Pokémon Origins Review

The English dub of this special referred to the rival character as Blue for consistency with the original Red and Blue versions as released internationally. Because I am reviewing the Japanese version of the special and the rival's original name (Green) is actually vaguely relevant at one point, however, I'll be calling him Green. It shouldn't be hard to remember - even the FireRed and LeafGreen games called him Green.

Thoughts and Synopsis

Pokémon Origins is a special that aired shortly before the release of Pokémon X and Y, but follows the storyline of the first Pokémon games, Red and Green (the latter of which was released as Blue outside of Japan). Rather than happening in the universe of the regular anime, Origins is a wholly independent adaptation of the games - characters like Brock in no way resemble their anime selves, such iconic visuals as the red beam that recalls a Pokémon into a Pokéball have been reinterpreted as if to underline that this is the gameverse through and through, and even in-game interface elements make an appearance.

The special consists of four twenty-minute sub-episodes, each with its own self-contained narrative: the first concerns Red starting out on his journey and eventually facing Brock, the second focuses on the Lavender Town plot with Cubone's mother and Mr. Fuji, the third is about Red's dealings with Giovanni during the Silph takeover and challenging the Viridian Gym, and the fourth tells of Red's final Pokémon League battle and his quest to find and capture the mysterious 150th Pokémon, Mewtwo. At the beginning of each episode, a New Game/Continue screen like that from the games is shown, and Red's adventures since the last episode are narrated briefly.

The first episode begins with Professor Oak's familiar "Welcome to the world of Pokémon" speech. As he invites us to the Pokémon world, we cut to a frenzied battle between a Gengar and a Nidorino (recalling, of course, the opening cinematic of the original games), then cut again to reveal Red, as portrayed in FireRed and LeafGreen, watching the battle on his computer in his room. His mother calls to him from downstairs, telling him that Professor Oak has finished the thing he was working on and wanted to see him, and Red literally falls down the stairs in his excitement to get down to the lab. Luckily, he's fine, or this would have been the world's shortest Pokémon journey.

His longtime rival Green gets to the lab at the same time as him, and they wrestle with one another as they enter, but forget about their differences when Professor Oak greets them and gives them each a Pokédex, asking them to help him complete his dream of recording data on every Pokémon species. (There is no Oak's Parcel in this special.) In return for their help, he has promised to give them each a Pokémon of their very own, and presents them with the choice of Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle.

Green lets Red choose first, ostensibly out of courtesy towards Red, but of course, we all know he really just wants the Pokémon with a type advantage against Red's. Red has already decided he wants the Fire Pokémon, Charmander, because his father named him Red in the hope he would have a fiery passion and he wants to live up to his name. Oak asks Green if he's similarly going to pick Bulbasaur in accordance with his name, but he derides that as a girly reason to pick a Pokémon and instead declares that since Red picked Fire, he wants Water. Oak offers to let them nickname their Pokémon, but Red wants to stick with Charmander. Green says he would ask to battle Red, but thinks he's an amateur not worth battling, plus that they have different goals: while Red is excited about fulfilling Oak's dream of capturing all of the Pokémon, Green mostly wants to become the greatest trainer in the world. So he leaves without an in-lab rival battle, sadly enough.

Red heads out and, faithful to Professor Oak's instructions, immediately sets about capturing Pokémon, including idiotically throwing a ball at a Youngster's female Nidoran and being baffled to hear that you can't steal other people's Pokémon. (Rather than the trainer blocking the ball as per the in-game text, the ball is stopped by a translucent blue shield presumably generated by the ball the Youngster has already caught it in.) Eventually, on the way to Viridian City, he meets Green, who asks him if his Pokémon have gotten stronger. Red reiterates that he doesn't care about his Pokémon being strong - he just wants to complete the Pokédex. Green points out that if he wants to catch strong Pokémon his own Pokémon need to be strong to weaken them, and then snidely suggests Red is just trying to run away from a battle, which eggs Red into accepting his challenge.

In a short battle between their starters, Squirtle's type advantage is obvious, and eventually it pins Charmander down and Green orders it to use Bite. Charmander screams helplessly in pain, and Red recalls it, speechless at his loss.

That evening, as Red mopes about how he and Green were supposed to have the same level of experience, a mysterious man we know to be the Pewter Gym leader Brock, who was watching their battle from the sidelines, approaches him. He says actually Green is more experienced than Red, and asks if Red knows his Pokémon's types and strengths. We think he is about to point out the whole Water-beats-Fire thing, but instead he says Squirtle had just bonded better with Green, allowing it to react quicker because it could anticipate what he was going to order and had full confidence in his commands. Pokémon, he says, become stronger as their trainer grows stronger. Red is about to head off to battle more trainers to gain more experience, but Brock points out his Charmander is very hurt and he should go to Viridian City's Pokémon Center to heal his Pokémon first. As he heads off, he suggests Red should try battling some Gym leaders, as he might learn a lot from them, and that he should think about what Pokémon training means to him.

After healing his Pokémon and having a quick video call with Professor Oak, Red heads to Pewter City and makes it there late in the evening (I assume this is a couple of days later although the special gives no indication of this, unless Viridian Forest just up and disappeared in the Origins universe). As he is looking at fossils in the Pewter museum, whose opening hours really impress me, he overhears some girls talking about the city's Gym leader, Brock, and goes to check out the Gym. A couple of people standing in front of the building quote in-game junior trainer dialogue at him ("You're still light years from facing Brock!"), especially since he says he's only been training for five days, but then Brock himself invites him in and asks him if he's figured out what Pokémon training means to him yet. Red says he hasn't, but that's exactly why he wants to battle a Gym leader - he hopes it will teach him that. So Brock accepts his challenge.

Since he has no badges, Brock chooses to battle him with the familiar Geodude and Onix. Unlike the regular anime, Origins is just fine with trainers challenging Gym leaders throwing entire up-to-six-Pokémon teams at their two or three, so Red is not likewise limited to two Pokémon. He sends out Charmander first against Geodude as HP bars for the battlers appear on a giant screen in the background. He keeps trying to use Scratch; Brock tells him he hasn't learned anything, and reiterates the thing about knowing Pokémon's types and strengths, which this time does mean the type chart. However, then he goes on to say the problem is that Fire isn't very effective against Rock, despite that the attack he was using was a Normal-type move. So at his urging, Red switches Charmander out for a male Nidoran, which by Brock's logic shouldn't be any good either because Poison is not very effective against Ground, but of course because the move it uses is the Fighting-type Double Kick, it's super effective and Geodude goes down in one hit.

Brock sends out Onix and tells it to use Bide, and it survives a couple of Double Kicks before smashing Nidoran into oblivion. Red's Spearow and Rattata don't manage to get any hits in at all before Onix casually smacks them down; he sends out a Metapod and has it use String Shot to slow Onix down, but it too goes down in one hit afterwards. Now Red only has Charmander left. By this point both he and Brock are sweating and panting heavily, and somehow the fact he's gotten so excited about this makes Red have a revelation that Pokémon aren't tools to be used in battle, but partners that they fight alongside. He orders a Scratch, Brock orders a Tackle, the two Pokémon meet in the middle, and comically enough, Charmander's tiny claws win out, apparently because of the String Shot that slowed Onix down so that Charmander could hit first. Onix is recalled before its HP bar even depletes all the way down.

Brock gives Red the Boulderbadge and TM34, and Red heads off, more determined than ever to become stronger and complete the Pokédex.

The second episode starts with a recap of Red buying a Magikarp, getting a fossil at Mt. Moon, recovering the stolen Dig TM from the Rocket in Cerulean City, battling Misty, evolving Charmander into Charmeleon, getting an Old Rod, battling Lt. Surge, getting a bike with the Bike Voucher from the president of the Pokémon Fan Club, and heading through Rock Tunnel to Lavender Town. As he is healing his Pokémon at the Pokémon Center, he overhears people talking about ghosts appearing in Pokémon Tower and asks them about it. They explain that Pokémon Tower is a Pokémon cemetery, quote that bit of in-game dialogue about a white hand on his shoulder, and when he looks back at them, they've mysteriously disappeared.

The nurse at the Pokémon Center recommends he visit the Pokémon House before he checks out Pokémon Tower, so he follows her advice. A girl volunteering there, Reina, explains that the Pokémon House is where abandoned and orphaned Pokémon are taken care of, and that it was founded by Mr. Fuji. Red notices a tense-looking Cubone huddling in a corner, and Reina tells him this Cubone was being chased by Team Rocket poachers one day when its mother intervened to save it, and in revenge, the poachers killed her with something that looks like a cattle prod. (But Marowak is a Ground-type! It's immune to electricity! I whine, quietly.) Mr. Fuji took it in, but it doesn't seem to let anyone else close to it. Red says he'd love to meet Mr. Fuji, and Reina hesitates before a man bursts in at just the right moment to say that he's found out that Mr. Fuji went to the Pokémon Tower the previous day to try to make Team Rocket leave, only to have been captured instead. Turns out Team Rocket have been using Pokémon Tower as a base for a while now, and they'll violently shove anyone who tries to visit it down the stairs. Why the nurse didn't tell Red this instead of just advising him to go to the Pokémon House first is beyond me.

One of the people present also talks about ghosts: apparently she went there the other day, and a blue blur appeared telling her to get out. Reina suggests they must go help Mr. Fuji, but everyone is too afraid of Team Rocket. Red, naturally, volunteers to do it, insisting he has faith in his abilities as a trainer, and swears to teach Team Rocket a lesson. Meanwhile, Green, who was listening at the door, realizes if he goes to the Pokémon Tower first and beats Team Rocket before Red, he'll be a hero instead.

That night, Red heads into the Tower with a flashlight. By that time, Green is already on the fifth floor, reasoning that Team Rocket must be responsible for the ghosts and he'll uncover their secret, but on the sixth floor, just as he is thinking about how no ghosts appeared at all, the blue blur we saw in flashback earlier appears, angrily telling him to get out. Terrified, Green drops his flashlight and runs away screaming, alerting the Rocket members above to the presence of intruders.

Green runs right into Red on his way down, yelling about ghosts, and the blue blur follows, again telling them to leave. Red refuses to do so, instead sending out Charmeleon to fight the ghost, and while Red is distracting the ghost, Green figures he might as well sneak on up. Meanwhile, back at the Pokémon House, the agitated Cubone bursts out of its enclosure and heads towards the tower, as if it's sensed something, followed by Reina.

Unlike in the games, Charmeleon is not too petrified to make a move against the ghost, but the ghost is nonetheless immune to all of its attacks. In the time it has taken Red to try everything he has, Green has apparently managed to defeat one of the Rocket members above and gotten some information out of him, because suddenly he runs back down and throws Red a Silph Scope. Red puts it on and looks at the ghost through it, and the Silph Scope identifies it as a Marowak, which he immediately realizes must be Cubone's mother. Again, it tells him to leave, but we realize now that it's not a threat - it's a warning, because the Rockets are still there. Just then Cubone bursts in and runs up to hug its mother, and Red realizes the ghost isn't an enemy he must defeat at all and recalls Charmeleon. Reina realizes Marowak couldn't rest because she worried about her child; now that she has said a proper goodbye to Cubone, she is finally at peace and vanishes. Green decides to leave the rest up to Red and leaves.

Red goes on up, battles a Team Rocket member with Cubone's help, and they acknowledge defeat and leave. On the top floor, they find and free Mr. Fuji. Cubone is no longer so hostile towards others, and the Pokémon Tower reopens for people to pay their respects. To thank Red, Mr. Fuji gives him a Poké Flute and a box containing two mysterious orbs and says he'll know what the orbs are for when the time is right. Red says goodbye to his friends and leaves town on his bike, only to meet Green relaxing in the branches of a tree a short way outside of town. Green says Red owes him for the Silph Scope, only for Red to tease him about screaming like a little girl. Well, that's not very mature or feminist of you, Red.

The third episode starts by recapping Red's battle with Erika, infiltrating the Team Rocket hideout in Celadon's Game Corner, waking up Snorlax, receiving a Good Rod, battling Koga and evolving his Charmeleon into Charizard. He has now arrived in Saffron, and he and Green have helped the Silph company president's secretary escape some Team Rocket thugs. She tells them Team Rocket has hijacked the corporation, using the president as a hostage to force the researchers to finish the Master Ball that they're working on. To make things even worse, they've been cruelly experimenting on Pokémon to do it.

Red, Green and the secretary go back to town. When Red tells Green to go talk to the police, Green decides he's not interested in helping out and says he's just going to train to become League Champion instead, but relents when Red angrily asks how he can even call himself a Pokémon trainer if he doesn't care about the Pokémon that are being used in these experiments. Red, meanwhile, is going to storm the Silph building.

We see him free a bunch of Pokémon, then opening a door and telling a group of researchers huddled there to run. One of them gives him a Pokéball containing a Lapras on the way out as a way of thanks. Finally, he makes it to the president's office and immediately recognizes Giovanni from when he met him in Celadon. He shouts that experimenting on innocent Pokémon is wrong; Giovanni is dismissive, but when Red adds that the police are on the way, he changes, realizing Team Rocket's plans have been foiled for now. He and a grunt who is with him in the office are about to leave when Red stops them and says he'll continue to thwart all their plans, and Giovanni, annoyed, decides to teach him a lesson in battle first.

He sends out a Nidoqueen against Red's Charizard, and it smashes Charizard through a wall. Red orders a Flamethrower; Giovanni counters with a Surf, and the explosion formed by the two attacks colliding takes out the walls and ceiling of the top floor as well as the lights in the entire building. A Team Rocket helicopter arrives for Giovanni, and the battered Red asks him why he's so terrible to Pokémon. Giovanni responds that business always requires sacrifice, and he's just running a successful business. Red says Pokémon are supposed to be friends, not tools in business, and Giovanni points out right now Red's "friend" is lying unconscious in the rubble. Red looks back at Charizard in alarm as Giovanni says Red couldn't possibly understand his ideals and leaves in the helicopter, laughing. Red stares after him, realizing Team Rocket have escaped the police.

There is a bit more recapping of Red defeating Sabrina and the Fighting Dojo, going to Cinnabar, visiting the Pokémon Mansion and reading the diary of the creation of Mewtwo, battling Blaine, and eventually returning to Viridian City to fight the strongest Gym leader of all (when he gets there, Green is there, having already earned his badge, as is his custom). And who should turn out to be at the Gym but Giovanni? Red angrily asks him what he's doing there, and Giovanni introduces himself as Viridian's Gym leader. Red refuses to believe it: all of the Gym leaders he's faced before, different as they were, have had a deep bond with their Pokémon, while Giovanni himself acknowledges using Pokémon only for his business. But Giovanni just asks if he wants to battle or not, and Red can only say yes - though he makes sure to note that he's not just battling a Gym leader, but fighting against him as an enemy to Pokémon everywhere.

Giovanni says since Red isn't battling him as a Gym leader, he's not going to treat him like a normal challenger either. He gets out two special Ultra Balls instead of the team he ordinarily uses, while warily thinking to himself that Red seems different from when he saw him last. First, Giovanni sends out his Rhyhorn, and Red, who has apparently learned about the type chart by now, sends out a Victreebel. However, Rhyhorn takes Victreebel out in one hit with a Horn Attack before it can attack. Red's Kabutops gets a Slash in, but succumbs to a Thunderbolt before its Hydro Pump can hit. He sends out Snorlax, but Rhyhorn evades its Hyper Beam and takes it out with a Horn Drill. Throughout, Giovanni is commenting on his choices. Next Red sends out his Jolteon, and Giovanni chides him for choosing an Electric-type against a Ground-type, before catching himself: he's actually disappointed Red didn't make a better choice there. Red orders a Double Kick, and Giovanni, hypocritically enough, orders Rhyhorn to use a Thunderbolt, which takes Jolteon out in one hit because I suppose Jolteon's Volt Absorb ability doesn't exist in Origins (or, I suppose, maybe Red got his hands on a hidden ability Eevee somehow). Red sends out the Hitmonlee he got at the Fighting Dojo, and Giovanni finds himself getting unreasonably thrilled by the fact Red is taking advantage of types again. The two Pokémon spar and end up in a double knockout, all while Giovanni's inner monologue becomes more involuntarily excited about the battle.

They recall their Pokémon, and Giovanni notes that he knows Red's final Pokémon is Charizard, while his own is Rhydon, which is a very unfavorable matchup for Red. He chides him for saving Charizard till last, saying it's an immature choice. Red says his Charizard is going to win anyway. Giovanni points out that this is idiotic and his Pokémon is just going to be pounded to a pulp. Red just thinks to himself that all the battles and Gym leaders up to this point have taught him to love and trust in his Pokémon, and that his badges prove he understands his Pokémon's feelings. He tells Giovanni he's not going to lose because he can't afford to, and he sends out his Charizard.

This all stirs some memories within Giovanni. He remembers feeling all pumped up and passionate about battles like this when he was a boy, before he started caring about money and business - we even see in a flashback that he used to have a Charmander. He throws Rhydon's Pokéball powerfully and feels young again, and as Charizard and Rhydon exchange blows he makes the same emphatic gestures as Red when he gives his orders. Finally, Charizard defeats Rhydon with a Seismic Toss, and Giovanni walks over to Red to give him a badge...

...except Red refuses. He doesn't want a badge from the boss of Team Rocket. So Giovanni turns around and tells the grunts working in the Gym to pass on the message that Team Rocket is hereby dissolved. He turns back to Red and offers him the badge again, saying now it's not from the boss of Team Rocket anymore, just from the Viridian Gym leader. Red accepts it this time, and Giovanni gives him some final parting words of encouragement in his quest, noting that he will have to get stronger to challenge the Pokémon League.

As Red leaves town, Giovanni looks after him and says to himself that he wants a new start alongside his Pokémon.

In the fourth and final episode, the opening recap shows Red making it through Victory Road to the Indigo Plateau and battling the Elite Four. Lance, his Dragonite defeated, walks up to Red and says he is now the Champion... or that's what he would say, except somebody else already beat the Elite Four, and Red must face him first. Red goes on into the Champion's room only to find that the person to beat him to it is none other than Green, and he makes a familiar speech (echoing his dreams from the beginning with his triumphant "I am the most powerful trainer in the world!") before throwing his first Pokéball.

We don't get to see the full battle, sadly - we see Red's Jolteon attacking Green's Pidgeot, Red's Scyther against his Alakazam, a brief image of the Pokémon on each team and then see Green's Blastoise smacking Jolteon into a wall. Red only has his Charizard left now. Green is practically already gloating, but Red is adamant that this isn't over. Charizard and Blastoise exchange a few moves, a Hydro Pump bringing Charizard's health down very low, but then Charizard traps Blastoise with a Fire Spin, and a Fire Blast knocks it out. Red has become the Champion.

Professor Oak arrives to congratulate him, tells Green that he lost because he didn't put his trust in his Pokémon, and registers Red and his team in the Hall of Fame, as expected.

But it's not over yet. Remember, Red wasn't out to become Champion: he was out to collect information on every species of Pokémon for Professor Oak. We recap as he continues towards his goal, eventually even capturing the legendary Pokémon Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres. Finally, we see him walk into Oak's lab back in Pallet Town, excitedly shouting that he completed the Pokédex, but an aide tells him Oak isn't there: he's at Green's house, because Green was severely injured by a wild Pokémon.

Red hurries over there and asks Green if he's okay. He will be, but he's pretty heavily bandaged. Green explains that he was exploring Cerulean Cave with Blastoise when a super-powerful Pokémon assaulted them - a Pokémon he's never seen before. Oak asks if the Pokédex recorded data on it, but Green's Pokédex was crushed under Blastoise during the attack. Red brings out his complete Pokédex of all 149 species of Pokémon and shows it to Oak, who is ecstatic; Green, not without a hint of bitterness, comments that Red has upstaged him in this as well. Since the Pokédex can sort by type, they should be able to look through all of the ones of the type that attacked Green to find the culprit.

However, after flipping through every Psychic-type Pokémon, Green is sure it was none of them. Oak wonders if there are 150 Pokémon after all, and asks Red if he'll check out Cerulean Cave. Green protests that it's dangerous, but then admits mostly he really wishes he could have that Pokémon for himself. Oak agrees that Red will need some preparation to be able to take on such a powerful Pokémon and takes him back to his lab.

Meanwhile, in Lavender Town, Reina asks Mr. Fuji about this mysterious cave with an extremely powerful Psychic-type Pokémon that everybody's talking about, and Mr. Fuji wonders to himself, "So it's alive."

When fishing outside Oak's lab, Red suddenly remembers the diary in the Pokémon Mansion describing the far-too-powerful Pokémon Mewtwo and makes the connection to the Pokémon that attacked Green. He bursts into the lab to tell Oak about it. Oak explains that the diary is probably the diary of Professor Fuji, who used to be a respected professor in his field but was later ostracized for his research on how to artificially enhance a Pokémon's strength. Oak then wonders why Mr. Fuji gave Red those orbs (Red comments on how the name is the same, but does not seem to make the leap to thinking they're the same person), commenting that they react strongly when a Charizard is near and that he remembers Professor Fuji researching something like that. He ends up concluding that Red should take the orbs with him because he has a strong connection with his Charizard.

Red bikes to Cerulean Cave and finds Mewtwo deep inside. This is not the regular anime's confused, misunderstood Mewtwo: it's a frenzied beast, and it immediately attacks him. He uses his Pokémon to fight back with all their might, but they fall quickly to Mewtwo's attacks, and even the damage from Articuno's Blizzard is quickly healed with Recover. With only Charizard left, Red orders some powerful attacks, but Mewtwo withstands them and eventually blasts Charizard and Red into the lake inside the cave.

Sinking underwater, Red is losing hope, but his Charizard is still defiant despite being a Fire-type submerged in a lake, and Red decides he won't give up either. He swims towards Charizard, and suddenly the Mega Stones that Red was carrying begin to glow with a blue light. They meet, and...

...Mewtwo stares as a Mega Charizard X rises out of the water, black with blue flames streaming out of the sides of its mouth. Red, on its back, is as surprised as Mewtwo is. Red orders a Fire Blast, and it's powerful, but when he throws an Ultra Ball afterwards, Mewtwo still manages to break out of it. It attacks back, angrier than ever before; Charizard fights back with all its might too, and Red stares in wonderment at how strong his little Charmander has become. Finally, he orders a Mega Punch that blasts Mewtwo into a stalagmite, throws another Ultra Ball, and this time the ball holds. Charizard transforms back into its regular form, and they celebrate together.

Once Red is back in Pallet Town, Oak congratulates both him and Green for a job well done over cake, marveling at how they've discovered all 150 Pokémon. But Red is distracted: he remembers that the diary said Mewtwo was the child of another Pokémon named Mew, and he resolves to find it as Mew flies unnoticed by the window behind him...

The Good

This special is a lovely celebration of the first-generation games. Seeing events from the games animated almost exactly as they happened there, instead of the regular anime's very loose adaptation, is a real treat for any R/B/Y fan, and with direct quotes from the game's dialogue it's really one giant nostalgiafest. The remixes of in-game music it uses are pretty gorgeous, as is the animation in choice bits - the entire Mewtwo confrontation and especially the underwater scene is a treat to look at, even if seeing Mewtwo opening its mouth and roaring is so odd when you're used to its regular anime self that it feels off-model.

I really wish I had more to type here, but I don't. The real draw of Origins is that it's delightful nostalgia lovingly animated. There is a real sense in which it's definitely worth it just for that. But sadly there isn't much else that's great about it.

The Bad

Sigh.

I so, so wanted to love Pokémon Origins. I wanted this to be the anime I wish we had.

But unfortunately, it prioritizes retelling the most memorable parts of the games over telling the story well. There is way too much happening in too little time, such that it mostly rushes through events while the glue that might have made it truly compelling gets left by the wayside.

Throughout, the special preaches the message of loving and trusting and bonding with your Pokémon, and apparently Red and Charizard have an amazing bond going - but we don't see any of that. Whatever else you might say about the regular anime, it took the idea that Pokémon is all about love and trust completely seriously and made a genuine effort to show that. In the very first episode, Ash stands and eggs a flock of Spearow on to attack him so that they'll leave Pikachu alone, all the while begging it to get inside a Pokéball on its own terms. He could have just forcibly recalled it and bolted, but he didn't, and this is what moves Pikachu to trust him and in turn save him from the Spearow. It's an honestly touching scene, and it establishes a genuine start of a bond between them. Meanwhile, Charmander begins to trust Red... why? When Brock says Red needs to bond with his Pokémon, we don't see him try to talk to Charmander or train with it - he just goes to challenge the Gym where it is asserted that they've totally bonded when Red has realized Pokémon aren't tools, with no evidence whatsoever that anything has happened on Charmander's end. We barely see Red so much as congratulate it on a job well done or seem concerned about its welfare when it's being beaten up in battle: twice - twice! - in the special other people point out to Red that dude, your starter Pokémon is seriously injured here, but Red doesn't respond with any serious concern or worry. In the former case, when Brock says it, it's at least somewhat excusable because Charmander is in a Pokéball by then and won't get any worse, but when Giovanni says it as Charizard lies in a heap in an exploded building, Red looks over at Charizard for a second but then just stands there lamenting that Team Rocket got away from the police instead of running over to check if it's all right or at least recalling it. There is slightly more of a sense that they truly are partners in the final episode, but it's too little and too late - up to that point all of Red's pontificating about bonding with Pokémon has seemed wholly empty and hypocritical. And as underdeveloped as Charizard is, Red's other Pokémon are noncharacters to an even greater degree: they are literally never onscreen except when battling.

It doesn't help that battles here proceed with little apparent regard for either what moves would be effective in the games or what logic, strategy or circumstances would dictate. In this respect it's perhaps only following the regular anime's lead (though Origins feels more egregious about it), but then at least it should have also followed its lead in making one-hit KOs a fairly infrequent occurrence. As it is, battles in Origins consist of the trainers yelling out commands that might as well have been picked by the throw of a die, followed 80% of the time by one of the Pokémon knocking out the other in one hit, unless that Pokémon is Charizard or an opposing trainer's last Pokémon. It's just not very exciting or interesting - there is no real sense of "Ouch, that Pokémon has gotten weak now; will it survive another hit?" or "Oh, crap, this type matchup is going to make things really hard for Red." Giovanni triumphantly talks about how Rhydon has a huge advantage against Charizard, but then goes on to not use any Rock moves whatsoever. How are we meant to be intimidated by a huge type advantage if the opponent is choosing not to use it for some unfathomable reason, and Red wins more frequently using not-very-effective moves than super-effective moves? Even worse, this actually takes away from that crucial nostalgia factor in the special, because instead of letting us watch Red employ strategies we might remember from our own playthroughs, Origins' battles bear virtually no resemblance to how battles play out in the games. The closest it comes is Brock's Onix's signature use of Bide and how Red uses a Nidoran's Double Kick against Brock (but that wouldn't even happen in the original games because Nidoran didn't learn Double Kick until level 43 then).

And overall, probably because it has to rush through so many events in so little time, Origins tends to be rather anticlimactic and doesn't tackle its themes with a lot of depth. The first episode climaxes with Red's random realization that Pokémon are partners and not tools, but as I've already pointed out, the special doesn't actually take the time to show that Red considers his Pokémon partners in more than the most superficial sense, making his revelation ring hollow. The second, which is probably the strongest episode storywise, does a pretty good job with the Cubone and Marowak story, but the Team Rocket that the town's inhabitants are all terrified of going up against is defeated pathetically easily - Red takes down one Koffing and that's it. The third sets up how Giovanni only cares about money and his business at the beginning, but in the space of one battle with Red he changes his mind completely and decides to disband Team Rocket - it's not very satisfying or believable, and I'm not sure why they didn't just adapt his actual in-game reason for disbanding Team Rocket (his shame and humiliation at being beaten repeatedly by a kid). And the fourth raises ethical issues about the genetically enhanced Mewtwo but rather than feeling any kind of sympathy for it, trying to understand why it's so aggressive or wondering why or how it was created, Red just catches it in a Pokéball and exclaims gleefully that he's caught Pokémon #150. While the special all but spells out that Mr. Fuji was involved with its creation, the issue is never actually addressed and Red never even learns it's the same Fuji. It's natural for the games to not take on these issues because the story is minimalistic and they're left to the player's imagination, but when the story is adapted to a non-interactive medium, sweeping them under the rug just becomes monstrously unsatisfying.

Moreover, there are bits that make little sense or are just random. The people in the Lavender Town Pokémon Center who disappear when Red looks off them have no relevance or significance, don't do this in the games, and aren't consistent with how the one actual ghost we see is depicted - it's just a cheap attempt at being creepy that has nothing to do with anything. And the lack of anybody mentioning how by the way Team Rocket took over Pokémon Tower for the whole first chunk of the second episode, even when Red brought up that he wanted to go to Pokémon Tower, is glaringly odd.

Conclusion

In the end, after my high expectations, Pokémon Origins ended up mostly giving me a new appreciation for the regular anime. It's great for nostalgia and first-generation love, but by trying to cram so much material into four short episodes, it only has time to deal with it on a pretty shallow level, and I think the writers made a crucial misstep in how they decided to handle battles. If you played the first-generation games, or just FireRed and LeafGreen, you'll probably enjoy it anyway, but aside from that aspect there unfortunately isn't much to it.

Page last modified June 11 2014 at 06:20 GMT