Anime Review — Pokémon Origins

If you’re a Pokémon fan like me, you understand that every aspect of the franchise—games, anime, what have you—have their strengths and weaknesses, their good parts and their bad parts. You understand that they can still have flaws, be it in design, or just things that you generally don’t like for whatever reason, but you can still appreciate what’s good about it, and understand that every aspect of the franchise has its fans.

I didn’t say how many fans, just that it had fans.

I didn’t say how many fans, just that it had fans.

If you’re a genwunner, you despise everything that isn’t Pokémon Red and Blue (and maybe Yellow) and have nothing but burning, seething contempt for everything that came after. You despise Generation II and beyond (yet still play the games) and accept the original Pokémon, types, TM listings and gym leaders as the gospel, you hate Ash Ketchum with the burning fervor of a thousand Fire Blasts and fall right in line with the personality cult formed by Red. And you hate Pokémon fans like me.

But what about those genwunners who secretly like or at least watch the anime? What of your duplicitous ways now (other than to canonize your aforementioned hatred)? Well, you’d think you would finally get what you wanted and get an anime that basically is the plot to the first games they’d be happy, right? Well…


Pokémon Origins (or Pocket Monsters: The Origin) is a 4 episode OVA that is based on Red’s journey through the original games. Now, the first thing that came to mind—at least, to mine—was the problem with the protagonist himself. Red had two characterizations in the original game: he didn’t speak, and he made absolutely zero mistakes when it came to Pokémon (he never failed to capture something he set out to capture, he never lost a battle, nothing). Those two things on their own don’t lend a whole lot to character development, and they’re even worse when they’re combined. I wasn’t kidding about what I said in that second paragraph; the devotion to Red as he was in Generation I is borderline fanatical. People expecting to see that version of red in Origins are going to be solely disappointed. This Red talks. A lot.

The first of the four episodes opens up in a way that’s familiar to fans of the franchise, be they those who watch the anime or played the original games. Professor Oak gives his opening spiel from the games which summarizes what he does and what other people do in the Pokémon world, while the first scene after that is Red in his bedroom watching a Nidorino battle a Gengar. If the former sounds familiar, then you’ve played…well, any of the main series games; if the latter sounds familiar, it’s because Ash Ketchum did the same fucking thing over fifteen years ago. Though there is one very crucial difference between Ash’s “day 0” and Red’s: Ash was watching said battle in the middle of the night, while Red was watching it during the day. Was this intentional? Is it an homage? Or did they just forget their own history when producing this?

Putting this together made me feel old.

Putting this together made me feel old.

Red falls down the stairs getting out of the house to get to Oak’s lab to get his starter while his mother chides him to be careful. On his way there, he meets his rival and another character with an equally devout personality cult, Blue (or Green). His actions in the game also lend themselves to how strongly Gary Oak, his anime counterpart, is loved, mostly because the fandom has inadvertently made the resultant Gary Motherfucking Oak into a composite character. See, it’s not Gary who, according to the fandom, waits for you to get one step from a Pokémon center to challenge your almost completely wiped-out team of Pokémon to a battle; that came from Blue’s tendency to come out of nowhere and want to battle you at inopportune times.

Gary would have done everything else the fandom likes to say in that meme, such as steal your girlfriend, be where you need to be so much faster and more easily than you, tag signs about how Ash is a loser, etc., but that’s because indigo!Gary had a lot of issues to work out, and generally acted like a douchebag.

And more was than likely a pickup artist. I give him the benefit of the doubt by saying “was.”

And was more was than likely a pickup artist. I give him the benefit of the doubt by saying “was.”

Anyway, they get to Oak’s, and Blue decides to let Red pick his starter first. Red chooses Charmander, and Blue goes right after Squirtle. There’s no word of a third trainer anywhere, so the Bulbasaur is left with the professor. Which is good for Blue, because counterpicking for the sake of beating one particular Trainer and their starter leaves them wide open to be counterpicked by the third. The task given to them by Professor Oak is to fill up the Pokédex, a hand-held encyclopedia of all things Pokémon. What we see next is several instances of Red catching Pokémon and filling up his Pokédex. However, he did fail to catch the first Pidgey he saw.

Again, so did Ash.

Oh, and Red makes the mistake of trying to capture another Trainer’s Pokémon. With a Poké Ball. Gotta give him credit for this—it was incredibly stupid, and one thing Ash didn’t do. Are you SURE this is the same Red from the games, anime?

He also has his first battle with Blue. And if you’re expecting it to be a blowout, well then you’d be right. But Red is the one who gets stomped. The battle is very one-sided, but it has little to do with type advantages; Red’s loss is rationalized by not acting as one with his Pokémon, like Blue was with his Squirtle. It also led to one very memetic image of Charmander thrown to its back while Squirtle gets atop it and bites it…but from the angle of the camera, it doesn’t look like it’s just biting its opponent.

Red sulks over his loss, and is later given a reason as to why he loss by an eavesdropper to his battle—Brock, who asked him just what Red wanted to do with his Pokémon. And it was a question Red couldn’t answer. He then tells Red about the system of going to different cities, finding the Gyms, challenging their leaders, and earning the Badges they give out. These Badges obviously serve as admission to the Pokémon League on Indigo Plateau once you collect all eight of them. The highlight of the first episode is Red getting to the Pewter Gym and doing battle with Brock.

To the anime’s credit, they display a mechanic of Gym battles that doesn’t get explored too often. Brock has a full clip of Pokémon on hand, but he tells Red that he’s only going to use two. It makes sense when you consider the various other high-level Pokémon he has in other games, as well as justifying the low-level Pokémon he uses at first: Red, as a newcomer, has no badges, and is more than likely mandated to use lower level Pokémon for more inexperienced Trainers.

Unlike the anime, who puts very specific limits on how many Pokémon they will use, only the Gym Leader is under those constraints. When Red battles Brock, he starts out with Charmander, but quickly switches to his Nidoran♂ into battle to one-shot it. Then Brock busts out his Onix. Red’s Nidoran♂ almost took out Onix before getting wasted, and the rest of the battle played out as anyone who played Red/Blue when taking Charmander would recognize—with Red spastically throwing out all of his other Pokémon and having them get annihilated, only for Charmander to barely edge out a victory. Red gets his badge, the TM for Bide (which, talk about a sign of the times, it looks like an old 3½ floppy disc) and leaves…and he never answered Brock’s question.

Every single subtle nuance and possible situation for a fighting technique, stored on 1.44 MB of space!

Every single subtle nuance and possible situation for a fighting technique, stored on 1.44 MB of space!

This doesn’t really seem like the “Red” that people are gushing over…

I understand that it’s only four episodes and some parts need to be condensed, but they handled it in a rather sloppy form here. Of the eight Gym Leaders in Kanto, Red only battles two of them onscreen. His battles are mentioned in passing in the second and third episodes. Those are the meat and potatoes of playing the games, and to see most of them referred to so dismissively is a little jarring. The next big hallmark of Red’s journey is the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town. The incident with Cubone watching its mother, a Marowak, stand up to—and get killed by—Team Rocket agents never fails to resonate with fans of the games. Just…don’t think too hard about how a Ground-type Pokémon could even be damaged by their electrified batons, much less killed by them. A lot of blunt force trauma is involved.

The NPCs from the town are given more screen time, and are there to flesh out the story of Fuji, the man running the rescue shelter for abandoned Pokémon. He wants to learn all he can from Fuji, but he’s being held hostage in the Tower. The one that’s haunted. And is a grave site for many dead Pokémon. Blue is there first, but he doesn’t get too far before running in fear at the sight of the ghost of Marowak, and when he runs into Red on his way out, suggests they both beat it. Red isn’t having any of this. Green, to his credit, does give Red the Silph Scope, which identifies the ghost in question, just in time for Cubone to appear and help put the ghost at rest. Green takes his leave, letting Red clear out the Grunts, but not without the help of a newly invigorated Cubone. The battle that ensues is much closer than it has any right to be considering that the antagonists are three nameless Grunts going up against fucking Red. From playing the games, I remember Blue/Green/Gary flippantly blowing off the Tower, leaving me to set everything right; once the place is no longer haunted, he decides on a “fuck this shit” mindset and just bails. And of course he tries to act like he didn’t run screaming away from the ghost like a little girl.

And into a world of OriginShipping fodder.

And into a world of OriginShipping fodder.

He returns to the Pokémon House to tell everyone what happened, and Fuji shows his gratitude by giving Red a pair of mysterious stones. And it’s at this point that most fans will take one look at this scene and call bullshit.

Red is given a pair of Mega Stones—a larger one for Charizard, and a smaller one for him to serve as an activator. Hey~ remember how Mega Evolution was a thing back in Generation I? And how proto-tournament play revolved around getting your Pokémon to mega-evolve first (especially Alakazam, lending to an even more broken Psychic-type domination)? And how knowledge or even recognition of other regions was a thing, and how people talked about battling in other regions such as Kalos?

You don’t?

Well of course you wouldn’t, silly, because they wouldn’t exist for nearly fifteen years after these events even play out! Aside from it being essentially product placement for Pokémon X and Y, it serves as both a continuity black hole, and a massive ass-pull. The latter not just yet, but it will be very evident in the fourth episode. Watch on, if you dare.

Episode 3 begins with Red recounting his off-screen encounters—breaking up a Team Rocket hideout, meeting Giovanni for the first time, waking up Snorlax, and earning two more Badges. And like I said, I know it’s only four episodes and some liberties have to be taken, but seeing these Gym Battles happen off-screen is really grating. It makes it very difficult to take this Red seriously. Sure, Ash won some of his Kanto Badges in less than orthodox fashions, but at least you saw what he did, how he did it, and the circumstances leading up to him getting them.

Anyway, in Saffron City, Red comes across the Silph Company headquarters. For a while it looks like Green is going to help him inside, knowing that Team Rocket has targeted the company and taken its president hostage, and that they’re working on the Master Ball—the Poké Ball that captures any wild Pokémon without fail. It’s mentioned a couple of times throughout the episode, but no one gets to actually use it. Oh, and they’ve also started experimenting on Pokémon, too.

For a moment, it loos like Blue is on board to help Red flush these guys out of the building…but then he decides that his aforementioned “fuck this shit” policy is still in effect, and announces he’s gonna conquer the Pokémon League instead. Red loses his shit and shakes down Blue, telling him that he essentially doesn’t deserve to train Pokémon if he’s going to ignore the plight of Pokémon that are experimented on. And even after that, Blue only reluctantly agrees to go to the cops while Red storms the Silph Co. building.

When Red finally meets Giovanni, he starts going on about how he’ll always crush them no matter how many times they meet. This may seem like a plot hole until you remember that they’ve met once already. Off-screen. Which is mentioned in passing. Okay, it’s still kind of a plot hole. Red’s Charizard and Giovanni’s Nidoqueen then do battle—in a very enclosed office space, no less—with the battle being another curb-stomp.

With Red being the one getting stomped. Your hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Giovanni chastises Red and his Pokémon being irreparably weak and leaves.

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

Two more Gym Battles happen off-screen, along with Red taking on the Fighting dojo and exploring the burned out mansion on Cinnibar island. He also learns that Blue got all eight badges before him, just as he goes to challenge the Viridian City Gym. Red nearly shits a brick when he learns that Giovanni is the gym leader, and tries to retaliate by saying that his strength means nothing because he doesn’t love his Pokémon like the other gym leaders.

But during the battle, thanks to a bunch of inner thoughts, Red is proven wrong. Very wrong indeed.

I fucking love Giovanni’s portrayal in The/Origin(s). He’s not the nerfed figment of Meowth’s imagination wearing an ungodly loud orange suit. Here he’s badass. He already stomped Red once already, and left him and his Charizard in a heap in what used to the Silph Co. offices. He is having none of Red’s shit, and, while he appreciates the acknowledgment of being the strongest Gym Leader, he takes personal offense to Red considering the battle against an enemy of Pokémon everywhere.

That is to say, he puts on his “what the fuck did you just say?” face.

That is to say, he puts on his “what the fuck did you just say?” face.

Giovanni has no problem showing just why he’s the strongest Gym Leader—instead of battling with his normal Pokémon, he busts out two special Pokémon kept in Ultra Balls. One is a Rhyhorn, the second is a Rhydon. And even better, through the inner monologue I referred to, Giovanni starts really getting into the battle—not just to show that he’s not fucking around (he isn’t, but that’s not the point), but I mean legitimately getting into the battle. Before, and even presumably against Blue, he just lobs his Poké Balls onto the battlefield and speaks his commands in short, clipped tones. His talk about how he used to have that fiery determination to battle, and how Red—this Red, no less!—was rekindling it, even though he spent the first half of the battle one-shotting Red’s Pokémon.

It’s also mentioned that Red knows next to nothing about “match theory” i.e. the various type match-ups for attacking and defending. Which is why he sends a Jolteon out to battle.

It takes a surprise appearance by a Hitmonlee to knock out Rhyhorn, or rather, for the fight to end in a double knockout. They’re both at their last Pokémon at this point. Red gets fired up despite having a brutal type disadvantage going into the last battle—Giovanni throws out a Rhydon—and much to Giovanni’s surprise, he’s just as pumped up if not more.

Again, it’s a close battle, but Red manages to pull off a victory thanks to a last-second Seismic Toss from Charizard.

Wow, what an original way for a Charizard to win a major battle!

Wow, what an original way for a Charizard to win a major battle!

Red then defies logic and common sense when he initially rejects the Earth Badge from Giovanni, not wanting to take it knowing where it came from. If it were me, I would’ve just gone, “Whatever, take it or leave it. Have fun getting into the League without it,” tossing it at the kid and walking away (besides, what would the League think if I won a battle but withheld the kid’s rightfully earned Badge?). But Giovanni instead decides to disband Team Rocket just to take that bit of logic out of the kid’s argument. I do distinctly remember in the games Red getting the badge first and Giovanni disbanding Team Rocket out of acknowledgment that Red’s ideals were stronger than his and that there was no way to defeat him. Which, while it still sounds a bit stupid, is a lot more honorable and thought out than him going, “Okay, I disbanded my organization. Now it’s a legitimate Gym Badge! :D” At least Giovanni admits he wants a fresh start alongside his Pokémon once Red leaves.

Still, winning an important battle against a Pokémon that has you outclassed, just edging out a victory with a Seismic Toss? WHERE COULD THEY HAVE POSSIBLY GOTTEN THAT IDEA

Episode 3 ends with Red heading for the Indigo Plateau to do battle with the Elite Four. And if you thought they were going to give more screentime to the four strongest Trainers in all of Kanto…then you would be wrong. Lorelei, Bruno and Agatha are shown in image spots for the Elite Four and that’s it.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Even Red’s battle with Drake is relegated to the last Pokémon apiece, and just before Red wins that battle. Once he’s defeated, Drake congratulates Red on his victory, but tells him that he still has one more Trainer to battle—the current Champion. Now what always bothered me about the Gen. I games is the mechanics behind this Elite Four. Sure, the champion-flanked-by-Elite-Four is firmly canonized in Pokémon lore, but there is zero mention of any previous champion in the first games. Lance doesn’t make any mention of him being champion only to be unseated by the time Red gets there, nor is anything made of a hypothetical previous champion, who fled after losing to Blue and gets no screentime. It never made any sense to me.

Anyway, the big shock (to Red, anyway) is that Blue got there before him and became Champion. And in his first—and only—title defense, he goes up against Red. Green gives an epic speech about how he put together the perfect combination of Pokémon types and moves while filling out the Pokédex, and how it landed him at the top of the Pokémon world. And much like a lot of official battles in the series so far, most of it happens off-screen. It goes from Jolten vs. Pidgeot to open, a handful of Red’s inner thoughts dictating how back and forth the battle was, and transitions into Blastoise finishing off Jolteon while Charizard the only one left on Red’s side. The last battle in the championship round is Blastoise vs. Charizard.

IT’S. BEEN. FUCKING. DONE.

IT’S. BEEN. FUCKING. DONE.

After he loses, Professor Oak arrives to congratulate him, only to find out that Blue already lost to Red. Blue becomes the Tommy Dreamer of the Pokémon world (Dreamer’s first ECW championship reign lasted less than 20 minutes, during which time he never even got to wear the championship belt).

Once Red is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he is then seen catching more Pokémon to fill up the Pokédex, which he finally does about halfway through the episode (the first half of which was highlighted by Red’s championship battle with Blue, remember). When he finally does, he goes to Professor Oak to show off his work, and finds him by Blue’s bedside. Blue, we learn, went to Cerulean Cave, and ran afoul a very powerful Pokémon, that annihilated his Pokémon, injured him greatly, and destroyed his Pokédex. Seeing the damage done to a bedridden Blue, Red decides to make a beeline straight for said cave. And there, in the deepest part of the cave, Red does battle with one of the most notorious Pokémon in the entire franchise.

THE Legendary Pokémon. Mewtwo.

In a display of Mewtwo’s power, Mewtwo withstands a Blizzard from Articuno, uses Recover on it, and then immediately one-shots it. Red has no other choice but to battle it using Charizard. He even attempts to capture it with an Ultra ball, only for the ball to shatter as Mewtwo escapes. At one point, despite a powerful Fire Blast, Mewtwo blasts both Red and Charizard into the water, which should kill Charizard if the whole Charmander-and-company-will-die-if-their-tail-flames-ever-go-out thing is to believed, but not only is this not the case, but the tail is still aflame underwater. So how do Red and Charizard ever get out of this? What will keep them from not only possibly fucking dying but turn around and defeat/capture Mewtwo?

Deus Ex Machina, I choose you!

That’s right, those Mega Stones he got from Fuji in Lavender Town come to life, and turn Charizard into Charizard X (the black version that becomes Fire/Dragon). The battle then becomes extremely one-sided, but for once it’s in Red’s favor. Mewtwo, doesn’t get any more significant offense in, and eventually gets captured.

By the way, I know this is not the same Mewtwo from the first Pokemon movie. So don't bother pointing that out.

Only now does he realize getting punched out by Ash Ketchum is the lesser indignity.

Once he’s back home and Blue has recovered, Red then remembers that Mewtwo was the child of Mew, and he believes that Mew is still out there. The series ends with Red rushing back out the door to find and capture Mew.

Now with all that said and done, I have to ask…who was this OVA meant to appeal to? Is it meant to appeal to the genwunners, the trolls living under the bridge of the Pokémon fandom? I’m not sure, mostly because those fans have built up an image of Red from the original games that sees any kind of criticism or alternate interpretation as near-blasphemous. I can only imagine the divide it’ll cause amongst them. Casual fans—or even fans of the normal anime series—might not buy into it or even wonder why this supposed badass Red is just another version of Ash (not to mention fuel the confusion that Red is Ash, already a sore point for the Pokémon fandom). The only other explanation I can think of is that they used elements of Red’s redesign for Fire Red and Leaf Green…that is to say, games from two generations after this. But that’s not the “real” Red the rest of the fandom expects. And even in some circles the redesign is met with derision.

And you want to know something else? I wholeheartedly believe that Ash can take Red in a Pokémon battle.

Good — The visuals and the music are stellar. Everything looks beautiful and appealing to the eyes and ears; the orchestrated renditions of all the various tracks from the game are a joy to listen to, and the attacks look powerful and convincing. Also: Giovanni.

Bad — Only two (three if you count vs. Blue) major battles take place on-screen; if you’re looking for the characterizations of Red and Blue from the original games, then you’re going to be sorely mistaken; the part about the aforementioned ass-pull against Mewtwo was very jarring. And it takes too much from the first arc of the main anime.

Overall — If taken by itself, it’s a pretty decent story, but if you try to pair it up with the events of Kanto in the games you’re going to give yourself a bit of a headache. Don’t immediately dismiss it, though. The Pokémon franchise has its good points and its bad points, but this is clearly somewhere in the middle, and it will have more than its share of fans.

Ari Rockefeller

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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