Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. Entire generations have grown up with Pokémon as clever marketing saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February, which is even more fitting given that February 6 is the day that Mew successfully gave birth to my favourite Pokémon, Mewtwo!
Released: 29 April 2006
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Masamitsu Hidaka
Distributor: Shogakukan Productions / Pokémon USA, Inc.
Stars: Sarah Natochenny, Bill Rogers, Michele Knotz, Jamie Peacock, Billy Regan, Katsuyuki Konishi, and Ikue Ōtani
Ash Ketchum (Natochenny) and his friends are invited to the mansion of Doctor Yung (Regan), a Pokémon scientist who has developed a machine to create holographic mirage Pokémon. However, he is kidnapped by the mysterious “Mirage Master” who wishes to use the system to produce Pokémon with absolutely no weaknesses, and it’s up to Ash and friends to preserve the natural balance of the Pokémon world.
I’ve discussed in detail before about how influential Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was when it was first released, though the videogames were only one part of the multimedia franchise as kids became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise available, including the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). Accordingly, the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) proved to be a massive financial success despite the many changes made in the translation process. With Mewtwo being one of Pokémon’s most popular characters, and considering the movie’s success, it was perhaps inevitable that Mewtwo became the focal point of the anime’s tenth anniversary special, which chief director Kunihiko Yuyama aimed to be a celebration of the evolution of Pokémon over the last ten years. Premiering on Kids’ WB and made widely available as a DVD extra, the one-hour special received crticism for replacing the long-running English language voice cast and is generally regard as the worst Pokémon special ever made.
The tenth anniversary special opens with Ash, Pikachu (Ōtani), May (Knotz) and her little brother Max (Peacock), and former Pewter City gym leader Brock (Rogers) travelling through a forest in Ash’s home region of Kanto. Ash is feeling particularly smug because he has received an invitation from Dr. Yung to test his “amazing Pokémon training skills” against the doctor’s new battle system, and the group quickly arrived at Dr. Yung’s laboratory, which is housed within an elaborate castle known as the Mirage Mansion. There, Ash is surprised to find that his mentor and neighbour, Professor Samuel Oak (Billy Beach), and his old travelling companion and former Cerulean City gym leader, Misty (Knotz), have also been invited to attend; Ash is disappointed to find that his invitation wasn’t unique and that Dr. Yung has been passing his compliments out to other notably Pokémon trainers. Their mysterious host soon arrives, and the group do that blood annoying thing where they waste time introducing themselves to him, as though anyone really needs such an introduction, but it’s notable that Dr. Yung and Professor Oak are already familiar with each and have a previous professional relationship.
Ever the eager beaver, Ash asks to see the doctor’s vaulted new battle system and the group are stunned to find that the entire floor of the Mirage Mansion has been converted into a “mirage field”. Using this holographic technology, Dr. Yung is able to conjure up a variety of Pokémon based on their Pokémon data; Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon are realistic down to the smallest detail, save for an obvious glow, and Dr. Yung is extremely proud of having perfected his technology, which is even capable of recreating extinct and Legendary Pokémon in order to better understand their capabilities. Naturally, Ash immediately volunteers to pit his skills against these Mirage Pokémon, but Misty overrules him on the basis of chivalry. Misty and Dr. Yung engage in a simple, one-on-one, knockout battle that pits his Mirage Aggron (Unknown) against Misty’s Staryu (Shin-ichiro Miki). This is another of those horrible mismatches that could only take place in the anime; seriously I have no idea why Misty, a former gym leader, wouldn’t send her Starmie (Ōtani) out against an Aggron, and we’ll never know if Staryu’s more powerful and competent form would have stood a better chance against the Mirage Aggron. Still, the point of the battle is to showcase not only how powerful and fast Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon are, but also that he’s fully capable of programming them to use any movies he wishes; in this case, the Mirage Aggron was given an additional edge because it was able to use Bullet Seed and Thunder Wave, two moves that are super effective against Water-types like Staryu.
Despite this, Ash remains as excited as ever (if not more excited) to pit his Pikachu against the Mirage Aggron, but their battle is interrupted before it can begin when the Mirage System is suddenly hijacked by the malevolent Mirage Master, who turns Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon against the heroes. Unfortunately for the mysterious, masked villain, all of the heroes are able to escape from the Mirage Mansion by running away, leaving only Professor Oak behind, and the Mirage Pokémon are unable to leave the confines of the mansion due to the limitations of the Mirage System. The Mirage Master holds Professor Oak hostage deep within Dr. Yung’s laboratory and demands to know the access password for the professor’s laboratory database so that the masked villain can put Oak’s research towards creating better, and even more powerful Mirage Pokémon that will be super effective against all types of Pokémon. Professor Oak is disgusted at the villain’s disrespect for the strengths, weaknesses, and individuality that comes from natural Pokémon. Determined to rescue Professor Oak, the heroes decide to split up: May and Max watch over the Mirage Mansion, Brock goes to contact Officer Jenny (Peacock) for help, and Ash, Pikachu, and Misty sneak into the Mirage Mansion using their Water-type Pokémon. As if the Mirage Pokémon wasn’t bad enough, Ash and Misty soon bump into regular buffoons and would-be Poké-nappers Jessie (Knotz), James (Billy Beach), and wise-cracking Meowth (ibid) of Team Rocket have followed our heroes to the Mirage Mansion with designs to finally get their hands on Ash’s Pikachu. However, their goals immediately shift to stealing or repurposing Dr. Yung’s technology for their own nefarious ends to create powerful Pokémon for themselves, win the favour of their boss, and become rich either through using or selling the Mirage System. However, Team Rocket are hopelessly outmatched by the Mirage Pokémon and quickly sent packing before they can influence the plot in any meaningful way, and Ash and Misty are separated while battling Mirage Pokémon. Cut off from his friends, Ash is assisted by a Mirage Mew (Satomi Koorogi), a gentle Mirage Pokémon and the victim of constant attacks and ridicule from the Mirage Master, who considers it a “flawed specimen”. Mirage Mew leads Ash to where Professor Oak and Pikachu are being held captive, but he’s too late to stop the Mirage Master from forcibly downloading data of all the Legendary Pokémon Pikachu has encountered from its memories.
Horrified at Pikachu’s suffering, Oak reluctantly gives over his password, allowing the Mirage Master to hijack every Pokémon database around the world and giving birth to his ultimate Mirage Pokémon: Mirage Mewtwo (Katsuyuki Konishi). Rather than being the same Pokémon Ash encountered before, Mirage Mewtwo is an all-powerful creation of the Mirage System, one incapable of telepathic communication but boasting every Pokémon attack available. Not only is the Mirage Master revealed to be Dr. Yung in disguise and out for revenge after his research was disregarded due to his immoral attitude towards Pokémon, he also extends the Mirage System outside of the Mirage Mansion using a series of missiles and recreates Mirage versions of Entei, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. Naturally, the heroes’ Pokémon are no match for the Mirage Legendary Pokémon, much less Mirage Mewtwo; not only can it destroy other Mirage Pokémon in a single attack, it makes short work of even Professor Oak’s Dragonite (Unknown) by unleashing powerful attacks such as Flamethrower and Hyper Beam. Mirage Mew comes to their aid, shielding them from Mirage Mewtwo’s attack, but is ultimately overwhelmed and disintegrated by Mirage Mewtwo’s attack. Dr. Yung then downloads all of the Mirage Pokémon data into his Mirage Mewtwo, causing tumorous lumps to pop up all over its body and a range of powerful attacks to be unleashed all at once. Right as Mirage Mewtwo is poised to finish off the heroes, Mirage Mew remerges from the Mirage System (and within Mirage Mewtwo’s body) and exerts its control over Mirage Mewtwo, holding it in place so that Pikachu can destroy it with a Volt Tackle. Sadly, Mirage Mew is also destroyed along with its malevolent counterpart, and the entire Mirage System; Dr. Yung refuses to surrender, however, and disappears into the flaming rubble and explosions of his Mirage Mansion and is presumed to have perished alongside his research. In the aftermath, Ash and his friends thank the efforts of the Mirage Mew and condemn Dr. Yung’s immoral nature, before resolving to continue on their journeys.
One thing I’ll give The Master of Mirage Pokémon is that it sure doesn’t waste any time; the opening title sequence is painfully short, even shorter than the one in a regular Pokémon episode, and the credits play over the group’s arrival at the Mirage Mansion. There’s also little to no real build-up and no big Pokémon battle sequence to open the special; it simply begins with Ash re-reading Dr. Yung’s letter for the umpteenth time and then boom, they’re at the Mirage Mansion right away. Being that it’s only an hour long, this is necessary to get us to the main plot of the Mirage Pokémon as quickly as possible, but it’s not as if the special is full of non-stop action, returning faces, or Legendary Pokémon from there. In fact, it actually slows down for quite a chunk and more time is spent showcasing the Mirage Aggron than any of the more powerful, popular, and alluring creations Dr. Yung brings forth. It was great seeing Misty make a comeback and briefly revisiting her friendly rivalry with Ash, but you could have easily taken her out of the special and it wouldn’t have made any difference at all. May, Max, and Brock were all notably side-lined as well, acting as mere support characters going through their usual motions rather than actually having an impact on the plot, and as a celebration of the first ten years of Pokémon ends up falling a little flat as it just doesn’t do enough with the potential of its premise.
There’s a great deal of anticipation surrounding the reveal of Dr. Yung’s ultimate Mirage Pokémon, which of course turns out to by Mirage Mewtwo and ultimately ends up falling very flat because, by the time Mirage Mewtwo finally shows up, the special is almost over and we don’t really get to see much from it. To make matters worse, Dr. Yung is awestruck at the amount of Legendary Pokémon contained within Pikachu’s memory and yet he doesn’t create Mirage versions of Pokémon like Lugia; instead, he limits himself to the Legendary Birds and Entei, who mostly just stand around and overpower the heroes’ Pokémon before they are absorbed into Mirage Mewtwo (something that didn’t really need to happen as Mirage Mewtwo could already utilise all of their attacks and abilities, and more). This means that the one time we get to see Mewtwo and the Legendary Birds onscreen in an actual episode amounts to a whole lot of nothing, and we don’t get to see Lugia, Latias, and Latios flying alongside the Legendary Birds or Ho-Oh or anything. Instead, the focus is all on Mirage Mewtwo being this dominating holographic Pokémon, which is certainly is, but without the morality and personality of the original Mewtwo, it’s little more than just a mindless beast or machine to put the heroes in peril. Things are even more confused by the fact that Mirage Mew inexplicably exhibits an independent personality; there’s an attempt to explain that this is because even Dr. Yung can’t destroy the natural spirit of Pokémon and that Mew is an aberration compared to the other Mirage Pokémon, but this doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Indeed, if any Mirage Pokémon were to break free from Dr. Yung’s control, I’d expect it to be Mewtwo, and I wonder if the story might have been better serviced by Mirage Mewtwo going berserk and Dr. Yung being forced to team up with the heroes and turn the Legendary Mirage Pokémon against it in order to shut it down and realise the error of his ways.
I don’t think that I would agree that The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon is necessarily the worst Pokémon special I’ve ever seen, or even the worst product to come out of the anime, but it can’t be denied that it is quite disappointing. I am a big fan of Mew, Mewtwo, and the other Legendary Pokémon and I love seeing them crop up in the anime, specials, and movies, but a major gripe I have about their appearances is that they have to count for something. Here, they really don’t count for anything; Dr. Yung observes footage of some of the other Pokémon movies through Pikachu’s memories, reminding us of better times and more accurate representations of these creatures, and makes a big production of showcasing his Mirage Mewtwo and condemning his Mirage Mew, but simply having versions of these creatures appear onscreen doesn’t necessarily equate to them actually being meaningful or interesting. It’s great seeing Mirage Mewtwo busting out all these wacky attacks and overwhelming the heroes, and it was suitably heart-breaking to witness the Mirage Mew sacrifice itself to destroy its ruthless counterpart, but there was so much more potential to be had here. Why not merge the Legendary Birds into one being? Why not team Mirage Mewtwo with a Mirage Lugia? Why not have Mirage Mewtwo break free and go on a rampage and see it battle against Mirage versions of the other Legendary Pokémon? None of that happens, and it results in The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon playing things very safe and dull, and only saving itself from a one-star rating because of the nostalgia surrounding the tenth anniversary and the Pokémon anime and the fact that I am a sucker for Mewtwo and the Legendary Pokémon, even when they barely do anything remotely interesting or entertaining.
Could Be Better
What did you think of Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon? 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 Dr. Yung and the concept of Mirage Pokémon? Did you enjoy seeing Misty make a return and the cameos from the other Legendary Pokémon? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, sign up to leave your thoughts in the comments below or leave a reply on my social media.