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Pokemon Sun & Moon: Why Ash Ketchum’s Design Was Updated…Again

In 2010, the Pokemon anime decided to spice things up a bit by modifying its character designs. More than a simple change of wardrobe, the denizens of the Pokemon TV world had changes to their faces and hair, and the result was an Ash with green eyes. With the release of Pokemon Sun & Moon, the characters have transformed once more, and this time it’s even more drastic than before. While it’s not like Ash is seven feet tall with a goatee now, it looks noticeably different compared to his adventures in the Kalos region. With such a major change, the inevitable question is “why?”

ash-sunmoon

Fortunately, I just so happen to have answered this question the last time around, and it turns out that the answer applies just as well, if not better.

At the time when green-eyed Ash was revealed, I wrote a post explaining how this was a clear attempt at making the characters in the Pokemon anime match more closely with the character designs of the games. The main artist for Pokemon has always been Ken Sugimori, and while the designs of the anime characters were based on his work back in the mid to late 90s, he’s continued to refine his art style over the years. If you look at Ash and other characters in Sun & Moon, they veer even closer to Sugimori’s current aesthetic. Characters appear rounder and softer, and the way their eyes are drawn have that distinct Sugimori look. This is probably most evident in the new Alola region characters, such as Lillie.

lillie-sunmoon

Anime Character Design

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Game Character Design

That explains a good chunk of why Ash’s adventures in Not-Hawaii look so far-removed from past generations of the anime, but another significant one is that a simpler art style means being easier to animate. That’s not to say that the old Pokemon anime styles were especially complex, but being softer and more simplified in this way means the animators can put more effort into making things move well instead of making sure each character has all of their necessary details.

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Finally, a Good Translation for the Title! Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl: Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space

NOTE: The English version of the movie provides us a good translation of the Japanese title of this Arceus movie by putting it right in the dialogue. Remember folks, if you are going to translate the title instead of using the English adaptation’s as I have, Choukoku no Jikuu e should now be called Transcend the Confines of Time and Space. Stop using every translation of the title except this one, including my previous one. That line of debate should be over one way or another.

The latest movie in the Pokemon franchise is unique in a number of ways, something which is impressive given that this is the twelfth time Pokemon has seen a theatrical release. This is the first time a Pokemon movie has been released in English so soon after its Japanese release. Known as Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl: Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space (known in English as Arceus and the Jewel of Life), it not only is the conclusive part of the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum movie trilogy, but also the first Pokemon movie to place its focus on a god of all creation.

That god is known as Arceus, who in legends is said to have shaped the universe with its 1,000 arms. A metaphor I’m sure, seeing as the kirin-like Arceus has no arms to speak of. The movie centers around his return to Earth after many generations, where Arceus plans on exacting Judgment upon the humans who had dared to betray him all those years ago. And in the case of Arceus, “Judgment” translates into “Fiery Death from Above.”

The only Pokemon capable of even putting up a fight against this Pokemon deity are the feature Pokemon of the previous two movies, Dialga (the Pokemon who rules time), Palkia (the Pokemon who is given dominion over space), and Giratina (the sole natural inhabitant of a mysterious alternate dimension). We also learn that Arceus’ impending arrival is also what caused the distortions in time-space in the first two parts to the trilogy. Even then, they are barely able to withstand Arceus’ ire, and it is up to Satoshi/Ash and friends to figure out the truth about the Alpha Pokemon.

The 12th Pokemon movie is decent overall and definitely the kind of thing fans of the series will enjoy, but there are some things this movie does not do all that well. First, it never gives you a good sense of just how powerful Arceus is supposed to be. Though it clashes with and overpowers a number of other legendary Pokemon, the difference between Arceus and the three dragons of Sinnoh are never made clear enough to really appreciate that gap in power and majesty. Second, and I admit this is being somewhat unfair to the movie, it just does not live up to the bar set by Mewtwo Strikes Back. I revisit the first movie every time I review a Pokemon theatrical release because I believe it represents the pinnacle of the franchise and its ability to tell stories with a surprising degree of maturity and moral complexity.

That said, Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space still succeeds in showcasing through its story elements of human behavior that are both supportive and condemning of their place on the planet, albeit in a somewhat ham-fisted manner, and it provides a lot of information on the world of Pokemon that we had not previously seen, and this is probably the most fascinating part of the movie. Although the fourth movie starring Celebi gave us a view of the past where Poke Balls were hand-cranked devices, and the eighth movie starring Lucario showed us a time before the Poke Ball was even invented and Pokemon were controlled by humans like a general controls an army, Arceus’s movie goes back further still. Here, we learn that before they were known as Pocket Monsters they were called “magical creatures,” as if to imply that the relationship between man and Pokemon changed as technology progressed, though not necessarily for the worse, as the magical creatures of ancient times could be seen forcibly controlled by restrictive harnesses. That doesn’t exactly make up for not quite living up to the movie’s potential, but it does provide a lot of food for thought.

Overall, while it definitely could have been more, it was a mostly satisfying end to this trilogy. The next movie is bringing back Lugia, who’s had a 10-movie break, and will mark the first true theatrical appearance of Ho-oh. Ho-oh holds special significance in the Pokemon anime, as its appearance always signals great changes for Satoshi/Ash, so an entire movie featuring the Rainbow Pokemon almost feels like the end of an era.

Pokemon Reflects the Changing Times

The Pokemon anime is making the transition to digital broadcast in the coming months in Japan, and I think it more than anything else marks the beginning of the end for standard television.

The Pokemon anime is older than some of the kids who are fans of the show in the first place. It’s seen some of the most significant changes in animation and entertainment in our time. The anime started in 1998 with cel animation and a somewhat limited budget resulting in somewhat limited animation. As Pokemon reached international success, the show clearly improved, and by the time the 2000s rolled around it was starting to go into digital animation, eventually converting over completely. Along the way there’s been multiple movies done in both cel and digital, and now we have a new era upon us of widescreen, high-definition, digitally animated, digitally broadcasted Pokemon. And that’s not even talking about the basic changes in episode styles and themes that are the result of starting with a primarily Japanese audience and moving into an international one.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Very few anime can say they’ve seen the world change around them as it has with Pokemon.

Cool Down, You Damn Environmentalist Otaku! Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl & Platinum: Giratina and the Sky Bouquet

If you can believe it, we’re already at 11 Pokemon movies.

In a unique twist, the events of the previous movie have a direct effect on this one, and it looks to be setting up at least a trilogy. In Pokemon Trainer Satoshi’s previous 90-minute adventure, he was caught in the middle of a battle between Dialga, the Pokemon that controls time, and Palkia, the Pokemon that controls space. Unbeknownst to even these titans, their cataclysmic continuum clash (call me Stan Lee) had an unforeseen side effect.

There is a world connected to the real world, and actions in one effect the other. This Reversed World is the domain of the ghost/dragon pokemon Giratina. Just as Dialga rules time and Palkia rules space, Giratina is lord of the Reversed World, a disorienting dimension where is up is down 50% of the time  and crystals are windows into the real world. Also,  Giratina is pissed. Giratina, knowing full well that Dialga and Palkia are responsible for the extensive damage to its world, is looking for a fight. Giratina finds Dialga and drags the steel/dragon into the Reversed World for a one-on-one. Dialga, being the Time-ruling Pokemon that it is, creates a time loop which disables Giratina’s ability to travel freely between worlds. And through all this, the two pulled along an innocent bystander, the Pokemon Shaymin, who ends up escaping the Reversed World but is now very far from home.

Shaymin along with Manaphy (star of Movie 9) are like the Mews of this generation. Shaymin needs to get home, but unfortunately has a sense of direction on par with Yotsuba. Giratina wants Shaymin for unknown reasons (though Shaymin believes Giratina’s looking for a Shaymin Sandwich), and is still itching for a fight with Dialga. Satoshi and pals want to help Shaymin along. And also there’s a crazy scientist guy named Zero who has taken a page out of Gelarden’s handbook from Revelation Lugia and constructed a giant airship for the purpose of capturing Giratina. Also, the ship comes with a holographic girlfriend.

Man, otaku.

At some point the Pokemon franchise settled upon a rough formula for its movies, and this one is really no exception. I personally feel that this is one of the less good movies, certainly worse than its predecessor Dialga vs Palkia vs Darkrai. The villain’s motivations are vague, a lot of time is spent just promoting these new Pokemon and telling you to buy their toys, and I think about the only things I really enjoyed about the movie (other than its animation which is always solid) was that it leads into the 12th movie and part 3 of this series, some cameos by the male heroes of Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald and Diamond/Pearl/Platinum whom we rarely see, and the appearance of a certain other “Canadian” Pokemon.

I am fully aware of how dumb it sounds for me to be complaining about merchandising in a kids’ movie, especially a Pokemon movie of all things, but I’m not really taking issue with the merchandising aspect, more that it feels like they didn’t try to come up with a good plot or characters to go along with it. I also don’t like how the movie didn’t really do a good job of conveying Giratina’s power. Giratina is supposed to be on par with Dialga and Palkia yet never really does anything big. The power disparity isn’t as apparent as it was with Mewtwo vs Everything Else, and Giratina even ends up being captured by Zero.

It’s not a bad movie really, it’s just that I’ve seen the Pokemon franchise realize its potential before. Mewtwo Strikes Back had a deeply conflicted antagonist in Mewtwo, and Lord of the “Unknown” Tower didn’t even really have a villain and instead focused on a lonely little girl. Writers are capable of creating Pokemon stories that are greater than cash grabs (while still being cash grabs), and I’d just like to see that return to form.

If you haven’t seen the preview for the next movie, go see it. Titled Towards the Dimension Beyond*looks like we’re finally going to see the Pokemon who is God, and I for one cannot wait.

*This is what I’m calling the twelfth movie because Towards the Overcome’s Space-Time for 『超克の時空へ』 is a terrible translation.

PS I changed my translation once just because the original one wasn’t sitting right with me. Towards the Dimension Beyond is less literal but conveys the idea better.

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