Jun 21, 2014
NeverKnowsBest26 (All reviews)
Nostalgia can be a detriment to looking at something through a critical lens. Fond memories can blur your judgment concerning the quality of a work of fiction, especially if it's something you grew up on. This is the pit-trap waiting for the generation of anime fans who grew up in the 90's watching and playing Pokémon in this four episode special. Pokémon Origins retells memorable events of the first two Pokémon games in animated form. No doubt it will bring forth warm fuzzy memories of popping Pokémon in your Gameboy for the first time, but once put under a critical light, the special bares questionable results at best.

Origins chronicles the adventures of Red, named after one of the first two games, on his quest to become a skilled Pokémon trainer and complete Professor Oak's Pokédex. His adventure covers the entirety of the first Pokémon games, which means sticking to the original 150 Pokémon (for the most part). It also means condensing an entire games worth of content into only four 20-or-so minute episodes. The show deals with this by having narration that lists off events that happened presumably in the time between episodes. This, of course, is a textbook example of weak writing, not to mention it breaks the cardinal rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. The story is not being told to us as much as it is being spoon-fed to us. Certainly, the events will elicit major nostalgia for anyone who has played the games, however, that alone is not a sign of good writing. In fact, the storytelling here relies almost solely on nostalgia. Since large chunks of Red’s adventure are told though narration, it doesn’t feel like the audience is on the journey with him. We are told about the wonderful world of Pokémon, but we’re never allowed to explore it with Red. This results in difficulty actually being invested in Red’s adventure, outside of our own nostalgia of the game.

Not helping the matters is that none of the characters develop in a natural progression. We see Red become a master Pokémon trainer, but we never experience it. This is, again, because most if his adventure is narrated, which makes it more expository than experiential. It becomes difficult to gauge his growth as a trainer and a person, and summarizes what should have been shown as hard earned experience. He does have a distinct character arc that is easy to map out, but it just isn’t explored particularly well. Of course, Red is the central character and as a result the most developed, which doesn’t bode well for any of the other characters. Blue/Green (depending on what language you’re watching) is Red’s rival, and he’s given enough personality to not be one-note, particularly with his sometimes friendly sometimes antagonistic relationship with Red. However, he’s ultimately there to be a rival that Red can play off, and he doesn’t develop too much beyond that. Likewise, most of the characters feel kind of like stepping stones for Red as he develops into a better trainer; pretty much all of them are there to either teach Red a lesson or antagonize him into action. Needless to say, any character development for them is light or rushed. Team Rocket leader Giovanni’s sudden change of heart might have been an affecting moment if we actually got to know him first. Instead, we get his backstory in a few minutes during his battle with Red.

With all this said, it must be asked: is Pokémon Origins a failure? Well, no. Not really. This is a project that was clearly banking on the nostalgia of its viewership, and love for the franchise. In a way, it’s almost a reward for their devotion. It’s kind of a walk down memory lane for anyone who grew up with the games and the TV show. Watching Red travel, train, and battle reminds us of all the hours we put into beating the game and completing the Pokédex. We’re treated to game menu screens being incorporated into the show, fully animated re-enactments of scenes and battles, and nostalgia inducing iconic soundtrack. The animation is also much better compared to that of the TV series, perhaps even better than some of the movies. The boost in budget compliments the creative and varied Pokémon designs quite well, some Pokémon look better than ever. Battles are done with an abundance of energy, and while sometimes short and predictable, they are entertaining and often more violent than those of the TV show.

Nostalgia is nice, but it is no substitute for good storytelling. This is most certainly the problem with Pokémon Origins. The story being told is far too big to effectively be told in just four episodes, the world too expansive. This results in the massive amount of exposition, heavy narration, and unnatural pacing that plagues Origins. It might bring forth pleasant memories of your early gaming years, but doesn’t succeed in telling its story through the visual medium, instead relying on your own fond nostalgia. When it comes down to it, you might as well just play the games again instead, it’s a much more rewarding experience.