Odds are, unless you’ve been living in a subterranean cave, you’ve more than likely heard of Pokémon. The franchise is a global multi-media phenomenon that’s been the “entry point” for almost an entire generation of anime fans. I wasn’t part of that generation, myself: DRAGONBALL Z was my “entry point” and I was a little too old for Pokémon when it first rolled out in America but, luckily, I’ve got some younger friends who were big fans. Thanks to my pal Dan Lherault for the help.
This show’s world is filled with more than 500 species of Pokémon - - fantastical “Pocket Monsters” who possess a whole gamut of unique powers relating to fire, water, poisons, rocks and shape-shifting (to name just a few.) Said species mix and match the traits of real animals like lizards, horses and birds into charming amalgamations like Bulbasaur, Charmander, Jigglypuff and Psyduck (to name only just a few.) As if that weren't enough complexity, instantaneous evolution runs rampant in these creatures. So a Pichu can evolve into a Pikachu which, in turn, can evolve into a Raichu. Got it?
If keeping track of all these species, power types and evolutionary stages seems like a vexing prospect, then you'll want to consult a Pokedex - - an electronic device specifically designed to keep track of all this fantastic fauna. Plucky 10-year-old Ash Ketchum always keeps his Pokedex handy. See, this world is full of Pokémon trainers who capture and train these cute creatures for battle in regional competitions. Ash wants to be the best of the best but, wouldn't you know it, his quest doesn't start off that grandly. Because he sleeps in for his first appointment as a trainer, he winds up getting the only “starter Pokémon ” left - - a seemingly-lame Pikachu. At first, this Pokémon refuses to cooperate with Ash. It won't even get into his Poké Ball, the device every trainer uses to capture and store Pokémon in the wild.
With time, Pikachu comes to trust Ash and the two become quite a good team (even though Pikachu never relents about the Poke Ball.) The starter Pokémon who at first seemed like a lemon for Ash turns out to actually be the best he could ever ask for, as Pikachu soon demonstrates powers above most others. Those powers are so great, in fact, that they attract the attention of the nefarious trainers, Team Rocket, who want to to steal Pikachu from Ash and use it to put the world under their crime syndicate’s rule. Though Ash finds enemies in Team Rocket, he also collects allies like fellow trainers, Misty and Brock, who join him in his "quest to be the best."
The CharactersAs mentioned before, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of Pokémon - - simply far too many to list. Though Pikachu's the star of the show, it's Ash who's the lead and, thus, the most important characters to spotlight here are his fellow and rival trainers.
Just your average kid from Pallet Town, this eager beginner trainer wants to be the best in the world (the very best, as the theme song reminds you.) He might seem like an underdog, at first, only starting with a lowly Pikachu in his arsenal, but his skills and Pokémon collection increase significantly as he goes further and further into the world.
This cutesy critter’s something between a giant mouse and an electric eel. Believe it or not, the red circles on its cheeks aren’t just there to make it look pretty - - they actually store electrical power! Keep in mind that this is just one of an entire species of Pikachu, who all can only say “Pika Pika.” Out of all the Pokémon that Ash captures, however, Pikachu's the only one who refuses to go into his Pokeball.
A hot head with fiery red hair, Misty’s a rival for Ash who's actually more advanced than he is at the start. She’s the leader of the Cerulean Gym, but leaves it to her three sisters’ control to join Ash’s quest. Oddly enough, she joins him only after Pikachu burns her bike to crisp and she insists she won't leave Ash until he pays her back.
Another gym leader who leaves his post to join Ash's quest.
He doesn’t want to be the best trainer - - he just wants to be a good Pokémon breeder. Think of him as the older brother who’s always got a map, directions and a cool-headed explanation. Though, he's got a boyish tendency to fall madly in love with a girl in every new town.
A couple of no-good punks, Jesse and James are part of a crime syndicate that steals other trainers’ Pokémon to horde enough for their boss’ world domination scheme. With the wily Pokémon, Meowth (who can actually talk!) they're always trying (unsuccessfully) to steal Pikachu.
What Can This Be Compared To?
Ha… DIGIMON! I think anybody's going to notice that two shows about kids collecting and battling monsters share more than a few similarities. That aside, I’d say that Pokémon is really your quintessential Saturday Morning cartoon. More specifically, comparisons can be drawn to any number of Japanese-imported, kids-targeted, game-or-toy-derived adventure shows like POWER RANGERS, BAKUGAN or YU-GI-OH.
What You Need to Know
This whole franchise started with a Game Boy game Satoshi Tajiri created for Nintendo in 1996. The conceit of players capturing “Pocket Monsters” from the wilderness and training them for battle against other players (through system link-ups) was intended to capture Satoshi’s boyhood hobby of collecting bugs. The game proved popular enough that an anime show was spun out of it the next year by Oriental Light & Magic’s Masamitsu Hidaka who crafted a story to spring out of the gameplay. Thus, Ash Ketchum (named Satoshi in Japan, after his creator) and his world were born, begetting 13 seasons & movies, a host of shorts & specials and two spin-off TV shows.
What Should You Watch?
This show's easy to get into. There's no complicated continuity or intricate back story you need to be versed in to enjoy any given episode. In fact, the "reset button" is more-or-less pushed at the end of every season. Ash will leave all the Pokémon he's collected (except Pikachu) in a lab so he can start fresh and collect a whole new assortment for the next season. He'll usually get a whole new group of friends, too. You can currently watch a huge chunk of the third season on the official Pokémon site for free, and that's an easy place to start. Bear in mind that each season of Pokémon has a sub-title rather than a number. The very first season is sub-titled INDIGO LEAGUE and the DVD box set is available on Amazon for around 30 bucks. You can enjoy this show at any point, but if you really want to star from the beginning, then that's what you need to get.