Review: Pokémon Journeys

 The journey starts today!

With the new Pokémon series, Pokémon Master Journeys, due to start broadcasting in the near future I think the time is right to take a look at its predecessor. Pokémon Journeys has many first for the Pokémon Anime. It's the first series with co-protagonists, the first series where the companion is a completely new creation and the first series in which Ash & Pikachu travel across multiple regions at once. It's also the first series since Diamond & Pearl that I've actually watched regularly, but I digress. So, how does it hold up? What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? Do I think it's a series worth watching as an older fan?

Well, let's dive in.

After winning the Alola Pokémon League Ash moves back to Kanto, contemplating on what to do next. He might be a Champion, but a Pokémon Master he ain’t. While in Vermillion City, reports come in that the Legendary Pokémon Lugia appeared nearby and Ash & Pikachu rush off. Meanwhile, a young boy by the name of Goh is on the hunt for Lugia as well though he’s initially under the impression he’s tracking Mew. Ash & Goh’s path intersects and after spending the day flying with Lugia the two become friends and research fellows at Cerise Laboratory. This sends the two all across the world with Ash eventually setting his sight on winning the Pokémon World Coronation series while Goh sets his sight to catch all Pokémon including Mew.

And thus the journey begins!

For a children’s cartoon (technically an anime) show, Pokémon Journeys is pretty good for what it is. You won’t find any groundbreaking storytelling or character moments or anything like that. Most episodes are one-and-done episodes. The ‘story important´ episodes, the ones that push the goals of Ash and Goh forward like a big battle, are only about a third of the episodes in the series. This isn’t a bad thing. These single adventures episodes can be enjoyed for what they are without needing (much) prior knowledge or even having to watch a future episode to get the full story. It lowers the threshold of starting the series and makes it easier to broadcast, which as a ‘free’ marketing tool is extremely important for the franchise.

Contrary to what you might have expected, I actually think that’s these one-and-done episodes are where the show shines. The setup of this season lifts many restrictions previous Pokémon shows had and it takes advantage of that. It jumps around a lot across the Pokémon world so the locations, Pokémon and type of storytelling is much more varied. There are even some characters from the previous season that return, like Korrina, though not as many as I would’ve liked. Each new series is its own soft-reboot after all.

Korrina returns as an opponent in the World Coronation series with the show referencing her and Ash's Kalos journey.

There are some very well-written episodes in here with a very good life lesson and/or with a strong emotional core. There is, for example, an episode about Goh remembering a vacation and making a friend for the first time but said friend breaking a promise and it was really, really good. There are not as many of the latter as there was in the Sun & Moon anime (as far as I understand) but they’re here still.

The episodes I’m not fond of are the two-for-one episodes as well as the Sword & Shield arc. The two-for-one episodes, which has two 10-minute stories instead of one 20-minute story, just fall flat. They are very comedic but I think the comedy is too out there and the two segments don’t jell well. They just don’t work. The Sword & Shield story arc is 4 consecutive episodes based on the main storyline from, what else, Sword & Shield. It’s the series tie-in to the most recent games and I don’t think it worked. Four episodes weren’t enough time for this story to be told and while it fixed some issues that were present in the game version, it was too rushed and too disjointed. In short: it was a disappointment.

Where the series also stumbles is in its characters. None of the characters is actually bad or shallow but they do leave something to be desired. Ash is still Ash but has become a caricature of himself over time. Brash, easily excitable, full of energy and a great love for Pokémon who he always treats with utmost respect and kindness. The series made some adjustments to his character, like making him a bit smarter and putting more emphasis on his love for battling, but he’s still the same old Ash. Some of these character adjustments have been so he would contrast better new character, Goh.

Goh is the series’s co-protagonist and, essentially, Ash’s polar opposite. Where Ash is rash, Goh is hesitant for example. And yes, he’s basically the representation of Pokémon Go in the series with how he’s always catching Pokémon and, well, his name. Some of the best episodes revolve around him but when he’s not the focus his development and potential is forgotten and he’s just Ash’s catch-happy partner. He works well in that capacity but that’s about it. His tendency to forget about the Pokémon he catches and treating them more like objects and tools, which goes against the shows main message, also doesn't do him any favours.

The supporting cast is good. They’re only there is a small capacity with a few focus episodes here and there but they’re likeable and enjoyable. Team Rocket is here again as well and is still a great source of comedy. I’m also fond of Cerise’s daughter, Chloe. She’s withdrawn and a bit quiet, but smart, friendly and passionate. She has no clear goal yet and finding said goal is her ‘journey’ in the series.

From left to right: Ash, Pikachu, Goh & Chloe.

The problem with her is that she’s only a supporting character. I thought we had moved past the notion that Pokémon is a mostly boy franchise. Past series have had girls as main characters and yet this one, the one clearly made to appeal to the massive Go crowd, hasn’t one. I hope that Master Journeys increases Chloe’s presence for this very reason.

Let’s end this review by taking a look at the series’s score and animation. Just two things of mine that I always keep my eye on. To get the lesser out of the two out of the way first, the soundtrack is fine. It’s well orchestrated and nice to hear but sadly, generic. Aside from the covers from Sword & Shield, they’re not very memorable at all. The animation of Pokémon Journeys is really good. The style is the cartoony and comedic of Sun & Moon but going into a more ‘realistic’ direction. The animation itself is fluid, the choreography of the fight sequences is amazing and the backgrounds can be stunning at times. It’s good stuff.

Conclusion

Pokémon Journeys: the series is an interesting Pokémon season for a multitude of reasons. It only has two main characters, jumps around the entire Pokémon world and airs on a streaming service. Even with all of the changes, it’s still the Pokémon anime as you’re used to. There are things that I wish it would have done differently, primarily its characters, but it’s not like these aspects make or break the series.

Kids will find it a lot of fun, older fans will find it enjoyable with a noteworthy outing sprinkled throughout. What more do you want?

Oh, and as a quick addendum, the sequel to this season, Pokémon Master Journeys, has concluded and is now on Netflix. If you're interested to hear my thoughts on that season than check out my review of it by clicking the link!

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