Talking Movies [Mewtwo’s Birthday]: Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns


MewtwoBirthday

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!


Talking Movies

Released: 30 December 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Masamitsu Hidaka
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Dan Green, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Kerry Williams, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Ed Paul

The Plot:
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.

The Background:
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.

The Review:
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.

After Pikachu is captured by Team Rocket, Ash and friends stumble upon Mewtwo’s sanctuary.

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.

Mewtwo’s primary concern is safeguarding the clone Pokémon under its protection.

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.

The divide between the clones and Mewtwo is repaired when Giovanni invades.

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.

Mewtwo’s decision to submit to Giovanni to protect its clones almost costs it its life.

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.

The Nitty-Gritty:
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.

Although no longer seeking conflict, Mewtwo’s power and resolve are as formidable as ever,

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.

Domino is a capable and pivotal member of Team Rocket and instrumental in Giovanni’s plan.

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.

Giovanni takes centre stage as the main antagonist for once.

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.

Revitalised by the water, Mewtwo defends his home and roams the world by moonlight.

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.

The film also finally explores Mewtwo’s tragic origin.

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.

The Summary:
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.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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.

Screen Time: Pokémon Origins

Air Date: 2 October 2013
Worldwide Network: Pokémon TV 
Original Network: TV Tokyo
Stars: Bryce Papenbrook, Lucien Dodge, Jamieson Price, Kirk Thornton, and Kyle Hebert

The Background:
The brainchild of executive director Satoshi Tajiri, Pokémon began life as Capsule Monsters (later changed to Pocket Monsters and rebranded as Pokémon for the games’ worldwide release), a role-playing game inspired by Tajiri’s childhood days wandering through forests and collecting bugs. Thanks largely to the decision to produce two versions of the game, each with different Pokémon to collect and encouraging gamers to battle and trade with their friends to catch every Pokémon, the games sold very well in Japan and were soon localised for a worldwide audience. Fearing that American audiences would struggle to connect with the game’s cute concepts and creatures, Nintendo apparently spent well over $50 million localising, rebranding, and marketing the games for their international release. It turns out, however, that Nintendo were wrong to doubt Pokémon’s appeal; still, when Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version released in 1998, they were accompanied by an anime, a trading card game, and more advertisements and media coverage than you could shake a stick it. Of course, history shows us that this aggressive strategy paid off; Blue and Red sold over 30 million copies worldwide, birthing one of Nintendo’s most popular and enduring videogame franchises ever, and the anime continues to air to this day, with feature-length movies and television specials being regularly produced.

Thanks to a co-ordinated marketing campaign, Pokémon dominated an entire generation.

In short, Pokémon was not just some short-lived fad of one generation but a multimedia blockbuster franchise that has spanned multiple generations and shows no signs of stopping. By 2013, there were over 720 Pokémon to be found, battled, and traded in comparison to the 150 regularly-obtainable Pokémon of the original videogames. The anime was well into its sixteenth season, having aired over 780 episodes, the sixteenth feature-length movie had just been released, the excellent ongoing Pokémon Adventures manga (Various, 1997 to present) was entering its eleventh chapter, and Pokémon was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary that year. This was also the year that Production I.G, Xebec, and OLM, Inc. produced a ninety-minute animated special, split into four parts, which retold the events of the original games in a way that was more faithful to the source material than the regular, ongoing anime. First broadcast on TV Tokyo ten days before the release of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y (Game Freak, 2013), the episodes were dubbed into English with a new voice cast and made available both on home media (in some countries) and to watch on various online platforms, including Pokémon TV.

The Plot:
Red (Papenbrook) and his childhood friend and rival, Blue (Dodge), have been chosen to select their first Pokémon from Professor Oak (Hebert). Tasked with completing Oak’s lifelong dream of capturing and recording data on all Pokémon, they set out into the region of Kanto, battling both Gym Leaders and the nefarious Team Rocket in a quest to not only capture every Pokémon but also become Pokémon League Champion.

The Review:
Pokémon: Origins is split into four parts, “File 1: Red” (Kawasaki, 2013), “File 2: Cubone” (Kuroda, ibid), “File 3: Giovanni (Takahashi, ibid), and “File 4: Charizard” (Tomiyasu, ibid). The animation style is quite different to that of the existing Pokémon series; for one thing, Origins looks much more professionally rendered and of a higher quality than even some of the Pokémon feature films. For another, many episodes feature music inspired directly from the videogames, with the classic Pokémon battle theme playing during Pokémon battles and the iconic, creepy Lavender Town theme playing when the story reaches the haunted Pokémon Tower. Of course, the anime did feature remixed versions of some recognisable Pokémon themes but nowhere to the degree of Origins; Origins also opens and closes each episode with a game save/load screen and includes dialogue boxes ripped right from the videogame.

Origins includes many aspects and mechanics from the videogames.

This closer fidelity to the source material brings Origins more in-line with Pokémon Adventures, which recreated many of the gameplay mechanics of the videogames with a surprising amount of detail and loyalty compared to the anime but also took the source material a bit more seriously as well, featuring blood, much higher stakes, and even Pokémon dying. While Origins doesn’t go fully down this path, it does go out of its way to stay closer to the source material than the anime: Red receives Technical Machines (TMs) and Hidden Machines (HMs) in the form of floppy discs, just like in the game; Pokémon battles (while generally much faster and glossed over thanks to Origins’ short runtime) are much more intense and closer to how they go down in the games (there’s no bullshit strategies like sprinkling water on an Onix to make it weak to electric attacks); and many of the items (such as the PokéFlute, the fishing rods, and the Silph Scope) from the videogame make an appearance, albeit a brief one.

Sadly, Origins glosses over many of the game’s important battles and plot points.

Something that lets Origins down, though, is the brevity of its narrative and the way it devotes the focus of each of its four episodes. “File 1: Red” begins in standard fashion, with Red and Blue beginning their Pokémon journey, establishing their rivalry (which is much friendlier than portrayed in the games or the early days of the anime), and Red learning the basics of Pokémon battling and capturing from Brock (Johnny Yong Bosch). However, from “File 2: Cubone”, each subsequent episode begins, and includes, a recap and a montage of sorts that glosses over what I consider to be some very important story beats: Red tells us about, and we briefly see, how he defeats the majority of the Gym Leaders (we only see him battle two in full throughout the course of the series), acquires the aforementioned fishing rods, captures the majority of his Pokémon (again, we only really see him capture a handful in any kind of detail), the evolution of his Charmander (Shin’ichirō Miki), and even his battles against the Elite Four and, most egregious of all, some of his most important encounters with the villainous Team Rocket.

Red and Blue begrudingly team up but Team Rocket are easily defeated despite their reputation.

Obviously, there are only four episodes of this mini series so the story cannot cover everything from the videogames but, for me, glossing over Red’s first meeting with Team Rocket and his eventual vendetta against them is a bit of a mistake. Take “File 2: Cubone”, for example; sure, it features Team Rocket having overtaken the Pokémon Tower, but it’s far more concerned with the trauma the group caused Cubone (Cristina Vee) and the ghost that haunts the tower. Red and Blue begrudgingly team up to solve both problems but Team Rocket is easily defeated first off-screen by Blue and then with a ridiculous amount of ease by Red, who successfully scares them off after defeating one of their Pokémon. Considering how the townsfolk were so afraid of Team Rocket’s power and threat earlier in this episode, this is more than a little disappointing and I would have preferred to see Red’s journey through Mt. Moon and his battle against Lieutenant Surge to help properly establish Team Rocket’s threat in this world. On the plus side, at least the group isn’t portrayed as largely ineffectual bunch of goofballs and Red takes his opposition to their plot a lot more seriously than Ash Ketchum (Veronica Taylor/Sarah Natochenny).

Although he stumbles in the first episode, Red quickly becomes a competent and capable trainer.

When comparing Red to Ash, it’s like comparing night to day or apples to oranges. There are some similarities but these are generally due to the fact that both characters are based on the avatar from the games and therefore follow the same path the player forges in the source material. While both are big Pokémon fans and excited to become Pokémon trainers and both start out knowing very little about the actual mechanics of Pokémon battling, capturing, and the scope of their journey, it takes Red a bit more time to learn that a close bond with his Pokémon is required to grow stronger and succeed in battle. While Brock does help to teach him these lessons, Red’s bond with Charmander is nowhere near as intense as Ash’s with Pikachu (Ikue Ōtani) yet he quickly becomes a far more competent trainer than Ash; in a surprising amount of restraint, Pikachu only appears in a brief cameo and, to separate Red from Ash even more, Red not only uses a far more competent Electric-Type Pokémon in Jolteon (Unknown) but only captures a Pikachu after he has become the Pokémon League Champion! Granted, most of this is implied, seen in montages, or takes place between episodes but Red captures way more Pokémon (mainly because he’s much more committed to completing the PokéDex than Ash), easily defeats pretty much every trainer and Gym Leader he comes up against, and has a far more well-balanced and well-trained team than Ash has ever had. Hell, Red even ends up with Articuno (ibid) in his squad and, generally speaking, has much more in common with his counterpart from Pokémon Adventures, who was also a far more competent and capable trainer compared to Ash.

Blue is humbled in defeat, realising Red’s bond with his Pokémon has made him superior.

One thing that helps separate Origins from the anime is the relationship between Red and Blue; in the games, and the anime, these two had a largely antagonistic relationship throughout the story until facing off in the Pokémon League. Here, though, while Blue is arrogant and a blowhard and determined to complete the PokéDex before Red and become a more powerful and capable trainer than him (he picks Squirtle (ibid) not because it matches his name but specifically because it will give him the type advantage over Red’s Charmander), he and Red have a much more friendly rivalry than one based on actual animosity. Blue sees himself as Red’s superior and seems to both be motivated to beat Red to the punch wherever possible and happy to walk away from confronting the likes of Team Rocket when it doesn’t suit him but the two are generally more about ribbing on each other and winding each other up about their progress and abilities than actually hating each other. Sadly, though, because of the brevity of the mini series, Red and Blue only battle head to head twice in this story; the first time, Red is soundly defeated as his strategy of mindlessly attacking without having properly developed trust and partnership with his Charmander prove his downfall. Brock specifically uses Blue as an example of a trainer who has established this bond and it is from both of them that Red learns to put his love and trust into his Pokémon, which are treated as his beloved partners and allies rather than mere tools. However, when they face-off again in “File 4: Charizard”, the tables have turned; though Blue has already become the Pokémon League Champion, he falls to Red despite having amassed a team powerful and diverse enough to conquer any and all opponents not because of his lack of strength but because he had failed to maintain the bonds of trust and friendship between himself and his partners. Humbled by his defeat, Blue nevertheless congratulates Red on his victory and accomplishments and the two retain a friendly rivalry for the final episode of the anime, one based on Blue’s desire to one-up Red at any opportunity while still acknowledging his skill and capability.

Battling with Red awakens a passion that Giovanni had long forgotten.

Despite much of Origins being reduced to quick montages, there is still a strong sense of Red’s capability throughout the anime; after learning valuable lessons from Blue and Brock, Red goes from strength to strength, easily defeating other trainers and Gym Leaders even when he has a massive type disadvantage. Not counting that initial battle against Blue, Red only runs into two roadblocks throughout his journey, the first being his showdown against Giovanni (Price). Though Red’s first meeting with the Team Rocket boss is glossed over in a recap, his battle against him for the Earth Badge is a significant part of the aptly-named “File 3: Giovanni”. The strength of Giovanni’s Rhyhorn (Unknown) alone is enough to wipe out all of Red’s team even when Red has the type advantage but Red’s determination and passion for both battling and towards his Pokémon awakens something in Giovanni he had long forgotten. Exhilarated by the thrill of the battle (even though it’s ridiculously one-sided in his favour for the majority of the time), Giovanni is impressed, humbled, and even grateful to have been defeated by such a zealous trainer. So touched is Giovanni that he disbands Team Rocket and wishes Red well on the remainder of his journey, urging Red to follow the path that he (Giovanni) strayed from long ago and pledging to carve a new path for himself going forward.

Mewtwo represents Red’s final, and greatest, challenge.

The second obstacle Red encounters is hinted at in “File 2: Cubone” and forms the central focus of “File 4: Charizard” and it is, of course, Mewtwo (ibid). Mewtwo’s threat is immediately established by how badly, and easily, it overwhelms Blue, leaving him badly injured and putting the wind up the usually arrogant trainer. Nevertheless, motivated by the desire to finally complete Oak’s PokéDex, Red heads to Cerulean Cave to confront the creature, which is still a genetic copy of the mythical Pokémon Mew (Christine Marie Cabanos) but, unlike in the anime and manga, it never speaks or communicates in any way other than brutal, aggressive battle. Far from the nuanced, tortured character in other media, Mewtwo is portrayed more as simply an extremely powerful Pokémon to be captured like any other, which is much more in-line with its position in the games as a “super boss” of sorts rather than a pivotal plot point. However, even Red is unable to match Mewtwo’s monstrous power; luckily, though, he was gifted two Mega Stones by the mysterious Mr. Fuji (Kirk Thornton) in “File 2: Cubone” and, even more helpfully, they just so happen to react to the close bond between Red and Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) and allow Charizard to mega evolve into Mega Charizard X (did I mention that Origins came out around the same time as Pokémon X and Y?) This is enough of a power boost to allow Red to overwhelm Mewtwo faster than it can react and capture it with a ridiculous amount of ease; seriously, Red throws two Ultra Balls and captures Mewtwo with the second, which is some serious bullshit when you think about how many damn balls it can take to snag Mewtwo in the games. I would have liked to see Red use a Master Ball but, sadly, he never acquires one in Origins as it’s merely an unfinished prototype in this story.

Origins ends with Red eager to find more Pokémon, starting with the mythical Mew.

Regardless, Red is successful and captures all 150 Pokémon but his mission is far from over as, while celebrating with Oak and Blue, he remembers that Mewtwo was created from Mew and rushes out a bundle of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of encountering and capturing still more Pokémon. It’s here, and in Red’s steadfast determination in battle, that we see the closest links between Red and Ash: both are stubborn in battle and endlessly excited about capturing and finding new Pokémon. However, Red ends Origins a far more accomplished and experienced trainer; he’s the Pokémon League Champion, for one thing, and now has numerous Legendary and incredibly powerful Pokémon in his possession. In this regard, Origins ends exactly as a standard game of Blue or Red would end, with the character having numerous Pokémon at their disposal and ridiculously overpowered. While Ash does also grow and become more accomplished as a trainer, this takes…what? A hundred episodes? Two hundred? And even then he still makes rookie mistakes; no such foibles befall Red but, to be fair, much of his growth as a trainer and a character is implied, rushed through in montages, or takes place between episodes and relies heavily on the viewer’s familiarity with the videogames to fill in the blanks whereas the anime is able to use many (many) episodes to show Ash’s numerous lessons and growth.

The Summary:
Pokémon: Origins is an extremely enjoyable, gorgeously-animated anime; everything from the character designs, Pokémon battles, and sounds is fantastic to look at and closely reminiscent of the source material. Unlike the anime (and a lot of Pokémon media), Pokémon do not constantly speak their names and instead have more realistic, animal sounds like in the games; Japanese text is also left unaltered, which is refreshing, and while many elements, mechanics, and important plot points from the games are glossed over, at least they’re actually included here rather than either being ignored or significantly altered. As much as I enjoy the anime (specifically the films because of their focus on Legendary Pokémon), it can be grating at times to follow a character as annoying and unreliable as Ash and, because of that, Red is a breath of fresh air. Like his manga counterpart, Red is competent, brave, and determined; he starts out as a rookie, knowing very little about the basics and nuances of Pokémon battling, and quickly matures to the point where he can defeat Gym Leaders with ease, single-handedly brings down Team Rocket (something Ash is still struggling to do), and not only captures Legendary Pokémon but casually uses them as part of his team just like the player would. His fidelity to the player’s character and journey is commendable; he learns the same lessons that the player does throughout the game while still being his own distinct character separate from the player’s avatar, Ash, and even his manga counterpart.

Origins‘s fidelity is impressive, though it rushes through many usually-important plot points.

It’s this fidelity to the source material that elevates Pokémon: Origins and makes up the majority of its appeal; the anime strayed too far from the gameplay mechanics and spirit of the games for my taste, as much as I enjoy it, so it’s refreshing to see such a well-crafted and well-animated series tell a very similar story to the anime but in a way that is so much closer to the source material. The only thing that lets Pokémon: Origins down is the brevity of its narrative; limiting its story to just four episodes means so much of the game’s story gets glossed over and the focus can be a bit skewed at times. While, at its core, it focuses on Red’s journey and his mission to complete the PokéDex and his ongoing rivalry with Blue and Team Rocket, I can’t help but feel like this would have benefitted from being more like ten episodes to spend a bit more time on Team Rocket, Red’s battles against the Kanto Gym Leaders, and, specifically, his battles against the Elite Four.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Pokémon: Origins? How do you think it holds up when compared to the anime and numerous feature films? Did you enjoy how faithful it was to the source material or do you feel that it was weighed down by focusing on fidelity over telling a more unique story? Do you agree that certain parts were rushed or were you happy with the story it told? Which character, or Pokémon, is your favourite and why? How did you capture Mewtwo when you first played Pokémon? Whatever you think, do please leave a comment below and join me next Saturday for National Pokémon Day!

Talking Movies [Mewtwo’s Birthday]: Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back


MewtwoBirthday

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!


Talking Movies
Pokemon1stMovieLogo

Released: July 1998
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $5 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Madeleine Blaustein, Ikue Ohtani, and Kouichi Yamadera

The Plot:
Cloned from the genetic material of the rarest Pokémon of all, Mew (Yamadera), and enraged at its mistreatment at the hands of humans, the Psychic Pokémon Mewtwo (Bartlett) lures Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends to its island to witness its plan to enact revenge against all humanity.

The Background:
So, by now, you’re well aware of Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present), a role-playing videogame in which you capture, raise, and battle little monsters and which dominated playgrounds and friendships in the late nineties. After rushing out to purchase Pokémon: Blue Version or Pokémon: Red Version, kids soon became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise there was, and that included the still-ongoing Pokémon (1997 to present) anime series. Though somewhat removed from its videogame source material, the anime was popular enough to warrant the release of a feature-length animated movie that revolved around one of the most powerful and popular Pokémon, Mewtwo, and its ever-elusive biological counterpart, Mew.

Pokemon1stMovieLegacy
Pokémon led to a successful, long-running anime and, of course, the first of many movies.

Mewtwo represented the ultimate challenge in the original videogames; capturing it meant you had easily the strongest Pokémon the game had to offer and the creature was seemingly tailor-made for the game’s Master Ball, which captured any Pokémon without fail. In comparison, Mew wasn’t actually available in the original videogames outside of Japan, resulting in a slew of wild theories on how to capture it and kids either breaking their games with glitches or buying a Game Genie to get their hands on the mysterious little critter. For me, Pokémon: The First Movie has never been matched by other Pokémon movies in terms of its spectacle and hype. This was peak Pokémon, when the games and anime were at their most popular for my generation (matched only by the release of the follow-up titles), and the appeal of Mewtwo and mystery surrounding Mew was at the forefront of my mind and the minds of my friends and peers. Best of all, hints and glimpses of Mewtwo had been peppered throughout the anime: Giovanni (Ted Lewis) had used it in a battle against Ash’s rival, Gary Oak (James Carter Cathcart), and we’d seen it escape from Giovanni’s headquarters in explosive fashion. Never again would the anime so explicitly tie into one of the movies and the hype for Pokémon: The First Movie was palpable as a result.

The Review:
Pokémon: The First Movie opens with Mewtwo questioning its memories, its identity, and the reason for its creation. These issues haunt Mewtwo throughout the film and are the reason for its rage against, and hatred of, humanity; cloned from a single cell of the mythical Pokémon Mew, Mewtwo is tormented by visions from a life it doesn’t remember and feelings it can’t reconcile.

Pokemon1stMovieHatred
Mewtwo’s hatred for humanity makes it an aggressive and dangerous foe.

Add to that its “awesome Psychic powers” and Mewtwo doesn’t waste any time in breaking out of its containment tube and demanding answers from the Team Rocket scientists that created it. Incensed at the their lack of care for its feeling or condition, Mewtwo flies into a rage, destroying the lab and killing everyone within. This opening sequence effectively sets the tone for what is to follow; although the film is rated U for everybody, it’s a far darker and more sombre affair than the usually fun-loving anime series thanks, largely, to the changes made to Mewtwo’s motivations by producer Norman Grossfeld. This involved cutting an entire opening sequence which made Mewtwo a far more sympathetic figure and changing the Pokémon from a more ambiguous and tragic figure and into one that is clearly evil and motivated by anger. However, this doesn’t make it any less a tragic figure; Mewtwo suffers nothing but abuse and betrayal in its short life and its outrage is completely understandable.

Pokemon1stMovieCuriosty
Ash and his friends are invited to a Pokémon tournament.

Determined to take revenge against the human world, Mewtwo organises a Pokémon tournament on its island; after winning a Pokémon battle against a random trainer (in unbelievable fashion), Ash, Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) are invited to attend but soon find themselves opposed by a sudden storm. This world-covering tempest is actually a result of Mewtwo; in the dub, Mewtwo causes a storm that threatens all life on Earth rather than to simply cloak its island and, while debating how to brave the storm, Ash and his friends hear a story that is also exclusive to the dub. They are told of a time long ago when a storm wiped out countless lives; so heartbroken by the devastation, the surviving Pokémon’s tears “somehow restored the lives lost in the storm”. Though it obviously has many holes, this ridiculous premise actually works to help justify what happens at the end of the film and simplifies the film’s events for the younger viewers that made up the majority of its audience. Regardless, Ash and his friends manage to reach Mewtwo’s island thanks not only to their Pokémon (despite them being described as being “too weak” to brave the storm) and, partially, to assistance from their long-time enemies from Team Rocket, Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein), all of whom largely fulfil their usual roles as comic relief.

Pokemon1stMovieClones
Mewtwo plans to replace life with its genetically superior clones.

Once they reach the island and encounter Mewtwo, Ash immediately opposes Mewtwo’s plot to wipe the planet clean of all life, human and Pokémon alike, and replace it with its genetically superior clone Pokémon. What follows is an inevitable conflict between the naturally born and trained Pokémon of the trainers present and Mewtwo’s clones and a debate about the merits of fighting and the difference between nature and nurture. Now, obviously, the dub makes these aspects so on the nose and in your face that you’d be hard-pressed to miss them; the characters literally have an entire conversation in the middle of a no holds barred fight between the clones and the originals where they simply repeat “fighting is wrong” over and over. As a kid, this was a frustrating experience as those who didn’t understand Pokémon or who thought it was stupid would criticise this moment as all Pokémon ever seem to do is fight but I would argue that there is a clear difference in the games, anime, and in this movie and its subsequent sequels between battling for sport and in the name of friendly competition and fighting to the death.

Pokemon1stMovieThemes
Both Pikachu and Meowth refuse to fight their clones.

No one exemplifies the refusal to take part in such a pointless fight more than Pikachu (Ohtani); seeing it pointedly refuse to fight its clone and getting smacked around as a result was utterly heartbreaking but it serves to drive the point home extremely well. Even Team Rocket come to realise the pointlessness of such conflict, with Meowth also refusing to fight its clone and musing that individuals have more in common than they might think. Of course, all this surprising character growth and development is then rendered completely mute when Mewtwo wipes all of their memories, meaning that the only one who really learns a lesson is Mewtwo but, given that it was hell-bent on destroying all life on Earth, I guess that’s preferable.

Pokemon1stMoviePsychic
Psychic or otherwise chatty Pokémon featured in almost every subsequent movie.

Even after all this time, and despite some of its flaws, Pokémon: The First Movie is still a great film for me. Of all the Pokémon movies released, this, in my opinion, is still the best one; nostalgia obviously plays a large part in this but, while I enjoyed some of the later movies, none of them had quite the same appeal as this one. It introduced a few new Pokémon from the upcoming sequel games, showcased my favourite Pokémon (Mewtwo), and brought Mew into the spotlight for the first time. It’s telling that every single Pokémon movie that has followed has featured either a Psychic Pokémon or a Pokémon capable of speech/communicating and that they often have similar themes of an evil or misguided, stupidly powerful Pokémon having to be quelled. Pokémon: The First Movie did it first, and best, in my opinion, though.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned just now that the film has some flaws and, yeah, it would be ignorant not to address them. Compared to later movies in the series, Pokémon: The First Movie isn’t quite as crisp or as smoothly animated; indeed, the animation is clearly a step up from the regular anime but far from the gorgeously slick rendering of later films. While you could argue that the producers really didn’t need to replace certain aspects with computer-generated images (doors, some camera movements and effects and the like), I didn’t actually mind this; sure, it sticks out a bit but it’s harmless enough.

Pokemon1stMovieChanges
The dub changes Mewtwo’s motivations but it’s still a complex character.

Of course, the changes made to the script, specifically Mewtwo’s origin and motivations, irked many people but it was never really an issue for me; sure, I’d like to see it either redubbed or subtitled in the original Japanese format but I grew up with the dubbed anime and this version of the movie. It’s all I’ve ever known and I’ve always been happy with it despite how unapologetically the script hammers home its obvious themes. It is a bit weird, though, how the script makes a few errors in identifying Pokémon; it makes an ironic sense that lifetime bunglers like Team Rocket would mistake Sandshrew for Sandslash (even though they look very different) but it is a bit odd that a trainer would misidentify his own Pokémon. Mistakes like these are surprising but hardly a deal-breaker; it smacks of laziness and a lack of quality control but hardly derails the movie.

Pokemon1stMovieConflict
Mewtwo and Mew clash in a test of will and power.

Frankly, they could have screwed the names of all the Pokémon and I still would have been happy just to see the long-awaited fight between Mewtwo and Mew. Apparently evenly matched in terms of raw power, their fight disappointingly descends into them simply ramming into each other’s protective shields but it’s nonetheless quite brutal and exciting. It’s even quite surprising how vicious Mew is; it is portrayed the entire movie as this mischievous little pixie but, when push comes to shove, is more than happy to trade energy blasts with its monstrous counterpart and fight to prove its point.

Pokemon1stMovieDespair
Still a heartbreaking moment all these years later…

This, of course, brings me to one of the most heartbreaking moments you could experience as a kid; Ash, desperate to stop the fighting, leaps between the two and is inexplicably turned to stone. The moment is shocking (even for me…and I’ve never been that big a fan of Ash) but quickly becomes absolutely heartwrenching when Pikachu, confused and in despair, tries to rouse its master with little pushes and shock after shock. The fighting stops; friend and foe alike gaze in disbelief as Pikachu fails to awaken Ash and bursts into tears of grief. It’s absolutely heartbreaking even now just seeing Pikachu in such a desperate state. Luckily, that “tears of life” story pays off and the collective tears of all the Pokémon restore Ash but I never expected the movie to have this sudden, abrupt turn into the feels and it still gets me to this day.

Pokemon1stMovieReturn
This wouldn’t be the last time we see Mewtwo in a Pokémon movie.

Pokémon: The First Movie was a rousing success, earning over $170 million at the box office and kick-starting a slew of movies to follow. The producers circled back around to Mewtwo a couple of times after this, first in the direct-to-DVD sequel, Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns (Sonoda, 2000), which answered a few lingering questions from this film, and then Mewtwo and Mew also appeared in Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage (Yuyama and Fujita, 2006). Mewtwo also featured in Pokémon the Movie: Genesect and the Legend Awakened (Yuyama, 2013), though that film inexplicably and quite ridiculously featured an entirely different Mewtwo, and Pokémon: The First Movie was remade entirely in CGI in 2019 around about in time for the first film’s twentieth anniversary and, of course, who else but Mewtwo would feature as the principal antagonist in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (Letterman, 2019), a film that explicitly referenced Pokémon: The First Movie when discussing Mewtwo’s origins.

Pokemon1stMovieBanner

The Summary:
Never doubt the power of nostalgia; it can make even the crappiest polygonal graphics seem timeless and the most outlandish movies memorable. I still like Pokémon but I don’t really play the games anymore and am nowhere near as invested in the franchise as I was when Pokémon: The First Movie came out; I would scour magazines and comic books for glimpses of the film and the mysterious new Pokémon we knew nothing about and went out of my way to get a bootleg VHS of the movie just so I could watch it and see my favourite Pokémon in action. I admit that nostalgia plays a large part in my affection for Pokémon: The First Movie but it is still a really solid entry in the Pokémon movie series and a decent animated feature in its own right. It’s not as action-packed as the later entries and nowhere near as well animated or scripted but the hype was real and seeing Mewtwo and Mew go at it in this classic will never got old. It got me then and it still gets me now.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of Pokémon: The First Movie? Where does it rank for you compared to the other Pokémon films? Do you think it still holds up to this day or do you think it’s seen better days? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: The First Movie, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, leave your thoughts in the comments below

Talking Movies: Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution

Talking Movies
MewtwoEvolutionLogo

Released: July 2019
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $27 million
Stars: Sarah Natochenny, Michele Knotz, Bill Rogers, Ikue Ōtani, James Carter Cathcart, Michele Knotz, Dan Green, and Kōichi Yamadera

The Plot:
Cloned from the genetic material of the rarest Pokémon of all, Mew (Yamadera), and enraged at his mistreatment at the hands of humans, the Psychic Pokémon Mewtwo (Green) lures Ash Ketchum (Natochenny) and his friends to its island to witness its plan to enact revenge against all humanity.

The Background:
No doubt you are familiar with Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present), a role-playing videogame for Nintendo’s Game Boy and handheld consoles that, with no exaggeration, took the world by storm back in the late nineties. Everyone who was anyone rushed out to buy a copy of Pokémon: Blue Version or Pokémon: Red Version (ibid) back when they first released and, before long, kids everywhere were hooked on the seemingly never-ending stream of multimedia merchandise released by Nintendo. Chief amongst these was the still-ongoing Pokémon (1997 to present) anime series which, while somewhat removed from its videogame source material, nonetheless enthralled kids everywhere and, perhaps inevitably, led to the production of a feature-length animated movie, Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998). Then, for whatever reason, the decision was made, in the midst of a soft reboot to the Pokémon film series and anime alike, to remake this iconic movie entirely through the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), resulting in this modern twist on what is, in my opinion, still the best Pokémon movie ever made thanks, largely, to the power of nostalgia.

The Review:
Basically, Evolution is exactly the same story as its predecessor but with a few noticeable changes; the most obvious is, of course, the CGI animation but other things, such as dialogue changes, narrative changes, and changes to the music, all help to freshen up the original movie. The opening scenes are largely the same (but, once again, the film skips the prologue that sees Mewtwo make friends with other clones who heartbreakingly die right before his eyes) as Mewtwo is cloned from a single cell of Mew and, unimpressed with the motivations behind his creation, destroys the facility in which it was created and kills all the scientists who birthed it.

MewtwoEvolutionRevenge
Mewtwo swears revemge against humanity.

Summarily manipulated by Giovanni (Ted Lewis), the evil leader of Team Rocket and the mastermind behind its creation, Mewtwo’s rage against humanity leads it to organise a Pokémon tournament in order to build an army of clone Pokémon to “strike back” against the world that treated him so badly. In the middle of their journey through Kanto, Ash, Brock (Rogers), Misty (Knotz), and Pikachu (Ōtani) receive an invitation to Mewtwo’s island and, after braving a storm it created, immediately take umbrage to Mewtwo’s twisted world view and rally a group of trainers, their Pokémon, and even their long-time enemies from Team Rocket, Jesse (Knotz), James (Cathcart), and Meowth (ibid), in opposing Mewtwo’s plans.

MewtwoEvolutionOppose
Ash vehemently opposes Mewtwo’s plans.

Let me state first of all that, unapologetically, I absolutely love Pokémon the First Movie; I still remember going out of my way to purchase a bootleg VHS tape of the film back in the day before finally getting a legitimate copy from a car boot sale. As much as I’ve enjoyed subsequent Pokémon movies, nothing beats the nostalgia of revisiting the original film. It may have some flaws, largely based around the numerous changes made when dubbing the film into English that made Mewtwo far less sympathetic, but I will defend it to this day simply because it came right at the peak of Pokémon’s popularity for me; Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) were due to be released around that time and the hype was real concerning brand new Pokémon, to say nothing of finally seeing Mewtwo in all its glory (it had been teased in several episodes of the anime prior to the movie’s release), much less going head-to-head with Mew, which was the most elusive of game secrets at the time due to their being no legitimate way to catch it outside of Japan.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thankfully, Evolution doesn’t really alter that much from the original film, meaning that the only thing you’re really missing out on is the gorgeous anime aesthetic from the original. The CGI looks good on the Pokémon but the human models look a little…off, like they’re made of plastic, which gets a bit distracting at times.

MewtwoEvolutionBattles
A lot of the battles have been improved and expanded upon.

Additionally, there were a few odd choices made here; dialogue is altered significantly, to the point where it feels much closer to the original Japanese dialogue (if that makes sense) but then, about halfway through, the dialogue changes and is almost exactly the same as in the original film (Mewtwo’s closing monologue, for example, is pretty much word-for-word). There’s also the criminal decision to supplant the original dub score with a new one (those who preferred the Japanese score will likely be thankful for this, however) and completely remove Blessid Union of Souls’ ‘Brother My Brother’ from the epic final clash.

MewtwoEvolutionTears
Ash’s sacrifice still hits in the feels…

One change I did appreciate, however, was the complete remove of the “tears of life” sub-plot; in the original, Ash and the others are fed a nonsense story about Pokémon tears being able to restore the dead to life, which was completely missing from the original Japanese version. While this did bring a lot more context to Ash’s resurrection in the film’s climax, it never sat well with me in the original as it always felt wedged in there.

MewtwoEvolutionChanges
Evolution features some welcome alterations to the original.

Similarly, Mewtwo’s mechanical suit gets on hell of a bad-ass upgrade, Team Rocket’s amusingly ridiculous disguise as Viking sailors, of all things, is removed completely (and for the better), and minor niggles like Pokémon being referred to incorrectly have been addressed. There are also some improvements made through this remake, as well; the ambiguity surrounding Mewtwo’s motivations that was explicit in the original Japanese release is far more prevalent here than in the original dub, for one thing. Some of the battles also receive a makeover, such as Ash’s initial battle during the iconic Pokémon theme song and the battles between the cloned start Pokémon and their biological counterparts.

MewtwoEvolutionSUmamry

The Summary:
In the end, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a nice little update to a childhood favourite; it adds in a lot of subtle story beats that were missing, beefs up some of the battles and content, and adds a fresh coat of paint to a classic. Yet, at the same time, it feels incredibly redundant; beyond the CGI overhaul and a few of these alterations, there’s not much new happening here and, considering the fact that the Pokémon movies are completely removed from the anime, it feels a bit weird to have this suddenly released upon us. A big factor into my final score comes down to my unconditional love for the original movie but even I kind of feel like much of the same could have been accomplished by releasing a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the original movie with all of the cut content restored alongside the recording of a new dub and the option to watch in the original Japanese.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution? Do you think it is a good tribute to Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back or do you, perhaps, not share my fondness for that movie? Whatever the case, feel free to share your Pokémon thoughts and memories in the comments.