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The Pokémon anime franchise is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a trip back to the past with the newest movie Pokémon the Movie 20: I Choose You! But, this movie isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s a complete remake—and it’s better for it.
In the film, Ash Ketchum has just turned 10-years-old; the age children can begin their journey to become Pokémon trainers. But, Ash is late to receive his first Pokémon from the local Pokémon Professor, Professor Oak. Luckily, Professor Oak has one extra Pokémon for Ash, an ornery Pikachu. Through trials and tribulations Ash and Pikachu are able to become good friends and embark on a journey to find the legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh.
When the first promo’s, teasers, and previews of I Choose You! were released, it was clear the movie would be returning to its origins when Ash and Pikachu first met. It’s a very solid idea considering with 20 years under the franchises belt there’s a swath of children who may not know the beginnings of Ash and Pikachu’s long journey and friendship. At the same time it’s a great way for parents to share a memory with their children. But, the movie doesn’t quiet go in the direction of pure nostalgia or a reboot. Instead it takes many of the core elements of the original episodes of the anime series and retools them into a new and exciting story.
So, what exactly are these core elements? On a very broad scale it’s the bond between Pokémon and their trainers. On a smaller scale it’s the iconic scene when Ash and Pikachu see the regal Pokémon Ho-Oh fly through a rainbow at the end of the first episode. This means, while some of the most memorable scenes from the early Pokémon series are incorporated into the movie, it focuses heavily on Ash developing a bond with his Pokémon and his journey to find Ho-Oh. For instance, about half way into the movie Ash is in a Pokémon battle with his rival named Cross.
In the battle we see how Cross values strength in his Pokémon and any he perceives as weak he discards. This is the antithesis of Ash’s creed of becoming friends with his Pokémon. While this sets up Cross as an antagonist, the movie is actually showing us how the bond of friendship is more powerful than anything else. In other words, it’s reconfirming why we want to keep watching Ash develop and grow as a character and trainer. This is the most important thing for Pokémon because without it we don’t have the drama that arises between Ash and his Pokémon; we need to see Ash grow as person as his Pokémon become stronger and an integral part of his life.
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The character drama also fuses nicely with the overarching narrative of finding Ho-Oh as well. It’s not enough for Ash to train strong Pokémon, but he needs that bond to even be able to find Ho-Oh. This hearkens back to the imagery of the first episode of Pokémon, but with a slight twist on the event: Rather than just seeing Ho-Oh, Ash receives a rainbow colored feather from it.
While at first it seems like random chance Ash gets the feather, as the movie progresses we find out only a select few people Ho-Oh deems worthy receives one. This all leads back to the core of Ash’s—and the Pokémon anime franchise’s—philosophy: the bond between friends.
Image source: ポケモン公式YouTubeチャンネル on YouTube
Remember, the first episode of the anime series, which is retold in the opening act of I Choose You!, features Ash protecting Pikachu from a swam of the Pokémon Spearow. But, in an act of desperation Pikachu uses his last bit of energy to save Ash. It’s this act of sacrifice on both Ash and Pikachu’s part that creates a bond between them. But, the movie expands on this scene by presenting Ash with the feather.
This one retooling of an iconic image adds a new layer of depth to what older fans have loved for years in that it gives Ash a concrete journey for the film, and adds onto the Pokémon philosophy. So, when the movies story doesn’t progress in the way we remember from the anime series, we can easily for give it because we want more of Ash bonding with his Pokémon, especially Pikachu.
I Choose You! is by no means a retelling of the first 12 or so episodes of the Pokémon anime series. It’s a wholly new experience with some of the story beats, imagery, and dialog from those episodes. And because it’s new, it gives everyone a chance to enjoy this movie—even if you haven’t watched the anime series in years.
Pokémon the Movie 20: I Choose You! was released in Japan on July 15, 2017. There is currently no information on a Western release.