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Some rambling thoughts on the early seasons of the anime

Red Knight

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I'm currently binging the Johto part of the anime after binging the Sinnoh, Kanto, and Orange Islands parts, just gonna share some meandering thoughts.

If you're wondering why I listed Sinnoh first, that's because I binged it first (kinda). I initally started looking into the Sinnoh part while doing research for a couple of Bulbapedia articles on a couple of the anime novelizations of that arc. I sought out the specific episodes those books were adapting, then after watching them I decided it would be fun to watch the whole Sinnoh arc. The "kinda" before was because I actually watched the first part of the Kanto arc a few months ago on Netflix (I think, don't feel like checking) with my nephew. After I finished with Sinnoh, I decided to pick up where I left off in Kanto, and now I'm planning on binging pretty much the entire anime, except maybe the movies.

On a tangetial note to that, I've been considering ranking the openings of each season. I feel like it's a bit premature to start it now while I'm still binging the whole series, and that feels like an endeavor best suited to, like, a retrospective look at the anime as a whole, one that I'd want to actually analyze in decent depth. But I guess I can give a quick and dirty ranking of what I think so far. I think the opening of Season 10 (Diamond and Pearl, "Diamond and Pearl") is my least favorite. I don't dislike it, but it was definitely one of the ones I skipped the most while I was binging. The other opening I skipped a whole lot was S2 (Adventures in the Orange Islands, "Pokémon World"). It's fine, but it's nothing to write home about. I think next is S11 (DP Battle Dimension, "We Will Be Heroes"). It's nice, but again, nothing to write home about. I skipped that one a good bit as well. After that it's a bit of a tossup between S4 (Johto League Champions, "Born to Be a Winner"), S12 (DP Galactic Battles, "Battle Cry - (Stand Up!)"), and S13 (DP Sinnoh League Victors, "We Will Carry On"). I didn't like the S4 intro at first, but it's started to grow on me. I do still have a couple gripes about it, though. "Battle Cry" is kinda funny to me because if you removed the very end of it you could easily pass it off as something by a Christian band. I don't like how the first version of the S12 intro has some of Ash's Pokémon chime in at the very end, so for that I would probably put that first version as the lowest of this little cluster, maybe even below S11. I don't really have a lot to say about the S13 intro right now. It's cool that so many Legendaries show up I guess? I think the current second place is S3 (The Johto Journeys, "Pokémon Johto"). It just hits the dopamine button for me. This, of course, leaves the classic S1 opening (Indigo League, "Pokémon Theme") in first. I think in a vacuum I might like the S3 intro better, but given that I also watched S1 a good bit as a kid on DVD, I also have a lot of nostalgia for that opening. Plus, it's a classic for a reason.

I just got to the episode where they finally reach Ecruteak City after 20 episodes. I'd heard about that infamously long trek, but watching it is something else. I mean, seriously. Ash and co. leave Goldenrod at the end of "Air Time!" (S4E3), then by the beginning of the next episode, "The Bug Stops Here", they are at the National Park. In the games, the National Park isn't that much more distant from Ecruteak as it is from Goldenrod; I'd estimate that the distance to Ecruteak is about 1.5x longer if you follow the routes. So going off of that, you might expect there to be one or two episodes of the trip from the National Park to Ecruteak. But no. They don't reach Ecruteak City until S4E24 ("A Ghost of a Chance").

The episodes in between are pretty solid episodes, but good grief, why are they all condensed in this one gigantic block? Hearing the narrator say they're on the way to Ecruteak City for the umpteenth time is tiring. If they'd just rearranged those episodes so that there were one or two before the National Park, then two or three after the National Park, then had the others interspersed as they were traveling back and forth between Ecruteak, Olivine, and Mahogany (I'd add Cianwood, but considering that the stretch between it and Olivine is ocean, most of those episodes wouldn't make much sense there), that would probably make the pacing of the show as a whole a lot better. At the very least, then the obnoxiously slow part of the anime would line up with the obnoxiously slow part of the games. Apparently Chikorita evolves into Bayleef at some point after arriving in Ecruteak (I went to the Bulbapedia page for S4 to look up the episode numbers and glimpsed it there but I don't want to spoil myself further), but a lot of the episodes in question wouldn't change that much with Bayleef instead of Chikorita.

One of the episodes that was part of that long trek was "The Apple Corp!" (S4E22), and it felt familiar to me when I was watching it. Then I remembered that we have an old little compilation thing of like, two or three episodes, one of which is "The Apple Corp!" (And by "old," I mean "I'm like 70% sure that compilation is on a VHS tape.")

Lastly, this isn't related to anything before, but whenever Pikachu calls out for Togepi, he says "Pipipi," and I think that's adorable.
 
I'm currently binging the Johto part of the anime after binging the Sinnoh, Kanto, and Orange Islands parts, just gonna share some meandering thoughts.

If you're wondering why I listed Sinnoh first, that's because I binged it first (kinda). I initally started looking into the Sinnoh part while doing research for a couple of Bulbapedia articles on a couple of the anime novelizations of that arc. I sought out the specific episodes those books were adapting, then after watching them I decided it would be fun to watch the whole Sinnoh arc. The "kinda" before was because I actually watched the first part of the Kanto arc a few months ago on Netflix (I think, don't feel like checking) with my nephew. After I finished with Sinnoh, I decided to pick up where I left off in Kanto, and now I'm planning on binging pretty much the entire anime, except maybe the movies.

On a tangetial note to that, I've been considering ranking the openings of each season. I feel like it's a bit premature to start it now while I'm still binging the whole series, and that feels like an endeavor best suited to, like, a retrospective look at the anime as a whole, one that I'd want to actually analyze in decent depth. But I guess I can give a quick and dirty ranking of what I think so far. I think the opening of Season 10 (Diamond and Pearl, "Diamond and Pearl") is my least favorite. I don't dislike it, but it was definitely one of the ones I skipped the most while I was binging. The other opening I skipped a whole lot was S2 (Adventures in the Orange Islands, "Pokémon World"). It's fine, but it's nothing to write home about. I think next is S11 (DP Battle Dimension, "We Will Be Heroes"). It's nice, but again, nothing to write home about. I skipped that one a good bit as well. After that it's a bit of a tossup between S4 (Johto League Champions, "Born to Be a Winner"), S12 (DP Galactic Battles, "Battle Cry - (Stand Up!)"), and S13 (DP Sinnoh League Victors, "We Will Carry On"). I didn't like the S4 intro at first, but it's started to grow on me. I do still have a couple gripes about it, though. "Battle Cry" is kinda funny to me because if you removed the very end of it you could easily pass it off as something by a Christian band. I don't like how the first version of the S12 intro has some of Ash's Pokémon chime in at the very end, so for that I would probably put that first version as the lowest of this little cluster, maybe even below S11. I don't really have a lot to say about the S13 intro right now. It's cool that so many Legendaries show up I guess? I think the current second place is S3 (The Johto Journeys, "Pokémon Johto"). It just hits the dopamine button for me. This, of course, leaves the classic S1 opening (Indigo League, "Pokémon Theme") in first. I think in a vacuum I might like the S3 intro better, but given that I also watched S1 a good bit as a kid on DVD, I also have a lot of nostalgia for that opening. Plus, it's a classic for a reason.

I just got to the episode where they finally reach Ecruteak City after 20 episodes. I'd heard about that infamously long trek, but watching it is something else. I mean, seriously. Ash and co. leave Goldenrod at the end of "Air Time!" (S4E3), then by the beginning of the next episode, "The Bug Stops Here", they are at the National Park. In the games, the National Park isn't that much more distant from Ecruteak as it is from Goldenrod; I'd estimate that the distance to Ecruteak is about 1.5x longer if you follow the routes. So going off of that, you might expect there to be one or two episodes of the trip from the National Park to Ecruteak. But no. They don't reach Ecruteak City until S4E24 ("A Ghost of a Chance").

The episodes in between are pretty solid episodes, but good grief, why are they all condensed in this one gigantic block? Hearing the narrator say they're on the way to Ecruteak City for the umpteenth time is tiring. If they'd just rearranged those episodes so that there were one or two before the National Park, then two or three after the National Park, then had the others interspersed as they were traveling back and forth between Ecruteak, Olivine, and Mahogany (I'd add Cianwood, but considering that the stretch between it and Olivine is ocean, most of those episodes wouldn't make much sense there), that would probably make the pacing of the show as a whole a lot better. At the very least, then the obnoxiously slow part of the anime would line up with the obnoxiously slow part of the games. Apparently Chikorita evolves into Bayleef at some point after arriving in Ecruteak (I went to the Bulbapedia page for S4 to look up the episode numbers and glimpsed it there but I don't want to spoil myself further), but a lot of the episodes in question wouldn't change that much with Bayleef instead of Chikorita.

One of the episodes that was part of that long trek was "The Apple Corp!" (S4E22), and it felt familiar to me when I was watching it. Then I remembered that we have an old little compilation thing of like, two or three episodes, one of which is "The Apple Corp!" (And by "old," I mean "I'm like 70% sure that compilation is on a VHS tape.")

Lastly, this isn't related to anything before, but whenever Pikachu calls out for Togepi, he says "Pipipi," and I think that's adorable.
Since you thought the DP Rap was the worst OP of the early seasons in English (like me), I'll be curious to see if you share my opinion on the latter (Stand Tall is my second worst of them all over the 25-year run, Season 19's): cool read, thanks for sharing it.
 
How would you rank the series between Kanto, Orange Islands, Johto (so far at least), and Sinnoh?
 
How would you rank the series between Kanto, Orange Islands, Johto (so far at least), and Sinnoh?
That's hard to say. I've kinda been busy with other stuff (mainly playing Indigo Disk) so I haven't been watching as much of the anime lately, so things aren't quite as fresh in my memory as they could be.
This got super long and rambly, but you probably wouldn't be here if you weren't at least somewhat interested in my rambling thoughts, so here we are.

I think in general, the Sinnoh seasons are my favorite. I like the dynamic between Ash, Dawn, and Brock better than the dynamic between Ash, Misty, and Brock, plus the Contests add a nice bit of variety. I really like how Ash and Brock, as seasoned adventurers, help Dawn along the beginning stages of her journey, plus the recurring side characters like Zoey and Paul are a lot of fun. I like how it's not afraid to get tonally dark, especially with the Hunter J and Team Galactic episodes.
I think my main gripe is the ending of the League arc. (Spoilers ahead for that, I imagine most people who are reading this are already somewhat familiar with it but just to be safe.) Tobias just feels like a cheap and unfair way to prevent Ash from winning the League after he completed his arc with Paul. Like, there was no way Ash was dethroning Cynthia, but he should have at least gotten a crack at the Elite Four. I think winning the League Tournament before getting wiped by the Elite Four would have been a way more satisfying way to convey the whole "he's come so far but he's still got a long way to go" thing I think they were going for, rather than just "oh there's this random really strong Trainer we somehow haven't heard about this whole time despite having beat all the Gyms with a fucking Darkrai and then he also has a Latios for some godforsaken reason." Though I will give the writers credit for at least having the decency to let Ash not get 6-0'd by Tobias like we hear everyone else who went up against him did. I could rant more about Tobias but ultimately I think he just stands out as the main sore spot of what is overall an excellent show.
I think they did a very good job with wrapping up Dawn and Brock's arcs, though. Dawn losing to Zoey at the Grand Festival finals by the slimmest of margins feels appropriate. Unlike Tobias coming out of fucking nowhere right at the end, Zoey is someone who's been established as a skilled Coordinator from the beginning, yet we see her grow parallel to Dawn even as she mentors her. And the razor thin margin between Zoey and Dawn in the finals feels like an excellent showcase of Dawn's skill while also giving her lots of room to grow, in an interesting and organic way. And it truly did feel like Dawn had a chance to win, but simply got outplayed. Zoey kind of feels like a parallel to Ritchie from Indigo League, except we have way more time to get to know and respect her as a Coordinator, rival, and mentor. Meanwhile, Brock's decision to become a Pokémon Doctor after the events on the ferry from Lily of the Valley to Twinleaf makes a lot of sense. He's been accumulating so much knowledge of Pokémon behavior and physiology in his experience as a Breeder, and is shown to be proficient in Pokémon first aid even before the incident. It feels like a natural progression of what he has been working towards the whole time.


Kanto gets a bump for the nostalgia, and some of the Early Installment Weirdness is quite interesting, but again, I just don't like the dynamic between the characters quite as much, though I do still like it. I do really like Ash in this one. He starts off inexperienced and naively overconfident, but even from the first episode we can see the embers of what makes Ash a protagonist worth cheering on: his compassion, his determination, his unwavering loyalty, his willingness to put his life on the line for his friends (if you can even call Pikachu his friend at that point, which honestly makes it even more impressive). And watching him develop as a person and as a Trainer is very compelling. And Brock coming along with Ash, both as a mentor to a promising new Trainer and to help him fulfill his own dreams of becoming a great Breeder, makes for a great dynamic. Misty's generally a bit acerbic for my taste here, and I probably wouldn't like her nearly as much if not for the nostalgia, but she is still a fun and interesting character; she initially only accompanies Ash because she wants him to pay him back for her bike, but along the way she grows to like him as a friend. Misty and Brock don't really get huge arcs in this series, which is fine, especially for Brock, since he's the steady mentor character, and it does make sense for Ash to be the main focus of the first season, but I do like having multiple character arcs to follow.
I also think the ending is very suitable for the first season. (Again, spoilers, just in case. Also there's a really embarrassing personal story in here so if you get a lot of secondhand embarrassment proceed with caution.) I think having Ash lose his first big tournament, especially in such an undignified and humiliating way as Charizard being uncooperative, is a great way to put Ash's dedication to his chosen craft to the test, and to show that for all he's done to grow as a Trainer thus far, he still has a long, long way to go. I also like Ritchie as the person he loses to: someone he didn't know before the League Conference but quickly grew to befriend, and someone who went to bat for him when he was delayed by Team Rocket's antics. (Which I would say were just as much a factor in Ash's loss as his mistake in thinking he was ready to fight with a Charizard that didn't respect or listen to him; that whole giant chase was massively exhausting for him and his Pokémon, especially Pikachu. That fatigue was likely a factor in his rash decision to send out Charizard too, a decision he only made because he felt his back was against the wall because of how exhausted Pikachu was.) You could say that Team Rocket's interference kind of cheapens his loss here because of the unfair external interference, but I think it's a very interesting way to tackle a season finale and to test Ash's skill and composure. I know I lampooned the unfairness of Tobias coming out of nowhere at the Sinnoh League Conference, but this is a completely different and much more relatable brand of unfairness. It's not like Ash rams into a brick wall that pops out of the ground because Ritchie's packing, like, a Mew and a Zapdos, it's him getting screwed over by unfortunate circumstances that sideline him from his goals.
And going back to how Ash responds to his loss, I think that's really well done too. Of course he'd be super demoralized by such an embarrassing loss, especially after his prior upsets setting him up for such a hard fall. For me, it brings to mind a personal story. So my elementary school did a spelling bee, and I participated in it in second grade and made it pretty high. I was selected as one of the top 10 in my grade and made it to, like, 3rd or 4th place in my grade after quite a few rounds. Then, in third grade, I entered again and made it to the top 10 again. And then, when I got on stage for the spelling bee proper, I got out in the first round because I got "debt" and my brain just completely froze up with stage fright and I spelled it "det." Needless to say, I was mortified. (I still cringe a little at it when I think back to it.) I took the walk of shame off the stage and into the chairs off to the side where the eliminated contestants sat, and started crying. I don't remember exactly when, but at some point I left the gymnasium (which is where the stage was) and went into the stairwell nearby to wallow in my shame and misery and tears. Eventually my mom came in to comfort and reassure me. I don't remember exactly what she told me, but it was something to the effect of "we all make silly mistakes, you did your best and I'm proud of you for trying." I see a lot of similarities between 9-year-old me curled up in a stairwell and 11-year-old Ash locking himself in his room. (Presumably 11, anyway, since according to the English dub of EP63 "Battle of the Badge", it had been a year since Ash and Pikachu were last in Viridian City, and this was after that.) Of course, to Ash, this was much more to him than a silly school spelling bee, this was his life's dream, dashed because of two obnoxious people (Jessie and James) and two obnoxious Pokémon (Meowth and Charizard). Yet after some time and talk, he decided to carry on in spite of his crushing defeat. Which is very suitable. And he at least gets the consolation of having placed higher than Gary.


Orange Islands just feels so unique. The Orange League is very different to the Indigo League and any other League we see in the mainline regions, and it's wonderful. The Gym challenges are made the whole point, made to test the skills of and bonds between Pokémon and Trainer in unconventional ways: the mastery over water expected from Cissy's trial, the mastery of self and ability to work with and organize Pokémon of Danny's trial (though why aren't challengers climbing the mountain given any safety equipment, that sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen, even with how much more durable humans seem to be in the Pokémon world), the precision and unique battle restrictions of Rudy's trial, and the Double Battles years before they were officially a thing of Luana's trial. (I'm curious to see if the Advanced series will reference this.) Plus, Ash regaining the trust of his Charizard is awesome to see, and Ash getting a hard-earned victory against Drake after the bitter disappointment of the Indigo League is wonderfully cathartic. (Why did the dub call Lorelei "Prima" and obscure her role as one of the Kanto Elite 4, though?) Also, Tracey is a fun addition to the cast.

So far Johto mostly feels a lot like Kanto, but way slower. (No wonder they added Contests to the show, they make the time between Gyms feel a lot less empty.) They're definitely leaning more into making Ash's Pokémon quirkier, which I do like. And I would say the individual episodes are overall better than Kanto. But the pacing of the show as a whole is a bit wonky. S3 is fine, but S4 is just soooooo slooooooooow. Why does it take 20 damn episodes to get from the National Park to Ecruteak City? (I still can't get over that.) Then again, the slow, wonky pacing is pretty faithful to the pacing of GSC. (Ash's trek to Ecruteak is a lot more interesting than fighting 69 underleveled Rocket Grunts, that's for sure.) The episode I watched most recently was EP191 "The Dunsparce Deception". This is also the season where not having more major characters with proper, compelling arcs besides Ash really starts to weigh things down; that's probably a big reason for the slow pacing, they have to fill all this space just with either stuff for Ash or filler.

I don't really know if I can give a good ranking of each individual season. (Partially because it's late and I'm tired.) That might be something I do once I finish the series, or at least the series up to the end of Journeys.
 
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