Pokémon has been celebrating its 20th anniversary in style all year long. New fan or old, casual trainer or competitive, gamer or trading card player, there has been something for everyone to enjoy with #Pokemon20. We’ve seen the launch of Pokémon GO, monthly in-game Pokémon downloads, a new ad campaign, themed TCG sets, the rerelease of Red, Blue and Yellow on 3DS, Pokémon Sun and Moon coming out later this month, and more. One of the best surprises of #Pokemon20, however, has been the short animé series, Pokémon Generations.
Generations was first announced on September 13, fairly late into the year. It was produced by OLM, the studio behind the main series. A total of 18 episodes will air on the official Pokémon YouTube channel each Friday from September 16 to December 23. Episodes are 3-5 minutes long, and focus on memorable scenes from the main Pokémon games. A total of 11 episodes have aired thus far, and have spanned the first four generations.
The announcement sparked the excitement of many fans. The official Pokémon animé has been running since September 1998, and has primarily followed the adventures of Ash Ketchum. While the series has been enjoyed by thousands, many fans, especially older ones, are tired of Ash, and want a Pokémon animé with different main characters. We have occasionally seen spinoff miniseries doing exactly that, such as Pokémon Chronicles focusing on a variety of characters, the Mega Evolution Specials featuring Alain, and Pokémon Origins starring Red. Although short, these series are generally well-regarded by fans for their interesting characters, exciting battles, and colourful additions to the Pokémon lore.
Generations faces a real time constraint, having only a few minutes compared to the half-hour episodes of the other series. As a result, each episode focuses on specific characters during particular events. These vignettes were chosen not only based on their significant to the overall storyline, but also for how memorable they are to fans. Others yet added new elements into the lore entirely, such as Looker’s involvement in stopping Team Rocket in episodes 2 and 5.
Episodes use their time wisely, knowing just the right amount of story to tell while also making their characters compelling. Each episode throws us right into the action, allowing the audience to quickly bond with characters and experience the visceral emotions of the events as they do.
The animation here is clearly high-quality. While the main animé’s production value has improved over the years, Generations clearly has a higher budget due to its smaller number of episodes and significantly shorter run-time. This is most evident in scenes involving Pokémon, especially Pokémon battles.
The Pokémon feel most alive and active while engaged in combat. Their designs are wonderfully detailed and their attacks are beautifully rendered. Battles are, after all, the lifeblood of the franchise. Episode 9 featured the longest and probably most detailed battle thus far, and it even managed to showcase Deoxys’ transformations into its different forms.
That said, unlike in the main animé, Pokémon don’t always take central stage. Generations is about its human characters and their feelings, their goals, and their dreams as they deal with different situations. As a result, sometimes Pokémon are seen more as background elements. While this can feel jarring, as a Pokémon animé without Pokémon seems pointless, it often makes Pokémon feel like a more organic part of the world. Still, it would be nice to see more Pokémon, especially considering that, for example, episode 5 didn’t feature a single one.
A particular aspect that makes the miniseries feel more mature is that unlike the main series, the Pokémon in Generations don’t say their names. Junichi Masuda and Shigeru Ohmori revealed in a recent interview that Pokémon were likely originally designed to say their names in the animé to help viewers remember the different Pokémon. Thankfully, the Pokémon here grunt and roar the way real animals do, giving them a more realistic feel.
Another nice addition is that some dialogue is lifted directly from the video games. This was especially prominent in the Elite Four battles in episode 3, where each character would say some of their lines from Pokémon Red and Blue. While this was a little unnatural at times, it was a lovely touch that only a select few viewers would pick up on.
One weakness of Generations, however, is the cheesy script and delivery. Generations certainly showcased epic moments deserving of grandiosity, but without the right tone, the impact of those moments is lost. Pokémon animé has never been known for its subtlety, but some of the dubbing is far too unnatural, and the delivery too overblown. The best examples of this include the Elite Four’s discussion at the beginning of episode 3, and the admins of Teams Magma and Aqua interacting with their bosses in episodes 7 and 8, which all feature stilted, unnatural dialogue that is completely over-acted. The effect of this is that instead of feeling dramatic and intense, these moments come across as cheesy and overly cartoonish.
The lack of battles has also been disappointing. We have mostly seen small snippets of clashes between Pokémon rather than full battles. Part of this is simply that battles require more resources to render, with the amount of action and detail resulting in greater cost. This fact, along with the short run-times, explains why battling was cut down.
Another weakness is the series’ female characters. The Pokémon world has a colourful cast of characters, however, thus far episodes have mostly focused on male characters. Since the second generation of Pokémon games, players have had a choice between playing as a male or female protagonist. Unfortunately, of the three game protagonists we have seen, all of which were non-speaking roles where the character’s face was not shown, none were women. Even background characters have mostly been male, with few speaking lines going to women. Thus far, four episodes did not include a single female character voice. Female representation only began to pick up at episode 7, and even this had its own issues.
Episode 7 focused on Courtney, a Team Magma admin with real conviction and loyalty. She clearly has her leader’s respect and is a force to be reckoned with, but she also has an unhealthy obsession with Maxie, she becomes mesmerized by flashing lights, and we don’t even see her battle. Additionally, after having her catastrophic vision, instead of having even a moment of introspection or character development, she becomes irrationally excited about battling. She acts like a stereotype of the “crazy girl” out of nowhere. It felt like she was written just to seem edgy.
Fortunately, this picked up afterwards, as episodes 8, 9 and 11 feature interesting and proactive female characters. Episode 10 even features a female protagonist, but she spends the entire episode looking completely helpless at the hands of the ghost haunting the Old Chateau (not to mention she was drawn to appear far more innocent and feminine compared to other female characters). Even Cynthia, a fan-favourite and one of the most powerful female trainers in the series, doesn’t do anything except show up in episode 11.
With seven episodes left of the miniseries, we can’t wait to see what stories will be told next. Thus far, each region in the Pokémon world has been featured in two or three episodes. While it is unlikely that any episodes will be dedicated to a side game, at least one episode will probably feature the new Alola region from Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Generations has been a fun treat for Pokémon fans, especially for those who want more from the main animé. Like Pokémon Origins, Generations feels like it was made for older fans, but anyone can enjoy its interesting characters, exciting battles, and wonderful stories. Here’s hoping we see more like it in the future!