Anime Reporter takes a deep breath and fights to hold back the nostalgia induced squeals of delight to bring our review of Pokémon Origins (Pocket Monsters: The Origin in Japanese), the four part miniseries based directly on Satoshi Tajiri’s original games for Nintendo Gameboy some eighteen years ago.
What’s that? You’ve never encountered Pokémon before? Then allow us to save you some time: This is probably not for you.
This miniseries really serves more as an entertaining supplement or scrapbook for those who played their way across Kanto so long ago.
If, however, you can remember marvelling at the technology that allowed your Gameboy colour to bring you Pokémon in black, white and red or blue, then please, step this way.
Pokémon Origins is in no way related to the Pokémon anime series people may be more familiar with. While there are definite similarities, Origins is based almost step-for-step on the events of the original Pokémon games while the anime series following Ash Ketchum and Pikachu is taken much more loosely from the same. The main character of the series (with a fairly similar appearance to Mr. Ketchum) is Red (voiced by Hunter x Hunter’s Junko Takeuchi in Japanese and Bryce Papenbrook, the voice of Blue Exorcist’s Rin in English), while his rival (á la Gary Oak) is named Blue (or Green in Japanese) and from the very beginning these four episodes are a heart-warming reminder of the very first time a player left Pallet town in search of Pokémon to catch and befriend.
The opening scene shows Red watching a strikingly familiar battle between a Gengar and Nidorino which anyone who watched five seconds of the opening screen to the original games will recognise. All four episodes are peppered with similar little touches and nods to the games with even a lot of the characters’ dialogue being direct quotes, often managing to sound much more natural and sincere than it had seemed in those little text boxes. The only things which truly felt missing were an explanation about how comfy and easy to wear shorts are and an old man’s voice speaking from the ethers to remind Red that bicycles shouldn’t be used indoors.
The plot of Origins sees Red cover the events of the game from beginning to end and, as you might imagine for four episodes of twenty-one minutes each, this means that a lot of events are skipped over between episodes. Some narrated, slideshow-like scenes are used to bring viewers back up to speed about some of the Pokémon Red has encountered and some of his gym victories at the start of each new episode. The focus of each episode is usually Red’s ongoing fights against Team Rocket (minus the dance routine and talking Meowth of the other incarnation) and his growing bond with his starter Pokémon, Charmander. One theme which has ever been central to the games is the idea that a strong bond of trust between a trainer and their Pokémon is essential to grow truly strong and Origins really allows the viewer to see Red learning to value his Pokémon as partners and equals.
The story (for those who recall the events of the games) feels heartfelt and genuine, drawing viewers in and drawing on some of the most pivotal moments and plot points. To anyone unaccustomed to the narrative of the Gameboy experience, these episodes will probably seem all too rushed and lacking in substance but will most likely pull at the heartstrings of any who walked, cycled or surfed the same 8-bit paths before. There are some embellishments which should only be familiar to fans of the more modern editions for the Nintendo 3ds, though these are in no way necessary to appreciate all that Pokémon Origins has to offer.
The animation is absolutely lovely, in perfect harmony between crisp lines and battle effect, and a simple, realistic character design which automatically feels a little retro. Battles themselves are fast-paced affairs with plenty to keep viewers watching closely. Pokémon themselves are portrayed with distinct attention to detail and, something lacking from the other anime, attention to scale. Gone are the twelve foot tall Nidokings and Charizards and it truly feels as though everything has been thought through very carefully. The score for the episodes manages to hit just the right tones, with battles, gym fights and poké centres having their own themes taken right from the games and updated just enough to feel current and carrying every piece of the tension or emotion that was present in playing.
Truly, this is a series for the fans of the original Red/Blue. This really can’t be overstated enough. Newcomers may well find this to be a pleasant, somewhat barebones Pokémon experience, though old-school poké fans should find themselves pointing and smiling at everything from Professor Oak’s opening speech to items like the Silph scope and Pokéflute to seeing Red agonize over whether to throw bait or a rock in the safari.
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Attention to Detail: 8
81% – A Truly Elite Four
Four episodes may not seem like enough to cover the world of the first series but old school fans will no doubt find themselves caught up in all the little details and maybe more than a little tempted to hunt down their Gameboys and start all over again.