It’s Mr. Mime Time
Yeah, this is totally happening again! Because I feel like it! At the moment! To be honest there are probably a fair few people following me now who have no idea that I used to write ridiculously in-depth commentaries on episodes of the Pokémon anime, but that was totally a thing and it’s going to be again, so let’s get this calamitous misadventure on the road! Now… where were we? When last I left Ash, which was… over three years ago… eh-heh… (look; I’ve been doing other stuff, okay?)
When last I left Ash, he had just… well, I hesitate to use to use the word ‘won,’ so let’s say he ‘obtained’ his eighth and final official Pokémon League badge, the Earth Badge. Now it’s just a hop, skip and a jump back home to Pallet Town so he can start training for the upcoming tournament – or, at least, it would be, if he hadn’t encountered an unexpected obstacle on the way.
The set-up for this one has the kids run into a young circus ringmaster named Stella, who is trying to catch an elusive wild Mr. Mime. Stella’s own performing Mr. Mime – the star of her show – has gone on strike because she’s been working him too hard, and refuses to do anything but lie on her couch and eat junk food (which, let’s be fair here, is me on a good day). Stella regrets the way she’s treated Mr. Mime in the past, but apparently “sorry” doesn’t cut it, so her new plan was to find some competition to make him take things more seriously. Because Brock wants to sleep with her, he promises to solve Stella’s problem with a Zany Scheme – namely, disguise Ash as a Mr. Mime using a rubber suit and have him perform instead. Unfortunately, Ash’s debut show is interrupted by – who else? – Team Rocket, who believe he is a real Mr. Mime and kidnap him. Ash’s mother Delia, who happened to be in the circus audience, learns what has happened, but is totally unconcerned, because she’s sure Team Rocket will let Ash go when they realise their mistake. Misty and Brock agree, showing remarkable faith in the goodwill of the trio of literal mobsters who have just chased them all over Kanto trying to kidnap their pets, and decide to go home with Delia for lunch. Meanwhile, Ash steals Team Rocket’s hot-air balloon so he can fly home. Kid’s got style. By time Ash gets back to his mother’s house, his friends have already returned to the circus, but she has another guest: the wild Mr. Mime that Stella was chasing, whom Delia thinks is just Ash, getting really into his role. Delia has already befriended the timid Pokémon with her legendary culinary skills, and once the misunderstanding has been cleared up, she manages to persuade him to go with Ash and help out Stella.
Back at the big top, Team Rocket have decided to try for a real Mr. Mime by assaulting the circus in a huge battle tank. As Stella and her Mr. Mime flee, he trips and falls, so Stella decides to carry him on her back, apparently restoring some of his faith in her as a trainer, but not doing so hot on the whole ‘escaping the villains’ front. Just when it looks like they’re cornered, Ash and Delia arrive on the scene with the second Mr. Mime (or Mimey, as Delia later decides to call him). Mimey blocks the tank’s path with a set of Barriers, and when Team Rocket try to turn around, Stella’s Mr. Mime creates another wall behind them. Here, Stella’s original plan finally starts to bear fruit, as the two Mr. Mime start competing to see who can conjure Barriers the quickest. Before long, Team Rocket are trapped at the bottom of a square tower more than ten storeys high. They fire all of their missiles trying to blast their way out… and succeed. In a manner of speaking. Stella reconciles with her own Mr. Mime, everyone goes home happy, and Mimey becomes a permanent member of the Ketchum household.
I’m out of practice with these, so let’s just do a rambling commentary on the interesting bits of this episode and call it a day, shall we? Now, where shall we start, where shall we start…? Ah; where else?
The ability of Pokémon to defy their trainers if they feel like it has been something of a theme for me in the past (for reasons which should be obvious to everyone). For that reason, I think I ought to make a big deal of Stella’s Mr. Mime essentially going on strike. Stella herself admits that this is her own fault because her training style is so hard on Mr. Mime, and, well, it’s not difficult to see why. A whip is part of Stella’s traditional ringmaster costume, and she cracks it at Ash’s feet while ‘training’ him to join her performance, implying that this is standard for her. One is rather reminded of A.J., the inexplicably Texan amateur Gym Leader from way back at the beginning of the series, who trains his Pokémon with a whip and sets of restrictive harnesses. The difference is that A.J.’s harsh training style is rooted in a heartfelt belief that strength comes from enduring pain, while in Stella’s case it seems like it ought to be mostly for show, and accordingly it’s played for laughs when Ash has to ‘dance’ for her. As uncomfortable as we ought to be made by the reference to the terrible working conditions suffered by many circus animals, it’s hard to ignore that the power dynamic in the Pokémon world seems to be very different. If Mr. Mime just refuses to work because he’s not happy with how he’s being treated… even with her livelihood on the line, Stella apparently can’t – or won’t – punish him physically, stop feeding him, or kick him out, and he damn well knows it. It’s also interesting that she never outright suggests replacing him; Stella wants a second Mr. Mime to be “competition” for hers, and is prepared to accept the temporary solution (or at least I hope she plans for it to be temporary) of having Ash stand in for one. She’s realised that, whatever she was doing before, it wasn’t giving Mr. Mime motivation or encouraging him to take pride in his performance, and that’s the problem she’s aiming to fix. The dynamic here, to me, is a mother and an unruly teenager as much as anything else.
Since one of the truisms of Pokémon training is that Pokémon usually have pronounced competitive instincts, the solution Stella comes up with is natural, and the subsequent events of the episode demonstrate that she had the right idea, more or less. Brock’s plan to dress Ash up as a Mr. Mime doesn’t work – Misty and Brock note that Stella’s Mr. Mime isn’t even paying attention when Ash starts practising. Of course, why they ever thought this would help needs some explanation in the first place, because Ash obviously doesn’t have any of Mr. Mime’s powers, and although an unobservant human (or one in the audience, watching from a distance) might be taken in by Brock’s disguise, it’s hard to see how a real Mr. Mime could be taken in by the deception. For Stella’s purposes, it’s apparently not all that important that the invisible walls be real – she can fake it well enough for a show or two, as long as she has a reasonably competent stand-in. Her Mr. Mime, though, isn’t concerned about whether or not she can do without him. Ash’s amateur pantomime might be good enough for his fellow humans, but he’s not going to threaten Mr. Mime’s pride in his mastery of his skills, which far exceeds anything Ash will ever achieve. Later on in the episode, two things do change Mr. Mime’s attitude: first, when Stella does her best to save him from Team Rocket, and second, when he and Mimey work together to trap them in a glass case of emotion. What happens with Stella is obvious enough – by putting herself at greater risk in an attempt to save him, she reminds Mr. Mime that she really does care about his wellbeing, even if she may not have shown that terribly well in the past. The second part is a little trickier, because you could interpret this scene as the two Mr. Mime simply agreeing to work together to stop their enemies, and that’s definitely part of it. However, look at the composition of the shot where the two Mr. Mime address each other – a split-screen with contrasting background colours, and serious expressions (or… as serious as a Mr. Mime ever gets, anyway…) – and notice as well how far they go above and beyond what it’ll actually take to trap Team Rocket, and how much faster they each start moving when they’re both involved. To me, this looks like exactly the kind of competitive attitude Stella was hoping to promote in the first place. Faced with another mastermime, they can’t help themselves; they just have to prove that they’re each just as good as the other!
And finally… well, how can I not talk about Delia and Mimey? I’m honestly not sure whether she’s formally his trainer at this point, and I suspect it doesn’t matter. Delia is… I don’t want to say the first, because I may very well be forgetting something, but certainly the most prominent example we see for a long time of a human befriending a Pokémon without battling and capturing it. If Mimey has a Pokéball, we never see it – and, well, why would he need one? After this episode, he lives with Delia and doesn’t travel, and since they almost never battle there’s never any need to recall him to keep him safe and nurse his wounds. At first, Delia mistakes him for Ash in his suit, but as it turns out, the way to Mimey’s heart is exactly the same as Ash’s: through his stomach (though it certainly helps that, when Delia learns of the mistake she made, she reacts with continued kindness towards Mimey, and satisfaction in his appreciation of her food – she could just as easily have been angry at being taken advantage of). That’s not the only similarity between them, though; at the beginning of the next episode, Ash comments, with a strange hint of resentment in his voice, that Mimey is now doing what used to be his chores. Delia has plenty of friends in Pallet Town, but with Ash gone she lives alone – Mimey is almost like a surrogate son for her to lavish affection on. I can’t help but put this alongside my characterisation of Stella’s relationship with her Mr. Mime as “mother and unruly teenager,” and my suggestion ages and ages ago that Ash also seems to have a parent/child relationship with his Pokémon; it might well be a common attitude. Also interesting is that Mimey doesn’t just love Delia’s cooking; by the end of the episode, she’s teaching him to cook. Just like any trainer, she wants her Pokémon to learn and gain new skills – just not necessarily skills for fighting. There are moments when Mimey seems to be vague on the nature and scope of his chores, and a little overenthusiastic in carrying them out – in the very next episode, he wakes Ash up in the morning by trying to vacuum his face, and when Team Rocket show up at the door later that day, disguised as reporters, he sweeps them down the road in a huge cloud of dust. Ultimately, though, it’s obvious that he takes to his new life with gusto – and as far as Delia’s concerned, that seems to be all that matters.
Next time, we’ll see the rest of Ash’s homecoming and his visit to Professor Oak to learn about the Pokémon League, in an episode that turns out to have a great deal of interesting ideas about what it means to be a Pokémon trainer. Until then, have fun and be happy!