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.
As we join our heroes today, Ash is still at home in Pallet Town, staying with his mother Delia and her Mr. Mime, Mimey, and supposedly training for the Pokémon League tournament… not that he spends a lot of time doing that. In fact, like a schoolkid with an impending exam, it’s largely while avoiding the process of actually training that he gets up to the stuff that happens over the course of these two episodes. In the process, though, he inadvertently winds up learning some interesting things about what it means to be a trainer – and so can we. Let’s get to it.
In Make Room for Gloom, Ash, as he tries to escape the horror of doing chores for his mother, inadvertently leads Misty and Brock to the very place she’d wanted them to pick up gardening supplies for her – a huge domed greenhouse called the Xanadu Nursery. Ash spent a lot of time there with his mother when he was young, but thought it had closed years ago when the owner moved away. The kids are let into the greenhouse by one of its workers, a man named Potter, and Ash decides to let Bulbasaur out to play among the plants. Bulbasaur has great fun at first, getting high off a herb known as Pokénip (like catnip, geddit?), but soon runs into trouble when he sniffs another plant, stun stem, which can paralyse humans and Pokémon. Luckily, the nursery’s new owner Florinda and her Gloom are on hand to help. Having worked with stun stem for so long, Gloom has developed an immunity to the plant’s toxin, and can even produce an antidote nectar to cure other Pokémon who have been exposed. While Bulbasaur promptly starts flirting with his saviour, Brock – in more or less the manner we have come to expect from him – takes the opportunity to get to know Florinda. Florinda is cripplingly insecure, and believes that she’s a failure at both training Pokémon and running her family’s business. Potter explains to Ash and Misty that when Florinda bought a Leaf Stone for her Gloom, it failed to evolve Gloom into Vileplume, and she believes this is because she’s a poor trainer.
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.
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.