Well, here we are at last, Internet. This is going to be one of the big ones. This here is what many people immediately think of when they hear the phrase “Pokémon.” This is what got many of us into the franchise. This is one of the longest-running anime series in existence.
It’s time to talk about the Pokémon anime.
Now, I’m going to be up-front about this fact- while most people were watching this anime, I was forbidden by parental mandate from watching this show. I didn’t see a single episode until I was seven. I didn’t give it a real effort until I was fourteen. I have not watched more than forty consecutive episodes of the show before starting this project.
I do not harbor any deep nostalgic feelings for this show.
However, I recognize its significance, and do enjoy watching it on occasion. If I see a blatant plot hole or objectively stupid moment, I will point it out. However, don’t think for a minute that I’m trying to be unfair. This show is one of my favorites, and I’m doing everything in my power to keep the reviews balanced.
One more thing to keep in mind is that I now own the DVD box sets for the Indigo League arc, and this means two things. First is that I no longer have any excuses for delays. The second is that I can break up this long, long, LONG series of reviews with other content, like Pokémon Special, or one of the CDs (or if I feel like it, something non-Pokémon.)
So, without further ado, let’s open up the DVD case, and get viewing!
Episode 001: Pokémon, I Choose You!
And we’re opening up with a tangent. Guys, if you plan on watching this show, buy the DVDs instead of relying on Pokémon.com’s video streaming. You get a more reliable selection of episodes, you get the ability to marathon the show, and most importantly, you actually get the Pokémon Theme attached to the beginning. Snazzy!
So, Episode 1. If you see any single episode of Pokémon, it has to be this one. We get a lot here- exposition, action, and the introduction of the immortal we’re all going to follow for the next seventeen plus years. It’s a huge first episode, and it’s certainly a textbook case on how to start your series.
After we finish with one of the best dubbed anime themes of all time, we’re shown an animated simulation of the opening to Red and Green. I’m going to be totally honest with you here- this is pretty much the perfect opening for this show. Yeah, I have problems with it- the somewhat jerky animation here manages to look marginally worse than the black-and-white display it’s trying to imitate, but this goes straight out the window the second the transition from game to cartoon happens, and the chiptunes blossom into a full orchestra.
This right here is amazing. It’s an amazing concept- here’s what’s going on inside your Game Boy, kids! It’s executed very well, and does an amazing job of getting me excited for what’s about to happen.
Then, the hammy announcer starts talking, and you remember that this is a dub of an anime from the 1990s.
While this jarring shift in tone happens, we watch a Nidorino put up absolutely zero fight against a Gengar before being recalled by his trainer (and as a note to anyone who played the games- yeah, it’s ridiculous that Bruno is using a Nidorino. They could have used any random trainer here, but they decided that a member of the Elite Four either has no access to Moon Stones, or simply refuses to use them.) The trainer then throws in an Onix. Note the Green Poké Ball- it’ll never show up again.
We pull out past the TV screen, and meet our protagonist- the perpetually ten-year-old Ash Ketchum. We’re given a brief exposition about the series that manages to pack more information into sixty seconds than most political ads, basically telling us about how ten-year-olds are allowed to go off by themselves to capture Pokémon, and compete in the Indigo League. Ash gets really involved in a monologue about this, and ends up tossing his alarm clock at his mother when she surprises him.
So, yeah. This guy’s our hero. What’s the first thing he does in this role? Fall asleep far too late, display just a bit of somnambulism, and oversleep the next day because he threw his alarm clock again, this time in his sleep and at a wall.
I’ll let that sink in for a second. This guy tossed his alarm clock at a wall hard enough to break it apart. In his sleep. And didn’t wake up the second it happened.
Possible? Doubtful. Plausible? Not even! Forgivable, considering the payoff? Very.
The next morning, Ash wakes up to discover that he’s overslept. He rushes off to Professor Oak’s lab in his pajamas, where he just so happens to run into the one, the only, Gary Motherfucking Oak.
The two talk back and forth, and Gary acts like a jerk on the way out. Big surprise, given that this guy is Ash’s equivalent of Blue from the games (except the bit where you destroy him at Indigo Plateau, but that’s a story for a much later episode.)
While Ash is busy frothing over Gary’s rudeness, Professor Oak sneaks up on him, and calls Ash out on his lateness and manner of dress. This really doesn’t act as a deterrent for Ash, so Oak brings him inside to screw with his head. Oh, you think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a look at the scene in question. Ash comes into the lab, and grabs Squirtle’s Ball, only to discover that it’s empty. Ditto for Bulbasaur and Charmander’s. Oak lets Ash go through all of these, knowing full well in advance that all the Balls are empty, supplying an incredible poker face throughout a subtle verbal beatdown about the importance of punctuality.
Professor Oak is a troll, plain and simple.
Anyway, Oak reveals that he has one more Pokémon- that adorable rodent with the lightning-shooting powers that you’d have to be blind not to recognize on sight, Pikachu. The only thing is, something that people who haven’t watched this episode in a while seem to forget is that early on, Pikachu is disobedient, a bit trigger-happy, and just a touch sociopathic. Pikachu spends his first couple of minutes onscreen electrocuting people, apparently not caring if bystanders are in the way.
After Ash finally gets moving, he changes back into his one day outfit that he’ll spend the next two hundred and fifty-some-odd episodes wearing. Meanwhile, he also dons a pair of rubber gloves, and drags Pikachu along on a rope.
Allow me to reiterate this: Ash is our hero. Admittedly, Pikachu is making their relationship difficult, but Ash doesn’t make a real attempt to bond with it prior to dragging it a few miles down the road. Before this, he runs over and picks it up before trying to see if Pikachu is okay with being touched, which conventional logic tells you that you should do when approaching any strange animals. Furthermore, he spends the next few scenes acting all smug, talking about winning the League with Pikachu’s help, something that Pikachu hasn’t even agreed with. By the time they’re down the road, no wonder they’re having issues bonding with each other.
So, Ash finally figures out that Pikachu doesn’t like this arrangement, and unties him. Pikachu still won’t recognize Ash as his trainer, but it’s not electrocuting him, so that’s a step up.
Ash catches sight of a Pidgey, and we cut to commercial. Now, as long as we’re here, let’s discuss the eyecatches. Whenever the show cut to commercial, there was a segment called “Who’s That Pokémon?” This was a bit where they showed a blue silhouette of a Pokémon that was (sometimes) related to the plot of the episode. Yeah, it’s a neat little thing for the kids, but why keep them on the DVDs? On TV, they served as a sort of guessing game to keep the kids watching. Here, it’s just filler.
Anyway, it’s Pikachu, in case it wasn’t glaringly obvious. Honestly, rather than guess, I usually just make jokes about how it’s Ditto. I can never be wrong with this.
The show comes back, and Ash is about to make a serious effort at capturing a Pidgey. By himself, it seems, because Pikachu isn’t interested in helping Ash out. His first attempt is laughable- it easily breaks out of the Ball. Attempt #2 is even worse- he tries capturing it in his jacket. What was that supposed to do, exactly? Capturing Pokémon doesn’t work like that, and he should know this. Then again, he didn’t know the Poké Balls aren’t nearly as effective on Pokémon that are at full health…
Anyway, the attempt fails, Ash gets his food stolen by a Rattata, and he starts throwing rocks. Any Pidgeys in the area skedaddle pretty quickly at this point, so he chucks one at the first bird-shaped thing he can see.
So, it turns out that tossing rocks at birds is a bad idea when the docile ones hang out in the same general area as ones that will gladly tear your eyes out at the first opportunity. Ash only hits one target- a Spearow. The second he figures out his mistake, the thing starts attacking him.
…And then focuses on Pikachu. Um, what?
Ash’s PokéDex fills him in on the fact that wild Pokémon are often jealous of trained ones. Oh, yeah. Because they’ll behave this way on more than just this occasion, and this isn’t just an excuse to have Pikachu toast the bastard.
That’s what ends up happening, but instead of fixing the problem, it just makes it worse. We discover that in Pokémon, Spearows are the zerglings of the sky. They’re never alone, and they’ll mess you up in groups. The downed Spearow calls his allies, and an entire flock takes to the air to pursue the Ash and Pikachu.
So, after a few somewhat out-of-place shots showing off Pokémon that are definitely not on Route 1, Pikachu is injured, and Ash jumps off a waterfall to prevent further injury to Pikachu. They’re pulled downriver by a fast-moving current, and are accidentally rescued by Misty, who gets them out of the lake using a fishing pole and a poor understanding of physics. She berates Ash for Pikachu being injured by the Spearows.
Who, by the way, are still following them. How the hell do these birds know where they are? The waterfall isn’t in the shot, and there’s no way they could have followed him at the speed he was moving. Unless they’re psychic, there’s no way they could have known that Ash would be rescued.
…Moving right along, Ash commits a felony by stealing Misty’s bike. Pikachu’s too injured to move, and Ash can’t run especially fast while holding him, so the thought process is correct. However, instead of asking for it with some quick explanations, Ash just grabs it and bikes off, slinging a half-hearted promise to return a bike to a girl he’s never met before “someday.”
I reiterate- this is our protagonist. The guy we’re supposed to be rooting for. This is the guy we’ll be following for over 750 episodes, more than sixteen movies, and numerous manga. He just steals the bike. He never stops to think about it, and after a certain event later on, he completely forgets about it until it gets brought up again.
This is our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
Moving right along, a thunderstorm starts as the Spearows catch up to him, and take his attention away enough so that he pilots the bike right off a small cliff. Pikachu is tossed off the bike about fifteen feet. Ash crawls over to Pikachu, and urges him to get inside the Poké Ball before stading up, and giving the Spearows a speech about how he’s going to become a Pokémon Master. What sucks about watching this scene is I know it’s cheesy. I know he burns 30 seconds saying a bunch of words that add up to nothing. I know that it makes no sense from a logical standpoint.
But god damn, is it cool.
At this point, Pikachu decides that he’s had enough (wouldn’t you after a day like that?) He climbs up on Ash’s back, jumps into a lightning bolt (I’ve decided to stop questioning it,) and Thundershocks the living hell out of everything that’s given him even an ounce of crap that day. That’s every Spearow in the flock, Ash, and the bike.
We cut to much later, after the storm. Ash and Pikachu return to consciousness at exactly the same moment (You know what? I give up.) Ash sees Ho-oh flying across the sky, and his apparently-waterproof PokéDex tells him that he doesn’t know what it is. Ash picks up Pikachu, and begins the long walk to Viridian City as the narrator gives us a stock “begining of adventure” speech.
And that there’ the first episode.
Where do I start with this thing? There’s no doubt that there are a number of inconsistencies and violations of basic logic that occur throughout, but it’s overall a good episode. It manages to press all the right buttons emotionally, and delivers a decent enough first episode to warrant a pass.
Oh, yeah, and I’m not afraid to admit it- on at least one occasion, I’ve bawled my eyes out at this episode.
Next time, we’ll have a look at the introduction of our main recurring villains. Except considering what happens to them rapidly over the course of this show, we’re going to get a very different product than what we bargained for.