Pokemon Origins (2013) Review: The Best Thing to Happen to Pokemon in Too Long
It makes me sad to think kiddies today grew up in the land of the Pokemon Advanced (series 6) and beyond, where the series threw away all its most cherished characters and became truly redundant. The 1998 phenomenon is now clocking in at 16 seasons and 820 episodes, beating The Simpsons by 300. The majority of fans consider the adventures of Ash in the Indigo, Orange Islands and Johto regions the best of the series among the first handful of films and the Pokemon Chronicles (2006) episodes. These ditch Ash as the main character and go on side stories with other characters or interesting Pokemon. The animation of the original series is dated, Ash somehow got stupider, the story flaws are more obvious, but Misty, Brock and Team Rocket keep it entertaining, in small doses. The films stand up in time more than the series in terms of technical merit. Despite its age, Pokemon still has its charm.
It goes without saying that Pokemon’s popularity has shifted enormously and ever declining. Firstly game sales have shrunk from the whopping 31.37 million of Red & Blue to 8.86 million of X & Y. Most of the original fans now express their love through the games, the Pokemon Adventures manga and cuddle various Pokemon plushies (I know you have one). In September this year YouTube producer Kurt Hugo Schneider created a dubstep version of the first opening song, proof that Pokemon nostalgia is not in fear of dying.
In 2006 any chance of reclaiming the original fans was brutally murdered with 4Kids decision to recast the english dub cast from Season 9 onwards. Out of frustration many fans, even a staff member on the Serebii.net website contacted the original voice actors for some insight, and were promptly responded to.
“Pokémon USA has decided that it’s too expensive to use 4Kids and the actors that have made Pokémon the TV show such a success for the last 10 years. They have ‘behind our backs’ re-cast the show with ‘sound-a-likes’ to try to save money. They actually believe the fans don’t care. […] To change now, on the last season, based on greed is a sad example of what big business kids marketing really is.” – Eric “Brock & James” Stuart
The new dub was absolutely horrendous, miscast and badly acted. The only thing it succeeded to do was to make ears bleed, and give Ash a badly needed voice drop, who should be 16 years old by now. It made the otherwise flashy films like Giratina & The Sky Warrior (2008) unwatchable. It’s a dying shame that the films or the television series under the power of TAJ Productions still don’t contain a Japanese version. Even though it has some of the worst dub voices ever (matched only by Urusei Yatsura), fans still watching the series claim the new series have introduced some interesting characters. Dawn, apparently beats May and Max anyway. Season 12 Galatic Battles also brought along the best Pokemon Opening song since the very first: Battle Cry. Well done, miss Erin Bowman!
Bring on Pokemon Origins (2013)
Pokemon Origins makes it clear from the first shot that it is targetting the nostalgia crowd with the shot of a Gameboy screen. Origins came out along X & Y late 2013. There were thousands of fangasms at the release of this trailer alone, but how does it stand up in terms of piece of entertainment? Origins is divided into a measly four episodes which limits its potential in terms of the writing, but it is fast paced and has an end, unlike Pokemon itself. Origins receives brownie points for this fact alone.
The animation is a step up from the television show but it doesn’t match the likes of the films like Mewtwo Strikes Back. The character designs more closely resemble Digimon Adventure in terms of eyes and body proportions. The Pokemon look the same as ever and the backgrounds colors match the style of that in the show. The series exceeds in its smooth animation and depiction of complicated movement, especially in battle scenes. This is where the fun factor comes in, besides Red being a lot sharper in the head than Ash Ketchum. A strange addition is Gameboy or even Pokemon Stadium graphics here and there with health bars and dialogue rectangles. Without a doubt the aesthetics are the strongest aspect of this mini-series, even though it doesn’t match the height of anime in general like the fight scenes in Sword Art Online (2012).
The background music are melodies from the game but they are ramped up with a full orchestra and lots of violins. It sounds fantastic and adds to the atmosphere a great deal, even if the writing is questionable. There are no opening or ending songs to speak of, although an english dub was produced very quickly. It is extremely weird to watch familiar characters with different voices yet again. The strongest performance by far is Bryce Papenbrook (Kirito in SAO) as the earnest Red. Professor Oak by multi talented Kyle Hebert took a little while to get used to, and Brock is laughable as Johnny Yong Bosch (LeLouch from Code Geass). The acting sounds more natural than the replacement dub for Pokemon.
Pokemon Origins fails in the writing. Origins summarises the entire 8-badges and elite four arc at high-speed, with plenty of montages and terrible expository dialogue which is straight from the game. The characters are as thin as paper as there’s literally no room to expand on their personalities outside some cool Pokemon fights. Red is just cool because he’s not as stupid as Ash to ask “What Pokemon is that?” every time he sees something, and coming up with rash, naive ideas. This probably couldn’t have been avoided considering its length, but perhaps a different approach could have been used. After all, I don’t want a second series of Pokemon running along the one that already exists so I am happy to get a taster of this story.
The biggest flaw of Origins is that it doesn’t show us the journey Red goes to reach his destination. We don’t see his struggles or the friends he makes, only his greatest achievements. What made the first series of Pokemon great were the explorations of friendship and conflict between the characters. It could have worked better to pick a Red-only story arc and explore it in a four episode time frame. Origins is by no means a replacement for season one but it is entertaining, something Pokemon haven’t done for me in years. Even as a flawed production, Origins achieves something fresh and different in the franchise which is a breath of fresh air. Now, the only thing left for them to do is finish the story. Amen.
What do you think? Leave a comment.