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Pokémon Origins, on TV Tokyo
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Caution: spoilers!

This is a four episode special which first aired in October 2013 in Japan, and streamed online internationally in November 2013. Unlike the ongoing Pokemon anime series, this special tells a story that is much more like the experience of actually playing the original Pokemon video games ("Red" and "Blue"). I've never actually played those games- the earliest one I've played is "Yellow," which I believe is essentially the same as Red and Blue, with a few minor variations. As for the anime, it does seem to take a bit more time on certain aspects of the story than the games do, while glossing over other aspects of gameplay that take longer in the games. But I really do think it's fun to watch something like this, if you're a fan of the games. Also I should say, the animation style is somewhat different from that of the regular anime series, though perhaps a bit closer to the style of the Pokemon movies- or maybe even almost like that of Studio Ghibli films. So I'd say this show's quality is superior to that of the regular series, which is a nice change of pace, and it fits the type of story presented here. (But by the same token, the regular show's style is a better fit for the type of story it's telling.)

It begins in Pallet Town, with a young boy named Red receiving an electronic encyclopedia called a "pokedex" from Professor Oak, who studies pokemon. Oak also gives Red a starter pokemon of his own: Red can choose between Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. He chooses Charmander, a fire type. At the same time, Oak gives his grandson, Blue (who is called "Green" in the Japanese version) a pokedex of his own. And Blue chooses Squirtle as his starter pokemon. (Because water types are super-effective against fire types.) Each boy then goes off on his own journey to catch as many different pokemon as he can, in order to collect data about those pokemon, which is recorded in the pokedex. To catch wild pokemon, you have to use those you already own in battles. You can also battle other trainers, as well as Gym Leaders, who award badges if you defeat them. Blue soon grows much more powerful as a pokemon trainer than Red does, but of course Red is determined to learn all he can about pokemon, and become a better trainer, himself. By the end of the first episode, Red battles and barely defeats Brock, the Pokemon Gym Leader from Pewter City. (I find it interesting that before the battle, Brock asked Red if he had any badges yet, and when he said he didn't, he decided to battle Red with just two pokemon, against all five of Red's. In the games, the gym leaders get stronger the further you progress. In reality, any gym leader should be able to beat a beginner easily. So the explanation that they'd purposely go easier on beginners helps make sense of that.) Anyway, Brock helps Red learn a bit more about what being a trainer is all about, and Red continues on his journey....

At the start of episode two, Red narrates a ton of stuff he'd done between episodes: buying a Magikarp; battling the criminal organization Team Rocket; earning bages from other Gym Leaders, Misty and Lt. Surge; Charmander evolving into Charmeleon; etc. I found it kind of disappointing to skip over so much, especially not getting to see his battle with Misty. But, considering how much ground there is for the series to cover, there's no way it can all be done in depth in just four episodes.

The actual story part episode two begins with Red's arrival in Lavender Town. He hears that a pokemon ghost has been seen at the Pokemon Tower. Then the nurse at the Pokemon Center tells him he should stop by the Pokemon House before checking out the Tower. The Pokemon House used to be the home of a kind old man named Mr. Fuji, who converted it into a shelter for abandoned or orphaned pokemon. When Red goes there, he meets a girl named Reina, who tells him about one of the pokemon there, a baby Cubone whose mother, Marowak, had been killed by Team Rocket. (It always seemed surprisingly dark, to me, that the games specifically say Cubone's mother had been killed by Team Rocket, so it's interesting that this show chooses to focus on that as a major plot point.) Reina also tells Red that Mr. Fuji knows all there is to know about pokemon, so Red is eager to meet and learn from him. But it turns out that Mr. Fuji is missing. Apparently, he went to the Tower to try to get rid of Team Rocket, who had recently claimed it as their base. But Fuji was captured. So Red volunteers to go fight Team Rocket, himself. Blue overhears all this, and decides he'll be a hero if he can defeat Team Rocket before Red does. But, the two of them both play a part in rescuing Mr. Fuji, as well as dealing with the ghost I mentioned earlier. (If you've played the game, you know the truth about that ghost, but I won't spoil it here. I will say, however, that the way it plays out is much more bittersweet than in the game. Really tugs at the heart strings.) And in the end, of course Fuji gives Red a Pokeflute, as he does in the game... But he also gives him a pair of stones (which look like a small and jumbo marble), for some mysterious purpose (this does not happen in the game, so for once I didn't know what to expect).

Episode three once again begins with Red filling us in on the adventures we don't get to see. He got gym badges from Erika and Koga; once again battled Team Rocket and met their leader, Giovanni; Charmeleon evolved in Charizard; etc. Oh and by the way... while watching episode two, I started wondering if the way the plots of each episode were chosen was based on when Red (i.e., you, the player) and Blue (your rival) encounter each other in the game. So I guessed episode three would be set in Saffron City, and I was right. (Of course, Blue's involvement is considerably expanded for this anime, and while he's still the protagonist's rival, he's also an important ally, unlike in the game.)

Anyway, Red and Blue rescue a woman from Team Rocket. She's the secretary to the president of the Silph Corporation, and she tells them Team Rocket has taken over Silph. They want the company's scientists to perfect the prototype Master Ball the company had been developing, which could capture any pokemon. (I thought that was a nice touch, since the game doesn't really make it clear why exactly Team Rocket had taken over Silph, but when you defeat them, the president gives you a Master Ball.) Team Rocket's also forcing the scientists to perform terrible experiments on pokemon. So Red tells Blue to take the secretary to Celadon City, to contact the police, while Red himself takes on Team Rocket yet again, not wanting to let the pokemon continue to suffer while waiting for the police. He succeeds very quickly in rescuing the pokemon and the scientists, one of whom gives him a pokemon called Lapras (just like in the game). While the episode skips all the tedious battling you must do in the game, the confrontation between Red and Giovanni in the president's office is more interesting. I've been meaning to say that the battles in this series can seem a bit more intense, more realistic, than in the regular anime, and that's especially true this time... because Red's Charizard and Giovanni's Nidoqueen are both really big pokemon, and did major damage to the Silph building. It's also interesting that when Red asks why Giovanni wants to make pokemon suffer, Giovanni chides Red for the fact that his own pokemon suffer whenever Red makes them battle. (That's a point that I'd really like to see more deeply addressed.) Anyway, in spite of spoiling Team Rocket's plans, Giovanni easily defeats Red, before escaping.

The middle of the episode has more narration from Red, glossing over his winning badges from Sabrina and Blaine, and stuff. Then he heads for Viridian City, where he's shocked to discover that the Gym Leader there is none other than Giovanni. I find Red's battle for his final badge interestingly symmetrical with the battle for his first badge: both are battles are against rock types (even if Giovanni's pokemon are primarily ground type), and once again, the Gym Leader uses just two pokemon against all of Red's. Giovanni's Rhyhorn easily defeats four of Red's pokemon; but Red's fifth pokemon poses a genuine challenge, and the two finally knock each other out, leaving both trainers with just one pokemon: Red's Charizard against Giovanni's Rhydon. Another fascinating aspect of the battle is that we get to hear Giovanni's inner monologue, rather than Red's... and he himself is confused by what the battle is making him feel, ultimately leading Giovanni to an epiphany not unlike the one Red had during his battle with Brock. Anyway... it is a very close battle, but Red wins. As in the game, this causes Giovanni to disband Team Rocket, although his actual motivation for doing so is decidedly different.

Which just leaves episode four, in which Red takes on the Elite Four. Of course, it begins with him saying he made it through Victory Road to reach the Indigo Plateau. (Man, I wish I could just fast-forward past Victory Road, like that.) What's even more amazing is that the opening narration also glosses over his battles with each of the Elite Four. Which probably shouldn't surprise me, considering I knew full well that after he defeated them, he'd have to face the current Pokemon League Champion... Blue! And yet, even that goes by pretty quickly. Of course, the anime dwells a bit longer on how Red and Blue feel about the outcome of their battle than the game does (even if some of Blue's dialogue is taken straight from the game). And then... Red gets back to working on his real goal, which is completing the pokedex. Finally, he catches all 149 types of pokemon, and returns to Pallet Town to report his success to Professor Oak. But when he gets there, he learns that Blue has been badly injured, having battled an incredibly powerful, unknown pokemon in Cerulean Cave. (Oak realizes Blue must have fought a 150th kind of pokemon.) Anyway, Red decides he must go to Cerulean Cave himself, to find out what this pokemon is and try to catch it. Of course, if you've played the game, you know what the pokemon is, but... there are elements of the story from the first three episodes that come together to play into this final mystery, some in a familiar way, and some in brand new ways.

Well, it has a rather exciting climax. And later, Red realizes there's still a 151st pokemon out there. So even though our story has come to a close, Red's adventures have not....

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