Normally I try to avoid spoilers with these reviews, but screw it, it’s Pokemon. Pokemon The Origin is a bomb of nostalgia. If you haven’t played Pokemon Red, Blue or Green, then you will not enjoy this one slight bit. This really is made as pure undilluted fanservice for the fans of the first games. Pokemon was the first anime that I watched on Dutch television that made me aware of the existance of anime. Pokemon Yellow was the game that had me hooked, more than any other game when I was younger. So yeah, I am a fan, Pokemon holds an irreplaceable part in my childhood. And biased.
Here’s the interesting bit about this OVA: it’s got so many things that the television-series did really badly. And yet at the same time, it’s got some huge flaws that the TV-series was better at.
Let me start with the positives: finally, after more than a decade of pokemon, we’ve got it: a Pokemon anime without Ash. Team Rocket is present, but Jesse, James and Meowth are completely gone. in fact, the only regular characters who do return are Giovanni, Professor Oak, and Brock and Misty as Gym Leaders. This is what I’ve been waiting for: the pokemon universe is open to so many different stories and interpretations, so it sucks that it always has to be the same thing. I gave up on it years ago for a reason.
Next up: the length. At four episodes of just 20 minutes, finally Pokemon has come in bite-size chunks. The TV-series was absolutely notorious for wasting time, for running for way too long and including so many pointless stories that dilluted the experience. In these four episodes the creators picked the best parts of the game and brought that to animation.
All of the characters, in terms of acting at least improved from what we’ve seen of them: Giovanni actually has a personality, Brock stopped being the womanizer and now is just a gym leader, and all of the pokemon stopped trying to look and sound cute. They behave much more like animals. Heck, there was one brief appearance of Pikachu, and somehow the creators managed to give it mouse noises. That is one thing that I did not expect them to get past the marketing machine.
Now, the bad stuff: you obviously can’t stuff one entire game in four episodes. The solution of the creators is to have Red recap the things that happened off-screen. Great for fans of the game, but anyone not familiar will just scratch their head, wondering what the hell is going on. The only single reason I tolerate this is because it’s pokemon: any other show attempting this would have not worked at all. Adaptations need to stand alone, not give the message of “you need to check out the game/manga/whatever if you want the complete story”.
What also stood out was that this OVA became quite a good example of the difference in adaptations between today and fifteen years ago: adaptations today follow much closer to their original source material. On one hand this creates less obnoxious filler, but on the other hand this also limits the creators when they take over something stupid, or something that doesn’t work. This stands out especially in game adaptations.
There’s something bizarre in the entire game meta being visible in these OVAs, like pokemon have life bars now, they talk about level. People hand out sics with moves on them. Oh, and the battles themselves also become really weird because of this where the main focus is adhering to the game rules, rather than common sense. Take the fight against Brock for example: oh yeah, it may follow the game’s rules and all, but what we saw there was the equivalent of a big tank being drop-kicked by a hamster. Pikachu’s victory against the Onyx actually made sense. You can give the original series a lot of flack, but at least they looked at the different powers and used their heads, whereas in The Origins you have a Charizard whose tail keeps burning even when he’s underwater.
The characters also really suffered, and the creators I think made the explicit decision not to flesh them out or give them much depth. They get all their depth from the nostalgia with the games. This worked particularly strange with Giovanni, who behaves really weird throughout the parts he’s featured in. Heck, he loses to a kid and just abolishes his entire organization, even though losing to a kid just a few minutes earlier did nothing to him. But yeah, this entive OVA fails to make any ounce of sense. The original series has more logic in it than what we saw here.
But here’s the thing: When I first learned of this OVA, I imagined that it would be this big budgetted OVA, or at least something really solid. This was everything but solid, and the animation budget in particular wasn’t that impressive. This leads me to believe that this was a simple experiment: a test to see whether it’s worth it to also cater to the older fans of Pokemon. A pilot, if you will. And that idea, I really support.
Pokemon deserves to have some stories in it that target a different demographic than the usual kids. There are plenty of adult players who would like to see a more mature storyline animated, I would definitely see a market for that. For future experiments, I would really suggest: try sometihng standalone. Don’t depend on the games. Make sense. Take yourself seriously. Have a main character who isn’t a kid. I know that the last point is really stretching it, but hey you made Pikachu talk like a mouse, so apparently you do have freedom.
One-Sentence Review: A nostalgia bomb and not much more; do not watch if you haven’t played Pokemon Red, Blue or Green.
– Pokemon, The Indigo League Season