Pokémon Evolutions Shines in a Stunning First Episode

The new Pokémon web series Pokémon Evolutions has premiered, and I wasn’t disappointed. Not that I was expecting to be! I’ve really enjoyed all of the Pokémon shorts running on YouTube. Pokémon Generations was a love letter to the franchise on the 20th anniversary. Pokémon: Twilight Wings made me finally fall in love with the Galar region while showcasing some stunning animation. I still get emotional over that Wooloo episode! And the Pokémon “Gotcha” music video released last year is such a chef’s kiss! I’m especially a fan of PokéToon with its rotating variety of animation and storytelling. From a callback to old Fleischer Studios cartoons to a simple tale of a little girl trying to bond with her grandparents’ Slugma, these have been a joy with each release. You can find the PokéToon list on Serebii. Just make sure you turn on the closed captioning as they haven’t been dubbed in English yet at the time of this article.

The variety of the web series is what I love most about these. It’s a fantastic break away from the ongoing anime. Don’t get me wrong! I adore Ash Ketchum and have been following his journey off and on since I was ten years old. I cried when he became the Alolan region champion. His current series Pokémon Journeys with his new companion Goh has been the best the show has been in a very long time.

But the web series offers such a different look from Ash’s story. Many of them are based on the lore of the video games letting the viewer see the regions come to life in a fresh way. We’re not witnessing them from Ash’s point of view. It’s an interpretation through the regions’ characters and many new faces along the way (I will die to protect John from Twilight Wings).

So when Pokémon Evolutions dropped its trailer, I was pumped for the new series. Like Generations, it’s going through all the regions one by one as a celebration of the franchise’s 25th anniversary. This time, though, we’re moving backward from the most recent generation to where Pokémon started in the Kanto region.

The first episode of Pokémon Evolutions called “The Champion” focused on Leon, the Champion of Galar. I was super excited to see him! I love Leon. He’s such a fun character. His over-the-top flashy antics and posing always made me laugh. The ongoing joke that he easily gets lost is hilarious. But Leon is also incredibly kind. His kindness is the basis of his strength, putting his heart into protecting and fighting for the people in his region.

“The Champion” took me completely by surprise. Somehow this episode, just short of eight minutes, felt so much longer. It tells the story of Leon facing off against the Legendary Pokémon Eternatus and the aftermath of how it affected him. Leon is normally so fun, so full of energy. He’s one of the strongest trainers in the world.

I wasn’t expecting it to be an exploration of the toll it takes on a person to be a regional Champion. Eternatus messed Leon up mentally. He wasn’t the one who stopped the Legendary Pokémon. In fact, he was horribly injured while protecting his younger brother, Hop, and the trainer character. All Leon could do is watch and pray that the kids would succeed. The subtext of the episode really delved into the powerless feeling that sunk into him at that moment.

The quiet moments and a new side of Leon’s character are what made this episode so powerful. I was not expecting an analysis of Leon’s mental health over such a short period. Leon struggles after the battle. He doesn’t speak for most of the episode past saying his Charizard’s name and the final line. It’s a very quiet exploration trying to put his confidence back together. Each shot of Leon preparing for a match in the locker room showcases a wide range of emotions. The beads of sweat. The unsure brow furrows. The robotic routine of dressing for his match. The power of this short is in the visual storytelling, all wrapped into what’s not being said.

And then there’s Charizard, Leon’s main Pokémon companion. All of the Pokémon shorts up to this point have showcased the power of people and their Pokémon in one way or another. Pokémon Evolutions is no exception. Charizard emerges from his Pokéball and is immediately at his trainer’s side. He silently pulls Leon’s cape onto the trainer’s shoulders to remind him that he is still strong. Leon is still the champion despite his defeat to Eternatus. He is still respected and loved regardless of what happened. It’s a touching moment that made my eyes well with tears.

The animation of Pokémon Evolutions continues to be stellar. OLM Studios and Team Kato Digital flexed their muscles with every frame. It would be so easy to let these little web series be just fine. But no! They really push their skills to the max with such smooth, emotional animation that captures you.

I was not expecting this kind of story from this web series. Though really, I shouldn’t be that surprised. Many of Pokémon’s shorts have had emotional resonance with fans for the last few years. If this new show continues at this caliber, then I can’t wait to see what the rest of Pokémon Evolutions brings to the table with the other regions.

 

You can check out Pokémon Evolutions on the Pokemon YouTube channel biweekly through October 2021, and then finishing up weekly in December.

 

This article was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle and has been reposted here with permission.

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