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 second special edition of Elite Evaluations, we’re looking at the Frontier Brains featured in Generation IV titles: 2008’s Platinum and 2009’s HeartGold and SoulSilver.
The Battle Frontier in Generation IV has fewer facilities than its third-generation counterpart, and has fewer Frontier Brains to discuss as a result. However, perhaps in response to this narrower scope, the character designers have done great work across the board, creating a wide variety of memorable outfits. The header image is from Bulbapedia, and all other sources are cited throughout.
Because the Battle Frontiers are typically accessible following the events of the main storyline, Frontier Brains are generally disconnected from the other characters and narratives of their respective titles. Palmer is the rare exception.
Palmer is the Battle Tower Tycoon (a position previously occupied by Anabel in Emerald). But he’s also the father of Barry, the player’s rival in Platinum (as well as their predecessors, Diamond and Pearl), and shares his son’s boundless enthusiasm. (Unfortunately, all of Palmer’s references to his son are removed in HeartGold and SoulSilver. In those games, Palmer is just another Frontier Brain. I think the references could’ve stayed intact, but it isn’t a dealbreaker for me.)
Barry’s trademark colours are yellow, green, and orange, and it’s no surprise that we see them represented in his father’s outfit as well, albeit in darker and more subdued tones. I also like how the white turtleneck Palmer wears calls back to his son’s white-and-orange jacket. Palmer’s turtleneck is also very practical, as Sinnoh’s temperatures have dropped significantly in Platinum.
Palmer is the only Generation IV Frontier Brain who reappears in the 2021 Sinnoh remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. He once again is head of the Battle Tower, and even fights alongside his son in Double Battles. On its own, Palmer’s costume design is not necessarily notable, but the work put into his character elevates the outfit.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Like Palmer, Thorton takes over the title of a Hoenn Frontier Brain – in this case, the role of Factory Head, previously occupied by Noland in Emerald. Thorton is a very different approach to this sort of character; while Noland was older and depicted as working-class, Thorton is younger, sleeker, and more focused on technology.
The upper half of Thorton’s outfit is formal and businesslike; I particularly like his stylized tie. At the same time, other parts of his look – including his spiky hair, shorts, sneakers, and choice of a vest instead of a jacket – project a more youthful vibe. (Those hightop sneakers are particularly cool.) His muted, teal-and-olive colour palette is also great – it’s painstakingly coordinated, demonstrating Thorton’s attention to detail. I do wish that more had been done with his vest and shirt, as they lack the distinctiveness found in the rest of his outfit.
Thorton reappears in the mobile spinoff Pokemon Masters EX, where he has been an available character since the game’s release. His signature Pokemon in Masters EX is the Steel/Psychic-type Bronzong, whose blue-and-gray colour palette is an ideal match for his own attire.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Dahlia leads the Battle Arcade, a facility built around a giant slot machine, and is herself known as the Arcade Star. She has a fun, declarative, fully conceptualized ensemble; it’s casual but detailed at the same time. (I probably use the phrase ‘fully conceptualized’ far too much in these reviews, but I always appreciate a thoughtfully-designed look in a franchise with so many underwhelming human characters.)
Dahlia’s outfit is casual but coordinated at the same time, from her hair down to her sandals. The blue and yellow colour combination is cohesive and dynamic. Note the slight difference in shades of yellow between Dahlia’s sweater and her accessories, which is impressive attention to detail. (Another clever detail: the print on her belt is the Battle Frontier logo.)
Dahlia would’ve fit in perfectly with the more low-key, casual approach taken to the costume design of the Sinnoh Gym Leaders and Elite Four, and I could easily picture her as the region’s Electric-type Gym Leader. (No shade to everyone’s favourite Sad Gay, Volkner.)
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Darach is only sort of the head of the Battle Castle: he actually serves its true owner, the impetuous young Lady Caitlin, and battles trainers on her behalf. (Caitlin reappears as a member of the Unova Elite Four in Generation V.)
Darach is described as Castle Valet – though his outfit reads more like ‘butler’ to me. I do appreciate the details that elevate Darach’s outfit from a typical uniform. The purple-and-gold colour scheme is very regal; it suggests he occupies an elevated position beyond that of a butler. Darach’s slicked-back striped hair is fun, almost punk-like, and goes against what one might normally expect from a butler. It’s well-executed character and costume design.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Argenta is the leader of the Battle Hall, and possibly the most challenging Frontier Brain to reach in both Generations III and IV. (One can only fight Argenta after completing fifty battles in her facility, whereas the other Frontier Brains in Generation IV can be fought after less than half of that many battles.)
Perhaps appropriately, Argenta is also the oldest – if not the oldest-seeming – member of the Frontier Brains in this generation. (Her English title, Hall Matron, certainly contributes to this impression.) As we saw with Noland in the previous article, Argenta’s outfit similarly has the colours of a Poke Ball, but here they’re richer, deeper colours, suggesting age and luxury. (She also has killer shades and boots. My one qualm is with the turquoise earrings, which are a huge needle-scratch, and seem out of place given the rest of her outfit’s aesthetic.)
While we don’t know much about Argenta as a character, I can easily imagine the type of person she’d be, outside of her role as a Frontier Brain. She would either write mysteries or solve them (or perhaps both; I can totally see her in a Murder, She Wrote scenario). She probably owns her own red-and-white motorbike, which she rides throughout the English countryside, and which probably comes with a sidecar for her trusted canine companion (who of course wears a matching striped helmet). The earrings could even be excused as something she bought on her travels, or given to her by a former beau she unexpectedly runs into at a country estate or seaside resort.
I could write an entire biography for Argenta, is what I’m saying, based on her outfit alone. It’s impeccable costume design.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
We’ve come to the end of the Elite Evaluations series – at least for now – and to a pause in my Pokemon costume design posts. While I could write for years about costumes in this franchise (and plan to again write about them in the future), I’ve decided to turn my attention to the costumes of a different iconic franchise: Final Fantasy. And in particular, I’ll be discussing its villains.
My next project will see the return of my Just Add Capes column, this time with a new theme: Designing Final Fantasy Villains. (A lot of these villains have capes.) Each article will be a deep-dive into a specific character’s looks, rather than the compilations I’ve done in the past. I’m excited to tackle some of the most memorably-dressed antagonists in the Final Fantasy series, including both iconic characters and some more surprising picks. See you then!