It cannot be overstated how many Pokémon mangas there are. We’ve already covered the Electric Tale of Pikachu (pre-Orange Islands,) but there are also Gag Mangas (like Pokémon Pocket Monsters,) Shoujo (Magical Pokémon Journey,) Slice-of-Life (How I Became A Pokémon Card…)
And then, there’s Pokémon Special, translated by Viz media as Pokémon Adventures.
When people talk about the Pokémon manga, this is usually the one they’re talking about. Much like the anime, it’s been running since 1997, with no end in sight. However, unlike the anime, protagonists rotate over time, the story of the games is loosely followed, and there’s usually a real sense of progress. Even as the storylines move forward, there’s always a chance that older protagonists will continue to be major players in the plot.
For fans outside of Japan, this is the Pokémon adaptation that they’ve been clamoring for ever since they grew tired of the anime. And this is why the Viz Media of the late nineties ought to be publicly shamed.
The initial release of Pokémon Adventures came in two forms. First were the slim tankobons used in the Electric Tale of Pikachu releases. Second were double-chapter comics available on a subscription basis. Neither of these were built to last, especially the double-chapter comics, which would last a long time before suddenly and inexplicably falling apart. So, naturally, the first releases are hard to find. On top of this, they stopped releasing new volumes seven tankobons in, meaning that the Yellow arc was only just barely finished.
And so the series sat, prosperous in Japan, but stagnant outside (unless you were lucky enough to live in Singapore, where an official English translation was sold by Chuang Yi.) Viz Media made no real effort to continue the series, but as what could either be interpreted as an apology or a screw you, they released a pair of “best of” volumes, each one being some of the most pivotal chapters of the two arc they picked. If you have these, please put them down, and try to locate the full versions. There is so much cut- for example, the entire Silph arc had to be removed from the Best of Red collection, as well as most of Team Rocket’s involvement at all.
During this time, the only way to reliably read the mangas was either paying a lot of money to import the Chuang Yi versions, or locate a scanlation. I remember that Dragon Guard had actually started scanlating the GS arc when Viz Media, nearly ten years after they blew their chance at earning all our money, sent out C&D orders to all scanlators. In the same movement, they announced their intention to re-release the old volumes, and continue from there.
Now, my initial reaction was ecstatic. Then, I saw the release schedule. It would be a year and a half before they reached the point I had. But then, another problem arose when they finally got the GSC arc out- they skipped their releases ahead ten years, and started putting out the Black and White chapter. All the older arcs would still get a release, of course- at random, and with very little in the way of prior announcement. And it didn’t help that as a consequence of how few BW chapters had actually been released in Japan at the time, they were selling the manga at half-size, half-quality, and three-quarters the price of an average manga.
It is no secret that Viz has screwed this series over constantly since its initial 1998 US release. There’s no way in hell that One Piece, Bleach, or Naruto would have to deal with this. Hell, One Piece caught up with the Japanese version in a matter of months- about forty volumes over the course of a year. If Viz cared at all, the localization would not have the problems that it does.
You ought to be ashamed, Viz.
With that massive rant out of the way, I’d like to clarify- yes, I am actually planning on reviewing the manga. I’m going to be using the second-edition Viz release- the one that most people have access to. Localized names will be used. So yes, I know that Green is Blue and Blue is Green depending on which side of the Pacific you’re on. But I’m reviewing what I have my hands on. No need to cause any more confusion than necessary.
I would like to note that unlike the old volumes, the new ones are actually well-made, for the most part. They don’t feel like they’re going to fall apart- the only ones that feel that way are the ones I picked up at the library, in the children’s section. As in, where I have watched books be chucked across the room. Viz actually can make a quality book when they feel like it.
Adventure 1: A Glimpse of the Glow
So, the story kicks off in Pallet Town. What a surprise. We see a crowd of children cornering a Nidorino, which looks surprisingly chill about this situation. Seriously, except for a single growling sound effect, it doesn’t seem to be upset at all by the kids trying to capture it. Maybe it’s because of how badly they’re doing it? One of the kids tosses a single ball, which bounces off of it. It doesn’t need to be worried.
That is, until Red shows up. Red’s the protagonist of the manga. He’s directly based on the protagonist of the games, and the template upon which every male Kanto-based Pokémon protagonist is based. I bring all this up because although he’s only one version of the silent protagonist of the games, he and Ash are based on the same character. It strikes me as funny how close the two are when you consider that Red provides a capture tutorial here, but Ash needs to be reminded in BW that you need to weaken a Pokémon before you capture it.
Red uses a Poliwhirl for the tutorial, revealing something about Adventures that’s fairly unusual for the meta-series. Here, your starter is not necessarily your first Pokémon. Not even Blue, grandson of the legendary starter distributor Professor Oak, began with his starter.
So, Nidorino is captured (and is likelyperms-boxed off-screen,) and Red begins heading home, revealing a massive ego in the narration boxes. You think Ash is arrogant, but he never claimed to be the best trainer in Pallet. Red also makes mention of catching every Pokémon. I’m not sure if this is using the old script from the original release, but it’s interesting seeing that slogan used here, given that at the time of this edition’s release, the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” slogan had been retired six years. It would not be revived for another four. Anachronism or callback- you decide.
It quickly becomes apparent that, ego or no, Red is popular enough to have a crowd of other kids follow him around. They ask him about Professor Oak, and whether he has any interest in going to learn about Pokémon from him. Blue is teased for a minute before Red basically brushes the idea off, says good-bye to his friends we’ll never see again, and promptly bumps into a Rocket Grunt.
There’s a whole bunch of them, and they’re talking about tracking something down. Red looks at this shady group of men dressed like troublemakers, and decides that the best option here would be to beat them to their target- a phantom Pokémon that for the time being, goes unnamed. Grabbing a massive armful of Poké Balls (possibly from home,) Red begins combing the woods. He happens in on a battle between a trainer and a glowing, pink cat fetus he’s never seen before.
The trainer’s name goes unmentioned here, but he has his (abso-frickin-lutely adorable) Charmander battle the thing. Charmander’s outclassed, completely unable to hit its target, so its trainer recalls it- okay, its trainer is Blue. It’s obviously Blue. But anyway, Blue recalls his Charmander, and Red protests. Red takes a shot at capturing it, and is promptly curb-stomped. Poliwhirl is beaten, and its opponent escapes.
Blue departs after chastising Red for picking that particular fight, revealing that he was actually paying attention to his own. Red is momentarily broken by the loss, but isn’t given time to angst, as Team Rocket charges into the clearing, shouting about how this twerp lost them the Mew they’d been searching for. They then break away, as their time is better spent chasing Mew than killing the kid that fought it.
Red picks himself up, and leaves the forest. He figures that the best way to become stronger is to maybe take his nameless friends’ advice, and maybe check out this Professor Oak person.
And that’s Chapter 1. The length may surprise you after EToP, but Adventure has fifteen-page chapters. Meaning that a single-chapter review is out of the question here.
As opening chapters go, this one is… okay. Not awful. We get to learn a bit about our protagonist, as well as the tiniest bit about the world he lives in. It’s nowhere near as good as the first anime episode, but given that it’s a two-parter, we still have time to end on a good note.
Adventure 2: Bulbasaur, Come Home!
This chapter starts off with Red just walking into Oak’s laboratory. Please note that in this version, his lab also appears to be his house. And that it’s dark inside. Clearly, what Red is doing is illegal, but he’s the protagonist. He’s going to be fine.
He finds himself surrounded by Poké Balls on all the shelves, and of course, decides to pick up and play with one- a Bulbasaur. Here’s something kinda neat about Adventures- the tops of the Poké Balls are translucent, and you can see the miniaturized Pokémon inside. This is utilized by Red to force his Poliwhirl and the Bulbasaur to stare at each other.
Thankfully, this foolishness is broken up by Professor Oak seconds later as he charges into the room, mistaking Red for a thief. Not an unreasonable assumption, but… Why did you just leave your door unlocked?
…Further question, why would you rig all the Balls to a button that releases every Pokémon in the lab when pushed? Or in this case, when Red stumbles backwards into it. In the ensuing pandemonium, a Pidgey shits on Oak, and Red is made to help Oak round up all of the escapees. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, some make it out the front door, and the pair have to make a beeline for Viridian to get all of them back.
After much offscreen chasing, they’re down to only Bulbasaur, who they see running into the Viridian Gym. Oak tries to approach it, and ends up with a bruised gut for his troubles. Red tries a gentle approach, and it actually works. Bulbasaur’s good to travel again, and they almost get out the door before a wild Machoke shows up, looking for a fight.
…Maybe it got loose from Victory Road? I don’t know. It’s never explained how a wild evolved Pokémon made it into Viridian without being captured or even noticed.
It goes after Red and Oak, but is held in place by Bulbasaur’s Vine Whip. Red looks to Oak for advice, but OAK has fainted, leaving Red to try and think his way out of the situation. Machoke breaks away from the Vine, and charges Red, who’s standing by a boarded-up window. As it breaks free, however, Red notices sunlight streaming through the window, and ducks as the attack comes through. The attack shatters the window, shines light on Bulbasaur, and allows it to Solar Beam the Machoke into submission.
Later, Oak questions Red about the fight, and Red reveals that he kind of bullshitted his way through the fight. Oak is impressed by this (???,) and gives him Bulbasaur. Red discusses his loss to Mew, and Oak gives him a talk about how his connection to his Pokémon is all he needs to become powerful. …implying that he doesn’t have a real connection to Poliwhirl?
Anyway, Oak hands him the Pokédex, and sends him on his way.
Overall, a better chapter than the first, I think. The action sequence is easier to follow, and Red seems a bit more sympathetic overall. My one gripe is with Oak, who seems… inconsistent. Like he says one thing, and accidentally implies another. Or he rigs one button to release every Pokémon he owns. Certainly strange, but he’ll get better as time goes on.
Next time, we’ll see the proper introduction of a rival, and see one line that has started countless flame wars since its being put to paper.