For all the jokes that have been made about the Pokémon anime’s protagonist never really aging, the larger franchise has always been focused on telling stories about change and growth. Even setting aside the anime, the games themselves are, at their core, about understanding how evolution’s a natural part of life.
The Pokémon games don’t always go out of their way to emphasize those bigger ideas, but they’re there in the subtext when a trainer’s overcome with emotion after seeing their partner evolve in the nick of time to win a battle or when a trainer and Pokémon decide that the time’s come for them to part ways. Pokémon’s narrative heaviness is something most people begin to pick up on as they start to get a bit older and look back and reflect on it from a more nuanced perspective that just comes from having life experience.
You can see that kind of perspective in “The Evolution of Craig,” one of Craig of the Creek’s most recent episodes that lovingly pokes fun at ‘90s Pokémon series to illustrate a concept that’s important to bear in mind regardless of how old you are or which version of Pokémon you played first.
For all the time that Craig spends splashing around in the creek with his friends during their seemingly-endless summer, he’s still a solid student and understands that he has to stay on top of his summer reading if he wants to hit the ground running when it’s time to return to the classroom. But this upcoming return—and Craig’s beginning the fifth grade—sparks an anxiety in him that he can’t or at the very least doesn’t feel comfortable putting into words.
While Craig’s grandfather’s walking him home from the local library, he tries to get his grandson excited about all of the interesting new things that are going to become a part of his life now that he’s getting older. It’s all just starting to get through to Craig when he ends up getting distracted by a nearby tadpole swimming in a quickly-evaporating puddle that’s being patrolled by hungry-looking birds. Reasoning that the tadpole’s likely going to die if it stays there, Craig whips out vending machine acorn capsule and tosses it much like a trainer might hurl a Pokéball at an unsuspecting monster.
The capsule flops onto the ground because, you know, Pokémon aren’t real, but Craig ends up taking the tadpole home, plopping it into a fish tank, and declaring it his new pet. Even though Craig’s clearly stressed because he feels as if his life is in a state of flux, the way that he goes about making a space in his life for the tadpole already speaks to how much he’s learned over the course of Craig of the Creek. When he similarly attempted to become involved in the lives of a swarm of wild bugs in “Bug City,” Craig was focused more on his own desire to build a miniature bug metropolis as opposed to making something the bugs themselves would enjoy or—better yet—leaving them alone.
His reason for bringing the tadpole home with him is more altruistic—he wants it to be safe and he puts its needs first, understanding that it needs space and proper care to thrive in a new environment. Much to Craig’s surprise, the tadpole doesn’t just thrive. It levels up, sprouts a new pair of legs, and learns a new move.
Craig can recognize the tadpole rapid metamorphosis as the progress that it is, but he relatively less jazzed about the major differences he can sense are on the horizon for himself and his friend Kelsey and J.P. But where Craig’s concerned, his friends look forward to the future with a general sense of optimism that really boils down to their having different ways of dealing with and embracing change.
As Craig of the Creek’s slowly shed light on its characters’ backstories, it’s contextualized Kelsey’s fondness for fantasy and her flights of fancy within a larger story about how she and her father are both coping with the death of Kelsey’s mother. J.P.’s homelife hasn’t been explored in much detail, but the bits and pieces that we’ve seen have suggested that it, like he, is...messy. It’s not something that holds J.P. back or anything, but it definitely contributes to her relatively more carefree, lackadaisical attitude towards things. When Craig asks the two of them how they envision themselves changing, both Kelsey and J.P. are confident that they’ve got a grip on how things are going to turn out, and more importantly, they’re excited to see what’s going to come next.
But Craig isn’t because he’s scared that he’ll have to let go of all the things he loves in order to become the next version of himself who he assumes will be someone boring like his older brother Bernard.
Every time that Craig leaves his tadpole at home to go opens up to someone about his fears, he returns to find the animal in yet another stage of its evolution. The process of it all overwhelms him because after going through all of this, Craig still doesn’t realize that what he needs to do is get his feelings off his chest to someone who understands exactly what he’s thinking about. J.P. and Kelsey are great, but as kids themselves, they’ve only got but so much wisdom to offer when it comes to dealing with the reality that time comes for us all. Craig’s grandfather, on the other hand, can relate to his grandson’s predicament because he’s been there, too.
Entering the fifth grade is definitely going to mix things up for Craig and his peers, but those changes are normal parts of everyday life. They won’t erase the parts Craig’s personality that make him the person that he is, but they’ll bring out new things about himself that help him become better equipped to deal with the new settings he finds himself in.
Craig himself doesn’t go through a radical physical transformation, and why would he? From an outside perspective, the shift from fourth to fifth grade isn’t all that monumental. But for him, it is, and it’s through his bond with his tadpole-turned-frog that you can distinctly see Craig’s own evolution playing out. Just as Craig finally comes to know that he’s just got to go with the flow of things and trust that everything’ll be (generally) alright, he also knows that he’s got to let his now fully-grown frog go back into the wild to find its own fifth grade.
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