July 13th marks the theatrical release of the 16th Pokemon movie, Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! The Movie: ExtremeSpeed Genesect: Mewtwo Awakens. So we thought it best to help you get up to speed on the long running and convoluted narrative.
A franchise with humble beginnings, a pair of Gameboy games (Pokemon Red and Blue) made by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996 started a world wide craze that has officially made Pokemon the second most profitable computer game based franchise in history, trailing behind Nintendo’s other jewel in the crown, Mario.
Following the actions of a young “trainer” known as Ash, you explore the universe after choosing from one of three Pokemon, each with their own “elemental” specialty, the Water Type Squirtle, the Grass Type Bulbasuar and the Fire Type Charmander. Like a proverbial game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Fire beats Grass, Grass beats Water and Water beats Fire. With your selected pocket monster, you would traverse the world, looking for new Pokemon to capture and train, whilst finding rival trainers to better. To complete the game you would need to collect all 150 monsters, a feat that could only be achieved if you “traded” Pokemon with other players, as some breeds were exclusive to either the Red or Blue title.
Perhaps what made the game so outrageously popular was its ability to spread to a variety of media platforms and flourish. Soon after the games hit, an animated television series brought color to the otherwise monochrome universe players explored on their Gameboy screens. Dirceted by Kunihiko Yuyama, the TV series brought personality to not only the trainers, but the individual Pokemon as well, giving fans all the more reason to pick a favorite and more importantly to the success of the franchise, invest in the plethora of merchandise available.
Two years after the franchise launched, a film was released in 1998, again directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, it followed the plot of the TV series and the original games, starring Ash and his fellow trainers, Misty (Water Type Trainer) and Brock (Rock Type Trainer). In the movie, the three are invited to a mysterious competition, were they are confronted by Mewtwo, an intelligent and powerful Pokemon who was actually genetically engineered from the DNA of an ancient, and presumed to be extinct Pokemon, Mew. Having been tricked by humanity twice, Mewtwo has very little time for his guests and so battles their Pokemon, beating them with his own cloned versions.
At the film’s climax, the more docile, but just as powerful, Mew, confronts Mewtwo, and a battle ensues. To try and stop any more bloodshed, Ash selflessly jumps between the two to try and stop the fight, but is struck down, turned to stone and apparently killed. But the collective tears of heartbroken Pokemon have mysterious traits and somehow revive him from the brink of death. Moved by his bravery, Mewtwo starts to rethink his position on wiping out humanity.
There has been a film released every single year since then, as well as a number of new computer games on a multitude of platforms, not to mention various manga, shorts stories and a trading card game. The universe has expanded in an attempt to stay fresh, meaning there are now close to 700 Pokemon, a number that increases with every new incarnation of the franchise.
The new film is no exception, accompanying the main feature is a short film, Pikachu and Eevee Friends which will introduce Sylveon, a new evolution of the original Pokemon character, Eevee. To really spark interest from the Otaku fan base, the short will be narrated by ex-AKB leader, Atsuko Maeda.
Much like the short, the main feature is attempting to mix the old with the new. The latest antagonist is Red Genesect, another ancient Pokemon who has been revived by less than scrupulous forces. This giant, flying Pokemon has been adapted so that it has a canon mounted on its back, which can change its Elemental Power (meaning it can get the upper hand on almost any opponent). Much like Mewtwo in the 1998 movie, it has turned away from those that brought it back to life and is out for retribution.
To help Ash and his motley crew, Mewtwo arrives back on the scene, his first cinematic appearance since 2000. Having traveled the world, Mewtwo’s outlook on life has changed drastically and the monster is now far more forgiving of humanity. There is also a newer version of Mewtwo, namely “Awakened Mewtwo” or 覚醒したミュウツー in Japanese.
So with the seemingly unshakeable Mewtwo having turned around after a decade of traveling and soul-searching, will this film have a similar ending to the original? Will some sort of sacrifice convince Red Genesect that humans aren’t all bad? It is difficult to keep a franchise fresh after over 15 years, especially when it is renewed so vigorously, so what can Yuyama bring to the table this time around? Will he merely rely on tried and tested movie tropes, hoping the young audience members aren’t old enough to recognize the clear echoes of the original movie ringing through the narrative? I suppose we will find out on July 13th, until then, tell us what you think of the Pokemon franchise and its many iterations in the comments section below.