This is it. The final Pokémon Week post (save for the sequel our Friday Flashback, if you guys submit!). And to be honest, it’s kind of a continuation of my post on the anime. In fact, I was planning on talking about Pokémon Origins in that post, but ran out of time (did you know, it takes a much longer time to write a post when you have to watch a bunch of episodes of something while writing it? It’s true!).
But I think, actually, that it’s better I wasn’t able to. Pokémon Origins isn’t something that can just be tacked on to the end of a post about the original series. It’s a very different animal — er, Pokémon? — and deserves its own post. Having never seen it before now, I wasn’t aware of this, of course, but you know, live and learn and all that jazz.
I should warn you there are going to be spoilers. I mean, it’s hard to do if you know the original games, but it’s my duty to warn you so that people don’t rush up in here going “YOU SPOILED IT” and then I feel like an ass, etc. You know how it goes.
So first off, what’s the deal with Origins? Well, I’m glad you asked! It’s a four-episode animated series telling the story of the original Red and Blue Version games. We follow Red, the protagonist of the first game (yes, his name is Red, not Ash, who was always only the protagonist of Yellow and the TV show) as he sets out to complete the Pokédex and finds himself, in the process, drawn into the Pokémon League Challenge and taking down Team Rocket.
The animation quality is very good. Certainly better than the original show. There’s a small amount of CGI, which is fairly noticeable, to be honest, but overall it’s a very well animated series. The character design is based on the original games and sticks very closely to them. This creates a whole new version of the Pokémon world totally unlike any animation we’ve seen to now. There are a few moments that feel a bit odd to someone who grew up on the original series — Professor Oak and Brock appear, and obviously look different than their original animated counterparts. Moreover they have new voices here; Brock’s didn’t really bother me, but every time Oak talked I was momentarily confused. His voice just simply did not match the image I’ve always had of him. The original series ruined me I guess, but a deeper voice that doesn’t show any signs of age doesn’t feel like it should be coming out of the mouth of the older Pokémon Professor who was too old to go out and study the Pokémon himself. It’s just like… you don’t sound too old, and he actually looks a bit younger than in the original series. And even a little bit younger than in the game from what I recall. But anyway, getting past that isn’t really a big deal.
When I found out it was only four episodes, I was confused. I had no idea how they would be able to cover the whole game — eight gyms plus the Elite Four, not to mention the Team Rocket subplot, takes up an awful lot of time, though not nearly as much time as a certain other animated Pokémon Trainer would have you believe — but I was very satisfied with their work-around, which involves a recap wherein Red tells you what he did in the time between episodes, complete with snapshot clips of the things he’s talking about. It’s a clever way to tell the story without having the time or space to actually show it. Usually the first principle of writing is “Show, don’t tell,” but I’ll give a pass this time.
There are a TON of little touches that really make the series special. Each episode opens with the start-up menu from the game, where an unseen player selects “New Game” on the first episode, and “Continue” on the rest. At the end of the episodes, the game is saved, complete with the save game menu. During the recap scenes at the start, character dialogue that happens during the events Red is narrating appears in text boxes from the game — and the captions are actual lines from the game, to boot. I didn’t put more than a passing effort into noticing but I’m pretty sure the Pokémon only ever use four different moves at a given time. Brock gives Red a TM after the battle, and Red mentions at least once getting an HM, during his recap. They put in stat changes — Metapod’s String Shot lowers Onix’s speed enough for Red to secure the win. They even managed to incorporate the HP bars by using electronic screens in the gyms and the Pokémon League that show the remaining health of each Pokémon — as well as how many Pokémon each trainer has remaining.What these things do is combine to give the impression of someone playing the game Red even starts out having no idea what he’s doing, right down to brute forcing his way through and not understanding type effectiveness. Which makes him look pretty dumb, to be honest, when Brock is explaining it and he says “What are you trying to tell me!?” Like, immediately after Brock said that his Pokémon’s type was weak to Rock types. I mean, maybe it’s just because I’m 22 and have good language comprehension skills, but that seems like a pretty basic statement. Before going to Brock, Red was curb-stomped by Blue, his rival and Professor Oak’s grandson (who is really very similar to Gary Oak in the anime). Because he was fighting Blue’s Squirtle with his Charmander, and not doing it well.
This is one of two things that break the illusion of someone playing the game. I don’t know about you but I don’t recall losing to my rival — or being able to advance if I did lose, but I might be wrong there. Definitely don’t think you could advance if you lost to Giovanni at the Silph Co. building, which Red does. Badly. That one in particular plays out like a scripted battle. I could be totally misremembering, it’s been a long time since I played an original game, and I don’t know how much Yellow differs in storyline to Red and Blue. So maybe I’m totally off-base and this is exactly what happens.
I mentioned there were two things that broke the illusion, and this is the second one, which really irks me. Red receives a Mega Stone and Charizardite X (why they chose X over Y, I don’t know; it doesn’t matter, but I would be curious why the chose to use X and thus advertise Pokémon X over Y; maybe they thought he looked cooler).
For the maybe five of you who don’t know, and even that number seems way too high, Mega Stones and Mega Evolution didn’t exist until the sixth-generation games came out in 2013. This anime is based on the original games that came out in 1996. And they make a point of telling you that in the beginning of the series with a countdown through the game generations starting at X and Y and moving down to Red and Blue before displaying the series logo.
Call me a purist if you’d like, but as much as I enjoy Mega Evolution, it has no place in the original generation. I understand why they did it from a storytelling perspective — they needed to raise the stakes with Mewtwo; it’s not good storytelling to just have Red breeze through the post-game quest, as it were, like it was nothing. Mewtwo is, after all, supposed to be the strongest Pokémon at this point in time. But it still felt wrong, because while true that I am looking at the series critically, I’m also looking at it as a fan. Which means that including Mega Stones feels almost like an affront to the memory and story of the original games. But maybe that’s just me.
Another thing I should mention, the series makes some very good usage of the music from the original games. Not just straight taking the music and playing it, mind you, but new versions of the music that better fit the series and style. It’s not constant background music, but used when it makes sense to use music, and if you know your Pokémon soundtrack, you’ll pick up on it pretty quickly. It’s a really nice touch that solidifies the series and the idea that it’s a game being played.
And ultimately, that’s just it. This is, for all intents and purposes, the animated version of what those of us growing up with the original games saw in our heads while we were playing. The limited capacity of the Game Boy screen didn’t allow fancy animations depicting every move a Pokémon made and every event happening at a given time. We were giving the bare minimum and left to run with it, and it’s a tradition that the games have continued to hold to. Sure, they’ve gotten fancier and more complex animations, but we don’t see everything. Not like you do in an anime, or like we’re going to in Pokkén Tournament. Aside from the sheer size of something like fully animating every move a Pokémon makes — there are hundreds of them by now — I don’t think it’s necessary in the main games. We can imagine it just as well as if we were seeing it, maybe even better; why mess with that formula after twenty years?
Pokémon Origins is a huge dose of nostalgia, and definitely worth the watch. You can binge it in less than two hours, like I did, or watch it whatever way suits you– it’s available on Amazon Prime streaming, and certainly elsewhere on the Internet. And aside from that, it plays out as a pretty good story, too. Maybe that’s still nostalgia talking, but I felt like the story of the original games holds up pretty well. It’s full of the usual messages about trust and friendship, but that’s what I expect from Pokémon. Anything else just wouldn’t feel right, and I think that negates the cliché aspect of it. If you’re a fan of the games and want to relive them in a new way, check out Pokémon Origins. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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