Episode review thing I tried a while ago
by, 21st August 2010 at 02:54 AM (1049 Views)
A while back, I considered making a website made from the perspective of someone reviewing Pokemon episodes that he last saw ten years ago and marveling at the oddness of it all... along the lines of those excellent Saved by the Bell reviews. It didn't come to much, but I wrote about five or six of these things (the first few episodes plus a couple from Johto), and they're just sitting on my hard drive, so I might as well post the buggers here.
So yeah. Here is the first.
Episode 1: Pokémon, I Choose You
Ash is ten years old, which he will continue to be for the next thousand episodes. He wants to stay up late and watch Pokémon battles, but it's past his bedtime, and besides, he has to get up early tomorrow and become a hero. His mother tells him to watch a dry educational video about Pokémon and then go to bed.
That night, he has a recurring, cheap-to-animate dream where he sends out various starter Pokémon in precisely the same manner each time. Like every kid in every opening episode of every anime ever, he wakes up late and runs out of the house. He arrives at Professor Oak's lab just in time to look stupid in front of his new rival, Gary. Inside, it turns out that the professor has given away all of his starter Pokémon, but he still makes Ash open each ball in turn just so he can feel extra-stupid and disappointed. Still, all is not lost: the professor still has an emergency backup Pokémon, but there’s a problem: it's both bad-tempered and dangerously marketable. Who's that Pokémon? It's Pikachu, and he spends most of this episode being adorably aggressive.
Ash emerges from the lab and is greeted by a slightly disappointing crowd of strange-looking well-wishers. His mother embarrasses him yet again, but pretty soon Pikachu electrocutes everybody. I hope nobody elderly was in that crowd.
Ash ventures off into the big wide world, dragging Pikachu on a leash. He then tries being nice, but Pikachu runs up a tree. Then Ash's Pokédex starts talking smack to him. He makes various lame attempts to catch a Pidgey, and a Rattata eats his lunch. Then he pisses off a Spearow, which turns nasty and goes after Pikachu. Pikachu shocks it, the Spearow calls its friends, and suddenly we have an Exciting Chase Scene on our hands.
Pikachu attempts to ditch Ash, but the Spearow pile onto it, and Ash fends them off, grabs Pikachu, and, er, jumps off a cliff. Into water, admittedly, but he still jumped off a cliff. Trust me, in future episodes we'll be begging for an encore. A Gyarados nearly eats him, but a girl (psst, it's Misty) fishes him out of the water. With a fishing rod. Don't ask me how that works. She berates him for endangering his Pokémon, and directs him to the nearest Pokémon Centre. The Spearow are still after him, though, so he steals her bike and speeds off.
The Spearow catch up, Ash and Pikachu fall off the bike, and Ash tries to taunt the Spearow (to draw them away from Pikachu, I suppose, although it may just be a display of stupidity). However, Pikachu jumps up and shocks the buggers, which he could have done earlier, but it wouldn't have been as exciting. They both pass out. Ash wakes up and sees a Ho-oh, but the Pokédex has no data on it. Sorry, kids – that game you just bought is already obsolete. Look forward to Gold and Silver! The narrator takes a little too long assuring us that the rest of the series will be awesome, and the credits roll. Or they would, had every TV station on Earth not decided that credit sequences are just background wallpaper for whatever other show they're trailing. The twats. But anyway, that's another story...
The moral of the story: Despite what later episodes will tell you, this episode gives the impression that Pokémon training is actually a lot like slavery. Also, non-enslaved Pokémon are jealous of the enslaved ones.
Ash is an idiot: He really is, isn't he? Usually, I'll be using this section to highlight his loathsome stupidity. On this occasion, though, I'll lay off him... not because there weren't some fine displays of idiocy, but because so many horrible things happen to him in this episode that it seems a little unfair. So I'm letting you off, Ash. Next time, no mercy.
G-G-G-Gary: Ash's appointed rival only puts in a brief appearance here, but it's a baffling one. Why does he have those cheerleaders? I could understand him having them once he was an established trainer with a reputation, but right now he's just some kid saying "Yeah, I’m trying this Pokémon thing, I'll probably be awesome at it." Those are some easily impressed cheerleaders right there.
Bizarre dialogue: It's not so much weird dialogue as weird intonations that stand out in this episode. Professor Oak is surprisingly sarcastic even as he's doing his best to crush a small boy's spirit. But when your Pokédex starts being sarcastic… Ash's dialogue to the Pidgey he's trying to catch is also something you'd never hear in the later episodes: "Enjoy your last moments of freedom, Pidgey!" You teach me and I’ll teach you, hmm?
Opening episodes are hard to do. They always look weird in retrospect. The characters will be slightly off-model, the animation will be clunky in some places and unusually slick in others, and half the voices will sound bizarre even if they weren't later recast. In anime, the strangest thing will often be the dialogue itself, since you have Japanese writers who are still getting to grips with how the characters speak, translated by US writers who are still getting to grips with how the characters speak. This last one holds true here to some extent, the most glaring thing being the sarcastic Pokédex. As mentioned earlier, the Pidgey line seems really out of place as well. Art-wise, Charmander seems slightly off-model, but the most glaring difference with the modern series is Pikachu himself. This is understandable; being the series mascot, Pikachu has gone through more refinements and design revisions than any other Pokémon in the series.
Most of the weird bits of this episode are in the first half, to be honest. Gary's cheerleaders are plain bizarre, and the dubbing makes them sound decidedly half-hearted. The scene with Gary is also a bit weird because it implies that he and Ash are meeting for the first time, which contradicts… well, everything.
And speaking of contradictions... I just have to take issue with the "Wild Pokémon are usually jealous of trained Pokémon" thing. This makes no sense in any context. The games would be a lot easier if every time you encountered a wild Pokémon, it obligingly hopped into a Poké ball for you. More to the point, we'd just seen Ash fail several times to catch a Pidgey, and the one Pokémon he did have seemed thoroughly underwhelmed at the prospect of being owned. This "Pokémon want to be owned, honest" notion seems to have been tacked onto the series in an effort to make the founding concept – catching wildlife and making it fight – seem less like animal cruelty. Hey, you know what else might help? Not having Ash shout "Enjoy your last moments of freedom!" as he tries to catch a Pokémon.
I have to admit, though… there's an enjoyably epic feel to this episode once it gets going, to the extent that, when the closing narration talks of the exciting action and drama to follow, you're almost tempted to believe it. They neglected to mention the five hundred episodes where Ash meets a trainer whose Pokémon helps them with their job, and said Pokémon is then targeted by Team Rocket, but then Pikachu sends ten thousand volts up their arses and everyone promises to meet again but never does. Odd, that.
Conclusion: This actually isn't bad for an opening episode, although some poorly-chosen dialogue makes it seem as if the series is based around a reprehensible idea that it's desperately trying to cover up. Another thing: in terms of telling a coherent story, this episode benefits from the absence of Team Rocket. In terms of being fun, though, this episode suffers from the absence of Team Rocket.
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