The winter holidays are often the time when we not only take a moment to reflect on the events of the past year, but also turn a hopeful eye to the future. 2010 has been a busy year for the Pokémon anime with the ending of the Diamond and Pearl saga as we said goodbye to Dawn and Ash’s long-time travel companion Brock. While 2010 was a year of endings for the Pokémon anime, it was also a year of new beginnings with the start of the Best Wishes! series. So, as a new year begins, I thought it would be appropriate to look to the future and make a list of what I hope this new saga will bring in 2011.
I wish for the writers to give an interesting and well-developed Pokémon roster to Ash
The most important aspects of the Pokémon franchise are of course the titular creatures. In the anime, they started out as mere plot devices with little personality. As the main characters journeyed through the region of Johto, the writers of the anime started to flesh out the creatures that Ash captured, giving them unique personality traits and battling styles, such as Totodile’s effervescent joie de vivre. The trend continued through the Advanced Generation series and Diamond & Pearl series, where the writers went further by giving the Pokémon plots of their own, obstacles they had to overcome, such as a Grotle having to cope with his loss of speed. Unique personalities, distinctive battling styles and compelling plots are the building blocks of an interesting and entertaining team.
So far in Best Wishes, the writers seem to have almost reverted to their original treatment of Pokémon. Ash’s Unova team has shown very little in the personality or in the plot department. First up is Pidove, the requisite regional bird. Noctowl had a genius intellect, psychic attacks and shininess. Taillow was a strong-willed fighter who could take a punch. Starly as a Staraptor worked hard to master the attack Brave Bird and had a unique fighting style with moves like Close Combat. Pidove has none of that going for her. She displayed no personality so far, has no standout attacks and has no character building obstacles to overcome. She hasn’t really bonded with Ash or interacted with other Pokémon. She has no real issue to overcome, nothing to motivate her to work hard. So with all of this, I’m left with just one question. Why should I care?
Ash’s second capture of the region, Oshawott fares better in the personality department, in that he actually has one, but Oshawott isn’t facing any obstacles, has no real storyline shaping up. So again, why should I care?
Ash’s Tepig on the other hand seems to have a plot. It’s been abandoned by its trainer after losing a battle (because, of course, that’s never happened to a Fire starter that Ash later caught). But proving its strength to Paul was Chimchar’s motivation and even after joining Ash, it still had scars from his time under Paul’s ownership. In Tepig’s case, he doesn’t seem to suffer from his abandonment, winning a battle the episode right after its capture. He hasn’t shown loads of personality and his abandonment doesn’t seem to have impacted him. I think some of you might start to see a pattern, but why should I care?
At last, Ash has also caught a Snivy. In its capture episode, Cilan and Iris speculated that Snivy might have abandoned her trainer because she didn’t find that trainer worthy, actually bringing a new refreshing twist to the series. Her ability to use the move Attract also adds to her uniqueness. She is what Pokémon should be: characters in their own right, each with a distinct personality, battling style and detailed storyline. I want to care about the Pokémon on Ash’s and for the most part so far, I don’t.
I wish for compelling and challenging rivals for Ash
The interesting thing about rivals is that in pursuing the same goal as the main character, they not only serve as his or her main source of motivation, but also allow the audience to appreciate the main character in contrast to his rival. The quintessential rivalry in recent history was the one between Ash and Paul. Both were experienced trainers who had journeyed through various regions and challenged their Leagues. Both were also drastically opposed in their training philosophy. Whereas Ash saw his Pokémon as friends and often trained alongside them, Paul saw them mostly as tools to assert his strengths and wasn’t above making his Pokémon savagely attack each other to make them stronger. When Ash finally triumphed over Paul, it felt meaningful. As if Ash was finally proving the validity of his methods and his skills as a trainer.
In Best Wishes, Ash’s main rival appears to be a trainer just beginning his journey named Trip. A photography aficionado, this young trainer quickly built a rivalry with Ash, twice defeating him. So far, Trip appears to be similar to Paul but he’s missing the substance. Paul was similar to Ash in many ways and the complete opposite in others, sort of like a dark mirror image. Trip so far can’t make such claims. He doesn’t clash with Ash because of a difference in philosophy or training style, but more so because Ash’s personality irks him. Also the fact that his team shares two Pokémon evolutionary lines with Ash’s team limits the originality the writers can show. There’s only so many moves that Servine and Tranquill can learn, without overlapping and being similar to Ash’s Snivy and Mamepato. So far, I’m trying to care about this rivalry, but I can’t as Ash doesn’t have any other reason to beat Trip than to beat him for the sake of beating him.
Then there’s the interesting case of Bianca. Personality and enthusiasm she does not lack. So far, I love her exuberance and her excitement. She already has had comedic interactions with Ash and Cilan. Both of her known Pokémon, Pignite and Minccino, have very distinct personalities and are themselves able to bring comedy. Still, a rivalry isn’t a rivalry until both participants earn wins. Part of what didn’t work with Barry in Diamond & Pearl in terms of his rivalry to Ash is that Ash almost always won against him and Barry seemed more interesting in fighting Paul than Ash. Hopefully, the writers will make Bianca challenge Ash as a rival while keeping her interesting personality.
In short, I wish for Ash to be challenged by rivals, not just in battle, but also challenged in who he is both as a trainer, and as a person.
I wish for unforgettable and proactive main characters
Part of what didn’t work with the original series in my opinion was the minimal amount of focus that Ash’s companions, Brock and Misty, received. Both had interesting personalities and yet, suffered from a staggering lack of screen time, very little focus on their poorly defined storylines and from not having an impact on the plot of an overwhelming majority of episodes. Then, the trend was reversed a bit in the Advance Generation and even more so in Diamond & Pearl, the writers gave us for the first time a real female co-star. No longer solely Ash’s adventure, we were now following Ash’s and Dawn’s journey through the Sinnoh region. Both characters received approximately the same amount of focus and we saw Dawn impacting the plot in episodes that didn’t focus on her quest, often battling herself.
In Best Wishes, that trend seems to be reversed as Ash takes center stage again and the new characters, Iris and Cilan take a back seat. This is less noticeable with the addition of Cilan, the Pokémon sommelier and first gym leader, as his refreshing personality makes him stand out from previous cast members. Plus he seems generally proactive in the episodes helping Ash, battling multiple times and even catching a new Pokémon. Overall, he’s an original and fresh character who humorously interacts with other characters and actually impacts the storyline of the show, though his goal of improving as a Pokémon sommelier has yet to be fully focused on.
His fellow main cast member, Iris has done significantly less than Cilan despite appearing in the series four episodes earlier. So far, besides her weekly comment about Ash’s childishness and the occasional acrobatic prowess, she has had an impact on only two episodes in the series, the third and ninth episodes. Her goal is supposedly to make her Axew evolve, but so far she hasn’t taken any real step in that direction refusing to use her dragon Pokémon in battle. Outside of the one sparring match with Cilan, she has yet to show that she truly wants to train Axew, she has yet to make any strides to make her goal a reality. So if she doesn’t take any tangible steps to reach that goal, if she doesn’t seem to care about it that much, why should I?
I wish for a well-constructed plot for the villainous teams
The new and improved Team Rocket
At first, who would have guessed that Team Rocket’s new outfits would mean that the writers would turn the trio upside down? No longer the comic relief element of the show, no longer obsessed with stalking Ash around the known world to catch his Pikachu, the Team Rocket we see in Best Wishes is now all business no pleasure. Giovanni makes a return as a prominent anime character and sent them on a mission to further Team Rocket’s interest in Unova and draw out another shadowy villainous team. This turn of events is interesting since Team Rocket as a whole, not just trio, has goals that are being fleshed out. We slowly learn more about the organization, their methods and their plans. On top of that, we get to see Jessie, James and Meowth as competent and determined agents. The early mention of another team and of the first objective pursued by the trio, a mysterious meteorite, are early signs that a bigger plot is slowly taking place.
The downside of that move is of course that the writers have toned down the comedic aspects of the trio and no longer have Team Rocket interact with Ash in almost every episode. I can understand the first criticism, but I see the second part in a more positive light. In previous sagas, Team Rocket’s inclusion in the plot often felt forced and repetitive, whereas their newfound attitude has given them an aura of cool they’d lost a bit over the years and a freshness they desperately needed. Though it means sacrificing their personalities, I wish the writers will see this new direction through and give more focus to Team Rocket’s plot and start giving screen time and focus to Team Plasma soon.
I wish for the writers to bring originality and freshness to the show
So far, Best Wishes as a saga hasn’t felt all that original for me. What’s a bit more puzzling is that the writers seem to be taking storylines and archetypes from previous sagas and reusing them here. If that wasn’t bad enough, they seem to have taking the elements that didn’t really work in previous sagas and reintroducing them. They’ve recycled the female main cast member who doesn’t really do anything in almost every episode, the lackluster Pokémon with little personality and the rival that’s a jerk for the sake of being a jerk from the Kanto days. Among other examples, Tepig’s storyline doesn’t exactly shine by its freshness after seeing Charizard and Infernape go through the same thing.
The only interesting original elements so far are Snivy possibly abandoning her trainer, Cilan, Bianca and Team Rocket. So if anything, I wish the writers would subvert these similarities, actually use them as starting points to make Best Wishes truly stand on its own as a saga, having its own flavor.
So far Best Wishes has yet to make me fully care about most of its characters and its storylines. With all of this in mind, my biggest wish is that the writers shake things up and take each of these characters and plot lines to their full potential.
At the end of last year, Bulbanews hosted a holiday contest, in which would-be writers were encouraged to submit a Pokémon-related opinion piece. Hellion came in first place and won a copy of Pokémon Black and White. Since this piece was written, we've had three more months of episodes—so has Hellion's wish list come true? Discuss this article in the Bulbagarden Forums!