Fly again

About Spenser from Pokémon Ranger

This is a series of essays about my interpretation of the character of Spenser from Pokémon Ranger. In this page I'm also going to generally talk about Pokémon Ranger, its place in the Pokémon series, the things that it did right, and the things that it did wrong. While I liked the game and I would overall probably recommend it, you'll see that my recommendation doesn't come without a sizeable amount of criticism, so this article is going to go into that, too.

I've tried to keep my writeup readable no matter the level of familiarity with Ranger, but, as the giant Pokémon nerd I am, I don't think I can ever have the distance from the series as a whole to be able to explain its more basic aspects in a neutral way - so I'd say this article is meant for people who are at least somewhat knowledgeable about the main Pokémon series games.

▶ This site was made for the 2018 edition of Amassment's One Page, One Month marathon. Thank you for being a good kick in the pants. It took me just ten years to write this site...

On Pokémon Ranger

If you have played the Pokémon games, you might have wondered about the ways in which humans interact with Pokémon beyond training them as fighting partners. We know there has to be more: in the games, we meet Pokémon Professors and Pokémon Breeders, people who keep Pokémon as pets in their house, workers that employ Pokémon...

Pokémon Emerald introduction
From the introduction to Pokémon Emerald. "Sometimes" being the understatement of the century here.

However, due to the fact that the player's role in the main series games is that of a Pokémon Trainer, we get to see so little of the world outside of Pokémon battles. Later installments introduced some game mechanics with the objective to branch a bit from battling: for example, Ruby and Sapphire introduced Contests, which play like a cross between a beauty pageant and a dog show, and I suppose that the ability to breed Pokémon and hatch them from eggs makes you able to become a Pokémon Breeder, in a roundabout sense. Still, ultimately, these other things are presented as a diversion and a supplement to the main focus of the games, which is always to be a Trainer. That's what the game is about, in the end. You're playing Pokémon, you're going to fight Pokémon with other Pokémon. You can't really escape from that.

But wouldn't it be interesting to play a Pokémon game in which no Pokémon battling was featured at all? A game in which you can take a different role that is not that of a Trainer, and which offered a different look into the Pokémon universe?

And with that question in my head, back in 2006, there started to be talk of a new game that would do just that: Pokémon Ranger.

Pokémon Ranger box art

Pokémon Ranger was released on the Nintendo DS and developed by HAL, which you might know as the team behind the Kirby and the Smash Bros. series - and, as for what concerns Pokémon games, as the people behind Pokémon Snap.

Pokémon Ranger is a bit of an odd duck in the neverending slew of Pokémon spinoffs. While there are many strange games that are only Pokémon-branded (Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, Pokémon Pinball, Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure, I swear I am not making these up ), Ranger is a rarity in which it is not a Pokémon-themed version of another game, but rather a completely new concept - a standalone game with its own identity. It is also unique in which, unlike most of these spinoffs, Ranger sets itself as an expansion of the Pokémon main series universe, and is in fact directly connected to the main series - characters known as Pokémon Rangers had previously appeared in Ruby and Sapphire as a Trainer class, and characters in Ranger refer to the other regions of the Pokémon world.

Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure has an absurdly awesome boss battle music. You need to listen to it to believe.

Pokémon Ranger takes place in the small Fiore region, where there are no Pokémon Trainers at all - which implies that Pokémon battling is not quite as big of a thing everywhere in the world. Instead of Gyms and the Pokémon League system, the big organization that deals with Pokémon is the Ranger League: a team of dedicated people acting in the interest of Pokémon and people alike, kinda like an animal control squad mixed with your local crossing guard. They are not quite as powerful or prestigious as the police, but they are in the community serving the community, particularly with issues relating to Pokémon.

Fiore
The Fiore region.
Capture Styler

Pokémon Rangers are equipped with a Capture Styler, which is the tool they use to communicate with Pokémon. By drawing loops around the Pokémon, a Ranger can communicate their feelings to them and get them to cooperate - for example, they can use this method to request the help of a Pokémon with their current task, or to calm an angered Pokémon on a rampage. Essentially, you can think of the Styler as a friendship lasso. If the concept seems ridiculous, let's be honest: it's because it is - the concept of the mechanic was obviously made to explain the gameplay and the use of the Nintendo DS stylus, not the other way around.

Also, there is a bondage joke here.

Next to this capturing mechanic, Pokémon Ranger's other main feature is its puzzle-solving. For example, while on a mission, you might notice an unpassable metal fence. To get past this obstacle, you'll need to get the help of a Pokémon with the ability to cut it down - and based on how sturdy the fence is, you might need one of matching strength. So, you'll need to find a Pokémon that fits these requirements elsewhere in the area that you're exploring. You might also have to do something else to get the Pokémon to appear - for example, it might be up on a tree, so you'll need another Pokémon to shake the tree for you. Pokémon that are currently following can also help you if you need to calm down another Pokémon - with powers such as raising rock spikes to trap them and make the capture easier.

The most notable difference between Ranger and about any other Pokémon game is that none of these Pokémon are ever yours - they are only temporarily lending you their powers, and, after asking them to do what you wanted them to do, they will leave and return to their homes. If, by the end of a mission, you still have some Pokémon with you, they will have to be released to their natural habitat upon leaving the area.

Solana and her Plusle
Solana and her Plusle.

The only exception is one special Pokémon that each Ranger is allowed to have as their partner: in the player character's case, that Pokémon will be Plusle or Minun depending on whether you're playing as Solana or Lunick. This Pokémon decides to follow the player out of their own will; they are the only Pokémon that stays with them at all times, and the only one who can lend you their unique power unlimitedly.

But I'll be honest: what I like most about Ranger is its concept. It sounds great, but I found that its execution sadly leaves a lot to be desired.

Pokémon Ranger feels like playing the demo of itself. The game itself is very short: you only have four towns you can go to, and very little to do in each town. Also, the gameplay is very linear; this is not necessarily a bad thing on its own, but it really does not sit well with the way Pokémon Ranger is structured.

During each mission, you'll see something that you need to do to progress. This will be usually very obvious: often the Pokémon that you need to pass through an obstacle will be right there near the obstacle itself, or characters around you will give away the answer before you're allowed to figure it out yourself. In either case, there is essentially only one path that you can follow, and it's going to be very evident. You might also notice the beginning of other puzzles that you see are there in the same area, but you won't find a way to solve them. When the level ends, it won't let you go back to the same place until the game says so - which, in some cases, means that you will have to wait until the post-game. The last time I played Ranger, I honestly thought that I was doing something very wrong and missing a lot of things, but no: there are indeed puzzles present that you cannot solve the first time you see them, and many that can only be solved in the post-game. You can see why this is very frustrating. I would find myself starting along one of these post-game puzzles during the main game until I got to a point where I could not pass, because there are no Pokémon in the area with the needed ability.

The game makes a repeated and important point that Pokémon should not be moved out of their natural habitat because it is their home, and because they are a part of their environment, and it is the role of Rangers to preserve this natural balance and not disrupt it... until the post-game, where this is thrown out the window and now you are allowed to bring any Pokémon anywhere, and who cares. And that is how you are able to get past the hitherto impassable obstacles that were guarding the post-game content.

In the post-game, when you are free to solve these puzzles that you couldn't have solved before, you are roaming a dead world where, otherwise, everything that could have been done is done. The characters don't have any new dialogue, and there is no reward for continuing to play except for completing your Ranger Browser (the equivalent of the Pokédex in the main series), which is not a mechanic incorporated into the game at all - there is no reward for any level of completion, and you only care about this if you happen to care about this. When you think about it, the idea of filling the Browser is in itself somewhat against the tenets of being a Ranger - is it really fair to get an Arcanine to follow you through an ice cave only so that you can capture this other Pokémon to register its data? But this is pretty much the only thing left to do, so...

In any case, the result is that the coolest, most puzzle-like part of the game... is only accessible when it no longer matters at all. What makes me so sad about Pokémon Ranger is that it is such a near-miss: all the ideas are in place for it to bloom into an exciting game with a strong puzzle component to it, but it just never goes there except in the post-game, and by then it's too little too late. The most notable side-thing you can do at the end is the puzzles to get Regirock, Regice and Registeel, which are cool, but... I think they should have been left as optional excursions in the main game. It would have been useful to be able to have the help of the Regis in the boss battles, but instead you get them at the end where even if you get them, what does it even matter?

Just to bring them back to the Ranger Base and stuff them in the elevator for shits and giggles and to the dismay of everyone present.

I can't get over how canon-breaking the post-game ability to bring Pokémon anywhere is, by the way. This is a region where apparently there is not a single Pokémon Trainer, showing that Pokémon battles are not that widespread everywhere, and the Rangers seem to cast some shade on the entire idea of just whisking the Pokémon away from where they live and forcing them to travel with you and making them do stuff for you unlimitedly. Even the sole exception of having one particularly special partner Pokémon that follows you out of their own will casts a certain light on the entire Trainer system, with each Trainer having who knows how many Pokémon parked in the PC Boxes. Then all of this is thrown out the window when you are given the ability to release Magmar in the jungle and Regirock in the elevator. It will be fine. Even though the rest of the game was making a strong point about how horrible and unfair that would be. You are given the explanation that now you are such a good Ranger that you can release Pokémon wherever and they'll find their way back home, but are you really believing that Regirock will go back deep inside the cave that required a chain of like ten Pokémon to just get there?

I am also surprised and disappointed that there were not more optional sidequests involving in some way rescuing or saving different Pokémon or people. Most of the missions had to do with fighting an evil team called the Go-Rock Squad. Having an evil team in a game like this, where everything is set up to explore the kinds of conflict that arise from daily life with Pokémon... It's like the developers didn't have the balls to leave the trope behind and end up with a more unique solution.

You might be noticing that there's a few key phrases that I seem to be repeating in this article - so close, and didn't have the balls. That pretty much sums up my feelings towards this game: a concept with a lot of potential that didn't quite make it to greatness, mostly out of fear of making something too radically different from pre-existing Pokémon games.

While I wish Ranger had been longer and more fleshed out, there are plenty of good things about it. Its concept is interesting and fresh, it's fun to play, and it looks very cute - its sprites are excellent, and they are all so lovingly animated. Look, look at this little Flygon flap its wings!

Flygon
Solana

I also really like the female player character, Solana. She looks awesome. She's got the strong legs of someone who can bike up a mountain, and she gets one of the coolest outfits in the entire series. And she's not cast off to the side! In fact, Solana appears in more official art than Lunick does, and she got to have an appearance in the anime - and she's the only character from Ranger who ever had that honor. There are not that many Pokémon games where I don't have some objection over the design of the female player character, so let's give credit to Ranger for letting you play as a female character that you can feel good about.

Then, of course, there's the reason why I'm writing this site at all - a character that immediately got my attention the first time I played, and that I liked even more ten years later when I played Ranger again.

Note: For ease of reading and writing, from now on I'm going to refer to the main player character as Solana, because of all the reasons above and because it's the character I played the game as. I tried to write this essay referring to it as "the player character", but I didn't like how impersonal this made it sound next to characters with set names and personalities. It also didn't seem right to write "you", since the main character of Ranger is less of an avatar character than the ones in the main series - it's really you playing as Solana or Lunick, since their storyline is set and you are playing through their adventures. And I refuse to write "Solana/Lunick" all over everything, so there you go.

Introducing Spenser

Spenser

Spenser, Ranger Leader of Ringtown, is the very first person that Solana meets in her adventure as a fledgling Ranger. Even before her arrival to the Fiore region, Spenser acts in her behalf, as her referral to the Ranger League. Prior to the start of the game, she sent him seven letters in the hope of being accepted to the Ringtown Ranger team!

I can see why Solana decided to write to Spenser in particular. I mean, look at the other three Ranger Leaders. Elita is cool but doesn't look too fun to work with, Cameron is a useless bum, and something is broken with Joel's fashion sense. Meanwhile, Spenser is friendly, competent, and wears a shirt that's tight on the pecs. Smart choice, Solana.

Joel
What will you say in your defense when the fashion police comes for you? That the theme of the party was "assistant supervillain"?

Your strong motivation to become a Pokémon Ranger...
How you live in harmony with Pokémon and strive to protect nature every day...
How you selflessly go to the help of those in need...
How you've trained and built your body to become a Ranger...
All this I've come to understand and appreciate from the seven letters you've sent me.
I would like to meet you.
I want to see for myself if you really are worthy of becoming a Ranger.
I will be waiting for you in Fall City next Sunday.
You'll find enclosed a ticket for the ferry to Fall City and an official Pokémon Ranger uniform.
Wear it, and wait for me in the harbor.
With that uniform on, I won't have any trouble spotting you.

I look forward to seeing you.

Best regards,
Spenser
Ringtown Ranger Leader

Letter

After receiving this final reply, Solana packs her stuff and leaves for the Fiore region, ready to become a Ranger. She disembarks in Fall City, and, after a little wandering around, it's there that she gets to meet Spenser in person.

It is not canonically stated where did she come from. I think that, given that Ranger came out between Generations III and IV, she might be from Hoenn or Sinnoh.
Spenser:
Hi! Sorry to keep you waiting! You're the letter writer, right? (He looks at Solana and pauses). The uniform I sent you... It's a little on the big side? Well, I guess it's not that big a concern? Oh, anyway, I'm Spenser. Ringtown's Ranger Leader. It's good to see you finally. I enjoyed exchanging letters with you. It brought back memories of the burning ambition I had when I was working on becoming a Ranger. Thanks for that!

You can just imagine that Solana in her letters must have been writing about how she's been working out and now she's so strong she can lift a tank, so Spenser was probably imagining her to be even more buff than she is, hence the big uniform. But he thinks that will do for now.

The first impression of Spenser is that of a friendly, energetic, and positive person - but note how he points out that the correspondence with Solana brought back memories of how he used to be like when he first started - the past tense is very notable there, and reveals something that will become more of a point later: that, over the years, a lot of things have changed for Spenser, especially concerning his relationship with his job. But, as he's in a professional setting and this is a first meeting with a new Ranger, he's of course showing his best face.

Spenser is still showing Solana around town and explaining how things will be like as a Ranger when they hear some noise. They run towards the source of the noise to find a Houndoom attacking a Plusle in the town square - Spenser guesses that the Plusle must have played some prank on the Houndoom and angered it as a result. Huge assumption, but he turns out to be correct. He then briefs Solana on what needs to be done to capture a Pokémon, and gives her a Capture Styler - although she is not yet a Ranger, he thinks that time is of the essence here: he's going to take care of capturing the more dangerous Houndoom while Solana can capture the Plusle and whisk it away from Houndoom's attack.

Ranger's Pledge: I hereby pledge to come to the aid of those in need and to safeguard nature to the best of my ability as a Pokémon Ranger, always with pride and courage in my heart.

Everything goes according to plan; the Houndoom and the Plusle are then released, and Spenser commends Solana for her display of skills. He then grants her a certification as a Ranger, even though she would normally need to pass a test - but Spenser is not one to put a piece of paper above resolving a problem in real-life, especially since a Ranger is supposed to be out and about and deal with all sorts of problems that need a swift solution. I suspect that he actively dislikes that there is even a theoretical test to become a Ranger, but he can't do anything about the state of things - this is another aspect of his character that will become more evident as the plot develops. Solana proceeds to sign the Ranger Pledge.

Spenser then calls for Fearow, his partner Pokémon, and he and Solana get to go back to the Ringtown Base... by Fearow Airlines, aka flying while hanging for dear life onto Fearow's legs. Before they leave, the Plusle that Solana had captured before decides to follow her by attaching itself to her leg. The poor Fearow...

Attached to the leg
Solana is having the best day of her life. Fearow, not so much.

In the end, they all make it safely to Ringtown, and that's where the real adventure for Solana begins - and the beginning of a new chapter for Spenser.

Life as a Ranger Leader

Being the Ranger Leader of Ringtown seems like a prestigious job, in theory - but things aren't going quite the way that Spenser had expected. Ten years prior to the events of Pokémon Ranger, Spenser was a rookie with bright-eyed hopes and dreams - just like Solana, he thought that becoming a Ranger would enable him to become a defender of all that is worth protecting, letting him fight great battles to protect Pokémon, people, and the world. He wanted to become a great Ranger who could do great things for the world, and he worked tirelessly towards that goal.

What happened afterwards is that he got his wish, and found out that the reality of being a Ranger came with little glory and little victories - too little for his big dreams. Spenser joined the Rangers, and, within ten years, he rose to the position of Leader of the Ringtown Base - in the chain of command of the Ranger Union, a Leader answers only to Professor Hastings, who is in charge of administration and research. So, he's reached the top; there's nowhere to go from here - this is the best he can get.

Taillow
Watching Larry mistreat his Taillow must be extra tough on Spenser, who also keeps a bird as his partner Pokémon.

What does he get to do as a Ranger Leader? We get a glimpse of his daily life immediately upon Solana's arrival in Ringtown. Her first assignment is to look for the pet Taillow of Larry, a Ringtown resident; Spenser then explains that this happens pretty much every week, since Larry coddles the Taillow to the point of suffocating it and it routinely flies away to have some space for itself. Larry came to the base wanting Spenser in particular to do this for him, and was angry that he assigned the job to the new recruit. This is the sort of job that Spenser has to deal with on a daily basis: not saving the world, but looking for an escaped pet that has every reason to escape, over and over again - as his great skill and all of his training as a Ranger is ultimately useless in making Larry realize that he's mistreating his pet, and he does not have the power to take the Taillow away from him.

His subordinates are not of much relief to him, either. One of his underlings, Murph, is so unskilled and so clumsy that Spenser does not really trust him to do anything important, and ends up giving him tasks such as finding the toenail clippers just to give him something to do. While Spenser is an accomplished Ranger, renowned in particular for being the fastest at capturing in all of Fiore, he is also not the sort of person who looks down upon others, and he values loyalty and passion above skill; as such, he can't bring himself to let go of Murph, even though he's a dead weight to his team. While Spenser tries to be friendly towards Murph, he would much rather not have to deal with the problems that he causes - and, in the end, Murph is aware that Spenser does not value his contributions to the team as much as he pretends to.

Professor Hastings
It's all your fault, Professor Hastings! You and your ridiculous mustaches for eyebrows!

As for what concerns his boss, not all is well on that front, either. He is friendly with Professor Hastings, but that's because he has no other choice but to be friendly towards his direct superior. When Professor Hastings shows up in Ringtown to talk about his new invention, the Super Styler, which can capture any Pokémon without question, Spenser has to nod and smile, but he can't help but to ask him - are you sure that's a good idea? A Ranger needs to communicate their good intentions to the Pokémon for the Rangers' job to be successful, and they exist with the mission to help people and Pokémon. Isn't making a device that can capture any Pokémon against their fundamental tenets? When you think about it, all the trouble that comes later is really started by Hastings' ill-thought invention. It's not like the Rangers need more capture power - by the time this happens, Spenser has never had any trouble capturing anything.

The creation of the Super Styler, in a way, mirrors the creation of the Master Ball in the main series, which can catch any Pokémon without fail - and that was a project pushed by Team Rocket with a very defined ill intent. If Hastings had the forethought to realize that he was creating a perfect trapping device, he would have also realized that this was a terrible idea that could bring nothing but trouble. He doesn't even have the forethought to talk about this super-secret project in a private setting, far from the ears of the newbie who has not yet proven herself - once again, it is Spenser who has to save the situation and quickly send Solana off with the obvious excuse of, yeah, could you please check on my, uh, Fearow, please. In any case, as Hastings is at the top of the Ranger organization, his decisions can't be impacted by anyone else - and so Spenser is left with the opinion that his boss is creating something dangerous, but, once again, no way to stop him. Not long after this conversation with him, his fears will come true as the Go-Rock Squad attacks Professor Hastings and steals the Super Styler prototype, causing the events of the rest of the game.

Fan theories abound as to what was the Master Ball created for. One of the most popular theories has that, in Pokémon Red and Blue, the Master Ball was created as a device for Giovanni to re-capture Mewtwo, who had broken free from the Cinnabar Island laboratory and escaped to the Unknown Dungeon. Even in later installments and in different regions, the Master Ball is always found in a place that has some relation to the game's villains. One thing is for sure: the Master Ball is a dangerous, coveted thing.

As Spenser is fundamentally a positive person, his reaction to all of these disappointments is not to sulk, but rather to try wearing a smile in spite of everything. However, he is well aware that this is far from what he wanted. So, over the years, what used to be genuine cheerfulness turned into a mask that Spenser uses to conceal his more honest feelings. These come out from time to time in the form of sardonic remarks - dripping with bitterness, but delivered with a grin.

The first time this aspect of Spenser comes out is after Solana's second mission, when she is tasked with patrolling Fall City. During this time, Solana is called to deal with all sorts of menial tasks - she has to look for the seven Skitty of a lady with hoarding and marital problems, help move a box and scare away a Venonat, find a flashlight for a dark basement... with the people who asked her for help barely acknowledging her efforts and not treating her with the respect she deserves. None of these people are ever as nasty as Larry was to her, and they do thank Solana after she helps them - but all the incidents put together show that the public's understanding of a Ranger's job is that of a servant that can be called for any reason.

And so, at the end of Solana's day, Spenser calls her back and asks her, probably with a beautiful shit-eating grin - how was your grand patrol adventure? Have you changed the world and made it a better place for people and Pokémon? Essentially, after this day of abuse by the public, he tells her: welcome to my life. That's what he has to deal with every day: people who speak of him highly, but ultimately have no respect for him and his job. At another point, he comments that the residents of Ringtown may have grown too reliant on the work of the Rangers - but he can't do anything about that, and he's still bound to submit to any of their requests and help them the best he can. That's what a Ranger's job is all about, in the end: lots of demeaning work and not much power to make meaningful changes.

He is, however, impressed that this hasn't broken Solana's spirit at all. Seeing her still believe that her job is important and that her effort can make the world a better place, even after she's been sent to retrieve a bunch of stinky Grimer from the city sewer, becomes the catalyst of a change in Spenser.

The trials

After some time spent on various missions, there comes one for Solana that's a bit different than the others. Spenser gives her the assignment to escort to safety an old man who has wandered into the Lyra Forest, north of Ringtown.

The mission progresses smoothly, and the old man is found - his name is Gordor, and he's in no way thankful of Solana's efforts. He wastes no time shitting all over her job and talking about how useless and powerless the Rangers are as an organization. Nevertheless, Solana manages to escort him to safety without as much as a remark. When she returns to Spenser, he is floored that she was able to deal with so much abuse and still did what she thought was right, and grants her an instant promotion.

Truth is, he probably wasn't expecting Solana to last this long. He was probably expecting her to slam her face against the reality of being a Ranger as a thankless job, and for her to quit when she still could. Maybe that's why he didn't care too much that Solana's uniform was too big: he might have been expecting it to go back in the drawer by the end of the week! Spenser tries to sound friendly and supportive, but he always speaks with a veil of bitterness - he doesn't believe anymore that someone could want to be a Ranger and that someone could truly believe in a pledge that talks of pride and courage when the job description is to be a punching bag for the public. Seeing Solana believe in being a Ranger in spite of the abuse that she's been subjected to is pushing a crack through Spenser's cynicalness - and he can't help but reward Solana appropriately for her efforts. The ongoing change is surprising even himself.

With this promotion to Rank 7, Solana is granted permission to ride a Dragonite as a means of transportation between the four Ranger Bases. The Dragonite in question is waiting upstairs in the Ringtown Base - Spenser follows Solana up the elevator and to the room where Dragonite is located. He then introduces Solana to Dragonite, and explains that it's not that now she can just ride the Dragonite - first, she must earn its respect and communicate her intentions to it through her Styler.

Spenser:
Before you joined us, do you remember what you wrote in your seven letters? This is what you wrote in one of them. "Pokémon aren't tools. Pokémon aren't just vehicles. People and Pokémon can share their feelings and benefit together from it. It's not a one-way street. By sharing our abilities, people can even fly, and Pokémon can be made happier." I read that letter over and over. I have it memorized now. Well, Solana? Here's your chance to prove those lofty words to be sincere.

Note the tone and choice of words here. When Solana was first introduced to the other Ringtown Rangers, Lunick and Murph point out that Spenser had made them read her letters, too. Later on, Cameron will say the same. Now, Spenser is reciting back Solana's own letter to her - almost with a mocking tone to it; her words are described as lofty, and he has doubts they are sincere.

What happened before Spenser sent Solana his final letter of invitation to the Ranger Union? Every other Ranger Leader that Solana meets mentions that Spenser has made them read her seven letters. What did he send those letters around for? Considered his opinion of her words, he might have forwarded them with half a laugh to her expense. "Pokémon aren't just vehicles"! He's probably got her words memorized out of repeating them to himself with a chuckle. Listen to her! Can you imagine saying that out loud?

Except that Spenser used to be someone who would say that out loud. Solana's presence is reminding him of what he used to believe in when he first joined the Rangers, ten years ago, and he sees himself in Solana - and the parallel is only going to become more and more evident as she progresses through her ranks.

The most notable parallel is established when Solana and Lunick go to storm the Jungle Relic. The Jungle Relic is known as a proving ground for Rangers to test their skills; within it there are a series of challenges to take - four in total, but, as something dreadful is said to happen when all four are completed, Rangers who want to prove themselves only ever complete three. As this requires going deep inside a ruin in a jungle, far from anyone else who can help in case of danger, it is advised that Rangers who want to try the challenges go there as a team of two. Before Solana and Lunick, the last two Rangers to complete the three challenges were none else than Spenser and Joel.

Joel
Joel, here shown disagreeing with Spenser in terms of sensible clothing choices

Joel, now Ranger Leader of Fall City, is Spenser's closest friend. Their relationship started out on a rocky foundation, however, as there used to be a bitter rivalry between them. Both ambitious and skilled, they saw each other as an obstacle while they were in the same team together with Cameron, now Ranger Leader of Summerland.

Their difference in personalities brought them to clash a lot: Joel, more introverted and serious, was irritated by Spenser's cheerful and energetic attitude - and Spenser, on his side, probably found Joel to be stuck-up and humorless. They fought over anything and everything - until the time when they went to take the Jungle Relic challenges. During their trip to the ruins, they learned how to cooperate with each other, and started to see things in the same direction - and to understand and accept each other's differences. They've been close friends ever since, and, even though they still have disagreements from time to time, they now understand the value of seeing each other's viewpoint.

Joel:
Is there anyone you consider a good rival? A rival is a good thing to have. A rival is someone you're always aware of. Someone that you compete against. At times, a rival is someone you work alongside to achieve a common goal. I have a rival in Spenser. At first, we collided and fought over every possible thing. But now we're friends beyond reproach. It's funny how people's lives get intertwined.

Now, there is another viewpoint that is coming to change him. Seeing Solana gain a similar kind of relationship with Lunick, and seeing them try the Jungle Relic's challenges just as he once did with Joel, brings to the foreground of his thoughts the sort of person he used to be when he was starting out. He used to believe that he could change the world for good. Is it too late for him to start thinking like that again?

The hideout infiltration mission

Gordor
His evil laughter kinda gave him away.

The man who Solana had escorted out of Lyra Forest, Gordor, turns out to be none else than the leader of the Go-Rock Squad, the very same evil team that has gained control of Professor Hastings' Super Styler prototype and that plans to use it to control whatever Pokémon they please. As the events of the plot unfold, the location of the Go-Rock Squad's hideout is revealed. Knowing that the Styler prototype might be in there, a plan is made: Solana and Lunick will go there and act as distractions, while an expert Ranger retrieves the Styler. That expert Ranger will be Spenser.

In the hideout, Solana and Lunick face the Go-Rock Quads, the four children of Gordor and the most high-ranking members of the Go-Rock Squad. They send their controlled Pokémon against Solana and Lunick; they are defeated, but, before making their escape, they press the self-destruct button: the hideout is set to collapse in a minute. Spenser runs back to where Solana and Lunick are; he has completed his mission and retrieved the Styler, but now another choice needs to be made.

Spenser:
Give me a report later! We have to get out of here now! Forget about the escaped criminals! Your lives are more important! Both of you! Quick! Dive through that portal now! When you get out, follow Cameron or Elita's orders! I still have my mission to rescue the Pokémon here! Listen to me! You go after Gordor!

And with that, Solana and Lunick have to leave Spenser behind in the collapsing building. Regardless of how thankless his job is, Spenser has decided to risk his life to uphold the Ranger's Pledge: "To come to the aid of those in need and to safeguard nature to the best of my ability". This was the pledge that he believed in ten years ago when he joined the Rangers, and now, at long last, he can believe in it again. Beyond any personal complaints of being underappreciated, being a Ranger is about being as helpful as he can be. Spenser has chosen to take that role at its fullest - even if it endangers his life, even if no one will thank him for his efforts.

After Solana and Lunick's final battle with Gordor, who shows up to the Fiore Temple but Spenser himself, a bit scuffed but all in one piece? Apparently, Joel saved him from the rubble. It seems like a lot of things are returning to how they used to be:

Spenser:
...Don't worry about me. Joel arrived on the scene right after you left. We got to play superheroes together, just like old times. Hahaha!

By the end of the storyline, Spenser has regained focus on his mission. Watching Solana grow as a person and as a Ranger made Spenser understand what he liked about the person that he used to be, and made him choose to return to that person: proud to be part of the Ranger Union and always ready to do his best to help - with a honest smile.

Spenser:
Both of you, Lunick and Solana... Your faces are filthy with grime, and your uniforms are falling apart. Solana, it reminds me of the day you first arrived in Fall City. You were pale... and wearing that crisp new uniform... It really didn't suit you at all. But now, it's different. You look the part completely. Solana, you've toughened up. I hope you'll keep going as a Ranger with pride in your heart always!

The special mission: Deoxys

Deoxys

After completing the main storyline of Pokémon Ranger, there is still a little more game to play, mostly in the form of special missions that can be unlocked from the main menu. These post-game bonuses are just that: bonuses - the game is essentially over at this point. These special missions are all centered on capturing Legendary Pokémon, but, as I explained in the beginning, not even that really matters at this point in the game. Of interest to this page, however, is the special mission featuring the capture of Deoxys, as its brief storyline is centered on Spenser.

In this special mission, Spenser calls Solana and Lunick to inform them that Deoxys has been spotted in the area, and that it is unusually aggressive. It turns out that Deoxys is one of Spenser's favorite Pokémon, and he was very excited to meet one in person; however, when he had tried capturing it, the Deoxys did not seem to respond to his attempts and attacked him instead. Solana and Lunick are assigned to calm down the Deoxys while Spenser understandably goes to sulk away.

They capture and then release the Deoxys, and, when they report back to Spenser, something comes out:

Spenser:
I think I got so caught up in the idea of capturing the Deoxys that I lost sight of everything but myself. That means my capture attempts would seem no different than attacks to the Deoxys... It's no wonder the Deoxys turned hostile on me. The cause of this incident wasn't the Deoxys or the Go-Rock Squad or anything else. I'm to blame for the entire fiasco...

Yeah man, just because Deoxys is a big favorite of yours it doesn't mean that you are entitled to a special magical encounter with it, lol. Anyway, nobody is perfect, and he recognized his mistake, so it's okay. The Deoxys was apparently eavesdropping on this whole conversation, because, after hearing Spenser's apology, it flies by the Ringtown Base to presumably say hello to him. And that's all for that mission.

On Fearow

Spenser and Fearow
Looking good.

Speaking of favorite Pokémon, let me take a moment to talk about Spenser's partner Pokémon, Fearow.

In general, Fearow is a Pokémon species far from being featured in the Pokémon games. In the original Red and Blue games, when you set out on your Pokémon journey, you're going to walk in a patch of grass, and you're going to encounter and probably catch Pidgey, the other brown bird Pokémon. Spearow and Fearow, in comparison, are a bit harder to find, and not presented as a valuable addition to your team, but rather as the Pokémon you're going to need to catch to complete the Pokédex. Ever since, Fearow has been somewhat unfeatured and only available if you go out of your way to get one. In the anime and in other Pokémon media, Spearow and Fearow are often showed as villain Pokémon, either owned by the bad guys or just evil themselves, just attacking random people because they're assholes.

I might be biased because Fearow is one of my favorites, too, but I really appreciate seeing a character who is portrayed in a positive light with a Fearow as their primary Pokémon. Just, Fearow is scary and dangerous, but that doesn't mean that only villains can have one. I also like what this says about Spenser as a person, that he is someone who makes friends with a big scary bird. Also, it looks like I have a thing for characters who keep large birds as pets.

Of interest to this discussion is the fact that Spenser's friend and rival Joel also has a scary bird as his partner - a Dodrio. Maybe this shared love of birds with pointy beaks was an important factor in the beginning of Spenser and Joel's friendship.

Beyond Pokémon Ranger: other (dis)appearances

As mentioned before, Solana is the only character from Ranger who ever made it into the Pokémon animated show. In another situation, this would mean that this section has no reason to exist, except...

Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea poster
Japanese DVD cover of Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea

The ninth Pokémon movie is titled Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea. As the title suggests, it's about Ranger... maybe? Well, not quite. What this movie has is a character who is a Ranger, and he's on a mission, and the mission involves Manaphy. And that's where the connection to the game ends.

Why am I talking about this? The thing is... the eponymous Ranger which is the featured character of this movie, Jack "Jackie" Walker, is essentially a scrambled Spenser.

He's a cool dude, a high-ranking Ranger. He's wearing the Ringtown uniform. And look at him. Is it the hair? Is it the attitude? He looks so much like Spenser, while also not being Spenser. He even captures a Fearow at one point. It's super evident that it was meant to be him... Except also not. His characterization is near that of Spenser, but different - it would have to be, since Spenser's characterization is tied to the events of the game. But, otherwise, it's like this movie is about Spenser's doppleganger.

Concept art of Jack
Ken Sugimori's concept art of Jackie. Just add some teal hair dye.
Solana in the movie
Holy shit, it's Solana! Now let's go follow the twerps as always.

So, my question is: What happened? If they wanted to make a movie to promote Pokémon Ranger, why not use the characters from... I don't know, the game you're trying to promote? Solana appears in the beginning as a cameo for a split second - and that's the most you'll be seeing of Pokémon Ranger in the Pokémon Ranger movie. The plot of the movie doesn't even make it clear what is that Jackie is even doing as a Ranger - just that he's being cool and doing spy-like things, more like a secret agent than a Ranger. I don't even know if I should be sad that Jackie is not Spenser, or glad that they didn't involve him in this movie just to have him act out of character.

Generally, Pokémon Ranger got the strangest treatment in terms of promotional material - it was simultaneously promoted so hard, and yet almost all of the references to it are weirdly oblique or flat-out wrong. Look at the massive disambiguation page for Pokémon Ranger on Bulbapedia. There's a movie and several mangas and three games which have nothing to do with each other... and there's the Rangers in the main series which, okay, were introduced before Pokémon Ranger had come out, so if the Rangers of Ruby and Sapphire are different from the ones in Ranger, that's understandable... except that their subsequent appearances in the main series never used the canon of the Ranger games and stayed separate from them - even though it intersects with the main series canon! See, this is what I'm trying to say - for how excessively promoted Ranger was, nobody seemed to agree on what even was being promoted, and so every reference had it wrong one way or the other. Which did a poor service to the game, which in itself wasn't even that impressive to warrant all the promotion, let's be honest here.

Shadows of Almia boxart

And then, after all of that, the second Ranger game has virtually no link with the first. That's where I stopped playing. I thought that the first game was establishing the world and the characters, and that we'd get to see more of it later - and instead, it threw everything away and continued with a different cast in a different place. While I thought the capturing gameplay had improved, Shadows of Almia added concepts that don't even make sense with what was set up by the first Ranger. The biggest offender being the main concept: that of a Ranger School. So, apparently, Rangers go to school before becoming Rangers? What?

At the beginning of the first Ranger, Spenser does mention that usually there is a test that a wannabe Ranger would have to pass before getting a certification, and that he's making an exception for Solana - but he said it was a test, not an entire school! A school, for learning... how to be outdoorsy? And Shadows of Almia wants us to believe that Spenser graduated from the Ranger School too? Does that even make sense with the timeline?

Probably not. We know that he went to the Jungle Relic with Joel ten years prior to the events of Ranger, and that he was an ambitious novice at the time. Considered that Solana and Lunick are 16 according to the manga canon, and that the game is establishing a parallel between them and Spenser, we can assume that Spenser and Joel were also 16 at the time. The playable characters of Shadows of Almia, Kate and Kellyn, who are starting at the Ranger School, are also 16. So, if Spenser really did go to this school, he most likely graduated younger than Kate and Kellyn when they were starting. Is that even possible? Also, if Spenser really went to school, wouldn't that show up in his reminiscence about the time when he was working towards becoming a Ranger?

Rhythmi
Not that you can't choose to be a secretary, but goddammit, game.

Shadows of Almia also introduced the concept of Operators, which are essentially the secretaries of the Ranger Union. And naturally, they are almost always girls. Naturally. There's the player character's friend, a smart and skilled girl called Rhythmi, who is studying at the Ranger School... with the dream of becoming not a Ranger, a secretary. Thanks for that. If I find whoever wrote this plotpoint, I'm gonna defenestrate him.

So yeah, for me, what Shadows of Almia did was take something that had elements that I liked, throw them in the trash, and continue with... a school setting. Which is the absolute last thing I want to see in a videogame. So I didn't continue playing this series. Ah well.

Site information & thanks

The artwork of Spenser and Fearow over there is my own work. Honestly, the fact that I liked how it came out is half of the reason why I could make this site at all, since the official art of Spenser is very small and I don't think I could make a pretty layout out of it. Anyway, you can see the artwork in full on my artblog. Potentially of your interest if you like the picture: my Pokémon Ranger tag, my Fearow tag, and, if you feel like wasting an afternoon, there's my general Pokémon tag with approximately 1827384 pieces of fan art. Knock yourself out.

The tooltips are made on Tooltipster.

Most other pictures used in this page are official Pokémon Ranger art that came from Bulbapedia. Sprites from The Spriters Resource. If you were wondering, I mounted the gifs of the Pokémon in this page out of the spritesheets myself. You can reuse them, if you want them.

A huge thank you to my wife Denise for replaying Ranger with me and for writing down the first draft of parts of this page (you'll recognize them as the parts with the most exciting word choices).

This site written by dubiousdisc aka Rosangela Ludovico. If you want to read more stuff I write about games and characters and stuff, see Rigelatin and Staircase Spirit. Contact me: dubiousdisc@gmail.com.

Page last updated in September 2018.