Pokémon Journeys: The Series
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Pokémon Journeys: The Series (TV 2019) ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Pokémon Journeys: The Series (TV 2019) ?
Between the years of 1998 and 2012, I wasn't what you'd call a Pokémon fanatic, but I was most definitely a lifelong aficionado of all things Pocket Monster. I collected the cards for years (despite not actually knowing anyone else that played the game), I put a minimum of a hundred hours into pretty much every mainline Pokémon game, I kept up with the anime for many seasons, and so on. I was never the type to spend months hunting for shiny Pokémon with perfect IVs or anything, but I knew my Poké-stuff. I think Black 2 was the last time I was ever truly devoted to the franchise, though. I've kept minor tabs on the recent releases throughout the years mostly out of habitual curiosity, mostly thanks to my wife and her family—who truly put in the work and the time to be called Elite Poké Fans. I haven't gotten more than a few hours into any of the proper 3D era games before losing interest, though, and I haven't sat down to watch a full episode of the show since Veronica Taylor was Ash's official English voice actor.
So, when I found out I'd be covering Netflix's Pokémon Journeys for our Classic Streaming Reviews, I saw it as both an interesting challenge and a perfect opportunity. This latest animated effort from the franchise that will outlive all humankind has been marketed as something of a reboot, a perfect stepping on point for newcomers that will offer a showcase of all the fantastical lands that the games have featured over the years, not to mention all of the new and old critters that make the series the powerhouse that it is. A cursory Google search tells me that the original roster of 151 Pokémon has now grown to… around 900.
Huh…this may be more overwhelming than I initially expected. Or rather, Pokémon Journeys could potentially turn into a Poké-overload down the line once Netflix releases more episodes. All we have right now is the first twelve, which is a nice and digestible number, and the first pair of episodes is all about offering its viewers a nice, gentle introduction to a far out world that is positively teeming with kooky monsters to meet.
Well, the first episode is, anyway. Aptly titled “Enter Pikachu!”, Pokémon Journeys' premiere gives us the hitherto untold origin story of everyone's favorite mascot, and the Pikachu sections of the show have an interesting, almost nature documentary feel to them. We meet little Pichu, not quite evolved, wandering alone in the Poké-wilderness, until it wanders into a crowd of Kangaskhan, who take Pichu in. There's a lot more narration than usual, which lends the scenes of the Pokemon just doing their thing, and though there isn't much to Pichu's story, it's cute enough. Basically, Pichu finds a loving kangaroo-dinosaur mom, goes on some risky adventures, and eventually decides it needs to stretch its Pichu legs and strike off on its own. This leads to it evolving, and then at some point in the years between this episode and Ash Kethum's 10th birthday, it winds up in Professor Oak's care.
Pikachu Begins this is not, but that's okay, because the episode also gives us the origin story of a human character we can relate to, and interestingly enough, it isn't Ash. That dork couldn't be bothered to wake up in time for Oak's camping trip, so he spends all of the first episode asleep in bed. Rather, we get to meet this series other plucky young male hero, Goh, along with his childhood friend Chloe. As we learn more in the second episode, “Legend? Go! Friends? Go!””, Goh is all about going after Pokémon nobody has ever seen before, and while on Professor Oak's Poké-hike, he and Chloe happen to snag a look at the legendary Mew. Years later, when Ash and Pikachu have finally set off on their own Pokémon journey, Goh will be hard at work pursuing his own dream: To catch Mew, along with any other one-of-a-kind Legendaries out there.
It's the second episode where the titular "Journeys" of this series begin…I think. To be honest, one of the big grey areas of this whole introductory set of episode is how fast and loose it plays as a reboot. There's a one-off line about Ash and Pikachu having had all sorts of adventures together, but the rest of the story plays very much like Ash is just now starting out on his trek across the world. I suppose time will tell if familiar faces show up as old friends, completely new acquaintances, or not at all. Likewise, the central event of episode two is the arrival of Lugia in Vermillion City, which is treated as a super big deal… though it also feels kind of anticlimactic for a Legendary Pokémon to show up right out of the gate so quickly.
It speaks to the strange sort of tension that only a show that has been on for over twenty years will have: On the one hand, this is supposed to be a new kind of adventure for fans and initiates alike, but it also feels very condensed and familiar in a way that I imagine works best for folks that have been keeping up with the series for years. Granted, none of the Pokémon we met this week were outside of my early-to-mid Generation wheelhouse, but at the speed things or going, I expect us to start meeting plenty more from that 900-hundred strong roster soon enough, and it would be a shame if the pacing were to sap the story of its wonder.
That is a relatively minor complaint, though, and it might not even bear fruit in the end. As individual episodes, these work well to introduce us to Goh, his goals, and his friendly rivalry with Ash, who remains God's Perfect Idiot as far as the Pokémon Universe is concerned. To be honest, I wouldn't mind if the series just dropped Ash entirely at this point; Goh is interesting and well-rounded enough on his own, and that would also give Chloe more to do than sit around and pine for Goh. This series seems a bit more focused on slapstick and hijinks, though, and I will admit that I came around to Ash once his friendship with Goh got started.
One of the criticisms I always had with the original series' was that Ash's relationships never felt as developed as they should have been; I already care way more about Goh than I ever did Gary, or Tracey, or most of the other revolving companions. With Ash and Goh's newfound partnership with Professor Celise established, I feel like Pokémon Journeys is giving us just a little more in the way of plot and stakes, and I'm all for that. It's going to be a long and wild journey ahead, so the more we're invested up front, the better.
Odds and Ends
• The Weird World of Pokémon: There's nothing anyone likes more than an adult taking the internal logic of a children's video game story way too seriously, which is what I intend to do wherever I get the chance, since I've long had a love-hate relationship with how the fundamental logic of the entire Pokémon universe seems to fall apart if you think about it hard enough. Something that always amuses me is how the people of the world talk about Pokémon, like when Professor Cerise refers to them as “mysterious life-forms," as if they're aliens that just showed up out of the blue yesterday, and not, you know, creatures that have had a symbiotic relationship with humans since the beginning of time. I get that some of their magic powers and whatnot deserve further study, but c'mon man: You aren't going to stand there and tell me that there's some unholy, dark mystery waiting to be unlocked behind the vacant stare of the Bidoof?
• What other weekly sub-columns or check-ins should I do in the Odds and Ends section? Let me know in the comments!
• Also, given the Gen 1 nature of these episodes, I'm curious to know: What are y'alls favorite Pokémon from the Red/Blue/Yellow era of games? I'm a ride or die Scyther boy, myself. Major props to Arcanine, too. The worst of Gen 1? I mean, Jynx feels like too obvious an answer, but… yeah, no, it's definitely Jynx.
• Finally, sorry sub fans, but there's apparently no Japanese language option at all for this release on Netflix, at least not in my neck of the woods. This means I'll exclusively be watching the dub, which is fine by me, since cheesy English dubbed Pokémon is what I grew up on.
Pokémon Journeys: The Series is currently streaming on Netflix.
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