Welcome to my first film review!
I ended up watching the animated fantasy TV special Pokémon: Origins (2013). Expect the unexpected!
Firstly I should state my familiarity with the Pokémon franchise. As a child I followed the anime adventures of Ash Ketchum et al. from the start to Master Quest. My experience with the games was limited to half an hour on my friend’s copy of Pokémon Yellow (I increased Pikachu by ten levels in that time, to his shock).
Knowing that Origins was based on the game Pokémon Red and had no relation to the main series, how did I fare?
To my delight, Origins was accessible to a newcomer to the Pokémon games like me. The first episode really goes at length to introduce the setting and characters, even explaining what the titular monsters are.
The animation was a marked improvement from the washed out show I was used to on standard definition analogue TV. Gorgeous crisp colours and details brought the settings and battles to life. What else is different? The main trainers Red and Green (analogous to Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak) are much less goofy. The tone is more serious with less humour and cuteness, and more intense fights. This interesting stylistic experiment had mixed results. I enjoyed the new energy and suspense in the battles which were more reminiscent of Digimon or Dragonball Z. However, the cute goofy humour was a trademark of the Pokémon series and I felt some comic relief should have been retained to balance the mood.
Fans of the original games would have gotten their humour in the form of references like the phrase “It’s not every effective…” My friend and fellow audience member was giddy with the faithfulness to the original story like the game graphics and story events (e.g. a Magikarp salesman). While this worked well in his favour, it was also a disadvantage. The story of Pokémon Red was clearly too long to fit into four episodes and the vast majority was relegated to montage sequences. The narration was enough to make me understand what was going on, but it was obvious that only the older loyal fans were truly welcome.
The extremely rushed pace took a toll on the story and character development, as Misty only has a cameo appearance and we never focus on any Pokémon other than Red’s Charmander. The story was torn between trying to relay Red’s entire journey, and showing a coherent story in each episode. However, with this challenge the producers did surprisingly well.
What would I do?
Hypothetically, if I could change anything about Origins, what would it be?
Thinking of the bigger picture, I would not have made it at all. Basing it on Pokémon Red fundamentally restricted its audience share and relevance, and doomed it to be a short, one-off special. Its real benefits were a more serious and energetic style, adherence to the games, listening to fans’ desires, a planned story resolution and appeal for older viewers, not anything specifically related to the original story.
Instead, I would have incorporated these elements into a much-needed reboot of the main series to clear away the 15+ years of continuity and make it easier for new fans to get into the Pokémon franchise. Tying the anime into the video game releases directly would allow for periodic refreshes. This would help to avoid the story getting repetitive and tired, and forces a deadline for the protagonist to achieve their goals and satisfy the viewer. Note that Red achieved more in two episodes than Ash Ketchum has in his entire run; children don’t look up to perpetual failures! (I sure didn’t)
At the same time, I would have kept some of the goofy humour that entertained me as a young child. The fun and length of the original anime seasons combined with the intensity and resolution of Origins would make a very engaging, attractive and popular series.
Pokémon: Origins learned from the lessons of the main anime more than it ever did itself. It’s just a shame it will remain a short side note.
7.5/10 (but only watch if you have some interest or background in Pokémon)