“Pokemon Origins” TV special is worth the nostalgic value, despite flaws


Sean Drabik, Co-Editor in Chief

If my previous feature on the subject didn’t make you understand this, allow me to pull you out of the matrix and make a grand revelation: Pokémon has officially become a nostalgic property.  The games, the anime, the movies, the albums, the musical (don’t ask), yes, everything that many of you likely grew up with has become as nostalgic an idea as The Wizard of Oz, Transformers, and a capable House and Senate (ohhh, Topical humor).  On one end, this can result in us all realizing that we are growing older, growing up, and that the days of our childhood are long behind us, only a distant memory, fleeting further and further away until it fades away completely and feels like it never actually happened…*sigh….*….umm…uh…on the other, it results in us being delivered amazing nostalgia service such as the recently aired in Japan four episode anime series Pokémon Origins.

Diverting from the usual Pokémon anime formula of keeping the main character 10 and giving him a revolving door of companions, Pokémon Origins is based directly off of the original Pokémon games, Pokémon Red and Green (In America, we had what is technically the Blue version of the game, but had two games that were coded as an Americanized Red and Blue) . It tells the story of Pokémon trainer Red, who is sent on a mission by Professor Oak to get all the known Pokémon recorded in the Pokedex, taking with him on his journey a loyal Charmander starting Pokémon. Also sent on this mission is Red’s rival, Green, who takes a Squirtle on his quest to complete the Pokedex, to become the greatest Pokémon trainer the world has ever seen, and to antagonize Red at any possible moment (this is exactly why we all gave our rival dirty names when we were naming him in the game.  Because whatever you called him, he was one).

Each episode faithfully represents the experience of playing the original Pokémon games. Red starts out as an incompetent trainer with little knowledge of how to operate himself in a battle, his only focus being on filling the pokedex, but as he becomes more in tune with the world of Pokémon and the companions he is constantly adding into his menagerie of monsters, he gains the determination to become the best Trainer there ever was, and decides to do so by caring for his Pokémon and creating the strongest willed team he possibly can. The show, despite its mere feature length, brilliantly sets up and shows the journey that Red goes down, capturing the feeling of adventure that made the games so wildly successful in the first place.  Characters personalities aren’t particular in depth, but they don’t necessarily have to be: each character is simply filling a human role, and they do that successfully, coming off as relatable, and despite not having anything particularly complex to them, never come off as boring.  Each episode goes deeper into aspects of the game than the game could or that the real show ever did. We understand why the Rocket Leader Giovanni dissolves Team Rocket after his defeat at the hands of the Trainer, we a more in depth look at the relationship between a trainer and their Pokémon, and we even get a great understanding of death in the Pokémon universe. Yes, death. The kind where you die. Forever.  The show is ambitious in that its taking the world of Pokémon seriously, far more than the long running anime series ever did, and that it is depicting the world with a kind of realism to it, feeling less like a cartoon environment and more like a realm you’d see in the like of Lord of The Rings or some other fantasy epic.

Unfortunately, the story does suffer in some places. Because of its four episode length, much of Red’s journey is condensed.  Many familiar and important events in the series are simply glanced over, with Pokémon evolutions, battles with gym leaders, and introductions to the main antagonists of the series being rushed together in what are basically “Previously On” segments. It gives the story an awkward pace, and makes it so that the only way you can enjoy much of this without wondering what’s going on is if you are already familiar with the source material. In addition, the show occasionally doesn’t grasp how to properly structure a story, something that the 4th episode shows most especially, with the most major event of the entire series concluding in the first 7 minutes, in favor of having a piece of wild card fan service fill up the last 20. This surely doesn’t kill the series by any means: The story is still engaging, the characters still fun, and the world still memorable, but so much of the narrative feels cramped that it’s impossible not to feel even a little disappointed when it all doesn’t seem to amount to all too much.

But I do believe it’s time the negativity  ceased, as contrary to the beliefs of my more vocal readers, I do like to focus more on the positive aspects of a piece of art than the negative. So onto discussing the art of the special. The art seems much more detailed and animations more crisp than anything ever seen in the original series, giving the series a somewhat realistic edge to it. There are no cartoon reactions or movements that seem out of ordinary for humans, all creatures follow a set physics that would be believable if we lived in this world. By not having these cartoonish elements, the show allows us to be drawn into the universe much quicker, and that helps because unlike the continuing original show, Origins does not have the benefit of nearly 1000 episodes to build the world’s mythology with. It’s realistic nature of animation condenses the time it needs to use to help us understand the world the story takes place in, and allows us to be thrust into the story faster. These animations also help to produce some fantastic battle scenes, all of them being somewhat brutal and more physical than one would expect. The hits seem harder, the elements more powerful, and the presence of the monsters more animalistic than alien.  The action is definitely darker in tone than anything one would expect, and it’s all that an older fan of the series could dream for.

So the main question is if this miniseries is worth watching. Well, that is going to depend on who you are. If you’re a fan of the series, get the DVD, get together with some friends, and go to town. If you grew up with series, but have lost your connection to it as of late, this may be a good way to reconnect to it, as it is such an engrossing experience of nostalgia. But if you don’t care or have never cared for Pokémon, then this is not going to change your opinion on it. But if you remember those fun days of pretending to go on a Pokémon adventure on the playground, trading monsters and items via system links with your friends, and crying tears of sorrow and joy near the end of Pokémon the First Movie, then Origins is just what you’re looking for.

Final Rank: B

+     Easily engages you into the world, memorable story, great animations, and a Pokémon fan’s dream come true.

–       Ultimately feels far too cramped due to the sheer mass of story being pushed into just 90 minutes, and just doesn’t amount to all that much when all is said and done.

Pokémon Origins will be available to watch online in English starting November 15th on pokemon.com. No word on a DVD release as of yet, but one should be expected.