Review: 'Pokemon: I Choose You' is a nostalgic retelling of the story of an underdog pair

Marcus Goh
Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you grew up with Pokemon.

Score: 3.75/5

Secret ending? No, but the credits bring back lots of good memories

Running time: 98 minutes (1.75 hours)

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

“Pokemon: I Choose You” is a Japanese adventure anime film that’s the twentieth in the “Pokemon” franchise, and the first in the “Sun and Moon” series. Two different versions are available in cinemas — the film in its original Japanese audio, or dubbed in English. This review is based on the version with English dubs.

The film is a loose retelling of the first season of the original Pokemon anime in 1997, retroactively named “Pokemon: Indigo League” for the DVD release. It tells the origin story of Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum/Satoshi, and his quest to find a legendary Pokemon and fulfil his destiny.

“Pokemon: I Choose You” is directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and written by Soji Yonemura. The English dub features the voice talents of Sarah Natochenny (Ash Ketchum), Ikue Otani (Pikachu), Kate Bristol (Pikachu), Michele Knotz (Jessie), Carter Catchcart (James, Meowth), David Oliver Nelson (Sorrel), Suzy Myers (Verity), Mike Pollock (Bonji), and Billy Bob Thompson (Cross); while the Japanese version features the voice talents of Rica Matsumoto (Satoshi), Ikue Otani (Pikachu), Megumi Hayashibara (Jessie), Shin-ichiro Miki (Kojiro), Inuko Inuyama (Nyarth), Kanata Hongo (Souji), Shiori Sato (Makoto), Arata Furuta (Bonji), and Ryoto Osaka (Cross).

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

If you’ve played the original Pokemon games or watched the original Pokemon anime, “Pokemon: I Choose You” is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. What makes it stand out from the previous Pokemon movies is that it isn’t hawking the latest Pokemon and showing how powerful and wonderful it is (and the featured Pokemon always happens to be in the latest Pokemon game released), so it doesn’t feel like it’s pushing an agenda.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Instead, it functions as a new origin story for Ash. It depicts events from memorable episodes of “Pokemon: Indigo League”, but there’s an overarching story which connects all these scenes together. It’s not a collection of different fan favourite vignettes, but a proper anime movie in its own right. And like all good anime films, it has a hero that’s the underdog.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Ash is presented as an underdog from the very beginning, which is why you root for him. Similarly, Pikachu is just as much of an underdog as Ash is, which makes the relationship between the two even more special and touching. The characterisation of the two iconic characters is given a different twist in this film, although they’re still the familiar pair that we’re all used to. However, when compared to all the other Pokemon and their Pokemon trainers in the film, it’s clear that we’re meant to empathise with Ash as the character who is truly passionate about Pokemon.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

His two companions, Sorrel and Verity, aren’t that memorable though. Perhaps it’s because they’re meant to just be companions for Ash, rather than actual characters with their own story arc. That’s not to say they’re bland, but it’s obvious that their purpose in the film is more functional rather than character-based.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Since the film has a great deal of source material to work with (“Pokemon: Indigo League” spans 85 episodes, after all), it packs a lot of plot into its 98 minutes. The story unfolds at a chipper pace, and there’s no filler whatsoever (a common gripe when it comes to Pokemon). It also tells its own story, so if you’re concerned that it’s just remaking old episodes, you’ll be in for a pleasant experience, since it pays off one of the key scenes in Ash’s origin story.

Of course, Team Rocket makes their appearance here. But Jessie, James, and Meowth are relegated to cursory scenes that amount to little more than just perfunctory comedy. Although they don’t feel like filler, they also feel incredibly unnecessary. They’re little more than an afterthought — they don’t even seem to be setting up some future epic storyline. They’re just there for the sake of being there.

“Pokemon: I Choose You” is worth watching in English, and its probably even better in its original Japanese dub. Even without the nostalgia factor, it tells a fast-paced story with all the anime tropes that we’ve come to expect in a good anime film. After watching it, you’ll be inspired to dig out your old Pokemon games and start catching ’em all.

“Pokemon: I Choose You” opens in cinemas:
– 23 November, 2017 (Singapore)
– 7 December, 2017 (Malaysia)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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