iSugio

Pokemon – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Pokemon is undeniably one of the most famous anime series to have ever been released not only from within Japan, but practically the entire world. Born from the mind of game designer Satoshi Taijiri and his childhood love for insect collecting, it has gained immense popularity through its various media outlets, including its trading card game, massive video and handheld game franchise, and of course, its animated series. It has over time become a global phenomenon, reaching across a wide spectrum of age groups and nationalities as it familiarized Japanese animation to that of millions of people across the world. While its presence has slowly diminished over the years, its lasting impact can still be felt today through ongoing series and video and handheld game franchises. Considering the rather substantial amount of episodes and arcs within the animation series, this review will cover the initial 276 episodes of the original Pokemon anime series.

Personally growing up as a young person amidst the beginnings of the Pokemon sensation, a time in which I simultaneously played the Pokemon Blue Version on the Gameboy and watched the anime television series, the fascination I had with the “Gotta catch them all!” philosophy was surely an addictive experience to say the least. I watched eagerly with anticipation for the release of each new episode within the series, waiting to see just what Ash, Misty, and Brock would run into next and what new Pokemon would appear. The series also expounded upon the ethics of teamwork and friendship, two philosophies that the series did a rather exceptional job in exploring and were great qualities to showcase for a series mainly directed at a young audience. Unfortunately though, its those same reasons mentioned above that are detriments towards the series being fully enjoyable as it was when in first came out.

Through a rather simplistic narrative, the oddity surrounding the Pokemon animation series and its popularity is somewhat difficult to comprehend. From a nostalgic standpoint, the series was one in which many contemporary adults such as myself grew up on as children through a variety of outlets that the franchise promoted. This in itself could be a defining factor towards how the franchise has lasted so long. As one grows older though, reexamining the various themes encompassing the competitive drive and the virtues of friendship are duly noted and appreciated as valuable qualities for a series that is nonetheless rather shallow in numerous ways. As the series progresses, the rather superficial nature of the narrative begins to slowly be pronounced, ultimately revealing an exhaustive reiteration of such themes as the series struggles to find some meaningful direction that it has not already gone over ad nauseam.

As a shorter series, this focus on friendship and competition would have fared out much better, but at over 270 episodes, much of the creative resonance it once had is sadly diminished as the narrative simply runs through a seemingly endless process of Satoshi, Kasumi, and Takeshi helping various characters – usually other Pokemon trainers – through an assortment of challenging situations. While initially an exciting experience consisting of vibrant Pokemon battles, humorous antics, and lessons on comradeship, the series slowly loses focus of its human characters in order to focus on the multitude of Pokemon creatures, thus subscribing to a “Pokemon-of-the-week” structure that does not necessarily succeed in regards to its longevity as a series. It soon becomes all too apparent that the series is first and foremost a marketing outlet in which to promote a product, in this case that of the Pokemon brand, and it vehemently emphasizes in doing so.

Now, this is not necessarily a negative approach for a company such as Nintendo to take – Pokemon is indeed a series that strategically endorses a brand and viewed as an extension of an established franchise working to reinforce the life span of that franchise as a whole. But there simply comes a point where archetypical characters, repetitive gags, and irrelevant subplots that go absolutely nowhere lead a considerably lengthy series such as Pokemon astray, ultimately losing much of its initial viewership due to such a directorial decision. There is also not enough available source material to actually construct a prolonged narrative in the first place, with the series stemming from a modest concept from Taijiri’s childhood. This in turn makes many of the later episodes appear more like fillers than actual constructive contributions towards the narrative, relying more on what new Pokemon will show up than anything substantial. If the notion of too much of something is bad, then Pokemon finds itself in the dire predicament of adhering to such.

This is also not to say that the series does not express certain values that are integral towards the development of its characters and narrative. We see Satoshi, Kasumi, Takeshi, and even Team Rocket grow as characters as they traverse through arduous battles and tournaments that test their mettle as well as physical skill. We even see Pokemon such as Pikachu and others develop within their own personalities as well, becoming more like actual individuals rather than simply addressing them as creatures with no emotions, fears, or desires. This produces a series that retains some level of commitment towards how we view these characters, wanting them to be successful in their endeavors and us as viewers alongside them cheering them on. It is all there but it just appears all too hackneyed as the series advances and not as genuine as it initially was.

But it would be foolish to deny that Pokemon as an anime series has not left its mark on the medium as whole and has been an introductory series to the medium of anime for many individuals out there. Following the successful launch of what would soon be the best-selling RPG game series of all time, the Pokemon anime series is still a treat to watch despite some of its tediousness deriving from its considerable episode count. It is an adventurous series that is coupled with genuine aspects of friendship and loyalty, aspects that should be applauded considering that the series is primarily aimed at a much younger audience. But one should also accept the series for what it truly is, looking at it more as a complementary take on the Pokemon franchise rather than a series that can truly stand on its own merit.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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