Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Ash and fellow Pokémon trainers Dawn and Brock trek to Alamos Town for the chance to enter a local tournament. They hitch a ride to the city with pretty local balloon pilot Alice, and after an idyllic day taking in the sights and getting to know the local competition, they arrive at the town's celebrated garden, a paradise constructed with harmony between man and Pokémon in mind. They find the garden vandalized, an act that the pompous local lord immediately blames on a mysterious Pokémon named Darkrai. Local scientist Tonio thinks differently. He's been studying a mysterious space-time phenomenon, and believes Alamos' problems stem from it rather than Darkrai. It isn't long before the phenomenon—the byproduct of the clash between two godlike Pokémon—threatens to consume everything and the fate of the city is placed in Ash's hands. With a little help from friends old and new, of course.
You'll never find the words “Pok>émon” and “sophisticated” in the same sentence without a negative modifier hanging around somewhere nearby. There simply isn't enough to the franchise to warrant the claim, even for the most fervent of fans. It's mild, inoffensive entertainment for kids: always quick with an uplifting moral, never without its marketing machine, and nearly always a bit better than its rather dismal reputation would have you believe. The only surprise that The Rise of Darkrai holds is that, after all these years, they're still able to scrape together enough funding to make Pokémon films.
With that in mind, the most remarkable thing about this film is its imagery. Alamos Town is an arresting mix of stone architecture and pastoral nature that is most definitely theatrical in its level of detail. Hardly a minute passes without a Poké>mon spitting a shiny ball of CGI energy at something, and the rift between worlds where the two godlike Poké>mon fight is a fantastic tableau of spiraling darkness and swirling smears of soap-on-water rainbow light. Oriental Light and Magic outdid itself with this theatrical production—quite literally in fact. So intent were they on creating a Poké-tastic spectacle, that they never bothered to question how the meticulously rendered CG architecture and frequent bursts of 3-D action would mesh with the simplistic character designs and gaudy cartoon aesthetic of the Poké>mon themselves. Ash and his friends are distinctly out of place in the Miyazaki-esque setting, and the goofy Pok>émon make incongruous sources for the elaborate, too-cool attacks they throw around.
None of which will matter in the least to the hordes of squirming tots that it's aimed at. The plot is simple enough for kids to follow with ease, and the visuals, for all their compatibility issues, are glossy and colorful enough to hold the attention of even the easily distracted. And parents will find the message of teamwork and understanding, as well as the franchise's usual refusal to paint anyone as a villain, quite reassuring. The ponderous grinding of the franchise's tireless marketing machinery can be heard in the introduction of yet another new Poké>mon, but the incessant drilling of the “gotta get 'em all” brainwashing takes a back seat here to the creation of a spectacular adventure tale.
Viz's treatment of the film is as bare-bones as is humanly possible. It has zilch for extras, and doesn't even bother with a Japanese language track. Granted, Pokémon's target audience is hardly going to egg Viz executives' houses for violating the purity of the product, but it's still enough to make one grateful that they at least had the grace to preserve the widescreen ratio. And they also threw in Spanish subtitles. Muchas gracias. As for the English version itself, Pokémon is hardly rocket science, and the result is exactly what you would expect when rocket scientists work on something that isn't rocket science: thoroughly professional, but understandably a little short on enthusiasm. All of the songs are dubbed into English, reactions to which will range from surprise (at the thoroughly decent end ballad) to nervous chuckles of disbelief (at the aneurism-inducing awfulness of the opening theme).
Overall (dub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Glossy, reasonably fun entertainment for kids that, aside from the odd urge to buy Pokémon merchandise, will likely have few ill effects.
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