Primeape Goes Bananas – The Punchy Pokémon
Ash has been messing around with only five Pokémon for three episodes now, and it’s time for him to get a new one to refill his party (what, use Krabby? Don’t be ridiculous!). Unfortunately, the Pokémon he winds up catching to fill his sixth slot… presents certain methodological issues for Ash’s training style; put it that way.
So, on the way out of Saffron City, Ash stops at a payphone to check in with Professor Oak and show off his Marsh Badge. Oak gives him a kindly old man smile and a “well done,” but explains that Gary already has five badges, a few dozen Pokémon, and a Krabby about five times as big as Ash’s. Ash isn’t really that far behind in terms of badges, but clearly his efforts at capturing new Pokémon aren’t even on the same scale as Gary’s, and the Professor is noticeably disappointed. I’ve argued this before, but it bears repeating: I believe Gary’s training style (catching and regularly using dozens of Pokémon) represents what’s normal and expected, at least for a full-time trainer, while Ash is something of an oddball. Misty and Brock are broadly supportive of Ash’s more idiosyncratic style, but hearing about how many Pokémon Gary has caught gets Ash in the mood to capture something – and, wonder of wonders, a wild Mankey chooses this moment to appear before the group. Mankey seems like a far less volatile Pokémon than the games make him out to be, more mischievous than irritable, and Brock shares a rice ball (which the English translation charmingly refers to as a “donut”) with him. Of course, while Mankey is eating, Ash – because he is Ash – decides to lob a Pokéball at him. Mankey blocks the Pokéball with the rice ball and furiously prepares for battle. I can’t help but think he’s insulted – not only did Ash attack Mankey while he was eating, he apparently didn’t think battling Mankey was worth the effort and figured a Pokéball right off the bat would be all he needed. Mankey’s subsequent behaviour reinforces my belief; he isn’t happy with just beating Ash up, but also steals his hat and imitates him in a mocking dance. This doesn’t ring of self-defence to me; this is a deliberate response to a personal insult. Now, I’ll repeat part of that in case you missed it: Mankey steals Ash’s hat.
He steals Ash’s hat.
Ash won his hat in a competition by sending in an ungodly number of postcards. It is a piece of exclusive Pokémon League merchandise, emblazoned with their official insignia and probably worth more than all of Ash’s other worldly goods put together, and gives him limitless street cred (or so he would have us believe). He can deal with not catching Mankey but he will not abandon his hat. Damn right, too. Behind each and every one of history’s great men and women is a nice hat. Unfortunately Mankey is simply far too acrobatic for Ash to catch him, and he doesn’t try to use any of his Pokémon to help (Mankey stole his hat; this is a matter of honour). At this point Jessie and James show up for their daily attempt to steal Pikachu, and Jessie gives Mankey a good solid kick when he gets in the way. This… turns out to be a mistake. See, as we’ve seen already, although Pokémon in the anime do need to gain battle experience to evolve, the actual moment of evolution is often triggered by strong emotion. Mankey hasn’t actually defeated a single Pokémon yet, so he hasn’t ‘gained experience’ in this episode… but being kicked aside by Jessie makes him furious enough to push him over the edge and evolve him into Primeape. The situation quickly deteriorates and soon everyone’s mind is focused on that timeless adage, “I don’t have to outrun the Primeape; I just have to outrun you!” Eventually Ash decides that, damnit, he’s a Pokémon trainer, and trainers don’t run from Pokémon – they battle their asses and catch them! Primeape is remarkably unconcerned by Bulbasaur and Squirtle’s attacks, but Charmander’s Rage allows him to grow stronger and stronger as Primeape pummels him, and he eventually strikes back with a devastating Flamethrower (with Ash’s hat still sitting on Primeape’s head – luckily, Pikachu dives in to rescue it at the last minute). Now that Primeape is weakened, Ash manages to catch him in a Pokéball… but soon learns that controlling him is something of a tricky proposition.
Ash thinks about using Primeape a couple of times during the next few episodes. However, he never actually pulls him out because it’s not worth the risk and, frankly, Primeape Goes Bananas has left some pretty heavy mental scars on the poor kid. A few days after leaving Celadon City, however, Ash and company run into what they assume is a wild Hitmonchan jogging down the road, occasionally stopping to practice a flurry of jabs. Ash wants to catch the Hitmonchan – and fair enough, too – but instead of just having Pikachu fill his face with lightning like he usually does, he decides to have Pikachu engage Hitmonchan in a boxing match. This goes about as well as you might expect. I could tie this in with one of my pet theories by saying that Hitmonchan would never acknowledge Ash as a worthy trainer and submit to capture unless he was beaten at his own game, since there are no other skills he respects, but at some point my ideas get too far-fetched even for me, so this time I’m just going to go with the good old standby, “Ash is a moron.” During the battle, a man named Anthony – who turns out to be Hitmonchan’s trainer – arrives to berate him for letting his guard down and finishes up the battle. His daughter, a young woman named Rebecca, appears soon after to beg Anthony to come home, but he ignores her and returns to his ‘gym’ (the “Fighting Spirit Gym”, which is more like a real-world gym – and a pretty dingy one at that – than a Pokémon training facility). Rebecca explains that Anthony is obsessed with winning an upcoming tournament for Fighting Pokémon, the P-1 Grand Prix, and has basically ditched his family so he can train with Hitmonchan (y’know… kinda like how Ash leaves his mother all alone for months at a time). Because he hopes someday to go on a date with her, Brock declares that their group will help Rebecca. His hare-brained scheme is for him and Ash to enter the tournament themselves and defeat Hitmonchan… using his Geodude (a Pokémon weak to Fighting-type attacks) and Ash’s notoriously insane Primeape. I’m honestly not sure how they imagine this would help, assuming it even worked, but hey, at least they’ll be doing something.
Meanwhile, Jessie and James also want to get in on the tournament so they can win the fabulously expensive championship belt, so they beat up another contestant, leave him trussed up and gagged in the men’s room, and steal his Hitmonlee. The tournament begins, and Ash’s Primeape is matched up against a Machop, who beats him up for a while and then lobs him straight out of the ring with Seismic Toss. Ash runs to break Primeape’s fall, and thus manages to earn his trust; Primeape then leaps back into the fray and becomes pretty much unbeatable for the remainder of the tournament. Jessie’s Hitmonlee wallops Brock’s Geodude in the first round, predictably enough, and goes on to win all of his matches as well, as does Hitmonchan. When Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee fight in the semi-final, Meowth slips under the floor of the ring and uses some glue to slow Hitmonchan’s steps and give Hitmonlee the edge. Then… Rebecca inexplicably leaps in front of Hitmonchan to block a Mega Kick, and Anthony has to leap in front of her to keep Hitmonlee from pulverising every bone in her body. I think this is supposed to be the moment when he learns his lesson and becomes a good family man again. I don’t know; the whole moral of this one is pretty screwy. Anthony surrenders, and Jessie faces Ash in the finals. Meowth tries to cheat again, this time by electrifying the floor at a prearranged moment when Hitmonlee leaps into the air, but Pikachu spots him mucking around beneath the ring and sabotages his plan, levelling the playing field. Primeape does his thing and beats Hitmonlee to a pulp, winning the P-1 Grand Prix and the bejewelled championship belt.
Then… then Anthony compliments Ash on his Primeape’s awesomeness and suggests “hey, why don’t you let me train it for a while? I’ll turn it into a true P-1 Champion!”
Quite aside from the fact that Primeape already is a P-1 Champion… he and Ash have finally started making some progress towards a healthy relationship, the whole point of the exercise was to get Anthony to cut down on training to spend time with his family, and Primeape would, without a doubt, be Ash’s strongest Pokémon by a significant margin once they trusted each other enough for Ash’s superior tactical expertise to be a factor (yes, I just credited Ash Ketchum with “superior tactical expertise” but I’m comparing him to an insane man-ape-pig). The truly boneheaded thing about all this is that Ash says yes. Before I saw this episode again, I had planned to tie this back to the argument I made when I looked at Bye Bye, Butterfree, and point to this as a natural and healthy example of a trainer and Pokémon parting ways once they’ve each learned something from one another to allow the Pokémon to get on with its own life, but when I watched it I realised that, actually, no, this conclusion pretty much undoes everything positive Ash and his friends have just achieved. We can’t even really say anymore that getting rid of the insane Primeape is a plus because Primeape actually likes Ash by the end of the episode, enough that his eyes water when he waves goodbye. So instead I’m going to take this episode as showing the effects of addiction to Pokémon training on a person’s family. Honestly, Rebecca is getting off fairly lightly compared to Brock and his siblings, Ash’s mother, and Sabrina’s parents (oh, Sabrina’s parents…) but it’s clear that her family is suffering from all the hours Anthony spends with his Hitmonchan rather than looking after them. Now that the tournament is over, he’s happy to make promises to be a better father in the future, but what will happen when the next big event is coming up? Especially now that he’s managed to sweet-talk Ash into feeding his addiction by handing over a proven Fighting Pokémon champion?
This ending just annoys me. I hope you’re happy, Ash.