Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Heart-Melters #1 - Misty

We have finally come to the end of the journey through the Heart-Melters Gallery, almost a year after I first posted the entry about Kiki, the #10 Heart-Melter. Of course, it has been about six months since I posted my last entry, about Elizabeth Patterson, but then again it is only appropriate. After all, today is September 4, 2009, and it was ten years ago today that I first took a look at the #1 Heart-Melter and felt my heart melting at the sight of her. Over the years, nine others have come and joined the ranks of Heart-Melter, and several more have come close, but this Heart-Melter has remained a constant presence. So perhaps it is fitting that the first Heart-Melter chronologically is also number one in terms of strength. We will be able to conclude with the one who is concurrently the earliest and most recent Heart-Melter.

And for all of you who don't know what a Heart-Melter is, a Heart-Melter is basically a fictional female character from a video game, movie, cartoon, or a comic that I've been strongly attracted towards, or to put it in other words...melted my heart.

The Heart-Melters, #10-#2 in terms of overall strength (a combination of strength of attraction, duration of attraction, and recurrence of attraction)
#10: Kiki
#9: Tomo Takino
#8: Mona
#7: Buttercup
#6: Sheena Fujibayashi
#5: Kaho
#4: Shiori Fujisaki
#3: Seung Mina
#2: Elizabeth Patterson

And now we've come to #1.

Who is it? Well, if you have to ask, you probably don't know me well enough.


Who is she?
I hate to say it, but the only way you may have to ask this question is if you haven't been paying attention to anything Nintendo has done in the past eleven years. (I'm not saying it's not possible because I know there are a lot of people who are oblivious to what Nintendo has been doing and would understandably not know who Misty is. However, if you are one of those people I highly doubt you'd be reading this.) Pokemon has become one of Nintendo's biggest franchises since its American debut in 1998, and Misty is an important part of the franchise. Even Pokemon haters are probably aware of Pokemon's loveliest heroine.

Known as Kasumi in Japan, Misty made her debut as the gym leader of Cerulean City (the second gym) in Pokemon Red/Green in 1995. She specialized in water Pokemon and was known as the Tomboyish Mermaid, implying that behind her bikini-wearing outer shell lies a strong and confident personality. Unfortunately, players never got to see this personality, because once they beat Misty to get the Cascade Badge (Blue Badge in Japan...how creative) and TM 11, there was no reason to interact with her anymore. However, all that was about to change.

The animated adaptation of Pokemon made its debut in Japan in April of 1997. The series follows Ash Ketchum in his adventures and misadventures around the world of Pokemon, but he is so bland that the show would grow old fast if it centered primarily on him, so the writers gave him a trio of companions. The first two made their debuts in the very first episode. One was Ash's ever-loyal Pikachu. And the other? It was none other than the most beautiful girl in all of Pokemon, nay, all of Nintendo-land: Misty. She fished Ash and his injured Pikachu out of the river late in the first episode (and slapped him for good measure because of his incompetence as a trainer). He stole her bike to get away from murderous Spearows only to destroy it, so she started following him to get a new bike. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I've always felt that Misty has the most complex personality among the main characters in Pokemon. Ash has always been the up-and-at-'em kind of guy with boundless optimism and limitless energy despite his questionable intelligence. Brock is intelligent and has a tragic backstory involving abandonment by both parents, but he ended up being like Jon Arbuckle but worse, because at least Jon has a steady girlfriend in Liz. And even though Misty started out being a whiny, impulsive brat who is quick to anger, it didn't take long for her personality to shine. Misty is the youngest of four sisters. Her older sisters were popular, good-looking, and good enough trainers to become the Cerulean City gym leader, so she developed an inferiority complex early in life. But rather than wallow in self-pity like some people may do (like me), Misty built up a tough exterior and strived to improve herself in every way. And she would eventually show a softer side beneath her initial roughness, displaying a caring heart towards people and Pokemon (especially her favorite Togepi), as well as being an effective counselor and a dispenser of wisdom. And although Misty still has an explosive temper (mostly towards Psyduck), her courage and coolness under pressure has saved the lives of her friends numerous times.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end. After seven years and over 200 episodes of traveling the world, Misty had to return to Cerulean City to take over the role of gym leader from her sisters, who were going on a world tour themselves. And while Brock eventually returned to Ash's side to continue making Jon Arbuckle look good, Misty remains in Cerulean City, taking care of the gym. While this is a fact that agonizes the thousands, maybe even millions of adolescent males that fell for her between 1997 and 2003, it is probably safe to assume that she is still working to find ways to improve herself. That is what makes Misty so special.

Misty's Influence (September 4, 1999 - Present)
There is no doubt that Misty had a greater influence on my life than the other Heart-Melters, possibly even combined. Not only was she the only Heart-Melter to surpass the minimum limit for me to define my attraction as an actual crush, but my attraction towards her remains strong even today, ten years after it began. Yet early on there was absolutely no indication that Misty would be the person that would be the Queen of the Heart-Melters. When Pokemon first burst into my life in 1998, I was 13 years old and was just at the early stages of puberty. However, I already had a massive crush on somebody in my school. And even if I wasn't dedicating my entire romantic feelings towards somebody else, Misty wasn't near the top of my list of alternatives. I must confess that I initially found her to be somewhat annoying, such as her intolerance in Ash Catches a Pokemon or her Togepi coup in Who Gets to Keep Togepi. So through late 1998 and early 1999, my feelings towards Misty were annoyance at worst and ambivalence at best.
The summer of 1999 was a turbulent time in my life. I moved from Kansas to Virginia on June 4, 1999 (ten years before Randy Johnson won his 300th game). I was extremely frustrated by the move and ended up having a difficult transition. Things got so chaotic that I really didn't have much time or interest to think about Pokemon. One major reason was because Kids WB had not aired a new episode since early April. I continued to watch older episodes on occasion, but I had other interests, like Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64.

Summer eventually passed into autumn. Somebody, I can't remember if it was my sister or one of my friends, told me that Kids WB was going to air brand new episodes on Saturday, September 4, 1999. Even though Pokemon had fallen to the wayside, I still liked the show enough that I made sure to be there for the premiere. The episode was Princess vs. Princess, which actually happened earlier in the timeline, before the Togepi Incident, but its localization was delayed because of the large amount of text in the episode. Misty was the main focus of the episode, and since my feelings towards Misty was that of ambivalent to positive (mostly from being around my sister, a major Misty fan, all the time), I found the episode to be fairly enjoyable. However, one Misty episode was not enough to make me a Misty fan for life.

The turning point actually happened after the episode. Previously, the episodes would be followed at the end by the Pokerap, but a new feature that debuted along with Princess vs. Princess was Pikachu's Jukebox. It featured selections from songs on the 2.B.A. Master CD playing against scenes from episodes. I was a big fan of the Pokerap, so I wasn't too pleased that they were getting rid of it, but I watched the first Pikachu's Jukebox, which was My Best Friends. The thing about Pikachu's Jukebox was that the majority of scenes were from episodes that hadn't aired, so it was almost like having a sneak peek. Most of the clips from the first Jukebox didn't excite me at all, but there was one scene near the end that would steal my heart and change my life.

In the clip, which was the penultimate scene of the short, Misty backs away from the camera towards Ash and Brock with a fan obscuring her face. After she gets into position, she shuts the fan to reveal a beautiful smile. And in the scene, she is wearing a lovely red evening dress. To understand why this is so important, I will admit up front that I have a soft spot for skirts and dresses. I've always felt that skirts and dresses amplify a female's beauty; she always looks better when she wears a skirt or a dress. And there are two classes of skirts or dresses that seem to be universally acclaimed as the best types: the little black dress...and the red dress. The late, great Buck O'Neill once said, "You don't ever walk away from a woman in a red dress." I've never really thought of Misty as being very good looking, but because of the dress, I felt that Misty was the most beautiful person in the world. It didn't matter that I was mostly ambivalent towards her in the past, and never really thought of her as very good-looking, Misty was the most beautiful person in the world. I could feel my sympathetic nervous system activate. My entire body felt warm due to vasoconstriction, and my breathing became labored because of the smooth muscle contraction. It was a very similar feeling to when my schoolyard crush began on October 21, 1997. Yet I didn't care. I cherished the feeling. My attraction towards Misty had begin, and along with it the era of the Heart-Melters.

The Age of Misty 1
Nobody knows exactly how old Misty is, because nobody really knows the rate at which time passes in the Pokemon world. She did say in the Japanese version of Ash Catches a Pokemon that "This is the worst morning in the ten years of my life." Some take that to believe that she was ten in that episode and she is still ten years old. I, on the other hand, believe that the passage of time in the Pokemon world is equivalent to the passage of time in the real world. Ash Catches a Pokemon aired in Japan on April of 1997, so I take it to mean that Misty was ten in April of 1997. Misty just strikes me as somebody who has a summer birthday, so that would place her birthday somewhere in summer of 1986, specifically in July. This means that she would now be 23. Perhaps my logic is flawed, but maybe it just helps me feel better about being attracted to Misty.

I am not an expert on love and romance, but I believe that two things happen when one falls in love. The first is that one comes to believe that the person one loves is the most beautiful person in the world. And the second is that when one falls in love, one cannot stop thinking about the person he or she loves. And even though I consider my feelings towards Misty a mere crush rather than full-blown, well-developed love, I still experienced both of these symptoms. I go back and watch old videos of Misty and I can only think to myself at how beautiful she was. And I couldn't stop thinking about her no matter where I went. I thought about her at school, I thought about her on the bus, and I thought about her at home. And then I would think about Misty and her lovely red dress as I went to sleep at nights. I owned a bootleg copy of the first Pokemon movie, and I began watching it almost obsessively just so I can see Misty. I continued to watch new episodes of Pokemon even though it was clear that the episodes weren't quite at the same level of quality as the earlier episodes that I enjoyed in 1998-1999. They featured Misty, so I would watch them.

Of course, Misty did not change my life solely by dominating my thoughts. It was through my attraction towards Misty that I entered the world of Internet communities. Before autumn of 1999, I was largely an Internet neophyte. I did not get online for the very first time until November of 1997 (I remember thinking it was the most amazing thing ever), and up through autumn of 1999, the only thing I did online was read about movies. However, after the Age of Misty began, I started to go online in order to search for Misty pics and connect with other fans of Misty. I found the picture that launched my attraction towards Misty on a website dedicated to AAML (which I used to believe in but am now strongly against mostly because I feel Misty is too good for Ash). A few weeks later I ended up on the UPNetwork.com message board, and for the first time I discovered the pleasure of finding people with similar interests and being able to communicate with them online. This began an eight year journey through various online message boards that culminated with the closing of NSider on September 17, 2007.

By early 2000, I was getting rather annoyed by the deterioration of the quality of Pokemon episodes, but I kept watching new episodes because they had Misty. But then I started to notice that even the portrayal of Misty was starting to go downhill. Maybe it's a biased view, but I have always felt that Misty was the wisest of the three main characters, always present to dispense wisdom. But soon she was making mistakes she shouldn't be making, like saying in Tracey Gets Bugged that she was glad Venonat is not a bug Pokemon. This was not the Misty that I knew and loved. A third observation I've made about love is that when somebody is in love, he or she likes to think that his or her romantic interest is perfect. When evidence comes up that points to the contrary, one is thrown into a state of cognitive dissonance, which is the conflict formed by holding onto two contradictory beliefs. Well, I ended up in this cognitive dissonant state. There I was, being strongly attracted to Misty, whom I believed was perfect. But then evidence came about showing she was not perfect. The solution is, of course, to modify one of the beliefs to eliminate the contradiction. I can go into denial and continue thinking Misty was perfect, which is impossible because there is only one person who is perfect, and it certainly as heck isn't Misty. (Besides, as I later realized, some of Misty's charm came with her flaws.) The other option is to admit that Misty is not perfect but continue to be attracted to her.

In the end, I went with neither option. On the contrary, I took the cowardly way out: I pretty much just dropped my attraction towards Misty. By April of 2000, I could feel that the Age of Misty was diminishing. She wasn't dominating my fantasies the way she did in late 1999, and I ended up going towards different interests. On April 17, 2000, I was mowing the lawn. Mowing the lawn is a tedious task, so it is always a time that I can spend contemplating various things. While mowing the backyard on that day, I thought about how far my attraction towards Misty had fallen, and decided that my crush on her has ended. I took a few more hours to think about the situation, and eventually made the announcement on the UPNetwork.com message boards. My Misty crush was over. On the whole, the Age of Misty had lasted for 225 days, or more specifically seven months and 12 days, which as it turns out would be extremely long for a Heart-Melter (remember, the average length for a Heart-Melter Age is 3-4 months.) But in the end, I was done with Misty, or so I thought...

The Age of Misty 2
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, months turned into years. I graduated high school and entered the University of Virginia in 2003. During those intervening years, I never really went back to Misty. She was still my favorite Pokemon character, but all that I felt towards her was a sense of nostalgia towards the days gone by. I've had several other interests and three others join the ranks as Heart-Melters. Of course, none of them reached the high that Misty achieved back in 1999 and 2000. And then, something happened during my first year of college. I started to feel some stirrings in my heart towards Misty again. Perhaps it was because I was in a brand new environment and needed something familiar to turn towards, or it was because I just joined the Nintendo NSider community and needed something zany to distinguish myself. I can't quite remember the circumstances, and I can't even guarantee that it happened in 2003, but Misty was definitely making her return in my life.

Misty's comeback was slightly detoured during the Age of Elizabeth Patterson and the Age of Kaho in 2004 and 2005, but by the summer of 2005 it became quite clear that the Age of Misty was back, and this time she was here to stay. It was like two lovers coming back after a long break-up and deciding to take another shot at a romance. To do so they need to analyze what went wrong the first time around, and to do things differently. Since Misty is nothing more than a fictional character in a cartoon, if there were to be any change, it would have to come from me. This time around, I knew that I couldn't idealize her; that I have to take the bad with good. I needed to know that as smart as she is, she doesn't know EVERYTHING, and as kind as she is, she can still be impulsive. To believe that she is perfect would set me up for a disappointment, which was what happened back in 2000. Furthermore, I needed to take it slowly. One thing that I felt keeps most Heart-Melter Ages from being so short was that I'd dedicate so much energy into admiring them that I eventually burned myself out. So I allowed myself to think about Misty, but did not let her take over my life.

This second Age of Misty has also slowly but surely me gotten me back into Pokemon. Between 2000 and 2002, the only contact I had with Pokemon was Pokemon Puzzle League, which is my sister's favorite game, playing through Pokemon Blue again for nostalgia's sake, and listening to some of my favorite episodes on audio tape. But in 2004 I went out and bought my first new Pokemon game since getting Blue. Sure, it was Pokemon Leaf Green, but it's still a relatively significant step. I also began to convert the Kanto Pokemon episodes from VHS to WMV, a task I completed between 2005 and 2006. In 2007, I went out and got my first Pokemon RPG without Misty: Pokemon Diamond, and last year I started to watch the Pokemon episodes again. It's not a significant increase, but like with this second Age of Misty, I am still trying to take things slowly.

My feelings towards Misty have been up and down since the second Age of Misty began. At certain times, like in the summers of 2006-2008, my attraction towards her have been intense, almost as intense as the original Age in 1999-2000, where I can't stop thinking about her. At other times I can go almost an entire day without thinking about her, although I do try to dream about her when I go to bed. I've come to accept the fact that my interests have always been cyclical, but it's been two years since the Age of Tomo ended, and even then the Age of Misty marches on. I believe that by now, no matter what happens, Misty will be a constant in my life for a long time to come.

So I've written over 3,000 words regarding my attraction towards Misty. If you're bored enough to have read all of it, I'm sure you have one question to ask me: Why? Why have I dedicated about ten years of my life being attracted to a fictional character in a cartoon? Why do I seem almost proud of being attracted to a fictional character in a cartoon for ten years? Why am I more willing to talk about this than my faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, whose love is infinitely more precious than anything Misty can give me? I've thought about these questions, and the only reply I can think of is that at this moment I'm not too worried about my romantic life being a joke. I believe that God has our best interest in mind, and as long as we trust in Him, we'll know once the right person comes. I know that if I go around just actively looking for love, I'll end up getting disappointed or heartbroken (Hey, it's happened before.) So I think I'll just take it easily, put my faith in the Lord, and wait for the right time. It'll be all right, as long as I don't put my childish obsessions over the Lord. (Regarding question number three: Houston, we have a problem.)

Rankings:Strength: 1 - Let me just say this: there are ten Heart-Melters, but only one managed to get past the threshold to become a full-fledged crush, and that's Misty. None of them managed to dominate my thoughts quite like Misty. I never dreamed about any of the other Heart-Melters quite like Misty. I never gushed about any of the Heart-Melters like I did with Misty. And this is if I'm just looking at the first Age of Misty from 1999-2000. The fact is there is a second Age of Misty, and even though the strength of attraction during the second Age is not as intense as the first Age, it was still strong enough to outdo all of the other Heart-Melter Ages on its own merit. Putting both of these Ages together seems almost unfair, but it shows just how far ahead Misty ranks in terms of Strength.

Duration: 1 - My original crush on Misty lasted from September 4, 1999 through April 17, 2000. That's seven months and thirteen days, already longer than any of the other Heart-Melter ages, only two of which lasted longer than six months (that would be Buttercup and Elizabeth Patterson.) Most Heart-Melters Ages were finished within three to four months. That alone is enough to give Misty the lead in terms of duration, but one must also take into account that I am in the midst of a second Age of Misty, which has been going on for four to six years. To think of it in another way, today is the tenth anniversary of the start of the original Misty crush, and she is still an active Heart-Melter.

Recurrence: 1 -Recurrence has been very difficult to rate for the other Heart-Melters because once the attraction period ended, I never really felt the desire to go back to them, so I've been pretty much ranking them by how much I like them as a character after the Ages ended. Only two Heart-Melters has had something resembling the revival of an attraction, but neither of them were significant enough to count as new Ages. No such problems exist with Misty. I had one period of attraction from 1999 to 2000 that qualifies as an Age, and after three to four years of dormancy I had another period of attraction that qualifies as an Age. I think it's easy to declare Misty the winner in this field.

Overall: 3 - Misty stomped the competition in Strength. She dominated the field in Duration. And she ranked #1 in Recurrence. None of these things were even close. Is it any wonder that Misty is the Queen of the Heart-Melters?

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