a confession that will cause me to be ostracized by my fellow
parents and any and all teachers of my acquaintance to jump up
and down and hoot like the denizens of Planet of the Apes:
I like Pokémon. Those of you with me from the beginning
might remember a graphic that used to sit at the bottom of my
front page: I'm A Pokémon Trainer! After setting
up the equipment with which I earn my living, there's usually
a half-hour or so of downtime. Out comes the Game Boy Color and
I don't feel the need to explain the exact nature of Pokémon
- just find a whining child in any department store, and chances
are they are pointing at something Pokémon related - a
few words about the cartoon is probably in order.
of all, Pokémon takes place in a typically bizarre
parallel-dimension Earth, which is a hodgepodge of high-tech cities
and small towns existing peacefully in huge stretches of wilderness,
which is the home of the wild Pokémon, some 300 different
species of them (it was a mere 151, until the new season promised
to add another 150). The Pokémon all seem rather intelligent,
and exhibit anthropomorphism to one degree or another; they even
converse with each other, although the only thing they are capable
of saying is their own name ("Bulbasaur! Bulbasaur bulbasaur
bulbasaur," translates as "We are all meandering through
an unfeeling universe, guided only by an illusory construct called
lot of the industry on this world - at least the industries that
drive the stories of the animated series - are Pokémon-based.
The biggest seems to be Pokémon-training, as trainers pit
their teams of Pokémon against each other in gladiatorial
games, though the only recompense seems to be badges won at sponsored
matches and bragging rights (we could also, I suppose, be concerned
that this seems a form of legalized cockfighting, but if you're
concerned about that you're being too much of an adult!).
Fights are never to the death, only until one Pokémon is
incapacitated, sort of like a wrestler being unable to break a
pin. It seems to be a cheerfully Socialist world, only without
the long lines. There are free Pokémon Centers in each
city, which treat injured or ailing Pokémon, and all of
which are staffed by the same nurse, Joy (There is also only one
cop in each town, and each one is Officer Jenny - cloning ran
amuck on this world a long time ago, but there were only two subjects,
both female, and both apparently exceptional at their job).
the aggressive undertone - the constant fighting - that most children
seem to respond to, and causes parents some dismay when it spills
over into their social lives. After all, if Pikachu and Ivysaur
tussle and headbutt each other on TV, why can't they do
it on the playground? Well, there is a simple answer to that,
as my son discovered the first time he tried headbutting a playmate:
it hurts. Violent physical interaction is never
as one-sided as entertainment would like you to believe (I think
Jackie Chan's the only one that makes a point of showing that
hitting someone also hurts your fist). Rather than use this as
an object lesson of the difference between fantasy (anything on
TV) versus reality (the bleeding, crying playmate and your own
aching head and tears), most parents would simply prefer that
the TV series go away , presuming that this will similarly cause
the behavior to go away.
likely. When I was a child, I could turn anything into
a gun, and if children today can't show similar ingenuity, it's
because their imaginations have been stunted. And observation
in the field shows (thank God) that today's kids haven't been
ground down that far - they still have the unfettered power of
their dreams. And I'm afraid aggressive tendencies are fairly
hardwired into the process of developing a feeling of one's place
in the world, and to what extent one controls one's environment.
on the subject of violent programming leading to violence in real
life, I point the finger in an unexpected direction: the shows
that feature cleaned-up violence. Safe violence.
I think the worst offender in that realm was G.I. Joe,
in which everyone raced through heavy laser fire without ever
suffering a scratch. I would far rather children watched Robotech,
which, even though the Macross episodes were cleaned up
for oh-so-fragile American youth, still contained the message
that in armed conflicts, people bled, died, and their loved ones
was talking about Pokémon, wasn't I? Somewhere in
Doctor," I am told, "the kids are getting into fistfights
over the figures! Over the cards!!" I'm sorry,
but I see no difference between this and fighting over who gets
to play with the choo-choo next. Nobody suggests banning the choo-choo*. I'm a radical; I suggest some actual parenting might be
the TV show. We were talking about the TV show.
show's hero is Ash Ketchum (Catch 'em! Get it? Hah?), a young
boy who leaves home in search of adventure and in hopes of becoming
"The greatest Pokémon trainer in the world!".
He is started on this course by the kindly Professor Oak, who
gives him a recently-captured Pikachu (a cute and exceptionally
marketable yellow rodent capable of generating electricity). Ash
and Pikachu adhere strictly to buddy-movie law by beginning their
saga despising each other but eventually gaining each other's
respect and friendship. Well, not too eventually, as it's only
a half-hour show, but you get my drift. Ash is also accompanied
by Misty, a somewhat less aggressive trainer, and Brock, who is
studying to be a Pokémon breeder.
are captured with devices called Pokéballs (which echo
the toys' origin dispensed from vending machines). Think of them
as small genie lamps - the balls keep the Pokémon safe
and easily portable until they are needed. Pikachu, as a supporting
character, refuses to ride around in a Pokéball, and is
thus more easily a part of the adventures. Interestingly, several
of Ash's Pokémon were not captured, but seem to follow
him of their own accord.
the reason I like Pokémon is that it actually does
have underlying lessons that are not ground clumsily into your
face, which is a flaw of a lot of children's programming - there
are actual values that form the basis of the stories,
rather than a hastily tacked-on moral or (worse yet) sermonette
at the end of the episode. The values most prevalent are friendship,
responsibility, and sportsmanship, and none of these are bad traits
lessons run deeply and obviously throughout the series, but generally
in the form of actions, not words, which makes them more enduring.
Ash gains one of his Pokémon when another trainer abandons
it to die, thinking it worthless. At one point, when Ash is lost
in a snowstorm, he wraps his jacket around his Pokéballs
rather than himself, hoping to save his charges. The matches with
other trainers are fought seriously, but each trainer generally
plays by the rules, and each compliments the others' achievements
after the match, and part friends.
it's important to note that when Ash finally made it into a League
match, he loses - because he had, up to that point, gotten by
quite well on luck and instinct - and did not take training seriously
enough. Just as those damn Frosted Flake commercials finally started
admitting that eating their cereal might not be enough, you also
needed to actually practice to hit a home run, Pokémon
reveals that there is no short cut to being a winner. It takes
hard work. And it's to the writers' credit that Ash is allowed
to act his age after his loss and be an unsympathetic, sullen
brat for a while, until he realizes the lessons that can be learned
I like the TV show. Too bad I hate the movie.
movie starts with an expedition to deepest, darkest Pokélandia
where, in some ruins, they discover a fossilized hair, which they
believe to be a remnant of the Mew, "the rarest Pokémon".
Faster than you can say Spielberg, the resident mad Pokéscientist
derives some DNA from the fossil, hoping to come up with a Pokémon
"powerful enough to survive the cloning process". If
I'm not too far mistaken, the scientist appears to be modeled
on the scientist that originally created Astro Boy back in the
old early 60's series. Nice to see the occasional nod to Osamu
Tezuka, the sensei of animé.
they succeed, and being scientists, they have to tamper in God's
domain, and all that, improving the Pokémon to the point
that its psychic powers are way off the charts. They name it Mewtwo,
and it doesn't take kindly to being a scientific experiment. To
put it mildly, he wipes the island laboratory off the face of
is observed by a shadowy figure in a helicopter, who confronts
Mewtwo and promises to help it hone its powers and discover its
"purpose". Since this figure's face is always in the
shadows (no matter the lighting conditions) and is constantly
stroking a Persian (also a type of Pokémon), we know he
is up to no good. Pokémaniacs will recognize him as Giovanni,
the evil head of Team Rocket, an organization that wants to take
over the world using Poké-technology. Of course, when he
reveals to Mewtwo that its "purpose" is to act as a
tool for Team Rocket's world conquest (yep, he's stupid as a Bond
villain), the psychic monster destroys that place, too, and escapes
to form its own plans.
brings us to our three young heroes, who receive an invitation
from a master Pokémon trainer to a tournament. Ash and
his posse journey to a nearby city to take a ferry to the tournament's
island, only to find that an extreme storm has closed down the
ferry, and to make matters worse, the local Pokémon Center
is also closed, as it's Nurse Joy has mysteriously vanished...
and several of the other trainers impetuously travel to the island
anyway, using the various powers of their Pokémon. It proves
a dangerous trip, but Ash, Brock and Misty finally find themselves
in the presence of the missing Nurse, who has been hypnotized
by the unknown Pokémaster: Mewtwo, who whipped up the storm
itself to ensure that only the strongest Pokémon made it
it seems, has perfected the cloning process responsible for its
creation, and sets to work capturing the freshly arrived Pokémon
and making evil clones of them. Ash, of course, will bravely follow
Pikachu down to the bowels of Mewtwo's fortress to rescue it and
the other Pokémon. Adding to the confusion is the portion
of Team Rocket we all know and love - Jessie, James, and their
Pokémon, Meowth - one of the only two Pokémon who
can talk (in a Jersey accent, no less). Bungling and rather likable
- they've been allowed a few sympathetic moments in the series
- they usually serve as the villains, trying to steal everyone's
Pokémon, particularly the rather rare Pikachu.
to mention that the actual Mew shows up, and its a friendlier,
playful, more positive-outlook kinda guy than its mutated clone,
which leads to a running zap-battle above Mewtwo's stadium while
the good Pokémon fight their evil clones below. The trouble
with clones fighting each other is that they're evenly matched
, and the monsters basically fall to simply exchanging blows.
When Ash attempts to intervene, he catches a stray zap and gets
turned to stone. Not to worry, though, as the plight of the mourning
Pikachu causes all the Pokémon to stop fighting, and the
tears of the assembled monsters bring Ash back to life. Mewtwo
realizes the error of his ways, and turns back time so everyone
will forget this ever happened, while he, Mew and the clones go
off to find their destiny. Awwwwww....
what I said about the morals of the story being told through actions
and not sermons? Not here. Mewtwo must soliloquize or everyone
else - including Team Rocket - must moralize and speechify over
why fighting is wrong, rendering the morals not only offensively
obvious, but tediously overwrought, to boot. Fighting is wrong?
Okay, that's fine, but isn't the Pokémon way of life rooted
in conflict? How do you reconcile that?
movie is subtitled, Mewtwo versus Mew, yet this dramatic
conflict serves only as a backdrop to the grinding, useless Pokémon
vs. Pokémon fight. The final product is sadly and ultimately
pointless as the former bad guy makes everything go away, along
with any lessons that may have been learned - cripes, why not
have everything be a dream, while we're at it? Ash's "death"
is simply the last nail in the coffin for me - how can I react
in anyway but a negative manner to such a ham-fisted attempt to
manipulate my emotions?
remember Roger Ebert passing over this movie with a mere five-second
clip and the utterance that it was "worthless". I'm
generally discomfited in no small way when I have to agree with
him. The movie does not use its time wisely to explore interesting
themes, or expand
upon characters we already know. It rarely rises above the limited
animation of the TV series. Much as I hate to say it, this movie
exists simply to make money, and it certainly did that. The TV
series has a certain charm and innocence, and in an attempt to
create an "ultimate showdown" type of situation, it
surrendered that charm and descended irrecoverably into deadening
cliché and preaching. Too bad.
the other hand, the short that begins the movie, "Pikachu's
Vacation", is thoroughly delightful and often trippy. Fortunately,
it is at the very beginning of the tape. I can enjoy it and then
leave my son to his "Monsters who fight! They fight!"