure if you meant to fix them and forgot, or if this was just an unfortunate result of transferring from one program to another.

And we’re kicking the fic off with GRAFFITI! Ngl, I’ve low-key always wanted to learn how to graffiti haha.

Gotta admit I’m a little lost as to what history is being referenced here. Who is AZ? The description of the war and whatnot was very vague and left me a little confused. Though I’ve never played a Kalos game so that is...probably the problem, lol.

Six? Hours? Of still life??? Ooooof. As an art student, I’d wanna die lol. Still, I’m loving all the artistic influences so far! I’m really vibing with them. :D

That said, there’s a lot of street art lingo here! For the most part I caught the meanings just fine, but the term “burner” kept tripping me up and I had to look it up lol. A little more explanation for what exactly a burner is would be good, I think.

Maevis is so SNARKY hahaha. I like her!

“Almost delicately, without breaking eye contact, the smear gel lifted its tail and pressed a blob of green paint into the wall.”

Idk why exactly but that sentence SENT me, hahahaha. Probably because I’ve dealt with smart and sassy dogs before, and they *absolutely* will stare you dead in the face while doing the exact thing you told them not to do. XD

Oooh Maevis just gave it to him straight. Seems like catching Pokémon without their consent is a huuuugely taboo thing in this world—which I love! It’ll be interesting to see how Nick approaches this!

Tiny nitpick here, but up until Rosetta was revealed, the use of “monochrome” kept me thinking all her paintings were black and white. I suggest emphasizing that her works were all different shades of green!

Wow, I REALLY loved their interaction, and it was incredibly fitting that they communicated with each other through his sketchbook. The ending when they finished the mural together was beautiful, and that last sentence—I LOVE.

I also gotta commend you for your description of artists in action! Really beautifully described, and little phrases like “three strokes formed the scowl on her face” really brought the drawings to life.

If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that a lot of the themes and the stories behind the murals themselves were completely lost on me since I know so very little about Kalos. I’m willing to bet I’d have enjoyed the story even more if I understood the backstory and lore, though some tweaks or added sentences here and there to provide further clarity certainly wouldn’t hurt, either! Making your story easier to understand for readers of all backgrounds would help a lot. I also caught a few minor typos and grammar errors, but not enough to really detract from the story.

One more thing...I wish we had more time to really focus on Nick’s relationship with Rosetta. We don’t meet her until the last third of the story, and we don’t even understand what she’s doing or why until pretty much the end. For a contest where the theme is meant to be focused on the relationships between humans and Pokémon, I couldn’t help but feel that there could have been more of that here.

All in all though, this was a Very Lovely one-shot with a cute painter pupper! This was very pleasing to read as an artist myself. Great job!

kyeugh

This entry has been the hardest for me to review, and I think that’s because it was my favorite to read, but also the one I had the most difficulty interpreting. It’s not really a secret that I’m a big fan of the ancient Kalos lore, so this story and the topics it tackled pushed a lot of my buttons. The prose is also absolutely beautiful, and the imagery and symbolism you employ is top-notch. However, I had some difficulty connecting this story to the contest’s theme. I’ll talk about that a bit more later, but in general I think my biggest issue on that front was that while this story touches on a lot of interesting topics, most of those touches are somewhat surface-level ,and the subjects the narrative really spends time on and digs deeply into felt tangential if related at all to the theme. For that reason, despite the fact that I adored this story on basically every other level, I haven’t rated it as highly as I might have otherwise.

As for the things this story did well... there’s a lot to say. The way you framed this story’s themes with the story of an art student’s tag war was really ingenious. The ideas being tackled here are pretty lofty and abstract, but tying them to the medium of graffiti makes them feel a lot more grounded. This is kind of about the fallout of the firing of the Ultimate Weapon, sure, but it’s not just the narrator musing philosophically—this is an ideological battle between himself and his unknown adversary, too. Bringing it to a personal level like that really invested me. Presenting this struggle through art also enabled you to use some really powerful imagery as well, and in a novel way; I really liked the subtle ways in which Nic’s original vision was inverted.

I appreciate the way that Nic is kind of torn between two worlds here. He’s certainly trying his best to make a deep, ideological statement that reverbrates in the hearts of those who see it—the line “The world didn’t want to look at your pain unless you could make it beautiful, palatable to them somehow, but if you could do that, they’d let it live forever” really jumped out at me, both for its truth and for its relevance to AZ’s character arc. But he’s an art student, too, attempting to master his craft and achieve popular recognition in public and in school. It seems like he can’t decide which of these he cares about more, and they seem to come at a cost to one another—if he focuses on his schoolwork, that’s time and effort he’s spent away from his spraypaint and away from the walls, but if he spends all his time making streetart, his academic career will suffer too. I liked how Rosetta and Maevis tugged him between these worlds of ideology/public recognition and technical mastery/academic success, respectively.

On that note, Rosetta is an interesting character, but I wanted more out of her. She has some great moments—the part where she slowly moves her brush onto the wall as Nic begs her not to made me laugh out loud. I liked that Nic’s secret rival turned out to be a pokémon, and I enjoyed the weirdness of that dynamic as well. Rosetta does seem to have an almost-human level of intelligence—she can’t speak, but she’s clearly capable of higher level thought, interpreting and creating symbolic art, and on some level comprehending the politics behind the Flare incident. Yet she’s markedly treated as other than human. Nic jokes about sticking her in a ball to get rid of his problem, and while that’s clearly not okay, it’s still a thought that occurs to him. His surprise that his rival could have been a pokémon all this time is pretty pronounced, too. Even though this pokémon displays many of the attributes of personhood, Nic seems reluctant to treat her as a person.

I kind of wanted this to be dug into a bit more deeply. Rosetta is certainly a character with her own beliefs and views, but even so, she felt very peripheral. She does help push along Nic’s thought process on the Flare debacle and the notion of rebuilding, but I didn’t feel she played a very active role in doing this. He mostly views her slashing as annoying and doesn’t reflect on it much further than that; when they finally meet and “talk,” she draws a couple pictures for him that get his mind going, but the vast majority of his ideological turn-around there was internal and somewhat monologued. There’s some interesting stuff going on here, I think—Rosetta’s weird kind-of personhood, the fact that the Ultimate Weapon is powered by the lives of pokémon that are stolen unilaterally in order to advance human agendas, et cetera. Something I thought was neat was when you suggested that everyone, human and pokémon, was the same in the face of that impending disaster.

However, these things are touched on but not really dug into in the way I was hoping for. There’s some nice imagery with the gravestones, and some good drama with the flashbacks to the firing of the Ultimate Weapon, but I didn’t feel like these insights—the ones related to the complex relationships between humans and pokémon—were really incorporated into Nic’s worldview at the end. The conclusion he arrives at as a good one, but ultimately, I think he could have arrived there just the same if Rosetta had been a human instead. Her being a pokémon only really feels like it matters on a skin-deep level.

That would be okay if this was just a story I’d stumbled upon in isolation, but given the fact that it’s an entry to a contest about pokémon-human relationships, it’s just not quite what I was looking for. Even so, this is an absolutely beautiful story, elegantly-written and resounding in its themes and statements. As I said before, if I divorce it from the context of the contest, this was my favorite story of all the entries to read. XY are rife with life-and-death imagery, the horrors of genocide and sacrifice, the price of eternal life, and the repetition of terrible history. You treat all these topics with care and nuance, and I was a huge fan of the very graphical symbolism you tied it all together with. The throughline of this story, as I perceived it, was powerlessness—Nic and Rosetta and everyone else were wholly unable to prevent the apocalypse that was being pushed onto them, and it was only a blur of a select few prominent faces who prevented it all from crumbling to the ground. Rosetta’s lesson to nick—that closure is less important than progress—is a powerful one.

Umbramatic

This was simultaneously kind of thought-provoking and kind of cute. Nico's struggles with creative expression are relatable, Rosetta is adorable, and my favorite thing is this provides a fascinating glance into post-Flare Kalos.

There are two main things I would nitpick:

-There is. A lot. Of what I presume is graffiti artist slang or something and I understood none of it because -McCoy voice- I'm a digital artist, not a graffiti artist. Maybe edit in a guide or something?

-I feel like given the theme perhaps you should draw out Nico and Rosetta's relationship after they meet? Maybe focus more on a joined career or something together, or have more difficulties before they come to an agreement, or SOMETHING. It just needs more emphasis on how their relationship works once they actually know who they are.

But yeah, as a study of a man and mon in post-Flare Kalos this is still pretty interesting.
 

Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Dark-Clothed Small Human" by Shiny Phantump
Second-Place Winner

I am trapped. Alone.

My siblings are gone. They were put into ice. We did not do what they wanted us to, so now they want to freeze us. I am the last one they need to freeze. Once the machine is ready, I will be frozen…
indefinitely.

Indefinitely is an odd word. I have never heard it before, but the machine they put into my head knows what it means.

For an unlimited or unspecified period of time.

It means maybe forever.

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This is very cute. Null's confused, naïve perspective is charming, particularly the way that they 'Pokémonize' technology, and the way that Gladion is attentive to their needs, to keeping them calm and helping them understand what's going on, is really sweet. It's the sort of thing I expected to see for this theme, just exploring how the two of them bond and get to know each other for the first time. My favorite bits were little things - Null innocently describing Gladion showing the Aether employees "one of his fingers", obliviously assuming the no-face is scared of Gladion when really he's scared of Null, Null's pure wonder at the idea of walking on the ceiling - but I think you did a lovely job with their interactions generally and the sense of security that Null finds with him.

The idea of the 'machine in their head' (the RKS system, I assume) that lets them understand words they've never heard before is fun, and I particularly liked it at the beginning, where they use it to know what 'indefinitely' means, making it this scary, alien concept. However, as the story went on I did find its use somewhat inconsistent. You usually seem to bring up when they're using the machine, including for extremely mundane things like "sky" and "bed" - and showing those are things Null has never even heard of adds punch to their situation. But it makes it feel weird when Null then seemingly effortlessly and without comment uses much more complex concepts that one would have expected them to also be unfamiliar with! Apparently Null has never heard of "boats", but has heard of "stealing"; has never heard of the "sky" but does understand "friends"; doesn't know "beds" but is perfectly aware of "pillows", "towels" and "water nozzles". And while the machine can instantly supply not only the word "sky" but also the fact it goes on forever, it seemingly can't teach Null about elevators. All in all, it kind of feels like you used this element when you felt like it, but at other times either let Null just be confused or had them understand things without explanation, and I can't see a very coherent pattern to when you go for which! I felt this undermined it a little - there isn't a clear sense of when Null needs to use it and exactly what knowledge they're lacking.

I felt it was a bit of a shame how Null starts to use the name Gladion kind of arbitrarily as well - it seems, we learn suddenly, they've known and understood his name all along and have just been calling him the 'dark-clothed small human' anyway for no particular reason. The switch just sort of happens when he's no longer wearing the dark clothes so that the previous moniker would be inaccurate, and not really in a way where it feels like a narratively meaningful indicator of a shift in Null's feeling towards him, and that dampens the impact of that a bit, I think. The sudden decision to start to refer to him as a "friend" also just sort of happens, without it being given any narrative weight, even when Gladion should be literally the first friend they've ever had - it feels like it doesn't really matter, even though it should! I would have liked to see more thought put into that.

I also found myself wishing there was a little more emotion in this story, in general. The narration is fun and has character, but it's fairly detached and distant, describing things in neutral, even tones throughout. There's not really much of a sense that Null's mood or mental state changes between escaping from the lab and having a bath - and although that could perhaps just be a matter of their character and naïve POV, Gladion, too, seems oddly even-tempered during and after what one would have expected to be the most drastic decision of his life, something he must have agonized over. Of course Gladion is determined to help and take care of Null, but wouldn't he be at least a little distracted or distressed after he just ran away from home and stole a boat and a Pokémon from his own mother? Wouldn't any of that be visibly weighing on him as he goes to bed that night? Is this the first time he's ever slept away from home and his family? It can be heartbreaking to portray strong, conflicted emotions through the POV of another character who doesn't really understand them - I don't think you really capitalized on this here, and it could have really lent the story a bit extra if you had. There's nothing really wrong with how it plays out currently, but it is a bit subdued.

So, all in all, this was really cute, although I did think it could have delivered more of an emotional punch with a bit more care. Some more polish to give more weight to shifts that one would expect to be important and convey more feeling could strengthen it, I feel! But it's a sweet story that made me smile nonetheless.

HelloYellow17

Ohhh no, is this a poor baby lab pokemon? IT IS.

Ohhh but not just any Pokémon! I’ll admit it took me way too long to realize who the MC is and who the “small human” is. I do think some additional description of Gladion would be helpful beyond “small and dark”, because at first I was visualizing him as a small child.

“He has calming words and calming touch. We are going to be okay.” Agh this tugged at my heartstrings. So simple but so pure.

I love the animalistic viewpoint of the MC and how you’ve tapped into that. The door “likes” the card, so it opens the building is not happy and yells, etc—especially the bit about the “big ceiling” (sky.) It’s cute in a sad kind of way, and shows just how little Type:Null has experienced outside of the lab.

Also your use of the helmet working as a translator/information guide is interesting! I don’t know enough to know if that’s canon or not, but I like it either way, and it helps with describing certain things like the boat and bathtub without requiring you to drop vague and possibly confusing indirect descriptions.

Omg the bath scene is ADORABLE hhhhh. Null is a sweet and precious baby that must be protected at all costs.

What a sweet little story! I really really enjoyed the narration style and the portrayal of Gladion’s softer side. Honestly, my only complaint here is that I wish it was longer, haha! I would love to see more of these two and how they grow together and learn to trust one another. There wasn’t much of a sense of plot here, other than their escape, and I couldn’t help but feel like the story wasn’t actually resolved when it ended? I’m not sure if this is due to pacing or if I was just not prepared for it to be as short as it was.

Anyway, this is exactly the kind of material I’ve been excited to read—something that explores the relationship between a Pokémon and a human and how they help one another. I do wish we saw a little more about how Null helped Gladion, too—we see them protecting him at the end of the story, but I’d have loved a scene where they give him some emotional comfort, too, just to show both sides of this relationship. But even then, we can tell that Gladion cares for them by his actions, and that he actively wants to be with them, so that has plenty of implications on its own.

I love this. I don’t have much else to say, honestly. Really well done!

kyeugh

“The no-faces either couldn’t tell what I wanted, or they couldn’t care. He can do both.”

I loved this entry so much. Gladion is a complicated character, and his relationship with Silvally is so poignant even from the glimpses we get of it in the games. What you do with it here is really special. Many of the scenes are pretty understated in their presentation or premise—Gladion stealing Silvally away with virtually no resistance, their quiet boat ride, a simple bath. I thought this worked really well for the smaller scope of this entry. It’s not a story that zooms out and makes an abstract analysis of the relationships between pokémon and humans; it simply examines one such relationship in an everyday yet perfectly sweet way, and the subtle feeling of the story serves that purpose well.

Type:Null made for an awesome narrator. In some ways they feel like this traumatized and trepid person, in another they’re an alien in a world they don’t belong in, and at the same time they have this possessive, protective, dog-like quality to them. These don’t feel like three disjoint qualities but rather aspects of a single cohesive personality. I really love the way the “machine” provides them with information that they can understand intellectually but not intuitively; the way it perceives its environment in terms of these clinical shreds of information is interesting and honestly pretty sad, and it’s always used to good effect, never getting in the way of the narrative. I feel that way generally about Type: Null’s perspective. There’s some really good xeno stuff in here—the way they perceive everything in terms of their laboratory environment, the strange ways in which they differentiate humans, the way their understanding is built around the scraps of information they receive from the machine—but aside from just being neat, it’s always to tell us something about Type: Null, never just there because it’s cool. It’s a very intentional and deliberate story, and I felt like pretty much every sentence was important. I respect that about this entry immensely.

Gladion’s characterization is a lot more subtle; Type: Null isn’t particularly observant when it comes to how he feels, so we had to pick it up ourselves in more subtle ways. I liked that a lot. The small, ostensibly reluctant ways in which Gladion shows Type: Null love are delightful. You do a great job capturing the sad and longing yet stony and stoic character he has in the games. He’s lashing out at those around him because he’s hurt and afraid, but really what he wants is to be loved—just like Type: Null themself. Even though Type: Null seems to think they were saved by this good-hearted, dark-clothed small human, it’s evident that Type: Null is just as much saving him. Their relationship is beautifully reciprocal, and I think the last couple paragraphs of the story tie that notion together in a really satisfying way.

I honestly don’t have much to offer in the way of criticism. This was a fantastic little story, and I think it played to this contest’s theme perfectly. The quiet, subdued love between Gladion and Type: Null is depicted in such a lovely way, understood rather than spoken, and I found myself hanging on every word. It’s a wonderful love letter to one of the more developed human-pokémon pairs in canon, and an all-around excellent story. I’m grateful I got to read it.

Umbramatic

I love this one, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I've always kinda wanted to explore the perspective of Gladion's Type: Null (another one for the oneshot backlog) and you do such a good job of it. I love Type: Null's simultaneously sheltered and alien perspective, and its relationship with Gladion.

I guess in terms of flaws this fic is kind of shorter than it needs to be, and kind of choppy scene-wise at the end? There should be more! I wanna see more! I dunno if this is a tie-in to an existing or planned fic and you don't want to retread too much but Type:Null's perspective could still add a lot.
 

Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Disfigured" by Farla

Some girls Vicky's age kept a whole team of pokemon, but Vicky had never wanted another pokemon but her Mary.

Mary - Roseburn's Mary Mary, to be precise - came from the very last egg laid by their star granbull, Roseburn's Quite Contrary. Quite Contrary was magnificent and had swept contest after contest, but her eggs kept failing to develop properly and of the dozen that did hatch, none had her charm and half had such poor coloring they had to be bucketed. By the last egg, nobody but Vicky held out any hope. But when she'd helped crack the rocking, whining egg and free Mary, Vicky could see they'd won the genetic lottery at last with gorgeous lavender-blue fur shining from the eggshell.

Mary was perfect in every way. Quite Contrary was lovely but had a bit of a weak jawline and Mary got the properly hefty underbite from her sire Cockle Shell that Quite Contrary had failed to inherit. She was a bit floppy and blind to start with but Vicky knew that was exactly what the perfect snubbull was like as a new puppy. Even the trouble of having to tack up the rolls of skin around her eyes now only meant the surety she'd have utterly stunning folds once she matured and evolved, even better than either of her already gorgeous parents.

Really, Vicky could talk for hours about how wonderful every inch of Mary was, from her adorably scalloped nostrils to the tip of her extra-long skirt of skin, how unspeakably lucky her breeding was, how much Vicky loved everything about her, which was why it was so insulting when some reedy girl in a scuffed leather jacket like she was trying to be edgy offered to buy Mary for pocket change.


Read the rest: AO3

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

Well, this sure was disturbing.

You do an effective, unsettling job of writing the thoroughly biased POV of a child who cares about her Pokémon to exactly the extent that she's worth money and conforms to exaggerated dog show standards, and no further than that. At the beginning one sort of hopes that Vicky might actually love her in her childish, oblivious way, and then that's just slowly and cruelly crushed as the story proceeds, culminating in "Everything special about Mary had been destroyed." I am truly repelled.

Obviously there's a cutting (ha ha) satire on real-world brachycephalic dog breeds going on here, not only in the casually mentioned inbreeding and birth defects and having to help them out of the egg and inability to properly breathe and so on (you manage to breezily fit in so many grotesque layers to this that I have to take my hat off - "the properly hefty underbite from her sire Cockle Shell that Quite Contrary had failed to inherit"), but also the way that Vicky (and presumably her family and the people they associate with) is absolutely convinced that Mary is perfect and beautiful and the ideal Snubbull when the deformities she thinks are ideal sound horrific and pitiable. Despite all her assertions that everyone should realize Mary is perfect and so on, nobody else in the story seems at all sympathetic to her perspective on it, which I think mirrors how ordinary people generally really don't prefer pugs with the flattest possible noses. Vicky's viewpoint feels utterly disconnected from reality, and poor Mary's left as a casualty, suffering for these arbitrary standards.

That being said, though, I kind of wish this story did more of looking at their relationship, because we don't actually see the two of them interact at all prior to Mary getting snatched. We get to see that Vicky thinks of Mary solely in terms of her breeding potential and shininess and adherence to breed standards, and we see that Mary doesn't actually like Vicky at all, growling at her when she tries to come near when she finally can at the end - but that's where our glimpse of them ends. Mary herself is barely a character at all. The exploration of the theme here is more about human mindsets regarding this particular Pokémon species than about their relationships per se.

And I honestly think there would have been a lot to explore if it had gotten into their relationship a bit! Ultimately, as it is, Vicky just kind of comes across as cartoonishly monstrous, which is fair for satirical purposes. But at the beginning I was kind of hoping for a legitimate portrayal of a child who just genuinely buys into these standards because, well, she's a child, and it sounds like her parents are breeders, and she was raised to think this is good and makes sense. Surely, in reality, such a child probably would sincerely love her perfect puppy, even while being oblivious to her suffering! I feel like making her character more realistic and nuanced, and actually seeing much of anything of Mary, would have added a lot to this and given it more actual impact; as it is, it's definitely successful at being deeply unpleasant, but it doesn't hurt nearly as much as I think it could if we could actually care about Mary on more than an abstract level and experience Vicky as more of an actual, horribly misguided person.

Also, neither here nor there, but the story seems to be implying that the surgeon and the person who attacked Vicky are in cahoots as a sort of radical anti-Snubbull-breeding operation - it at least feels distinctly like the surgeon's lying about the conveniently exactly opposite man who just so happens to be impossible to track down, and I'm not sure why she would unless that was the case. And then I guess that maybe the point of the thief first going on about how ugly Mary is is to gauge whether Vicky actually cares on any real level, and she went ahead and assaulted her in the way she did because Vicky answered in terms of the waiting list for her eggs. But as terrible as Vicky is, the thief not only assaults this literal child to snatch her Pokémon but also stomps on her stomach as she's down just to be cruel, so, not exactly heroic vigilantes, are they. I guess the fact everyone here is a repugnant human being is the point? Either way, everyone here is a repugnant human being and Mary deserves better than any of these people. My God.

All in all, I am very successfully repulsed, and it's highly effective at getting across what it is, but I think this had the potential to be significantly more impactful and do more with the theme than it did.

HelloYellow17

Oh gosh, this fic was entirely different from what I expected. And you know what, I like that it caught me by surprise!

At first I assumed I would be rooting for the MC, as most stories tend to go for, but it became clear pretty quickly that this wouldn’t be the case. Not one time does Vicky think about who Mary is in terms of personality, what she likes or dislikes, how she behaves. It’s all about her cosmetic appeal, and it’s honestly upsetting to me. ALSO, are we gonna gloss over what the heck it meant that all of Mary’s siblings had to be “bucketed”?! The implications of what that means…it’s nauseating. Good lord. The MC clearly doesn’t see these as living beings with minds of their own. It’s like they’re nothing more than dolls to her.

At first, when Vicky went to the center, I thought Mary had been horribly abused by the thief—until I learned that the nurse had actually fixed a myriad of awful deformities from inbreeding. I wanted to cheer for the nurse, but also...she didn’t seem much better, at least not with that “release if you like” comment. Is nobody taking Mary’s feelings into account here? Or maybe this is a universe in which all Pokémon are more or less animals and aren’t as sentient as what we usually see in canon?

Wow I just wanna punch Vicky in the face lol. Way to actually care about the well-being of your Pokémon, jerk.

To sum it up, your writing style was quite nice, and the narration captures Vicky’s “holier than thou” attitude quite well. I did find myself wondering what message this story was going for, though—was this to illustrate how horribly some people can treat their Pokémon? It’s not explicitly addressed in the story that Vicky’s way of seeing things is morally wrong in any way, except for maybe a comment from the nurse—but the nurse comes off as pretty apathetic herself, so it doesn’t seem like she cares much, either.

Vicky also doesn’t learn anything here. And while she doesn’t exactly need to learn anything for this to be a complete story, I did find myself wanting something a little more concrete for the ending. It felt not quite finished with the way it left off, and I think there’s lots of room for tweaking to make this story feel complete.

However! I give you MAD props for taking the theme a completely different direction than I anticipated! I love stories that take me by surprise, that make me feel things (even if it’s negative/angry things!) and that go against the norm. This hit all of those buttons for me, and boy did you write Vicky so well in such a short amount of words, lol. If I was that nurse I’d probably have slapped her...or worse. xD This was about the relationship between humans and Pokémon...or rather, the fact that, in this case, there isn’t one when there desperately needs to be. Nice job, and way to think outside the box for this one!

kyeugh

This entry made me feel bad, which I think makes it excellent. The opening sentence is so innocuous and wholesome, but it only takes a couple more before we’re in “oh hell no” territory. It’s a pretty grim and upsetting premise, and fairly unique among the entries we got in that it provides a snapshot of just one type of pokémon-human relationship and really deconstructs it.

I was really impressed by how efficiently you guided my feelings toward Vicky. This story is a short sequence of gut-punches, yet despite the story’s brevity those punches still felt they had weight. The first couple paragraphs do a fantastic job at making us feel some kind of way about Vicky. It comes close to actually feeling excessive, but I don’t think it quite gets there—the effect is just short of unbelievably gross. I’m not as knowledgeable about dog breeding and kennel culture and all of that, but my impression is that it has similar characteristics (although... hopefully? not as extreme); the similarity sort of grounded this situation. The deadpan, matter-of-fact way that Mary is described also really helps sell that yes, this is really how Vicky sees things and she doesn’t see anything wrong with it at all.
The meta aspect here was not lost on me; pokémon breeding manifests in-game is a very similar process of eugenics for optimal IVs and natures and what have you.

I was really rooting for someone to find Mary who would treat her with more love and respect, and... well, someone new does find her, but it doesn’t exactly inspire hope. It’s pretty devastating and clever the way you build up this really unsympathetic character, then have bad things happen to her repeatedly, but also deny us the satisfaction that usually comes with bad things happening to bad people—these grievances are really just damage to her pokémon, which she views as property, and it left me feeling worse than before. It really is “a string of awful luck,” though no one seems particularly concerned by how awful it is for Mary. Absolutely crumpled my heart up several times over.

It’s not quite so as in-your-face as the rest of the story, but I think the theme of this story can also be broadly interpreted as something like: pokémon are used as objects by humans. Which rings pretty true, both in-universe and out. Frequently, pokémon are viewed in terms of their “utility”—strong pokémon are the best, and weak pokémon are useless. The definition of utility that matters for this story is a bit different from the usual one, but the point still comes through loud and clear. The pokémon-human relationship is often mutualistic and wholesome, but it certainly isn’t always, in canon or otherwise. Heartbreaking as this story was, it’s a very effective look into the less savory dynamics in the pokémon world.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this story was the person who operated on Mary, and I guess in general the timeline of her recovery there. Who was that person? A pokémon surgeon or an adoption center worker or what? If the former, it seems odd that she’d care whether the pokémon was “adoptable” or not; if the latter, it’s a bit surprising that she has surgery skills. I also found it sort of confusing that the surgery was performed so urgently—she was willing to work with just the supplies she had on hand, indicating it was sort of a quick and dirty operation. It’s already a bit of a stretch to me that they’d go so far as performing surgery to correct deformities for the sake of making Mary more adoptable, so I couldn’t really buy that they needed to do it post-haste. I get that it needed to happen for the story to get where it was going, but I think a little more expansion there on why it was necessary to do so immediately would have been good.

Overall, very good and effective story packed into an impressively slim wordcount. It didn’t make me feel good to read, but it raised a lot of questions in my mind about the pokémon world and the bond between humans and pokémon, which is exactly what I was looking for here, and it’s super good at what it’s trying to do.

Umbramatic

Some of this is amusingly humorous. The descriptions and gags are really nice, and the perspective of the protag is convincing.

It's just. The events are kind of unpleasant in a wayu they probably shouldn't be? Like, I feel like everyone but the poor Snubbul is an asshole here and it ends on an unsatisfactory note so it's really difficult to care. Especially with the line about bucketing - are they killing these poor baby Snubbul like what the fuck. And i know less flattering takes on human-Pokemon relations were allowed but this feels like. An overly mean spirited take on the prompt?

I'd suggest maybe toning all that stuff down? This can be improved, there is good stuff there, just gotta poke at what would make it a more satisfying experience.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"A Flicker in the Night" by Flaze

You stared at the empty bowl, eyes transfixed on the invisible air floating around the remaining crumbs of what had once been your breakfast. Two servings of kible weren’t nearly enough for a young electryke and the soft growling noise that drowned out your whimpers of hunger reminded you of that.

Poking the bowl with your snout you wish for more of it to appear; but none does.

You start pacing around and let out a yip; whenever you did it at the daycare the kind old lady would come in and feed you. She didn’t feed you kible either, instead you were blessed with juicy berries that always filled your mouth and made your stomach dance with abandon. Those were the best meals you ever had.

The thought of those berries makes your stomach growl and you look down at the floor; remembering the first night you spent at the daycare, surrounded by the other pokemon in a foreign environment.

You’d been anxious at first, but the atmosphere was so calm, with the old lady, her chansey and her chimecho always taking care of you. It was completely different to the life you’d been through back at the shed.

You start pacing around when the old lady doesn’t come, static surging through your body and making your fur stand on end.

It had only been a day since you were taken away from the daycare, the human woman that adopted you, she said her name was Carla, was very adamant to have you in her home, even though she hadn’t
prepared a proper bowl. She’d rushed over to a pet store--just after receiving your pokeball--and bought
one bowl.

One bowl for food and water.

And now there was no food and no water.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This is the story of two broken people hurting each other and healing from it and connecting, and there's a fair bit that I really like about it, but there's also a fair bit that I think drags it down. Let's take a look.

To start with, I think you do a nice job on the Pokémon POV here, with Flicker's perspective informed by being a Pokémon and not quite understanding or caring to understand the human world entirely. There are bits of the POV that are just pretty cute - the evil wall, the big boy howls your mom taught you and the forbidden growls that one of your brothers taught you in secret, his bafflement at the sofa bed.

And I really like Carla's character, this flawed young adult with a troubled family history and a failed training career, doing her best, messing up in major ways, but doing what she can to own up to it and make up for it. I found the way that you depicted her believable and evocative and just oozing with being a real person, and the way that we never learn the details of her backstory because it's not something Flicker really understands or cares about except to the extent that he can relate it to his own family was a good choice that works, I think. We can fill in the blanks, appreciate this limited glimpse into her history that gives her a bit of depth, without stepping out of Flicker's point of view. I really like bits like her falling asleep against the wall when he's having nightmares, incredibly groggy when woken up but just wanting to be there for him. And their relationship becomes quite sweet and I care about them and want them to help each other deal with their respective traumas and anxieties. This characterization is what really makes the story, I think, and it really works, at least for me.

On the other hand, there are a lot of mechanical errors here. There are spelling mistakes, a lot of run-on sentences, it shifts back and forth between past and present tense, and sometimes sentences just don't make sense. On top of this, sometimes I just found the prose confusing generally, making it hard to tell exactly what you were talking about. I particularly noticed a couple of different times where I had a hard time making out the timing of things, what's actually happening when, as with how you seem to describe Carla already touching Flicker before you then describe her reaching for him. Often it hits upon good, evocative bits, but on balance I felt like the prose tended to get in the way a bit and made it harder for me to follow the story properly.

And there are a number of other things that just confuse me or otherwise give me pause about how the story plays out. On that Friday where Carla comes home late, for instance, it really feels like she arrives only seconds, maybe minutes at the most, after Flicker was anticipating her, which makes his freakout and escape attempt when she does arrive feel like a strange overreaction - I'm assuming what you actually meant to convey was that he expected her hours ago, but that's really not obvious from the way it's written. Flicker is incredibly distrustful of humans - but as best we can tell, the last human he interacted with significantly was the old lady at the daycare, who isn't described as anything but very kind and loving. This just made me feel strange about the fact he's so convinced humans are bad - did he not begin to question it with her, and if he didn't, why does he seem to think of her so fondly? Seeing as Flicker has been with humans before, how come he's apparently unaware that humans can't understand Pokémon? How does Flicker even know the way to the park, when Carla explicitly took him there in a Pokéball and released him on arrival, and Pokéballs put him in complete stasis? How can Carla have specially studied for a license to be able to adopt a hurt Pokémon, yet wasn't aware that they need both food and water?

I also found it a little incongruous that after Carla has respected Flicker's boundaries for most of the story and avoided touching him, because he has clearly indicated he doesn't want her to... she suddenly goes for touching him for the very first time when he's deeply upset and agitated and has just tried to run away from her altogether. This seems like the worst possible time to start pushing his boundaries! Touch to calm someone down is good and makes sense, when they trust you, but suddenly touching someone who has expressly asked you not to touch them, when they're specifically upset and trying to get away from you, just doesn't seem like a very considerate thing to do. I understand what you were going for with it, and in a way I like it as it's written out, but when I think about her making that decision, it feels weird.

All in all, then, this story is marred by technically shaky and confusing prose and numerous oddities that hurt its standing for me, but I really liked the central characters and relationship a lot and ultimately found it more memorable and emotionally evocative than most in spite of its flaws.

HelloYellow17

Second-person POV, wow! A bold choice, I like it!

Aw, the Pokéball isn’t comfortable :( that makes me sad!

Haha I love the little details that show this is from a Pokémon’s perspective—the wall was angry! Was it still mad? Very cute.

“You immediately make this known to her, using all of the big boy howls that your mom taught you—and some of the forbidden growls that one of your brothers taught you in secret—to give her a piece of your mind.” PFFFT hahaha I love this so much! Hilarious and cute at the same time. Little Electrike is so fiesty!

“She pulled out a bed—magic?!—from the sofa” good gravy I am LOVING these little side notes in the narration. So much personality and I’m totally in love with it!

Carla seems nice, but for goodness’ sake I can’t let go of the fact she only got ONE bowl. She’s raised a Pokémon before, at least for a little while, so you’d think she’d at least know as much as to get two!

You’re very good at utilizing senses to bring a scene to life—especially with touch, I’ve noticed. It adds a whole new depth to each snippet and really makes the reader feel like they’re there and experiencing the story with the characters.

It’s clear that Carla has her own baggage that she’s going through. I’m wondering why she would get a Pokémon when she doesn’t seem to be in quite the right headspace to properly care for one? Though there’s a lot of potential for these two scarred and broken characters to help each other heal.

A “few months of regenerative surgery”?! Yiiiiikes. I can’t imagine how painful that would be, and yet she doesn’t seem to blame Electrike at all. Aww. Carla’s not perfect, but she’s a good bean at her core.

Wow, what a story. The overall tone is melancholic, and yet, despite the fact that I usually prefer more upbeat stories, I really enjoyed it. I love that you didn’t stop to answer or explain every question—for example, we didn’t learn how exactly Flicker escaped from the shed, or what happened with Carla’s mom and her sister—but we didn’t need to. What was most important for this story was the relationship between Flicker and Carla, how they misunderstood each other at first because they were too wrapped up in their hurt, and how they began to work past that.

I do have a complaint, and that is that there were quite a few typos and grammar errors here and there—but it was still perfectly readable! I was also briefly confused when Flicker electrocuted the wall—I really didn’t know what was happening, and even as the story progressed, I still didn’t quite get what he did. Other than that, the rest of the narration was very clear, and the transition between scenes was very smooth!

Another thing is that, while it’s a wonderful story, I found myself hoping for a little more oomph, something that would make it stand out in terms of how it fits the theme. A damaged human and Pokémon coming together makes for a wonderful story, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing *something*, that extra push to make it more impressionable and emotional. Most of the emotion came from flashbacks and the sad situation the characters are both in, but the events being told in real-time didn’t pack an emotional punch.

That said, I do love that this story didn’t focus on the typical training aspect at all. We see a more “normal,” domestic side of the Pokémon world here, and I like it a lot—it makes it more relatable, honestly. I can relate to small apartments and loneliness better than I can to traveling the world with a team of super powered monsters, haha!

This was a lovely story, and one that you should be proud of. Well done!

kyeugh

The relationship between humanity and pokémon is a multitude, and I think this entry excels in covering the wide breadth of the forms that relationship can take. Flicker’s relationships with the humans in his life change quite dramatically as throughout the story—he plays the role of the pet, the commodity, the victim, the child, and finally the companion. The fact that this is all explored in the context of his relationships with just two different humans underscores the complexity of this bond not just on an abstract, “humans and pokémon” level, but also on an individual level. You do a great job making Flicker’s treatment by and of humans feel meaningfully rooted in the characters’ experience. This story is shaped by Flicker’s interactions with the Gatekeeper and Carla, and those interactions always feel fluent and organic.

The flashback sequences were really well done in my opinion. Flicker’s emotions come through really clearly, and the hazy, miserable atmosphere of it is well-constructed; it feels like a place where the days are all somber and meld together. I enjoyed the way that the flashbacks were broken up such that the part of the memory being recalled had relevance to what was going on in the present. First he’s reliving his mistreatment in the shed, which reflects his episode earlier that day. There was a nice contrast between his mother’s pleading in the flashback and Carla’s emulation of her own mother’s behavior. Then, later, the climax of the scene in the shed lines up with the emotional climax in the rain. The parallel structure was just really nice.

I found the beginning a little bit confusing. We go from Flicker fondly recalling his days at the daycare with the kind woman there who treated him well, and he finds himself missing her... but then he immediately gets back to thinking that “all humans are the same” and that they can’t be trusted. It felt sort of weird to have those two fairly opposite sentiments back-to-back without expanding on the contradiction. Which is it? Does he resent the daycare and the woman who took care of them there because they gave him away to Carla, who mistreated him now? Did that, to his mind, undo the good done by the daycare? I wanted to see the dots connected on that a little more explicitly.

There are some good pokémon POV bits in here; his relationship with the Angry Evil Wall was pretty funny, and I chuckled at him calling the pull-out bed “magic.” There were a few things about the perspective that had me scratching my head a little bit though. How can he tell which humans are foreigners and which aren’t? Why does he know what an “equation” is? I also found it pretty weird that he could read the texts on Carla’s phone—where did he learn to do that!?—yet didn’t know what a cell phone was. None of this stuff is a big deal, just some little inconsistencies that left me a bit confused on the narrator’s knowledge level.

Another thing that confused me was Flicker’s decision to run away. Just a scene previous, we see that Flicker is pretty much terrified of going outside—he’s getting his senses overloaded and his worst memories dredged back up. Yet when Carla returns home late, he seems to think that running back outside will be liberating. If his trip outside with Carla in the previous scene actually got him over his fears of being out there, that wasn’t clear to me—maybe he’s aware of the fact that it’s scary out there, but resolves that it’s still preferable to staying in the apartment with Carla. As with his reflection on the daycare, there’s ways for this action to make sense, but I didn’t quite get there as-is and would have liked a little bit of elaboration on that particular point.

The climax out in the rain is very cinematic and emotional, though! As I said before, it was a powerful choice to set it up parallel to his recollection of the attack on his mother. All of the negative, confusing emotions that have been welling up in him since the very beginning of the story really come to a head all at once here in a way that genuinely feels poignant, and the way that’s manifested physically though his electrical powers paints a very vivid picture.

However, I feel like the conclusion of this story was a huge missed opportunity. At the climax, Flicker thinks about the sacrifice his mother made for him even as Carla ruins her arm so she can embrace him. He spends a few lines wondering why they would do this, and to me it was clear—in both cases, they’re putting themselves in harm’s way to demonstrate their love for him. I saw it as a really touching statement on what it means to love someone, as well as a powerful subversion of the dynamic that makes up the bulk of the pokémon-human interactions we see in fic and otherwise: rather than a pokémon taking a beating for its trainer, the trainer takes a beating for their pokémon. But Flicker... never gets there. This connection is never made, and the conclusion is honestly kind of wishy-washy. While I do appreciate the notion that the bond between pokémon and trainer is a perennial work in progress, as any relationship is, I was ultimately left feeling unsatisfied that the dots between his past and his present were never really connected.

Small final note, but some of the prose is a little clunky. Nothing egregious, but some of your phrasing is just a bit awkward or runs on longer than I’d like. This was especially distracting in the beginning, although I did eventually stop noticing it so much once the story had me otherwise gripped. Still, certainly an area for improvement.

Overall, this was a really engaging story with characters that felt realistic and imperfect, the emotional scenes were done perfectly, and you weave some excellent threads about what it means to be a pokémon’s trainer, or a trainer’s pokémon—the way that those threads converge left a little to be desired for me, but overall this is a great entry.

Umbramatic

This gave me fond memories of when I first got my dog - it wasn't quite this eventful but it started with a lot of frustration and ended with us helping each other. Also Flicker's backstory is very sad and it makes sense why they wouldn't be trusting, even if I the reader was slightly frustrated from knowing Carla had good intentions.

It's ultimately this frustration that holds the fic back- sure, Flicker has every reason not to trust Carla, but we the readers don't, and this disconnect is kind of palpable. I'd suggest trying to frame Carla in a more ambiguous light for a longer chunk of the story.

But I do appreciate this story, and I especially appreciate its good doggo perspective.
 

Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"The Man Who Would Empty the Ocean with a Spoon" by The Walrein

“Well? What’d the vet say? Is Polly going to be okay?” Samuel asked the instant his father set down the phone.

Martin considered lying, but ultimately discarded the idea. Although only six, Samuel seemed – in some ways – as mature as children twice his age. “I don’t know, Sam,” he said. “The vet says she has poliwag ranavirus. It’s… not a disease anyone knows very much about, so we don’t know how long it’ll be before Polly gets better again.”
If she got better.

Samuel’s brow had furled up in a look of intense concentration that was almost comical on his young face. “But… why would anyone make a virus for poliwag?” he asked.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

Well, this was delightfully different.

I enjoyed how it just dives right into the deep end of actual tough ethical dilemmas and radical unorthodox solutions, and that it really goes for portraying pretty different cultural and ethical norms from what'd fit within most people's Overton windows today. At first these seem like normal relatable people but then you get to explaining the Way of Harmony and the principle of noninterference that stretches into strict population control and people finding it obviously wrong to hurt trees, and there's a real fun sci-fi feel of cultural disconnect with that, even as other things feel very familiar. At the same time, you do manage to make it feel like a fairly coherent driving philosophy, with answers to the obvious questions and consistent principles behind it rather than just being something easily knocked down by a child's objections. I can buy it as the overarching mindset of a culture (though a naturally evolved mindset of social mores would probably usually be less coherent).

Then, of course, you go and twist it all around again with Sam deciding well, screw the Way of Harmony, nature is cruel and I won't accept that and we should just radically restructure society to minimize the suffering of all sentient life and expand to other planets if we have to and--. I like the sections opening by establishing the time relative to the deaths of his childhood pets, and the inclusion of the opening scene - it's a nice fairly understated way of framing his beliefs as arising from a personal sense of injustice at something specific, and that helps ground the story a bit in his character rather than it just being a pure contemplation on ethics with Pokémon layered on top (which, let's admit, it kind of mostly is). The way that you explore these ethical issues through the lens of Pokémon is fun - Psyduck's constant headaches as an example of Pokémon suffering horribly and pointlessly in the wild definitely hits in a particular kind of way, when it's canonically established that they have this very human experience of suffering that's easy to relate to and imagine. (And I enjoyed the mention that the experiment is approved on a pretext to get around the requirements of the Way of Harmony while really being for another purpose entirely. Humans gonna human, no matter what lofty philosophies they follow.)

All that said, it is more of an ethical exploration than a story - most of it is effectively a big exposition dump, and while you do ground it in Sam's character and the untimely deaths of his pet Pokémon, that's very much in the background. It's not too much of a narrative, and the discussion of the relationship between humans and Pokémon in it, while interesting, happens pretty much only in the abstract - notably, we don't see Sam actually interact with his pet Pokémon whose fates affected him in this direction, only him talking about them very briefly (and even then, only talking about them on a practical level and no actual sense of how he felt about them or why while they were alive). The only actual Pokémon that even appears "on-screen", as it were, is that one Pidgeotto briefly described as pecking at the ground before we return to humans talking about Pokémon in theoretical terms. For the purposes of the theme, I think that's a bit of a shame.

And some bits of this didn't feel entirely believable to me. Apparently this world had a thoroughly industrialized society long before the Declaration of Harmony... but kids are being taught at home that the Declaration of Harmony was a deal made with gods? That just doesn't really track to me - they're bound to have had thorough written records, so it's a simple matter of obvious fact that it was just a regular old mundane human deal between nations. This is like people today just kind of deciding that some EU regulation was actually written by God - I'm sure people who think that sort of thing exist and all, but Mrs. Greenweather really doesn't react to Thomas like he's saying the kind of absolute baffling nonsense that should surely be in this world.

And while the revelation that this was all actually a prequel to the games is neat, the idea that this degree of complete and total radical overhaul of society and its core values to a smooth and stable new normal took place in the space of a handful of generations (Oak calls Singer his great-grandfather, so Singer to Blue is five generations - we're talking maybe a hundred years between Singer beginning his efforts and the modern day) seems pretty optimistic to me. This isn't an easy shift to make happen gradually; it's taking a philosophy so well-established children think everyone in the time before it existed must have been simply evil, and then persuading the entirety of global society to scratch all that, that actually its founding principles are totally morally abhorrent and we should do practically the exact opposite. A lot can change in a hundred years, but I'm having a bit of a hard time believing they got there.

In particular, it bugs me that you kick off the whole ethical discussion near the beginning by establishing that by the time of the Way of Harmony people find Pokémon battles obviously abhorrent and evil (I would kind of have liked to hear more about how Pokémon training worked in the Before Times in this universe, how they saw it then and how they see it now), and then you don't at all address how or why apparently in Singer's new Way of Compassion sci-fi utopia they've started doing Pokémon battles again. You mean to tell me that in a hundred years, not only did they go from one guy with radical ideas to successfully reimagining society from the ground up, but everyone's just kind of randomly flipped back around to thinking Pokémon battles are cool? Why did that shift happen? How did that follow from Singer's vision of preventing all Pokémon suffering - or did his vision just get distorted along the way? It feels supremely weird. It's possible, since the game characters only technically talk about "helping" Pokémon, that the ending is actually some kind of AU of the games, where battling isn't a thing, only trying to capture all Pokémon from the wild to give them a better life. But if that's the case, then I really don't understand why you're doing this game reference at the end to begin with - the only purpose that currently serves is to contextualize Sam's efforts as being what resulted in Pokémon training as we know it, but if "modern Pokémon training" is actually some entirely different and unfamiliar system, all giving these people the same names as the game characters is doing is confusingly implying it's the game world and making the whole thing seem incoherent.

The notion, which seems repeatedly clearly implied at the beginning, that all human viruses are human-made also feels pretty strange to me and I'm not really sure what the purpose of it is here - you seem to be suggesting they've eradicated all natural human viruses but I guess new ones are continually being engineered as bioweapons? Which seems weirdly incongruous; the story otherwise seems to suggest very friendly and coordinated international relations. If technology is advanced enough to have eradicated every natural human virus, and presumably easily and instantly eliminate zoonotic viruses too whenever they make the jump to humans, I'm not sure why they'd be having a harder time with viruses that are human-made at all. And all in all I don't really see what any of this pretty wild and very subtle worldbuilding has to do with any of the rest of the story, or contributes to it - I initially read the "human-made" at the end of the first scene as simply some kind of typo until I read again and realized you were in fact consistently implying that yes, normal human viruses in this world are all man-made. It's a really weird element that just raises a whole lot of new questions that the story has no intention of answering.

Finally, what I think is just a mistake: at the beginning Sam has a pet Rattata, and Mrs. Greenweather says the only species humans are allowed to keep as pets are the ones that have been declared domesticated to the point they couldn't survive in the wild without undue suffering. But later it becomes clear there are wild Rattata, and in fact Sam wants to fight to have them declared domesticated. This doesn't seem to add up; how'd he ever have a pet Rattata under the Way of Harmony if they weren't considered domesticated?

This was a fun and interesting entry, though, with a lot of food for thought in it. I would have liked to see it be a bit less abstract about Pokémon-human relations, and the believability issues gave me pause, but it's very unique and I enjoyed it.

HelloYellow17

What a unique title! I’m curious already.

Lots of worldbuilding in this class! So, Pokémon training and battling is a thing of the past, then? The Way of Harmony is very interesting, too.

Actually this whole conversation is really intriguing! For one thing, it’s great that society cares so deeply about caring for nature—but where is the line? Sam had some great questions. And to be honest, some of those changes mentioned (like limiting how many kids a family can have) were big red flags to me simply because that right there is intruding on personal human rights—and boyyyy is that a slippery slope. In an effort to protect nature, it’s important to not create other problems as well.

My only complaint so far is that Sam and his classmates really do not sound at all like six-year olds here, and this kind of conversation would completely fly over an average six-year-old’s head. This is a simple fix: by making these kids young teens, the whole conversation and their contributions become much more believable.

You’ve done some FANTASTIC worldbuilding here, just—wow! I’m so impressed! I especially enjoy that this information is almost completely delivered through dialogue rather than just narration. The conversation between Sam and Ellie was especially great, because it felt so natural while still giving us lots of info. This is NOT easy to do, but you do it well!

Oh—OH. Omg this is BEFORE modern training, whaaaat! This is like the origin story of Pokémon training!! How freaking cool!

I really enjoyed this! I will admit I found myself wanting more of what modern Pokémon training looks like in this world—since there is such a strong history of wanting to treat nature and Pokémon well, what kinds of laws and regulations exist to make sure this is all being done ethically, etc.

But since this is a one-shot, that transition to the end works wonderfully and makes it feel like a satisfying ending, nonetheless! This was very nicely written, and I was able to keep up even with some of the elaborate dialogue, lol. Bravo!

kyeugh

The Man Who Would Empty the Ocean With a Spoon
This entry has a lot of pretty neat ideas about the pokémon world. I found the timeline of this one really interesting. The ending, which reveals that the canon games take place far enough in the future from the rest of the story that the main character is a mostly-forgotten memory, suggests a more distant future setting for canon than I usually envision, but honestly it works. The philosophical foundation of the pokémon world that this story suggests—one that doesn’t support the preservation of nature in its natural state, but rather promotes an interventionist policy which preserves species against the cruel machinations of natural selection—is pretty fascinating, and definitely offers some food for thought about what kind of world it is we want to build in the real world. Not that we’re really at a point in our own journey towards sustainability that this kind of distinction really matters in the first place, but it’s certainly interesting to think about. :p I also appreciated the way that the excessive regulation and bureaucracy actually obstructed research into what I’d think are legitimately useful topics of study for understanding the natural world. You did a good job at making the system feel outdated and antithetical to its own supposed purpose.

Your prose is pretty smooth, and the only mechanical issue I really noticed is that you don’t apply an opening quotation mark on each paragraph of your multi-paragraph pieces of dialogue, such as Mrs. Greenweather’s lecture. On that note, I found the scene with Mrs. Greenweather pretty infodumpy. While I can see the necessity in imparting that information for the sake of the rest of the story, I didn’t really feel it was done in a way that meaningfully expanded on Sam’s character. It felt mostly done for the sake of the audience, and was interesting but somewhat dry and protracted.

Although the themes of this story were interesting, I had a little trouble connecting them to the theme. It felt more like a worldbuilding exercise meant to illuminate how the current state of the human-pokémon relationship came to be on a very broad, abstract level, but it doesn’t really get into those relationships in much detail, which is what I was really looking for here. Sam’s relationships with his pokémon as a child are interesting, but they’re far from the focus of the story—they mostly serve to kick off his ideological quest, which again is not really related to the theme in my view except for on a very abstract level. Additionally, I think the only living pokémon we actually see in this story is the pidgeot. You’ve got some some really interesting worldbuilding going on and I genuinely enjoyed it, perhaps as the backdrop for a larger fic, but if I view it as a contest entry rather than a story on its own terms, unfortunately it doesn’t quite stack up.

Umbramatic

Oh man, this one hooked me. It presents some very compelling arguments about the balance of nature vs. how much compassion humans should have for our fellow animals, and how that would all work I really like seeing Samuel's perspective in taking an idealistic stance on helping Pokemon even though everyone else dismisses him as a raging lunatic.

(And the twist at the end, that he was Professor Oak's grandfather who Oak was named after and not Oak himself- genuinely surprised me and was a fun bait and switch.)

I do have one complaint, and it's that this story goes really heavy and dry on the exposition. Most of it is important, granted, but there are probably better ways to deliver and compact it than characters delivering several paragraph long exposition dumps in one line of dialogue..

But don't get me wrong, this was otherwise compelling, and I'm a sucker for idealistic takes on Pokemon training.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Methods of Support" by Equitial
First-Place Winner

A Gothitelle can see as a human never could.

Gothitelle’s feelers fan around her head. The ribbons on her torso quiver, reaching out to absorb all she passes. They pull in light and sound, smell and life and aura, and paint an interpretation of the world around her. Sparkling sunrays warm the air and kiss whatever they can reach. All around her are pockets of life — in the air, the rooftops and alleyways, and of course walking with her on the streets — above each of which is a cloud of blurred and indecipherable emotion.

A vehicle rushes by, expelling a gaseous black haze. One of its wheel runs through a puddle to create a spectrum of flying droplets. The smell, the smell of this city is a heavy cloud, a grumbling mass, a thundercloud of swarming insects.

(And always — always in the sky — the stars.)

She absorbs all this, her own portrait of the world. She absorbs, and transmits.

Beside her, Gothitelle’s human walks, waving a white cane in front of her like an imitation of a Gothitelle’s ribbons. The tip of her human’s cane taps against a rise in the concrete, and her human steps up without pause, continuing to swing her artificial antenna. Gothitelle follows, head tilted upward, processing through her feelers.

It is impossible to see through another’s eyes, though Gothitelle gives what she can.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This was a really fantastic use of the theme. Support Pokémon are a concept I've seen floated around the fandom now and then, but this story really takes that and explores many facets of it, beyond the straightforward support animal equivalents that you usually see speculated on - as sapient beings with various powers, they can share traits of support animals, human care workers, and something entirely their own, and you properly capitalize on that, as well as representing a wide range of disabilities and neurodivergence. The Pokémon's POVs are varied but all interesting and distinctly not quite human, portrayed well in their very different flavors.

My favorite aspect of it, though, is the characterization you get out of these small vignettes, and the different relationships shown between the Pokémon and the humans they assist (or try to). You make extremely efficient use of space there, portraying several distinct and memorable Pokémon characters and their variously troubled humans.

Gothitelle's section was the closest to what I initially expected from the concept - a seeing-eye Pokémon for a blind human - and did the least for me. But nonetheless, it has neat aspects to it that I appreciated: I liked her different way of sensing, her musings on how she can't see how her human does either, the way you show her having her own possessions and sort of properly acting as simply a housemate to her human, and how she's breaking a Gothitelle taboo by sharing her senses with a human but she chooses to anyway, giving her more of a sense of agency.

I really love the way that Dog is this old Stoutland who's lived a full life in the wild and raised his own kids, and now he's assisting a mostly nonverbal autistic kid who reminds him of one of his own kids, because why wouldn't Pokémon also be able to be neurodivergent? It's super touching, and the way the boy just loves the Lillipup line and is so happy with his Pup, and Dog is so coolly happy to be Pup for him, just puts a smile on my face. It's lovely. Dog best dog.

Sunday is extremely precious and I love her and her resolutely positive outlook and determined efforts to give joy to these suffering children, but really got emotions at that final moment with Jay. He lashed out before because he was struggling, and she understands that, and returns cautiously but ready to help, and then is able to be there for him in a way that helps him just by being present in the moment, not saying anything, and that was just beautiful. I absolutely love that sort of understated emotional support and it hit me right in the heart.

The competition for my favorite vignette, though, is between Priscilla and Ace - both more substantially dealing with that theme of humans who, as they suffer, hurt the people trying to support them. Both of them were really starkly real and affecting to me; people who are deeply suffering often do wind up hurting others around them, because we're creatures made of unstable chemicals, and it's comparatively rare for this to be really shown in fiction, where we often pretend that being worthy of sympathy and being capable of genuine unpleasant cruelty are mutually exclusive traits. Priscilla is just a professional carer, trying hard to understand and be helpful to someone who's in unbearable pain, who lashes out at her because there's no other target for the rage and helplessness she's feeling - not just at being in constant pain, but at being bored, having nothing to do to distract herself from it, feeling humiliated and dependent on other people. Priscilla being initially confused and just not quite understanding this human, until she cautiously tries just handing Miss Wayson the tools to clean up her own mess, letting her feel like she's able to do things, distract herself for just a little while, is so good. Wayson scrubbing the floor like her life depends on it, until it leaves her feeling just a little better and able to apologize for the outburst, while Priscilla notes how she was admirably thorough but still didn't get everything, still somewhat confused in her understanding but more understanding than before, is sweet. I really want them both to be okay.

And then there's Ace. Oh, boy, Ace. He's so empathetic, and feels so responsible for everything, and so horribly, heartbreakingly willing to just immediately and unthinkingly forgive anything at all, even though Adam is straight-up severely physically abusive. And yet, Adam (I'm guessing he has BPD or something of the like?) obviously doesn't want to do this, beats himself up for it (literally), exhorts him to stay away because he knows this might happen, but Ace won't do that because he puts Adam's wellbeing so far above his own and as soon as he sees him starting to self-harm he's just there desperately trying to help even though Adam's going to lash out... Everything about this one just hurts my soul. Please get this man some actual therapy so his dog isn't left trying to shoulder the entire burden of his untreated mental illness, I am begging. Thoroughly upsetting in the absolute best sort of way - just a real heartrending tragedy told in the space of a couple of pages.

The final POV, Morelull, was a particularly fascinating one - I loved how it's so much more alien than the others, describes emotions as colors, has him not even understand human speech at all. I do admit, though, that the opaque alienness leaves me not entirely sure what's going on in it. I get the part where Morelull's leeching has some manner of narcotic effect that he doesn't really understand, and the part where they also just enjoy each other's company apart from that. But even then I'm not quite sure what the conversation between the Morelull at the end is getting at. I thiiiiink my best guess is that the human experiences some form of chronic pain from their withered hand, and uses Morelull for pain relief, but has become addicted to it? Then the deal with Morelull's sister is presumably that she believes that the human is parasitizing him (as relief from the pain) in this somewhat symbiotic way where Morelull also enjoys it and gets to absorb their energy, while Morelull himself worries that he's the one parasitizing the human instead and ultimately making things worse for them? But I'm not at all sure I've got the right takeaway there - it may be a little too opaque, unless I'm just being slow here.

Either way, though, I thought this was extremely well done overall, and a powerful, original exploration of unusual relationships between humans and Pokémon that we don't usually see. Fantastic work.

HelloYellow17

The idea of having a Gothitelle share her sight with a blind human is so so cool! I really love this, and love the peaceful atmosphere that exists between these two. I especially love the last phrase of this snippet: Gothitelle can see as no human can, but her human also sees things in a way she cannot. So pure.

Oh. Oh man. Stoutland’s excerpt made me FEEL THINGS. My heart is aching with how beautifully PURE and WHOLESOME this is. Also…is this boy autistic? I hesitate to jump to that conclusion in case I’m wrong, but I can’t think of what else it would be. Well, if he is autistic, you did a FANTASTIC job of illustrating this, from his movements to his vocalizations. It was very vivid and tastefully done, wow.

I love Dog’s reflections on his life and how he uses his precious life experiences to understand the boy. 10/10 GOOD DOG. Ugh my heart is so full.

I am IN LOVE with all of your descriptions so far. They are very vivid and paint such a clear picture for the reader! The difference in narrating styles has been distinct, too, unique to each character, which is impressive.

Sunday’s section made me feel so many things, agh. I love that she is all about happiness, but she understands that it’s okay to feel negative things too. She offers happiness where it will be received and doesn’t force it on others, doesn’t try to invalidate their pain and struggles. I love that she left Jay when he didn’t want her there, and when he was okay with her coming back, she didn’t try to fix anything or say anything. She simply sat with him. And wow, I know from personal experience how powerful something as simple as that can be.

The tree analogy at the end was so lovely. “My human sometimes feels like the tree.” And “You can be both, your human and you.” I think that sums up the whole theme right there—give and take, strengthening each other, growing together.

I’m BLOWN AWAY by this story. It was incredibly unique, colorful, vivid, and realistic. It was relatable in many different ways. Lots of subtle themes came through in each section, and some of them really touched me.

If I have one complaint (and honestly…I literally only have ONE), it’s that section 5 didn’t quite seem to fit with the others. Let me explain. Every other section has a sort of mutual relationship between the human and Pokémon, a degree of understanding, and while things aren’t perfect, there’s more or less a solution—or at least, we can see that things can continue the way they are, there’s light ahead of the tunnel, despite the struggles. In section 5, however, it feels like Ace is really getting the short end of the stick here. His human is in very very very bad shape, and it seems like he needs more help than Ace is able to give. Not only that, but things certainly can’t continue that way, with Ace getting beaten every time he tries to help his trainer through a panic attack.

However! It’s very possible your intention was to show all kinds of scenarios, from peaceful and content to dark and despairing. It just felt somewhat out of place compared to the rest of the stories where the situation was at least sustainable, if not perfect. Ace and Adam’s relationship, at least from what we see in that section, does not seem sustainable or healthy for either of them.

But honestly? That’s my only complaint, and it’s pretty nitpicky, at that! I can’t express just how much I loved reading this fic, how unique each snippet was, how beautiful every sentence was from the first to the last. This is a stellar one-shot, and you should be incredibly proud of it!

kyeugh

These stories are so darn sweet. General thoughts: some of these stories work better than others, but the overall theme is so nice and I’m a huge fan of the understated, slice-of-life execution. Your prose is also a delight, buttery smooth and just genuinely fun to read. A recurring criticism I had is that many of these feel minimally like pokémon fanfiction—the fact that the characters are in fact pokémon only rarely comes into play, and often they may as well be mute humans or dogs or what have you. I don’t always have an issue with that, but I think it does present a bit of issue in analyzing the relationships they have with humans when their pokémon-ness doesn’t really factor into it all that much. Since this entry is made up of six separate stories, I’ll discuss each one separately.

The first part is my favorite, I think. The way it comes full circle between “I can see as no human ever could” and “I can’t see as my human does” is really nice. The way Gothitelle provides eyes for her human, kind of, is really sweet and novel and fun. I also liked the way that Gothitelle feels like more than just a support pokémon in a way that the pokémon in the other parts don’t quite—she’s an assistant for her human, yes, but she’s sort of a housemate too. It’s a great look into the varied, multi-layered relationships that people can have with their humans. Pokémon can be used for their utility, but also enjoyed as companions, much like support animals and beasts of burden in the real world. The imagery in this one is really great, too. The descriptions of the city and the flowers and the nighttime sky are really vivid and beautifully-written. All in all, this one just has a lot of ideas and the relationship between Gothitelle and her human comes through really strongly.

The second one is probably my second favorite, incidentally. You do an excellent job at showing the pure love and trust that a dog has for its owner; Dog is so happy to be there for him, and to be helpful. The way Dog relates to Boy because of what Dog perceives to be a similar upbringing due to Dog’s status as the runt of the pack was really touching. However, this is one of the stories where I felt like the non-pokémon-ness was particularly noticeable. As-is, it could be tweaked into a real-world dog story with some minimal verbiage adjustment, which isn’t quite ideal. But that’s a small nitpick—it was still beautiful and heartwarming.

The moral of the third story seems to be that sometimes, the best thing a pokémon can do to help is know when not to help. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one—it’s very sweet and good at doing what it does. I think it falls victim to the same issue of not feeling very pokémon-y, but perhaps not quite as much as some others. There are some nice details that remind the reader of Priscilla’s psychic powers, such as her levitation or the pressure she feels behind her ears. Still, I feel this would have been a neat opportunity to show off some novel application of her abilities in aid of her human, in the vein of the first part with Gothitelle.

The fourth story is really sweet, but my overall feelings on it are a bit more mixed. It seems Sunday is around to make the patients happier, which is nice and makes sense, but it’s unclear how she goes about doing this exactly. Is it the glitter? If so, chemically/magically improving the mood of sick children is a little bit unsettling but honestly not unrealistic. Also, the caretaker role, while common to all of these stories, feels a little closer to the third story than others. I think they could have maybe been merged into a single story—Sunday’s role in the hospital is more interesting conceptually than Priscilla’s role, I think, and this story feels more pokémon than most, but Sunday’s arc packs a bit less punch.

I thought the fifth story was pretty somber. It’s nice that Adam has someone to calm him down, I suppose, but mostly I just thought seeing Ace get beat up was really sad. I suspect that’s the point. The insight that not all caretakers are treated equal is a good albeit disquieting one, and the contrast between this story and the herdier one is fairly striking. I think this story suffers most of all from the issue of not feeling much like pokémon; miss a single word in this one and it wouldn’t be recognizable as pokémon fic at all. However, the relationship depicted in this story is really complex, so I think it’s a great addition overall.

I honestly don’t really understand this last story very well. What I got from it is that the morellul seems to be healing the human’s crippled hand, and enjoys the human’s company, but that’s as much as I got. The descriptions are quite nice and I liked the use of color a lot. The phrase “yellow laugh” really jumped out at me. The conversation with Sister at the end was really nice. However, I just don’t understand what’s going on with the stones, and I’m not sure I understand the relationship between the morellul and the human in general. I really wanted to like this one, because it’s a very strong and unique atmosphere to it, but I regret that I don’t really understand what’s happening for a lot of the critical moments.

All things considered, this is a really nice collection of vignettes with an obvious connection to the theme, and they’re very well-written and sweet. I do wish they were a bit more obviously pokémon, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around from the last one, but those don’t detract majorly from what was otherwise an excellent reading experience. Your narrators have such strong voices, and there are so many sweet, pleasant moments in here that really highlight some of the most wholesome aspects of the human-pokémon relationship. The name of the game here seems to be “loyalty and service,” which is really the throughline of pokémon in general in a sense, but you present it in a less frequently seen context and I think it really works.

Umbramatic

Oh my fucking god ths one was so fucking cute and sweet and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. I always loved the idea of service Pokemon and your take on it is the kind of content I live for. I love Sunday the most but Ace's story made me want to hug my dog. And you're trying to represent people with disabilities and mental illnesses? Yessssssssssssssssss.

I guess if I have to complain about one thing It's... This is weird but some of what's going on with the disabilities and mental illnesses on? Yeah it's from the perspective of Pokemon who don't Get everything but you could still probably give more specific cues for purpouses of the representation I mentioned earlier.

But this is so good and Umbracore and aAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Over the Winds and Waves" by Inkedust

“…ey, wa…up… Come on, …ak up… WAKE UP!”

A wingull toppled over the edge of his perch with a surprised squawk, landing straight into a mess of nesting materials.

“And about time too. Could you imagine the amount of trouble I could have landed myself in if I had just let you slack off like this?”

Still disorientated from the fall, the wingull turned his gaze upwards to see his roost-mate. She was another, slightly larger, wingull who had taken to sitting on her roost-mate’s perch the moment he’d fallen off. The smaller wingull folded his stiff wings back into place, refocusing his attention back to his roost-mate.

“Come on Breezy. Are a few more moments of sleep too much to ask for around these parts?”

“A few more moments?! Crest, it’s almost an hour past moonset. The boss wants you to—”

“What are you, a dark-type? You’re just saying that to get me out quicker. You of all pokémon should know that I never sleep-in past… Oh.” Crest’s words trailed off the moment he bothered to look out the window. Sure enough, the once deep shades of black and navy had brightened enough for the last remaining stars to fade away into the sea of soft purples.


Read the rest on: AO3 | FFN | Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

I quite enjoyed a lot of the first half of this fic, exploring the Wingull post office and this strict workplace bureaucracy around it, and was quickly endeared by Crest as a character - he's just cute and trying very hard. The characterization and worldbuilding felt pretty solid, and I appreciated the foreshadowing of Elliana's nature from early on (though I'd assumed she was a human more or less the moment she appeared, simply because of the theme of the contest).

However, I feel that once we're past the opening scenes where Crest goes on his delivery mission and meets Elliana, this story unfortunately focuses on the wrong things. You skate over the actual development of their relationship with each other - the thing this contest is about! - in favor of summarizing it; in particular, you introduce a distinctly romantic element there in summary and ask us to take your word for it, without properly developing those feelings onscreen. And from there, we spend time on Crest going back to work at the post office while all he wants is to see Elliana again, then returning again to Elliana for the single scene where he learns that she's a human and is immediately fine with it without it really changing anything, then we skip over the actual time they spend together again in favor of more post office time and more pining to see Elliana, and then he returns again to find her gone.

And the story really stands and falls with Crest and Elliana's relationsip - so while you develop a nice sense of budding friendship in the first half, the lack of proper onscreen development from that point on really hurts it. What we do see properly onscreen really doesn't justify the degree to which Crest becomes singularly obsessed with her - not just caring about her, not just loving her, but thinking about her constantly, neglecting everything else, and literally declaring she's the only thing he cares about. And while Elliana being human does indirectly play a part in the ending, I find it mostly irrelevant to their relationship as it stands - it doesn't come up until late, Crest is immediately and unquestioningly fine with it, and then that's the last we actually see of the two of them interacting, so we don't get to actually see whether this affects them in any way. In itself that's not terribly important - in the canon PMD games there's very little functional difference between humans in Pokémon bodies and regular Pokémon - but in a contest about the relationships between humans and Pokémon, we'd really like to see that aspect be more than incidental, somehow informing what their relationship is like.

Even aside from that, though, the second half just structurally feels a bit repetitious and dragged out, and I found it hard to sympathize with why Crest would continue to work at the post office for this long to begin with, when it's all soulless work that he's expressly grown to hate and everyone there is mean and unfair to him and Elliana. In every way, I think it would improve this story if Elliana being human was something Crest learned eventually on his first trip to Sierra Village, and we had just one detour back to the post office before he quits and returns there to find her gone. I don't think it's at all necessary that Crest should learn about this because he asks after finding another Pokémon with similar markings while out on a delivery and developing a sudden desire to get tattoos too - there's no reason he couldn't just ask about hers one day out of the simple curiosity he's already established to have about them, and I think that would streamline things significantly.

Aside from these main concerns, I found a number of other things in this story kind of weird, off or awkward, in one way or another, especially after the first meeting with Elliana.

First, Crest is highly prejudiced against Dark-types at the beginning - so when Elliana leaves him at the post office saying she's going to get money to pay for the message home, I would have expected Crest to spend that time at least worrying she's ditched him. But instead we skip over that without comment, as if Crest just waited patiently for her the whole time, even though afterwards he says he didn't expect her to be so honest. Moreover, apparently the Pelipper who's ripping them off, whom Crest is going to report to headquarters, also stands there and says nothing at all the whole time, even though he also says afterwards that he didn't expect Elliana to return with genuine money. It feels like you just didn't really want to have to write whatever thought process went through Crest's head, or whatever conversation would have gone on between Crest and the Pelipper, while Elliana was gone, which is fair - but then why go out of your way to have her need to go to begin with, when she could have just had the money on her already?

I also really balked at the bit where Crest casually explains the post office builds a significant portion of its labor force by stealing eggs from wild Pelipper. It's one thing to be raised to think something like that is totally normal, but, one, the fact he's actually using the word stealing makes it kind of incongruous that he doesn't think there's anything wrong with it, and two, Elliana only barely raises an eyebrow at it before moving on and doesn't seem at all concerned about him going back to continue to work for these people, which is kind of jarring. And the fact that you casually drop something like that, making the post office outright evil, kind of flattens the worldbuilding and just makes his loyalty to it even more awkward, I feel - it's no longer just a strict bureaucracy that he grew up with and took reasonable pride in working for until he was introduced to nicer things, but some kind of horrific child-abducting labor trafficking operation that ought to be taken down! I don't think that this extremely uncomfortable revelation contributes anything to the story as it is; instead, it just raises a lot of questions that the story doesn't really want to answer, and I think it'd be better off without it.

Bit of a nitpick, but Elliana promises to "wait for him" without them having decided on an actual time when he'll come back, and when he does it's because he sees a chance thanks to external circumstances and he doesn't appear to send a letter ahead of himself or anything - making it pretty puzzling that she actually is waiting for him when he arrives. There's no way she just spends all her time idly waiting in that spot in case she spots him, right? Just one of those things that don't make sense if you stop and think about them for a moment.

It just seems kind of silly that Crest somehow expected to be able to disappear from work entirely for weeks at a time without being noticed. At that point, he really might as well be quitting; if he genuinely wants to keep the post office job at all, doing this is extremely strange and self-defeating. It feels like you used this as an excuse for Ms. Dragonite to be cruel, without giving thought to whether and why Crest would actually act this way if he still intends to keep working there - again, it just doesn't make any sense.

And though I appreciate the crushing cruelty of Crest having no idea when or if he might see her again and having burned his bridges at the post office while Elliana assumes that's where she should be trying to reach him, the ending feels very abrupt. Elliana's departure comes more or less out of nowhere, I have no idea what the bit about golden light rising from the village is supposed to mean, and then it just ends, without much in the way of resolution. I figure there's a bit of a cautionary tale aspect here, about Crest becoming so preoccupied with one person that he sacrifices everything else he has, only for Elliana to have other things to deal with - but even that aspect undermines itself a little when the post office was so plainly oppressive and made him so miserable anyway! I feel like I don't really know what to take away from this story all in all - maybe it's actually a prequel to some other story? I feel like that'd explain a lot about the end, but unfortunately, as a contest entry it has to stand on its own.

Finally, there were some mechanical mistakes throughout, particularly missing punctuation - you may want to watch out for those.

So, overall, although I was enjoying this in the first half, it lost me a bit as it went on. As it stands I find the relationship aspect underdeveloped in the end, the structure just kind of clunky, and various things not entirely thought out. It's not a bad story at its core, though; it just needs some revisions and refocusing.

HelloYellow17

First of all, I need to point out that I love the title, it just rolls off the tongue. :D

Wingull appreciation time!! And wow that whole thing about sleeping in and rushing to work is SO relatable, haha. I love the way you described Crest’s disheveled appearance, too, I could picture it so clearly! Poor guy. xD

I gotta say, I’m really liking this perspective of a PMD world. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about how the mail service works, how Wingull and Pelipper get trained, what it’s like for them, etc. I’m really liking all the worldbuilding here!

Nice descriptions of pain here—“rhythmic ache”, “blossom of pain”, etc. A good way to keep it from sounding repetitive while also communicating just how uncomfortable it is.

Is this story gonna be about overcoming prejudice of dark-types? BECAUSE HECK YES, I AM ALL ABOUT THAT, LET’S GOOOO

Poor Sneasel is so good-natured despite everyone taking a jab at her typing. Goodness, I don’t think I would have it in me to continue being so patient!

I had a tiny suspicion in the beginning that this whole mail delivery thing was a little strict and messed up...but WOW I was not prepared for just how messed up it all is. Retraining in case he picked up bad habits from strangers? No attachments? STOLEN BABIES? Wtf this place is a freaking cult and this work is slavery, not a regular job.

YES CREST YOU LEAVE THAT PLACE, I’M PROUD OF YOU

Ah man, at first I thought Elliana had died or something, but she’d just left on her quest. This leaves off on kind of a cliffhanger, doesn’t it? I wonder if Crest will go and search for her?

I haven’t played all the PMD games, but it seems like this is referencing specific events of one. That said, the whole “golden light” statement at the end had me confused—it’s probably related to Elliana’s quest, but since I have no idea what it actually means, I was a little lost.

All things considered, this was a lovely and colorful story. Your descriptions were quite nice, especially when talking about specific expressions. I did find myself wanting a little more from the theme, though—I’d have liked to explore Elliana’s humanity more, and how this makes her friendship with Crest unique. While she is technically a human, that doesn’t come into play much other than her needing to leave at the very end of the story, and it really doesn’t play a huge role in their friendship save for the moment she confided in him, and that part felt like it was glossed over fairly quickly and wasn’t what I would consider the climax of the story. For the most part, it’s two Pokémon getting to know one another, and Elliana being a human doesn’t impact this much, if at all.

There were also quite a lot of grammar errors that threw me for a loop a few times, but nothing that some editing and cleaning up can’t fix!

Last but not least, the pacing felt a little rough in some parts. I think the story would have carried more weight if we saw more details about Crest’s time with Elliana—they were together for a month, after all! There were a lot of angles being explored and I was trying to find what the “main” moral of the story was going to be, but by the end it was all quite ambiguous. We have prejudice against dark types, the messed up mail delivery system, Crest realizing things about the world, and Elliana being a human and needing to save the world. This might be more impactful if you choose just one of those things to focus in on, considering this is meant to be a short story and there’s not much time to focus on all of these!

I wonder if you plan to continue with this story or to explore more of the things you’ve established in this universe—if you do, I’d love to read it, as I really enjoyed the worldbuilding you set up here! Great job!

kyeugh

This review is a bit of a shorter one, because I thought a lot of this story spoke for itself. Your plot is well-crafted, your characters are strongly developed and have a lot of personality, your worldbuilding is very good, your prose is for the most part fluid and pleasant to read... Altogether, this is an excellent work, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I’ll spend some time talking about my favorite parts of the story, as well as the bits where I thought improvement was needed, but I wanted to preface with saying that there’s a lot in this story that’s outstanding in foundational way that’s almost invisible, and I wanted to congratulate you for a job well done there. This entry is just really well put together all around.

I’ll start off by saying that I really love your worldbuilding. The culture of Breakwater Town is just really neat. I never really thought about whether there would be a big centralized post office location in the PMD world, but it makes a ton of sense, and your particular implementation of that idea feels very thought-through and lived in. You depict its bureaucracy really well, and all the little clamoring wingull just have so much personality. Absolutely love it. Sierra Village has a really nice, homey feel to it as well. I loved the scenes in Hakamo-o’s shop; listening to him talk about his imports from here and there gave the impression of a much wider world, which was cool. All around this story is one strongly rooted in place, and fittingly, the sense of place is very strong as well.

The development of Crest and Elliana’s relationship is another strong point. A lot of their bonding happens more or less off-screen, but I honestly didn’t mind it; their friendship still felt really strong at the end, and Crest’s explanation to the other wingull after he returns to Breakwater really reinforces it. Elliana is just so earnest, and the way she challenged his pre-existing views about dark-types made their relationship feel even more substantial. I was so happy when Crest decided to ditch Breakwater and return to Sierra Village to be with his friend, and it was pretty heartbreaking when it turned out she’d already left. I thought Crest would end up being her battle buddy and that the story would end with them embarking on some game-worthy plot, so I was pretty surprised it took the turn it did there. It felt a little arbitrary and I wasn’t quite sure what to take away from it, but I suppose the ending wasn’t the point, exactly. Still, it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity.

My major criticism of this entry is that Elliana’s status as a human doesn’t really feel like it has any bearing on the story whatsoever, which is the main thing I was looking for here. She may as well be a pokémon for the most part; honestly her Dark typing felt like it had more consequence on her characterization and the way others perceived her than the fact that she’s a human in the PMD world. The most we really get addressing this directly is the bit where Elliana reveals to Crest that she’s a human, and Crest is pretty much like, “That’s fine, I don’t really care and this doesn’t affect anything for me.” Which... fair enough, honestly, but it left something to be desired with regard to the contest’s theme here. This is just one suggestion, but maybe it would be good to have Elliana provide some kind of insight to Crest that only a human, as an outsider to the PMD world and its mores, could provide. Something that pushes Crest to eventually leave Breakwater behind, perhaps. It’s a small thing, but I think it would suit the theme while also fitting well into Crest’s arc and his relationship with Elliana.

This is a minor nitpick in an otherwise wonderful story, but unfortunately as this is a contest submission, it has pretty large sway on my overall evaluation of the entry. Still, you should be proud of what you’ve written here; it just works and I’d love to read more stories set in this world you’ve built.

Umbramatic

This one was really sweet. Crest and Eliana's relationship is delightful, their trials and tribulations with each other are convincing and moving, the worldbuilding's nice and the ending tie-in to Gates To Infinity is clever if a bit sad.

But we need to talk about thematics.

It's definitely not impossible for a PMD fic to do this theme well, but they have kind of a handicap for obvious reasons of... not having any true humans in it, and you aren't doing yourself any favors by downplaying Eliana's human-ness - the hints or reveal there should come earlier and stronger if you want that to be convincing. Her being human at all doesn't even really MATTER until the end, which isn't ideal.

But if you make Eliana being a former human matter more, I think this fic will truly shine. It's got a lot else going for it.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Pizza with a Slice of Pain" by zion of arcadia

Long ago, Mt. Travail was a terrible place indeed. They mystery dungeon’s peaks and ridges loomed over their surroundings with a brooding ferocity. But then one day a drowsy scaled Mt. Travail’s vicious hide, resting atop the crown to repent far away from society. Everything changed.

His soul touched the heart of the mountain, transforming the mystery dungeon’s spirit into one of benevolence rather than malevolence. Some say the drowsy and the mystery dungeon merged after his death, although no one knows the truth of the matter.

What was true, however, was that as time passed, Officer Magnezone and his deputies began using Mt. Travail more and more often as a place to house outlaws. The dungeon proved receptive to their needs, providing food and water and shelter, and, more importantly, a peculiar quirk: those who entered could only leave when they were ready to go. No one had ever escaped Mt. Travail.

Many, many years went by. The human and his partner who’d saved the world faded into the mists of myth. But Mt. Travail remained, a steadfast home for those who had lost their way.

It was a warm summer’s eve when Raine Whiffletwist arrived.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This was definitely a unique one. I thought the characterization was a highlight; Raine Whiffletwist's grandiose bullshitting, ever-developing "backstory" and general ridiculousness was immediately fun and distinctive, and then meanwhile Eloise is his polar opposite, so earnest and insecure and polite and just a pure pizza-loving cinnamon roll. I love them.

The central conceit of a PMD Pokémon who's lied about being human to make himself sound more special and important meeting and befriending an actual former human and trying to keep up the charade was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the way it played out. Raine manages to lie his way through it with the assistance of Eloise's natural inclination to just think the best of everyone, and the way they went on to accidentally bond a bit in the process of it was cute. I also enjoyed some of the little things here, like Raine making up melodramatic revisions to his backstory on the fly, the jab at castling in chess, and the nods to fairy lore around Raine.

However, I did feel the story seemed to kind of lose direction as it went on. The shifting of Mt. Travail personified as Travis is neat, but it all just doesn't quite go anywhere in the end; the two of them get their pizza/challenge chambers, they have their fun with those for a few pages as Raine tries to get through his cave and Eloise makes some pizza, and then the story ends quite abruptly, without much of a conclusion or sense of closure. We can see the two of them have developed a friendship by the end, but the entire preceding section where they're doing separate things in their separate caves just doesn't really contribute to that at all, and if anything undermines it since it's a while of them just thinking about other things entirely and makes the bond they're developing feel less meaningful in the grand scheme of things.

And that's a shame because I legitimately enjoyed the characters and their connection! It was disappointing to see it end when it did, with Raine still keeping up the ruse about being human and Eloise still buying it - it really felt like it was just missing an entire second half, and if you hadn't written a fin. at the end I might have legitimately thought part of the entry was just missing.

Independent of all that, I also felt the section with the caves just kind of generally dragged a bit. It feels like you're going out of your way to make a real dramatic thing out of Raine's escape efforts and refraining from skipping over or summarizing them too much, and I can get the motivation for that, since it's something he considers very important and spends a lot of time doing - but in the end, it's really by far the least compelling part of the story as it stands, and I think it'd be improved if it had been skipped or only briefly summarized so we could get back to Raine and Eloise actually interacting.

Finally, there were some weird errors here, most notably referring to what must be a Drowzee as "a drowsy" near the beginning.

All in all, I really liked these characters and the original way that you worked with the theme, but as a story I think it kind of fizzles out weirdly at the end and lacks a proper resolution or conclusion. I wish you'd just written a bit more of it, so we could see them actually develop further! There's still a lot I'm fond of here, but unfortunately I find the overall execution lacking currently.

HelloYellow17

Oh wow, right away I’m very intrigued! Mystery Dungeons are living things with souls, then?? It would explain why they are so strange and always changing…

Yo I am so invested already, this is such a cool and unique setup. A mystery dungeon jail? Magical mushroom food? SWEET.

Lololol I like this Rain Whiffletwist already.

Osbsmkdgqbfkwyf did—did you just subtly reference the Furret meme? Or am I crazy? Either way I adore it hahaha

Man, I am really liking your scene-setting so far! It’s very vivid and atmospheric, I can picture everything so clearly! I’m also a big fan of the dialogue here—both of the characters are very distinct, their personalities shining through in the way they speak, their body movements, etc.

Eloise is so precious aaaaa

“The velocity of an unladen Swellow” JSNDKDHHAK I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE AHAHAHA

Well this was absolutely delightful to read! You did such a great job with the characters—I’m ridiculously invested in them already and oh my goodness if you ever chose to write more of these two, I would ABSOLUTELY eat it all up. Your writing style is so so fun!

Now for some nitty gritty business:

Overall, your prose is wonderfully solid. I will say that there was a handful of grammar errors, mostly typos I’m sure—but enough to draw my attention. Some careful proofreading will fix them pretty quickly, though! And, on a truly nitpicky note, drowzy is actually spelled “drowzee.” I know, I know, it’s a very minor thing, but it’s one that I had to point out anyway.

Now, my biggest issue here is how this ties into the theme. It certainly is a Pokémon and a human developing a friendship, and the fact that Eloise is a human does actually play a role in their friendship, but...I found myself wishing the differences between the two had been addressed more. I’d have loved it if Rain never claimed to be a human, and instead just bonded with Eloise by learning about the human world, and having them connect by learning how they are both so different from each other while also finding some similarities here and there. For the most part, the fact that one is human while the other is a Pokémon doesn’t really have too much significance in the story. That is to say, it didn’t feel like the focus.

I also couldn’t help but feel that there were lots of loose ends here—which, since this is a one-shot, isn’t a bad thing! But the fact that the story leaves off with Eloise still believing Rain was a human didn’t quite sit right with me—perhaps because I wanted their friendship to be completely genuine, and it wasn’t quite there since he was still keeping secrets from her. And since this secret didn’t really come into play or affect the story much, it didn’t feel necessary to the narrative at all.

However! That said, I still enjoyed the SNOT out of this story. It was lively. It had personality. It was colorful and expressive and pulled me in so quickly with the vivid scenery and quirky characters. Seriously, please tell me if you plan to write more of these two because I am INVESTED NOW, okay! xD

You have every right to be proud of this lovely piece, it really speaks to your skills as a writer. Well done!

kyeugh

The dynamic between Raine Whiffletwist and Eloise makes up the backbone of this entry, and it’s perfectly delightful and silly. Their dialogue is pretty great, and their personalities are very strong. The idea of this big, puffed up adventurer guy posing as a human for the clout is really funny and a great twist on the theme, and the way it works here—totally unprovable and 100% made up as he goes—is something that only works in PMD. “Rarity” and “exoticness” is usually thought of in terms of, well, rare and exotic pokémon, so it’s a neat subversion that here it’s something as mundane as a human.

I really liked the setting you built here, too. The idea of a hospitable mystery dungeon is pretty wacky but not really outside the realm of possibility, to my mind. It’s a clever way of letting you do stuff like summon a giant pizza dungeon or generate an obstacle course at the drop of a hat without it feeling contrived. I also thought the mushroom flavors were an ingenious way of revealing information about your characters. While quirky and fun, the bizarre setting stays out of the way for the most part and just sets the stage for the characters to do their thing. When it does rear its head, it’s often as a character, which is genuinely pretty cool.

Eloise is an interesting character that feels like she has depth to her. Her contrast with Raine Whiffletwist’s larger than life persona is good, and she makes a lot of good points to him. I especially liked their conversation about his attempt to escape, where she asks why he doesn’t simply ask the dungeon to leave, points out that you can’t really beat a dungeon up, et cetera. I wasn’t quite sold on her reluctance to leave the dungeon despite her ability to, though. She clearly has things that she misses back home, and “it’s kind of nice here” isn’t a very compelling reason to hang around forever in my view. It’s an interesting conflict to be sure, and I can see why she’d think that way temporarily, but it’s never really resolved—at the end of the story, her situation hasn’t really changed. It just feels a little strange and I think it could use a little expansion.

That sort of leads into the main thing that bugged me about this story. The moments you give us here are pretty nice and really serve the characters—the pizza thing was sweet, Raine Whiffletwist’s arbitrary, endless challenge felt perfect for him, the chess thing was really interesting and played on their dynamic nicely. However, I do think this story lacked direction a bit. There’s nothing wrong with slice of life, but this truthfully didn’t feel like slice of life, either. Rain Whiffletwist’s sudden appearance and the suggestion that he might be able to leave give the impression of a plot progression rather than a simple peer into the day-to-day life at Mt. Travail, but the changes in scene are instead somewhat arbitrary and the threads you weave are never really concluded. The plot veers in a different direction a couple times, and throughout there are a lot of good interactions between Eloise and Raine Whiffletwist, but they just don’t really culminate into anything—it’s a series of decently entertaining moments leading into each other, some revelations about the setting, and then it just sort of ends.

I’m not sure quite how one would go about fixing this—the story feels a little like slice of life and a little like a more conventional story, so I suppose the solution would be to fully commit to one or the other. For the former case, cutting out Raine Whiffletwist’s dramatic entry and simply giving us a look into his day-to-day life alongside Eloise and the obstacle courses that the mountain creates for him would work pretty well. His repeated, futile attempts at escape have something of a cyclical feeling to them, so showing us one or two iterations of that cycle could hint at the more long-term circumstances. Otherwise, it would be good to get some closure to their arcs. Maybe Eloise realizes she misses home, and becomes the first to escape the mountain herself so she can do what she was sent to the PMD world to do and return to the human world? Maybe Raine Whiffletwist realizes his attempts to escape are futile, and he has to come to terms with his new life in the mountain, maybe humble up a little bit? I’m not sure, sort of just throwing ideas at the wall, but the bottom line I suppose is that I felt like this story was cut short sort of arbitrarily, and it left me a bit unsatisfied.

Still, as I said before, the dynamic between Raine Whiffletwist and Eloise was great, and I think it was a fun and fresh take on the theme. The characters are well-built and their motivations and worldviews are made really clear, and the setting you’ve crafted is beyond interesting. I just wanted the story to feel a little more cohesive and complete.

Umbramatic

This was a really cute and Umbracore one. The two main characters are great (and both species I really like, which is a bonus), ther bond is really nice, and I LOVE the concept of a sentient dungeon. You also get around the normal handicap of submitting a PMD fic for this particular theme by focusing so heavily on a human-turned-mon and someone PRETENDING to be a human-turned-mon so kudos there.

(And you have the best title of all of these ficus, by far)

But then, it ends way too abruptly? ON kind of a downer note? "Sure they're trapped here forever but at least they're friends now"- fuck no I wsant to see them ESCAPE and GROW and BOND and BE HAPPY and what's there is good is NOT ENOUGH.

But you can tell I really enjo\yed this story because of that. I was surprised how uch I liked it (aside from the title which I thought was great from the get-go).
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Purity" by Seren

A cry of “Thunder!” was the only warning given before the room lit up, a static charge filling the air. A deafening crack followed, nearly drowning out a loud screech of agony from somewhere in the center of the room as electricity jolted down from above and through the unfortunate target pokémon’s body.

The static lingered, but eventually the black-haired girl had blinked enough to readjust her eyes to the normal, artificial light in the windowless room. Not that she needed to see to know that her pokémon had been knocked out by the electrical attack; her fourth attempt at this battle had ended the same as the first, and the second, and the third. No matter how much she trained or what strategies she tried, neither of her pokémon could overcome their type disadvantages. With an air of resignation, she lifted her head to eye her opponent’s pokémon.

“Thunder? Really? You could have gone a
little easy on us.”

The man across from her had stepped up to his manectric and scratched the pokémon’s head. “But if I did that, you’ll never improve. You’re still one of the strongest trainers here.”

“I’ve also been here the longest,” she replied, trudging towards her masquerain, who was already stirring. If nothing else, he was recovering faster after each knockout. “Face it, Justy, I’m just going to be stuck as one of your junior peons until you retire.”


Read the rest on: Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

The process of purifying a Shadow Pokémon was a natural subject to explore in this contest, and the distinct nods here to how purification plays out in the game were fun. I liked that you showed both Kaeli and Cooper's POVs as they slowly bond and Cooper unlearns his trauma, and some of the scenes you wrote between them were sweet. I particularly liked the sunset scene, just a nice quiet bit of Kaeli and her Pokémon hanging out together, and how Cooper gets so protective of her and determined to strike back against those who hurt her in the forest scene at the end - her confusion as he manages to clear-headedly use his Shadow abilities for her sake was a lovely moment. The way he becomes so bouncy and energetic when purified at the end was cute, too.

I also quite enjoyed the presence of some tension and intrigue alongside that storyline with Team Cipher's activities preceding XD, and the characters trying to solve this mystery (though of course we already know what's going on). I liked seeing random trainers showing up to the Pre Gym with Shadow Pokémon without anyone knowing where they're coming from, Kaeli trying to chase down Cassandra only to be outnumbered and threatened and have to back down, and the ending with the Phenac City takeover from the game is deliciously sinister. (Though I imagine it'd be quite a cliffhanger for someone who hasn't played XD.) All in all Cipher feels powerful and threatening and impossible for this one girl and her Pokémon to tackle, and I liked that feel.

And it was fun to see some underappreciated Pokémon here! Masquerain never gets attention, and I haven't really seen Minior much either. Lyrid is a little underused here, maybe, not getting much character, but it was still a fun element (as was the nod to nobody in Orre knowing what a Minior is).

I did think there were some missteps here with the portrayal of Kaeli and Cooper, though, especially earlier on, which hurt my perception of their relationship. Let's look at Kaeli first; I found the inciting sequence of events here super odd and callous on her part, and it took a while for the story to make me properly warm up to her again after that.

Kaeli really wants another Pokémon, so she agrees to take one in an obviously shady back-alley deal and seemingly asks no questions - not even what Pokémon it is, much less where it came from or why it's being given away for free. Then she sends out this Donphan, noticing he's weirdly unresponsive and might be sick or depressed, even noting that she wouldn't be surprised if that was the case given where he came from - so it sounds like she has a pretty good idea that he might have been abused, and in any case clearly isn't well.

But instead of acting like she cares, letting him rest, taking him to a Pokémon Center, trying to find out if he's okay, whether he's in any condition to fight at all... she just goes and expects him to battle for her, and acts surprised and frustrated rather than concerned when he's obviously freaking out and panicking, more preoccupied with what attacks he knows than the fact he's clearly in distress. Then Cooper loses it and attacks Gizmo with what sounds like unusual brutality, and while she tells him to stop, she doesn't forfeit and recall him when he fails to, instead waiting for Justy to recall the Manectric. I get what you were going for here, wanting to show how he only knows Shadow moves like a Shadow Pokémon initially will, and how he goes into Reverse Mode - but actually thinking through Kaeli's actions as shown here from her point of view, they just don't really make any sense unless she's more concerned with winning than with the health and safety of her and others' Pokémon. There's nothing wrong with writing a character who is flawed and would do something like that - but the story from here isn't written like Kaeli was meant to be callous there. Her other Pokémon already love her, we don't see her wonder what she was thinking or lament having gotten too caught up with wanting to beat Justy, the story isn't presented as a process of her learning to be more considerate; in all repects it sounds like she's just meant to be a good, caring trainer. And right now, I don't think that's what the opening communicates.

On Cooper's end, I found some of his thought processes a bit unconvincing. I think it's that you write some of his trauma responses to seem very conscious - for instance, actually reasoning that while Kaeli seems nice and her Pokémon seem happy, he still shouldn't trust her because trusting humans got him into this in the first place. I don't think this feels like how someone who's been traumatized and abused would think - if he's immediately instinctively inclined to be optimistic about Kaeli, with that being his first thought, but then goes on to consciously decide that he shouldn't trust her anyway for kind of flimsy reasons, that seems a bit backwards.

By contrast, you've got other bits here in his POV that I think are quite good, such as the bit where he feels her touching him and basically has a flashback - he's feeling something that reminds him of previous trauma, hears something unfamiliar and just panics about it because weird unfamiliar things are usually bad, but begins to calm down when he realizes he isn't in fact being hurt and she's just trying to soothe him. He doesn't consciously go "Oh, I don't know what's going on! It doesn't seem harmful, but things I don't recognize are usually bad" - it's just an entirely unconscious instinctual reaction of panic, and that's a lot more convincing and evocative as a trauma response than when he seems to be reasoning it out in his head.

On a similar basis, although I liked the sunset scene itself, I found the opening of it a bit weird, with Cooper having this whole reasoned thought process about how surely, surely, Kaeli is about to punish him for something. By this point he must be reasonably aware on a conscious level that Kaeli is not one of the lab coats - she already soothed him and fed him, and he even insists in this very scene that he'd wanted to battle because it was important to her. So it just feels like nonsense when, at the same time as he apparently trusts and likes her enough now to actively want to battle for her sake, he appears to be reasoning consciously to himself that she's definitely going to punish him and if she says she's going to calm him it must be because she really wants to hurt him.

It makes perfect sense for him to be hesitant, to be stressed anyway by something well-intentioned that reminds him of what he suffered through, to instinctively expect punishment for any mistake, to still be unsure if he can fully trust her - but if he's actually just taking the time to fully consciously reflect on it, and still coming to confident conclusions that she'll hurt him while just choosing to entirely ignore the obvious fact that she hasn't done anything of the sort, it feels less like trauma and more like some kind of strange motivated antipathy. And the degree of conscious distrust he's feeling at this point in time really doesn't seem to line up with him also, simultaneously, feeling great loyalty towards her and wanting to fight for her because it's important to her - these things just don't rhyme with each other.

Also, I balked a little at Kaeli being spurred to visit Professor Krane's lab after hearing that he's vanished, and then... being disappointed to hear from his wife that he has in fact vanished? Originally she talked like her plan was to try to investigate his disappearance, but then when she gets there she makes no mention of this and acts like the fact he's not there is surprising. It feels like maybe you altered your plans a bit here and then forgot to edit something? One way or another it's strange.

Finally, there were some typos/mistakes here - not a lot, but a few. Might want to give it an extra pass of proofreading.

All in all, though, I thought the central relationship strengthened as it went on and felt feelings at the forest scene, and enjoyed the faithful nods to the games and the looming menace of Cipher. I just found those earlier bits of characterization a bit off, which hurt my ability to get fully into it a little at the start.

HelloYellow17

OANDJEHRNEOWUVD

IS

IS THIS AN ORRE FIC

YES

YES

LET’S HECKING GO

BLESS YOU, CHILD

Okay. Okay. Here we go. I am calm.

Ayyyy it’s nice to see Justy get the spotlight! He rarely ever does. Ah, the sad life of being a vague Orre NPC.

Ohhh boy. A random friend saying they know where they can get you another Pokémon? Lol. I know where this is going. *squints at the title*

Really liking your description of Shadow Pokémon here! They’re just listless, blank slates which is both heartbreaking and disturbing. I also liked the acknowledgment of Strider’s Intimidate ability. The battle with Justy was fantastic. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to have a freaking Donphan charging at you, aaaaaa

Oh noooo, Cooper’s POV absolutely broke my heart :( He reminds me so much of Kohna in OSAS. Hhhhh poor baby, he deserves all the love and sweet berries!!

“What were they doing? Did they have some new experiment planned today?” Ughhhhhh my HEART.

I really liked seeing the other Pokémon help him out. It makes sense that it would be a team effort and not just Kaeli reaching out to help.

Interesting that the battles here are one-on-one and not doubles! I don’t even have anything wrong with that, just a detail I’ve noticed. Honestly, double battles are a pain to write anyways, heh.

Huh, I’ve never played XD so I don’t know how the general public reacts to shadow Pokémon coming back, but I find it interesting that this Leden character is so nonchalant about it. If shadow Pokémon are common knowledge, why aren’t more people worried? And wouldn’t it also be common knowledge how immoral and messed up it is to have one? Does Leden simply not care, or maybe she’s in Kaeli’s position and didn’t mean to obtain one?

...Welp, I just got my questions answered lol.

The sunset scene was so wholesome!! Cooper deserves all the happiness, it’s so heartwarming to see him slowly get better.

Hoo boy you did a nice job capturing Cipher’s sinister and dangerous side here. They mean business, and honestly Kaeli is lucky that they let her walk away.

Oh?! Krane and Lily are married in this universe! I dig it! AND ARE WE GONNA GET TO SEE MICHAEL—Aw, darn, no Michael. That’s fine though, because this story is about Kaeli and Cooper! :D

Omg getting swarmed by a whole horde of shadow Pokémon would be absolutely HORRIFYING. And huge props to you for letting Eagun and his Pikachu have some of the spotlight! I always hated that his supposedly very strong and experienced Pikachu was super easy to take out. It makes a lot more sense to have them be a truly powerful duo.

Kabdkskfbwh the purification scene was SO wholesome, awww! I only wish it was a little longer because it was so sweet and lovely.

Welp, it makes sense that Kaeli wouldn’t be able to get out of that mess unscathed. Again, haven’t played XD but Cipher takes over the gym and takes a bunch of trainers hostage, right? I guess it’s MICHAEL TO THE RESCUE, heh!

Well this was a heckin delight and I really loved the Orre representation! Honestly, purifying a Shadow Pokémon would be hard and heartbreaking work, and this absolutely fits the lovely theme of the contest. Allow me to share some thoughts:

Overall, I liked the pacing and the setup. Kaeli’s reasons for wanting another Pokémon, not knowing how to help Cooper, her journey through Orre to cure him, etc were all very believable, and we can tell that she’s a pretty skilled trainer very early on in the story from her thoughts and analysis of the battle.

I will say that it feels like the the story became a little...lackluster in details in the second half. The first half, up until the battle with Leden, was nicely paced and felt like we were truly experiencing things through Cooper and Kaeli’s POVs. But after that, it feels like it slides into “tell, don’t show” territory, and things are glossed over fairly quickly. Now, it’s highly possible this is due to the wc limit—a LOT happens in this story, and it’s hard to work under a limit with that much info! But because of this, the crowning moment of the story—Cooper’s purification—didn’t quite drive it home. It was lovely and sweet, but it felt as though it was being told on a surface level when it had the potential to dig much deeper for that emotional appeal.

In the same vein, I wish we got to know Kaeli a bit better. Why was she working at the gym? Why did she want to beat Justy? What brought her to Orre in the first place? We know she’s a kind and caring trainer and a good battler, but aside from that, we don’t know much about her, and she seems a tad vanilla without additional details.

Last but not least, I wish we had a little more focus on Cooper and Kaeli’s relationship—namely, what about Kaeli specifically was able to reach through to him, beyond the fact that she was nice? I’d have liked to see a scene where Kaeli does something unique, something out of the box but in-line with her personality, that shows Cooper that she truly cares for him. Berries and watching sunsets are lovely! But I’d love to see more details that makes their relationship unique and one-of-a-kind.

That said, most of these things are perfectly fix-able should you want to go back and flesh this story out more! And if not, it’s still a beautiful and incredibly enjoyable one-shot as is. Cooper’s trauma, Cipher’s sinister presence, Kaeli’s frustrations, the worldbuilding—you put a lot of effort into this story, and it shows! Congrats on a lovely one-shot, you should be proud of a job well done. :)

kyeugh

My knowledge of Orre and shadow pokémon and anything of that nature is 100% derived from Of Sand and Shadows, which I’m not caught up with, so a lot of the subject matter here is untread ground for me, and I think that made it even funner to read! This story has really great energy and feels like canon, both thematically and aesthetically. Shadow pokémon are a great way to explore this contest’s theme, and I think you did a great job of it. The perspective switches were cool too; I was a little unsure about it at first, and wondered whether the switch was really necessary, but it turned out that seeing things from Cooper’s perspective actually added a lot, so I was pretty happy about that. The battles are also pretty well-written. The tendency of shadow pokémon to cross the line and go berserk made them feel legitimately suspenseful without the need to make all pokémon attacks super dangerous and lethal.

I found myself really liking Kaeli. The compassion she extends to Cooper despite his difficulty was just really heart-warming. She seems to have a really strong intuition for pokémon training; she knows when to push and when to stop pushing. She offers food but doesn’t force it on him, allows him to battle but doesn’t push him past his limits. It’s exactly what Cooper needs, and it’s really well done in my opinion. Cooper is a special case because he’s a shadow pokémon and all, but I still think this is a really great example of pokémon training written well. I was really impressed by that.

Cooper was great too. His trauma is really heartbreaking and feels real. His distrust and jumpiness says a lot about his past without coming out and saying it, and his reactions to Kaeli and her other pokémon are dramatic without feeling overblown. I really loved how despite his fear and distrust, it only took a little reassurance for him to push his fear aside and, for example, try the sitrus berry. It shows that at his core, Cooper is a pokémon that wants to trust and be loved, but is simply too afraid and traumatized to do so freely. As sad as it is, it’s well-executed, and it makes the moments where he overcomes his fear feel that much more impactful. I thought his arc was pretty powerful, too. The way he learns to reign in his shadow abilities and uses them not to destroy but to protect was really poignant. You did a great job building up his relationship with Kaeli, and an equally good job reaping the fruits of that labor. A sweet, emotional, dramatic climax to a sweet, emotional, dramatic character arc for them both. I actually kind of expected that Kaeli would decide after the battle at the shrine that, as Cooper had learned to use his abilities for good, she’d decide not to purify him after all. After all, the biggest scars were the ones inside, the ones that Celebi wouldn’t be able to wash away, right? But after some thought, it probably just straight up sucks being a shadow pokémon, lol. So I don’t really fault her for going ahead and doing that anyway.

One thing that confused me a little was why Cassandra was handing shadow pokémon out this way and that in the first place. What did she have to gain from doing that? My initial thought was that they just had a bunch left over from the events of canon, and she was trying to ditch them so she wouldn’t be caught with them, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense either. Her existence and the existence of her shadow pokémon doesn’t seem to be a particularly well-guarded secret; trainers are coming into the gym and using their shadow pokémon openly, and if word about how to find her is traveling by word of mouth, it doesn’t seem like it would be particularly difficult for law enforcement to track her down and find her. Kaeli doesn’t pay her anything for Cooper, so it’s unclear what she’s getting out of this exactly—she claims to be “doing a favor for a friend,” but as far as I could tell, what this means is never really expanded on. I also didn’t understand the ending at all, it felt really out of left field and I’m not fully sure what even happened there, exactly. Wasn’t Cassandra affiliated with the people they’d just gotten done beating up? But she’s a good guy now? I wasn’t really following.

Aside from the strange ending, though, I didn’t really find faults with this story. The characters are great and Cooper’s arc, which ties intimately into this contest’s theme, was fantastic. You put all the elements of the setting to work for you here, and the payoff is great. I definitely left this one feeling warm and fuzzy. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Umbramatic

This was mostly really nice! You don't see THAT many fics about rehabilitting Shadow Pokemon, and you have a cool take on it, with Cooper being scared and paranoid in addition to the angery feral you see out of most depictions of Shadow Pokemon, and his bond with his trainer is really nice. Speaking of - I love Cooper so much. He's so cute. I want to pet him and give him incense and feed him berries

There are two major issues:

1. I feel like the other Pokemon are way more sidelined than they should be even if the focus is on Cooper. I wanted to see more of the Minor in particular!

a. the ending feels out of nowhere and too sequel-hook-y for a self-=contained oneshot. Also, you know. It unfairly wrenches a hard-earned happy ending out of our hands for no good reason. If you do intend to write a sequel to this that ending should be at the beginning of said sequel. *If you don't write a seq2uel the sudden bad ending is probably unnecessary. I want Cooper to be happy!

But you've got a strong base here, needs minimal polish to truly shine. Give Cooper hugs for me.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Small Beginnings" by Panoramic_Vacuum

I catch myself with my tongue poking from the corner of my mouth. Again. I always make some kind of funny face when I'm concentrating, and splicing wires is no exception.

"One last twist and… whew!" Leaning back, I wipe my hand under the brim of my hardhat. "All set! You can flip it on!"

My crewmate shouts to confirm that they're on the way to the breaker, so I sit back to admire my handiwork.

"Not bad for a newbie," I say aloud seemingly to no one. But there's one person around to hear. He can't really give me any sort of feedback, but I know he’s heard me; he’s with me everywhere when I’m on the job. Not to mention he’s worked just as hard on this as I have, so I decide to give him a little treat for a job well done.

I reach up to the brim of my hardhat, like I'm reaching for a pencil tucked behind my ear. But when my hand comes back down, I don't have a writing utensil in hand. Instead, perched on my finger is a small, fuzzy creature no bigger than the tip of my thumb. Its fur is the same bright hue as my hardhat: yellow for electrical hazard.

"Whaddya say, Tic? Want to give this one a rating?"


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

It's always a lot of fun to see a story about people in the Pokémon world who aren't conventional trainers, and construction workers and their Pokémon partners was a fun topic to tackle! I thought you did a really nice job of making these feel like genuine people in a real world and making all the Pokémon feel like they have their own personalities despite being nonverbal.

The portrayal of Tic was a real highlight; he's just incredibly cute and the attention you pay to his body language and behaviour really pays off. Him doing tiny bug pushups, my heart. He's just overflowing with character and really a great example of how to distinctly characterize a Pokémon in a world where they can't speak. It was lovely to see the way he helps on the job, by identifying when a current is flowing by the way he does this little joy-dance; that's cute but also makes sense as something a Joltik would just naturally do, and the discussion of whether he should evolve in relation to that was neat. The other Pokémon get less attention, but still some great little nuggets - I loved Garnet the Timburr showing off a flawlessly executed joint and a Heatmor bothering Durant on breaks. In general, you've got a lot of fun detail in here.

I did feel like the story was a bit less about Mason and Tic's relationship and more about just introducing Tic and the other characters, plus the running throughline about Mason's dad. We get to see the way that Mason and Tic work together, and it's adorable, and a bit of the others' relationships with their Pokémon too, but for a story in this contest, I wished that it focused a little more on their partnership after the first scene and less on "here are my human friends from vocational school and what they do" and "here's the backstory of my failed training career and my dad's expectations for me", which are perfectly fine topics but don't really contribute to the theme.

I also found myself a little confused by the messaging on how long Mason has even had Tic. The opening scene, offhand reference to Mason being a "newbie" notwithstanding, makes it feel like they're well used to each other, work smoothly together, and each know exactly what they're doing - in every way, it feels like they're well-established partners. But during the lunch scene, it sounds like last time they met up Mason hadn't even picked a Pokémon partner, and you tell us they meet up regularly! You do also note that they don't see each other very often, so perhaps we could allow for there being a few weeks in between, and that having been just enough time for them to get really well in sync on the job... but also, the title and intro talk about beginnings, which really made me expect the story to be about the beginning of their relationship, and not sometime later when they're already inseparable! Just not quite sure what you were actually going for there.

Another small thing that gave me pause was how Mason figures Tic may not have understood the conversation on evolution - but if Tic isn't sapient enough to understand a simple conversation about evolution, how is he sapient enough to comprehend Mason's friends' occupations, which Mason's just specifically taken time to explain to him? It seemed a surprising comment in a story where by all appearances people have been talking to Tic and he's understood them all the way until then.

Finally, I did think the story felt a little meandering - we start off with Mason and Tic's partnership, then move into all of Mason's friends, then move into Mason's backstory, and then it ends, without those disparate elements really coming together as a narrative whole. The bit about his training career in particular feels kind of tacked onto the end; it's not entirely unrelated to everything, since we have been hearing about Mason's dad, but it's unrelated to the main thrust, and it really feels like we didn't need to hear any more about that and wouldn't have lost anything for the rest of the story if we hadn't, so structurally it feels sort of odd. It's not a huge deal, and it is fun to hear the story of a trainer who dropped out early, but it did feel mildly awkward to me.

Overall, though, this was really charming and I enjoyed it a lot! Tic really steals the show, and you portray a nice lived-in Pokémon world with humans and Pokémon working together beyond the typical trainer fare.

HelloYellow17

OMG IS IT JOLTIK TIME? IT’S JOLTIK TIME AAAAA

Right out the gate, I’m loving your prose and the way every sentence casually reveals something about our main character—his profession, the fact that he’s new to the job, that he isn’t a trainer but perhaps used to be one (?), etc. This is the natural flow of information that I love.

I’ve known Tic for exactly three seconds AND I WOULD DIE FOR HIM, OKAY

I am LIVING for the little details here. I love seeing the various ways Pokemon contribute to the job here, and the fact that each worker has a partner of their own!

LOOOOL that trainer fail story tho. Omg poor guy xD Glad that they can all at least laugh about it!

Kabdksoejwjdkiwh this was such a freaking WHOLESOME story, omg. I really loved every bit of this! There were lots of characters introduced, but thanks to your clean and crisp writing style I didn’t have any issues keeping track of all of them. And even though we don’t get to know them much, we still get some solid insights into their personalities.

Tic, of course, stole the ENTIRE freaking show for me. I ain’t even mad about it.

This was a beautiful interpretation of the theme, and I can’t express enough just how much I enjoy your writing style! I love this portrayal of the Pokémon world and I would love to have MORE, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

kyeugh

Pokémon labor is a bit of a tricky thing. I think it can be a lot of fun, and it can also have some unsavory implications—this doesn’t seem to be a fic about those things (at least not entirely, or not on purpose), so I put them aside for the most part while reading this, but I do have some thoughts about it and how it relates to this contest’s theme. But I will save those for later. :p For the most part: this is a cute fic, and it’s always fun to think about the applications pokémon might have in industry. I really appreciated the gritty, working class feel of your cast here, and the non-binary representation was neat! The characters all have a lot of personality. The prose was pretty clean too.

I liked the introduction to Tic, I thought it was a great way of acquainting us with the dynamic and setting we’re looking at here as well as Tic’s quirks and personality. The current dance is super duper cute, and the way he does it at the end without the “current” part was perfect. Using a joltik to help out with electrical tasks is ingenious, and honestly a lot of the fun in this entry was just meeting all the pokémon and figuring out how they helped out in their respective industries. It’s really easy to forget how tiny joltik is—in the games and anime both it’s scaled up quite a lot—and I enjoyed seeing it in its actual size here, doing things only it can do. It was cool that you picked all Unovan pokémon here. My next favorite pick after joltik was heatmor; I think a lot of people sleep on that one, but it’s perfect for a welder.

I thought it was pretty interesting that choosing one’s partner pokémon is kind of a stand-in for choosing one’s trade here. Choosing a joltik means more than choosing a joltik—it means choosing to be an electrician too, and quite probably it means choosing your niche within that industry as well. I liked that the narrator’s decision to choose joltik was partially determined by their fanboying over Alder; I bet it’s not uncommon for people to choose specialties just because they want to be able to work with certain pokémon. I actually thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity that the narrator chose joltik sort of off the cuff/to be different, rather than because they fell in love with the little guy on the job! The narrator says a few times that they’re relieved they made the right choice, and it feels retrospective; it’s a little surprising if they just have to choose the pokémon species they want rather than working with a couple different ones to try and get a feel. I think there could’ve been a nice moment there of working together with Tic and realizing they’d found “the one.”

That sort of leads into my major gripe with this entry, which is that the pokémon don’t really feel like characters to me. They’re treated mostly like, well, industry tools—they’re presented in the context of how they’re useful for their humans’ jobs, and not much else. To your credit, the current dance is cute, and some of the pokémon do briefly display autonomous behaviors like with Jezebel harassing the durant, but it all just feels like pretty cosmetic, surface-level stuff. That’s okay sometimes, but given the nature of the contest, I was really coming at this looking at the bonds between the pokémon and their humans, and the main bond demonstrated in the story seems to be that pokémon are occupational tools for humans to use. That’s certainly a valid approach to take, but I don’t feel this entry fully committed to it—a world where pokémon are treated as mere tools is pretty grim, but this isn’t quite that world. There’s still an element of camaraderie here that ultimately culminates in what I feel is a mild lack of self-awareness as to the particular dynamic it’s constructing, which in a contest specifically about the bonds between humans and pokémon feels out of place.

Still, this is a fun story on its own terms, and I’d be interested to read more stories set in this world! The human characters seem like a lot of fun, and you do a great job demonstrating their closeness and cuing the audience in on their shared history. The premise of pokémon and humans laboring alongside each other in the workplace is an interesting one to explore, and I do think you did some neat stuff with it—I just wanted more expansion there, a focus on the emotional bonds that pokémon share with their humans rather than the utility which humans can extract from their pokémon.

Umbramatic

This is soooooooooooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute. I love Joltik and a slice-of life fic centered around Joktik shenanigans is a really cute idea. The glimpses into the other characters, both human and Pokemon, is also really nice.

The problem is... There's barely any plot. Yeah it's a slice of life fic but even by those standards there's not much progression or character development, and what does happen is in... vague flashbacks. Also the intro made me think the protagonist and Tic would overcome cool or heavy stuff together, but that didn't happen. The actual progression of events didn't feel like it made sense and it also doesn't feel. Self-contained. Which is important for a oneshot.

But you've got good, cute Joltk-themed bones here. Just need more meat.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"A Song of Sorrow" by Sparkfire

“Do you remember? All those years ago, when we first met? I was conked out on the beach, and you were looking down at me. You seemed so scared!” There was hearty laughter. “We immediately formed a close bond with each other. We were almost inseparable from day one!”

The leaves rustled as more laughter filled the area. “Yeah… and we started our adventure then. Of course, we weren’t the best as apprentices, but that’s how it goes, eh? But we had a few advantages over the other apprentices. For one, my dimensional scream. We were so close from the moment of meeting that it activated without fail. We might never have saved Azurill if it wasn’t for that.”

The silver Pokemon approached closer. “Of course, you were more than just a friend. You helped me conquer my struggles, get used to a new culture and new body. Even through our adventures, you were there every step of the way. We only continued to grow closer as we adventured…”


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

So, a funny story: the first time I read this, I assumed this story was a dialogue, not a monologue. There are no dialogue tags making it clear who is speaking, and you separate the text into what appear to be ordinary paragraphs of back-and-forth dialogue with very vague bits of narration that don't even make clear how many characters are present, much less which of them might be talking - I genuinely took this to be two characters alternately reminiscing about their past adventures to each other until near the very end! I was prepared to talk about it being strange and awkward that they'd stand there explaining to each other how they met, as if they don't know that already. By the time I finally realized I'd been reading the story wrong, that it had all been the same character speaking the entire time, it was hard for me to even begin to unwrap it and take the story as it was meant to be. I think I get the minimalism and sense of mystery that you were going for, but as it is I think it's all too easy to simply misinterpret the structure, if one doesn't previously know what's going on - I would highly recommend trying to make that more obvious from the start, if nothing else.

This story grapples with heavy emotions of grief and moving on, and you make it very clear how much these characters cared for each other when Spira lived. I liked the end where Spira's spirit ambiguously acts to reveal a scarf that helps Wind accept her death and feel closer to her again; that's sweet, and Aurora being there to comfort and care for him in that is nice too - often these sorts of stories have the grieving character seem to have no one else in their life at all, which flattens it.

Even on a reread, though, I'm not sure the approach you've taken to telling the story here feels entirely natural. Surely, at the grave of a loved one, people don't usually stand there recounting their entire life stories, let alone keep doing so when someone else arrives at the scene - it just feels like a very odd thing to do, more for the reader's benefit than because Wind would actually do this within the story's universe. And unfortunately, this also means that the bulk of the story here is told in summary, rather than really bringing us close to these characters and letting us get a feel for their relationship - you do tell us plenty that they loved each other, but there isn't a lot of showing it. In fact, most of it feels distinctly like simply a plot summary of Explorers, at some point (I think?) transitioning into seeming like a summary of another fanfic. I get the sense that maybe it is, that maybe these are characters from an existing chapterfic - but unfortunately, if that's the case I haven't read it, and for the purposes of this contest I have to judge it like it stands independently.

In that light, I think this story would be a lot more effective if, instead of Wind standing at Spira's grave explaining how they met and got to know each other and how their relationship developed, you actually showed us scenes from their journey together. We don't need all the connective tissue, just some glimpses into what their bond was like: you'd want to write some scenes out in full, close to the characters, let us experience the emotions that they're feeling, and show us how they grow to feel the way they do about each other. You could still have Wind at Spira's grave at the end, confessing his loneliness, finding the scarf, and being comforted by Aurora - it'd just make use of flashbacks or timeskips to actually show us what their relationship looked like when Spira was alive.

This would admittedly lose the overarching sense of mystery regarding who the characters in the scene are and what's going on, though, so if that's something that's important to you about the story, it's fair if that's not where you'd like to go with it. An alternative, if you really wished to keep that aspect, would be to focus less on summarizing the plot of Explorers/the possibly-hypothetical chapterfic and more on how Wind's feelings for Spira developed - recounting more little personal things, rather than big overarching plot events that don't really mean that much for the characters. You could still reference the canon events from Explorers, if only to anchor the story within the plot of the game, but focusing the story more clearly around the characters' relationship and not around simply summarizing the events of a plot would do it a lot of good, I think, and make it more effective.

There is another issue with this as an entry into this particular contest, though, which is that the fact Wind is a human feels entirely incidental to the story here! There is a brief mention in one paragraph of the fact Spira helped him adjust to being a Pokémon, but that's about it - other than that, this entire story would be no different if Wind had always been a Pokémon. There's nothing too wrong with that, within the context of a Mystery Dungeon story - humans and Pokémon aren't all that different in those games! But this contest is about the bonds between humans and Pokémon, and I don't feel that this is quite within the spirit of that theme. If you showed and focused on how they connect through Spira's efforts to help Wind adjust, or on Wind grappling with the idea that he's falling in love with a Pokémon and feeling strange about it, or something along those lines, it would be different. But as it is, this isn't a story about the human-Pokémon bond so much as simply about a romantic relationship that could just as well be between two humans or two Pokémon, and that means I don't think it's quite right for this theme.

I'm kind of curious about exactly what Aurora's role is here. There's sort of a small mention that Spira was ragingly jealous of her, and then, in the present day, Aurora seems to be very up close and physically intimate with Wind. But it's not really clear what Wind's relationship to her is now - whether he's found new love in her, or whether it's just normal for Pokémon to platonically stroke and lick each other, or whether it is unusual but she's just affectionate towards her friends in that way. I would have been assuming the former, except that I would kind of have expected it to come up near the end if that were the case, one way or another - like, wouldn't Wind have feelings of some kind about having started a relationship with Aurora after Spira's death, now that he's at Spira's grave reminiscing about how she didn't want Aurora to have him? It might have been interesting to see more about Aurora, and exactly what the deal is with her relationship with Wind; right now, although I like that she's there to comfort him, we don't really properly get to know her very well.

All in all, then, I think this entry isn't quite a meaningful exploration of the theme of the contest and takes an approach to telling its story that isn't entirely effective. The death of a loved one and how one copes with that is always a heavy, emotional theme, and I basically like what I think you were going for with that, but I don't think the execution quite manages to do it justice as is.

HelloYellow17

All right, my feels are wrecked after reading this, it’s fine. IT’S FINE.

I’ll start off by talking about two big roadblocks for me: One, I had to read this twice to understand what was going on. At first, I thought the dialogue was being shared between two Pokémon, because two were being mentioned (Aurora gradually approaching Lex), and so I spent almost the whole time trying to figure out who was saying what, and then the headstone was mentioned, and...I finally pieced everything together at the end, and was MUCH less confused the second time reading through.

If you have any plans to tweak this after the contest, I’d suggest adding just a few details here and there to clarify that it’s Lex talking almost the whole time, and to clarify that Aurora is simply there to quietly comfort him.

Another thing is that I had no idea what species Lex was until near the end when it explicitly states he is a Lucario. The descriptors of “gold” and “yellow” especially threw me off there, because they didn’t lead me to picture a lucario! To be honest I was picturing a Pikachu (because I knew this was a PMD protagonist haha). So I guess this means Lex is a shiny Lucario? Which is cool! However, the reader isn’t likely going to assume that, so I’d suggest mentioning his species much earlier so that the reader can visualize what the speaker looks like.

Last but not least...in terms of relating to the theme, this really doesn’t fit much. Sure, the protagonist is a former human, but he apparently chose to stay a Pokémon, and the fact that he was ever human at all has little to do with his relationships with the other Pokémon or the current events taking place. Take away the fact that he ever was human, and the story remains largely unchanged. This didn’t reach for that human/Pokémon connection like I’d hoped it would.

Anyway! That’s really the only criticism I have for this story. The rest is...wow. WOW.

You write grief *extremely* well. There were so many emotions tied up in the dialogue—nostalgia, amusement, regret, loss, and above it all...love. So much love. I could genuinely FEEL how much Lex loved Spira. Also, with the way everything is written, I got a really good sense of just how *long* these two had been together. They’d been through so much, and the way Lex speaks really drives home the fact that this relationship was a long and happy one.

I’m assuming the events mentioned are referring to the plot of a PMD game. Explorers? I know juuust enough about those games to have a basic idea of what was being referenced. But even without in-depth knowledge, I was still able to follow the dialogue, so props to you for that!

The reveal that Lex was talking to a tombstone this whole time was like a gut-punch. It was very nicely done, and wow that detail about the scarf at the end was heartbreaking and comforting at the same time.

I like that this ended on a bittersweet note. Lex is grieving and probably always will be, but he’s not alone. He has family and friends there to comfort him, and above all, he still has Spira’s presence with him. This hit ALL the sweet spots for a bittersweet story, and I’m glad that it didn’t leave me just feeling sad and empty!

The scene-setting, the use of colors to describe the characters and the atmosphere, the emotions portrayed through dialogue, all of this was great! Also, the fact that this was 90% dialogue was REALLY impressive because that is not easy to pull off! But you did it marvelously. Bravo!

kyeugh

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get this one. Admittedly this could be due to my unfamiliarity with PMD as a franchise—I’ve only played Explorers of Sky about half my life ago, and more recently the first fifth or so of Rescue Team DX—so it may be that some of the jargon in this story is stuff that a more seasoned PMD player would have understood readily. Still, I think the reason those things tripped me up isn’t because I’m unfamiliar with PMD, necessarily, but because they’re really only mentioned in passing, which pretty much explains the main issue I had with this story. It just didn’t really feel like a story of its own, to me, so much as a very abbreviated retelling of another story, and one with which I’m unfamiliar. Pretty much every line of dialogue is an offhand reference to some past event for which I have no context, and that makes up a pretty solid bulk of the entry overall. I found myself pretty confused for most of my time reading this.

It’s unclear to me who the characters are, exactly—the story kicks off with some dialogue and it takes long enough to name the speakers that I’ve pretty much lost any chance of mapping who’s saying what lines and who did what in the backstory. Even at the end I wasn’t sure which species any of the characters were except for the one that’s explicitly referred to as a lucario towards the end. Most importantly, I’m not sure which of these characters are human, and if not for the meta knowledge that this contest is about pokémon-human relationships, I might not have suspected there was a human in this story at all, which is the major thing I’m looking for in these contest entries.

What I would have really liked to see here is one of the events the narrator is recounting actually described in detail rather than recapitulated. Show us the bond between these characters rather than telling us about it. Make us feel the things they’re feeling, and give us personal insight into what made their bond special in a way that only a bond between a human and pokémon could be. Even showing us the narrator at the bedside of his ailing partner would have been okay, I think—some back and forth between them, some personal exchanges revealing the complexities of their relationship, some insights into the grief they’re feeling at the end of their awesome journey together—rather than the retelling we’re given.

The prose itself is nice, though. I enjoyed the descriptions you gave, and the dialogue felt pretty fluid on a structural/mechanical level. I regret that the meaning of it was lost on me.

Umbramatic

There's some honest good points here. It's got a good sense of setup to what's going on, and the bond you're supposed to be focusing on is at least portrayed convincingly.

The biggest thing dragging this story down is... It feels more like a recap than a real story? Especially because you seem to be recapping a lot of canon PMD story points and concepts? It tourns what's supposed to be an emotional scene into something kinda rote and dry, and the excesssve focus on the events actually undermines the bond you're supposed to be showcasing - a dangerous thing to do given the theme and that this is a PMD fic that has a harder time with it already.

I would suggest smoothing all that over. Then things should be a little more convincing!
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Swamping Ground" by Flyg0n

Warm, thick mud cocooned Marshtomp up to his neck. He twitched his two tail fins restlessly, flexing his arms as he peered from his spot in a marsh, scanning the area for trainers. He narrowed his eyes, then sighed, blowing a thick mud bubble. Despite sticking near a main route not far from one of the towns in hopes of meeting a trainer, he hadn’t seen anyone particularly interesting for the past two days.

There had been a few travelers, but when he challenged them and they didn’t send out a pokemon for him to battle, he sent them running with a blast of muddy water. The nerve of some humans, just
walking! Didn’t they know how rude it was to decline a challenge? Especially traveling along a route like this.

Read the rest on: Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This was an interesting one! I liked how you show the POV of a Pokémon with a strong sense of agency, who wants a trainer but wants specific things out of that relationship and makes his own calls and choices about it until he finds someone he likes, and that the other Pokémon shown all broadly have a sense of agency too rather than any of them being throwaway silent extras - the wild Zigzagoon raring to fight and annoyed when it's interrupted, Taillow choosing to stay when Marshtomp leaves, the Electrike who tells Marshtomp he needs to keep his trainer in check. All in all you pretty clearly portray a world where Pokémon are in control of their own fates.

You also get across very clearly from the start how much Marshtomp just wants some good intense battles; many of these sorts of stories of unhappy wild Pokémon becoming happy when caught by a trainer kind of just take it as a given that the Pokémon will be better off with the trainer who catches them because it's a trainer, but you really take the time to establish why Marshtomp is exactly the sort of person who would vibe with how Simon trains in particular, and that's absolutely crucial here.

I really appreciated Felicity and the whole section about her. It's fun that she's doing pageants but insists on doing it with Pokémon that aren't commonly considered cute or charismatic (love her tsundere Voltorb), and the fact Felicity herself notices Marshtomp isn't happy, apologizes for getting carried away when she captured him, and encourages him to find somebody who'll make him happier is great. Characters who are openly and enthusiastically 'girly' are frequently cartoonified and made obnoxious, and I worried you were going that direction with her initially, but actually she's just a genuinely good, sensitive person whose enthusiasm is infectious but still cares and respects when someone's just not into it, and that's pretty cool.

And along those lines, I also liked a lot how Marshtomp was skeptical of this pageant thing from the start, found the idea baffling and the appeal nonexistent, but still gave it a fair shake anyway - before deciding it still wasn't for him. The common tropes, when it comes to this sort of thing, tend to be either to ridicule it throughout and have the character refuse to participate and hate it if they're forced to, or to have the character turn out to love it when they try; it's weirdly rare to see fictional characters willing to try things they're skeptical of without it necessarily changing their opinion! Dunno, it's a small thing but it stuck out to me.

I was a lot less enamoured with the Karina section, however. She feels very much like a one-dimensional caricature, rather than like a genuine person who's overcorrected in her efforts to be maximally ethical, and I couldn't shake the feeling she was there as some kind of veiled jab at other fanfics or authors. Her character is treated with great contempt by the narrative, and while the way she trains is obviously making her Pokémon miserable and she's not paying any real attention to what they actually want and need, some of the ways the story actually 'argues against' her strike me as pretty weak, undermining the point the fic is making.

"If we didn't want to fight, we could just stop" is a pretty naïve oversimplification, for instance; if one party in the battle wants to keep fighting and the other doesn't, they may not in fact be able to just unilaterally stop, even without getting into the more complicated quagmire of how people do often do things they don't actually want. Karina is absolutely being overzealous in stopping every battle early when both participants are obviously still enthusiastically into it, but it's really not in principle unreasonable to think a battle might ever go too far! Marshtomp has every right to be annoyed by her inattentiveness, her absolute refusal to notice when the Pokémon are enjoying themselves and want to continue - but instead of focusing on what she's actually doing wrong, he's breezily acting like a Pokémon ever fighting longer than it really wants to simply could never happen, and that just really doesn't pan out.

And when she chides Marshtomp about not getting consent before starting a fight with the Zigzagoon - well, again, clearly she's completely incapable of reading Pokémon's body language, but it sits wrong with me how the story seems so scornful of the notion that maybe sometimes a passing Pokémon might genuinely not be up for a fight (in which case it would be pretty rude to attack them out of nowhere). You write the story around Karina so that she is always obviously and obnoxiously wrong in thinking a Pokémon may not want to fight, but realistically, without the author's hand choosing to arrange events so that every Pokémon they encounter is itching for a battle, sometimes she wouldn't be wrong about that. Marshtomp repeatedly calls Karina insulting and demeaning and says she has no respect for Pokémon's ability to make their own choices - but what she's actually doing is being extremely over-cautious about trying to make sure they do make their own choices, while also simultaneously being very bad at recognizing when a free choice has in fact been made, and seemingly having no conception of this or interest in understanding them better. Once again, that's plenty of reason to leave her, but instead, Marshtomp continually frames her as if the very notion of any Pokémon ever not being up for a fight is just ludicrous and irritating - at one point he even retorts that this is what they were made for, as if Pokémon are just a homogenous mass that all inherently want the same thing.

It's fine for a character to think like that, of course - a Pokémon whose true love is battles, in a world where most Pokémon feel that way, might easily think not wanting to fight is just weird and silly. But because Karina is such a flat caricature who is obviously being ridiculed by the narrative, it feels like we're just meant to agree with Marshtomp. And while Karina is a terrible trainer, that's not because it's silly to think a Pokémon could ever not feel like fighting. By presenting Marshtomp's opposition to her in such absolutist terms that don't really hold up to scrutiny, it kind of undermines the real reasons she's bad - hence why I'm feeling compelled to 'defend' her here, even though she really is a cartoonishly incompetent caricature!

Later, we get Ember, who's got a similar deal going on - loudly, wrongly concerned about Pokémon's wellbeing when they're actually fine and having a great time. Marshtomp is absolutely incensed that he'd act like a situation where a trainer has several of his Pokémon gang up on another is worrying: Being talked about like they all hadn’t chosen this? Like they were just stupid? Too dumb to think for themselves? And this just bugs me. Ember doesn't know anything about whether they chose this. Marshtomp's take here relies on the idea that it's just impossible that any of them would be there if they didn't want to be - but it's simply a fact, in the real world, that sometimes people do wind up in and stay in abusive situations, for all sorts of reasons, and it's not because they're all just too dumb to think for themselves. It's perfectly reasonable to be at least a little concerned that someone you see being pummeled by several others is not necessarily consenting and able to stop it of their own volition: what exactly would Marshtomp actually be able to do here if he really were being forced into it, when he's thoroughly outnumbered? And the fact Simon's response is not any form of clarification but rather "Don't tell me how to train my Pokémon" really doesn't help matters - that's an alarming response, one that implies Simon thinks he just has the right to subject them to whatever he wants because they're his Pokémon. While obviously the story tells us that's not actually what he means and he's just being defensive and hostile because people keep doing this (which is fair - people getting exhausted with having to explain themselves to annoying strangers is absolutely a real thing that happens), it should be entirely unsurprising that Ember would take it as confirmation that he doesn't care.

Again, it's fine for Marshtomp's character to be annoyed by Ember even if his actions are perfectly reasonable; he's easily the sort of character who would be. But it feels like we're meant to be cheering for Marshtomp attacking this kid whose only crime is speaking up and offering to help when he legitimately thinks someone is being abused. And I really just can't cheer for that as it stands.

This all brings us to Simon. I actually enjoyed a lot how you essentially took the stereotypical asshole rival character and reinterpreted him to just be kind of aloof and socially awkward and hyperfocused on becoming stronger. Simon is talking and responding exactly like the mean rival who treats his Pokémon as tools, but through his Pokémon you establish that it's really just that he's guarded and hostile and awkward and has a hard time making friends, and they feel he does in fact respect them. The moment where he looks hurt, and the slight bit of quiet vulnerability that he shows when he thanks Marshtomp for defending him at the end, suggest understatedly that he's not very used to anyone actually standing up for him, and it's sweet that Marshtomp does and that Simon's able to express his appreciation for that even if he's not very good with social skills.

However, I really wish the depth to him were more shown and not just told before that point. It kind of came as a surprise to me when Marshtomp started insisting that Simon was his friend - because as far as we could see onscreen, Simon had at that point literally not done anything to suggest he particularly valued or cared about his Pokémon or their choices! I'm sure he did, but you haven't actually shown it, and that makes it come across pretty weirdly when Marshtomp is suddenly ready to throw down to defend his honor - Simon really has been acting like kind of an uncaring asshole as far as we've seen.

After all, he's introduced calling Marshtomp a "weakling" - not exactly a great sign of respect towards anyone, but definitely not toward a stranger. Then he silently throws a ball at him when he's on his last legs and unilaterally declares he has a new name now when he doesn't break out - he makes no effort to verify whether Marshtomp is up for or would be into the kind of really intense battle training that he does, and is just kind of immediately acting like he owns him. (Felicity rightly apologized to Marshtomp for getting carried away with getting him into pageants without consideration for whether that was what he wanted - but the only difference between what she did and what Simon just did is that by coincidence Simon's niche just happens to be the one Marshtomp actually prefers, so Simon doesn't actually have to own up to it.) Marshtomp seems to decide that the fact Simon used a "fancy" ball means he "really cares" - but it sounds like the one thing that's fancy about it is that it breaks less easily, so the thing it shows he cares about is basically just that it's harder for the Pokémon to break out, right? Which, again, suggests if anything that he doesn't respect Pokémon's agency much. And then you describe them having battles, and Simon approving of his battle performance obeying Simon's orders. Hardcore battling is obviously what Marshtomp wants, so it makes sense he's fine with this and it's exactly what he was looking for - but by itself it does nothing to show Simon respects or cares for his Pokémon beyond the fact they can win battles for him. All in all, I half-expected the point of this section was going to be that Marshtomp's initially taken with his effective training techniques but then reluctantly leaves him when he realizes he's a terrible person, all the way until you had the Pokémon start to explain that he's just misunderstood.

I think to make this work well, we really need to see Simon actually treat Marshtomp with respect. That doesn't mean changing his personality, or making him less aloof or battle-focused - just showing at least some bit of Marshtomp not wanting exactly what he wants and him still respecting that, in his own way. (Say, Marshtomp disagrees with his judgement in battle, does something out of line with what he commands, and Simon looks impressed and changes course, coming up with something new that fits into Marshtomp's strategy, until they win through their combined efforts.) Without that, it feels empty when Marshtomp insists Simon respects him - he's just pulling it arbitrarily out of thin air. A trainer who's superficially offputting but actually a good person, who loves and respects his Pokémon in ways they can see but the world can't always, is a good concept and I really dig it; I just don't think you actually do enough here to show that he's actually a good person, other than having his other Pokémon just declare so.

Finally, there are some typos and mistakes, especially in the second half - may want an extra round of proofreading.

So all in all, this story was a mixed bag for me. I love several of the things you're doing, and it's an interesting and different exploration of the theme - we don't all that often see Pokémon really choosing their trainers based on their own firm standards, nor Pokémon who actively prefer trainers who push them hard over the goody-two-shoes. But I disliked the caricaturized approach to it - it feels like in your eagerness to write the "good guys" who act very concerned about the treatment of Pokémon as condescending and annoying while the "bad guy" who acts like he doesn't give a damn is actually good, you wound up with something that ultimately just feels kind of incoherent to me. I think with a more nuanced approach to these characters this could be a great little story exploring Pokémon agency and choices, but as it is I think the way it's presented is just a bit frustrating.

HelloYellow17

Marshtomp time, let’s GO!! Also omg is this title a pun? I LOVE IT AHAHAHA.

Lololol how DARE people walk and mind their own business without fighting him! He does have a bit of a point though—in a world of Pokémon, it’s probably not smart to travel without one for protection.

Aw this trainer is so sweet! Very soft and considerate of her Pokémon—hopefully not too protective, but that’s to be determined.

Hmmm yeah I’m detecting some overprotective vibes here, and Taillow isn’t a fan. Don’t think Marshtomp will be, either!

I’m enjoying this so far. I’ve seen a handful of fics that show what it can be like when a trainer forces their Pokémon to fight or pushes them too far, but I’ve never seen it from this perspective where a trainer is constantly holding them back.

Oh boy. This next trainer is a contest participant, I’m calling it. Also—love the description inside the Pokéball!

Hahaha CALLED IT. Can’t tell if Voltorb actually dislikes being there or if he’s just a tsundere. xD

Awww good on Felicity for noticing and giving Marshtomp the choice. She’s a sweetheart. And props to her for giving Swalot a chance to shine!! I love that her team didn’t consist of the conventionally “pretty” or “cute” Pokémon, but was more unique than that. Honestly, respect.

Aaaa okay I LOVE LOVE LOVE the direction this story took! Just gonna dump out my thoughts:

I adore that, at first, Simon was kind of portrayed as your stereotypical bully of a trainer with how he behaves and talks. The training is harsh, but that’s why his team likes it. I adored the fact that Thel defended his trainer, and that they all knew him well enough to know, without a doubt, that he cared for them.

I really love all of the takes here, and the way you’ve portrayed Pokémon and humans. To be honest, it’s really refreshing to see a story where tough battles are a good thing—nothing against the edgier stories that say training is all wrong and abusive, but it’s not my flavor and, frankly, I feel like that argument is overdone. This is my preferred take on the Pokémon world: it’s really not about the battling, it’s about taking what each individual Pokémon wants into consideration. The first girl protected her Pokémon and others from getting hurt, but completely disregarded her team’s wishes and did not respect them. Felicity had a great balance of enjoying things with her team, but also respecting their wishes and giving them the choice to leave or stay. And Simon, despite the fact that his methods are harsher than the norm, still deeply cares about his Pokémon. If a Pokémon didn’t want to be on his team, I have no doubt that he would have let them leave if they desired.

A really lovely story, and I love the way it portrays training culture and where Pokémon fit into the picture! I’m absolutely in love with this take, aaaaa. Great job!!

kyeugh

I have very mixed feelings about this entry. I’ll start with the good.

My favorite part of the story was Marshtomp’s time with Felicity. There’s a lot to love about what’s going on there. I got a solid chuckle out of the way that Marshtomp tried to commiserate with Voltorb only for it to turn out that Voltorb secretly likes the pageants and is just too embarrassed to admit it. The notion overall that a trainer can be perfectly compassionate to her pokémon and still not be the right fit for an individual pokémon is a good one, and I really liked hearing her own pokémon’s takes about it. Marshtomp’s attitude here was interesting too, I think—I liked the way he was willing to stick it out for his trainer just because she was nice and he cared about her, even though he didn’t really like the pageantry all that much.

But Marhstomp is a rough-and-tumble kind of pokémon, so obviously that didn’t work out for him. Simon is an interesting character, and different from the sort of trainer I usually see in fanfiction. He’s not an outwardly compassionate or loving guy, but he does care for his pokémon. That care is demonstrated in the way that he gives his pokémon what they want, and it seems he’s careful to choose only pokémon whom he’s sure are compatible with what he’s able to provide, which is stern, intense battle training. That’s what Marshtomp wants, and he thrives in that environment. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, although it’s easy to see why people might think otherwise—I’ll talk about my feelings on that later.

I think Marshtomp’s jumping between trainers feels a bit like job-hunting, and his time with Felicity reinforced that feeling. It’s a neat take. Here, the relationship between pokémon and humans feels transactional—Marshtomp is willing to deal with the pageant stuff even though he doesn’t care about it because the love he receives in return makes it worth it to some extent, in his view. But it’s not his favorite thing, and he’s willing to seek a better arrangement when the opportunity arises. That seems to be a focus of this story: Marshtomp evaluates his compatibility with a trainer based on what he gets out of the arrangement, and obviously the trainers are doing the same at the moment that they catch him. If it sucks, he hits da bricks, and this is a world that’s pretty conducive to that. This transactional relationship is interesting and honestly makes sense for a setting in which pokémon and humans are “equals” for some value of equal. Humans feel a bit like employers, and pokémon employees, except pokémon don’t need to be employed, strictly speaking—they just receive benefits for doing so. It’s nice worldbuilding, and while I don’t think it’s really the thesis of this entry’s take on the theme, I wanted to be sure to comment on it!

I got kind of fairytale vibes from this story; the plot itself has sort of an iterative structure to it, sort of reminiscent of the Goldilocks story, and the characters involved are very archetypal. I think whether this fable-y quality of it was intentional or not, Simon is the trainer that’s “just right,” in the end, and the other characters seem to exist as foils to him. I think Felicity is a particularly effective foil—both are good trainers who want to bring out their pokémon’s potential, and so the different ways in which they go about doing this are emphasized. However, I found Karina (and Ember, who feels of the same ilk) a bit puzzling on a couple fronts, and that’s sort of my main issue with this entry.

The first and most obvious thing is that Karina’s schtick is just conceptually kind of hard to wrap my mind around. I don’t find it unbelievable that someone would exist who thinks poké balls are messed up and that fighting to the point of fainting is unethical etc.—in fact I’d expect quite a few such people to exist whether it’s “objectively” the case or not—but I have trouble believing that someone would hold this set of beliefs but also... still run around capturing pokémon and forcing them to fight? I don’t know, that just seems fundamentally at odds to me, and it’s not like hypocrisy is impossible but it’s just not really addressed in any way here. Her worldview, which is really the main component of her character, is incompatible with pretty much every single one of her actions, and the result is a character that just feels wholly unbelievable to me.

Furthermore, this character doesn’t exist in a void—this is a contest that calls for examination of the bonds between pokémon and humans, and additionally Karina exists largely as a foil to Simon. The fairytale-like structure of this story and archetypal feelings of the characters makes it feel like Marshtomp’s experience and evaluation of each one constitutes a judgement that goes beyond the individual, internal circumstances of the story. Taking all that into account, I had a really hard time figuring out what the take-away was supposed to be with Karina. The way Marshtomp and the other pokémon treat her, combined with her exaggerated, neurotic characterization really makes it feel like the takeaway here is something like “it’s bad if trainers care too much about their pokémon’s wellbeing,” which... I don’t know, I’ve read this a couple times and it just feels regressive and a bit condescending to me every time. This strange take doesn’t end here though—at the end, Ember challenges Simon on the grounds that it appears that he’s abusing his pokémon. While it’s clear from our perspective that he’s misled, Marshtomp and his fellow pokémon’s reaction is one of outrage, going so far as to suggest Ember’s concern implicitly suggests that they’re stupid. It just feels really extreme and unfounded to me. Between the two of them, there’s a pattern here of introducing these kind of flimsy characters with the sole intent of dumping on their compassion and portraying it as excessively weepy or actively malevolent. It felt weirdly pointed to me, and setting up the story specifically to repeatedly hammer home the point that caring about a pokémon’s welfare is bad and disrespectful left a bad taste in my mouth. It’d be one thing if the story was simply examining these types of relationships, but it isn’t—the narrative carries a clear bias in one direction. Particularly in the context of a contest examining the bonds between humans and pokémon, I found that direction a little bit strange and off-putting.

That said, there are some good insights in this story. Like I said before, I really enjoyed the segment with Felicity. I think the bones of a good story are here—I think it would be a lot of fun to see Marshtomp switching between radically different trainers who are good but just not quite right for him, in the vein of his relationship with Felicity, before finding the one that suits his needs and desires. There’s a storybook charm to that iterative structure. However, as-is, I found the repeated depiction of pokémon welfare as not just unnecessary but actively bad and insulting to be an unsatisfying angle for the context of this contest.

Umbramatic

Something something what are you doing in my swamp.

Oh this one is up my alley. Some of the themes on display are right up my alley, and it seems like an excellent sendup of some fandom attitudes (and canon Nitudes) toward Pokemon fighting. Also I definitely empathized with the protagonist in not being able to catch a break and being talked down and demeaned to all the time. Glad he was happy in the end - and ironically with the stereotypical edgy tough dude trainer that in the anime or something would be a gold standard of Pokemon mistreatment.

I do feel like this story's biggest weakness is that a lot of times bit kind of screamed THIS IS ME SHOWING OFF HEADCANONS in a way that was a little TOO blatant to the point I kinda rolled my eyes. Similarly the way the ending was written was a little too on the nose.

But still, this was cute. I hope your marshy boi has more fun battles ahead of him.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"A Trainer's Love" by Sinderella

Odette’s finger roved over the chart posted on the wall of the classroom. It was the list of all the contenders in the duos and trios category.

Down...down...down…

Her finger landed on the familiar names she was looking for.

A Trainer’s Love
Presenters: Odette and Solene
Wings @ 3:15
Performance @ 3:20

Biting down on her lower lip, she hesitantly turned her gaze to eye the analog clock stationed above the teacher’s desk.

3:05. Ten minutes to be in the wings. And Solene was hiding.


Judge Comments

Dragonfree

I enjoyed the unusual setup here - a trainer and Pokémon learning to dance as a team, rather than the more standard kind of training. We get just enough of a sense of the dance school, and you do a good job of diving into the situation and keeping the story nicely limited - there was no need to drag it out any further than showing these few minutes before the performance and then a few minutes afterward, and that's exactly what you went with showing.

I'm also always enamoured with stories about people's insecurities, and the fact Odette kind of wraps up her own feelings about being a trainer with the dance, and feels like Solene's stage fright and her failure to somehow fix it means she's a bad trainer who shouldn't get to do a dance about a trainer's love anyway, is something I liked a lot. It's nice characterization that feels true to life - it's really easy for people to feel like they're meant to be able to fix other people's problems, when usually it's not that simple. And the joy of the ending when they've done the dance and are properly in sync again was palpable; I think you did a good job of writing the emotions there.

Something about the way this ultimately plays out and resolves on the page as it stands feels a little off to me, though. You explain that Solene has always been timid and absolutely mortified by being in front of people - yet Odette went and tried to get her into dancing of all things, and then goes on to be surprised and angry and impatient when Solene's performance anxiety turns out to not have magically vanished. It sounds like Solene was kind of reluctant to do dancing at all if anything, since Odette talks about how "I wouldn't have started taking you to dance classes with me if I didn't think you weren't going to like it" (weird triple negative in this sentence, by the way; you mean "didn't think you were") - no mention of Solene herself expressing any desire to do it. And while Solene did turn out to enjoy the dancing itself, it seems like it should have been entirely predictable that of course she wasn't going to like performing in front of people under pressure, any more than she'd liked it when it was battling. That's something that's hard for most people to do, even when they don't have severe anxiety about that in particular, and when it's a consistent major anxiety she's always had, this feels almost inevitable.

Given this, it feels pretty unfair for Odette to get so mad at her, and seem to have so little understanding for how she feels. She approaches Solene not with concern and encouragement, but with anger. Rather than comforting her and successfully persuading her it's going to be okay and she can do it, it's pretty much all frustration and agitation and threatening to pull out entirely - she really does wind up essentially guilting Solene into participating, even if she didn't exactly set out to do that, by making her feel like it'd be her fault Odette won't get to perform either.

And on one level, that's perfectly understandable - this is important to her, she thought Solene had agreed to this, of course emotions are running high and in that situation she might not be in the best mental state to be fair and compassionate to the person who's unexpectedly threatening her dreams and making her feel awful about herself. In fact I dig stories that do show that kind of thing, where people treat other people badly for real, human reasons; by itself I don't think this is a problem for the story. But I don't feel like the narrative here quite treats it like there was anything wrong with the way Odette responded. The guilting is successful in making Solene reluctantly agree to perform - and after the dance, when they're both feeling better and have gotten a chance to reflect, Solene apologizes for making a scene, but Odette doesn't apologize in return, even though she even realized before the performance that she'd kind of guilt-tripped her. We never address that - Solene is apparently just fine with it, Odette never acknowledges it again, and all in all the ending acts like it was purely Solene who was in the wrong here.

So, while you do show in other ways that Odette really loves Solene, and Solene is genuinely happy to have performed in the end, and that's sweet... I can't help but feel a little weird about the overall takeaway from this story. Again, there's nothing wrong with Odette as a character doing this here, which looks like a conscious writing decision given the guilting is explicitly acknowledged - friends can hurt each other, especially under pressure, and that's a good thing to write about. But without the followup reckoning with that in any way, their relationship doesn't feel entirely healthy, and while there's nothing wrong with writing about unhealthy relationships either, it doesn't really feel intentional here!

I think if you work further with this story it'd be really lovely to also see Odette acknowledge that she didn't deal with this in the best way and show that she cares about how that made Solene feel and wants to do better. (And personally I'd really like to see her ask Solene whether she actually wants to keep doing competitive dancing - acknowledging that that really ought to be her call would go a long way.) It's a nice, sweet fundamental story - I just really wish it grappled better with the protagonist's actions so I could properly cheer for the conclusion.

HelloYellow17

What a cute and wholesome story! Awww. I really enjoyed the premise and your writing style is very nice and fluid.

I liked the premise of this story. Rather than a traditional pokemon battling approach, it’s a dance recital! I love reading about things like this and how they might operate in the Pokémon world.

That said, and this is honestly just a nitpick, but I would have liked to have seen juuust a few more specifics with this. Maybe there was a specific part of the routine Solene was worried about? Maybe dance recitals with Pokémon often combine dance steps with Pokémon moves, and Solene didn’t have much confidence that she’d be able to pull it off? Digging into Solene’s anxieties beyond just stage fright would really breathe more life into the story, I think.

This is a very simple story of how a trainer’s dedication to her Pokémon helped said Pokémon overcome some of her fears. It’s lighthearted and straightforward, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I do think there are some opportunities to make this just a little more compelling and unique—see my suggestion above on getting more specific about Solene’s fears. You could also dig a little deeper into Odette’s fears, how they may be connected to her desire to be a trainer in the first place (such as, why did she become one?), and how and why Odette’s pep talk, of all the other things she’d tried, was the thing to finally get through to Solene. This story is short enough that you definitely have room to expand on these if you want to, and I think they’d give it a bit more meaning.

That being said, this story was still really lovely. It was straight to the point and didn’t drag on unnecessarily—every detail served a purpose! The emotions and reactions of all the characters were very believable. I love that Odette still struggled not to be mad—she does love Solene, but it makes sense that she would be upset, frustrated, and even discouraged. She felt very human and very real with her internal struggles, and I really felt for her.

Another thing I liked was that the dialogue felt natural and wasn’t forced in any way. I feel like that can be difficult to accomplish, especially when writing a short story where you’re limited on word count and have to try to establish characters and their motivations quickly. You did a great job with that!

Cute story, great characters, and really awesome writing. Nicely done!

kyeugh

I liked the way this entry throws us into the conflict right off the bat. This story is about a dance routine and Solene’s hesitance/fear to participate in it, and we get all that within less than a hundred words. Odette’s crisis here is definitely in the eleventh hour, so it feels right that we’re thrown directly into it.

Odette is a strong character, but more notably (to me), Solene is a very strong character of her own too, and I think that’s where this story really excels. Despite the fact that she can’t speak, her feelings and desires are really clear. Some of that is revealed through Odette giving her feelings a voice—and it must be said that their relationship really shines—but a lot of it is expressed through body language, too. It’s really great pokémon writing, and their close bond reflects the contest’s theme nicely. Maybe this is kind of weird, but their dynamic reminds me of Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s really charming.

Another strong point of this entry is its prose and dialogue. There are some excellent turns of phrase—signifying Odette’s anger with the prickle in her lower back was really visceral and something I don’t think I’ve seen described before, so that really jumped out at me. Her dialogue also has so much character. Just overall a very smooth read.

My feelings on the plot are more mixed. I think it’s really cool that Solene and Odette are collaborating on something other than battling. It’s a great way to explore the relationship between humans and pokémon as equals rather than as the usual master-servant dynamic. Their conflict is one of equals and collaborators, which is neat. However, I think that’s what makes the resolution a bit unsatisfying for me.

If we zoom out, the basic plot beats are pretty solid: they have a disagreement and feel as if their progress is backsliding, they make amends, they have a great performance, and they both feel that they’ve grown for it. However, I found Solene’s decision to participate after all a bit arbitrary. Odette says she’s not guilt tripping Solene, but honestly it sort of feels like she is; Odette starts out lightly encouraging Solene and reminding her how good she’s doing, then lapses into anger and disappointment. Solene then sort of just decides she’ll do it after all, and then they do a good job. I didn’t really follow Solene’s progression here, and ultimately it feels pretty centered around Odette’s—how can I show my love for you if you don’t participate, if you don’t do this for me then I can’t do it either and I really want to. I think there is a way to pull that kind of conflict off, but I just didn’t really feel it here. The fact that Solene’s decision-making process is unclear to me makes the bonding that results ring a bit hollow, and the conclusions about Odette’s prowess as a trainer feel somewhat tenuous. I would have liked the narrative to follow Solene’s decision-making process a bit more closely, I think, and in general I found myself wanting their interaction to be more constructive.

However, as I said before, the relationship between Solene and Odette still shines—the way they’re so in touch with each other’s emotions and intents is really well done, and is honestly in my opinion a model for depicting human-pokémon relationships. Solene and Odette are very strong characters on their own, and even stronger together. That’s already laudable, but especially so given the theme of this content, and the very polished prose made this entry a joy to read. Although the specific way the turning point of this story unfolded left something to be desired, it’s still a strong story altogether—just shy of excellence—and I had a great time with it.

Umbramatic

This was cute. The kids were convincingly kiddy and you did a good job with Odette and Selene's relationship. It's good to actually see a Gothita in a fic and Selene is such a bean I want to hug her but she probably wouldn't let me aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Honestly if I had to criticize anything it all feels a little. Too short and simple? The compactness is a strength in ways but there are also opportunities for you to go further into Odette and Selene's backstories and bonds and maybe have the events as they are now as the climax, would make it feel more complete.

But still. Cute fic. Makes me think of my sister actually, in more ways than one.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"A Way to Reunite" by IFBench

Again, it taunts you.

The shimmering pool that first led you into that world of only Pokemon. That entryway that had led you to an adventure of a lifetime. The portal that led you to meet Vernir, Emolga, Dunsparce, Virizion, Umbreon, Espeon, Hydreigon, and so many others that you held dear to your heart, and still do.

If you could just move forward, and dive in, you’d be back. You could see them all again. You could talk to them all again. You could be with them all again.

Yet no matter how hard you try to move, you can’t. You can’t move your arms, your legs, or your tail that you no longer had.

You can only watch the pool as it ripples from the breeze. So close, yet so far away.

Then you wake up.


Read the rest on: AO3 | FFN | Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

This story was really sweet! I think you did a lovely job getting across how much these characters just love and care about each other and don't want to be apart. I thought the opening scene in particular nailed getting across that wistful emotional connection and longing; even recapping the ending of Gates worked better than I would have expected, introducing the characters a little to readers who might not have played it while focusing on the emotions and personalities rather than summarizing events. You very successfully made me care about them getting to reunite and feel satisfied when they did.

I also enjoyed that you took a thing like the ability to rename the partner in the game and made it into an actual genuine thing - Vernir just being really lonely and never having had a 'special name' at all until he convinces this Oshawott who only goes by Gen to give him one. It was cute and added to the sense of how important Gen is to Vernir.

I did have some niggles with some of how the story plays out after the opening, though. It felt kind of contrived to me that even as Vernir is thinking both about how much he'd like to reunite with Gen and about wearing the Reunion Cape again, the possibility of trying to use it to get to where Gen is simply doesn't occur to him until he's already put it on - it seems like such an obvious connection to make! I could buy that they'd just never thought very hard about Reunion Capes since Gen's departure, but the fact multiple people manage to talk about using a Reunion Cape to feel close to Gen without it ever occurring to any of them that what Reunion Capes do is literally transport you instantly to their side feels really odd to me. Even knowing that it actually working would be a real long shot when he's in a different world, I'd really think it'd be something that'd come to mind immediately, even if it was just as an "if only" thing, right? I think this would have been easier to buy if Vernir thought of that immediately and that was part of why he went to put it on, rather than having the others encourage Vernir to put it on for unrelated reasons and only then having it occur to him how Reunion Capes work. Kind of a nitpick, but it did bother me.

And towards the end of the story, I feel it gets quite preoccupied with just establishing and spelling out the exact logistics of how the entire team are going to be able to be comfortably reunited at will from here on. I don't think that's necessary, once you've established the core concept that Reunion Capes actually work to bring PMD Pokémon to the human world and keep them there as long as they choose - I think at least by the time Emolga arrives we can all work out for ourselves that everyone else could do the same without the characters getting into it onscreen, and there are things I would have liked to see more of that you could have focused on there instead!

For instance, Gen expresses worries about what he's going to tell his parents, and then that's just quietly dropped and we don't mention it again. (This is already kind of a weird bit - you mention offhandedly that Gen's family had assumed he'd been kidnapped and managed to escape, and that Gen simply went along with it, but this feels a little absurd. Surely his family would want to hear about what happened to him, whether he was hurt, how he escaped, who the kidnapper was so that they could be brought to justice; I have a really hard time imagining they'd brush off what they sincerely think was a kidnapping in such a way that Gen could just quietly go along with it, without either having to lie through his teeth or make it obvious that's not what actually happened.) Since you've established that they have no idea where he disappeared to, and that Gen is worried about how they'd react to Gen's talking Pokémon friends, leaving us hanging on that entirely is a little disappointing - if you didn't want us to wonder about that, you should probably avoid bringing it up in that way.

And I also feel like it might have been fun to see or hear a bit more about what they do together in the human world. Will Gen show them around? What's their life going to look like from here? I think getting into this at least a little at the end could have been really cute, rather than cutting off as they work out how they're all going to be able to be in the same place again - there's so much else to explore about the situation of a PMD human's partners managing to make their way to the human world than just exactly how they arrange for it to happen!

There was also a bit of mechanical awkwardness here and there. Nothing huge, but particularly at the beginning you shift between past and present tense, and I noticed some bits with highly repetitive phrasing, where the same set of words unnecessarily appears three whole times in a short space:

It was made from a word from the language I knew, and two words from a human language. The “ver” was from the word “verde”, which was what green was in that human language. He had told me it was a human language.
Here, I don't see any need for the third sentence at all - you've already established he said it was from a human language.

“[...] and then we’ll all be together again!” you said. “How does that sound?”

“Perfect!” Vernir exclaimed. “We can finally all be together again!”

“Sounds good to me!” Emogla cheered. “I can’t wait!” “For now, though, until you go back, let’s just appreciate being together again,” you said.
And here, it's just the repetition of this specific phrasing - it'd be better to reword at least one if not two of these to something else.

All in all, though, I found this story very cute and charming! You really get across how much this human bonded with these Pokémon and how much they care about being able to be reunited despite being different species and coming from different worlds. I just think it could be more polished and focus on more interesting aspects of the situation than it does.

HelloYellow17

It’s fine. This is fine. I didn’t need my heart anyways, EVERYTHING IS FINE.

This fic pulled my emotions around every which-way, ahhhhh! But before I start rambling about that, I’ll share my thoughts as I read the story:

Second-person POV! I don’t see this used often, so it’s always a surprise to see it—but you pulled it off wonderfully!

Aw, poor Gen. I appreciate that you took his human family into account here. The PMD games tend to just gloss over your human life, but clearly you’d have people who care about you and are worried about you in the human world! Which makes it all the more difficult to choose to stay in either place.

There are a lot of characters in this setting, but you do a great job of introducing them, of briefly mentioning their roles and relationships with the protagonist, and establishing how he feels about each of them—all without it feeling too exposition-y! Very impressive, well done.

POV change! Very nice, this is a great way to differentiate perspectives from one character to the next! And ugh, this one slapped me in the feels. Vernir’s memories, especially the scene where Gen gives him his name, hit hard. I love the little touch of world building you included here with the concept of names and how special they are—it also eloquently explains the weird gimmick in the games where you can just name one of your peers, lol. I like this take a lot.

And—the meaning behind Vernir’s name! I love the Spanish words and how his name is several words rolled into one. Last but not least, the “venir/to return” connection...ouch. My HEART. Ugh.

If I have one nitpick, it’s that I wonder why Vernir didn’t think to use the cape earlier? Since he was clearly desperate to see his friend again, and it had been months, I’d have suspected he would have at least thought about trying this method. But it also seems like he could barely stand to look at it for a while, so I can accept that too. Souvenirs can hold powerful memories, and they can be really painful.

Pausing to say that: Prose-wise, I think your writing is very clear and easy to understand, which I love! I would suggest putting a little more thought into your scene-setting, however. Adding just a few more details, especially by using the five senses, really helps immerse the reader into the story and will bring it to life even more.

The reunion was! So! Sweet! Aghhhh I melted. And then MORE FRIENDS CAME! They can all see each other! That’s so adorable and it made my heart happy, especially after you very effectively established how torn up everybody has been after being separated. I love that Gen being human was weird for them, but that didn’t make them any less happy or excited to see him!

This was a really wonderful, really lovely story. It was unique, it NAILED the theme, and the writing itself was fantastic. You should be really proud of this, friend!

kyeugh

This entry had sort of a meta aspect that I really enjoyed. On its face, it’s a story about a human-turned-pokémon hero of the PMD world, and their experience adjusting to life after returning to the human world. However, it also evokes some of the strange feelings of loss that we experience after finishing a good video game or story. To that end, I think this entry is the only one that really got my mind going not only about the relationships between humans and pokémon in-universe, but also the relationships that we as players have with the pokémon we befriend over the course of our time playing the game. The novelty of that bittersweet feeling made this entry jump out at me. Considering how the characters in-universe might feel after their best friend disappears is pretty heart-breaking, too. Vernir’s deep slump after Gen’s departure hit pretty hard... I was especially impacted by the detail about the other side of the bed being empty.

I also really enjoyed your prose. There are some really vivid descriptions in there—the first couple paragraphs especially struck me—and Gen’s emotions come through so strongly without feeling overdone. The dialogue is also delightfully PMD, it feels straight out of the game. I did find the tense and perspective switches a little distracting, not to mention the embedded scene changes; sometimes, particularly near the beginning, we’re several layers deep in flashback, and it was pretty hard to follow. The tense change from present in the first couple chapters to past once Gen wakes up was a bit odd too. That aside, once the perspective stabilizes after Vernir boops into the human world, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

Overall, this story is just really sweet and feel-good. As I said before, departing from the imaginary world of a game and returning to reality is something we can all relate to, and it’s something that’s obviously relevant to the PMD canon as well. However, whisking the friends you’ve left behind into the real world is a bit less relatable, in either the in-universe or real-world context. I have mixed feelings about the direction the story took there. On the one hand, it was genuinely sweet and the wish fulfilment was pretty fun. The excitement the characters felt upon their discovery was infectious, and the concept of pokémon from the PMD world entering the human one was, at least for me, novel. On the other hand, I didn’t feel that this direction very well served the themes that really jumped out at me from the beginning. Following Venrir’s appearance in Gen’s world, the connection to the contest’s theme becomes fairly tenuous in my opinion, a departure from the interesting themes of moving on from the beginning. There’s also sort of an (in my view) undue focus on the particular mechanics of the reunion cape, which was initially ingenious, but eventually felt like it was distracting from the meat of the story.

The direction of the plot takes a pretty hard veer from the relatable themes of moving on and clinging to memory that the beginning offered into a sort of fantastic intersection of worlds which, while engaging to read, I don’t feel really offered much in the way of this contest’s theme. I think what I wanted to see was Gen coming to terms with his journey having come to an end, and moving on while appreciating the memories and friendships he made while in the PMD world. Perhaps that’s not reasonable—maybe I was seeing something in the beginning that wasn’t really there—but it’s the direction I was expecting the story to take while I was reading it, even upon reread, so I feel it would be remiss not to mention it.

I feel I’ve spent a lot of time offering critique of this story, so I’d like to reiterate that this entry was genuinely delightful, and that again I was really impressed by your prose. The characters all all packed with personality and charm, and they feel so right for the world they’re in. The disparity between the PMD world and the human one is real, and it makes their intersection feel that much more special. The emotional rollercoaster your characters experience, ranging from longing and depression to affection and excitement, is depicted to great effect without feeling exaggerated or out of place. The bittersweetness of the beginning is also one of a kind, and the multi-layered take you offer on the relationships between humans and pokémon spans worlds and is truly well-done.

Umbramatic

That was pretty cute. PMD fics are kind of hard to make fit this specific theme because the only humans are there by technicality - But you manage to make it work via the focus on both human and Pokemon worlds and more specifically the human Gen's bond with all his Pokemon friends so kudos there.

I will say it resolves a little too smoothly? Like every issue the protagonists have just kind of gets inadvertently solved by some factor or other and there's not much conflict and until the end not much agency on the characters' parts and it makes the progression of events fall flat a bit. Also, there's a troubling plot hole I noticed - apparently to stay there Gen's friends would have to AVOID SLEEPING and that gave me a:



But this story's got a good and interesting base. Just make how it progresses more spicy and you should be good.
 
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Negrek

The Evil I
Staff
"Whine-Yelp" by canisaries

...when suddenly, a loud BANG split the air!

He froze. He recognized that bang. It was the bang of that terrible, deadly human weapon - the gun. And just a second later, the purpose of that gunshot became clear.

Right in front of him, as if served by a mother to her pup, landed a big, plump unfezant. In its chest was a bleeding hole - the cause of death, Garad deduced. Either way, he bit down on the bird’s neck and ran.


Read the rest on: Thousand Roads

Judge Comments

Dragonfree

I loved the worldbuilding here and the way that you go about showing it to the reader, never having to stop for clunky exposition dumping. Elements and events efficiently serve multiple purposes in introducing the world and establishing concepts for the story: for instance, Arrow's story at the beginning smoothly establishes the existence of human hunters, wild Pokémon's self-conception and scorn towards humans and Pokémon that live with humans, the common acceptance of stealing from humans, Pokémon being able to learn to speak human as a separate language, Garad the legendary ancestor, and Arrow's leg injury, and all of these elements come up again later. The world's pretty different from any canon but thanks to the way you get the worldbuilding across it feels very grounded and well established.

In that regard, I enjoyed the interpretation of humanity in the Pokémon world as historically very oppressive and expansionist but improving with modernity, having developed equitable laws and policies in more recent years with many humans genuinely respecting and working to ensure the freedom and wellbeing of Pokémon, while the ugly side is by no means erased. That feels very realistic and true to life, striking a nice sort of balance between the utopian and dystopian sorts of interpretations. Pokémon have their own lives and cultures in the wild, but joining human society is an option that they have, one that may be the best path for someone like Iwai who's an outcast from his pack and has a hard time with the wild lifestyle.

The Houndour perspective was a lot of fun too! The fact all of their names feel like combinations of sounds a dog could make delighted me; the symbiotic relationship with the Murkrow for food-stealing opportunities was neat (really enjoyed how the Murkrow came back, too); their use of accessories to fit in better in the city was clever; Iwai thinking humans are "fearful-eyed", presumably because the whites of their eyes are always visible, was a really fun bit of Pokémon POV, as were his variously successful efforts to understand human things; italicizing when they speak human, and how wobbly their ability to speak it is, really helped make it feel like humans were kind of alien. I felt you nailed writing Pokémon that are fully sapient and have basically humanlike cognition but their own wild culture and behaviour and fairly limited/selective understanding of (and misconceptions about) human culture.

The character arc isn't super original, but I thought it was well executed here. Iwai is quickly sympathetic, his low self-esteem is really apparent (the line where he thinks he probably should be punished hit me), and you make his development make sense, with him growing to like and trust Mark over the course of the two visits, realizing there's nothing left for him with the Houndoom pack as all his efforts to explain fall on deaf ears, and subsequently having the confidence to decide that he's leaving and giving humanity a try.

And the father-son relationship between Iwai and Arrow feels extremely heartfelt and genuine and forms a really solid heart to the story. Arrow may be my favorite character here; he's flawed and distrustful but he just loves his son so much, and is willing to listen to him, and there are a lot of little moments that just really make me feel for him. "I feel like a descendant of Garad would've seen that ditch" hit really well, for instance - we've only barely heard about what happened with the ditch, but we've seen just enough carefully set up reminders of Arrow's injury and how he feels about it, and how much being descended from Garad means to Arrow, to understand exactly what emotional buttons it pushes and why it's what nudges Arrow over the line. The dead mother is never explained but the one loose brushing mention is enough. And Arrow thinking he's a burden for his injury, and explaining it's different from Iwai's mistake because he's a grown-up, so Iwai asks if he'd blame him if he was grown up, and Arrow just sighing and going "Of course not" hit me in the heart. I love them and I want them to reunite.

There were a couple of things that confused me or gave me pause here. At the beginning I got the impression Arrow was pretty high-ranking within the pack - not only is he descended from a legendary hero who seems important, but he's the one the Murkrow negotiates with about the pizza heist, and then gives the order for everyone to go. I took it he was the leader initially! But then not only is Relgir the leader, it feels increasingly as the story goes on like Arrow and Iwai are the black sheep of the pack and only barely tolerated. I think my best guess is Arrow is second-in-command and is just kind of falling out of favor because of his injury and Iwai? But if that's the case it seems really surprising nobody at all is on his side but Kaph, and at the end Relgir doesn't really seem to be treating him like he's being demoted from a high position.

And while I thought it was neat that Iwai was particularly good at speaking human among the pack but still isn't all that great at it objectively when we actually see him speak it, it seems kind of surprising that he is particularly good at speaking human - why? Apparently he hasn't been taken along on missions in the city before, and it doesn't seem like he's been around humans - where did he learn to pronounce human better than all the other Houndour/Houndoom? I was kind of expecting there to be some kind of history behind that, but there isn't really.

But other than that, I thought this was a really solid story and I enjoyed it a lot. Nice work!

HelloYellow17

Oh BOY there are guns in this story!! Consider me intrigued right away!

Oh? Pokémon can speak human in this universe? How interesting!

Man I have a lot of questions—hoping they’ll get answered by the end of this story! It seems the houndoom are living a pretty human-like life here, which makes me wonder what the humans live like. I do like the little tidbit about Pokémon speaking different languages among species. My biggest criticism so far is that a lot of the physical actions the characters make are really anthropomorphic and I’m struggling to see visualize these actions (like gathering supplies, putting on collars, etc.) I’m struggling to even see them as Pokémon when they act so human-like. But perhaps there’s an explanation for this—I’ll move along!

Well, it seems I am getting answers! Wild Pokémon seem to be treated like pests here. Interesting. Getting Iwai’s thoughts on this was enjoyable—a nice way to worldbuild while also learning about the MC and the way he sees things.

Poor Iwai. :( Screwing things up for the group is the worst feeling in the world. I can’t help but feel that this “brilliant” plan of Arrow’s is going to backfire, though…

Omg can you imagine investigating a noise in the middle of the night, and there’s a scared, fire-breathing dog in your house?! I’d be terrified LOL.

I’m living for Iwai and Arrow’s conversation after all of this. I fully expected Arrow to be all “No all humans are evil and you’re wrong!” But instead, he actually listened and acknowledged that he was mistaken. And the rest of the conversation was so loving and respectful. Just—yes!! We need to see more parent-child conversations like this in media! And we need to see more parents admitting when they are wrong because we NEVER ever see it. 10/10, I LOVE.

Iwai sure does seem like he’d be happier with the humans. That said, is one mistake enough to make him want to quit the pack forever? ...Actually, reading on, it looks like this wasn’t limited to one time. Ugh, poor baby. Being an outcast in your own home would be so miserable.

Freaking Murkrow is a snitch, yo

Good grief, this pack is brutally unforgiving. And perhaps it needs to be that way when you live such a tough life, but still—they sure hold grudges for every mistake, don’t they? Kind of seems like they’ll be doing Iwai a favor if they exile him. And is Kaph really not even going to speak up for her own family?

Oh, spoke too soon, looks like she did jump in, lol

Ok I LOVED your description of Iwai’s fire. The way it built up inside him and used up his heat, the “flash of white”, etc. It was vivid and really lovely.

Sad that Arrow is losing his son, but that doesn’t mean he’ll never see him again. And at least he still has his sister. I’m happy for Iwai, and here’s to hoping he finds the life he loves!

NOW for some final thoughts:

This was a unique story—the worldbuilding and setting in particular really grabbed my attention, because it’s pretty different from most I’ve seen. That said, I do feel like this story was more about Iwai’s inner conflict and self-discovery than it was about humans and Pokémon—but that did still play a huge role here, so I appreciate that!

The biggest thing I’d like to point out is that, while I felt for Iwai and was rooting for him, there wasn’t a ton of depth to his personality that allowed me to really connect with him or the events of the story. More unique and specific details of his thoughts and his experiences thus far would give the reader deeper insight into his personality and thus allow them to relate to him more.

That said, this was a lovely story, and I especially appreciate anything that gives Houndour and Houndoom the love they deserve. It was nice to see Iwai choose his own path rather than sticking to the pack simply because they were family or because it was “tradition.” The ending was hopeful, if a little bittersweet, and it was a nice note to end on! Great job :)

kyeugh

I had a ton of fun reading this. I’ll lead by saying that your prose is an absolute joy to read. The language is so smooth and expressive, and there’s a lot of character packed into every line of dialogue. I believe this was the longest entry we received, sitting at just thirty words below the limit, but honestly it flew right by. Every scene felt necessary, and I was engaged all the way through. On a technical level, this entry is exemplary.

The story is really strong, and I love how cohesive it is. The narrative you’ve constructed is one that could only exist in this unique, complex setting you’ve built. Iwai and his pack are in a situation that, to me at least, is novel—they’re not domesticated pokémon, but they aren’t wild either, instead living on the fringes of human society and even sustaining themselves on food pilfered from the humans. I really liked the liminal nature of their arrangement, and it offers a very distinctive look into the relationships between humans and pokémon.

I liked the way the opening scene gave us a lot of information about the world right off the bat. We learn that there are definite differences between domesticated and undomesticated pokémon, both linguistic and cultural—Garad’s disdain for the stoutland as a fellow canine suggests that there’s a sense of comradeship between them that’s been broken by the stoutland’s decision to align with the humans, and indeed, the stoutland is doing its best to injure or kill Garad. This contempt from the undomesticated houndoom against the domesticated stoutland forms the baseline of the wider story, to an extent, and the way you present it here is a very intuitive and effective way of doing so in my opinion. One thing that confused me a little is that, because of where the story cut off, I found myself thinking that Arrow was Garad or something; I kept trying to connect the two on some level, and the fact that Arrow does seem to be descended from Garad only added to that. The actual source of Arrow’s injury isn’t explained until later, and then only barely. It might be a little silly that I was trying to connect the two, but I don’t know, something about the houndoom getting injured in the story directly leading into Arrow’s similar injury just mixed me up a little.

The overall plot is super solid. Iwai is perfectly built up as a curious and earnest outcast, and his skeptical perspective is perfect for digging into some of the deeper questions about humans and their relationship with pokémon. His decision to ignore his father’s wishes and go out on a limb for Mark, as well as his eventual decision to join the humans, feel absolutely correct for his character. Overall I think you just did a really good job establishing his character through his thoughts and experiences.

The idea that not all houndoom/houndor appear to have the ability to use fire is cool—I have a similar headcanon!—and the handful of uses of fire in this story are well-executed. The scene where all the houndoom break out into combat was one of my favorites. The imagery is just so strong and chaotic. It was awesome to see this little pup whom the rest of the pack looks down on commanding respect with his special power. I honestly felt like it could have been used a little more; it’s surprising that the pack is so willing to cast away their only fire users. Or maybe Iwai’s fire abilities make him valuable to the humans in a way that he isn’t among his pack, and he finds his niche among him that way? Kind of just spitballing here, but I felt like it was a bit underutilized for such an interesting dynamic. I wanted to know more about what it means to be a descendent of Garad, too—it’s an interesting little nugget, but I didn’t feel we got quite enough of it. We barely know who Garad is aside from an ancestor who was apparently notable. The lack of expansion here may have been a product of the word limit, which is understandable, but I did find myself missing it.

The main question this story poses—what reason does a pokémon have to live among the humans?—is a good one. It’s something I think about a lot, and I find many stories give a somewhat half-hearted answer. I don’t fault those stories for that, as this issue isn’t something that’s relevant to most stories and it’s sufficient to sort of handwave it, but I always enjoy getting into this topic when it comes up. There are some hints at the answer to this question, despite the pack’s anti-human bias, pretty early on in the story. Although they claim to dislike humans, the pack’s lifestyle is made possible by the humans. They live in a human structure and eat human food, and they enjoy these benefits just living on the outskirts of human society.

Obviously there are benefits to be found in living alongside the humans, but there are costs to those benefits. A given human typically owns only a handful of pokémon, and each of those pokémon is usually of a different species. That means you’re probably not going to stay with your family if you live with a human. It seems you sacrifice parts of your culture, too—the domesticated pokémon speak in the human tongue and wear human clothes, and the houndooms seem to view this as a betrayal. So it’s not all sunshine and rainbows living with the humans; there are real costs, and given that those costs are some of the things the pack seems to value most, it makes sense that they’ve taken the hardline stance against the humans that they have. But for some, those costs are worth paying, not only for the material benefits but also for the chance to be oneself and truly belong. That’s the deal Iwai makes in the end, and you do a great job establishing why that deal is worth making for him and not for the others. The thesis of this entry seems to be that the bond between humans and pokémon is a complex one—even the pack, who scorn the humans and those who align with them, has a strong relationship with human society—and that human society can serve as a refuge for pokémon that don’t fit into their own societies.

I’m of two minds on the execution here. On the one hand, I think this is an interesting answer to the question, and the worldbuilding you provide as well as the scenes with Mark definitely make it feel real. However, I didn’t feel that Iwai was making the choice to join the humans so much as he was making the choice to flee the pack. While those two things go hand-in-hand, I felt that the particular way it was executed here—almost with a gun to Iwai’s back—wholly frames his decision to join the humans in the context of his relationship with the pack, with humanity itself factoring in very little. It’s simply the only other option he has. While that’s fair enough, I didn’t feel it was quite in keeping with the contest’s theme as it doesn’t really examine the bonds between humans and pokémon much more deeply than “it’s an option that exists for pokémon who want to take it,” which is fairly surface-level and in fact we knew within the first scene of the story.

My first thought was that this might have been ameliorated by having Iwai join Mark. I thought Mark’s departure was sort of arbitrary and wasn’t quite sure what it added narratively, and this way rather than just running away from the pack, Iwai is running toward something. I think I just wanted that final decision to be a little more constructive, and a little more focused on the human end than the pack end. Still, this is a fairly minor nitpick and really only holds water in the context of the story as a context entry rather than as a story on its own terms. Overall, I thought this story was a blast to read, and I was really impressed by your characters, worldbuilding, and the way in which you perfectly blended every aspect of your story. Even though this was a longer entry, I found myself wishing it was even longer. Sincerely, you did an awesome job here; thank you for sharing it with us!

Umbramatic

This was really cool! The perspective of a suburban wild Houndoom pack is pretty neat, there's some nice worldbuilding worked in there mostly pretty naturally, Mark is a swell dude, and Iwai/Eli and Arrow's relationship is great.

I will say one flaw of the story is it focuses almost TOO much on the last one, at the expense of the theme. The notion of human-Pokemon relations is there but it's often shoved aside for the father-son bond and Houndoom pack drama in terms of focus. Additionally, on a related note, it ends reeeeeeeeeally abruptly? We could have seen Iwai/Eli's quest to find another Good Human and that would have helped with the theme but... That... Wasn't... there.

I still liked this though. Iwai/Eli is a good doggo and deserves better. :(
 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Wow, a lot of labor went into these reviews. Thanks, judges! I've really only started to skim through the responses to all the entries--it'll be a treat for after work tomorrow! Seeing the responses to my entry has given me a few ideas for small improvements to make before I post, which is exciting too. :) Congrats to Equitial and ShinyPhantump, and good work to all the entrants! 💪
 
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Flaze

Don't stop, keep walking
Location
Chile
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. infernape
Yo, that's a lot of entries right there. I'm super excited for seeing a lot of these stories and what people wrote.

Also thanks a lot to all the judges and everyone that helped make this competition possible. I can't even imagine how things must've gone in the background, especially if everyone had to read each story and give their own insight. They deserve a round of applause for all the hard work. Congrats to all the winners, you deserve it (but I'll get ya'll next time :P).

And lastly I just wanted to say that even though getting this entry in actually proved a lot more stressful than I first thought I still had a lot of fun with it and I have to thank TR for giving everyone a chance to grow as writers and interact. It's an amazing places and I can't wait to see what comes next.
 
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