This episode is… tricky.
By “tricky” I mean that I’m not sure whether it’s the worst episode ever… or what the whole series should have been like.
I’ll… I’ll just give you the plot, shall I?
So, they episode opens on Jigglypuff, who is strolling around the woods one night, singing to herself, leaving behind a trail of comatose forest Pokémon, with doodles all over their faces… but it’s not just the forest Pokémon that are being affected by her song. A machine part falls from the sky and lands on her head, and she looks up to see a large yellow sphere hurtle through the sky and crash nearby in the woods. Jigglypuff goes to investigate, and encounters a large group of Clefairy piling out of the sphere…
A few days later, as Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu relax outside an ice-cream parlour, a Clefairy approaches their table and starts doing the sort of cutesy things Clefairy are known for. Misty declares that she must have this Clefairy, but the Pokémon isn’t interested in fighting, and bounces off, with the kids in hot pursuit. Eventually, she slips away from them, and they return in defeat, only to find that their backpacks – and their ice-cream – have been stolen! They go to the police station to report the theft to Officer Jenny #442, and quickly learn that they aren’t the only victims: dozens of people are lined up outside the station, complaining of increasingly bizarre thefts. A bike horn, the buttons from a coat, the candles from a birthday cake… Misty wonders out loud who’d steal rubbish like this, and immediately gets an answer. “ALIENS.” The speaker is a scientist – and I use the term loosely – named Oswald, an enthusiastic conspiracy theorist whose self-proclaimed mission is to expose the hidden truths that the government doesn’t want people to know. Oswald posits that these miscellaneous items are being purloined by Aliens for Alien Reasons, and produces a scrapbook filled with the standard blurry photographs normally used as evidence for this sort of thing. The chef whose candles were stolen points to one picture and says that he recognises it, prompting Oswald to ask, hysterically, where he saw it and when, and whether the aliens took him aboard to probe him (no, I’m serious). The chef stammers out that he saw the spacecraft over the forest three nights ago… which is just when the thefts began. Oswald triumphantly joins the group and leads Ash and friends through town, sweeping the area with a bleeping ‘scanner.’
Then a pair of silver-skinned aliens land their spaceship in front of the group, calmly walk out, pick up Pikachu, and leave again. Ash, apparently, is as dazed as I am by the way this episode is going and just blinks as they kidnap his best friend. As the ship takes off, the kids notice that it’s being held up by a crane cable, and Ash sends Pidgeotto to snap it. The aliens, who have stuffed Pikachu into a shockproof glass case, turn out to be Team Rocket in costume, and it looks like they’re ready to have their standard crushing defeat inflicted upon them, but instead something quite different happens. A Clefairy appears, closely followed by an extremely irate Jigglypuff. Oswald’s scanner starts making louder bleeping noises, and he declares that “according to my scanner, Clefairy is an alien!” In fact, “Jigglypuff is also an alien!” When Misty questions the scanner’s integrity, it indicates that she is also an alien, so she knocks it out of Oswald’s hand in irritation. Meanwhile, the Clefairy steals Pikachu’s case and flees, casting a Light Screen to block Team Rocket’s pursuit before disappearing down a manhole. Jigglypuff follows, bringing the team with her. The manhole leads them into an underground hangar, where the Clefairy seem to have repaired their ship by cannibalising items stolen from the townsfolk, and constructed a massive rocket booster to relaunch it – and they’re going to use Pikachu to power the blasted thing. Ash and Misty run to save Pikachu, Brock leaves to find reinforcements, and Oswald decides to stow away on the ship. When they find Pikachu, still locked up, several Clefairy appear to guard him, but Jigglypuff bitchslaps them into submission before stalking off. While Ash and Misty try to release Pikachu, Oswald and Jigglypuff find the bridge, where Jigglypuff furiously attacks the Clefairy captain. Oswald starts playing with the controls and snaps the main joystick – Jigglypuff’s black marker, which she uses as a prop while singing due to its vague resemblance to a microphone. Jigglypuff immediately grabs it and bursts into song, putting everyone on the ship to sleep, then leaves just before the launch countdown completes. A machine whacks Pikachu with a hammer, prompting him to pour out electricity into the ship’s systems and begin the launch.
Up above, Officer Jenny asks Brock “do you really expect me to believe a bunch of Clefairy stole those things to make a spaceship?” Right on cue, a huge section of the road retracts to form a launch ramp and the spaceship blasts off into the sky, leaving a trail of random stolen objects behind it.
This… this may well be my favourite scene of the whole series so far.
Pikachu’s electricity overwhelms the ship’s power core and his glass cage shatters. As Ash and Misty wake up, the spacecraft begins to lean and wobble in its flight, so they quickly find their stuff and attempt to leave. Bulbasaur, impressively, manages to snare a nearby skyscraper with his Vine Whips and swing them all onto the roof, more or less unharmed, as the spaceship passes it. From the roof, Ash and Misty watch the ship sail off into the sky and reflect on what has been just about the most bizarre day of their lives as trainers.
Some hours later, the Clefairy ship crashes again near a lake. As a crowd of people gathers around to see what’s going on, Oswald emerges, wearing a makeshift cardboard space suit and asking, in a muffled and heavily accented voice, “is this the planet of the Clefairy?” Behind him, the Clefairy crew spill out of the ship to begin their crime spree anew…
I don’t know what the writers were on when they did this one, but I want some.
Clefairy are weird, weird Pokémon. With few exceptions, they don’t have much contact with people, suggesting that most of them don’t really buy into the idea of the implied partnership with humanity which I am convinced is the basis of the way most Pokémon relate to us. That could be indicative of a number of things, up to and including an entirely independent civilisation with its own culture and morality. The anime really likes the “Clefairy are from space” angle, which I think was only a fairly minor detail in the games – some dude suggests that Clefairy might be from space because of their connection with the Moon Stone – but does seem to have been at least in the back of the designers’ minds from the beginning. Whereas Clefairy and the Moon Stone suggested that they arrived on Earth riding a meteorite, however, Clefairy Tales has them piloting an honest-to-goodness spaceship. One might initially assume that it wasn’t originally theirs, that they stole it from someone else, but they’re shown to be able to repair the damn thing using an incredibly eclectic array of parts pilfered from random townspeople, so clearly they know its technology inside out – and the thing only failed to fly in the end because Jigglypuff put the crew to sleep and Oswald sabotaged the controls. This isn’t just intelligence; this is technological genius. Coupled with the belief – which, if you accept my theories, is typical of Pokémon – that human ideas about morality are exactly that, human ideas… and we have a largely amoral (though not malicious) race of highly intelligent, technologically advanced Pokémon with formidable magic and, just for fun, the ability to use Metronome. It’s a recipe for total chaos. Quite honestly, I think these Clefairy would make fantastic recurring villains, partly because of the fact that they’re not really villainous, just genius kleptomaniacs with mysterious goals. Figuring out where they’re from and what they’re up to could be a fascinating storyline in itself.
Funnily enough, I don’t think it’s ever actually proven in the anime that the Clefairy come from outer space. Everything seems to imply it, Seymour in Clefairy and the Moon Stone believes that all Pokémon came from space originally, and Oswald assumes that the Clefairy in Clefairy Tales are attempting to return to their homeworld. On the other hand, though… there are plenty of Clefairy on Earth who apparently do not have spacecraft or other advanced technology, but simply worship meteorites and draw power from cosmic phenomena. Their presence draws me toward one of two explanations. The Clefairy may have been stranded on Earth somehow, losing most of their technology, so that some of them ‘went native’ and fully committed themselves to staying here, while others devote all their time and energy to rebuilding from scratch the starships they will need to return home (of which the ship from Clefairy Tales is perhaps only an early prototype). Alternatively, the Clefairy may have been from Earth all along – again, there’s no proof that they aren’t – and simply developing a space program of their own in the same way as humanity did, their zeal further increased by their strange affinity for the cosmos. As for where and how… well, they manage to construct an underground hangar in the middle of a city (and get their crashed ship inside, unseen) in the space of three days; I can only imagine what they could do out in the wilderness with several months to work with. One final point I want to address briefly is that there are no Clefable in this group at all; not even the leader has evolved. This implies that they do not have – and may never have had – ready access to Moon Stones. I’m not sure that this necessarily favours one of my explanations over the other, although it does seem to suggest that the Clefairy in Kanto are divided into distinct groups, and that trade and exchange between these groups is not without restrictions. If I were in a particularly speculative mood (which, let’s face it, is pretty much my baseline) I might even suggest a division into ‘religious’ and ‘scientific’ factions: one group focussed on community, tradition, and ritual, who use their Moon Stones to enhance their magical abilities through evolution, and another group focussed on exploration, discovery, and technology, who devote their energies to building spacecraft (or repairing them, depending on your interpretation).
This episode, like A Chansey Operation, is utterly crazy. It’s not totally inconsistent with the rest of the series, which is extremely light-hearted, but it was clearly written with a rather different tone in mind. I can only imagine how differently Pokémon – both the anime and the whole franchise – might have developed if the entire series had been so wholeheartedly zany. As matters stand, though, I can’t help but love this episode for providing me with so much material that is so fun to work into the other details of the setting. Perhaps in that respect it’s good that it stands out the way it does.