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Monday, November 18, 2013

REVIEW: Pokemon Origins: Episode 1

By Dave Bouressa

As a child in the 1990's nothing hit quite as hard as the Pokemon phenomenon. From the card games, to the video games, to the TV series, some could say that it was this generations 'Star Wars' in regards to it's instant popularity. It got to the point where schools were banning Pokemon cards because kids were getting mugged for them.

Regarding the media of Pokemon, there were two main outlets. The "Red" and "Blue" version Gameboy games and the anime series. While the series was much more child friendly, showing us the adventures of Ash Ketchum and his Pikachu (which the later "Yellow" version was later based off of), the game was much more based on the player and his (or her) personal adventures through the Kanto Region. 16 years, 19 games, and 567 Pokemon later, Nintendo has decided to go back to its roots and pay homage to where it all began with a brand new mini-series: Pokemon Origins. The Japanese version of the 4-part mini-series has been out for some time, but the English dub was only released a few days ago.

(If you want to avoid spoilers before watching the episode, scroll to the bottom)

The story starts out with Professor Oak giving us the "Welcome to the world of Pokemon" speech, taking us right into climactic battle between Gengar and Nidorino from the opening cutscene of the game. We are then introduced to Red, who is eager to start his Pokemon journey. We immediately run into his rival Blue. It is interesting that they decided to change Blue's name, but not the color of his vest from green to blue, given that the character's name in Japan is Green-in Japan, there were 3 games-Red, Blue, and Green. Red made it overseas as is, but the Japanese Green became the American Blue, and the Japanese Blue never made it overseas. Regardless, even viewers unfamiliar with the history of Pokemon are able to learn fairly quickly that Blue is Red's childhood rival.

We are then shown perhaps the most difficult choice of anyone who has played Pokemon: choosing their "starter" Pokemon. Red goes with Charmander-the fire Pokemon, while Blue (being the son-of-a-bitch that he is) goes with Squirtle-the water Pokemon. 

Red then begins his adventure, hitting all of the points that every new player in the games experiences at the beginning of the game, from catching basic Pokemon like Pidgey and Rattata, to fighting "Youngsters" and attempting to capture their Pokemon, until meeting up with Blue for a Pokemon battle along the way to Viridian City.

Here is where the original anime and this series differ. While the original series was much more "cartoony",  the battles were still exciting and were fun to watch. Pokemon Origins gives the viewer the much more serious tone of battling, with movements and attacks that look much more real, and almost give the fight a "dogfighting" kind of feel, which is how we felt playing those games. To us, it was real.

After Red mercilessly gets his butt kicked, he receives some advice from a currently unnamed Brock, who had been watching the battle from afar. After a quick visit to the Pokemon Center, Red makes his way to the Pewter City gym, facing Brock and his infamous duo of Geodude and Onix. 

Anyone who has played the original Red and Blue games can tell you that Brock is one heck of a challenge to beat if you've selected Charmander as your starter because, as Brock explains, fire type Pokemon are weak against Rock type. This series is no exception as Red's Pokemon get knocked out one-by-one by Onix, literally going through a Nidoran, a Spearow, a Rattata, and a Metapod all in less than 60 seconds. Due to a lucky Stringshot attack from Metapod (and Red discovering that Pokemon aren't just tools to fight, but partners), Charmander is able to take out Onix, resulting in Red winning TM34 (Bide) and the Boulder Badge, sending Red on his way to become Pokemon Champion.

In short, this made me feel like it was 1998 all over again. This series made me feel like I was truly in the Pokemon universe in ways the original anime could not. What truly sells it is the fact that many of the gimmicks from the original series are taken out. For example, Pokemon no longer say their names. It makes the Pokemon feel much more like "creatures" as opposed to "characters". Secondly, the battles are much more real. When Squirtle uses Bite on Charmander, you can see the pain on Charmander's face, and hear it in his screams. This makes the stakes much higher, and adds a much more emotional connection to the Pokemon. It also loses the "Gotta Catch 'em all" tagline. Of course, filing the Pokedex is a priority, but it isn't pounded into you as a marketing catchphrase. 

This is what Pokemon should have been, and it truly is a shame that Pokemon Origins is only a four episode series. For years, no medium has been able to fully replicate the emotional connection that the original games had up until the fairly released "X" and "Y" games, which are the closest things players have ever come to reliving that nostalgia (which is why the majority of X and Y players are in their young to mid 20's). However, if you truly want to relive the moments of Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, and can't find that old Gameboy color buried deep within the attic, sit back and enjoy Pokemon Origins.

Be sure to check back for our review of Pokemon Origins: Episode 2.

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