Pokémon Origins: Episode 4

Blastoise seriously reconsiders the life choices that brought him to this point.

With Giovanni and Viridian City behind him, Red’s journey takes him to Indigo Plateau and the headquarters of the Pokémon League.   He narrates, briefly, his conquest of the Elite Four, accompanied by only brief clips from each battle, and is finally sent through by Lance to meet the Champion, who turns out to be – spoiler alert – Blue.  Red is surprised, but seems almost pleased to find him there.  Blue gives an adapted version of his classic overconfident and egomaniacal entrance speech, complete with his line about being “the most powerful trainer in the world,” and hurls his Pidgeot’s Pokéball to start the battle.  We skim through most of it in a few seconds – Blue’s team is the same as he would use with Blastoise in the games, while Red uses Jolteon, Lapras, Persian, Scyther, Dodrio and Charizard.  Eventually, of course, the battle comes down to their starters.  Although Blastoise shrugs off Charizard’s initial Mega Punch and then nearly ends the battle with Hydro Pump, Charizard is able to endure the damage, trap and weaken Blastoise with Fire Spin, and finally nail him with what I imagine to be a critical hit with Fire Blast.  Blue is confused and upset by his loss, but covers it up quickly – and then Professor Oak arrives.  Professor Oak’s lines in this scene were sort of forgivable in the games, where all the dialogue was pretty simplistic, but a lot more jarring in this medium: he initially ignores his grandson completely to give embarrassingly glowing praise to Red instead, and when he finally does acknowledge Blue, his first words are a condescending “what a shame…”  Blue shrugs that off – and gets accused of forgetting to treat his Pokémon with trust and love, something which rings a little hollow given that we’ve never really seen the way Blue treats his Pokémon.  Once Professor Oak has finished being a douchebag, he leads Red backstage to enter him in the Hall of Fame.  Red is a little self-conscious here, but is assured by Professor Oak that he’s earned it, so he vows to uphold the honour of the position.

The mysterious Dr. Fuji. The games, too, contain hints that Mr. Fuji is more than he seems, in the form of a photo of him prominently displayed in Cinnabar Labs, the institution he founded years before.

Of course, Red’s not done – becoming Champion was never his goal; he only went to the Indigo Plateau in the first place because Giovanni told him he would need to become stronger, and fittingly this is merely the first eight minutes of the episode.  He still has his real quest to finish – completing the Pokédex – so we get a montage in which he does just that.  Finally, with all 149 known Kanto species recorded, he returns to Pallet Town triumphant, only to find the lab empty.  One of Oak’s lab assistants enters behind Red and, when asked where he is, only responds “well, it’s…” and trails off, with a pained expression on her face.  Honestly at this point I thought she was about to tell Red that Professor Oak had died while he was away, which would be a very sad but poignant way to end the Pokédex story, but no – that’s not where this episode is going.  In fact, Professor Oak is sitting with Blue, who has been hospitalised after an encounter with a terrifyingly powerful Psychic Pokémon, a hitherto unknown 150th species.  Oak wants Red to go and check it out immediately, but Blue (characteristically) objects that if “it was beyond even me, then you wouldn’t stand a chance against it either,” words which ring a bell for Red, though he doesn’t quite know why.  Oak takes Red back to the lab to get his Pokémon checked out, and finds the Mega Stones in his bag.  He has no idea what they are either, but decides to get them tested when he hears the name “Mr. Fuji.”  Red, while taking a break and fishing, remembers that he’s seen the phrase “it is beyond even us” in the journals he read in the burnt-out Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island, and realises that Blue’s new species might be the “Mewtwo” they mentioned.  Oak, troubled, suggests that these may have been the notes of “Dr. Fuji,” a renowned scientist whose research became dangerous and ethically questionable after he discovered a new species of Pokémon, until he mysteriously disappeared.  Red’s “Mr. Fuji” could be the same man – especially given the connection Oak’s instruments have detected between the two stones, and between the larger blue stone and Charizard, something that reminds him of one of Dr. Fuji’s earlier projects.  Oak recommends letting Charizard hold onto the large stone, and sends Red off.

Mewtwo shoots down Articuno.

Meanwhile, in Lavender Town, Mr. Fuji learns from Reyna that Red is heading for the Cerulean Cave and realises, to his horror, that Red is trying to catch Mewtwo.  Their thoughts are intercut with the battle between Mewtwo and Red.  Mr. Fuji predicts that Mewtwo will be far too powerful for Red’s Pokémon to defeat – and, indeed, they are all overwhelmed, even the legendary Articuno – but still has hope.  When he met Red in the Pokémon Tower, he was reminded of a Kalosian legend about a trainer and a Charizard who shared a particularly profound bond, capable of awakening the power in the stones.  Meanwhile, Charizard is getting his ass handed to him by Mewtwo, but refuses to give up, even when both he and Red are flung into the water by Mewtwo’s telekinesis.  Red, getting desperate, realises that he owes it to Charizard not to give up either.  This triggers the Mega Stones they’re holding, and Charizard transforms with a blaze of light into the dark and terrifying Mega Charizard X.  To Mewtwo’s shock, Charizard’s souped-up attacks are powerful enough to overwhelm even his psychic defences, and after a brief but intense battle (during which Red imagines little Charmander fighting in his place, thinking back to how far they’ve come), Mewtwo is overcome.  Red’s second Ultra Ball finishes the battle, and the Pokédex, Charizard returns to his normal form, and they return to Pallet Town triumphant.  There is a brief epilogue, in which Red, Professor Oak, the lab assistant, and a still-disgruntled Blue have lunch together and celebrate – and Red realises, with a start, that Mewtwo’s predecessor, Mew, must still be out there somewhere…

(As it happens, “somewhere” is right outside the window behind them, because Mew is a massive troll.)

‘Don’t worry, Charizard! I’ll catch yo-I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!’

We should talk here about Mega Evolution, because this has been the occasion of a long and complicated argument between me and Jim the Editor, who has very strong feelings on the matter.  Obviously, including Mega Charizard in the final episode of Origins is a big move, and a very clear break from the nostalgic tone of the rest of the series, something which he regards as a betrayal of what the series was, y’know, supposed to be about – namely, a reimagining of our experience of the original games – in favour of trying to popularise a silly unbalancing gimmick (Jim the Editor also has very strong feelings on Mega Evolution).  Furthermore, he feels that it actually cheapens the whole series to know that the creators had a sleazy marketing goal buried in the nostalgia all along, and thinks that, as Charizard’s Mega Evolution is the only post-first generation element anywhere in Origins (not even attacks from the second generation or later are used, to our recollection), the sudden introduction of this very recent addition to the game has a bizarre and jarring effect on the viewer’s experience of the story.  Upon reflection, I don’t think this is an unreasonable stance.  Origins very self-consciously targets the nostalgia market, and the somewhat abrupt departure from that (the foreshadowing at the end of the second episode notwithstanding) causes the whole purpose and message of the series to change almost without warning.  The first three of Origins’ four episodes, taken together, are a very different beast with a very different point from the full set.  The writers must have known this would be jarring to some viewers, but they chose to do it anyway, which is sort of bound to have upset people.  As I said, though, I’m not one of those.  Maybe that’s partly just because I have fewer reservations about Mega Evolution as a concept, but of course I have other reasons which… probably also make sense.

Mega Charizard takes the stage.

Compared to the anime’s lack of subtlety in attempting to ‘sell’ spin-offs or gimmicks in the past, I actually don’t think it’s that bad.  I’m reminded of an episode of the Hoenn series featuring Solana from Pokémon Ranger, along with her Plusle, as a guest star, and had me cringing from start to finish at the transparency of its attempts to plug the new game and the laziness of its efforts to integrate the character, her role and her skills into the established setting of the anime.  Charizard’s ascension, if nothing else, makes sense in the context of the way Origins has portrayed Red and his partner in the past; Red relies on Charizard above all his other Pokémon, at times beyond reason, and with the exception of Jolteon, Charizard is the only Pokémon who isn’t rotated out of Red’s team between their second battle with Giovanni and their Elite Four challenge.  They are, almost without a doubt, as close as Ash and Pikachu.  I like that, at the end of all this, he gets to unlock this special power that humans and Pokémon can only wield together, through absolute trust and dedication to one another, that he gets to become the charizardiest Charizard who ever charizarded.  It’s not the only way they could have reached a crescendo in portraying Red and Charizard’s relationship; I must emphasise that.  There are many other ways this ending could have been written.  However, I think there is a method to this madness, a reason for Mega Evolution to be flung into a story to which it so manifestly does not belong: in order to make the claim, brazenly and unashamedly, that it does belong there.  By making it the culmination of the relationship Red has been building with Charmander from the beginning – that we all imagined building with our starter Pokémon from the beginning – Origins stresses that Mega Evolution is only the newest (and perhaps most dramatic) expression of themes that have been central to Pokémon all along.  This last, desperate play to defeat Mewtwo, though completely different from anything that has come before, works because of the same qualities that allowed Red to defeat Giovanni and Blue.

It’s precisely because Mega Evolution is so strange that Origins does this.  Nothing else introduced in generation six – arguably nothing else ever introduced to Pokémon – sticks out in the same way or provokes the same feeling of being a complete departure.  It demands justification in a way that nothing else does.  Things like new Pokémon, new items, new attacks – we know that new generations do that.  They require no defence, and so they are absent from this series.  Even the addition of a whole new type is something that we’re familiar with from Gold and Silver – if anything, a significant faction of the community has been disappointed at the absence of new types from generations three, four and five.  The Fairy type, whatever else you might think of it, is not something that would ever have seemed impossible, and it already came pre-packaged with a tie to the old world in the form of Sylveon, an evolution of Eevee (something else we’re used to seeing every other generation).  Mega Evolution, though, is weird, and by its very weirdness was bound to have people declaring that Pokémon had finally jumped the shark, or abandoned its roots (such outcries are of course nothing new, but these ones have, arguably, more justification than ever before).  The fourth episode of Origins, to me, is an ostentatious attempt to refute any such argument and give the creators a chance to reclaim their own past.  Is it obnoxious?  Well… insofar as it serves the creators’ broader aims at the expense of the mini-series itself, it kinda is, yes.  On the other hand, I think the way it changes what Origins is really about is interesting in itself, and in some ways I actually like how it tries to say that Pokémon’s past is still an important part of what it is today, rather than just putting it on a pedestal like something separate and untouchable. Ultimately, the only reason it is able to have this effect is because the contrast it creates between past and present is so sharp, so jarring.  Does it work?  I guess that’s up to you.

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