Last year, the global juggernaut Pokémon franchise surprised fans with the release of its then-newest anime feature film, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You. The twentieth in a long line of movies, I Choose You broke the usual formula of being an extra chapter concurrent with the ongoing TV anime, to carve its own identity as an alternate reality retelling of Ash’s early days as a Pokémon trainer.
While I Choose You still had some of the hallmarks of films that came before it, such a drastic change in direction was unprecedented. So with Manga Entertainment releasing the three preceding films in one DVD collection, this was the perfect opportunity to explore the last movies before this monumental shift: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, and Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel.
The first film in this collection kicks off the “XY” era of films by introducing audiences to the Mythical Pokémon Diancie, the free-spirited yet naive princess of the Diamond Domain; a series of tunnels inhabited by Carbink. The Heart Diamond that powers their domain is dying, so Diancie sets out on a journey to find the legendary Xerneas, who is said to be able to bestow upon Diancie the power she needs to create a new Heart Diamond, and restore the Diamond Domain to its former glory.
Diancie’s travels lead her to Avignon Town, where she ends up on the run from two opposing thieves after her diamond-making abilities: the witch-themed Merilyn, and the ninja Riot. When Ash and friends intervene in their conflict, Diancie is able to escape – and our main characters agree to join the Mythical Pokémon on her quest to find Xerneas. Their journey will pit Ash & Co against not just thieves, but the Pokémon world’s embodiment of destruction: the legendary Yveltal.
Unfortunately, Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction is unremarkable in just about every way, with Diancie and the new villains being characters who show genuine promise, held back by being in a poor movie. If you’ve seen any of the sixteen films before this, you’ve seen this one – right down to yet another surprised reaction to a Pokémon talking via telepathy – which you’d think Ash would be used to by now! My biggest criticism towards the film however, is that its use of CG makes Shaft’s Fireworks look competent. The film has somehow turned Xerneas, one of the most majestic of all Pokémon, into an awkward mess.
Fortunately, the following movie proves far more pleasing, and a strong example of how sometimes, less can be more. While most Pokémon have focused on human villains, Hoopa and the Clash of Ages makes the titular Pokémon its central antagonist, rather than an underdeveloped human.
Travelling through the desert region of Dahara City, Ash and friends meet the mischievous Hoopa, who once terrorised citizens as a goliath who used its space-warping powers to summon and battle similarly sized legendary Pokémon. A century ago however, Hoopa was reduced to a smaller and more playful form when its power was sealed by a hero into the Prison Bottle, now considered a sacred relic. When the grandson of that same hero returns that power as a misguided gesture of gratitude however, a century’s worth of anger is unleashed.
Hoopa and the Clash of Ages really benefits from being one of the simpler Pokémon movies. With no need to set up a new villain and their convoluted scheme, the film is able to focus almost solely on Ash, and the split personalities of Hoopa. Restored to its gargantuan form and fueled by rage, Hoopa Unbound wreaks havoc through a seemingly unpopulated Dahara City in its pursuit of Ash, resulting in a chaotic battle with multiple legendary Pokémon that feels not unlike classic “kaiju” movies, such as the iconic Godzilla franchise.
This simplicity is what helps make Hoopa and the Clash of Ages shine; by just sitting down and watching the chaotic spectacle, you’ll have a fun time. Hoopa is a pretty charming character to boot.
Hoopa and the Clash of Ages is also a huge technical improvement over the previous film, with less reliance on CG bringing clearer, more vibrant visuals. So it’s a huge shame that this release is DVD only; I’d recommend picking up the previously released Blu-ray version of this film, especially as this is the best of the three films anyway (Our reviewer Demelza’s review of this can be read here.)
Speaking of which, this three film collection concludes with the final film of the XY era: Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel. However, that last part of the title could be considered an exaggeration because rather than a marvel, the film is an example of great characters trapped in a sub-par movie. That may sound familiar, given my critique of Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, but that’s because all films in this collection – and plenty more in the franchise, fall under the same tired formula. For example, an introductory montage showcases Ash in battle as an uninspired remix of the current TV anime season’s theme song plays, the characters are surprised by the titular Pokémon speaking telepathy (despite telepathy being used all the way back in Pokémon the First Movie), and so forth.
While the bond shared by Ash and Pikachu has become a glowing symbol of the relationship between people and Pokémon, the reality is sometimes not quite as peachy. When the Mythical Pokémon Volcanion fails in an attempt to rescue the mechanical rabbit Magearna from a thief, the fallout leaves him magnetically linked to an unassuming Ash, who just happens to be nearby on his journey through the Kalos region. This situation is less than ideal for the sagely yet arrogant Volcanion, who harbours a strong dislike of humans. Despite these strong feelings however, Volcanion soon realises that he will need Ash’s help to rescue Magearna, who could be the key to saving the mechanical Azoth Kingdom.
This movie’s greatest strength is the personalities it imbues in both Volcanion and Magearna; two Pokémon who have otherwise inaccessible designs. I mean, Volcanion is a quadruped with a giant doughnut on its back, while Magearna is an inorganic albeit cute contraption. However, we are introduced to a battle-worn protector, rather than the mindless beast Volcanion could too easily have been written as. The guardian of a sanctuary for Pokémon abused by people, Volcanion’s emotional journey from viewing Ash as an untrustworthy annoyance to a valuable companion gives the film a strong emotional core. Mike Pollock (Sonic the Hedgehog’s Doctor Eggman) was expertly cast in the role, providing a voice that perfectly captures Volcanion’s wisdom, as well as the hostility bubbling within. Although Magearna isn’t as vocal as other Pokémon, speaking solely through mechanical beeps, its mannerisms and even subtle movements effectively convey Magearna’s personality; not unlike a timid yet caring young girl.
The visual design of the Azoth Kingdom is reminiscent of Destiny Deoxys’ LaRouse City, with the clean futurism aesthetic replaced with a more rustic, steampunk vibe – Clemont’s trip on the city’s self-moving pavements being a nice homage. While Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction suffered with its poor use of CG, Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel has a more competent handle on its use. The Pokémon themselves are 2D, aside from a few noticeable scenes where Magearna is rendered in CG towards the end of the film. The film’s most notable use of CG, is in creating the complex inorganic elements of Azoth Kingdom, although the aircraft piloted by new character Kimia is a notable rough point.
While Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel falls into the same trap of Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction by having a throwaway antagonist with a scheme that’s forgettable even in the film, never mind after; the movie goes elsewhere to show its depth. Volcanion’s mission of protecting Pokémon previously abused by people isn’t just lip service, as shown in one particularly emotional moment where an act of kindness unintentionally triggers a traumatic episode for a Gulpin. This recurring theme of cruelty is also reflected in the film’s introduction of the “Mega Wave” technology, that painfully forces a Pokémon to undergo Mega Evolution – something usually tied behind having a strong bond with its stranger. Honestly, between that and Alva’s destructive actions, I started to wonder whether Volcanion was right…
As is to be expected of a Pokémon release, there are no bonus features, while the only viewing options are the English-language dub by The Pokémon Company International, although optional hard-of-hearing subtitles are a welcomed addition.
Hoopa and the Clash of Ages and Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel may not be the best films the Pokémon franchise has produced, but are enjoyable extra chapters in their own right and would individually deserve far higher numerical reviews scores than that of this compiled release. The biggest draw of this new collection however, Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, is among the weakest of a series now spanning over twenty films.
With Hoopa and Volcanion both previously released separately by Manga Entertainment UK before they dropped the Blu-ray format for the franchise, I just can’t recommend this release when the two good titles are readily available in a superior format. The only reason to buy this release, is if you still predominantly use DVDs and have yet to own the previous films, or need Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction to complete your collection. In that respect, it’s a shame that the film wasn’t released separately, to accommodate customers who already own the other two films.
Watching all three films back to back also unfortunately exposes just how by-the-numbers the Pokémon anime movies have become, so it’s no surprise that the reset button was hit with the vastly superior, and genuinely surprising, Pokémon: I Choose You.