Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, or watching the feature-lengthmovies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.
Released: 17 July 1999 Director: Kunihiko Yuyama Distributor: Toho Budget: $30 million Stars: Veronica Taylor, Neil Stewart, Rachael Lillis, Ted Lewis, Amy Birnbaum, Eric Stuart, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Eric Rath
The Plot: In the Orange Islands of the Kanto region, a cold-hearted collector (Stewart) sets in motion his plan to capture the Legendary Pokémon Articuno (Yumi Tōma), Zapdos (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Moltres (Rikako Aikawa) in order to upset the natural balance and bring forth Lugia (Rath), guardian of the sea. When Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends stumble upon the collector’s plot, they face a race against time to quell the battle between the Legendary Birds and keep the world from being destroyed by a tumultuous storm caused by their conflict.
The Background: Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was more than just a craze when it came over from Japan: it was a phenomenon that swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, battling and trading with one another, collected the trading cards, bought all the magazines and such, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). To say that expectations were high for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back(Yuyama, 1998) was putting it mildly; the film was not only a box office success but also enticed Poké-fans with glimpses of some completely new Pokémon!
Production of a second Pokémon movie took place during a transitional phase for the anime and the Pokémon videogames; having finished up his adventures in Kanto, Ash was travelling the Orange Islands while the developers worked on myfavourite gamesin the series, Pokémon: Gold Version and Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999). Pokémon the Movie 2000 (or “Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Phantom Pokémon: Lugia’s Explosive Birth”) was largely marketed around a brand new Legendary Pokémon, Lugia, who was the creation of Takeshi Shudo; Shudo was surprised not only when Lugia was incorporated into the games and anime but also when it was characterised as a male considering he regarded it as a more maternal Pokémon. Although the film made over $130 million at the box office, the critical reception was mixed to negative for the most part. Still, for me and many other Poké-fans at the time, Pokémon the Movie 2000 proved to be excellent promotion for the upcoming videogames and arguably was the first hint towards just how massive the franchise was set to become.
The Review: Pokémon the Movie 2000 opens by immediately introducing us to a central aspect of its plot, a prophecy that warns against disturbing the harmony of fire, ice, and lightning and foretelling the coming of a “Chosen One” to help quell the “beast of the sea”. This little rhyme emphasises that, although the “guardian” of the sea will arise should these elemental forces be pushed out of balance, “alone its song will fail and thus the world shall turn to ash”. Obviously, this has been slightly altered from the original Japanese version which, as I understand it, was slightly vaguer in its details and basically said that anyone could be the Chosen One if they were able to reunite the treasures found on islands near Samouti Island in the Orange Islands (that’s a lot of islands…) However, in the dub, it’s made ridiculously explicit that “ash” has a double meaning, which is kinda fun but I guess your enjoyment of this aspect will depend on how much of a fan of Ash you are.
Naturally, Ash, Misty (Lillis), and Tracy Sketchit (Lewis) are currently travelling around the Orange Islands and, thanks to their current guide, Maren (Tara Jane), they soon learn all about the same prophecy and the legend of the treasures from the natives of Shamouti Island. While Melody (Birnbaum) stresses that its just a simple legend that they observe for fun and frivolities, Ash takes to his duties as the “Chosen One” with vigorous enthusiasm and the gang notice that all of the Pokémon in the area, including Pikachu (Ōtani), are acting strangely. Sensing the tumultuous changes in the weather, which causes sudden rain and snowstorms, Pokémon flock to Shamouti Island in droves since they feel that the natural balance of the ecosystem is in turmoil. Melody is largely dismissive of the island’s rituals and customs, believing them to be outdated and boring, much to the chagrin of her older sister, Carol (Michelle Goguen); despite her frivolous and snarky attitude, though, Melody still takes part in the ritual, which calls for her to dance about in a pretty dress and play the “Guardian’s Song” on conch-like ocarina. When the natives peg Ash as being the Chosen One simply because he happens to be a young Pokémon trainer, Melody immediately finds a more interesting reason to play her role as she takes an instant liking to Ash, much to Misty’s annoyance. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the film and the main characters as Melody constantly winds Misty up by flirting with Ash. Clearly jealous of Melody, Misty acts all passive-aggressive at the suggestion that she is Ash’s girlfriend and, unlike in the last film where she (and basically everyone else) just stood around doing nothing, this at least gives her a small arc where she realises that she’d do anything to help out her friend.
Of course, the main characters are pursued by Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein) of Team Rocket; still determined to get their hands on Pikachu, Team Rocket soon find that they’ve once again bitten of more than they can chew as they are buffeted around by the rampaging storm and constantly bombarded by the Legendary Birds’ attacks. When they realise that the fate of the very world is at stake, though, they decide to join forces with Ash and his friends to help gather the treasures (since they wouldn’t be able to profit if the world is destroyed). This isn’t the first or the last time Team Rocket would team up with their enemies but they actually throw themselves into this heroic role with a surprising amount of gusto; not only do they help free Moltres and Zapdos from captivity, they also help Ash reach Ice Island and are basically prepared to die in order to see him succeed.
Their role as main antagonist is usurped by a cold-hearted, arrogant philanthropist (retroactively revealed to be called Lawrence III but here simply referred to as a “Collector” of rare Pokémon) who has spent his entire life obsessed with rare Pokémon, Legendary Pokémon, and studying the legend of the “Beast of the Sea”. His efforts lead him to attack the Shamouti Islands, employing tactics very similar to games of chess where he fire elemental blasts at each of the Legendary Birds and ensnares them in special electrical bands with, it has to be said, a ridiculous amount of ease. The Collector has seemingly no concern about the ramifications of his actions; he doesn’t care how capturing one Legendary Bird upsets the balance between the three and causes the Pokémon to run wild or that a raging storm brews under the sea that threatens the world. All he cares about it forcing Lugia to the surface so he can capture it for his vast collection (which is ironic as we never actually see his vaulted collection) and, even when the Legendary Pokémon are engaged in all-out war, he continues to pursue this goal and, as a result, finds his floating palace in ruins from Lugia’s desperate counterattack. While he is left defeated, the Collector ends the film free and resolves to begin his quest all over again, which I always found to be a poor ending as he really deserved to face greater consequences for his selfish and destructive actions.
However, while the Collector may be positioned as the film’s main threat, it’s actually the warring Legendary Birds who are the primary menace for Ash and his friends. Hugely territorial, the birds generally prefer to keep to themselves on their respective islands but, when Moltres is captured, Zapdos immediately overtakes Fire Island and expands its territory. It refuses to listen to reason and doesn’t seem to care about the effect this has on the environment; it just wants to lord over more land and, when the three birds are unleashed, they engage in all-out war against each other. The effect this had is destructive and immediate but also causes a greater threat to emerge beneath the ocean, where the true “Beast of the Sea” rages; this swirling mass of energy causes catastrophic weather changes across the world and threatens the safety of everyone.
With the Legendary Birds raging out of control, Lugia finally arises to put an end to their conflict; like Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), Lugia is fully capable of communicating with the human characters using is psychic abilities and, from it, they learn that they must bring all three treasures to a shrine and they play the Guardian’s Song in order to calm the warring trio down. While Lugia is extremely powerful, the numbers game overwhelm it constantly and its strength is directly tied to the success of the Chosen One; as a result, while it does everything it can to subdue the trio with brute force, it isn’t until Ash is able to fulfil his destiny that its powers are finally able to quell Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres and thus dissipate the environmental catastrophe that threatens the entire world.
The Nitty-Gritty: As in the last film, Pokémon the Movie 2000 merges traditional 2D anime with some CGI effects; however, as much as I enjoy this movie for its depictions of the Legendary Birds and the emphasis it places on Lugia, I always found the rendition of the four birds to be somewhat lacking compared to the likes of Mewtwo or other Legendary Pokémon. The animation is good, and of a higher standard than a regular episode of the anime, but it just doesn’t seem to look or feel as big as the last film despite having more action and higher stakes. Like the first film, there’s also a bit of computer-generation animation employed here, primarily in the Collector’s ship, the rendition of the underwater tumult, and some of the birds’ attacks; it seems to have been implemented much better compared to the last film but I wonder if a bit of CGI enhancement would have helped the birds to stand out a bit more.
While the use of rampant storms, wind, and rain is extremely similar to the aesthetic of the last movie, here it is a far bigger threat as we see the effect the trio’s battle has on Ash’s hometown and regularly cut away to a sub-plot involving Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) and Ash’s mother, Delia (Taylor), as they experience the severe phenomena, advise new reporters on what’s happening and theorise as to why, and even travel to the elemental islands to help out as best they can. There’s a clear and obvious environmental message in the film that warns about the dangers of interfering with or upsetting the natural order of things; while this can have severe ramifications for us in the real world, those in the Pokémon world are even more at risk as captured or provoking certain Pokémon can encourage or awake even more powerful and destructive creatures. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Pokémon the Move 2000 is its use of humour and jokes; there were some puns and gags in the first film but there’s loads of amusing little moments here, like when Misty and Melody are arguing about Ash and Tracey thinks they’re talking about him or a simple shot to Slowking (Nathan Price) when its sat in and covered by snow and it simply states, completely deadpan: “I could use pants”. These moments of levity really help to break up the film’s overall dark and bleak tone; the first movie was pretty dark in its implications and stakes but the second one escalates thing even further as the conflict between the Legendary Birds threatens to destroy the entire world and Ash is given the explicit role as the saviour of the planet rather than simply lucking into being a hero like usual.
Another area where Pokémon the Movie 2000 also excels is in its action sequences; as awesome as it was to see Mewtwo finally battle with Mew (Kōichi Yamadera), all they did was basically just bash into each other a bit while the other Pokémon slapped each other about and it did somewhat underdeliver in its fight scenes. That doesn’t happen here; Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos attack each other without mercy and with rampant aggression that threatens everyone and everything. Sadly, for a big Articuno fan like me, the Ice-type bird gets the short end of the stick a bit as it gets battered about by its counterparts but the film is a fantastic debut for Lugia, another of my all-time favourite Pokémon. While I would have preferred to see Lugia and its counterpart, Ho-Oh, share the screen (and it’s still weird to me that this never happened, as far as I know), Lugia is an enigmatic Pokémon in its own right and more than capable of battling against all three Legendary Birds for a time. While, like Mewtwo, Lugia’s powers are vast and formidable, its not an overpowered creature; it can calm the warring trio only when all three treasures are returned to the shrine and the song is played and it even seems to die a couple of times as it is overwhelmed by the Legendary Birds. A wise and enigmatic figure, Lugia is only as strong as the Chosen One to whom it is bonded, meaning that its success in battle hinges on Ash’s ability to live up to the lofty expectations of the prophecy (and his name). Of course, he succeeds in this endeavour (and without being turned to stone this time…) but it’s pretty touch and go for a while as he is relentlessly hounded by Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno and is only able to succeed with help from friend and foe alike.
The Summary: Since Pokémon Gold and Silver have always been my favourite Pokémon videogames, and my love of Pokémon was at its peak around this time, I’ve always had a soft spot for Pokémon the Movie 2000. It didn’t quite have the same epic feel as the first movie, mainly because the anime didn’t build towards the conflict or sow the seeds for the feature this time around and it would be difficult for any Pokémon film to match the mystery Mew elicited in young Pokémon fans at the time, but it was still a pretty impressive follow-up in its own right. With bigger, and more impressive action, a surprisingly emotional score and subtext, and debuting one of my all-time favourite Pokémon, the film is a decent entry and easily in my top three-to-five of all the Pokémon movies. Oddly, though, I don’t have quite the same level of nostalgia for this one compared to the first one and, in some ways, it might be a little more run-of-the-mill compared to the first movie but it’s got a lot going for it and, while I’m not much of a fan of Ash, it handled him being the “Chosen One” in a fairly amusing way. For me, it’s all about the battles between the Legendary Birds; while I’m still disappointed we never got to see Ho-Oh involved in the conflict, it was great seeing Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos going at it in a furious squabble over territory that threatened the entire planet and tying Lugia’s strength in with Ash’s courage helped to keep the tension, and the stakes, pretty high as they were constantly battling the odds the entire time so I’d say it’s definitely one not to underestimate for how engaging it can be in its own right.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Pokémon the Movie 2000? If so, what did you like about it; if not, how do you think it could have been better? Did you like the depiction of the Legendary Birds or would you have preferred to see them portrayed in a way that was closer to the source material? What did you think to the Collector as the main antagonist and the depiction (and debut) or Lugia? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-lengthmovies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” and a day for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.
Released: 15 November 2019 Developer: Game Freak
The Background: I’ve talked about Pokémon a few times but, until now, I haven’t actually sat down and done a proper review of one of the games; as I’ve indicated previously, Pokémon was an instant cultural phenomenon back when the games first dropped, taking playgrounds by storm and dominating almost every aspect of my generation through a slew of merchandise. I remember being so adamant about purchasing Pokémon: Blue Version that I bought it brand new rather than getting a cheaper copy of Pokémon: Red Version and my friends and I routinely played the game at break times at school or on the Nintendo 64 thanks to Pokémon Stadium (Nintendo EAD/HAL Laboratory, 1999). Although the developers originally intendedmy favourite games/generation of Pokémon, Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) to be the final entries in the series, Pokémon videogames continued to be developed, with new features, improved graphics and mechanics, and a whole bunch of new Pokémon being introduced in each generation.
However, in all that time, we never really got a proper version of Pokémon on home consoles; they were always spin-offs, battling games, or neutered versions of the main role-playing experience, which remained exclusive to Nintendo’s handhelds. Nintendo’s development of their Switch console changed that, however; thanks to the Switch’s unique ability to be both a handheld and a home console, players were finally able to experience a main series Pokémon game in glorious high definition with the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (ibid, 2018) Though remakes of the first Pokémon games, the Let’s Go games (like pretty much all Pokémon games) proved both successful and popular and, eager to keep their unstoppable cash-cow afloat, Game Freak began developing an original main series Pokémon title for the Nintendo Switch. This time, much to my interest and appreciation, the games would be set in a new region that was heavily inspired by locations in the United Kingdom, featured the return of mechanics from previous Pokémon games alongside some all-new ones, and would later expand upon its limited roster of Pokémon through a number of expansion packs.
The Plot: After years of waiting, the time has come for you and your childhood friend, Hop, to receive your very own Pokémon from Professor Magnolia. After Hop’s brother, Pokémon League Champion Leon, endorses your entry into the Gym Challenge, you prepare to journey across the region of Galar to earn a spot in the Pokémon League but, after a fateful encounter with the legendary Zamazenta, you also stumble upon a plot to use Galar’s precious Wishing Stars to cause Pokémon to enter a rampaging Dynamax state and bring about the apocalyptic “Darkest Day”!
Gameplay: I had (have? It’s honestly hard to tell these days) a friend once who told me that the reason he fell out of playing Pokémon was that the games hadn’t really changed since the days of Blue and Red. Personally, I find that a comfort; it means that if you haven’t played a Pokémon game in some time, perhaps years, you can still pick up a title like Pokémon Shield and know exactly how to play as the core gameplay mechanics are basically identical to how you remember them. Accordingly, Pokémon Shield is a role-playing game (RPG) in which you play as a young, up-and-coming Pokémon Trainer; as you explore Galar with your chosen Pokémon, you’ll encounter wild Pokémon which must be fought and defeated (or captured to be added to your team) and other Pokémon Trainers.
Battling other Pokémon earns your Pokémon both experience points (EXP) and effort value points (EVP); you can track your EXP using a handy gauge beneath your Pokémon’s hit point (HP) bar and, once it is full, your Pokémon will grow a level and its statistics (Attack, Defence, Speed, and the like) will grow depending on what sort of Pokémon you battled and the otherwise-hidden EVP you gained from each battle. When your Pokémon level-up, they may learn new moves; since each Pokémon can only know four moves at a time, it pays to think ahead about what moves you want your Pokémon to have. For example, you might have a Pokémon with a high Special Attack stat; if this is the case, it’s probably better to not load it up with Attack moves as it won’t deal as much damage. Conversely, your Pokémon may have a low Defence or Speed stat so you might want to invest in a few moves that raise these stats in battle (Iron Defence, Dragon Dance, etc). Through proper EVP training, though, you can tailor Pokémon to battle how you wish but it does take more effort; personally, I like my Pokémon to be proactive and aggressive, with a range of attacks suited to their strengths rather than worrying about raising stats. In the course of levelling-up, your Pokémon may also evolve; this process allows some Pokémon to assume an entirely new form, gaining significant stat boosts at the same time. Evolution is sometimes tied to other factors, such as using special stones, bonding with your Pokémon, having them hold a special item, the weather and time of day, or through trading them with a friend. Battling, capturing, and levelling-up Pokémon is essential not just to making your team stronger and earning Pokémon Dollars to spend on various items but also to complete the PokéDex. Each time you encounter a Pokémon, some of its data will be recorded so you know where to find it and what “Type” of Pokémon it is but you’ll only complete its PokéDex entry by capturing it yourself.
I mentioned Pokémon “Types” just then so I’ll get into that now; each Pokémon can be either one or a combination of two types and using type advantage is key to becoming a stronger and more capable Pokémon Trainer. Because of the tried-and-tested type mechanic, Pokémon battling is, essentially, like a game of rock, paper, scissors: Fire-type Pokémon are super effective against Grass- and Ice-types, for example, while Grass-types have the edge over Water- and Rock-types, and Water-types will make short work of Fire- and Ground-types. It’s a simple system that you can usually gauge by considering the colour and location of the Pokémon you encounter (a blue-coloured Pokémon on or in water is probably going to be a Water-type, for example) but one neat addition to this game is that the next time you encounter a Pokémon, whether you’ve caught it or not, the game will tell you which of your moves are effective or ineffective against it, making battling much less a case of trial, error, and experience. Being that Game Freak love to mix things up with each new generation and region, familiar Pokémon have also been given new typings in Pokémon Shield (Rapidash, for example, is traditionally a Fire-type Pokémon but is now a duel Psychic/Fairy-type Pokémon so it’s better to use Ghost- or Dark-type attacks) and, as is the standard now, Pokémon also come with different “Natures” and “Abilities” which give them slightly different traits or abilities in battle (such as raising stats causing or removing weather effects, or powering up certain moves).
Pokémon Shield’s big new thing is the “Dynamax” mechanic and the game’s Wild Area; normally in Pokémon games, you travel from town to town using “Routes”, passing through caves and forests and such along the way and, while you still do that here, Pokémon Shield introduces a vast open area filled with a variety of wild Pokémon and shifting weather patterns. Here, you can catch and train up your team but you’ll also encounter glowing Pokémon Dens; if these have a shaft of red light coming from them, you can participate (alone or with computer-controlled or online players) in a “Max Raid Battle” against a Pokémon that has entered the Dynamax state and grown to gigantic size. In these battles, which also occur in each of the game’s Gym Leader battles, you have the opportunity to Dynamax one of your own Pokémon; essentially the same thing as “Mega Evolution” from the previous games, Dynamaxing may allow you to perform more elaborate moves but it only lasts a few turns and you can just as easily defeat a Dynamax Pokémon with a normal Pokémon. It adds a slight wrinkle to the usual gameplay, though, as you’ll earn better rewards from such battles, like Technical Machines (TMs) and Technical Records (TRs) to teach your Pokémon new moves, special stones and items, and Watts (which is, annoyingly, a separate form of currency).
I glossed over it earlier but, as always, one of the main aims of the game is to capture Pokémon; you won’t get very far without a diverse team of at least four different Pokémon types (though it is conceivable) so it’s highly advised that you catch a variety of Pokémon and teach them diverse moves to make things easier on yourself. Thankfully, you can now see wild Pokémon on the map, meaning random battles are a thing of the past; you can choose to avoid or run past wild Pokémon, sneak up on them to battle rarer ones, or whistle or ring your bike’s bell to attract them, which is all very helpful if you’re in a rush or want to grind for levels. Pokémon are caught in the usual way; you battle a wild Pokémon until its HP is low (preferably in the red and with a status effect (paralyse, sleep, etc) inflicted upon them) and then throw one of the game’s many different Poké Balls. The lower the level of the Pokémon, the easier it is to catch and you’ll be able to catch higher level Pokémon as you defeat the Galar Gym Leaders; however, it has to be said that capturing Pokémon has become pathetically easy over the years. Back in the day, I would waste my entire stock of Poke Balls on some Pokémon but, now, you can often capture a Pokémon with your first ball without even weakening it, which severely reduces the fun and challenge of the game.
Speaking of which, Pokémon Shield has to include some of the most annoying and unnecessary hand-holding I’ve ever experienced; Pokémon games have often employed mini tutorials and hand-holding techniques but Pokémon Shield really takes the cake as you’ll be constantly lectured on how to battle, how to capture Pokémon, what each building is in a town, where to go, and what to do. There’s never any danger of you getting lost or not knowing where to go next as characters spell it out for you, force you where you need to go, block your exit until you’ve fulfilled an objective, and your handy-dandy map constantly displays your current objective and where you need to go. I’m sure it’s helpful for young or new players but I’ve been playing Pokémon since the start so it would have been nice to be able to turn this feature off.
Graphics and Sound: Thanks to the power of the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon has never looked better; no longer forced into the classic top-down RPG perspective, the game makes full use of its engine to display a number of dynamic camera angles (even giving you full camera control in the Wild Area), and every time you visit a new town or area, you get a nice little look at what the location has to offer.
Locations are based on those from right here in the UK; accordingly, there’s a lot of beautiful countryside (most of it barraged by ever-changing weather conditions), farm land, little towns and villages, and large, industrial towns based on the likes of London. Like the UK, Galar is united through a comprehensive rail system that allows you to quickly travel between towns; the stations are reminiscent of those here in the UK and you’ll also see other similar landmarks and familiar elements, such as a clock tower, an ostentatious ferries wheel, red phone booths, and Victorian/Gothic architecture. I guess because of this UK-influence, there’s a heavy emphasis on football and football-inspired iconography, meaning you’ll take on the Gym Leaders in massive stadiums packed with cheering crowds which really helps up the scale of these battles. The whole game has the usual anime-inspired aesthetic that Pokémon has been known for only now it’s heavily infused with some steampunk influences because of the nature of the region as well as being sleek and modern when in Galar’s bigger towns and featuring crystalline mines and more fantastical locations like Glimwood Tangle. Characters are all well modelled and expressive; while the game still doesn’t use voice acting, their personalities are all expressed through their dialogue boxes (featuring an abundance of British slang which really appealed to me; characters often casually call each other “Mate” or “Luv” and speak with recognisable British quirks and expressions) and their body language.
Though the base game “only” features four hundred of the eight hundred available Pokémon, each one has their own fully-rendered model with unique animations; add to that the various different regional forms, new evolutions, and the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms and you have plenty of little critters to choose from and keep you busy. As mentioned, they all appear on the overworld as well, making the Pokémon world finally feel large and alive, and they all have their own unique cries (with Pikachu still being the only one to speak its name, such is its popularity and appeal) and the new Pokémon and forms available here aren’t too bad. We’ve got such things as a football-loving rabbit, a bongo-drumming ape, fluffy sheep, cute little electric puppies, chubby chipmunks, and anthropomorphic lumps of glowing coal. Then there’s weird shit like a haunted teapot, an animated apple, and penguins with ice cubes on their heads! I have to say, though, that I remain unimpressed with a lot of the names for these new Pokémon; I mean, come on, a Fire-type rabbit and you call it “Cinderace” instead of “Hareblazer”!? The legendary Pokémon aren’t all that much to shout about either; the mascots, Zacian and Zamazenta, are okay, I guess, and Eternatus is pretty bad-ass but the majority of the other legendaries are locked behind the pay wall of the game’s expansion pass. In terms of sound, not much really jumped out at me; the classic Pokémon games were full of catchy little tunes that brought Routes, towns, and battles to life and while that is true of Pokémon Shield, none of it really stuck with me…with the exception of the Gym Leader battle theme! This rocking, energetic piece changes tempo depending on how well you are doing and ramps up once the Gym Leader busts out their Pokémon’s Dynamax form; this theme alone really got the blood pumping for those battles and worked with the stadium setting and roaring crowd to really make the stakes feel high for a change.
Enemies and Bosses: As you explore Galar, you can choose to battle the various Wild Pokémon that are wandering throughout the overworld; these will hide in grass or underwater, run out into the street, chase you (or run from you), or more powerful variants may pop up in the Wild Area. In each instance, you have much more flexibility about engaging or fleeing from these battles; when you battle, you’ll still earn EXP even if you capture the Pokémon and, in a change that I’m sure irked many, all of your Pokémon will gain some EXP from every battle (but only those that actually participate will gain the most and the EVP from each battle). Like all Pokémon regions, Galar is also populated by other Pokémon Trainers; these days, the game clearly shows you a fellow Trainer’s line of sight so you can try to sneak past or avoid them but I recommend battling every one you come across to level-up your team faster and earn more money. Pokémon Trainers are generally armed with only one or two Pokémon in the early going but eventually have more (and far stronger) Pokémon in their team.
When battling, be sure to keep an eye on the Power Points (PP) of your Pokémon’s moves; each move has a certain amount of PP and, when it’s spent, you can’t use that move anymore and may be reduced to literally struggling to survive. Similarly, as with many Pokémon games, you may have to battle two trainers at once in a double battle either alone (with two of your Pokémon) or with a computer-controlled partner (usually Hop). In these battles, it’s important to consider the effect your attacks may have on your partner and the game encourages players to use moves like Helping Hand or Wide Guard to help protect or buff your partner (of course, because I adopt an aggressive approach to battling, I don’t do this). As in every other Pokémon game, you’ll also run afoul of a team; in this case, it’s the punk-rock-inspired Team Yell. Unlike other teams, though, Team Yell aren’t out to steal or manipulate Pokémon or to destroy the world; instead, they are the cheerleaders and groupies for one of your rivals, Marnie. Led by Marnie’s older brother (and Gym Leader), Piers, Team Yell generally cause a nuisance by blocking your path or forcing you into a single or double battle at various points but are little threat compared to the likes of Team Rocket or Team Magma/Aqua.
As I alluded to above, the game also includes the standard rival mechanic; for the most part, your rival is Hop, your childhood friend, with whom you have a friendly rivalry with. Hop will accompany you into new locations and areas, often battling alongside you or while you’re battling someone else, and is extremely enthusiastic in following in his brother’s footsteps and besting the Gym Leaders before you. As a result, when you encounter Hop he will generally challenge you to a Pokémon battle but, as the plot eventually reveals, Hop is no Blue or Silver; hell, he isn’t even a good substitute for May! You’ll have no trouble at all wiping the floor with Hop each and every time you battle him and he actually drags you down in double battles since he’s so useless; the only time he’s a threat is right at the end of the post-game when he’s captured Zacian and, even then, it is that legendary Pokémon that causes you the most trouble as opposed to Hop himself. Marnie and Bede are also two of your rivals, though you encounter and battle them far more infrequently than Hop. Both share the same desire as you and Hop to conquer the Gym Challenge and, though Bede is disqualified from the Challenge after he steals a bunch of Wishing Stars, he returns to interrupt the finals of the Champion Cup to battle you once more. However, if you have a well-balanced team at a high level, neither of these rivals will really cause you much of a headache.
That strategy also applies to the game’s Gym Leaders, who act, as always, as the closest thing Pokémon has to “bosses”. You must defeat each of the eight Gym Leaders to earn Badges and qualify for the Champion Cup; each time you defeat a Gym Leader, they award you with a TM, some clothes to wear, and you earn the right to capture and own Pokémon of a higher level. There’s a pretty big gap between the start of the game and your first battle against Milo, meaning that, if you’re anything like me, you run the risk of your Pokémon being over-levelled and thus ignoring your commands so, again, it’s best to have a diverse team at different levels to ensure that doesn’t happen until you have acquired the right badge. Before you can battle a Gym Leader, you’ll have to take on their Gym Mission; before, you used to just walk into the Pokémon Gym and battle the Gym Leader’s disciples, maybe solving a puzzle or two, but the games have increased the puzzles and requirements to reach the Gym Leader over the years and Pokémon Shield is the culmination of that. As a result, you’ll be herding Wooloo around, solving a water puzzle, earning points in double battles while your partner tries to scuttle you, navigate a maze, answering questions and battling a gauntlet of Trainers like it’s a stage audition, battle members of Team Yell down a dingy alleyway block by Mr. Mimes, and having to conquer three Trainers in double battles. The challenge of these missions varies and ranges from ridiculously easy to unnecessarily annoying but the end result is the same; eventually, you’ll get dressed into your special stadium attire and head out onto the Gym Leader’s stadium to challenge for a Gym Badge.
When battling Gym Leaders, the battles are given more variety thanks to the use of more dynamic camera angles which alternate between shots of the battle and the crowd and include televised shots. Again, though, anyone who has played Pokémon before has a distinct advantage in these battles; if you’re anything like me, you’ll grind and train between Gym battles and ensure that your team is as strong as possible to take full advantage of each Gym Leader’s chosen type. Milo uses Grass-types, Nessa uses Water, Kabu uses Fire, Allister uses Ghost-types, Opal and Bede favour Fairy-types, Melony uses Ice-types, Piers and Marnie use Dark, and Raihan uses Dragon-types. You always know which type each Gym Leader uses before you challenge them and the game smartly places wild Pokémon in the nearby region that will give you an advantage in battle that, and your training, means that you can easily sweep through each of the Gym Leaders without breaking a sweat even when they bust out their Gigantamax Pokémon. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pokémon game without some kind of nefarious deed going on; in this case, Rose, president of Macro Cosmos and the chairman of the Galar Pokémon League, has been gathering the Wishing Stars than enable Dynamaxing in order to bring about the fabled Darkest Day through mass Dynamaxing and the awakening of the legendary Pokémon, Eternatus. Before you can stop him, you’ll have to battle his co-conspirator and secretary, Oleana, who leads you on a wild goose chase that sees you battling corrupted League Staff in order to get a key to confront Rose; you’ll then have to battle Oleana herself who, despite the diversity of her team, is easily bested if your team is well-trained and varied enough to match her Pokémon.
When you finally confront Chairman Rose deep within the Hammerlocke Energy Plant, you won’t be faced with much of a challenge since all of his Pokémon are Steel-types; this means that he is easily decimated with a Fire-type Pokémon but, after he is defeated, you are forced to battle the enraged Eternatus after Leon fails to capture it. Eternatus appears in two forms, its regular form and its horrific Eternamax form; you can’t capture it in its base form or use Dynamax when battling either of its forms and you’re forced to team up with Hop, Zamazenta, and Zacian to whittle its HP down and capture it (with, again, a ridiculous amount of ease; time was that legendary Pokémon were nigh-on impossible to catch but modern Pokémon games make them a breeze!) After all that palaver is taken care of, you finally get to finish off the Champion Cup; in a change of pace, rather than tackling the Elite Four of the region and the regional champion, Pokémon Shield has you participate in a three round, single-elimination tournament against the other Gym Leaders to earn the right to face Leon. This is a bit disappointing as, rather than facing off with Galar’s best and brightest Trainers, you end up doing what is, essentially, a “boss rush”. On the plus side, Leon can actually be a tough battle thanks to the strength and variety of his Pokémon (though, to be fair, I only found this because I started with the wrong Pokémon in the lead of my team). Once you defeat Leon and become the Champion, the credits play pretty much right away (there’s no Hall of Fame ceremony here) and you move on to the post-game.
In the post-game, you have to travel all around Galar revisiting the Pokémon Gyms to quell the anger of various out-of-control Dynamax Pokémon; for the first few battles, you’ll fight alongside Piers, Hop, and another Gym Leader but, for the rest, you go it alone. Luckily, though, by this point your team should be well in the late-level-fifty or early-sixties so these battles aren’t much of a hassle. You’re also introduced to two new antagonists, the ridiculously-named Sordward and Shielbert, who see themselves as the rightful kings of Galar and are actually pretty tough since their Pokémon are at level sixty. It’s actually beneficial, for the first time ever, when you battle them alongside Hop, and once you defeat them you’ll get to battle and capture Zamazenta. Unlike Eternatus, Zamazenta is not so easily caught in the usual assortment of Poké Balls but, luckily, you can just toss your Master Ball at it to snag it without any effort at all.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you explore Galar, keep an eye out for red and yellow Poké Ball-like items on the ground and twinkles of light; picking these up will award you with items, TMs, ingredients, and other helpful pick-ups to aid you in your battles. You can also use for Pokémon Dollars and Watts to spend in various ways; Poké Marts are now a thing of the past, with these shops now being located inside of Pokémon Centers, but you can also spend your money at various travelling merchants across the map and in clothing stores. You can buy and pick up helpful items that will heal a certain amount (or all) of a chosen Pokémon’s HP, restore their PP, revive them from fainting, or heal them of any detrimental status effects. You can also acquire different types of Poké Balls; the standard variant is decent enough in the early going but you may need to utilise the Great and Ultra Balls to capture higher-level Pokémon or use special balls to increase your chances (Dive Balls for Pokémon caught while fishing, for example, or Net Balls for Bug-types). You can also get your hands on items that increase your Pokémon’s level, Dynamax level, stats, PP, and EXP or which can be used once in a battle to raise certain stats or increase certain abilities.
These days, Hidden Machines (HMs) aren’t really a thing anymore so you don’t need to worry about wasting a move slot or a member of your team with moves like Surf or Fly. Instead, you can call upon a Flying Taxi to fly around the map and upgrade your Rotom Bike to cross over water; the Rotom Bike is far faster than your usual jog, as well, and can be further upgraded to go even faster. You can still get TMs, though, which can be used multiple times to teach new moves to your Pokémon. TRs are a new addition and are primarily earned through Max Raid Battles and spending Watts; these break after use, though, so be sure to spend your Watts wisely.
Your biggest power-up in Pokémon Shield, besides the usual evolution mechanic, is the new Dynamax mechanic. However, Dynamaxing is quite limited; unlike Mega Evolution, you can only Dynamax at certain specific points in the game and it is, honestly, rather pointless. It’s impressive to see and fun to behold two giant, goofy-looking Pokémon butting heads but, as I mentioned, you can defeat Dynamax Pokémon with a regular Pokémon as long as you’re strong enough and have the type advantage. Some Dynamax Pokémon make things difficult by putting up a barrier that must be whittled down but, otherwise, it’s a fun and interesting new feature that, I feel, is a bit squandered and wasted because of its limitations.
Additional Features: It’s a Pokémon game so, naturally, there is a lot to do; most of these additional features are holdovers from previous Pokémon games: battling, capturing, and evolving Pokémon; any Poké Ball having a random chance of capturing a Pokémon without fail; leaving Pokémon at the Day Care to breed new Pokémon; customising your avatar’s gender, hair style, and clothing at the start of the game and throughout by buying new clothing; meeting the game developers in a hotel; using the menu screen to save, view items and your map; and customising your Pokémon team placement, moves, and markings, and acquire various items through the online Mystery Gift function.
There are, however, some changes, as you might expect; characters will award you with their League Cards (though I’m not sure of their purpose; it seems you can swap and trade them online, though) and you can also customise your own League Card using the PC in the Pokémon Center. You’ll also find the Name Rater, Move Deleter, and Move Reminder non-playable character (NPC) in the Pokémon Center; amalgamated into one character, you can change your Pokémon’s nickname and delete and relearn moves as often as you like with this NPC. Furthermore, you can press Y during battles to see what your moves will do and get a snapshot of any status and type ailments you need to be aware of and press X to throw a Poké Ball without having to access the in-game menu; your PokéDex even offers you recommendations for Pokémon to catch in the immediate area to help you take on upcoming Trainers and Gym Battles and every time you acquire an item for the first time, a little text box tells you what it is in another case of helpful hand-holding. Some of the game’s additional features are more fun and useful than others; when it’s your birthday, the Pokémon Centre NPCs will make a big fuss of you, which is a nice touch, but then you can also sit on chairs and benches for absolutely no reason or benefit other than immersion. You eventually acquire the ability to access your PC boxes remotely so you can swap your team out on the go, which is useful, and, while you can retake the Champion Cup over and over and even invite specific characters to compete against you in it, you still can’t rebattle previously defeated Pokémon Trainers.
There is a startling amount of online connectivity in Pokémon Shield; when connected to the internet and in the Wild Area, other players will spontaneously appear to join you in Max Raid Battles and offer helpful items. You can also battle and trade with others players online, as usual, but you’ll need to pay for the Switch’s online service to do any and all of these things, which is a real greedy move on Nintendo’s part as you never had to do that in the previous games! You can also set up a tent at any time, and may encounter other player’s Pokémon Camps; here, you can “speak to” and play with the Pokémon in your team to improve your bond with them. Doing this, and being a good, consistent trainer, means your Pokémon try harder in battle and will land more critical hits, keep themselves from fainting, or even shake off status effects to please you. In the Pokémon Camp, you can also take part in the game’s newest mini game: curry making. By exploring the overworld and shaking trees, you’ll acquire a variety of berries and other ingredients to throw into a cauldron and whip up a variety of curries. While camping gains your team some EXP by default, curry will provide them with a lot more EXP and also restore their HP; certain NPCs will also rate and reward your curry-making skills and you can make curry with other players if they join you in a camp. Furthermore, by accessing the PC, you can send your Pokémon off on jobs to earn them some EXP outside of battling (though I never actually bothered with this).
You can also acquire rewards by using the Lotto ID on any PC, which will randomly check the identification numbers of your Pokémon and award a prize if it matches, take part in the Rotom Rally to race through the Wild Area collecting balloons for boosts and time, or visit the various cafés across Galar once a day to compete in a double battle for additional rewards. As you conquer the Gym Leaders, you’ll also acquire fans; NPCs will cheer you on when you roll into the stadium and congratulate you after each victory, which is nice, and you are often given the choice of a couple of responses to in-game dialogue but it doesn’t really affect the story in any meaningful way so go nuts and tell that loser Hop what you really think about him! As mentioned, Pokémon Shield also continues the tradition of featuring some post-game content; this sees you revisiting the Galar Gyms to battle Dynamax Pokémon, opposing Sordward and Shielbert, and mainly exists to give you the chance to capture Zamazenta. While you can still use fossils to resurrect long-extinct Pokémon, there are no roaming legendaries to be found in the base game and the closest the game has to a powerful Super Boss is the aforementioned battles against Zamazenta and Hop. Once you clear the post-game, the Battle Tower opens up and you can take on its level-capped challenges to rise up the ranks, earn Battle Points (BP), and acquire rarer items but I’ve never liked the Battle Tower so I didn’t spend much time there. Honestly, Pokémon Shield’s post-game is severely lacking, especially compared to other Pokémon games; this may be because Nintendo are charging players £20 to expand the Galar region with new areas, Pokémon, forms, and challenges with their expansion passes, which is a bit of a piss-take and I am honestly shocked at how greedy Nintendo have become!
The Summary: It’s been a while since I played a main series Pokémon game; I was pretty happy to be all but done with the franchise before I got my Nintendo Switch but revisiting the world of Pokémon is like meeting an old friend you’ve lost touch with. While there are a few new mechanics here and there to make things interesting for long-time players, Pokémon remains as accessible as ever thanks to the core gameplay mechanics staying largely the same even all these years later. All that’s really changed is the presentation and, to be fair, Pokémon Shield looks fantastic and really increases the scope and size of its world to make you finally feel totally immersed in a live, breathing environment. Unfortunately, for every good idea Pokémon Shield has, there are a few nitpicks that drag it down a bit: Dynamax is an interesting mechanic and I do prefer it to Mega Evolution in a lot of ways but it’s far too limited, there’s way too much hand-holding for my tastes, you still cannot have rematches with NPCs and, while you can encounter other players in the Wild Area, Nintendo still refuse to let you download an NPC of your friends into the game to act as a rival, and the game is maybe too helpful with all of its new features, meaning that there really isn’t much challenge for veterans of the franchise. Still, the presentation is great, especially in the way the game handles battles against Gym Leaders, and it is a top-class game in its own right…I just wish Nintendo hadn’t gotten so greedy and forced you to pay for the online features and post-game content.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What are your thoughts on Pokémon Shield? Perhaps you bought Pokémon Sword instead; if so, why was that and which of the two do you prefer? Which starter did you pick and why, and who made it on to your final team? What did you think to the Dynamax mechanic and the way the game presented Gym battles? What features did you like, or dislike, or would you like to see return to the series? Were you also annoyed at the hand-holding in the game or do you like always knowing exactly what to do and where to go? What did you think to Hop and the post-game content? Are you planning on buying the expansion pass? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.
Air Date: 2 October 2013 WorldwideNetwork: 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: RedVersion 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-lengthmovies and television specials being regularly produced.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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!
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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.
Make no mistake about it, when Pokémon Blue Version and Pokémon Red Version (Game Freak/Nintendo, 1996) were released in 1996, they didn’t just change the videogame industry; they redefined it completely. While other videogame franchises were extremely popular, Pokémon was an unparalleled phenomenon. Literally, when I was a kid, there was nothing like Pokémon; everyone was into it, everyone played it, everyone wanted more of it. I remember wanting to buy Pokémon Blue so badly that I actually bought it brand new for £5 more than the Red Version just so I could play the edition I wanted. Once we had completed the videogames and traded as much as we could, we extended our experience with the various glitches in the videogames by using the infamous Fly glitch to catch Missingno or .M, obtain a whole bunch of Master Balls, Rare Candies, and vitamins, and also to catch the elusive Mew. I remember playing my version of Pokémon Blue for well over 150 hours fighting the Elite Four over and over again and raise my team to Level 100 and to fully evolve every Pokémon. As we were playing the videogames, everyone was also deeply into the anime, religiously watching and following every episode, and even swapping and comparing their trading cards (though I never actually saw anybody battling with them).
With Pokémon such a huge hit among my generation, and my circle of friends, excitement reached fever pitch with the release of Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) and when, during the anime, marketing, the film’s fun little short, Pikachu’s Vacation, and the movie itself, we all got our first glimpses of brand new Pokémon. At the time, these Pokémon were referred to as Pikablu and Buru/Snuffle; though they, and Togepi, would later turn out to be rather inconsequential Pokémon in the eventual sequels, they caused a wave of controversy and speculation in the playground. People would catch Missingno’s and rename them “Pikablu” just to trade them into other people’s videogame’s and glitch them out and wild theories ran rampant about how these Pokémon could be caught in Blue, Red, and Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (Game Freak/Nintendo, 1998).
Anticipation was so hot for the eventual release of Pokémon Gold Version and Pokémon Silver Version (ibid, 1999) that we rushed to download GameBoy emulators and Japanese ROMs of the videogames just to play them. We even saved them onto floppy disks (remember them!?) and brought them into school to play; it didn’t matter that we couldn’t read the Japanese text and had no idea what was going on, we just wanted the new Pokémon videogames that badly! You have to remember that, back then, the Internet was still really new; where I grew up and went to school, I had the most basic of dial-up connections and was never allowed online for more than a few minutes at a time, meaning that our entire stream of information about Gold and Silver was based on speculation, videogame magazines, and the anime. So when we saw more of these new Pokémon appear in Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One (Yuyama, 1998) and in the anime, anticipation was at an all-time high! In the end, I got a copy of Pokémon Silver from my best friend, who gave me a French copy of the videogame that was, as a European cartridge, in English and fully compatible with UK consoles and, let me tell you, the hype was entirely worthwhile.
The improvements in the new videogames were immediate; being on the GameBoy Color, the bold, cartoonish graphics were no longer hindered by the GameBoy’s always-primitive colour palette. In addition, the music and sound effects, already one of the most recognisable and enjoyable aspects of Pokémon, had improved dramatically. Having picked Squirtle in Pokémon Blue, I decided to shake things up and choose the fire-type Pokémon, Cyndaquil, for my new adventure in the Johto region (as a general rule, I stay away from grass-types as I feel they have far too many weaknesses and are ineffective as offensive Pokémon). Unlike Blue and Red, your rival is not a fellow Pokémon trainer but, instead, a young boy accused of stealing one of Professor Elm’s starter Pokémon. After your first encounter with him, you’re given the option of naming him for the police, and run into him at various points throughout the videogame. Unlike the rival from Blue and Red, though, this aspect is not as prominent as it originally was; instead, the narrative emphasis is split across numerous objectives: in addition to bringing your rival to justice, you must also catch all the Pokémon and complete the Pokédex, stop the return of Team Rocket, defeat all of the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four to become the Pokémon Champion, capture the roaming legendary beasts Entei, Raikou, and Suicune, investigate the Ruins of Alph, and capture the legendary Ho-oh and Lugia.
Gameplay-wise, Gold and Silver remained relatively unchanged; alongside super-rare shiny Pokémon, two new Pokémon types were introduced, Steel and Dark, and the Special stat was split into Special Defence and Special Attack (these last three effectively gave players a better chance of combating the previously over-powered Mewtwo). One of the greatest additions to the series ever was a little bar underneath the HP meter that filled up after each battle, allowing you to visually see how many Experience Points your Pokémon had and how close they were to levelling-up; in addition, players were given a Pokégear, which acted as a map, telephone (allowing you to have rematches with trainers you’d previously beaten), and a radio (used for gameplay tips, to awaken sleeping Pokémon, and to pick up transmissions from the Ruins of Alph).
Other new features included a day and night system (which would not return until 2006), letting your mother save money for you (which would result in her buying you cool toys for your room), the ability to have your Pokémon hold items (including Berries) that could improve their speed, offensive or defensive capabilities, heal or cure status ailments, or to help them evolve, brand new PokéBalls that were more effective at catching specific Pokémon types, and perhaps the most significant gameplay feature: egg hatching. Up to two Pokémon could be left at a Day Care Center which, if the Pokémon are compatible (or if one is a Ditto), will result in the player receiving an Egg. After walking around with the Egg for varying amounts of time, the Egg would hatch, producing either a brand new Pokémon or a Pokémon that knows a move it normally wouln’t. Egg breeding, for some dedicated players, became as instrumental as EV training to crafting the best Pokémon possible; personally, I just used it to fill up the Pokédex with the brand-new Baby Pokémon like Pichu. What really made Johto stand out from Kanto, though, was the sheer size and variety the region allowed; not only could you walk, cycle, surf, and fly around the region, you could also travel up and down waterfalls and through whirlpools to reach new areas and legendary Pokémon. Best of all, and unlike any other region ever, defeating the Johto Elite Four awarded players with the S. S. Ticket which allows them to board the S. S. Aqua and travel back to Kanto! This basically means that you get to revisit every area from Pokémon Blue and Red (excluding the Cerulean Cave) and rebattle not only all of the Kanto Gym Leaders (some of whom are new, including the previous videogame’s rival, and with new Pokémon) but also the Kanto Elite Four!
Make no mistake about it, this is still the greatest post-game feature in any Pokémon videogame. I don’t give a damn about the Battle Frontier or any of that noise and, while hunting down legendary Pokémon is fun and rewarding, nothing beats going back to the previous videogame’s region and, effectively, doubling the length of the videogame. The Pokémon in Kanto are a higher level than before, offering a greater challenge to your now-stronger team, and you can even acquire a Pass to take a train back and forth between the two regions. As no Pokémon videogame since has been as big as Gold and Silver, this, coupled with Pokémon being at the peak of its popularity among my generation at the time, means that Johto is, and will forever be, the greatest region ever seen in all of the franchise. Not only can you battle with a friend using the Link Cable and then battle that friend again whenever you wish by visiting Viridian City, not only can you travel back to Kanto and rebattle all the old Gym Leaders and Elite Four, but, once you have completed this, you gain access to Mt. Silver where, after traversing a difficult mountain cave filled with high-level Pokémon and utilising a whole bunch of HMs, you reach the top of the mountain and are challenged by Red, the player character from Blue and Red in what remains one of the toughest Pokémon battles ever! Finally, there was Pokémon Crystal Version (Game Freak/Nintendo, 2000), a third version of the videogame that, like Pokémon Yellow, expanded and improved upon the Gold and Silver experience. For the first time ever, players could now choose to play as a girl, Pokémon sprites had limited frames of animation to bring them to life, the first of the Battle Towers was included, and the videogame featured a brand-new side-plot involving Suicune and the Unown. Given that it contained the best of both versions, and more, Crystal was probably the preferred title to pick up at the time though, for me, its release coincided with a noticeable drop in popularity for the franchise that would not be rekindled for some time.
In 2009, Game Freak and Nintendo released upgraded and enhanced versions of Gold and Silver for the Nintendo DS; Pokémon HeartGold Version and SoulSilver Version brought Johto up to date with the graphical improvements made to the series since the release of Pokémon Diamond Version, Pearl Version, and Platinum Version (ibid, 2006; 2008) while also reintroducing gameplay mechanics not seen since Pokémon Yellow. While Pokémon titles between Pokémon Crystal and HeartGold and SoulSilver were fun, they paled in comparison to the experience offered by Gold and Silver; because of that, having these videogames updated and enhanced on the Nintendo DS was like downing a glass of sweet-tasting nostalgia and finally allowed me to re-capture that same level of excitement that can only be experienced through the eyes of a child. With 251 Pokémon to capture, Gold and Silver’s Pokédex was nowhere near as impossible to complete as today’s 800-plus. Though the mystery surrounding Celebi never came close to that of Mew, and there was never quite the same amount of rampant rumours or glitches in Gold and Silver as in the previous videogames, Johto’s scope, coupled with the numerous new features that only enhanced the gameplay of Blue and Red, made Gold and Silver far superior to their predecessors in every way. While characters like Red and Blue have been semi-recurring throughout the franchise, Gold/Ethan, Silver, and Kris/Lyra have been cruelly overlooked and under-featured in everything but the long-running Pokémon Adventures manga.
Many of the innovative gameplay mechanics introduced in Gold, Silver, and Crystal carried over into later Pokémon titles; shiny Pokémon and egg breeding (and hatching) became recurring themes, hold items gained more prominence, interactivity between the player and non-player characters was increased through various Key Items, Battle Towers were expanded and made increasingly challenging, Pokéballs increased in their variety, and roaming Pokémon became commonplace. However, with each new iteration and expansion, Pokémon always seemed to be striving to recapture the magic of the Johto era. Admittedly, and obviously, a lot of this is due to nostalgia but, for me, Pokémon would never be as popular or as exciting as when Gold and Silver were released and, to this day, I would always choose to revisit Johto above any other Pokémon region, new or old.