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