I still watch Pokemon. Adults (which I technically am) are supposed to be spending their free time doing adult-stuff like power washing the front porch or filing for divorce, but I never cared because I love Pokemon, and I'll have plenty of time to do all that other stuff in a 2nd-life-simulator that I'll buy when I'm 60. But the latest entry of Pokemon, Pokemon Journeys: The Series, is making me rethink my life choices.
It's not because Pokemon Journeys: The Series is bad. I mean it is bad, but the Pokemon anime has always been "bad." It's a kid's show based on an RPG made in the 90s. It's not meant to be quality entertainment so much as it is a dosage of Ritalin in anime form meant to keep your child stationary long enough for you to restrain them Hannibal Lecter style. The plots are nonsensical, the characters are shallow, and the world is like the Flinstones on acid.
But Pokemon being bad has never stopped me from loving it. Journeys might actually be on the higher end in terms of production and writing as far as Pokemon seasons usually go. Still, there's something about it that makes it a slog for me to get through to the point where I'm thinking of hanging up my Pokeballs for good, and I think it has to do with how quickly the new protagonist, Goh, catches Pokemon.
He just rips through them. As of this writing, Goh has captured 62 unique Pokemon in about half a season of Journeys. Meanwhile, Ash has 76 Pokemon in over 20 years of various seasons and movies. I get why the writers are doing this. The anime is trying to cater to Pokemon GO fans, which is less focused on battling and more on collection. Ash and Goh have different goals and the state as much. Goh wants to "catch 'em all," and Ash wants to be a Pokemon Master. Fair enough, but the ease of which Goh catches Pokemon sticks a fork right in the middle of the Pokemon catching logic of the past 20 years. Here is Ash catching Corphish:
And here is Goh just catching everything he sees:
It used to be that you had to weaken a Pokemon, with rare exceptions, to catch them, or maybe that was just a rumor trainers like Goh would spread to keep suckers like Ash from catching all of the good Pokemon. It turns out that it was all wasted effort, and you just needed to throw a Pokeball. Perhaps, Goh is just the Clayton Kershaw of the Pokemon universe, putting so much velocity and curve on his throws that everyone is left helpless. More likely, however, is that this is just a case of power creep. It's the dreaded bane of anime, as it cheapens the stakes and makes a show dull, but I think I could still enjoy Pokemon if Goh's rampant catching of Pokemon didn't break the universe in another way.
See, the Pokemon anime has always had a bit of a philosophical conundrum. If Pokemon are sentient creatures, capable of understanding human speech (with some even able to speak themselves), then isn't capturing them and forcing them into battle akin to gulp ... slavery? The answer is definitely yes, but the status of Pokemon personhood has always been left ambiguous enough that I was able to maintain my cognitive dissonance with two hearty scoops of suspension of disbelief in a bowl full of it's just a tv show.
Past seasons of the anime were aware of this problem and established a personal bond between Ash and his Pokemon to help us along. Ash's Pokemon would almost always agree to join his party beforehand and then battled him in a test to prove his worth. Then we'd see Ash interact with them as teammates and get countless lectures on how the secret to unlocking a Pokemon's potential is friendship and yada yada yada. It's still a bit problematic, but I'm not here today to cancel Pokemon. I'm here to talk about the logical constituencies within the show that help maintain believability, and for 20-plus years it has been hammered home that Pokemon = friendship.
But Goh catches Pokemon with such frequency that it feels callous and cold. There's no time for him to form a meaningful relationship. Goh's personal connection with the majority of his Pokemon is inadequate even by the standards of human-to-normal pet, let alone acknowledging that most Pokemon possess cognitive abilities higher than your standard police officer. Yet, no one in-show seems bothered by this. I know it's weird to complain about believability in a world where mice can power generators with their butt cheeks or the bad guys can suffer first degree burns every day and then come back for more.
But somehow, those things all made sense, so long as the core philosophy of the show was still intact. Now, for the first time, the reality of Pokemon has been stretched too thin, even for me.
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Top Image: Netflix