Weekend Rewind: Pokemon

In which Colleen reviews the “Pokémon: Indigo League” pilot.

As we all know, Pokémon is seeing something of a renaissance in the last few weeks corresponding to the release of Pokémon Go. So I figured I’d jump head-first onto the bandwagon and post a review of the original Pokémon anime, “Pokémon: Indigo League.”  

Like many people of my generation, I watched the series religiously when it first came out. I begged my parents to take me to the first Pokémon movie, “Mewtwo Strikes Back,” and was damn near ecstatic when they handed out shiny holographic Mew cards with our movie tickets. And…then I sort of fell off the bandwagon. I haven’t watched an episode since probably 2001, but I still have very fond recollections of the show. So I was somewhat hesitant to revisit it and potentially destroy those nostalgia-tinged memories, but I took the plunge anyways.

I gotta say, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. Sure, the high-pitched voices are a little grating to my non-child ears, but there was also a surprising amount of humor and warmth that I didn’t remember. For those who might have forgotten, the pilot episode of “Pokémon: Indigo League” details Ash Ketchum’s very first day as a Pokémon trainer. He starts off on the wrong foot by oversleeping, arrives at Professor Oak’s laboratory too late to get any of the good starter Pokémon, and ends up with a willful and kinda mean Pikachu. Pikachu pretty much hates Ash: he refuses to get into his Pokeball or to help Ash catch other Pokémon, he electrocutes Ash several times, and he laughs when the boy is attacked by a swarm of Spearows. But eventually Ash proves he is willing to protect Pikachu and the electric mouse drives off the attackers with a bolt of lightning, and thus begins a beautiful friendship.

What do I like about this pilot?
Ah, the nostalgia. Misty, Ash, Professor Oak, Gary…I was sad to realize that neither Brock nor Team Rocket were in this episode. I was surprised how much I actually remembered about the pilot—for some reason, the mental image of Ash’s mother reminding him “Don’t forget to change your underwear!” has stuck with me quite vividly in the intervening fifteen years. Also, I love the Pokedex. I thought it was just some kind of hand-held encyclopedia of Pokémon, but that thing has got to have some form of AI. It’s so sassy!

Speaking of sassy, were there always catchy little 1990’s-style raps of Pokémon names at the end of every episode? I don’t remember any, but I was pleasantly surprised by the jams.

What don’t I like?
Holy logic bumps, Batman! There are so many contradictory and/or morally questionable aspects to the Pokémon world that I never considered as a child. For instance, how does one become a Pokémon trainer? Ash is allowed to pick up Pikachu and venture out into the world at the tender age of ten because… what? He clearly doesn’t have any sort of practical training. Do you have to pass any sort of test to be a Pokémon trainer? What about a survival skills class?

Not to mention the moral quandary involved with training Pokémon in the first place. Children are going out into the world, capturing wild animals and keeping them in tiny balls. And then the animals are released to compete in vicious battles so that their masters can gain some meaningless acclaim. At one point in the pilot Ash actually shouts “Enjoy your last moments of freedom, Pidgey, ‘cause you’re mine!” Sinister.

This is all explained away by the show’s assurances that Pokémon actually want to be captured and trained; the Pokedex tells Ash that wild Pokémon are often jealous of their human-trained counterparts. Riiiiight. Nice try, Pokedex.

I’ll give this pilot four out of ten Dodrios. It doesn’t really hold up for me anymore, and though I still have very fond memories of the show, I don’t think I’ll be re-watching it anytime soon. It’s really just an exercise in nostalgia at this point. I guess I’ll just stick to capturing my own Pokémon with Pokémon Go, moral quandaries be damned.