Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 17th 2013
Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem VS. The Sword of Justice
The Swords of Justice are three quadrupedal Pokémon devoted to helping the helpless. They're identified by their swords, which are powerful blades of energy that sprout from their heads when needed. The Swords have a fourth member, an apprentice named Keldeo. Keldeo cannot produce a sword, but he's nevertheless convinced that he's ready to be an official Sword of Justice. So he impulsively runs off to battle Kyurem, a hugely powerful Pokémon used as the Swords' rite of passage. The fight goes very badly. Wounded and alone, Kaldeo flees Kyurem's fortress and falls in with a friendly band of Pokémon trainers led, of course, by the indefatigable Ash Ketchum. Unfortunately for all, a furious Kyurem isn't far behind.
Pokémon movies tend to be pretty consistent, delivering light, kid-friendly entertainment that's less friendly to adults but still diverting enough to prevent permanent damage. If this film causes more permanent damage than most, that's wholly the fault of Keldeo.
Despite Ash's status as franchise anchor, this movie's main character is really Keldeo. The story revolves around him, and Ash and his ever-changing lineup of sidekicks play a strictly supporting role: giving a helping hand here, a crucial bit of motivation there. It's a shame they aren't more central to the film. Preferably central enough to push Keldeo right out of the picture. Keldeo is, at heart, an ancient shonen cliché: the boy who's rash and headstrong, whose promise is great but who must learn to work hard and earn his power. He has an overinflated idea of his own strength, rushes into battles, and endangers his comrades. As a character type, he's been a popular way to torture anime fans for decades.
Kyurem takes that boy, that irritating, cocksure, half-grown boy, and makes him worse in a way that only Pokémon could: by turning him into an adorable pony/unicorn with all the behavioral tics, as well as the coiffed hair, of a hot-blooded '80s mecha pilot. He is maybe the single dorkiest character to come out of the franchise to date. And he's hideous to boot. He looks like a jester crossed with a My Little Pony, as interpreted by Osamu Tezuka at his precious, anthropomorphizing worst.
It may seem shallow to knock Keldeo for his looks, but his dorkiness has very real effects. Take, for example, the show's action. On most levels the film does action quite well. The movie is basically a running fight between Keldeo and Kyurem, with Ash and his buddies running interference every now and then. Kyurem is an appropriately frightening antagonist: cold, furious—an unstoppable force of nature. His appearances are heralded by a freezing mist that coats trains in CG frost, freezes waterfalls solid, and turns lakes into icy battlefields. In his and Keldeo's first bout, he transforms the baroque abandoned mine where he lives into an unearthly arena of ice. When he and Keldeo fight, it's fluid and impressively destructive, with Keldeo leaping between spires of ice or speeding over and through the city on jets of water like some sort of hydro-propelled hover-horse, all while Kyurem transforms and spews CG energy, blowing up bridges and shattering his own crystalline constructs.
It's very nice work, especially in terms of CG glitz, but also in its general animation quality and nonstop action push. From a harrowing chase atop a train, to the frantic flight through the city, to the decoy operations by Ash's friends and the finale back at the mine, the action rarely lets up.
Now, imagine all of that, with a Gumby unicorn as action star. Every time you're about to lose yourself in the thrilling spectacle of it all, Keldeo's goony mug intrudes and wrecks all of the work that director Kunihiko Yuyama and his team at Oriental Light and Magic have done. Action and eye candy are why we watch Pokémon movies. Without them—or at least without being able to enjoy them—all we can look forward to are tired messages of friendship and perseverance and an extended chase plot that is weak even by Pokémon standards. And that, even more so than his moldy oldie character or the show's painful attempts to wrangle sympathy for him, is Keldeo's capital crime.
As is Viz's wont with Pokémon properties, this is a dub-only disc. It's a pretty decent dub though, so there's no need to get too upset. Ash and his entourage have been at this long enough to be pleasantly comfortable with their roles, and the new additions are all appropriate and professional. No one's overflowing with enthusiasm and some stretches of dialogue are pretty awful—the bonding scenes between Ash and Keldeo being memorably bad—but it's hard to imagine the Japanese version faring much better. The dubbed songs, for their part, are a mixed bag. The closing song is rather lovely; the opening song should come with a Surgeon General's warning.
This disc comes with no extras.
How the movie's intended audience of toy-buying kiddies will react to it will of course depend on the kiddies, but it has enough color and action to engage younger young'uns through its brief hour-fifteen running time, and like every other Pokémon property it's thoroughly harmless (as long as you discount the weirdly phallic obsession with sword-horns). It isn't likely to become anyone's favorite entertainment though, no matter how undeveloped their critical faculties are. And as for those of us who have critical faculties… the sooner we can forget the film, and Keldeo's button-eyed horsey face, the better.
Overall (dub) : C-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Excellent animation and CG artistry; fast and action-intensive.
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