The Flame Pokémonathon – The Kangaskhan Kid
Ash’s location: The wilderness sometimes euphemistically referred to as “Fuchsia City.”
These two episodes aren’t really all that interesting, and the second is one of those ones that pops up now and again to make me wonder what the writers were smoking, but they’re chronologically the first ones after the Ninja Poké-Showdown so I suppose I’d better get them out of the way… here we go.
So, anyway, the set-up of The Flame Pokémonathon is that Ash, shortly after winning his Soul Badge, is caught by a girl named Lara Laramie trying to capture a Tauros on land he thinks is the Safari Zone but is actually a Pokémon ranch owned by Lara’s family. Though she’s initially annoyed, once the mistake is cleared up Lara is happy to show Ash and friends around the enormous ranch and even invites them to stay for a Pokémon race the next day, a fantastic competition with honorary membership in the Laramie clan as the prize. According to Brock, the Laramie dynasty is world-famous, and all breeders know and respect their name and the quality of their Pokémon, so this is no small thing. Lara will be riding her Ponyta in the race to uphold her family’s honour, and one of her toughest opponents will be another breeder who works on the ranch, an obnoxious fellow named Dario who works with Dodrio. Unfortunately, Team Rocket also have a horse in this race – figuratively speaking. Jessie and James want a way in with the Laramie clan, so they’ve made a deal with Dario to help him win the race in exchange for the influence he will soon gain. That night, Meowth spooks the Tauros herd, then snipes Lara’s Ponyta from afar with a slingshot when she comes to calm them down, making Ponyta throw Lara off and break her arm. Lara asks Ash to ride in her place the next day, gambling on Ash being able to win Ponyta’s trust with his experience as a trainer so she won’t burn him. Ash duly enters the race, along with – just for the hell of it – Misty and Starmie, Brock and Onix… and Pikachu and Squirtle, who plod steadily along in last place, Pikachu practically having to push Squirtle up the hills in the course. Team Rocket follow, sabotaging other racers with slingshots and pit traps, and Onix glumly surrenders when the course crosses a river. Jessie and James have to attack directly at one point to delay Ash and Misty, when Dodrio’s heads start squabbling over food at a pit stop, and Misty, Squirtle and Pikachu stay behind to deal with them as Ash and Ponyta try to catch up with Dario. For all Ponyta’s speed, she can’t quite keep up with Dodrio… at least, not in her current form. Ponyta eventually decides that enough is enough, evolves into Rapidash, and streaks ahead to beat Dodrio by a nose. The race is won, Ash becomes an honorary Laramie, and there is much rejoicing.
The next episode, the Kangaskhan Kid, is one of those episodes that really make you wonder who writes this stuff. The initial set-up is a bit lazy in that it recycles what happened in the last episode: once again, Ash sees a rare Pokémon (a Chansey) in what he thinks is the Safari Zone, but it turns out to be Officer Jenny #74 wearing a ridiculous hat and she arrests him for poaching. Again, Ash is immediately forgiven, and Jenny deputises the kids when an alert sounds to warn her of actual poachers (Team Rocket, of course) attacking a herd of Kangaskhan. When they arrive in Jenny’s jeep, they narrowly avoid the stampeding herd, which Jessie and James soon trap beneath a net. Luckily, the Kangaskhan have a far more competent protector than Jenny on hand, in the form of an eight-year-old boomerang-wielding wild child dressed in animal skins, who frees the Kangaskhan and sics them on Team Rocket before swinging back into the jungle yelling “kanga-kangas-KHAN!” at the top of his lungs. While the kids are trying to figure out what on earth has just happened, a helicopter lands nearby a young woman and her ugly midget husband disembark. The pair are searching for their son Tommy, whom the moron of a husband dropped out of the helicopter as a toddler. It has apparently taken them several years to remember where they dropped him and come looking. Jenny takes one look their photo of Tommy and says “Oh! You must mean Tomo! His address is listed right here in the Safari Zone directory! Yeah, he’s totally in my carpool!”
…okay, the carpool part was a lie but she actually says the rest of it.
Anyway, they build a makeshift litter for Tommy’s parents, who are far too rich to be expected to walk, and go off into the jungle to find him. When the kids find an injured baby Kangaskhan and try to help it out, its cries draw Tomo/Tommy, who attacks them and demands to know whether they are people or Pokémon. The kids try to explain who his parents are, and he temporarily goes mad trying to decide whether his mother is the human who gave birth to him or the Kangaskhan who raised him, then flees into the jungle. The kids have no time to chase them, because Jenny has been alerted that Team Rocket are attacking the Kangaskhan herd again, this time using a… a giant robot Kangaskhan that uses a fake roar to attract the real Kangaskhan – all but one of whom fall for it – and then subdues them with tranq darts. Tommy attacks with his boomerang, which predictably does absolutely nothing, and Charmander sets the robot on fire, which doesn’t help either, but Tommy’s parents arrive in their helicopter and perform a kamikaze strike that destroys the robot. As Tommy mourns his parents, they crawl out of the wreckage, battered but miraculously alive, clad entirely in animal skins, and announce that they have decided to live with Tommy and the Kangaskhan in the jungle so that he can keep both of his families. So… yeah.
In a misguided attempt to have this entry make sense, I have decided that these episodes do in fact have a theme in common, though the link is somewhat tangential: Pokémon and family. The Flame Pokémonathon isn’t the first episode that’s made me think Pokémon are often a family business, but boy, it’s a big one. Being made an honorary Laramie seems to be the only prize to be had in the Pokémon race, but just becoming associated with the Laramie name is apparently enough incentive for Dario to deal with notorious criminals in order to beat Lara. Conversely, the prospect of being owed a favour by someone inside the Laramie clan is attractive enough to Jessie and James that they don’t ask Dario to give them anything else in exchange for their help, even though they don’t really stand to gain anything from the mission itself. All of this is over a name – Dario already works with the Laramie family on their ranch, so it’s not even like it’s about getting him into the ‘company’ or anything. He just wants to be able to call himself a Laramie. Clearly these people have one heck of a reputation, and possibly some serious clout in Pokémon breeding circles. One imagines that all this goes back generations. Practically everyone in this world has something to do with Pokémon, one way or another, but it’s been my observation that a lot of the Pokémon trainers we know best are part of families whose history is closely tied up with Pokémon – Ash’s father is a trainer and his mother, from what we see of her relationship with Mr. Mime later in the series, easily could have been if she’d wanted; Gary’s grandfather is Professor Oak (come to think of it, the wording of Gary’s boast in Pokémon, I Choose You – “it’s good to have a grandfather in the Pokémon business” – seems to suggest an interesting line of thought); Misty’s sisters are all trainers; Brock’s parents are both trainers; and of course my all-time favourite example are the Dragon Masters of Blackthorn City, a family of fantastically powerful trainers who go back centuries. Obviously this doesn’t mean that big, old families have a monopoly on Pokémon training and breeding in general, but it seems likely that becoming a skilled trainer or breeder is often strongly influenced by one’s upbringing and the way one was taught to view Pokémon as a child.
Speaking of the way children view Pokémon growing up…
Tomo was raised by Kangaskhan and, of course, is the series’ interpretation of the old ‘wolf child’ type; a human raised from a very young age by wild animals, the most notable literary portrayal being Tarzan. In the real world we don’t actually know a whole lot about kids like this, purely because so many reports turn out to be hoaxes, but it’s believed that they normally have great difficulty learning how to speak and are incapable of grasping many of the basic concepts of human society. Now, in Tomo’s case, the speech thing raises some interesting questions. Although very few Pokémon can actually produce human speech, most of them seem to understand it, and since Tomo can speak in pidgin English, he was clearly old enough to have started talking already when his moron father dropped him out of the helicopter. Presumably he could address his ‘family’ in human speech and they would understand him. The thing is, though… he doesn’t. He speaks to the Kangaskhan in their own language (and by the end of the episode has started teaching it to his human parents). The fact that he even remembers how to speak English at all suggests to me that he must have had regular human contact during his time in the Pokémon preservation, I assume with Officer Jenny, since she apparently knows him and even seems to have a file on him, complete with a photograph. This brings up a nagging little question: why the hell hasn’t she told anyone about him? Unless this particular Jenny is somewhat unhinged (which, let’s be fair, is a possibility), the only reasonable answer is that Kanto doesn’t consider it entirely unreasonable for human children to be raised by Pokémon (extreme, clearly, but not unthinkable). And why not? Tomo clearly has a happy life with his adoptive family and seems to make a meaningful contribution to the wellbeing of the herd. Most Pokémon seem to possess intelligence, self-awareness and social complexity that only a few animals can match, and unlike, say, chimpanzees or dolphins they also seem to be naturally predisposed to cooperating with humans. Humans, by their own nature, prefer to take control and assimilate Pokémon into their society, but Tomo (and, later, his human parents) demonstrates that the reverse can and does happen, even in the face of contact with normal human societies.
I am gradually building up a very strange view of this universe…