Revisiting the Pokémon Anime

I have criticised the Pokémon anime in the past, but recently I’ve gone back to watch the original Pokémon anime in mandarin, and I’ve been enjoying a lot. Approaching the series with the additional aspect of learning a language has made it more interesting for me, and allowed me to appreciate the better aspects of the show. Allow me to talk about the good aspects of the show, as well as the bad, and my thoughts for the future as I continue to revisit it.

When I was a kid watching this show, Ash’s incompetence and lack of progress was often very frustrating. The pacing was just so slow. But especially in the first series it actually makes sense for Ash to not know these things, and it’s fun to watch him learn. Maybe after 1000+ episodes of training, it’s quite tough to see Pikachu loose to a level 5 Snivy, and it’s for that reason that I feel the original series is the main one worth watching. Having to reset every generation feels like the opposite of power creep, like the more and more Pokémon continues the more unrealistic it is how weak Ash is.

Anyway, I feel these are all valid criticisms. The pacing really is too slow, the problems become more apparent the more the show continues and there is a lot of filler. However, I feel that these criticisms largely stem from a disagreement with the philosophy of how the anime was made. I understand why this happened because the philosophy of Pokémon is so different to that of most series’, and it’s completely different to the way we play the games, but it should be very obvious that the show is just trying to be a fun series of adventures that kids and families can enjoy, rather than a quest to the Pokémon league and to become the Pokémon master.

I think it’s only possible to enjoy the series if you understand that completely. It’s so much of the reason why Ash doesn’t often make progress, why he goes off and does something random, why team rocket always appear and slow progress dramatically, and why Pokémon can still reach the champions league without evolving at level 16. These decisions are complete nonsense to someone who cares about winning the champions league, but make a lot of sense from the perspective of the writers who want to just find unique ideas to entertain the viewer and to expand the world of Pokémon. I really don’t think that it’s because they needed to reach a certain amount of episodes – when I looked online there weren’t actually that many episodes considered filler, so they could have easily replaced them with other concepts and kept the length, I seriously think it’s because what they want is nothing to do with that.

And it makes sense, the real purpose of this anime is to make money with the games and the merchandise, so to do that they need to make it accessible to a younger audience who also loves adventure, also doesn’t know anything about Pokémon and needs to see cool things in the world of Pokémon to become immersed in it. If we look at it from that perspective, ignoring our own opinions of what we want the show to be, it really succeeds massively at its goals.

The scale of the world in the Pokémon games is tiny, whereas in the anime it’s immense. I really appreciate the imagination used and the effort to create new things to bring the world to life. Even in just the few opening episodes, I’ve seen gangs of Pokémon attacking people, Pokémon day cares in hidden forests, and obscure lighthouses which have never before seen Pokémon! It’s a lot of imagination which may just be taken for granted as a lot of concepts from the Pokémon anime have really stuck.

The initial Pokémon episodes are devoid of filler, Ash even catches two Pokémon in the same episode, which is something that I swear is unheard of! I use the phrase ‘void of filler’ lightly as I would consider something such as an entire episode of irrelevance yet a Pokémon is caught by Misty as not filler. I was quite worried by the filler, by episode 15 Ash already had 3 badges meaning so much was to come, but it’s actually the 111th episode where Ash wins, so it doesn’t seem to be that bad. I know he catches a lot of Pokémon and uses a large variety of them so with that in mind I’m much less worried about it.

But I do have a problem with the way people treat the filler in Pokémon for the following reason: it’s all the same. The only difference between a filler episode and a non-filler is that at the end a Pokémon is caught, a move is learned, or an evolution happens. Literally everything else is the exact same.

I understand the idea of only wanting to watch non-filler episodes from the perspective of someone who wants to watch the anime while saving time. What I don’t understand is someone who complains about filler in Pokémon while also really loving the rest of the episodes, because even the non-filler is pretty irrelevant and slow most of the time. I feel it’s impossible to be someone who wants to avoid irrelevant content, only watching the important episodes while still enjoying them.

Pokémon is about the random adventure happening in the obscure place you’ve never heard of, it’s not a determined and passionate race to the champions league even if you do avoid filler. I’ve seen a lot of episodes that I thought were filler, until right at the end something happened that made me realise it wasn’t, this is the essence of what the Pokémon anime is. I really wish it was different, and I wish we had more alternatives such as Pokémon Generations, origins, and the manga (which is more fast paced as you can generally read manga quite quickly) to entertain other kinds of fans, however I can’t deny there is a demand for simple adventure, and many people around the world do enjoy Pokémon for what it is.

The first episode that is generally considered filler is episode 8, where Ash goes to a cool off-licence gym. Although Ash doesn’t progress, it does introduce a new character in a way that makes me feel like he’ll return and be important later, making it seem not filler. Episode 18 is another episode considered to be filler, however it solves a massively important cliff-hanger, shows great character and insight into the Pokémon of Team Rocket, establishes how Team Rocket make a lot of their money, and shows how the team get to the new place. If this episode didn’t exist, there would be one episode where they are about to die, and another episode where they appear in a new place. Clearly something important to the story has been missed. This is all the filler I’ve seen so far, and I really struggle to distinguish it from the rest of the show just because a new Pokémon is caught etc.

When appreciating the show for what it actually is, I have enjoyed it more. Now that I am an adult, going back to this adventure to feel like I’m a kid again and simply enjoy fun adventure is more satisfying than actually watching it as a kid and being annoyed at how slow and irrelevant some of the episodes were. It’s funny how that works out sometimes. I knew that I would enjoy the show more actually from the first episode.

When I watched it for the first time, I was (maybe understandably for a kid) annoyed that Ash’s Pikachu was so misbehaved, and that the episode was so slow, yet now I really appreciate the character development and insight into the episode.

The adventures can be hit or miss, with some much better than others, but I have been enjoying all the interesting places and concepts of episodes. These adventures can also go above and beyond expectations. There was a three episode life and death adventure on the SS Anne rather than just simply going on the boat and arriving, and it definitely wasn’t the longest and most drawn out boat arc in anime or manga, and a lot of the gyms try to do things that are more interesting than just a battle for the entire episode. Ash normally loses, even in gyms where he should win straight away (by using different Pokémon) but it does add drama, Lt.Surge’s gym fight had the extra bonus of Pikachu wanting to beat Rachu as he was, without the need for evolution, and Sabrina’s gym battle had the fate of Ash’s companions on the line as they had turned into tiny dolls. The adventures can be really interesting, and done well.

Listening to the characters in another language, not even the original, made me realise that the English voice actors are pretty trash. To me, they now sound overly childish and this contributes to making the events that happened seem less serious and important. When I checked with my girlfriend who speaks Mandarin, she however said that the mandarin voice actors were really trash, so I feel cartoony voices delivered with the intention of children hearing it will always feel trash and as if your being spoken down to in your own language. Anyway, watching in a different language made it as if I could see much more of the characters than I would have seen otherwise.

Let’s talk about Ash. He’s really great. The bond he has with Pikachu is so nice to see develop, and he really cares about Pokémon. He starts from literally zero, and so has great opportunity for development, and his character really facilitates the adventure-like nature of the story. Even at this stage in his journey, I know he will go on to disappoint millions, but right now he’s a really innocent kid who is just learning about Pokémon and he is such a good character to facilitate the adventure like nature of the story. He’s always willing to go out of his way to help people and the bond he shares with his Pokémon is so genuine.

Misty is very cool too, her Mandarin voice actor especially makes her character shine much better than in English. She reluctantly travels with Ash, but clearly starts to join the group out of choice, dropping the idea of ever getting he bicycle back. She’s often seen berating Ash, giving good advice and is a great companion for adventure. I never used to laugh at the things her character says in English, but I find her sentiments more funny now that she speaks differently.

Brock feels like a solid rock that can always be relied on and in addition the answer of the question “How do they eat every day?” and “How do they wash their clothes?” has very interesting character traits. He’s able to both help the rest of the party by acting as an adult, yet still have moments of immaturity. He is still hopeless with women, but in the version that I watch, he seems like more of a mature adult, rather than the crazed lunatic we see later. Brock seems to have more of a confident attitude in English, and I think playing this down works well as often his actions don’t match the attitude of this voice. I also feel this is more realistic and more relatable, which makes me appreciate him much more than before.

Last of all, I want to talk about one of the main annoyances for me, which is Team Rocket. Team Rocket tend to be a fan favourite, and don’t get me wrong, I do like their appearance some of the time. But it feels their appearance in every single episode is a bit absurd.

As soon as Team Rocket appear to attack, you know that absolutely nothing will happen and no story will occur for the next 2-5 minutes as they will just defeat them like they always do. Team Rocket’s threat is literally zero, and they have never succeeded, unless you count temporarily succeeding before being defeated, which I don’t.

They do have some good qualities though. It’s really great to have Meowth to translate what the other Pokémon are saying. They still manage to be quite likable, often having funny interactions and acting as companions to the rest on their journey. There are also some episodes where they are needed. In particular episodes where if Team Rocket weren’t there, there would be no Pokémon battle or areas of tension. They are quite good here, as they can basically be the anime’s way of always being able to have a battle and a cool ending from literally any situation.

I do often think they are detrimental as well. When there are a lot of things happening in the story already, and they already have conflicts, it just feels like too much to include them as well. When this happens, they will often appear for an extremely small amount of time and then not appear again. If they are going to appear for a small amount of time anyway, then why not include them in some episodes at all?

Even their catchphrase begins to get boring to the adventurers as they watch, so I feel it’s reasonable to be bored of it myself. I always thought it was there to save money and re-use animation, but they often put a spin on it with different lines and add extra animation, it can be quite funny, but I really don’t want to see their normal speech again and only want to see things that are different.

These reasons are part of why I initially considered going back to try and watch black and white instead, because Team Rocket don’t appear as much, however I wanted to watch the series where Ash actually wins, and I really didn’t want to watch sun and moon.

Team Rocket in my opinion would be more formidable if they actually succeed, which can’t be done in a kids show. So the next step is to not overuse them, but to build up their prestige like in episode one, and have other areas of conflict instead, saving their appearance for moments that feel special, rather than constant and overused. As an example, the creator of Phoenix Wright knew that he couldn’t overuse Edgeworth as he can’t be an amazing attorney yet still loose to Phoenix five times in a row, thus he doesn’t appear often, yet when he does, he’s still a good threat. I feel if Team Rocket were more like that their appearance in the series wouldn’t be nearly as controversial.

So far, Team Rocket’s appearances have mostly been the good kind. Essentially, every episode where team rocket doesn’t appear to completely divert the story and add nothing to it is ok with me.

Pokémon is seriously iconic, and although we probably all have criticisms for it, it did fill a place in many people’s hearts for a long time. I couldn’t say that I would watch it in a context outside of learning a language, however now that I am, I’m really starting to appreciate it more for its fun sense of adventure, which is what it really tries to be.

What is your experience with the Pokémon anime? Let me know your thoughts.

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