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How the Pokémon Anime Changed the Games

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The differences between the Pokémon games and its subsequent anime series have been scrutinized by every fan since the TV series hit our screens in 1997. Following Ash Ketchum around Kanto was certainly less sinister than the games would have intended, especially when the Pokémon themselves have been humanized beyond their often tragic Pokédex entries. While the anime emanates a cutesy parallel to the games, it’s often ignored how the games have occasionally been influenced by the TV show instead.

Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee are to become the latest series of Pokémon games released by Nintendo, in a return to Kanto with some interesting new mechanics that have the fandom intrigued, to say the least. It’s no secret that these games were heavily inspired by Pokémon Yellow, a game that saw the dollar signs when the anime proved popular.

pokémon animé

The original Pokémon anime with all the starter Pokémon

The differences between Yellow and its predecessors were few and far between. The anime already followed a similar journey to that of Red and Blue; the road to the Indigo Plateau, largely a case of déjà vu. The major difference was the storyline made a few stops on the way so the player could emulate Ash Ketchum and obtain all three starter Pokémon, as well as send Jessie and James blasting off again at the turn of Mount Moon.

This is perhaps a rationale for how the games inspired the anime, but the reverse runs much deeper. The pulse that keeps the franchise still beating was born in the anime itself and has since flourished into the games with a swift thunderbolt. A surge that can be attributed to the idolization of a particular Pokémon, one whose appearance and characteristics have changed dramatically since the origins of the franchise. That Pokémon is, of course, Pikachu.

pikachu red and blue

The original Pikachu sprite

An electric mouse that’s been redesigned continuously to appeal to a younger audience, Pikachu has become much more influential than the franchise itself. Pikachu is one of those rare characters that became more well known than the series they were nurtured in, a recognition that the games weren’t going to ignore. Consequently, the games now use Pikachu’s voice from the anime rather than its original cry, quite an unfortunate deviation to anybody that began their adventure in Red and Blue.

A change in intonation is perhaps a small price to pay to maintain the momentum generated from everybody’s favorite electric mouse. The ramifications are far greater, however, and it’s no surprise that the first casualty was close to Pikachu itself. These days, a trainer often has a choice between a Light Ball or a Thunder Stone, a decision that wouldn’t have existed prior to Pikachu’s influence upon the franchise. Due to the Light Ball boosting the stats of Pikachu, Raichu became the first Pokémon that was less competitive than its previous evolution.

With Pikachu’s shadow leaving Raichu in unforetold darkness, there has been an attempt to revitalize Raichu, with minimal success. Pokémon Sun and Moon introduced a rather delightful Alolan form that had Raichu part Psychic type, and while reasonably competitive, it still managed to be somewhat overshadowed by Pikachu’s new Z-moves – Catastropika and 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt. The Sun and Moon anime even showcased the latter Z-move with Pikachu taking Ash’s hat to perform it to great effect, while Alolan Raichu’s appearance in the anime has been underwhelming by comparison.

pokémon animé

The Sun and Moon anime

That said, there has been a desire to replicate the success of Pikachu with other Pokémon. Each generation has a standard electric rodent vying to be its generation’s Pikachu. It’s remarkable how Pikachu can inspire the creation of many new Pokémon and plot the downfall of its evolution all at the same time. It’s this combination of adoration and acrimony that influenced the creation of Mimikyu – itself a caricature of Pokémon’s self-deprecation.

A situation more divisive than marmite, Pokémon Let’s Go will likely be a decision based on the player’s perception of Pikachu itself; those that follow Mimikyu’s disdain for Pikachu will likely take Gary Oak’s path and find themselves with an Eevee instead. While this may seem dramatic, and it is, the animes’ more childish undertones have altered the course of direction for the games. The high point in the Pokémon series remains Gold and Silver, and with the anime currently undergoing a tragedy of its own in the Sun and Moon series, perhaps it’s a good opportunity to let the animes’ influence on the games wane.

Lost his ticket on the 'Number 9' Luxury Express Train to the Ninth Underworld. Has been left to write articles and reviews about games to write off his debt until the 'powers that be' feel it is sufficiently paid.

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Anime Ichiban 22: Those That Make History

Some shows just “have it”.

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anime of the decade

It’s the last Anime Ichiban episode of the decade which means it’s time for a little something special! Join the crew as they take a trip down memory lane and pick apart what made some of the most influential anime of the decade so impactful.

TIMESTAMPS
17:21 – Update on 2020 Olympic Gundam space launch
22:44 – Yoshiyuki Tomimo and Rumiko Takahashi recognized with government Cultural Honor award
25:48 – Global anime market growth
32:08 – New Retro Crush streaming service
36:26 – SHITSUMON! What are some of the most influential anime of the decade and why were they so?

TRACKS
Intro – “crossing field” by LiSA (Sword Art Online opening theme)
Outro – “Holy night’s Dong” by Tai no Kobone

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The Historical Comedic Mechanics that Make ‘KonoSuba’ a Great Fantasy Comedy

A deep dive into Japanese and Western comedic heritage and humor.

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The Konosuba: Legend of Crimson movie made its North American premiere on November 12th. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at why Konosuba is such a great comedy series on a character-writing level in the context of Japanese and Western comedic history.

Anime is a wondrous and varied medium, but the plague of generic European fantasy world “isekai” every season would make an onlooker think otherwise. Isekai stories revolve around characters entering another world from their own. Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Fionavar Tapestry could all be considered isekai. The glut of anime isekai in recent years—where protagonists invariably travel from the modern day to some Tolkienesque or Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy world—has spawned its own permanent subgenre of self-aware parody and satires, of which Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This World is a part. Yet Konosuba is notable because it is also an exceptional anime comedy.

Dying from the stress of trying to save a schoolgirl he mistakenly thought needed rescuing, teenage hermit Kazuma Satou arrives in purgatory having done nothing with his life. The goddess Aqua gives him the choice to start life over in another world as long as he defeats the great evil sweeping the land. She offers him a gift to help him of which Kazuma chooses to take Aqua along.

Unfortunately for Kazuma, Aqua is both spoilt and a moron. He spends most of his time rescuing her from the mouths of giant, man-eating toads and other mishaps. His other companions aren’t useful either: the sorceress Megumin has specialized only in explosion magic, while Darkness is a highly skilled swordswoman but prefers to be hit by the enemy out of masochistic tendencies. They are a truly terrible company of heroes, and hilarious to watch.

To explain why Konosuba is brilliant beyond its amusing premise, passionate performances, or clever dialogue, however, we must ironically get serious about the mechanics of comedy.

Konosuba Aqua and frog

Comedic Conflicts

Comedy is extremely subjective. The cultural nuances, sensibilities, and idiomatic expressions mean that not all comedy is universal—“American joke” is a derisive term amongst Japanese people for a failed and incomprehensible joke, for example—but certainly some elements do translate enough to make some general commentary on it.

Comedy is born of conflict, flaws, and suffering. Prominent Western comedies such as Blackadder, Frasier, and Parks and Recreation all share a few things in common. Firstly, the opposing personalities produce a strong and constant source of fundamental interpersonal conflict between them that can be mined continuously. This is absolutely the case for Konosuba; Aqua’s gullible and stupid nature contrasts Kazuma’s tactical deviousness, and their dynamic produces scenes such as him using her as bait to lure in crocodiles while she wails. It is a rich well of comedy.

Secondly, a character’s personality flaws are what bring about their downfall in a scenario. All four of the main characters manage, in their own ways, to make any given problem worse, and they invariably descend into further debt.

Finally, the overall situation they are in is an obstacle to the fulfillment of their desires. Kazuma desires peace and to laze about at home, but he keeps being sent on kingdom-saving missions. Within those missions, his personality directs his actions and were Kazuma able to lounge about uninterrupted forever, there would be no series.

These three elements roughly make up the basis of all so-called “character-based humor”. The versatility that it provides can be traced back through Eurocentric Western comedy for centuries if not millennia. Plautus’ comedies performed between 205 and 184 B.C. frequently revolved around class obligations. All of Shakespeare’s and Molière’s comedies endure because they concern both character dilemmas forced upon them by society and pettier conflicts with and manipulations of one another (allowing for salient observations of humanity). Even early silent slapstick films of the 1920s and 30s physically built up characters and their dynamics in order to motivate the pratfalls and slip-ups.

Konosuba Kazuma is shocked.

Japanese comedy independently arrived at these principles of character-based humor as well, but has tended towards reducing these concepts down to smaller scales and acting within distinct roles in live performance. In this way, the flawed characters are more boxed in by the parameters set by their role. This is where anime comedies like Konosuba differ in their sensibilities, owing to the long history of Japanese comedy being performed in this way.

Manzai” might be the most enduring; it originated in the Kansai region during the Heian period (794 – 1185). The style features a double act with one person in the “boke” idiot role, while the intelligent “tsukkomi” comments and challenges them as a comedic “straight man”. Think Abbott and Costello. With the advent of television, the broader array of “owarai” (meaning “laugh”) comedy has given rise to “reaction” comedy, where, as the name suggests, the physical and verbal reaction to a situation is the focus and joke, frequently conveyed through exaggerated facial expressions and noises.

This is not to say that Konosuba, or any comedic anime, is a direct synthesis of traditional Japanese comedic art-forms, but that heritage has clearly filtered through to the sensibilities of anime comedies. The most common joke across anime is a sharp cutaway to the straight man protagonist’s exasperation and bewilderment at the bizarre actions of his compatriots. This copies manzai and “reaction” comedy. Konosuba is rife with these types of jokes and the limited and deformed animation by Studio Deen accentuates their impact. Konosuba’s real cleverness, however, is the way it uses role-based humor as part of its comedic repertoire and avoids the pitfalls often associated with it.

Comedy Roles in Anime

As said earlier, Japanese comedy heavily favors role-based characters as the source of character humor for many centuries. This is frequently evident in anime comedies and sometimes this works to hilarious results. D-Frag, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Nichijou, and Tanaka-kun is Always Listless have characters with very defined roles they occupy in jokes on the basis of their personalities (that long list is there as suggestions for viewing). What they can, therefore, do comedically is limited by the role they play, becoming a subset of specialized characters with flaws.

Where this practically differs from simply being a character with comedic flaws is the limits the role sets with the type of joke being able to be told with that character. While a purely “flaw-based” character means that the output and outcome of a conflict will be foreseeable for a particular character as a result of their flaws in a certain scenario, role-based humor additionally limits the possible input and stimulus for the joke in the first place. Practically, characters evolving from role-based humor will only be used for certain kinds of jokes and will only ever take certain kinds of actions. Their responses are not tailored to the situation. The situation has to be more tailored to them.

Nozakii-kun Seo inflicts pain on everyone around her.

In something like the anime series Grand Blue Dreaming and Kaguya-sama: Love is War, or say, the sitcom Friends, the audience knows how the characters will respond to and behave in a situation, but you could give them a simple dilemma and each would be able to carry on on the basis of their flaws and be funny.

A more role-based character would need a particular problem and sparring partner to find that same comedic value. For example, Seo from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun will always be completely oblivious and unintentionally confrontational in response to a situation, so she is only ever used for those sorts of jokes, like angering somebody with something she says, or placed in a situation to be boisterous with her opposite, the jittery Wakamatsu. There is absolutely crossover between these two forms of character creation, and a well-written “role-based” character is nearly indistinguishable from a “flaws-based character”, but they are still slightly different in execution.

Where a lot of anime comedy falls flat then, at least to foreign audiences, is that the characters are identified less by their personalities, but rather exclusively by the role they play. At its worst, they become one-note and one-joke characters, repeated over and over to diminishing returns, as there is a lack of tension because the scenarios always have the exact same result. Certainly, all characters in all comedy, or even all fiction, have roles in the stories and conflicts, but there is a difference between characters having personality traits and being defined by their archetypal role. When there is a problem with a role-based character, and the series hinges on them and role-based humor, there is little way of alleviating the problem without changing the character entirely.

Konosuba avoids this issue with character roles because all the characters’ personalities contrast the expected demeanors of the fantasy class roles they occupy. Aqua is an all-powerful god and yet she is a needy moron. Megumin is an “Arch Wizard” mage and should reasonably be proficient across various types of magic, but instead she is so hyper-specialized that she’s rendered nearly useless after a single, uncontrolled spell. Darkness is outwardly a refined and noble crusader as one would expect from a powerful knight, but her penchant for flagellation and depraved fantasies always threatens to expose itself.

Konosuba Aqua questions Kazuma's plans.

The juxtaposition of character role and flawed personality helps set the absurdist tone and is the foundation for reaction comedy when paired with the cynical and conniving comedic straight man in Kazuma. However, that gap between the ideal and reality also leads to personal amelioration for the characters. Darkness feels obligated to uphold her family’s honor and embracing her fetishes becomes a mode for self-acceptance. Megumin’s delight in explosions makes her a social pariah, and so it is a touching moment when Kazuma recognizes it as important self-expression, endearing him to her. In this way, Konosuba neatly eschews the problem of equating comedic role to personality, and that helps set it apart from many other anime comedies. It is a genuine character-based fantasy comedy.

On top of this, Konosuba can lampoon the trend of incorporating game elements into fantasy anime series, such as defined fighting class roles and skill trees, because it already is utilizing those same roles for its comedy. Thus it is able to hang its parodying of isekai and game tropes off this firm central character basis. The parody is not the source of the jokes, merely an added quality as a result of the sincere treatment of its characters, moving it from hollow parody to genuine satire.

Konosuba is a superlative comedy because it is a complementary blend of Japanese character-based humour and fantasy isekai, and is able to use video game structure towards fulfilling comedic intent. It can both adhere to and mock modern fantasy isekai adeptly because its comedic foundations are built on character conflicts.

Character conflicts are everything in comedy, and the extra layer of restrictions via character roles that have evolved in the course of Japanese comedic history can make the styles confusing or simply not funny to foreigners. Konosuba is exceptional and acclaimed as a comedy because it manages to integrate both character roles and character-based humor in a tautly written and witty package. The fact that it is a fantasy isekai is ultimately incidental to it being a great comedy, but Konosuba is a beacon for what more comedy and fantasy anime could aspire to.

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Anime Ichiban 21: Explosions are so Kakkoii!

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konosuba movie

The Konosuba movie delivers on almost all fronts while this anime season delivers more shows of varying quality.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
10:03 – Konosuba movie impressions and revenue news
22:23 – DEEMO movie announcement
26:29 – A cruise for anime fans
30:22 – Clip Paint Studio manga software donated to Texan schools
34:05 – The decline of Japanese arcades
38:53 – Yuki Kaji monetizes his voice even more
42:17 – This week in stage play adaptations
49:47 – Tokyo anime studio exhibition
51:08 – SHITSUMON! The yabai, the ma ma, and the kakkoii of this season
1:20:38 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Papapa” by Shuka Saito (ORESUKI opening theme)
Outro –  “Chisana Boukensha” by Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi, and Ai Kayano (Konosuba first season ending theme)

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