About the Movie Reviews

I've gotten various questions and concerns about my Pokémon movie reviews. This page discusses some of the more common ones and explain my reasoning for some of the choices I've made in doing these reviews.

Why Review the Movies?

Well, although I've only seen the first 52 episodes of the Pokémon anime itself (after that it stopped airing in Iceland), I like to consider the movies an occasion to catch up with the general state of that aspect of the Pokémon canon once a year. And I love reviewing and analyzing fiction. Thus, why not review the Pokémon movies?

The other main factor in my decision to write these reviews is that I generally think that there is a regrettable lack of critical reviews of the Pokémon movies written from an open-minded adult perspective.

This warrants a bit of an explanation. First, what I mean by "adult" is specifically that when we're children, we don't think very critically about entertainment. To a kid, critical assessment of media tends to be mostly limited to concluding some works are boring, with those that escape that particular stamp being judged on rather superficial qualities: Mewtwo and his clones look cool, or the three legendary birds fighting is awesome, or they wish they could get to ride around on Lugia, and therefore the movie is good. A lot of Pokémon fans, even those that are no longer at that excitable age, view the movies through the nostalgia glasses of the time when they were and thus judge them disproportionately on these superficial qualities that appealed to them as children. Most of the time when there are discussions on people's favorite Pokémon movies on forums, for instance, a lot of people tend to just answer that some movie was their favorite because "[insert star legendary here] is awesome" or "[insert scene here] looked cool". Now, adults can legitimately enjoy things for such reasons too, and there's nothing wrong with nostalgia. But what I mean by "adult" here is specifically avoiding this superficialness and thinking critically about the plot, characters and so on.

"Open-minded" also calls for some clarification. By this I mean simply that, unlike an irritating number of critics, I am ready to accept the basic premises of the world the movies are set in: there are creatures called Pokémon that have apparently supernatural powers, they speak in syllables of their species' names, they can be captured and stored in little balls, and human kids use them to battle one another. I find it very tiresome how otherwise thoughtful and intelligent adults who just happen not to be Pokémon fans often get so caught up with ignorantly ridiculing this basic premise that they seem to forget there is an actual movie. All fiction needs to be approached on its own terms: there are fundamental ideas that have to be taken for granted to understand what the author was actually attempting to do, and to complain about these fundamental ideas is just whining that the movie isn't some other movie. What can be criticized is how well its creators succeeded at what they were trying to do, and that's what I aim to focus on in my reviews. There is no reason to call the basic premise of Pokémon into question when reviewing a Pokémon movie, and I maintain that this is not just because this is a Pokémon website and I happen to be a Pokémon fan to begin with.

There is another kind of "adult" perspective, namely the one that goes something like, "Well, I was bored as hell and had no idea what was going on, but the kids loved it, so why are you grumpies complaining?" This could be mixed in with inane comments about morals, how the movie is "cute" or "colorful", and so on. I actually dislike this kind of attitude even more than the former, if that is even possible. Fiction is fiction is fiction: good stories can be enjoyed by anyone who understands them. All too frequently, however, adults are so convinced that fiction for children just isn't supposed to be enjoyable to them that they refuse to actually attempt to understand it, resulting in this thickheaded, patronizing idea that of course children's movies are stupid and inane, but it's okay because kids can't tell. Again, I seek to specifically avoid this: I will not apologize for the movies' flaws by citing the target audience or patronizingly act like all a Pokémon movie really needs is to be colorful. The fact they're kids' movies does not mean the extent of their possible artistic value lies in whether they can keep a kid amused or teach them a nice moral lesson.

But Why So Serious?

Some will balk at the concluding sentence of the previous section. Surely, they'll point out, you're being hypocritical when you first say the movies have to be judged on how well they accomplish what the creator was trying to do but then proceed to ignore that they really were made to keep kids amused? Why are you taking the Pokémon movies seriously? They really are for kids, whether you like it or not.

Here's the thing. I don't think any decent writer writing stories for children sits there just soullessly checking off a list of things kids will like. Good stories are told by writers who care about them, who want to tell good stories. I'm sure there exist authors who write fiction targeted at children the way marketers write advertisements targeted at children, but even if that category included the writers of the Pokémon movies, I wouldn't be doing them a disservice by pretending they're in the former category instead. Personally, if I'd written these movies, I'd want them reviewed as proper works of art, not as things to keep kids sitting in front of a screen, and I think the least I can do is afford them the respect that I'd want if I were them.

And even if I weren't inclined to assume the creators really did care about the movie, this just makes for a much more interesting review, both to write and to read, than "This movie makes no sense but kids like it because it has these completely superficial qualities, so it's all good."

I Demand to Know Your Methods!

The review is written during one final viewing of the Japanese movie, during which I alternate between watching and writing the synopsis of what I've just been watching. As a rule, I try to have watched the movie at least twice before this final viewing as well: once whenever I first see it, and then at least once shortly before the final viewing, to refresh my memory on the general plot of the movie and begin to form a critical view of it (which will later become the "Good" and "Bad" sections) in my head. I may watch it even more often than that, especially if I'm feeling masochistic and decide to watch the dub as well, but I consider seeing it those three times to be the minimum.

After the final viewing, I generally read over the completed synopsis to be sure I remember all the stuff I was going to comment on, watch select scenes again if I want to bring up something that I've forgotten the exact details of, and then write up the Good and Bad sections. By that point they will have been brewing in my head during both of the main critical viewings and the previous reading of the synopsis. I hope to catch as many plot holes and other issues as possible with this method, as well as pinpointing to the best of my ability exactly why the good points work. After writing both of these sections, I'll read over them again, contemplate my general personal feelings about the movie, and wrap it up with a summary of how it all seems to add up in my opinion.

Why Japanese?

So why would I insist on reviewing the Japanese version of the movies while still using the English names for the characters, Pokémon, named concepts and so on? This can be broken down into two questions: first, why go to pains to find fansubs and watch the movie in Japanese with amateur translations, and second, if I'm watching the movie in Japanese, why am I referring to all named concepts as if I were watching the English version? There are a couple of reasons for both.

The first reason I watch fansubs is that I just personally can't stand the English dub of Pokémon. I grew up on the short-lived Icelandic dub, so the English voices don't have the nostalgia thing going for them, and the strange inflections and voices and general overexaggerated acting style of most English anime voice acting, including Pokémon, make it pretty much impossible for me to take it seriously. (See above for why I want to take it seriously to begin with.) The first time I saw the fourth movie was the English dub, and I spent the entirety of it horrified by how much every single voice grated on my ears. I've heard actual Japanese people often think Japanese anime voice acting is terrible and that the English dubs are better, and that may well be true, but it is hard for me to notice awkward Japanese acting precisely because it's in a language I don't fluently understand - I know English and can tell when it sounds completely unnatural, but since I don't really know what "natural" Japanese sounds like, I can watch anime in Japanese just fine without the voice acting ruining it for me.

Secondly, they were originally in Japanese, and I prefer watching/reading things in their original language if I can in order to get a better feel for the intentions of the original creators. This applies doubly to things like reviews, where I feel it would simply be unfair towards the creators to review a distorted version of their original work. Of course, I don't actually know Japanese, so this point is somewhat made moot by the need for translated subtitles anyway, but because the Pokémon dub frequently just goes and shamelessly alters what is being said, it is at least preferable to have a fansub that, given the translators were competent, probably is at least somewhat closer to what the creators intended than the dub's cheerfully censored and mouth-flap-modified rendition.

Thirdly, there is just no reason I would want to watch the English dub, even if I didn't mind the voice acting or being close to the creator's intentions. Again, I didn't grow up on the English dub, so it has no nostalgia value for me; I'd be digging up the Icelandic versions if I wanted that. Most people who prefer dubs do so because it doesn't feel "real" to them if they can't actually listen to and understand the speech, or because they find reading subtitles distracting, or something in that direction, stemming directly from the fact they're not actually used to watching media with subtitles. This is not the case with me; in Iceland all movies and TV shows are subtitled except those that are expected to have a substantial audience of children who can't read, and even then most 'high-profile' children's movies (such as all of Pixar's films) are shown both dubbed and subtitled. Thanks to the original language thing I mentioned above, I always pick the subtitled version. Heck, I find it kind of weird to watch Icelandic movies because I'm not used to watching live-action media without subtitles. Whenever I watch English-language media on DVD, I do it with the English subtitles on. You get the idea; I'm perfectly used to watching things with subtitles, and in fact I prefer it to watching things without them. This means there is nothing deterring me from the subtitled versions and no incentive for me to watch the dub instead. I have been watching some of the English dubs too anyway in a sort of morbid curiosity and so I can complain about the edits, but for the actual reviewing of the actual movie, I prefer to watch the subs.

The main reason, then, that I don't go the route that the fansubs themselves go and use the original names of characters, Pokémon, moves and other named concepts is that I'm not doing this because I'm some sort of a Japanese purist writing for other Japanese purists. The majority of my audience is English-speaking, what with this being an English-language website, and know the Pokémon franchise mainly through the English localization. I know the Pokémon franchise mostly through the English localization. And I don't (usually) have any problem with the localized names of characters and things; I'm used to them and I like them just fine, regardless of what I think of the dub's script changes or voice acting. In that situation, using the names that mean something to my audience instead of the ones that generally don't is a no-brainer.

The other reason for this is simple consistency. Japanese names have different romanizations, and Japanese titles and concepts have different translations depending on who translates. Since I only know very elementary Japanese and can't translate these things myself, I don't feel right about just arbitrarily picking one of the fandom's various unofficial English translations and using that - why would I pick one over another? There is just one English dub, however, providing a single clean reference for all names and terms used in the Pokémon anime and movies (well, except The Legend of Thunder). It's just easier that way.

He, She, It?

My policy on gender pronouns for Pokémon in these reviews is to refer to all Pokémon as "it" unless they are explicitly referred to as "he" or "she" in the dub or they speak human (telepathically or otherwise) with a voice that is clearly meant to sound like one gender or the other. So in my reviews, Mewtwo is a "he", but Mew is an "it". I realize this goes against at least three lines of popular fan logic ("Both are genderless in the games", "Mew 'gave birth', so it has to be female", "Mewtwo is Mew's clone, so it has to be the same gender as Mew") but it's ultimately unimportant; really, it's just to have some sort of an internally consistent system for it that does not require me to either arbitrarily assign genders to altogether ambiguously gendered Pokémon or 'dehumanize' Pokémon that the viewer is clearly expected to think of as a specific gender.

Why the TL;DR?

My reviews all start with a long, detailed synopsis of the movie. Some people find them unnecessary and lengthy, and that's fair; if you'd rather skip them, you can scroll straight down to the Good and Bad sections for my actual opinion.

But I do want to include the synopsis, and to make it fairly detailed, for several reasons. First and foremost, the point of the synopsis is that it is my understanding of what happens in the movie. In particular, it will often include my interpretations of why the characters act the way they do - I enjoy analyzing fictional characters, and when they act in strange or irrational ways, I like to attempt to understand why they would do so. And obviously, my understanding of what happens in the movie and why is what informs my opinion: it's part of the review so that you can see where I'm coming from when I start to talk about what I liked and didn't like about it. If I've misunderstood or missed something that happened in the movie and draw the wrong conclusion because of that - well, then my synopsis will make that obvious, and you can tell me I got it wrong.

I also aim to make it possible for people to read and understand my reviews even if they haven't seen the movie in question and don't plan to. Obviously if you do plan to see the movie and want to avoid spoilers, you should not read reviews like mine - but there are fans who don't keep up with the movies but still enjoy reading reviews of them, and I know that because I was one of them before I started doing these reviews. So for anyone out there like me, who just wants to read about what the Pokémon movies are like instead of having to watch them, my reviews should be able to stand on their own.

Even if you have seen the movie, of course, a synopsis may still be useful simply as a refresher on what happens in it - since I'm rather nitpicky, I often discuss things in the Good and Bad sections that you wouldn't necessarily remember if you saw the movie once years ago, and knowing exactly what I'm talking about probably helps to see where I'm coming from.

I do try to leave out superfluous details in the synopses, things that don't matter to the plot of the movie and don't need interpretation or warrant any commentary. (In particular, Team Rocket tend to spend most of the movies doing something completely irrelevant to the story that is easily omitted.) Some of the reviews really could be pared down quite a bit, though, and I've been making some edits to do just that.

But ultimately, please feel free to just skip the synopsis if you don't think you'd get anything out of it. If that's the case, then it's not there for you.

What Is "Good"?

After the plot synopsis, I evaluate the primary positive and negative aspects of the movie as I see them in two sections called "The Good" and "The Bad". My idea of what makes a good movie (Pokémon or otherwise) is pretty heavy on the plot and character aspects, so most of my major complaints tend to relate to plot holes, illogicalities, inconsistent or flat characterization and the like, while consistency, suspense, character complexity and so on are listed as major good points. Nonetheless, I will also comment on visuals (I often comment when there is CGI that sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of an otherwise traditionally animated film), atmosphere, pacing, unnecessary legendary appearances, cheesiness, humour, recycled plot points, etc., depending on what catches my eye about the movie.

On the other hand, the script itself (that is, the wording or content of the actual lines said by the characters) will generally not be commented on at all. This is because I am, after all, watching fansubs and feel it would be unfair to judge what the lines are actually like based on a fansubber's translations of them, much less the dub's translations (which are of course not only frequently rewritten in meaning but also adjusted for lip-syncing and so on).

I try to be pretty even-handed in these parts: while what sticks out as good or bad is inevitably a matter of taste, I'll name pretty much all the good points and all the bad points I can think of, regardless of what I personally think of the movie overall.

How Did You Come to That Conclusion?

The conclusion is a lot more personal and subjective than the Good and Bad sections. Different people weigh different aspects of the movie differently, so even if you pretty much agree with what I list in the Good and Bad sections, it's entirely possible you'll disagree completely with the conclusion. My opinion may ultimately just come down to my personal whims. I don't expect to convince anyone to agree with my conclusion; it's just there to sum up my personal feelings on the film overall.

What's With the Hate?

My reviews are not meant to be hateful, and I'm sorry if they come across that way to you. I love this franchise with all my heart, and I don't hate any Pokémon movie: if I didn't ultimately enjoy watching them, I wouldn't be writing these reviews.

What I do believe is that some of the movies are better than others, as stories, and that there is usually plenty of room for improvement. I notice room for improvement: I've been critiquing both fanfiction, sprites and websites for years, and in that time I've grown a very fine-tuned sense of nitpickiness. Whenever I watch any movie, Pokémon or otherwise, I'm mentally making note of what works about it and what doesn't - it's quite instinctive and automatic at this point. That doesn't mean I hate the movie; I have nitpicks even about movies that I absolutely adore.

And just because I think a movie is extremely flawed, it does not mean nobody can like it ever! Everything has flaws, but different people vary in whether those flaws bother them and how much and whether other things outweigh them, and that's fine. Please don't feel hurt or offended if I'm negative about your favorite movie - just because I don't think it's very good doesn't mean I expect you to stop liking it.

Similarly, I make a lot of negative comments on the English dub in my reviews, but if you like the dub, more power to you; I'm not here to try to convince you to never watch the dub again. If I mention that the English dub actively makes some movie worse, then I'd definitely encourage you to check out a fansub simply to discover a new, better side to the movie, but if you also love the English dub, or even if you think the dub made it better, that's fine.

So, to reiterate: my reviews are not about hate. I'm not doing this to bash the movies I dislike or attack their fans. I'm doing this because I enjoy analyzing and criticizing fiction, I enjoy reading critical reviews, and I think the Pokémon movies deserve to be reviewed from a critical yet open-minded perspective, like all other creative work. Please don't take anything I say here the wrong way.

Page last modified August 13 2016 at 02:34 UTC