No matter what kind of anime fan you are, you’ll no doubt have heard of the worldwide phenomenon Pokémon. At the peak of the initial fad you’d have had to have been living under a rock not to have come across this series, and although Pokémon has had its ups and downs, it’s still a firm favourite with children today. I’m one of those kids who grew up watching the anime series, and now with Manga UK bringing it to DVD (and for the first time on Blu-ray!), it’s time to revisit an important part of my childhood and see how it holds up.
Pokémon follows the adventures of ten-year-old Ash Ketchum, who is just about to start his journey as a Pokémon trainer. However, the morning he’s meant to collect his starter Pokémon, Ash oversleeps! Rushing to Professor Oak’s lab, he finds that other trainers have gotten there first and already claimed the three Pokémon on offer (Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle). Thankfully the Professor still has a single Pokémon left: a strange electric mouse known as Pikachu. Ash is over the moon to receive his first Pokémon but Pikachu seems to completely hate his new trainer! When Pikachu refuses to even get into his PokéBall, just what trouble awaits Ash as he sets out to become a Pokémon Master?
As Ash journeys through the Kanto region,he makes good friends in the form of Misty and Brock, who are capable Pokémon Trainers in their own right, as well as capturing a number of new Pokémon friends. His ultimate goal is to take on the Pokémon League after collecting 8 Gym Badges from around the region, but he’s in for a long journey and many trials and tribulations along the way – especially when evildoers Team Rocket (made up of Jessie, James and a talking Meowth) set their sights on capturing Pikachu!
The original Pokémon series is made up of fairly simple and episodic stories. Although the plot does develop by Ash catching new Pokémon or earning a Gym Badge, for the most part you can take these episodes and watch them in whatever order you like. I honestly believed that the lack of consistency would annoy me as an older viewer but, actually, after revisiting the series, I realise that the episodic approach is the right one. It makes the show more interesting and keeps me on my toes as a viewer, not being sure what kind of adventure we’ll embark on next. It’s just pure fun.
I became a Pokémon fan back in the day because of watching the anime. I was quickly infatuated with Ash and Pikachu’s adventures and soon had my hands on one of the Pokémon games. It’s a series that has stuck with me ever since and I’ve played all the games, watched most of the anime/movies, and my home is littered with merchandise of some of my favourite creatures. I say all this because a part of me was really worried about revisiting the first season of the show. It’s different from later seasons and being handled by 4Kids Entertainment (more on this below) means that the dub is quite different in tone to the Japanese series. It’s less traditional anime and more in-line with a kids’ cartoon in the west – for better or worse. Having said of all this though, I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed this re-watch and it’s put all my fears to rest because the Indigo League arc of Pokémon is still as captivating as it was when I was a child.
Like many children’s anime of its time, Pokémon was localised by 4Kids Entertainment and various changes were made to each episode of the series. Usually these were limited to rewriting some of the jokes and calling Japanese food something more western (like rice balls becoming donuts, even though the animation clearly shows Ash and co. eating rice balls), but it also resulted in some scenes being cut or switched around. There are also three episodes within the first season of the Indigo League that were completely removed for the west (Electric Soldier Porygon, Legend of Dratini and Beauty & The Beach) and as a result aren’t included on this set either.
Even away from 4Kids Entertainment’s changes, there is a large amount of inconsistency with the first season of the anime compared to the Pokémon video games. In fact, there is so much disparity that I’d probably need another page just to explain it all but for the most part these aren’t major issues – just instances that might leave you scratching your head a bit. Some of these differences are simply caused by the fact that we are looking at the first season of a show based on a video game franchise that’s now over 20 years old. Things have changed a lot since the original anime and games were released, like the inclusion of double battles, breeding, contests and more, so the first anime season does show its age quite a lot now.
The series is animated by studio OLM and although it began airing in 1997 in Japan, the animation still looks really good to this day. Many scenes where the Pokémon are using their signature attacks are reused (which I’ve always found a shame but understandable) but otherwise there isn’t anything to complain about. The show is colourful, full of life and perfect for the target audience.
One of the biggest shames for the Pokémon anime series is that most of the music used for the Japanese version is removed in the dub. While Pokémon Indigo League does have some of its music intact (they only started removing it in full as of Season 4), 4Kids Entertainment has also added music to the series for some of the otherwise silent scenes. Because of this it’s difficult to talk about the music in terms of any one composer, so I’ll just close out by saying that the music works well on the whole and there are still some tracks left intact that seasoned Pokémon fans will recognise.
Overall the voice actors for the series do a fantastic job. Ash is voiced by Veronica Taylor (she also voices Ash’s mum, Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune in the Slayers series, and is featured in many of the Yu-Gi-Oh! dubs), and captures the young Pokémon Trainer really well with high-pitched tones for Ash’s comedic outbursts and more manly vocals for Ash’s day-to-day speaking. Furthermore, one of my personal favourites among the cast is the late Maddie Blaustein (who also can be found in numerous Yu-Gi-Oh! dubs), who plays Meowth. Normally in the Pokémon world Meowth can’t speak English – most Pokémon can’t – but the one that belongs to Team Rocket can and is truly brought to life through Maddie’s work. Meowth always has something witty and interesting to say and I think it’s a tough character for many voice actors to pull off, but Maddie did so brilliantly.
Pokémon Indigo League Season 1 is brought to the UK thanks to Manga UK. This release contains episodes 1-52 with an English dub only and is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. I’ve reviewed the DVD version so I can’t comment on whether the Blu-ray upscale is actually good or not, but the screenshots I’ve seen seem to suggest that it’s okay.
Overall the original Pokémon series is off to a good start with me. As it’s one of the first anime that I ever watched, and one that I watched as a young child, I didn’t expect to have half as much fun as I did re-watching it. This release is the perfect collection for both longtime fans and new Pokémon fans alike!