Failure of character?
This was originally a debate I had on Serebii.net, but the posts were deleted for some reason. But it ended up making for a decent follow-up to this, so here we go.
In a “controversial opinions” thread on that forum, someone offered their opinion that Misty was a weak character who did very little during her run on the show. My counter to that was: of all the travelling companions, Misty is arguably* the most well-defined character, but among the most poorly served in terms of plot.
Misty’s core personality - stubborn, short-tempered, entomophobic, and a bit bossy, but basically good-hearted and with a deep love for Pokemon in general and Water types in particular - was established from the get-go. Right up front, she was presented as a multi-faceted character. I would never claim that any character in Pokemon was a masterful work of deep psychological realism, but Misty was always more than just an angry redhead. She could be used to give exposition, show sweetness and depth, give a punchline, or take laughs at her own expense, and all of this in a very natural and easy way.
As the OS went on, more facets to her personality emerged. The encounter with her sisters revealed a troubled home life and suggested feelings of inadequacy compared to her glamorous siblings. Caring for Togepi brought out a very defined maternal instinct in Misty. Her growing crush on Ash showed her to be unsure and uncomfortable with letting certain feelings show and gave her another point of vulnerability. And those last two things resulted in an evolution of her character; while she was still temperamental, she mellowed considerably as the show went on, her fights with Ash more likely to be playful and mutual banter/snark.
All this means that, on the score of creating and developing a character and personality, Takeshi Shudo and team did a fantastic job with Misty IMO. And the many sides to her character left her open for a wide range of story possibilities. Take Togepi, for instance. With Misty being such a motherly figure to the little egg, would that mean that Misty could inadvertently impede Togepi’s growth by holding it back from Pokemon competitions? If so, how would Misty learn to get over this? How would she deal with Togepi’s mysterious powers when she becomes aware of them? Might Togepi evolve sooner in this case, and how would Misty take that? How would a non-Water type fit in to the rest of the team? There’s a lot there for just one aspect of her character. Her strained relationship with her sisters could’ve also generated material had they become recurring characters, her relationship with Ash actually started to move in a fun direction during the Orange Islands, and her goal of being a great Water trainer was just as nebulous and loosely defined as Ash’s own goal, and thus open to any number of story turns.
None of which were taken, obviously. The Whirl Cup was an effort at doing something with Misty’s Water goals, but it was late in coming and under-developed. Her crush on Ash didn’t vanish after the Islands, but it did stagnate and only came back into play very late in the OS. After the Indigo League, her sisters never came up again except to drag her back to Cerulean. And Togepi just sat around looking cute until AG, at which point Misty was off the show as a regular and the story was more about Togepi himself than Misty’s care of him.
So in the end, that guy on Serebii did have a point; Misty didn’t get much to do story-wise. But that doesn’t make her a weak character. A weak character would be one who was two-dimensional and stagnant, or one who was dull as dishwater to watch, or one who was poorly defined and shifted personality depending on whatever the script of the day called for. That would represent a failure of character creation and development, a different sort of writing slip-up than the one that befell Misty. As I’ve said, Shudo aced it in developing Misty’s character. What Misty - and many other Pokemon characters - illustrate is the failure of a writing team to take advantage of their own good legwork to pursue interesting plot lines and give good characters material to showcase all their facets. The end result is similar; a frustrating viewing experience. But it’s an important distinction to make IMO when attempting a critique of fiction.
*Arguably. As in, if you feel otherwise, you could make a plausible case.
(I should add that this debate was perfectly respectful, and short. I have no idea why it got erased.)