For those of you who weren’t around in ’00, or were too young to remember, Pokemon was still at an early point. Before there were a billion games including spin-offs and enough merchandise to bankrupt an entire nation. And we were all eagerly anticipating Silver & Gold in 2001. What’s that? You got those games considerably earlier? Well, in the EU we got them in early 2001. In any case, we were all gathering every scrap of information we could and this film promised us a first look at Lugia, even though the games were already out elsewhere and we’d seen her image on the Internet. Regardless, a lot of people were excited to see this film in theatres. I wasn’t allowed to because we were poor and theatre tickets for me and all three of my siblings were pricey. But I do remember what a big deal this was for a lot of people my age. I’m still not going easy on it.
We open with a collector, we’ll call him Kivas Fajo, in his advanced aircraft base. He’s after the legendary birds, Moltres, Articuno and Zapdos. He hopes to acquire them and draw out Lugia so he can capture it as well. Then he’ll make them all wear their outfits, sit in their chairs and entertain his guests. Little does Kivas realise that capturing the birds will throw the planet out of balance causing upheavals and, possibly, the end of the world. It’s naturally up to Satoshi and his companions to deal with the situation.
Now, I’m not going to worry about spoilers too much since the Pokemon anime is kind of predictable and formulaic. Plus this film is around twenty years old if we’re going by the original Japanese release. So, moving on to the first problem with the narrative. Kivas suffers from a serious case of “dumb villain.” This dude accidentally brings Satoshi and his group aboard his airship, then he leaves them alone so they can easily interfere with his operation and foil his plans. Another problem is that the film has a lot of pointless moments. All the Pokemon converging on the islands for the confrontation and then doing fuck all, the scenes with Professor Ookido & Satoshi’s mum, they just don’t seem to contribute anything.
You might argue that the Pokemon converging is to illustrate the importance of taking action even when things look bleak, but they actually do nothing so it doesn’t really work.
The best thing I can say for the narrative is that it has some pretty neat action moments. The whole fight sequence with the birds is pretty amazing. The Lugia reveal is also nicely done. The film shows a lot of bubbling underwater and uses a bunch of other tricks to obfuscate Lugia’s appearance before finally bringing it out at the climax in a massive jet of water. It’s a strong, well-paced reveal.
The characters are kind of under-written and not very interesting. Satoshi does whine too much for my taste. One thing worth mentioning, however, is that Satoshi’s companions are basically useless while Team Rocket acts heroically. Which is a weird decision. You wouldn’t expect a children’s work to give the spotlight to the petty villains.
But it does. Kasumi & Kenji help pull Satoshi out of the water once and that’s basically it. Aside from that they stand around picking particles out of their anuses. And Pikachu was already working on getting Satoshi to shore. So, if Pikachu had thought to grab Lapras’ pokeball from Satoshi’s bag, they would have been completely pointless. They don’t even bring out their Pokemon to try to free Zapdos & Moltres from their cages. Musashi and Kojirou bring out Arbok and Weezing. They also go to Satoshi’s rescue when he comes to an impasse and things look hopeless. Then they dodge attacks from legendary birds to get him to the artefact he needs to save the world. And they very nearly sacrifice themselves so the world can be saved.
The artwork looks fine. Kivas’ airship looks a bit out of place when compared to the rest of the art. There’s also a fail with Doctor Uchikido’s completely ambivalent facial expression while she talks about the potential end of the world. The action sequence with the birds is the highlight in terms of art. And seeing Lugia use Aeroblast is really cool. The whole sequence with Musashi and Kojirou taking an inflatable raft up through a bunch of caverns looks cool even if it does not follow proper laws of physics. The sequence with a speed boat going up stairs is the same way, except not nearly as cool looking.
The acting is pretty good, actually. Hayashibara Megumi is always great. Miki Shinichiro does a good job. Hiramatsu Akiko & Matsumoto Rica are both good. If there’s a weakness it’s Kaga Takeshi as Kivas. And that’s not so much his fault as it is a natural result of him getting a boring character who isn’t very expressive. The music works decently enough.
There isn’t any. It’s not like the Pokemon franchise is going to toss in an Utena reference or something.
Areas of Improvement:
- Make the villain basically competent. If our heroes had to actually sneak aboard and make their way to his collection, it would make for a more interesting sequence than him just letting them loose without watching them. You could even have Kasumi & Kenji create a distraction so they can actually do something of value.
- Either have all those Pokemon try to interfere with the battle or leave them out. Like I said, the sequences with all of them converging just end up being pointless since they just watch and lick their own genitals.
- Have Doctor Uchikido show some emotion. If the world is ending, you aren’t going to look vaguely bored like it’s a situation you get every Thursday. There’s a difference between composure and just not giving a shit and her reaction is very much not giving a shit.
If I were watching this as a youngster back when it first came out, I’d probably enjoy it in the moment and quickly forget all the details. Watching it now, however, it does not hold up very well. While it has some good moments and the basic artwork and acting generally work well, the antagonist is forgettable and overly stupid. There are too many “plot points” that do nothing and too many characters who sit around scratching their asses. Ultimately, I’ll give it a 5/10. It’s one of those mundane children’s films that has quite a few obvious issues because the writing staff didn’t really care or think kids would really notice.