Sometimes, when I’m writing a post on a certain subject, another post idea pops into my head mid-stream, and I have to write it down before I lose it. While writing my post about how hard it is to say goodbye to your favorite TV and book characters sometimes, I alluded to the fact that I had re-watched several seasons of the Pokémon anime, which I had watched in my younger days. Then I remembered that I had done the same with other shows from my childhood, and enjoyed doing so. In some of them, I’d found extra layers to the story, while others were just fun to experience again with an adult perspective. So I decided to do a series of posts on the kids’ shows I’ve most enjoyed re-watching. I’ll kick it off with Pokémon, since I’ve already talked about it some.
The thing about kids’ shows is that they’re rarely excellent. Like I said before, they’re not going to make you think very hard or reexamine the way you look at life, like the series I alluded to in my favorite shows posts. They have some rather obvious strengths and weaknesses. And that’s the form these posts will take; I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each show (which may force me to reveal some spoilers… you were warned). For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Pokémon follows the journey of Ash Ketchum, who journeys through several regions of the Pokémon video game universe. His journey resembles the journey the player makes in the game. Ash sets out to catch and train several different kinds of creatures (or Pokémon) to battle in several different competitions, with his goal to be the greatest Pokémon trainer of all time. Ash usually travels with a few companions as well. For the purposes of this post, I will cover the first five seasons of the series, which are the ones my generation of Pokémon fans are most familiar with (the Indigo League, Orange League, and Johto seasons).
Many of the characters are dynamic. Pokémon is unique among children’s shows in that many of the characters grow and change throughout the show’s tenure. They are also fairly easy to relate to. In the first episode of the series, Ash is 10 years old. While we’re never sure if he actually ages in the show, since his age is never discussed again, he definitely matures as the show goes on. While he is always fairly good-natured and honest, he has a brash, hypercompetitive edge that sometimes causes him to charge into situations with guns blazing without looking before he leaps. But as the show goes on, he becomes much better at thinking through his actions, and his competitive edge softens. He also becomes much more of an out-of-the-box thinker, which helps him win several critical matches.
Ash’s traveling companion Misty and archrival Gary also are examples of this. Misty is probably my favorite character on the show, because she is able to show her competitive and ambitious nature without sacrificing her femininity. While she is sweet and caring, she has a hot temper and often bickers with Ash, but that softens too as the show goes on, and she becomes one of Ash’s closest friends. Gary starts out as an arrogant and boastful jerk who always has cheerleaders following him, but after he loses a match in the Indigo League tournament, becomes a much more humble and likable character. At the end of the Johto arc of the show, he decides to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a Pokémon researcher.
The show follows a serial format. Unlike many kids shows, in which each episode more or less stands alone, Pokémon is rather serialized, with each episode taking place within a larger story arc. While each episode stands on its own fairly well, I like that it weaves all the different episodes together into one story of Ash’s journey to become a Pokémon master.
The protagonist doesn’t always win. In many kids shows, a happy ending is mandatory. Everything has to be tied up with a neat little bow at the end of every episode in order to avoid traumatizing the target audience. While this is still mostly true in Pokémon, it’s not always the case. Ash doesn’t win every single Pokémon battle he wages, and while he does well in the league tournaments he enters, he does not win the Indigo or Johto Leagues. I like this element, because it keeps the battles suspenseful (I personally was on the edge of my seat during the Johto League battles), and keeps the plot a little less predictable. I think it also provides a good lesson for kids, showing that things don’t always go as planned, and responding to these situations with a resilient and positive attitude will help you go far in life.
Some interesting subcultures have developed around the show. One of the most popular is the various “ships,” or theories of romantic links between the characters in the show. One of the most prominent of these is PokéShipping, which is a subset of fans that believe Ash & Misty belong in a relationship. Some PokéShippers have even written fan fiction that centers around this idea. I was a PokéShipper when I was younger, with the hopeless romantic in me believing that Ash & Misty belonged together. Other “ships” have developed in the fandom as the series has gone on, including AdvanceShipping, PearlShipping, and AmourShipping.
Team Rocket gets annoying after awhile. Team Rocket is a mafia-like criminal organization within the world of Pokémon, and they make an appearance in the anime in the form of the trio of Jessie, James, & Meowth. They appear in almost every episode, constantly trying to steal Ash’s Pikachu, which they believe is endowed with special powers. They appear in every single episode, constantly interrupting Ash’s adventures and never succeeding. The whole thing starts to play out like a broken record after a while, and I wished that the writers had spaced out their appearances better. Team Rocket does occasionally end up working with Ash, like in this episode , so that mixes things up a bit.
The plots can get repetitive. This is another pitfall of kids’ shows. They’re often made with simple and repetitive plots because of the characteristics of their target audience. Pokémon falls into this trap at times, mostly due to the inordinately large number of episodes in each season. The writers can only come up with so many creative plots at a time, and the quality sometimes suffers as a result. There are some interesting side plots, though, such as Pokémon Chronicles, a series that aired in 2006 and focused on some of the secondary characters that Ash meets in his travels, with Ash himself making only cameo appearances.