Anime Review – Pokémon Origins

Pokemon Origins

Pokémon Origins
ポケットモンスター THE ORIGIN (Pocket Monsters THE ORIGIN)
Kodomo – Action, adventure
4 Episodes (complete)
Hulu / Amazon / iTunes

Summary:

In a world where strange beings called Pokémon can be caught and battled, a young boy named Red begins his journey to catch every Pokémon. Along the way, Red will have to deal with his rival named Blue, a group of criminals called Team Rocket, and even his own inexperience.

Review:

Pokémon Origins is a nostalgia-filled albeit too-short experience.

How many of you were around when Pokémon first came out? Do you remember playing Pokémon on the original Game Boy, watching the TV show after school, and buying the toys? The games (now celebrating its 20th anniversary) spurred a huge craze, and it’s no surprise why: it’s fun and every kid’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to bond with such an intelligent and useful species?

Anyways, Pokémon Origins is a miniseries made to celebrate the debut of Pokémon on 3DS. Origins is basically a direct adaptation of the original Game Boy games (Red and Blue internationally, Red and Green in Japan) and is set from a different continuity than the main Pokémon anime. Professor Oak wants to have a thorough encyclopedia of Pokémon (complete the Pokédex), and this can only be done by catching every Pokémon. Professor Oak recruits his grandson Blue and neighbor Red to help him with his dream and gives the two boys each a Pokémon. Red and Blue then race to finish the Pokédex while also battling the become the best Trainer in the land, the Pokémon League Champion.

Origins covers the entire game from Red’s selection of his first Pokémon to the battle against the mysterious Pokémon living in the Cerulean Cave. The four episodes can be summarized as Red’s first battles, the fight against Team Rocket, and the final battles. Outside of these events, the rest of the story is shown through quick recaps. “I did this, this, and this!” Red narrates. Skipping over events is to be expected when you take a decent-length RPG and turn it into four less-than-half-hour episodes, but it’s still disappointing. Only a couple of Pokémon battles are shown, and we don’t see Red actually capture many Pokémon. I really wish we could have watched him grow over the course of a full-length series. I mean, how shocked was Red when he first encountered a Legendary Pokémon? Did he have trouble navigating the Gyms? Every Pokémon adventure is about a journey, and Origins skips much of it.

The original games (well, in fact, any Pokémon game) are not exactly literary masterpieces, but the basic plot is enjoyable for all ages. The combination of magic and science is almost always a winning combination, and there’s a surprising amount of depth to the story. Team Rocket are essentially terrorists who will take over buildings they want, a tower is built to remember the dead, and the subject of cloning and experimentation is touched upon. But with this series being so short, Red comes across as more of a Legendary Hero rather than an ordinary boy from Pallet Town who rises to become a Champion. I mean, he captures mythical Pokémon and defeats Team Rocket in four episodes! It takes me longer to capture regular Pokémon sometimes…

While Origins is based on Red and Blue/Green, there are, of course, some changes. Firstly, Red speaks. Otherwise, I guess Red would have “spoken” through nods and grunts, which would probably be very boring in this anime. Red also has some confirmed losses, and one Generation VI Pokémon gameplay aspect shows up in the last episode. Blue doesn’t also seem as much of a jerk as I remember, but I may be confusing him with Gary/Shigeru. The changes are rather minor, and viewers will likely too busy spotting all the references to the games instead. The opening movie, the Hall of Fame, and even the original music are all shout-outs to Red and Blue/Green. I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, I remember that!” throughout the miniseries. I had fun remembering my awesome Alakazam and surfing across the seas while watching Origins. However, this is also why someone who didn’t play Red and Blue/Green will not get much out of Origins: the anime relies more on viewers remembering their experience rather than showing a new one.

The story isn’t the only thing different from the main anime; the battles are also more game-like. When Pokémon battle, their health gauge is shown on a screen. The characters also talk about levels, which is much different from the “never give up!” and “believing is everything!” parts of the original anime. Pokémon will get KO’d, and you will see Red use six Pokémon (one after another) to defeat two. The few battles shown are pretty exciting. Red’s Pokémon collection is quite large, and I never knew which ones he was going to choose against the much more experienced Gym Leaders. I still wonder about that Championship team though. Seriously, a Persian and a Dodrio?! Again, in a longer series, the story could have explained why Red chose the Pokémon he did. Did he have no idea what the Elite Four’s specialities were, or were they Pokémon he was really close to? Because those just seem like unbelievable choices.

The visual style of Origins also looks more like the game than the main anime series. The style is more manga-like, resembling Sugimori’s original drawings. The color palette also looks softer here than the main anime. These differences help make Blue and Gary (as well as repeat characters like Professor Oak) distinct from each other. Since the style is older, the show doesn’t pop out as much as most modern anime. Origins was also produced by three different studios, but I didn’t notice too much of a difference between episodes. I did notice a couple of animation errors like Reina’s barrette appearing and disappearing. The Pokémon battles here seemed heavily focused on up-close, physical attacks. I think Charmander and its evolutions used punches more than fire attacks! The fast-paced nature of the series means we never really get to dive into the atmosphere of the world: the coldness of the Seafoam Islands, the dark caverns of Victory Road, hordes of wild Pokémon roaming the grass. The final battle is a visual treat, showcasing both human-Pokémon bonds as well as the raw power of the Pokémon Red is fighting against, as it blasts opponents away easily.

The English cast is made up of several anime veterans like Bryce Papenbrook (Attack on Titan, The Seven Deadly Sins) and Kyle Herbert (Bleach, Dragon Ball Z). If you grew up on the Pokémon dub, hearing Origins’ cast may take some adjusting to. However, the Japanese version also used different voices for Brock/Takeshi, Giovanni/Sakaki, etc., so this adds to the alternate universe feel. The cast are all veterans and put on a natural performance. I think Lucien Dodge as Blue was my favorite; he played Blue as arrogant but enough likability to think of him as a scamp and not a school bully. Not too many Pokémon speak, so the number of voice actors is pretty small but effective. The BGM will likely tickle many listeners’ fancy with their familiarity. A few key pieces match the more dramatic scenes. I especially enjoyed hearing some of the original sound effects.

Translation:

As usual of Pokémon media, the official English names are used. So Green, Red’s rival, is renamed Blue to match the game Pokémon Blue. A few characters keep their Japanese name since they didn’t have names in the original games. The adaptation keeps shout-outs to the original games, like Blue’s infamous “smell you later!” catchphrase.

Final Comments:

Pokémon Origins is perfect if you want to cry about how old you’ve gotten remember your childhood. However, the show would have been better if it were a series rather than a miniseries. If you weren’t around for the beginning of the Pokémon craze (or at least have played FireRed or LeafGreen), then the full magic of the show is lost. Origins is a decent way to pass an afternoon if you have Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime for the free streaming, but $10 to buy it is probably better put toward a self-contained movie, Pokémon or otherwise.

The main anime seasons and various movies are split between being available on various streaming sites, TV, and DVD.

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22 Comments

  1. The Fullmetal Narcissist

    Have you ever read the Pokemon Adventures manga? It’s an insanely different experience from Origins or the original anime.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      I remember collecting the comics (which I think I still have around somewhere), but that was so long ago that I don’t remember much. I think I didn’t liked it because it was so different. I remember loving Magical Pokemon Journey though. It was so cute.

      Reply
  2. Kapodaco

    “However, the show would have better if it were a series rather than a miniseries.” Typo.

    Great review. I agree with just about everything you’ve said here. Though, my own feelings toward this special are a little more negative. I don’t care when people in industries, whether it be anime or otherwise, try to spur the feeling of nostalgia to draw people into watching or partaking in something. It feels like cheap bait to me, and relies on references and well-known nods to the viewer to make up for a lack of creativity or originality. I can understand something here and there, but I can’t see any reason to make something like Pokemon: Origins aside from exploiting the nostalgia people have with their initial reactions to Pokemon’s debut.

    And that blatant advertisement for the “certain Generation VI gameplay aspect” really rubbed me the wrong way. Ugh.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Fixed, thanks!

      I agree pandering is very annoying and hollow. Some feel like blatant cash grabs, and there’s nothing more annoying than having to look up why such-and-such happened or having to explain things to someone who has never seen it before. If I had paid for Origins, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. It’s not independent like a good video game adaptation should be.

      Reply
  3. fiddletwix

    I bathed the nostalgia that Origins offered, but I won’t deny that I was horribly disappointed with how much they skipped. Given a traditional 26 episode series, they probably could’ve knocked out much of the game without needing to skim over that much. The four episodes that it was given just didn’t do it enough justice. And you bring up an incredibly important point; people unfamiliar with the games will be left feeling mostly hollow about this show. At its core, Origins is really fanservice to old-school Pokemon fans with only the mega evolution part hooking into the new generation. If you’ve never played the games, you likely won’t connect very well with this show, and as an intro to Pokemon as a whole, it’s definitely not a great place to start.

    While I did enjoy seeing the mega evo in the anime, I won’t deny that it took me out of the nostalgic experience 100%. I get why it was done, both for promotional reasons and to illustrate a melding of old and new, but still.

    It also bothered me a bit that Green was changed to Blue. Again, I understand why it was done as Green was never released in the US (though that begs the question as to why they didn’t release LeafGreen in the US as WaterBlue or something.) but my nitpicky nature won’t stop staring at his green shirt……I watched the sub version, though, so I’m not too affected by it.

    I still fully enjoyed Origins, and I’d gladly watch it again and again (outside of that one scene where Charmander’s getting bit. Screw that.) but man I’m thirty for a full series. Ash and Pikachu get 900+ episodes but Red gets four……Well, we’ll always have Pokemon Adventures.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Red really needs a full series. Guess we’ll have to wait for the 25th or 30th Anniversary!
      I think there was a reason they went back with LeafGreen instead of WaterBlue, but I can’t remember why. Would love a WaterBlue for 3DS though!

      Reply
      1. pokeninja90

        Junichi Masuda stated that the reason LeafGreen was not WaterBlue is because:

        “A leaf is a symbol of peace, while fire and water are opposing concepts and thus would seem more like a conflict. A leaf is also an easier concept to grasp and translate into other languages, and in this world of conflicts, the creators wanted to give a name suggestive of a peaceful world.”

        Reply
        1. Krystallina

          Thanks!

          Reply
  4. pokeninja90

    Awesome post! I still remember watching this when it came out! Talk about a nostalgia kick! I think I picked up my old copy of Pokemon yellow again after watching just so I could experience it all over again. But, I agree Origins was just too short!

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      I sold all my original Pokemon games years ago. Kind of regret it now… I know they’re both available digitally, but part of me is hoping for a enhanced port a la FireRed/LeafGreen for 3DS.

      Reply
      1. pokeninja90

        Yellow is the only one from the original set that i have left. The others were lost long ago….

        One could hope, but I feel like that won’t happen until the 50th anniversary of Pokemon or something… which is a shame.

        Reply
  5. Raven

    Haven’t seen this, and not really interested to, based on what I’ve read. Always very annoyed when anime put in things that clearly doesn’t belong, like health bar.

    I played so much of Red, Yellow, and Gold back then. You’re right, it’s really about the journey and the little moments… swapping that voucher for a bike, mountaineering, surfing. That moment in Gold when you set foot again in Kanto and heard the remixed Vermillion tune was so wonderful.

    Watched and enjoyed a lot of the first season of Pokemon, but Digimon (and Monster Rancher) always have the better anime. I’d love to see a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon anime though!

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      I remember hating the part where I had to go back to Kanto and defeat Red in Gold/Silver. I always wanted Red to win!

      Reply
      1. Raven

        Haha, his Snorlax really gave me a bunch of trouble the first time around. I personally hate that you have to sacrifice two move slot for freaking Flash and Waterfall to get to him…

        Reply
  6. dreager1

    Yes, as a full series it would be awesome! I just didn’t like it when the special tried to get a little overly serious at times. We don’t need to see any Pokemon getting seriously injured or dying. That’s why I still prefer the anime since it always stays relatively light and happy. It was great to see Red and the gang animated though.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      That’s why I think there’s room for both types of Pokemon anime. The traditional one and the more serious one. I know Yo-kai Watch is doing very well in Japan, so a different type of anime could really shake things up!

      Reply
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  8. The Otaku Judge

    Pokemon is twenty years old? Yes, I think I will start to cry now over feeling old.

    “I really wish we could have watched him grow over the course of a full-length series.” – Watch him grow? Ash never ages 😉

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Ash must have been cursed (blessed?) by some mythical Pokemon to stay 10 forever. Who knows about Red… I guess in the meantime you and I will just have to cry in the corner about getting old.

      Reply
  9. Mr. Panda

    Awesome review! I, too, loved Pokemon Origins, and wished that it were more fully realized. As it is, it’s a rushed story with too much attention given to the Pokemon Tower, and not enough on all of the important battles. Every time Red narrated what he went through, I always thought, “I want to see that part…” Still, I’m glad they even did this, because they could have completely ignored ever trying to make an anime out of just Gen 1 (especially in this age where we are nearing the 7th gen!). Great job!

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Maybe for the 30th Anniversary we’ll get Red’s full story! I really want to see him catch ’em all and see him hanging out in Cerulean Cave.

      Reply
      1. Mr. Panda

        Ahh, we’d have to wait 10 years for that haha. Maybe 25th?

        Reply

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