Sunday 6 October 2013

Anime REVIEW: Pokémon The Origin

Pokemon the Origin Pocket Monsters

Since the Pokémon anime first began life way back in 1997, there's always been one question burning on fans minds - will we ever see an anime series or special that follows the story of the games properly? Well, the wait is finally over with Pokémon: The Origin, which returns the franchise to its Game Boy roots to tell the story of the original games (that's Red/Green or Red/Blue outside of Japan) just before the worldwide release of Pokémon X and Y for the 3DS. It couldn't be a better time to be a fan.

Pokemon the Origin Red & Green Pocket Monsters Charmander Squirtle
Red and Green start their journeys

The four-part special follows original game protagonist Red on his quest to travel across Kanto and complete the Pokédex for Professor Oak. After leaving Pallet Town with his new Charmander partner, Red gets in a battle with his childhood rival Green and learns that in order to complete his journey, he'll need to take part in Pokémon battles and help his Pokémon grow stronger. Across the land he'll battle the eight gym leaders and eventually take on the Elite Four, but not before attempting to put an end to Team Rocket's evil schemes.

Since one and a half hours is nowhere near long enough to tell the whole story of Pokémon Red/Green, the special rushes through quite a lot of the details and pays attention to specific sections of the game. These include the start of Red's journey up to his battle with Pewter City gym leader Brock, the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town, Team Rocket's takeover of Silph Co., his gym battle with Giovanni, his battle against the Elite 4 champion and finally the capture of Mewtwo. So while not a whole lot, certainly key points in the game that evoke very different emotions. The battles provide action and suspense, while the Lavender Town segment offers one of the saddest side-stories the franchise has devised.

Pokemon the Origin Cubone Marowak Lavender Town
I dare you not to cry.

Watching Red on his Pokémon journey is a complete different experience to watching Ash (or Satoshi if you'd prefer) in the ongoing Pokémon anime. To praise Red for achieving more in 90 minutes than Ash has in 16 years is perhaps a little unfair since the two characters serve very different purposes, but it's hard to deny that watching Red is far more satisfying. Here is a character that features just as strong a bond with his Pokémon (especially his Charizard) but is unafraid to actually do what the franchise's slogan suggests and actually catch them all. The focus remains squarely on the starter, but we see Red catch and use a whole range of Pokémon - including legendaries such as Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.

Pokemon the Origin Brock Pocket Monsters Takeshi Geodude
Why Brock, you're looking different.

Fans of the games will really appreciate the level of detail animators Production I.G., Xebec and OLM Inc. have put into The Origin. The animation is crisp and looks much nicer than the dated 90s style of the ongoing show, with the character and monster designs much more in tune with Ken Sugimori's original art. The Game Boy game's classic 8-bit score has had new life breathed into it, with orchestral versions of familiar tunes nicely complimenting the newly created music. Despite only covering key parts of the game, a series of montages are also included so we can see other parts such as the defeat of the other 6 gym leaders, the Celadon Rocket hideout, the S.S. Anne and more. Even the save function isn't forgotten about!

Pokemon the Origin Giovanni Team Rocket Pocket Monsters
Giovanni. And without a Persian in sight.

However if you're expecting a light-hearted romp of nostalgia, be aware that The Origin doesn't skimp away from the darker side of the Pokémon franchise. In a very short time we see Team Rocket do some pretty deplorable things, and it makes it very clear that the battles involve Pokémon physically harming each other and feeling pain. Charmander's first battle with Squirtle is particularly haunting, as Charmander screams out in pain to the point where it seems almost like it's going to die.

But perhaps the biggest twist of Pokémon: The Origin is that it turns out not just to be a celebration of the original games, but a teaser of what's to come very soon. Red's final battle against Mewtwo introduces the concept of mega evolution from the forthcoming Pokémon X and Y, but instead of being the previously revealed Mega Charizard turns out to be an all-new one (which has now been announced as Mega Charizard X). The extra special twist is amazing even when you know it's coming, so I can't imagine how it felt to be watching it on television in Japan as it happened.

Pokemon the Origin Mega Charizard X Pocket Monsters Mewtwo Mega Evolution

Pokémon: The Origin really is the Pokémon anime fans had been waiting for, and is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. It pays loving tribute to the games fans had grown up with excellent attention to detail, while at the same time offering a new spin on the story to pump us all up for the next generation of Pokémon. Get the childish, repetitive notions of the standard anime series out of your head, The Origin is an absolute must-see for fans who grew up with the franchise. My only disappointment is that it couldn't have been longer.

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