This Week in Anime
What? Mewtwo is Evolving!

by Nick Dupree & Steve Jones,

Nowadays you can catch your favorite anime film in limited screenings across the country. Heck, sometimes those screenings even crack into the U.S.'s top five at the box office. When it comes to Pokémon though, that was ground broken over 20 years ago. When Pokemon: The First Movie was released in the U.S. it pulled in US$10 million on it's opening day; a WEDNESDAY, if you can believe it, setting animated film records for Warner Bros. It ultimately ended its North American theatrical run with over $85 million in its pocket. So what happens when an anime giant gets a new, updated coat of paint? Is merely recreating the beats of its predecessor enough to guarantee equal success?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Steve
Nick, we've gathered today to talk about Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution, a film which helpfully does my job for me and asks the most pressing questions about its existence all by itself!
Nick
I mean it's obvious why this film was made:
TO BE THE VERY BEST
LIKE NO ONE EVER WAS
Okay, actually I'm glad you've brought that up, because this is NOT the lyric right? It's "to train them is my cause!" right? Tell me I haven't been living in a parallel universe for the past 20 years.
That exact conundrum makes up about 50% of my reaction to this new CGI remake of the first Pokémon movie, to be honest. Like most people born between 1988 and 1997 I saw the original roughly 80 times as a child and revisiting this new, shinier version was like taking a trip into a similar but subtly different dimension where everyone's voices are weird.
Yeah, I have VERY distinct memories of my brothers and I forcing our parents to take us to see it in the theaters. This was a Moment for us millennials, so it is indeed super strange to see it again this way, like looking through CG funhouse mirrors.
And unfortunately I think comparing it to its original is the main way most folks over the age of 10 are going to approach Evolution now that it's out on Netflix. Maybe that's unfair but being an almost shot-for-shot remake is gonna invite that type of engagement, y'know?
I know personally it was impossible for me not to do so. Especially because it's so dedicated to replicating the original in nearly every way, to a point that doesn't quite make sense now. Like, the scene I posted above is a pretty inconsequential battle in terms of the narrative. BUT, when the movie first came out, its purpose was to introduce the next-gen Pokémon Donphan. That was cool in the moment, when we were elementary school kids clawing for any new Pokémon info we could get our grubby little hands on. Now, however, that aspect of it doesn't mean anything, even for current children.
Yeah, it kind of occupies a weird spot now that you mention it. It's remaking a 20-year-old movie that's part of a still-running franchise that moved passed anything it would have been marketing 15+ years ago. Nowadays kids on either side of the Pacific are gonna know Ash and Pikachu but who the hell are these nobodies? Where's Lillie and Mallow?
And my conclusion thusly is that Evolution is intended in a big way for adults like us who have that nostalgia factor, so I totally don't feel bad about comparing it to the original.
Which brings me back to the thing about the voices. Yes I watched this dubbed because that's what the subtitles are based on anyway, and boy is it weird to hear the new (read: they've been doing it for 15+ years and I just haven't watched Pokémon dubbed since Hoenn) cast covering this old ground. No disrespect to the cast, but I'm a crotchety old 20-something and my Brock will always sound like he smokes too much.
Oh for sure. My heart will always belong to that original 4Kids cast. But I think the new voices are just fine. I wish I could say the same about these character models, though, which range from "doesn't look right" to "AHHHHHHH GET IT AWAY FROM ME"

Brock looking like freaking Uboa over here.
Yeah Brock's whole design just does not work in this style of 3D y'all. Not when his eyes-line-things are as fuzzy and thick as his eyebrows.
CG character models are tough, and there's always a delicate balance to be found between cartoonishness and realism that I don't at all pretend to know how to achieve. But here I come down on the side where we probably don't need to be able to distinguish each individual eyebrow hair on Ash's face.

I'm also not a big fan of how plastic and toy-like they look. Like, this poster of Nurse Joy is indistinguishable from an advertisement for a scale figure.
It's not like I'm not open to new looks for Pokémon either. I loved the art change for Sun & Moon, and the recent movies have each had distinct new looks for Ash/Satoshi that I can get behind. But something about the faces on this just feel...off.
Oh yeah, let me mince no words: Sun & Moon is the best the show has ever looked, and people who complained about it are babies. But here I think it's something about the stylized eyes that just do not work in a third dimension.
I guess I just want to get it out there ahead of time that when I complain about something it's not just because it's different from how it was when I was 6. So when I say Evolution feels like a fundamentally lesser version of it's original it's based solely on its merits as a movie.
Though I will say: bring back the Minnesota Vikings you cowards.
Agreed, but Meowth in aviators is a very powerful image.

So let it be said that Evolution isn't wholly without merit.
On the whole though I think a major part of why I came off cold from the remake is its direction. The original's not breaking any ground as a piece of cinema, but it was clearly put together by artists who knew how to make the best out of limited resources.
And what's extra interesting is that one of the directors of Evolution, Kunihiko Yuyama, is the guy who directed the original! I agree that Evolution doesn't work nearly as well, but this also makes it a pretty fascinating case study for what makes one version of a scene work better than another. At one point I seriously had both films playing in different windows while I compared the analogous scenes with each other. If nothing else, this film is a teaching tool.
They certainly tried to utilize the hell out of being 3D! There's tons of extended tracking shots and camera zooms that would be near impossible to animate in 2D, and they really try to make the action scenes more like thrill rides than the original could.
True, but those flourishes seem to come at the cost of overall scene composition. Take, for instance, the scene where Mewtwo wakes up in the lab. The original uses a lot of heavy shadows to instill a dark, moody, and almost horror-tinged atmosphere. It's a really evocative way to open what's ostensibly a children's movie.


The remake, however, washes the lab in bright fluorescent lights and doesn't obscure the scientists' faces at all. The mood is entirely different, and especially noticeable when you compare these two shots from an identical moment across both versions.
The shift in overall direction is apparent throughout. Like just look at this scene of Mewtwo revealing he's been controlling Nurse Joy the whole time:

Evolution has more consistent motion with Mewtwo emoting the whole time, but the original communicates the intent so well with just a simulated rack focus that you don't even need to hear it to know what it's communicating.
I also generally have an issue with how dark and muddled Evolution can look. Again, comparing analogous scenes, the myriad arms are supposed to be an oppressive, disorienting presence, but it's a lot easier to see what's happening in Evolution.


Also Ash makes a better chomping face in the original, imo.
And the arms looking like creepy bone arms just looks scarier. I freaked out seeing those things in the theater. There are also just some weird changes to the script that I don't understand. Like when Mewtwo challenges the trainers to fight his clone Pokémon, but now they have him telling the clones what moves to use, where in the original he just tells them to go kick some ass.
To be fair, I know the original dub took quite a number of liberties (Minnesota Vikings included), some of which were pretty significant when it came to things like Mewtwo's motivations, so it's entirely possible this new dub is more faithful to the original. I honestly don't know how or if the Japanese script changed. That said, for as much flak as 4Kids rightfully deserves, I do have to admit a certain bias towards the concentration of dumb jokes and puns in the original. The new dub is much lighter on that levity, and kind of duller for it.

It just bugs me, I guess. It makes Mewtwo stop feeling like a villain and more like the kid at school who learned about EV training before everyone else.
Lmao, this is a tangent, but I actually "discovered" EVs by accident in Pokémon Blue, way before I knew what they were called. That's how much I played that game. I was that dweeb.
Oh if editorial would let us I'd turn this article into nothing but reminiscing about beating the Elite 4 with just my Primeape at 15 HP when I first played Red. If nothing else Evolution caught me in the blast radius of its nostalgia bomb.
Absolutely! My entire day has been dominated by middle school memories of trading cards, exchanging tips and cheats (including how to "find" Mew under that damn truck), and waking up early just to watch the anime. There's just something about Pokémon that bleeds through even something as questionable as Evolution.
I do kind of resent this line though. Bringing up the wrong type of old memories guys.
Ahhh, I had to allow them that one. Call me a sucker. And to be fair, some of the jokes are still the same!

Netflix was even kind enough to call back to original movie's habit of misidenitifying basic Pokémon!

Which was of course intentional, because far be it from me to question the veracity or QC policies of Netflix's anime subs writ large!
Just saying if you're gonna make self-aware callbacks you should have room for brilliant lines like this.
IMO it's not a line of authentic Meowth dialogue if it doesn't contain at least one unforgivable pun.
So yeah, I don't hate Evolution, but unless somebody's real hard up for a nostalgia buzz I don't think I can recommend it. The most interesting aspect of it is seeing some Pokémon rendered in a more "realistic" 3D style from the games, but any charm from the original is either neutered or missing entirely.
It's a wholly "okay" remake. And it's not like the original is some unimpeachable masterpiece either, but I'm glad I took the time to rewatch that one and gain some new appreciation for what it was doing. Like I said earlier, I honestly think Evolution works best as a case study and companion piece for people who want to learn about film theory. In both films, tho, the MVP is undoubtedly Ikue Ōtani's heartbreaking performance as Pikachu.

I don't know how she makes that tiny rat with a very limited vocabulary emote so much, but damn she still gets me good.
She's fantastic at it! And thank god they've never done anything weird like have Pikachu speak actual human language in a movie or anything. Just Pika-pika-pi!
That's the way it should be, and will always be, forever, for certain. Yep.
So yeah, Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution - if you're looking for a way to kill 90 minutes with a version of a movie you liked as a kid animated like a Sonic Unleashed cutscene, it's totally worth checking out. Otherwise:
Mewtwo is his own harshest film critic.

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