According to Pokémon: Blue and Red Version (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995), February 6 is the day that Mew successfully gave birth to my favourite Pokémon, Mewtwo. Whether this was a natural birth or simply the day the clone was successfully created is up for debate but, nevertheless, this is the official date that the world’s most powerful Pokémon came into being. Happy birthday, Mewtwo; please don’t kill me!
Released: 30 December 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Masamitsu Hidaka
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Video
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Dan Green, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Kerry Williams, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Ed Paul
Having erased all traces of its origins and settled in a remote area of the Johto region, Mewtwo (Green) lives in peace with its fellow clones. However, when its creator, Giovanni (Paul), discovers its location, it’s up to Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends to once again defend the troubled Psychic Pokémon and the mysterious healing properties of Mount Quena.
I’ve talked at length about the incredible influence Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) had when it was first released and, indeed, the videogames were only a part of the brands appeal as kids became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise available, including the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). The brand reached a fever pitch with the release of the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998), which (perhaps unsurprisingly) proved to be a massive financial success despite the many changes made in the translation process. With Mewtwo being one of the franchise’s most popular characters, and considering Mewtwo Strikes Back’s success, it’s also perhaps unsurprising that Mewtwo received an hour-long special to tie up some loose ends from the first film. Released direct to video overseas, Mewtwo Returns was notable for including the “Uncut Story of Mewtwo’s Origin”, which was cut from the first film, and for attracting generally underwhelming reviews.
Mewtwo Returns begins with Mewtwo providing a recap of its origins and the events of Mewtwo Strikes Back, which establishes its character, the events of that film, and that it wiped the events of all characters present on its island at the film’s conclusion. Unfortunately, Mewtwo neglected to expand the reach of its mindwipe further afield and, as a result, Giovanni not only still remembers Mewtwo but has been actively hunting it ever since it escaped from him. Giovanni’s aide, 009/Domino (Williams), earns her master’s favour when she shows him satellite imagery of Mewtwo hiding out in a remote area of the Johto region. There, Mewtwo lives alongside the clones it produced in the first movie; although having learned a valuable lesson about the sanctity of all life, human and Pokémon alike, Mewtwo continues to question not just its place in the world but the place of its fellow Pokémon. Believing that they are outcasts, it firmly believes that they must live in secret if they are ever to live in peace and questions how it can judge concepts such as “beauty” given that it is a product of science.
Coincidentally, as always, Ash, Brock (Stuart), Misty (Lillis), and Pikachu (Ōtani) just happen to be passing through that region of Johto on their way to Purity Canyon, a sight known for its refreshing and reinvigorating properties and tumultuous weather. Rushing to catch the last bus up the mountain pass (which allows for a funny gag where Brock uses his frying pain as a “drying pan”), the three catch the eye of their constant pursuers, Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Green) of Team Rocket. After missing the bus and being kept from proceeding because of the weather, the three protagonists take shelter with Luna Carson (Amy Birnbaum), who blows their minds with how refreshing and delicious the water from Purity Canyon is (although, amusingly, Ash is unimpressed). In lieu of the bus (and since Misty is afraid of the Bug-type Pokémon the clear waters attract), the three plan to climb up Mt. Quena to proceed and, despite Luna’s reservations, they are only spurred to go through with the plan after being told of Clarity Lake and the specially-adapted Pokémon that live on the mountaintop. They’re unable to immediately proceed, however, thanks to the sudden arrival of naturalist Cullen Calix (Scottie Ray) and his assistant, Domino (the same Domino from Team Rocket who is in disguise); Luna is disheartened to hear that Cullen plans to investigate the lake’s regenerative properties, as this would potentially ruin the natural environment, but Team Rocket strike and kidnap Pikachu with an electricity-absorbing cable before any of this can come to pass.
In their attempt to rescue Pikachu, the group are buffeted about by the violent storms and end up at Clarity Lake; Mewtwo is shocked to cross paths with them all again but, rather than being welcoming, demands that they all leave the area. Interestingly, although the clones appear to wish to rejoin the wider world, clone-Pikachu’s first instinct is to oppose Pikachu and force it out. While this would seem to align with Mewtwo’s overall wish for solitude, Mewtwo directly intercedes and prevents them from battling since they’ve already proven themselves to be equals, and everyone (especially Team Rocket) are confused by the presence of Mewtwo and its clones since they have no memory of the events of the first movie.
When Giovanni and his forces arrive, Mewtwo believes it’s better to simply flee Clarity Lake rather than engage in battle; clone-Pikachu rallies many of the clones in its absence (resulting in a ludicrous scene where Team Rocket, the protagonists, and all of their Pokémon are locked up in a cell) to go to war and Mewtwo struggles to reconcile its desire to protect them with the clones’ wish to be free. Thankfully, Giovanni’s arrival and subsequent attack against them galvanises not only Mewtwo’s resolve and its relationship with its clones but also forges an unlikely alliance between Team Rocket and the protagonists to fend off Giovanni and defend Clarity Lake.
Although Mewtwo doesn’t wish to fight, clone-Pikachu and many of the other clones are only too eager to go to all-out war to defend their home, and their right to a peace existence. Clone-Pikachu, especially, believes that it is unfair for them to be forced to live like shadows when there’s a whole wide world out there and, since many of the other clones agree with this, a divide is created between them and Mewtwo since it simply wishes to be left and alone and they wish to be equals in the world. Mewtwo is adamant that they remain hidden so that they can live peacefully and, even in the face of Giovanni’s invasion, refuses to fight, a decision which very nearly costs it its life.
It’s come up a few times but not only is Mewtwo my favourite Pokémon but Johto is my favourite Pokémon region so Mewtwo Returns automatically gets a bonus point or two from me before it even begins. Add to that the fact the film reuses the excellent musical score from the English dub of Mewtwo Strikes Back and I’m in my element. While the animation and presentation isn’t quite up to the same high-quality standards as the movie, for obvious reasons, Mewtwo Returns is still a cut above most regular episodes of the anime thanks to featuring music from the first movie and Mewtwo’s presence.
Mewtwo’s demeanour is very similar to that from Mewtwo Strikes Back; although it is no longer actively seeking conflict, it steadfastly goes to extreme lengths to protect itself and its clones. The clones of Pikachu and Meowth question why Mewtwo went to the effort of saving a bus load of humans from a potential fatal crash off the cliff, believing that it felt compassion for the passengers, but Mewtwo reasonably asserts that it was simply trying to avoid more humans coming to the area and potentially disturbing their peace. Mewtwo feels as though it, and they, do not belong or deserve to belong anywhere in the world, despite clone-Meowth asserting that all creatures see the same moon and are thus equal.
Unlike Jesse, James, and Meowth, Domino is portrayed as a capable and conniving member of Team Rocket; not only does she identify Mewtwo’s location, she successful fools all of the characters with her disguise as Cullen’s assistant and she commands the Team Rocket Combat Unit, a feat that Jesse, James, and Meowth are incredibly impressed by. Her reputation as the “Black Tulip” and authority make her a pivotal agent of Team Rocket; she’s embarrassed by the trio’s slapstick antics, is instrumental in Giovanni’s campaign against Mewtwo, and is absolutely reprehensible in her capture of the clones using her electricity-spitting tulips.
It’s refreshing to see Giovanni playing such an integral role as the overall antagonist; a scheming, manipulative mastermind, Giovanni wields incredible power from behind the Team Rocket Combat Unit. He’s easily able to disable the clone Pokémon with red energy bolts, briefly capture them in special Team Rocket-branded PokéBalls, and is even able to force Mewtwo into submission by threatening the safety (and lives, in a surprising inclusion) of its clone Pokémon and the sanctity of Clarity Lake. Giovanni’s machinery threatens to bend Mewtwo to Giovanni’s will and almost kills it but, thanks to the intervention of a horde of Bug-type Pokémon (who show up to oppose the ridiculously fast construction of Giovanni’s base and his polluting of the lake) and the protagonists, and the restorative properties of Purity Lake, Mewtwo is saved from brainwashing and death and returns full force to enact its revenge.
In the end, Brock and Misty join forces with the clones and Bug-type Pokémon to cover Ash as he takes Mewtwo to safety; in the process, Mewtwo learns additional lessons about self-sacrifice and a being’s uniqueness. After recovering in the lake, Mewtwo sees a vision of Mew (Kōichi Yamadera) and finally realises that it is just as “real” as any other creature since the water’s properties have the same effect on it as they would any other creature. Using its incredible psychic powers, Mewtwo instantly puts an end to the conflict by transporting the entire lake underground and out of sight; it also erases the memories of Giovanni, Domino, and their forces but, at the insistence of the main characters, spares the others from the same treatment this time around so that they can remain friends and to ensure the legacy of its clone Pokémon. Having learned to embrace its identity and no longer ashamed of its past, Mewtwo allows its clones to go and find their rightful place in the world while it wanders alone (and wearing a bad-ass anime scarf) and always by moonlight.
Of course, it doesn’t end there as “The Uncut Story of Mewtwo’s Origin” is also included on the disc; this short prelude to Mewtwo Strikes Back follows Doctor Fuji (Jay Goede) and his team on an expedition to a dense jungle. Since the expedition is funded by Giovanni, Fuji has no choice but to create an all-powerful clone of Mew using a “fossil” recovered from some ancient ruins in order to learn the secret of restoring life. Fuji’s efforts result in the creation not only of a young Mewtwo (Stuart) but also clones of Bulbasaur (Tara Sands), Charmander (Michael Haigney), and Squirtle (Stuart). Communicating via telepathy as they sleep, Mewtwo, Bulbasaurtwo, Charmandertwo, and Squirtletwo meet Ambertwo (Williams), a young girl who was once Fuji’s daughter and who he is trying to resurrect through his cloning experiments. Obsessed with his desire to see Amber smile, and live, once again, Fuji is desperate to create a clone strong enough to survive the process so that he can recreate life; through Ambertwo, Mewtwo and the others experience a few of the basic beauties of life (the sun, wind, passage of time, and the moon) but, all too soon, the clones begin to degrade. Charmandertwo, Squirtletwo, and Bulbasaurtwo all disintegrate before their eyes; Mewtwo’s confusion turns to despair as the only friend it’s eve known turns to sparkling dust right in front of it as Ambertwo dies. Left alone and heartbroken, Mewtwo has only its tears (which Ambertwo says contain “life”). When its emotions threaten to destroy the lab, Fuji has no choice but to wipe its memories to subdue it and, in the empty void of its mind, Mewtwo is left with only its confusion and vague memories of feelings it doesn’t understand.
Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns is a brisk and entertaining enough watch; clocking in at just over an hour, it’s obviously not going to measure up to the efforts of its feature-length cousins but it’s decent enough for fans of Mewtwo Strikes Back. By addressing the loose ends from the first movie, Mewtwo Returns allows us to see what happened to Mewtwo and its clones after they flew off to an uncertain future and, while it’s hardly full of action or a showcase of Mewtwo’s destructive potential, it’s a heart-warming enough tale about identity and our place in the world. The anime’s focus on having Mewtwo be this introspective character who questions its identity and right to exist is fascinating, in many ways, though it has to be said that maybe many of the character’s other aspects were downplayed in service of this goal. Sadly, the next time Mewtwo appeared it would be in a decidedly different form and we never followed up on its moonlight journey but, as a coda to Mewtwo Strikes Back, Mewtwo Returns is inoffensive enough. The fact that the DVD also contains Mewtwo’s heartbreakingly tragic origin story only adds to the film’s appeal and, were both of these to be included in re-releases of Mewtwo Strikes Back, you’d basically be left with the complete package for Mewtwo’s story in the anime. As it is, I guess it’s worth seeking out if you’re a die-hard Mewtwo and Pokémon fan but it’s not as accessible as other Pokémon media and probably not really worth going out of your way to get your hands on.
Could Be Better
What did you think of Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns? Did you enjoy seeing Mewtwo in action again or did you feel the feature was a missed opportunity to do more with the character? What did you think to Domino and Giovanni taking a more active role as a villain in the feature? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, leave your thoughts in the comments below.