Lucario and the Mystery of Mew Review

Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters to make the review more accessible to English-speaking fans, I was actually watching a fansub of the Japanese version of the movie. There may be some differences if you have only seen the dub.

Thoughts and Synopsis

This is my favorite Pokémon movie. This is in large part because I'm a sucker for undying platonic love in fiction, and while Pokémon is heavy on that theme generally, none of the other movies focus on that quite as starkly as this one does - Aaron and Lucario are legitimately one of my favorite character relationships in any media. But it really is pretty objectively one of the best films in the series. A lot - let's be honest, most - of the Pokémon movies fall into a set few relatively unremarkable plot archetypes, with legendaries either rampaging and needing to be stopped or friendly and needing protection from a human villain who seeks to exploit them. This is one of the unique ones breaking completely out of those archetypes with a more personal and character-driven story, and the execution is surprisingly nuanced and competent. It's not perfect, but ultimately it pulls off a story with real emotional power and heart, and I genuinely just love it as a film.

We begin in the distant past, before the invention of modern Pokéballs. Two armies of humans and Pokémon alike are marching to war, threatening the small kingdom of Rota caught between them with destruction. In this age, the kingdom is guarded by knights known as Aura Guardians, who can sense and use Aura - a mystical force that permeates all living things. One of these knights is Sir Aaron of Cameran Palace, who serves Queen Rin with his partner Lucario, and as we come in, Lucario has been sent to scout for the invading armies.

The situation doesn't look good; the armies are huge, and they're rapidly closing in. After Lucario contacts Aaron and the queen - he can speak to his partner through the crystals growing all around the kingdom using his Aura powers - Queen Rin says that no matter what happens she will stay and share the same fate as her castle. Sir Aaron hesitates, bowing his head for a moment, but then departs the palace on his Pidgeot.

Once airborne, though, they're quickly attacked by Skarmory from one of the armies and crash-land not far from Lucario's location. Lucario runs up to meet Aaron, recognizing his strong Aura even from a distance, but Aaron is acting strange; he turns away and tells Lucario to leave, and that he's abandoned the castle and will never return. Aaron takes off running, and Lucario follows him in confusion, until Aaron suddenly whirls around and throws his staff into the ground in front of Lucario. The gem on the staff glows with a bright white light before absorbing Lucario inside it, Pokéball-style. The staff shakes as he struggles to escape, but it's no use; as he helplessly watches Sir Aaron run away and leave the staff - and Lucario - behind, all Lucario can think is Why?

On the giant tree-shaped mountain known as the Tree of Beginning, crystals glitter almost like tears as Queen Rin watches the two armies finally meet and clash. A Ho-Oh enters the Tree through a tunnel before it suddenly transforms into a much smaller creature: it's Mew, the main legendary Pokémon of this movie. Sir Aaron's Pidgeot, alone, flies away from the Tree, picks up Aaron's staff and takes it back to the queen, just as the Tree of Beginning suddenly begins to glow with a bright green light. The kingdom's crystals - actually tendrils of the Tree's great root system - take on the same glow as green energy pulses out from the tree, enveloping the armies. The fighting stops; the armies make peace and head home.

This, at least, is the story told by a mother to her young daughter in the modern day. Queen Rin, she says, assumed that Sir Aaron must somehow have used the power of the Tree of Beginning, where Mew lives, to stop the war.

The title screen sequence shows Aaron's staff floating through space while successive advances in human technology whir past: Lucario remains suspended inside it for hundreds of years with no real sense of time, still wondering why? How could his partner and mentor simply abandon his duty and everything they stood for?

Now, in modern-day Rota (which still seems to be an independent kingdom, as it still has a queen), an annual festival to commemorate the end of that battle is beginning. Naturally, Ash and company are heading there to participate in the Pokémon tournament that is held every year to select a trainer as the "True Guardian of Aura". Everyone is required to rent and wear period-appropriate costumes to make the experience more authentic, and Ash, ever the wannabe hero, goes for a costume that makes him look like Sir Aaron.

Ash and Pikachu win the tournament handily, and Ash is named the True Guardian of Aura for the year - which means that during that night's feast, he gets to hold Aaron's staff and then sit alone in a corner with it while everyone else has fun: seems like being a hero is not all it's cracked up to be. While he sits there bored, the guests have a dance, and the gang's Pokémon play together in the loft with a strange, very enthusiastic, shapeshifting Aipom. Brock eagerly tries to woo the woman who lost to Ash in the last round of the tournament, Kidd, but she ends up ditching him. She retreats to a room she believes is empty, but where Team Rocket's Meowth is actually hiding in the fireplace. Astonished, Meowth witnesses as she puts on a pair of computerized glasses, removes her fancy dress to reveal a skintight stealth suit, and through the glasses asks a faraway partner, Banks, to send her a map of the palace. She exits through the window and onto the rooftop, then uses a grapple hook to swing onto the roof of another building. Meowth tries to follow her, thinking she might be a rival for Team Rocket, but falls from the roof and crashes in through another window, which happens to be where the heroes' Pokémon are playing.

Kidd witnesses through a pair of binoculars how the Pokémon gather around Meowth and the former Aipom transforms into its true form - it's Mew, of course. With satisfaction, she orders her two Weavile to place a locator beacon on Mew. They jump in through the window just when Meowth has regained consciousness and try to get to Mew, freezing most of the other Pokémon in the process. Pikachu tries to defend Mew, but ends up being hit by a joint attack and knocked unconscious, landing in Meowth's arms. At last, Mew chooses to just teleport the three of them out of there - onto the steep roof of a tower, where Meowth and Pikachu very nearly fall to their deaths. Mew transforms into a Pidgeot, catches them on its back and flies off while Kidd looks on incredulously. She sighs at her Weavile for overdoing it and making a battle out of this, and they hang their heads in shame.

Meanwhile, Ash gets something to do at last as the queen, Ilene, asks him to assume the hero's pose to formally begin the festivities - the pose Aaron is shown in in a painting in the room, holding the staff above his head - and as he does so, the staff suddenly begins to shake, the gem at the end of it glows with a bright white light, and Lucario bursts out of it.

The newly-relased Lucario immediately confronts Ash and desperately asks him why he abandoned the palace. When Ash asks what in the world he is talking about in what is clearly not Sir Aaron's voice, though, Lucario finally manages to open his eyes and is puzzled to find that the shape with what he thought was Sir Aaron's Aura is just some kid in a costume. Confused, he looks around at the alien faces and furniture; he runs outside, staring at the fireworks show in the air, and then rushes through the gardens where he stops, trailing off...

Aaron and Lucario flashback! The two have just been partnered up, by one means or another, and are moving into the palace for the first time. Sir Aaron explains to Lucario that he will teach him to use Aura, but warns him the training will be harsh. Lucario is honored and amazed that Sir Aaron wants to teach him everything he knows, and Aaron leads the way into what is to be their room...

...back in the present, Lucario enters that same room, but instead of the warm bed and candles he remembers, it's now a museum exhibit, with cold unlit electric lamps and glass cases showcasing ancient artifacts. He walks around the room, stunned.

Queen Ilene, her maid, Ash, May and Brock enter the room. Lucario whirls around, relieved to see a familiar face at last - Queen Ilene is a dead-ringer for her ancestor Rin, especially in the dark - but the maid turns the lights on and Queen Ilene gently explains to the shocked and disbelieving Lucario that he's been sealed away for a very, very long time.

Later, Lucario kneels before Queen Ilene as he reports to her what he experienced that fateful day when he was sealed. He recounts that he was sent scouting on the battlefield as the two armies approached, but that there was no way to stop the battle. At this, Ash comments that Sir Aaron supposedly did stop it. Lucario is shocked to learn of the legend, but tells them bitterly that that can't be true, because Aaron abandoned the castle and sealed him away when he tried to stop him. May and Brock wonder if the legend could be mistaken after all as Lucario stares at the painting of Aaron on the wall. Queen Ilene says there's no way to know what really happened, but offers to let Lucario stay in the castle until he works out what he wants to do.

Ash speaks up, asking Lucario who he mistook him for, and Lucario tells him shortly that his Aura looked identical to Aaron's - it wasn't the clothes. How could that be?

Max barges in with the Pokémon, who have told him what happened, and tells everyone that Mew took off with Meowth and Pikachu. Kidd comes in after him, now back in her fancy dress, to confirm it. The queen and her maid aren't too worried: Rota has always seen Mew as a little prankster that steals toys and so on, and this is just another prank. Ash is pretty worried, though, because, well, it's Pikachu after all. He immediately asks where Mew lives so that he can go and find Pikachu. Jessie and James, who were listening in and planning to try to capture Lucario, are shocked to hear Meowth was taken too.

Queen Ilene leads them onto a balcony that looks out over the Tree of Beginning and explains that even though it looks like a tree, it is actually a giant rock structure. She tells them that Mew lives in the Tree. However, since Mew can transform into any Pokémon, it could be difficult to actually find it. Her maid points out that Lucario has the ability to read the Aura of all living creatures, and thus he'd be able to tell whether he's looking at Mew or something else. The queen asks Lucario to go with Ash to help him find Pikachu, and Lucario agrees. Kidd walks in too, back in her stealth suit, and announces she will come with them, which prompts Brock into a fanboyish rave as he recognizes her as Kidd Summers, a world-famous adventurer. She reveals she actually came there specifically to uncover the mysteries of the Tree of Beginning - that's why she wanted to plant the beacon on Mew - so coming along will only help her further her mission.

Later that night, Lucario walks alone into the ballroom where he was originally released from the staff and stares contemplatively up at the painting of Aaron. Then he hears movement, and he leaps up into the ceiling before tackling down the intruder, who turns out to be Ash. Ash is momentarily annoyed to be attacked, and Lucario is annoyed back at him for having tried to sneak up behind him. Ash swallows his pride, though, and says that he's counting on Lucario to help him find Pikachu tomorrow. Lucario asks him if he is Pikachu's master, but he replies that they're friends, and after all, you'd look for your friend when he goes missing, right? Lucario turns away and replies, flatly, that he is only going because Queen Ilene requested it of him.

The next morning, they head off on their search, with Lucario leading the way and Kidd driving like a madman behind him. Jessie and James, eager to find Meowth, hitch a ride in the trunk. During the ride, Ash and company discuss Aura, with May wondering if, since Ash apparently has the same Aura as Aaron, he might be able to use Aura as well; Ash is thrilled by the possibility.

Eventually, Lucario stops. They've come to a field of erupting geysers, and there's no way to cross until they've calmed down. Luckily, however, where there are geysers, there are hot springs, and there's a lovely bathing-temperature one just nearby. So while they wait, everyone decides to take a nice, relaxing bath, except for the Rock- and Ground-types - and Lucario, who stays brooding on a nearby rock, watching...

Aaron and Lucario flashback! Aaron's hat, gloves and cloak lie discarded on a tree branch as he douses his feet in a hot spring. Lucario stands warily beside him. Aaron encourages him to put his feet in the water too because it's nice and relaxing, but Lucario says he'll be fine. Aaron won't just stand for that and playfully pulls him down, insisting he must try it. Lucario does so, tentatively, and then smiles. It really is nice...

...back in the present, Ash calls out to Lucario to come join them in the hot spring. Lucario turns around and walks away without a word as Max wonders if he just doesn't like hot springs. We know better.

May eyes a strange-looking crystalline flower, resembling a cocoon, on a small outcropping of rock nearby. Ash climbs up to take a look at it. However, he slips and uproots it, tumbling back down into the water while May narrowly manages to catch the falling flower. They decide to replant it on the bank, while Lucario looks on the flower from afar...

Aaron and Lucario flashback! The pair of them look down at the same kind of flower on the ground. Aaron explains that it is a "time flower": it will show a "miracle of time" to those who can use Aura...

...back in the present, Lucario turns away without telling the kids what he knows.

Later, the kids go to replant the flower while the geysers rage on. When May hands it to Ash, however, the cocoon glows and unwinds, and suddenly the faint image of Ash falling into the hot spring while the flower tumbles down is overlaid on the environment. This is how time flowers work: when an Aura-sensitive person touches one, it "records" an image of what is going on around it, and if it is later touched by another Aura user, this image will be projected around the flower.

In the evening, while sitting around a campfire, Ash tells the story of how he and Pikachu bonded, when Ash tried to shield Pikachu from those Spearow near Pallet Town and Pikachu in turn came to save him from them, complete with a flashback to the first episode. He finishes the story by saying that ever since then, he and Pikachu have trusted one another. Lucario, still sitting apart from the others, has been listening...

Aaron and Lucario flashback! Aaron demonstrates to Lucario how he uses his ability to sense Aura to dodge swinging logs with his eyes covered and then binds Lucario's eyes, telling him he believes he can do it too. Lucario tries it, and indeed, he can see the logs clearly and easily with his Aura senses and has the reflexes to dodge them. Note that although it doesn't quite look like it, this is Lucario contemplating trust, in accordance with what Ash just said: the exercise is reminiscent of various theater/improv exercises involving covering your eyes while a partner guides you, and while here Aaron isn't directly guiding him on where the logs are, he is trusting that Aaron has taught him well and that his judgement of Lucario's ability is correct.

When Aaron tells him that's enough, he uncovers his eyes and looks to Aaron for an assessment of how he did; he smiles and nods, and Lucario smiles back...

...back in the present, Lucario can no longer stand to hear all this stuff about trust, and he remarks that people can't be trusted before walking away. He intends that to be the end of it, but Ash follows him and asks if Lucario was referring to him. Lucario replies shortly that Ash could just as well abandon Pikachu, given the right circumstances. What better way to make Ash mad? He shouts that he would never abandon Pikachu, but Lucario flatly tells him there's no way of knowing. Ash remarks angrily on the absurdity of the idea this supposed hero of legend would abandon his own Pokémon like that. Lucario responds that maybe Pikachu himself just got tired of having Ash for a master and ran away.

Congratulations, Lucario; you've just really made Ash mad. Ash runs up and tackles him into a river, where they fight; naturally, what with Lucario being a Pokémon, and a Fighting-type at that, Ash doesn't have much of a chance, but May manages to grab him and hold him back. Lucario walks away yet again, and May tells Ash off for being harsh to him.

Lucario stands brooding by a tree some distance away, and Max goes to cheer him up with a bar of chocolate. Lucario has never seen chocolate before and sniffs it suspciously, watching Max warily as the boy insists that eating it will make him feel better. Finally, he takes a cautious bite - and smiles, obviously liking it. When Max excitedly asks him what he thinks, however, he puts up a more dignified expression and doesn't answer, instead just continuing to chew. Max can tell he's enjoying it, though, and laughs.

Meanwhile, inside the Tree of Beginning, where Mew has been playing with Pikachu and Meowth, Meowth is resting comfortably, but something seems to be bothering Pikachu. Meowth guesses it wants to go back to its twerp trainer as Mew tries to cheer Pikachu up with all its stolen toys. Pikachu just looks away, however, and mutters, "Pikapi..."

Sleeping inside Kidd's car, Ash wakes with a start. He exits the car, looks towards the Tree and mutters back at it, "Pikachu..." Lucario watches from a short distance away, silent.

The next day, they continue their journey, with Lucario leading the way. Conditions aren't as misty now, and they can actually admire the landscape. Suddenly Lucario stops, however. When they step out of the car and ask him what's wrong, he responds that this is where he was sealed away. He looks at the cliff where he saw Aaron disappear for the last time and collapses on the ground, bitterly, only for his paw to land next to a convenient time flower situated there. Since Lucario is an Aura user, it unwraps and a flickering image envelops the area: they see Aaron throwing his staff into the ground and Lucario being absorbed into the gem before Aaron flies away on his Pidgeot. Just then, a red-clad army of Pokémon passes through, and despite knowing they are only projections, Lucario begins to frantically attack them with Aura Sphere as he is thrust back into the reality of that day. When Ash calls to snap him out of it, though, he steps away from the time flower and the illusion fades. The kids quietly wonder if the legend was wrong after all, having seen with their own eyes that Aaron did seal Lucario inside the staff and then simply fly away. Max, however, makes an alternate suggestion: perhaps Aaron sealed him away to protect him from the army?

Lucario kneels on the path, still asking himself why, and Ash approaches him, looking miserable. He apologizes for what he said the day before. Lucario rises and responds with a sudden resolve that he must not abandon Pikachu, and Ash dries his tears and says he knows that.

Suddenly, Lucario tenses up, his aura sensors stiffening out to the sides. He narrowly knocks Ash out of the way of a Hyper Beam: the source of it is Regirock, here to ward intruders away from the Tree of Beginning. They run for it into the canyon, with Lucario leading the way.

When they exit the tunnel, they find themselves in a cavern full of prehistoric and modern Pokémon alike, lit by a giant, glowing crystal set in the roof overhead that serves as a substitute sun. Kidd puts on her computer glasses and explains that they're directly below the Tree of Beginning - which means, Ash and Lucario realize immediately, that Pikachu is somewhere above them. Ash rushes off on the first upwards slope he can find, followed by Lucario, May and Max. Meanwhile, Kidd deploys a small swarm of tiny autonomous research drones, sending them off to collect data on the Tree and transfer it to Banks.

Banks reports the drones' initial findings to Kidd through her glasses: the Tree of Beginning is in fact neither a tree nor just an oddly-shaped mountain, but a giant photosynthesizing mineral mega-organism in a symbiotic relationship with the Pokémon living inside it. However, just then his computer system breaks out in dozens of error mesages: the drones are one by one being destroyed by the Tree's defenses, either the Regis or by strange orange blobs emerging out of the Tree's crystals.

Meanwhile, Ash and Lucario emerge out of a tunnel onto a part of the outer surface of the Tree, and Ash shouts Pikachu's name up towards the top. In Mew's playing quarters, Pikachu's ears prick up, and it runs out, followed by a curious Mew and Meowth. Pikachu shouts back "Pikapi!" at the top of its lungs, and Ash hears it, immediately running off in the direction of the voice. Regice pops out to attack him, but Lucario rushes to defend him while Ash tries to tell Regice they're not enemies. Regice does not listen and they run the other way, reuniting with the others before being forced to retreat back into the tunnel they came from. They find themselves at the brink of an abyss, with hundreds of thready, crystalline bridges snaking their way across the room. Team Rocket tumble down from above, having fled there from Regirock and Registeel, and beg for the protagonists' help. Lucario tries to distract the Regis while they run across a crystal bridge, through another tunnel, and to a narrow rock bridge on the outside of the tree, where Pikachu, Meowth and Mew finally spot them - Meowth surprised to see Jessie and James there with them. After they've crossed, Lucario destroys the bridge behind them to prevent the Regis from following them.

As all the human characters stumble through a tunnel, Team Rocket - who were in the lead - are assaulted by a reddish-orange blob that has taken the shape of a giant Cradily. It envelops Jessie, and James tries to make his Cacnea attack it, but the attack is completely ineffective and Jessie is swallowed before the blob simply sinks into the ground, the crystals in the tunnel glowing with a sickly red, and takes her with it. An Omastar-shaped blob rushes in and wraps around James, who grabs his Chimecho's Pokéball to send it out before he is swallowed; Cacnea and Chimecho watch dumbstruck as the blob vanishes with all traces of their trainer.

An Aerodactyl blob approaches as the main protagonists run onwards, and Lucario shoots an Aura Sphere at it, which does manage to destroy it. They rush on through the tunnel while Kidd turns her shades to the splattered remains of the Aerodactyl, which are converging back into a giant ball in mid-air, and asks Banks if he can tell what this thing is. He explains that perhaps they serve a purpose analogous to white blood cells: they attack and destroy the 'bacteria' that invade the organism. Kidd asks him to analyze the tunnels to find an escape route for them.

A second later, a Lileep blob approaches Kidd. Lucario quickly leaps into the way and is enveloped, but then the blob simply sinks into the ground and leaves him behind: the tree's immune system does not consider Pokémon to be threats. Now Regirock and Registeel come up behind them, however, and they have to continue. Ash and Lucario split off from the others to find Pikachu and try to draw the Regis off, while Kidd takes the others into a side tunnel. Ash sends out his Grovyle and Corphish to hold the Regis off for a moment before trying to lure them to follow. Meanwhile, Pikachu heads through other tunnels, racing down towards Ash, followed by Mew and Meowth. A couple of blobs pass them; unknown to Pikachu, they're of course heading for Ash and friends. The blobs find Kidd, Brock, May and Max and are quick to gobble up the latter three; they all follow James's example by sending out their Pokémon before they're swallowed so that they can be saved. Kidd, however, manages to avoid them with her action-girl skills.

Ash hears Pikachu's voice while going through the labyrinth of tunnels and picks the one that takes him closest to the sound. Eventually he emerges on the side of a cliff, where the same crystalline bridges we saw before connect it to a cliff on the other side. And on that other side - Pikachu! The two race across the bridges towards each other; despite the strong wind nearly throwing Ash off several times, he stubbornly clings on, jumping across the chasms between the bridges to meet his partner. When Pikachu is blown off, he manages to jump to catch him in the air, but as they are about to fall to their deaths, Kidd swings across the canyon with her grappling hook to catch them and bring them to safety on the cliffside.

Ash is ecstatic to have reunited with Pikachu and introduces him to Lucario, who smiles as he nods. Mew happily hands Ash his hat, which was blown off his head by the wind earlier. Regice emerges on the other side of the cliff, and the gang run for it; Ash asks Kidd where the others are, and she doesn't answer until more of the Tree's white blood cells approach them and she tells him they were all swallowed by those things - including Jessie and James, to Meowth's horror. They run onwards, still followed by the Pokémon-shaped blobs; Banks tells Kidd they can escape from just a bit above where they are, and they enter yet another cavern. There, however, Registeel suddenly appears and grabs Lucario, and as Kidd and Ash stop short in surprise, two blobs come along and envelop them.

Like the others before them, Ash and Kidd desperately send out their Pokémon to save them. Pikachu, horrified, tries to grab onto Ash's hand while the blob begins to sink into the ground, helped by Ash's other Pokémon, but to no avail, and Ash vanishes into nothingness. His Pokémon begin to cry; Mew grabs Ash's hat, which has fallen to the ground again, and questioningly carries it over to Pikachu, but it is no comfort. Mew is puzzled, but then begins to glow green and grabs one of the nearby crystals. Suddenly all the crystals on the tree and around Rota glow green as well, and green blobs emerge from the ground to return everyone to the place where they were swallowed. There are happy reunions between everyone and their Pokémon, especially Ash who is drowned in affection while Lucario looks on, moved. The three Regis walk away as the green glow fades.

Ash quizzically turns to Kidd to ask what just happened, and Meowth chimes in to explain that Mew has told the tree that they are not bacteria. Kidd realizes that Mew and the Tree of Beginning are in a symbiotic relationship, with each sharing its power with the other.

Suddenly, though, an ominous orange passes over the crystals above. Mew hands Ash his hat, but then droops down, looking weak and sickly. The crystals all around the Tree begin to glow with a sinister, fiery red and then crumble into black dust. Banks explains that the Tree's immune system seems to have been overloaded and that if this continues, the Tree of Beginning will collapse, presumably killing all the Pokémon that live in it.

Mew weakly points them into a large chamber, in the middle of which stands a huge crystal growth - now glowing with the same ominous red as the rest of the crystals in the Tree - with a twisting band of light flowing above it: it's the heart of the Tree of Beginning. Lucario, however, notices something lying draped over an outcropping of crystals near a pillar: Sir Aaron's gloves.

Lucario rushes over to examine the gloves and then stares into the crystal there, where he sees a strange shape. He closes his eyes and concentrates, and the shape encased in the crystal begins to glow with the special blue of Aura: it is the body of Sir Aaron, sitting slumped inside the middle of the crystal growth. Ash eyes a convenient nearby time flower and touches it, and the cocoon unwraps, showing them a projection from the past: Sir Aaron stands there, in the same room, and calls for Mew, who emerges in the form of Ho-Oh before transforming back into its true shape (if you remember, we saw this very scene from another point of view at the beginning of the movie). Aaron tells Mew that he knows Mew and the Tree of Beginning are one, and he asks Mew to lend him its power before he creates a sphere of Aura around Mew. Ominous blue sparks crackle around his body, and he groans, obviously in pain, as the sphere grows. And as it brightens, the vision fades.

Kidd realizes that Sir Aaron must have sacrificed his life to stop the war: he used his Aura to empower Mew so that the Tree of Beginning could then spread its green glow and make everyone stop fighting. Lucario stares at Aaron's body and collapses in grief. Mew, weak, flies over to Lucario and asks him to use his own power to help to save the Tree, and he agrees. Kidd protests, saying that if he does, he will meet the same fate as Aaron did, but Lucario only says, "I know," before he extends his paw towards Mew and begins to give it his Aura...

...but the sphere of energy breaks. Lucario says he's not strong enough - so Ash rushes in and offers to help, saying if he has the same Aura as Sir Aaron, he must be able to do it too, despite Kidd's protests that he'll be risking his own life. He grabs Aaron's gloves and puts them on before facing his palms foward and starting to generate a tiny Aura Sphere between them. Seeing Ash's determination to save the Pokémon of the Tree, Lucario tries again. Together, the two of them share the energy required; Mew is wrapped in a blue sphere of Aura and begins to glow green. Ash and Lucario grunt in pain as blue energy sparks around their bodies...

...and then, suddenly, Lucario knocks Ash away and tells him he can handle it from there. Inspired by Ash's willingness to sacrifice himself, he manages a greater power than before, and with that power, he successfully heals Mew. The legendary, now glowing with a bright green color, flies into the beam of light above the central crystal, and yet again, a peaceful green glow takes over, every crystal left in the Tree shooting out a beam of green light as the health of the Tree (and Mew) is restored to normal. Meowth reunites with Jessie and James; Brock, May and Max make it outside safely.

Banks confirms that the Tree will be okay, and Mew bounces around happily as Kidd tells Banks to keep their discoveries to themselves so that the Tree of Beginning will be safe from human intrusion from now on. Everything seems to be okay now... except Lucario, who collapses on the ground beside where Aaron is encased, glowing with a strange blue light. Ash runs over to him, and Lucario reaches back with his paw to support himself, inadvertently activating yet another convenient time flower.

They see Aaron stumbling against the crystals, panting. He sits down as more sparks envelop his body and addresses Lucario; we don't know if he realized the time flower was there and deliberately recorded this confession in the hope that Lucario would perhaps hear it one day, or if he is just talking to himself. He says he's so sorry he sealed him away, but that he knows that Lucario would have followed him anywhere otherwise, including to his death; if any life is to be traded to end a war, it should be only his own. He also says he enjoyed every moment of his life with him and Queen Rin in the castle and that that's what makes life matter. Lucario bursts into tears, wishing he'd never doubted him.

Aaron goes on to thank Lucario and says that every day they spent together was happy, and that if only it were possible he would like to meet him again. He finishes by addressing Lucario as his friend. Lucario weeps, condemning himself for being foolish; Ash tries to tell him he's been a wonderful hero and begs him not to die as the blue sparks strike his body again, but Lucario responds that he's just returning to Aaron's side. His body dissolves into particles of light, and the entire crystal growth encasing Aaron dissolves too as if to accompany him, floating into the light from the heart of the Tree.

Ash and Kidd go outside to find Brock, May and Max, and they have a happy reunion until Max notices Lucario isn't there. Ash tells him Lucario has been reunited with his friend, and for a moment they all look towards the sky in Lucario's memory.

The end credits show the gang driving back to the castle and meeting Queen Ilene, who has been worrying about them. Max points up at what first appear to be the on-screen credits, but as the others join him in staring, it is revealed to be that painting of Aaron on the wall, which now mysteriously shows Lucario by Aaron's side. Ash comments, smiling, that Lucario managed to reunite with Aaron after all. This makes no sense, but damn if it isn't utterly heartwarming.

And after we see them leaving and waving goodbye to Kidd, and Brock freaking out about leaving her, and Mew playing with the random Bonsly that was annoying them earlier in the movie while Aaron's gloves lie draped over a cardboard box in its toy collection, and Kidd standing near Butler and Diane in Forina, we see that painting on the wall again, followed by Aaron and Lucario standing together in the gray, misty landscape of an ambiguous afterlife. Aaron takes out a chocolate bar, tastes it and smiles approvingly at Lucario, who looks positively happy for the first time ever. Then they walk off together and it is is the most adorable thing ever committed to film.

The Good

This movie was a real labor of love for the creators (it was in the works before the seventh movie was even finished), and it really shows. There's a lot of care put into everything, and at the same time there's a lot of ambition on display here - not just our first-ever glimpse of large-scale Pokémon warfare, introducing a new kind of power (Aura) to the Pokémon universe, and imagining a mountainous life form full of unique, alien landscapes, but also stuff like designing period costumes for all the main characters just for the hell of it.

The plot here, as I mentioned above, completely eschews the usual Pokémon movie formulas and even the standard general sorts of movie plots, instead going for a more character-driven story. There's no villain in this movie at all - only a trickster legendary who wants to play and a giant mineral mega-organism whose immune system regards humans as invaders. Instead, the movie is themed around the relationships between trainers and their Pokémon, particularly the relationships between Lucario and Sir Aaron on the one hand and between Ash and Pikachu on the other hand, and the conflicts are more gray, ambiguous ones instead of simplistic clashes of good and evil. This facilitates a more emotionally resonant story with more complex characterization over spectacle.

The result is that Lucario is probably the best-developed character in any Pokémon movie, period. He has a real, nuanced, emotional character arc that makes sense throughout - sadly unlike for example Mewtwo, who is fascinating and has a lot of potential but isn't quite developed coherently within his movie. Throughout the film, we see Lucario first lost and confused at Aaron's apparent betrayal, turning his hurt feelings into anger and resentment and a conviction that no one can be trusted at all, and coming along to the Tree of Beginning purely out of a dull sense of duty to the queen; then, over the course of that journey, he slowly comes to realize that real friends and companionship really do exist and Ash genuinely cares for Pikachu and would risk anything to find it. He has to come to terms with his true feelings, and once he has, he realizes he must help Ash to ensure Pikachu doesn't have to go through what he went through, culminating in sacrificing himself to ensure Ash and Pikachu can go on.

If we dig deeper, Lucario's rigid, detached adherence to duty above all subtly permeates his character, and a large part of his character arc is about overcoming that. It's clear that Sir Aaron always thought of Lucario as his dear friend and partner, but Lucario may not have entirely understood this at the time - he clearly regards Aaron as his superior, and at the beginning he largely frames Aaron's betrayal in terms of him having betrayed the kingdom. His first instinct on arriving hundreds of years in the future is to just serve the current queen in whatever she asks of him, and to repress and bury his feelings on Aaron so that he can simply serve his duty. But of course, Lucario was hurt on a very personal level by being abandoned by someone he thought he trusted, and it's this deep frustration and hurt combined with simple wartime trauma that comes out when they see the time flower vision of when he was sealed. After this, and after seeing the way Ash cares about Pikachu, he finally begins to actually allow himself to simply care - and by the time they find Sir Aaron's body inside the Tree of Beginning, Lucario is able to express honestly how much Aaron meant to him. In the flashbacks, we saw Aaron trying to help Lucario have fun and enjoy himself, showing him the pleasures of life, like hot springs, while Lucario is awkardly restrained and reluctant, catching himself if he expresses too much emotion. But in the credits, Lucario has introduced Aaron to something nice that he's experienced, and he's freely expressing exuberant joy in a way we've never seen before. We don't only see Lucario developing as a character on multiple levels - we see his relationship with Aaron evolving, subtly but beautifully, despite only seeing minutes of them interacting on the screen. It's really well done, and it's incredibly heartwarming.

The scene where the dying Aaron addresses Lucario hits exactly all the right emotional notes and consistently makes me cry even after seeing this movie at least a dozen times. I am somewhat biased, since content-wise this scene could have been written specifically for my tear ducts, but just the same, I believe it's definitely one of the series' best done, most genuine emotional moments. The movies have something of a formula going, where the big tear-jerker scene involves someone dying or apparently dying and then lingering for a while on everyone crying (there's even also a scene like that in this movie, when Ash is swallowed by one of the white blood cell blobs); these scenes can be effective, but especially when you've seen a few of the movies and start to see them coming, they feel a bit manipulative and forced. This one is completely different, with Aaron's heartfelt, understated confessions to Lucario carrying the actual emotional weight and Lucario's tears merely serving as a genuine outpouring of emotions in response, and it just works.

Like Latios in the fifth movie, Lucario actually gets to die for real here, and the movie is much, much better for it - it's the natural conclusion to his arc, and in fact is the happiest ending he could have by reuniting him with Aaron. I wish this weren't worth mentioning, but the Pokémon movies do a lot of fake-out pseudo-deaths, and it's so much better and more resonant when there's a death that actually sticks.

I really, really like Ash in this movie. Aside from being adorably worried about Pikachu for most of it, he just gets a lot of chances here to be a real character. He's a kid, excited about dressing up as a legendary hero, squirming restlessly during the long ceremony, goofily staring upside-down at the painting of Aaron; his relationship with Lucario grows and develops, from initial default friendliness, to hostility when Lucario keeps questioning his friendship with Pikachu due to his own issues, to realizing he went too far and apologizing and empathizing with what Lucario is going through, to mutually supporting each other on the rest of their journey. Even his big hero moment at the end is one of his stronger ones, where he's directly willing to sacrifice his life to save the Pokémon of the Tree, even with his minimal, clumsy Aura abilities. I love that Ash tries to fistfight a Lucario for saying he might abandon Pikachu in the right situation. All of Ash's best qualities as a protagonist are on display here and it's lovely.

Then, it's a small thing, but I really love how everyone's first thought while being swallowed by the white blood cell blobs is to save their Pokémon (apart from Jessie, but then again she's the first one to be swallowed, so she didn't quite know what was coming). In a movie themed around trainer-Pokémon relationships, including these moments from the less important characters too strengthens that theme, and it's just very sweet to see. Relatedly, Team Rocket's role in this movie is actually good - with Meowth being kidnapped too, we both see a lot of him and get Jessie and James playing a bit of an active part by coming along to find him. While their relationship doesn't get any deep exploration, their reunion at the end is really cute, and all in all they feel like a real part of the movie, not like a tacked-on addition written onto the sidelines purely to be able to say they're in the movie.

The concept of the Tree of Beginning as a giant mineral organism in a symbiotic relationship with the Pokémon inhabiting it is fantastically creative and interesting, and it makes for both an intriguing, unique, beautiful setting and a pseudo-antagonist providing tension and conflict in the second half of the film. The environments are strange and gorgeous, and the mystery of exactly what the Tree is and its biology is a lot of fun.

And then this movie is just full of fun little things. One of my favorites, for example, is Queen Ilene's Mime Jr. - they're there in the background in some early scenes mimicking people's actions, and even though this is a very simple gag, it's really cute and funny and great. Brock's inevitable fanboying over Kidd becomes ten times better with the Mime Jr. enthusiastically mirroring him in the background. May dancing with James at the costume party while he desperately tries to lean away so she doesn't recognize him is hilarious. Mew's efforts to cheer up Pikachu with its variety of toys are really cute. The bit where Mew tries to confuse Kidd's Weavile, they do a dorky dance, and Meowth comments on how much free time they must have is great.

Even Kidd herself, who seems pretty forgettable here in comparison to Lucario and Aaron and Ash, would actually be a standout character in practically any other Pokémon movie. She has a backstory of awesome feats and is badass enough to live up to it, has a real sense of motivation and drive in her desire for exploration and research, but is also flawed and makes real mistakes that matter: in her eagerness to uncover the mysteries of the Tree of Beginning, she both causes Mew to kidnap Meowth and Pikachu in the first place and starts the hyperactive immune reaction thanks to her research drones. Compared to all the movies where the secondary human characters are largely just there or serving as exposition or brief help, she's actually a driving force in the plot - sort of serving the role that a human antagonist would have, only with perfectly sympathetic, understandable motives and as part of the heroes' group. She's not particularly interesting, but I enjoy her nonetheless.

Lastly, the music in this movie is really good and definitely my favorite music in the movie series, particularly "Aaron 1" and "Fight Back!!" (and the other variations of "Fight Back!!"'s main melody).

The Bad

I genuinely love this movie, but it's not perfect. After the prologue, the story takes a while to really kick in, with the movie being mostly silly antics from the end of the prologue until thirty minutes in when Lucario emerges from the staff - although thanks to those little things mentioned above, that part is still pretty entertaining, and it does serve a purpose in setting up Kidd and the situation with Mew.

The time flowers are a neat idea and serve their purpose well as a device to enable the characters to truly see what happened in the past, and the way the movie gently introduces the concept at the hot spring so it doesn't come out of nowhere when it starts to matter is good - but it just ends up feeling awfully convenient how time flowers just happen to have grown and recorded all the important events here. It might have worked better if we saw time flowers growing everywhere in Rota, so that it would feel natural that of course there were some around when the major events happened (although this would raise the question of why people don't just consult time flowers about the past all the time) - or if Aaron were shown to have deliberately activated time flowers inside the Tree of Beginning in the faint hope Lucario might see the messages one day (the one that recorded Lucario being sealed could be accidental without feeling too contrived, particularly since we see the flower being activated in the prologue).

Like the second movie, this movie features a Green Glow of Peace - a vague green light that arbitrarily makes everyone stop fighting, just because, with no real explanation or mechanism behind why it can instantly end a war. It does work better here than there, I think - it's part of a backstory told of in legends rather than the main resolution, so it doesn't have to carry as much narrative weight, and there could be more to it than we actually see, plus that the green glow itself ends up being much more concretely established as an internally logical part of how the Tree of Beginning works. But I still don't find it entirely satisfactory to have an unstoppable war that then appears to just magically stop because some crystals glowed green, and I wish the movie addressed this a little more somehow.

It also feels like a bit much to establish Ash as having the "same Aura" as legendary hero Sir Aaron. I like the role that Ash's Aura powers ultimately have in the story - having Ash help Lucario to heal Mew in the climactic scene adds power to it, since Lucario seals his fate with a conscious choice to knock Ash away to ensure he and Pikachu can live on together, and it makes sense that thinking he saw Aaron would be what triggers Lucario finally bursting out of the staff - and ultimately his powers are quite weak since he has no experience using them. But it's still adding another bit of intrinsic specialness to his character, and I can't help but wonder if that was really necessary here.

I'm not sure how to feel about Mew in this movie. It's treated as unambiguously good, if a little mischievous, and its antics are very cute, but its actual behaviour is markedly self-centered and jarring: throughout the movie, it steals children's toys, thinks nothing of putting other Pokémon in harm's way, kidnaps two Pokémon against their will, fails to care at all or even understand why the Pokémon would be sad when their trainers are swallowed by the white blood cells, only tells the Tree to return them when losing Ash makes Pikachu too sad to play, and even after watching Aaron die giving his Aura to it, it still actively asks Lucario to do the same, showing no trace of hesitation or reluctance to ask him to sacrifice his life. It's a very consistent part of Mew's character here and probably very deliberate - Mew's got a sort of blue-and-orange-morality thing going, almost, and that's actually pretty interesting. But it does make it feel a little weird to root for the conclusion, where a genuinely empathetic character that we care about sacrifices his life at the request of this unsympathetic alien.

The Regis here feel kind of random. They're honestly not bad as far as the movies' secondary legendaries go - they actually leave an impression with their memorable, alien cries and their musical leitmotif - but they're completely disconnected from their interesting in-game origins as mechanical golems created by an ancient civilization, and in fact the most reasonable way to justify them guarding this giant mineral organism would be to completely rewrite their backstory to make them somehow natural offshoots of the Tree of Beginning. Ultimately, they're underused and not terribly necessary.

When I first saw this movie, I hadn't seen the sixth movie, but after seeing it, it became hard not to see the similarities between the function of the white blood cells and the fake Groudon's tentacles, to the point that the concept feels vaguely recycled - gelatinous blobs taking the shape of living creatures that swallow people in a kid-friendly near-death until they're released later. I don't mind terribly much, since it's not a bad concept, and the white blood cell take on it is interesting, but nonetheless.

The CGI is mostly fine, and sometimes it genuinely looks really good, such as the various sweeping shots of the castle. But some of it is decidedly less good. The CG time flowers look neat but they really stick out, particularly when Ash and company are holding them in their 2D-animated hands - and during the ballroom dance near the beginning, there are zoomed-out shots of the dance floor from above where the dancing couples are obviously all just simple, stiff, faceless 3D models performing the same repetitive animation, and their movements look really fake and video-gamey.

And while I appreciate Kidd as a character, her outfit is a little cringeworthy. Thankfully she is never actually framed in a fanservicey way, and compared to a lot of non-Pokémon anime characters it's downright practical, but did we really need the window under her boobs?

Finally, a dub complaint. It is vitally important to the character dynamic between Aaron and Lucario that Aaron is the mentor and Lucario looks up to him as a superior, and in the original, their voices reflect that: Aaron sounds like someone who could be a serious, mature mentor figure, while Lucario sounds younger, less experienced and somewhat insecure. In the dub, however, Lucario's voice is super-deep and growly, while Aaron sounds like a bright-voiced young teenager. It's extremely jarring and completely changes how their characters come across, for the worse. It baffles me why they didn't just pick voices that vaguely resemble the originals. I also don't find either of their dub actors' voice performances good enough to carry the emotional scenes, and the dub changed a bunch of lines in Aaron's final speech - some of them sweet, but others just weird, such as inserting a line where Aaron seems to already know that Lucario's going to be sealed in the staff for hundreds of years. That's what I generally expect from the dub, though - I didn't expect the weirdly inappropriate casting. All in all, I highly recommend watching a fansub if you haven't.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of the synopsis, this is the best Pokémon movie in my opinion. That's partly my personal preferences, but it's also just unique, ambitious and solidly executed. I could write up a bunch of nitpicks above because I have watched and thought about this movie a lot - most of them didn't actually start to bother me until I'd seen it several times - but even then I ended up qualifying most of them with "Actually this is kind of good but...", and either way it easily has enough good points to make up for it.

That being said, how much you personally enjoy it is going to depend on what you actually want out of your Pokémon movies. I'm a fan of character/emotion-based stories; if fast-paced action is more your thing, this may not be the movie for you.

Page last modified April 8 2018 at 18:50 GMT