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What are some times where the "power of friendship" shtick was used unironically very well in the anime?

AndreskX

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It's been customary for us fans of this show to roll our eyes every time the main conflict of an episode is resolved through the power of friendship, or the good guys learning to "believe" in themselves. I spent much of the last year making my way through most of Journeys, and I consistently found myself to be underwhelmed. It wasn't terrible, it just felt... bland a lot of the time. People often use the label of "kids show" as a way to denigrate something, and while I do think it's possible for a kid's show to be nuanced and emotionally substantive (ATLA and Clone Wars come to mind), I think what they mean is that the show's writing lacks a sense of emotional conflict and/or stakes that you'd expect most half-decent shows to have.

The way I would describe it is this: Journeys feels like it has the same type of bland and lifeless conflict that often plagued the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The characters are way too friendly to each other (nothing like the snark and bickering between Ash and Misty, for example), with the possible exception of Chloe in the first few dozen episodes, before she softened up and consequently becomes just like every other character. The conflicts are often largely the product of some outside force that gets resolved pretty easily. Even the villains come across as milquetoast and unthreatening, like that one hunter in the Project Mew episode about Volcarona who felt like a pale imitation of J.

There was one moment I really loved, however. It was the episode that featured the return of Infernape. Ash, Goh, and Gary are looking for Infernape, and when they find him, Infernape leaps down and gives Ash a big hug for several seconds. That shot filled me with a sense of warmth that I think the rest of the show was trying (and mostly failing, at least for me) to communicate whenever it showed people/Pokemon being friendly and kind to one another.

After seeing that shot, I remember being slightly taken aback by myself, thinking, "isn't this the sort of of generic friendliness that everyone shows to each other in this series?" And it's true. If I hadn't seen the DP anime at all, that moment would've had about as much impact on me as the Karate Master telling Ash and Bea that they can fight in his dojo (regardless of how much damage they do to the place), or any of the other countless "characters are really friendly to each other" generic moments that I've largely forgotten of by now.

But context matters. When Infernape reunited with Ash and gave him a big hug, it may have just been a generic "Pokemon are friendly" moment in the series, but within the wider context of the show, he's still grateful to Ash for helping him deal with the abuse and trauma that he faced under Paul, and how Ash's tutelage and guidance allowed him to get where he was then.

So what are some times where the "power of friendship" shtick was used unironically very well in the anime?

I think Paul is a great example. Everyone rightfully thinks of Paul as a great rival, and I think the reason why he works so well is that he's essentially a stress test for Ash's idealism and optimism (kinda like how the Dominion served as a stress test for the Federation's ideals in Deep Space Nine). When Sinnoh Ash acts in the name of the show's ideals of friendship and trust and belief in oneself, it actually means something to the audience because he's going up against someone who's challenging those ideals; someone who thinks that he is pathetic for believing in the power of friendship with his Pokemon.

Even many of the little moments of the Diamond & Pearl anime, like Ash sending out Chimchar to do some mundane task and Chimchar agreeing enthusiastically, mean a lot more than they would in a vacuum since the antagonists of the series (not just Paul, but also the villains like Cyrus and J and whatnot) constantly remind the audience that Ash and Dawn are not living in some fantasy bubble where everyone will get along, and that they won't achieve their goals without much interpersonal conflict or pushback from the larger outside world.

The Sinnoh anime probably has just as much "power of friendship" messaging as Journeys, but it works better in Sinnoh because the larger narrative is constantly reminding you that the degree of camaraderie that the main characters have for one another is something that they constantly have to work for in order to attain.

What do you guys think? And what are some times when the show really hammered home the importance of friendship, or the importance of believing in yourself, but the messaging unironically got through to you when you were watching?
 
Maybe not throwing out the message of the power of friendship, but I really enjoyed the montage of all of Ash's Pokémon appearing in Pikachu's mindscape after being knocked down by Leon's Charizard. It really showed who was rooting for them to win. And it wasn't entirely like it was a cop out to let Ash win. Pikachu did go unconscious after landing the final blow on Charizard.
 
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