One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
What happens when you get an actual real-live archaeologist to write a commentary on the episode of the Pokémon anime where they discover a bunch of artefacts from an ancient city? Let’s find out.
At the beginning of this episode, Ash and Brock are having a training battle out in the wilderness when a couple of stray attacks blow a hole in a hillside, revealing a buried shrine. Brock finds a mottled orange dumbbell-shaped object lying on an altar, which is immediately snatched away from him by a young, blue-haired and inexplicably French archaeologist named Eve, who has a whole team of khaki-clad excavators with her. Eve immediately presents the mysterious object to a senior professor in her group, excited because it apparently confirms an extremely important hypothesis of hers. Once Eve’s initial bubbling enthusiasm has subsided, she brings the kids to her dig team’s camp and shows them some of her recent finds. She claims that these artefacts – particularly the dumbbell that the kids just found, and a spoon made of the same orange material – are the first archaeological evidence of the location of an ancient city called Pokémopolis, where humans worshipped Pokémon as symbols of the power of nature. Eve, despite her young age, is apparently the world’s foremost expert on this lost civilisation. Her doting professor tells the kids that she had earned her PhD by the time she was eight years old, and published a best-selling book on Pokémopolis a year later. At the moment, Eve is trying to figure out what to make of a stone tablet with a cryptic and ominous inscription: “Beware the two great powers of destruction. The shadow of the Dark Device will grapple with the prisoner of the Unearthly Urn. The sacred city will be no more as day is swallowed up by night. Darker still for you when they return to lay waste the world, but no human knows the secret to soothe the powers and guide them back to the shadow world.”
These two episodes cover a brief (?) excursion to tropical Seafoam Island, where Delia and a group of her friends from Pallet Town are enjoying a relaxing holiday (it’s a very different place from the Seafoam Islands in the games). Misty and Brock are both invited to join their group, but Ash – who is theoretically supposed to be training for the Pokémon League – is left behind, until he manages to con Professor Oak into giving him an excuse to go anyway. The Evolution Solution, upon watching it again, is not as interesting an episode as I had hoped it would be, and The Pi-Kahuna has themes that are pretty standard for the Pokémon anime. However, the former gives me an excuse to ramble at length about Shellder and Slowbro, while the latter… let’s just say its themes are open to creative reinterpretation. Anyway – without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Now safely back in Pallet Town, Ash has to start preparing for the Pokémon League tournament – and in order to do that, he has to visit Professor Oak to find out when and where the tournament actually takes place (evidently, the answer is: in exactly two months, at exactly the same place as every year – the Indigo Plateau). It apparently never occurred to him before now to look this stuff up. When he arrives at the lab with Misty and Brock, Oak is apparently more excited to see Togepi than to see him, but nonetheless welcomes the gang into his sitting room, where they find out that – as always – Gary is two steps ahead of Ash. They are almost immediately at each other’s throats, but Professor Oak protests that it would be a shame for there to be a feud between Pallet Town’s two “top trainers” – to the indignant disbelief of both. Ash and Gary snipe each other for a while as the Professor examines their Pokédexes, and then it’s time for a tour of his facilities.
The next episode is something that makes thematic sense for me to do as a Christmas thing? That never happens!
Strictly speaking, Holiday Hi-Jynx isn’t the next episode (you can tell because Charmander hasn’t evolved and Togepi hasn’t joined the team yet); it was probably meant to happen around the same time as Pikachu’s Goodbye but got derailed by the same mess surrounding the Porygon episode that caused Snow Way Out to be rescheduled. But it’s usually been aired a couple of slots after It’s Mr. Mime Time, while Ash is theoretically supposed to be back in Pallet Town, and IT’S CHRISTMAS, DAMNIT so let’s talk about the Jynx episode, and then ramble about Christmas traditions and Santa for a while.
We begin with Team Rocket kidnapping Santa Claus as he comes down their chimney. Because they are Team Rocket.
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 doingotherstuff, 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.
Oh, no. Not this episode. Please, not this episode. I still tear up just from remembering this one. You’re meant to be together, Ash, don’t you see that!?
Ladies and gentlemen, Pikachu’s Goodbye.
Ash and his friends, travelling through deep woodland, encounter a large group of Pikachu, whom Ash’s Pikachu tries to befriend. Except for one very young Pikachu, they all flee, but when the little one comes to talk to him, the rest begin to gather around as well… until Ash decides to stick his ugly mug in and scares them all off again. Pikachu is depressed for a while, but when the group sets up camp later on, he gets his chance to be a hero. The little Pikachu he met before falls into a fast-flowing river, and he jumps in to save her… and… fails miserably, getting swept along with her in the current. Luckily, the rest of the Pikachu colony manage to snag them by grabbing onto each other’s tails and forming a chain, anchored in a tree by the side of the river. Pikachu is once again accepted into their culture, and joins in as they sing Pikachu songs under the light of the moon. Brock makes a remark about how wonderful it is for Pikachu to be with his own kind, which… is kind of a douchebag thing to say, actually, because it gives Ash the idea of leaving Pikachu behind and presents him with a horrible dilemma that keeps him from getting any sleep, and really Brock would have to be pretty much the most insensitive person on Earth not to realise that would happen, but hey, whatevs. While Ash is staring glumly into the campfire, he hears a Pikachu screaming, and runs back to where he left them. Team Rocket, of course, have shown up and trapped all the Pikachu in a shockproof net, declaring “everything in this forest is public property!” “And we’re members of the public!” As they fly away in their balloon, Ash gets Pikachu to chew a hole in the net, then uses the net Jessie and James had thrown at him, Misty and Brock as a trampoline so all the Pikachu can jump out safely. Pikachu finishes off the balloon, and another half-assed plot is foiled by our plucky heroes. The Pikachu all start celebrating, and Ash smiles sadly before going back to the campsite to pack everything up. Pikachu follows him, but Ash tearfully tells him not to make this any harder than it already is, and runs away.
No, Ash, no! What are you doing? This is your best friend! Pikachu’s your soulmate! Screw Brock and Misty; they’re douchebags and they’re only going to leave you anyway! You’re going to cry yourself to sleep and then wake up in the morning and Pikachu won’t be there, every night and every morning for the rest of your life, and you’ll regret it forever! No other Pokémon is ever going to understand you like Pikachu does; heck, no human is ever going to understand you like Pikachu does! You’ll never truly be happy again without him, DON’T YOU SEE THAT?!
Where’s my handkerchief…?
Anyway. Just when Ash thinks he’s run far enough, the whole Pikachu community run up over the crest of the hill, with Ash’s Pikachu at their head, and cheer as he runs back to his trainer. The world is set to rights, and that, I can guarantee you, is the very last time Ash gives even a second’s thought to what life would be like without Pikachu.
The second of today’s episodes, Snow Way Out, has always aired as episode sixty-something, but that’s clearly a lie since Togepi still hasn’t joined the team and Charmander hasn’t evolved yet; it’s probably meant to have happened shortly after Pikachu’s Goodbye. At a fork in the road, Ash decides to lead the group over a mountain, despite Brock’s objections, and gets them all lost in a blizzard. Meanwhile, Jessie is singing to James and Meowth about how much she loves snow, because during her ridiculously impoverished childhood her mother used to make food for her out of snow and-
Anyway, they fire up the balloon, say their motto, and realise that the balloon is floating away with all their food. Jessie declares that she will make snow rolls with soy sauce, and they build an igloo and attempt to stay warm through the night with the power of imagination. That is pretty much their contribution to this episode. Back to the kids. To Ash’s annoyance, Brock wants to build a snow cave and bunker down for the night because, really, trying to get off the mountain at night in a blizzard is not Ash’s best plan ever. Unfortunately a blast of wind blows Pikachu down a slope, and Ash chases after him. Brock tells Misty not to follow, because… because he’s sure Ash will be just fine on his own, and knows that splitting the party never has any negative consequences, I guess? Wow, Brock is being a real douchebag in these episodes. Ash finds Pikachu dangling off a cliff and has Bulbasaur save him, but realises they can’t climb the slope to get back up to Brock and Misty. They decide to dig their own cave. Charmander blowtorches his way into a snowdrift, Ash calls out Bulbasaur and Squirtle, and they all seal up the entrance with packed snow before gathering around Charmander’s tail to stay warm. After a couple of hours, Charmander’s flame begins to fail. He insists he’s fine, but Ash recalls him, Bulbasaur and Squirtle, despite their protests, and… takes off his jacket and wraps their Pokéballs in it to keep them warm… because… okay, yes, whatever. Ash and Pikachu argue for a while, until the wind blows a hole in the cave mouth. Ash chooses to block it with his body rather than with more snow, and orders Pikachu to get in his ball. Pikachu refuses point blank, while Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and Pidgeotto rebel and burst out of their Pokéballs. Ash gives in, and they all huddle together for the rest of the night. In the morning, they find Brock and Misty, and learn that they had a warm, comfortable night after Onix tunnelled into some hot springs. Apparently they never tried to find Ash. They have, however, found Team Rocket’s balloon. Brock has his Vulpix fire the thing up, and the kids drift safely down from the mountain on the wind.
Okay, I could whine for a bit about how there are no Pichu in the community of wild Pikachu and that makes absolutely no sense, but I think we all know that’s a cheap shot since Pichu didn’t exist when this episode was made, and anyway these episodes are about Ash’s relationship with his Pokémon in general and Pikachu in particular, so let’s talk about that.
Pikachu’s Goodbye and Snow Way Out prominently display Ash’s sense of responsibility, which seems to be a significant part of what being a trainer means for him. He is supposed to keep his Pokémon happy, healthy and strong, and faced with a potential life-or-death situation his top priority is to protect them (I’m not convinced that wrapping his Pokéballs in his jacket actually affords his Pokémon any additional protection from the cold, but clearly Ash believes it does, and cares more about that than about keeping warm himself). Way back in I Choose You, Ash related to Pikachu as a master to an underling, and Pikachu very nearly died; the traumatic events of Ash’s first day as a trainer have almost certainly stayed with him, and I suspect those memories may be a factor in his overwhelming instinct that he has a duty to keep his Pokémon safe, especially Pikachu (nearly losing Metapod in Challenge of the Samuraimight well be weighing on him too). This doesn’t apply so much to battles; any reasonable trainer will pull a Pokémon out of a fight if it’s taking too severe a beating, and Ash is no exception, but he’s generally fine with having his Pokémon stay in and tough it out until things get truly dire. This is presumably because Ash, like most humans in the Pokémon universe, regards battles as being beneficial for Pokémon on some level; it’s how they grow stronger and learn about their own powers. The moment he begins to feel that one of his Pokémon is in genuine danger, though, Ash will act quickly and often recklessly to deal with the threat.
An important point for these episodes is that this relationship I’m describing, as sweet and loving as it generally is, is still a relationship where Ash sees himself as the superior – almost like his Pokémon are his children. In Snow Way Out, this is obvious; he takes it upon himself to shut his Pokémon up in their Pokéballs to protect them, even when they make it clear that they would rather stay outside and endure the cold with him. Honestly, I can’t help but wonder whether this gently, quietly patronising attitude is part of what sticks in Charmander’s craw so badly after he evolves into Charmeleon. In Pikachu’s Goodbye too, Ash agonises over what’s best for Pikachu, watching him immerse himself in community life and weighing up the obvious benefits Pikachu would enjoy if he stayed against the friendship they share and their experiences on the road together. However, he never takes what would seem to be the obvious course of action by asking Pikachu about it. He listens to what Brock has to say on the subject, he spends hours making up his mind, and he eventually decides to leave Pikachu behind because he genuinely believes that Pikachu will be better off without him, but throughout the episode he seems to consider it entirely his decision. He also seems to feel that the downsides of releasing Pikachu are entirely on his side; he’ll lose his best friend and most powerful ally, but is prepared to endure that so Pikachu can reap the obvious benefits. Again, you could make a parent-child comparison out of this; once they’ve taught their children everything they can, most parents want their children to leave and make their own lives, because it isn’t right for them to be under their parents’ thumbs forever. I suspect Ash’s logic here, while obviously different, is nonetheless parallel.
Pikachu himself never seems to have considered leaving Ash even for a moment. He clearly enjoys his time spent with the wild Pikachu, but more as a nice break and a good way to spend some down time than anything he’d actually want to do long term. Near the end of the episode, when Ash is packing up to leave, Pikachu bounces out of the bushes ready to leave with him, giving not the slightest hint that he suspects anything is wrong, and won’t hear anything Ash has to say on the subject of parting ways. Likewise, in Snow Way Out, Pikachu refuses Ash’s direct order to get into his Pokéball, and all the other Pokémon burst out of their Pokéballs soon after, reminding Ash that they don’t actually have to do anything he says. They follow his orders because they trust him, but if he’s clearly doing something stupid, they are quite capable of ignoring him, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re not his children; they’re his friends. This, I think, is the lesson Ash is supposed to take out of these episodes. Although his heart’s in the right place, his ideals are often rather simplistic. In this case, while few trainers understand better than Ash the need to care for Pokémon and raise them with kindness, Ash doesn’t quite realise yet how independent a Pokémon’s mind can be and how important it is to consider each individual’s distinct values and desires. Luckily, Pikachu loves him enough to be patient while he learns.
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.