Welcome back to Elite Evaluations, an ongoing series in which I review the Elite Four from each generation of games in the Pokemon series, with an especial focus on costume and character design. Previous entries can be found here.
In this special edition of Elite Evaluations, we’re looking at the Frontier Brains featured in the 2004 Generation III title Emerald, an expanded version of the 2002/2003 games Ruby and Sapphire. The header image is from TheGamer, and all other sources are cited throughout.
In Emerald, the Battle Frontier is a post-game area that becomes accessible after the player defeats the Elite Four and becomes Hoenn League Champion. As its name might suggest, the Battle Frontier is an area devoted entirely to Pokemon battles. The Emerald iteration of the Frontier includes seven unique ‘facilities’, each with its own gameplay mechanics and challenges.
Each facility is led by a Frontier Brain: a high-ranking trainer who faces off against the player after they’ve completed a certain number of battles in their respective facility. The Frontier Brains occupy a position somewhere between a Gym Leader and an Elite Four member, and many have great costumes that rarely get their due. Let’s give them the appreciation they deserve.
Noland is in charge of the Battle Factory, in which trainers fight with borrowed, Factory-provided Pokemon. On their own, the main components of Noland’s outfit aren’t particularly memorable: a fisherman’s cap, a tanktop, pants, and a trenchcoat. However, these items are elevated by their details, and how they all fit together to portray Noland as a character.
Given the Battle Factory’s gameplay mechanic, it should come as no surprise that the red/white/black colour scheme of Poke Balls is a recurring motif – and we see this in Noland’s outfit as well. His red cap, black clothing, white trenchcoat, and especially his black belt with a white clasp are clearly meant as an abstract depiction of a Poke Ball.
Noland, like Drake of the Hoenn Elite Four, is clearly meant to be viewed as a working-class character. But like Drake, Noland has a great piece of outerwear – in this case, Noland’s trenchcoat – that is at once practical and over the top. His upturned collar gives his trenchcoat an authoritative, perhaps even regal appearance. The cut-out sleeves are both realistic and allow Noland to show off his muscles.
Noland is one of the few Frontier Brains that have reappeared in the Pokemon franchise, albeit in the spinoff game Masters EX. He was one of the characters included when the title was first released in 2019. I wouldn’t necessarily have anticipated Noland’s return – especially compared to some other characters we’ll see later in this article – but his outfit remains crisp and timeless.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Greta is the leader of the Battle Arena, a facility based on fighting dojos, in turn heavily inspiring her own look. As with Noland, Greta’s otherwise utilitarian uniform is elevated by a few key details: the oversized bow that resembles a sash, the laced-up sneakers that call back to her bow, and the stripes on her uniform coordinating with her shoes. While Greta, like the other Frontier Brains, doesn’t specialize in a particular type, her hairstyle loosely resembles the Fighting/Psychic dual-type Pokemon, Meditite.
Greta’s in-game uniform has a red-and-blue colour scheme instead of the blue and purple uniform in her official character art; this red-and-blue scheme is also present in the anime. I prefer the blue-and-purple uniform, but either way, Greta’s outfit is cohesive, coordinated, and provides a stylish take on the series’ staple Fighting-type uniforms.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
When it comes to unjustly-forgotten human characters in the Pokemon series, Tucker is at the top of the list. The ‘Superstar’ head of the Battle Dome, Tucker unquestionably has one of the most spectaculator outfits the franchise has ever seen.
Tucker is serving glam rock realness head to toe, from his purple hair and golden headpiece down to his leotard, wings (yes!), and fabulous gogo boots (also yes!). We don’t often see this level of fun and exuberance from the franchise.
It’s disappointing that Tucker has essentially become a footnote in Pokemon history. As far as I’m aware Tucker has never been seen, or even alluded to, in any other Pokemon game (spinoff or otherwise). I would argue that Tucker would be a great fit for Masters EX – if Noland of all people can be included, Tucker surely can as well.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Lucy is the queen (yes, literal queen; it’s in her title) of the Battle Pike, a facility which directly resembles Seviper, a serpentine Pokemon introduced in Generation III. Lucy herself has a look inspired by Seviper, from literal head to toe.
Is Lucy’s outfit cosplay? In a sense, yes. But I’d argue that there is enough personal style here to distinguish Lucy’s look from a typical Halloween costume.
Lucy has an undeniable rock swagger – conveyed not only by the pose in her character art, but by the smaller details in her look as well. The curls and red streaks in her hair clearly resemble fangs but don’t feel too on-the-nose (to me, at least). I like that the gold scales on Seviper’s body are reinterpreted here as a belt. And the choice to keep the lower half of the look very minimalist compared to the detailed upper half was a wise decision. My only critique is about the shoes – they seem a bit conventional, and it might’ve been fun to have a red shoe instead.
In addition to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mention in the 2016 Hoenn remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Lucy has been a character in Pokemon Masters EX since July 2020. It’s welcome recognition.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Spenser leads the Battle Palace, an unusual facility in which trainers do not give commands in Pokemon battles; instead, Pokemon use moves depending on their individual Natures. Spenser’s design is a fairly good rendition of a pretty typical archetype. His outfit includes colours of all three Hoenn legendary Pokemon – Groudon’s red, Kyogre’s blue, and Rayquaza’s yellow – which makes me wonder if he originally had a role in the main storyline but was placed in the Battle Frontier instead.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Brandon (not to be confused with the game’s male playable character, Brendan) feels like a missed opportunity, from both costume and character design perspectives. (To be clear, Brandon and Brendan’s Japanese names are distinct, but the English localizers really should’ve known better.)
Brendan Brandon’s pleated jacket has possibilities, but they’re undercut by minor details. The belt is obtrusive. The hint of red in his collar could’ve been incorporated into the rest of the outfit. As well, the decision to have both a long pleated jacket and wide-legged shorts results in odd proportions. Either lengthen the jacket and remove the shorts, or remove the shorts entirely, I’m thinking.
As well, I’m not entirely sure who
Brendan Brandon is supposed to be. Human characters in the Pokemon series tend to be dressed in a very utilitarian fashion – sometimes to the franchise’s detriment – but when a character like Brendan Brandon okay this bit is getting ridiculous clearly has some sort of occupation, it would help if there were visual clues to his position.
Brandon doesn’t have a badly designed costume, but it definitely could’ve been taken in further, more interesting directions. It comes across as rather generic, which is the last thing you want when standing amongst a personable bunch of trainers.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Anabel is one of the most intriguing human characters in the Pokemon mainline series, though it might not be clear from her debut appearance in Emerald. In this game, she’s only known as the head of the Battle Tower, a regularly-recurring location that in Emerald is one of the Battle Frontier’s toughest challenges. (Her title in Japanese is Tower Tycoon, which was inexplicably changed to Salon Maiden in the English translation.)
Anabel’s outfit in Emerald is undeniably eye-catching, with an ethereal nature that stands apart from the outfits of her fellow Frontier Brains. Her outfit is also noticeably genderfluid, combining elements often associated with menswear, like the buttondown shirt collar and untucked shirttails, with more traditionally ‘feminine’ aspects, such as the blouse, puffy sleeves, Mary Jane shoes, and predominant lilac colour.
The hints of bright yellow are inspired; they pop against the purple aspects of the outfit and prevent the look from becoming too staid. I also have to applaud the contrast of Anabel’s dark purple hair and pants with the lavender colour of her vest, providing additional visual impact.
Anabel reappears in the 2016 Generation VII games Sun and Moon and their 2017 sequels, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. A decade before the events of Sun and Moon, Anabel arrived in Alola through a wormhole; since then, she’s become a high-ranking member of the worldwide International Police, specializing in supernatural phenomena. Anabel’s sleek, impeccably-fitted suit carries over the menswear themes from her original outfit, with smart detailing on the gloves. This is a fantastic way to reintroduce a character after a long absence.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I hope I’ve been able to demonstrate the many notable designs amongst the Hoenn Frontier Brains. If we’re lucky, we’ll see more of these characters reappear in the Pokemon franchise, either in spinoff titles like Masters EX or (fingers crossed) in the main series itself.
Next time: We conclude Elite Evaluations by reviewing the Generation IV Frontier Brains, featured in Platinum, HeartGold and SoulSilver. See you then!