The Pokemon anime (Japanese cartoon) series is one of the longest running and most successful animated series to have aired on TV in the past few decades and has spawned numerous spinoff specials and theatrical movies.
Based on the popular Nintendo video games of the same name, Pokemon follows the story of Ash, a ten year old boy from a place called Pallet Town which is located within a region called, Kanto.
While this region does borrow its name from the real world region of the same name in Japan, the entire world in the anime is a totally different fantasy world where animals have never existed and instead are replaced with creatures called, Pokemon.
While many Pokemon fall into the small, cute category, the size and shape of Pokemon varies with some resembling our world’s dinosaurs, others who actually come from outer space, several who are so powerful that some people believe them to actually be gods and even ghost Pokemon who have the ability to communicate with dead Pokemon and humans and even possess others.
When the series starts, we are told that there are 150 of these Pokemon known to the scientific community with the potential for many more to exist that haven’t been discovered yet. People who aim to see them all are called Pokemon Masters. This is what the main character Ash wants to be though he starts his journey as a Pokemon Trainer, a person who captures Pokemon and trains them to be stronger and participate in Pokemon Battles (where 2 to 4 Pokemon Trainers’ Pokemon fight).
To capture a Pokemon, a Pokemon Trainer has to weaken it with one of their existing Pokemon. Once weakened, the trainer can capture it with a Poke Ball, a man-made device used for storing Pokemon. Strangely while a wild Pokemon will resist capture, once it’s captured it will usually immediately show affection to the trainer and obey them without question.
There are exceptions though and several Pokemon are shown throughout the series to disobey their trainer and even attack them. The Pokemon Trainer then has to either prove that they are worthy enough to be their trainer or create an emotional bond with the Pokemon through understanding the Pokemon’s feelings or even saving it from a dangerous situation.
This theme of companionship, friendship and understanding is a constant theme in the Pokemon anime which is strongly enforced through several characters frequently lecturing an episode’s protagonist on the importance of these values.
Pokemon Anime Seasons, Specials and Movies
Due to being based on the Pokemon video games, the anime’s storyline and production is heavily influenced by the current video games’ storyline, location and characters. While each generation of the video games feature completely new characters though, the Pokemon anime follows the same main character, Ash and his first Pokemon and best friend, Pikachu as they travel to new regions (featured in the current video game) and make new friends in their search to discover more Pokemon (currently as many as 719) and Ash’s attempt to become the world’s strongest Pokemon Trainer and Pokemon Master.
Unlike many other anime and the majority of Western animated series, the Pokemon anime airs on an almost weekly basis in Japan with the occasional week off for a major sporting event, episode repeat or a special episode that focuses on different characters set in the Pokemon anime world that technically doesn’t count as part of the season. The result is seasons with a relatively high number of episodes averaging around 52 episodes per season.
In addition to the televised anime, each year a Pokemon movie is released that takes place within that year’s region and features the current cast of characters. These movies usually feature very powerful and rare Legendary Pokemon and are usually accompanied by a Pokemon animated short aimed at young children before the main feature begins.
The first season of the Pokemon anime, retroactively retitled years later as Pokemon Indigo League, is set in the Kanto region as is the first movie, Pokemon The First Movie.
The second season, Pokemon Adventures on the Orange Islands and the second movie, Pokemon 2000 are set in a chain of islands called, you guessed it, the Orange Islands.
The third, fourth and fifth seasons of the anime, Pokemon The Johto Journeys, Pokemon Johto League Champions and Pokemon Master Quest as well as their respective movies, Pokemon 3, Pokemon 4ever and Pokemon Heroes are set in the Johto region.
The sixth, seventh and eighth seasons of the Pokemon anime, Pokemon Advanced, Pokemon Advanced Challenge and Pokemon Advanced Battle as well as their respective movies, Pokemon Jirachi Wishmaker, Pokemon Destiny Deoxys and Pokemon Lukario and the Mystery of Mew are set in the Hoenn region. It’s worth noting that Pokemon Lukario and the Mystery of Mew was the last Pokemon movie to feature the original English voice actors before the majority were replaced. Pokemon Advanced Battle was the last full season with the original English cast.
The last 14 episodes of the eighth season, Pokemon Advanced Battle and the ninth season, Pokemon Battle Frontier see the main characters return to the Kanto region. The ninth movie, Pokemon Pokemon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea starts in Kanto, however the story quickly takes the characters out to sea, making their exact location difficult to determine.
The tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth seasons of the Pokemon anime, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl: Battle Dimension, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl: Galactic Battles and Pokemon Diamond and Pearl: Sinnoh League Victors as well as their respective movies, Pokemon The Rise of Darkrai, Pokemon Giratina and the Sky Warrior, Arceus and the Jewel of Life and Pokemon Zoroark: Master of Illusions are set in the Sinnoh Region. The three films, The Rise of Darkrai, Giratina and the Sky Warrior and Arceus and the Jewel of Life are exceptional among the Pokemon movies for being an actual movie trilogy that shares several story arcs across all three films.
The fourteenth and fifteenth seasons of the anime, Pokemon Black & White and Pokemon BW Rival Destinies as well as the sixteenth season which was split into Pokemon BW Adventures in Unova and Pokemon BW Adventures in Unova and Beyond as well as their respective movies, Pokemon White: Victini and Zekrom / Pokemon Black: Victini and Reshiram, Pokemon Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice and Pokemon Genesect and the Legend Awakened are set in the Unova Region with Ash and Pikachu returning to Kanto once again towards the end of Pokemon BW Adventures in Unova and Beyond.
The current, seventeenth season of the Pokemon anime, Pokemon the Series: XY as well as its upcoming movie, Pokemon the Movie: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction are set in the new Kalos Region.
If I Could Only Watch One…
- …Episode I would watch the first season episode, Episode 20: Bye Bye Butterfree. It’s a beautiful episode that explores the more dramatic side of a Pokemon Trainer raising a Pokemon and learning that sometimes you have to let go of the ones you love so that they can have the best life they can have. The events in this episode have had a major influence in the maturing of Ash’s personality and were even brought up recently in Episode 33, Butterfree and Me, of the show’s sixteenth season!
- …Season I would watch the first season, Pokemon Indigo League. In addition to being the only season of the anime to feature a full trip to a Pokemon League within one season and providing an introduction to most of the main characters, there’s a wonderful sense of charm and humor to these episodes that’s reduced in the later seasons. It also features the majority of the original 150 Pokemon and a very strong female supporting character in the form of Misty.
- …Movie I would watch the eighth Pokemon movie, Pokemon Lukario and the Mystery of Mew. It provides a rare glimpse into the ancient past of the world the Pokemon anime is set in and tells a genuinely moving story of sacrifice and loyalty mixed with some epic action scenes and comedic moments. The animation is also very impressive and the music score is one of the most moving out of all the films in the series.
Who Should Watch?
Pokemon is an anime series that can, and is, enjoyed by fans of Japanese and Western animation of all ages. Adults can get frustrated with some slight plot repetition with episodes in the later seasons and movies but those who can just enjoy it for what it is will have a lot of fun.
The focus on friendship and family and the lack of any sort of major violence or sexual themes makes this an ideal anime for younger children (preschool / kindergarten) to watch unattended. Be warned though that some of the movies lean towards a slightly older age group (preteens) regarding violence.
How to Watch
Due to its popularity, the Pokemon anime and its movies are fairly easy to get your hands on.
The official North American website offers a wide selection of episodes to watch for free from all the story arcs. The anime also airs very frequently on free to air TV in most countries around the world in addition to the cable channel, Cartoon Network.