The Pokémon anime that I grew up with was specifically about Ash’s journey to become a Pokémon Master, which is as loose a framework as a story like that can have, since it basically amounts to “The gang travels to whatever new region is featured in the video games and catch Pokémon sometimes.” It was functional enough to keep little nine-year-old James glued to his seat every weekday for a number of years, and plenty of comments here and on Twitter tell me that recent series like Pokémon: Sun & Moon managed to keep the formula fresh and interesting, but there’s not much point in rebooting a show if you’re not going to do something new, right? Now that we’ve gotten the expository episodes out of the way, it’s becoming clearer what the structure of Pokémon Journeys will be, insofar as any Pokémon series has ever had a structure. Ash’s goal to become a Pokémon Master is still intact, but it has taken a decided backseat in these first four episodes of the season, as Journeys has instead prioritized the work Ash and Goh are doing as Professor Cerise’s “research fellows,” and the Pokémon mysteries they seem set to solve each week. Now, Pokémon was always silly and goofy, but coming at Pokémon Journeys after a decade or so on Poké-hiatus, I’m noticing (and appreciating) a willingness to really cut loose with the gags. Ash, especially, has become the comedic relief of the team, which is a really good direction to take his character, I think. The kid could always be a goof—he’s a never-aging preteen boy with a bunch of magical monster friends, for crying out loud—but “Ivysaur’s Mysterious Tower” and “Settling the Scorbunny” position him squarely as Pokémon’s idiot savant, a well-meaning powder keg of boyish energy with an all consuming lust for adventure. He really is God’s Perfect Idiot in this series, which makes him the perfect Goofus for Goh’s Gallant. Case in point: “Ivysaur’s Mysterious Tower,” which sees Ash and Goh investigating a wandering herd of Ivysaur that are causing all sorts of trouble in town simply by being a bunch of flower-dinosaur things just stomping about. When Ash encounters one that’s straight-up slamming its head into a back alley wall, he immediately wants to dive in and help, while Goh makes a more distanced but fair point: If you just go jumping in and helping every sad Pokémon you see because it makes you feel bad, they won’t know the skills they need to survive. Ash ignores this information and jumps in anyway, earning him a predictable headbutt from the Ivysaur. This also causes a bit of a feud between the new chums, and while nobody in the audience is actually going to believe the pair won’t reconcile by the episode’s end, it is a welcome layer of conflict on top of “Like, what’s up with all of these Ivysaur?” Like I said before, the “mystery” doesn’t amount to much, since all Ash and Goh have to do is follow the Ivysaur to the titular tower, which a quick Pokédex reference reveals is the spot of a former grassy field that the Ivysaur migrated to. “The Ivysaur like to visit sunny, grassy fields” doesn’t feel like the biggest conundrum in the world, but it’s enough to attract Team Rocket, which is always good for a laugh. The resulting battle is just as stock standard as any you might see in one of Pokemon’s thousands of episodes, which is to say that it’s perfectly fine. With Team Rocket and Officer Jenny making appearances, “Ivysaur’s Mysterious Tower” mostly gets by on the nostalgia factor, for me (though it is admittedly adorable to see Goh so flustered over making up with Ash, who barely even realized he was mad). “Settling the Scorbunny” is the better of the two episodes, even if its mystery is somehow even less complicated than the previous episode’s. For one, it sees Ash and Goh heading to the Galar Region, the United Kingdom-inspired location of the most recent Sword and Shield Games, and I can appreciate the novelty of it since I’ve logged precisely 42 minutes of Sword and Shield since it came out, according to the household Switch (My wife’s playtime has hit the triple-digits, so she has thankfully been an invaluable resource in helping me reference all of these newfangled ‘Mons). Another thing that makes this episode a winner? It focuses on Ash and Goh trying to retrieve a bunch of stolen scones from a pack of Nickits and the “mysterious” brown Scorbunny that leads them. Scorbunny is an easy pick for Top 3 Starters of All Time as far as I’m concerned, and I would personally kill a man if it meant protecting the smiles of those little Nickits. The Scorbunny is the star of the show, though, as it is so brimming with personality and verve that it deserves to be the next big mascot character right beside Pikachu. Its backstory is pretty cute too, as Ash and Goh eventually discover that the Scorbunny met the Nickits while covered in mud, and it has remained so in order to be the leader of their little scone swipin’ operation. The reveal that it remained mud-caked and brown in order to “more closely resemble” the Nickits is iffy at best, as is the fact that the Pokédex apparently couldn’t recognize the Scorbunny because of that. I get that morphological variation just isn’t a thing in the Pokémon world, but I seem to remember my Pokédex picking up on that Red Gyarados just fine, so hinging the whole mystery on a lame technical goof feels a little cheap. It’s all fine at the end of the day, because the story brought some character development for Goh, who jumped in to help Scorbunny and the Nickits when the jig was up on their stealing spree, which is exactly the sort of thing he admonished Ash for in Episode 3. This kind gesture was also enough to convince Scorbunny to clean up his fur and pursue Ash and Goh to the next leg of their Galar Adventure, and adding Scorbunny to the team can only be a good thing for Pokémon Journeys. Scorbunny rules. Rating:
Odds and Ends • The Weird World of Pokémon: This is something I’ve harped on for years in my “Digimon vs. Pokémon” arguments, so I’ll try not to bring it up too much in these reviews, but something that bugged me even as a kid was that there’s no consistency in how intelligent Pokémon are meant to be. They’re clearly much smarter than regular animals, and all of them seem to possess the ability to at least clearly understand human speech (not to mention the fact they can have complex conversations with one another across species) but then they’ll become creatures of pure instinct or base intelligence whenever the story requires it. Mr. Mime is basically a tiny person, which is all sorts of weird when you lump it in with Magikarp and Bidoof. I get that the whole appeal of Pokémon is to have magic pets that are also your cool cartoon friends, but you can’t always have it both ways, Pokémon! • Ash brushing his teeth like a cracked-out bobble head and then refusing to learn what scones are called is hilarious, and definitive proof that Ash is living his best life here in Pokémon Journeys. • Last week, I asked everyone what their favorite Gen 1 Pokémon were, and at the time of this writing over 800 people have chimed in on Anime News Network’s official Twitter to vote for the best Gen 1 Starter. The numbers are in, at 40% of the voters prefer Charmander over all the others. The 23% percent of people that voted for Squirtle win the consolation prize of having the objectively correct opinion. • We’re in the Galar Region now, which I am very much unfamiliar with, so help a reviewer out and let us know what the best new Sword/Shield Pokémon are, and which of the three Starters deserves not to be tossed into the dustbin of history’s Poké-losers.
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.