Screen & Page: Pokemon Go God Level In ‘Arceus & The Jewel of Life’
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and sell it overseas. But what about the anime shows or film that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That’s what Screen & Page aims to explore.
In case you've been off the grid lately, Pokemon Go came out in the US and some other countries exactly one week ago today! And what a week it's been. Nintendo's stocks have shot sky-high, millions of gamers are discovering the concept of physical exercise, and CA's own Chris Sims was last seen roaming the Great Smoky Mountains armed only with a portable generator and wifi signal booster in pursuit of the legendary Ho-Oh.
In honor of our new national pastime, this week we're recounting the time eternal ten-year old Ash Ketchum and his best buddy Pikachu fought God in Pokemon: Arceus & The Jewel of Life!
2009's Pokemon: Arceus & The Jewel of Life, directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, written by Hidekai Sonoda and animated by OLM (who've animated Pokemon since 1997), is actually the final film in a trilogy revolving around the setting of the Diamond & Pearl games. The movie opens with Ash, girl-crazy ex-gym leader Brock, and aspiring Pokemon coordinator Dawn (basically a stage mom for Pokemon), arriving in the lush Machina Town. After a friendly battle with some local kids, they learn about Machina's famous ruins and decide to explore them.
The gang stops at a lake on the way, where a typhoon appears and starts sucking in Pikachu and Piplup (an adorable ice penguin who is Dawn's partner Pokemon and my new favorite). Suddenly, a boy and girl appear, with the girl summoning Dialga --- introduced as "the Legendary Pokemon who rules time" --- to stop the typhoon. The two introduce themselves as Sheena and Kevin, the ruins' guardians, and explain that Sheena has the ability to communicate with Pokemon directly by "transcending the confines of time and space." Speaking of space, Palkia --- y'know, the Pokemon who rules space --- shows up and saves Dialga from another typhoon.
Underneath the ruins, Sheena and Kevin explain the typhoons are distortions in space-time because Arceus, the God Pokemon who can make dimensions, is awakening from centuries-long slumber with designs on destroying humanity. Sheena explains this is because her ancestor, Damos, saved Arceus' life after a meteor storm and was granted the Jewel of Life (a part of Arceus made from five Pokemon types) in gratitude. This led Machina to fourish, but Damos betrayed Arceus instead of returning the Jewel of Life and nearly killed him.
So yeah, Ash and friends basically have to appease God and prevent the apocalypse. Oh and also there's also time travel. You'd think a 94-minute kids' movie would crumble under that kind of story but Arceus manages to balance it all in an easy-to-follow fashion with a clear plot.
Of course, the film's English dub (the only language track available on the DVD) undercuts this by being incredibly repetitive. Like many a mocked anime-dub of old, characters hurriedly recap stuff we just saw on-screen as well as repeat some exposition after it's immediately delivered. I don't now how much of this is just in the translation, but it feels a little untrusting of its target audience. Same goes for the songs in this movie, a bunch of rock tunes that feel a bit dopey and simplistic.
Regardless, there's a lot to like about this movie. The various Pokemon battles are very well-animated and expertly staged by Yuyama and his crew. The CGI elements here --- typhoons, trees, and higher dimensions--are all well-designed and seamlessly integrated.
Ash and Brock are just as '90s kids remember them, as are everyone's favorite idiot terrorist trio, Team Rocket. Jessie, James and Meowth don't do too much, but they're good comic relief; there's a really fun gag where they find what they think is treasure in the ruins, but that the movie reveals is just random junk. There's also a good deal of time spent following Pikachu, Piplup and a Pichu (a baby Pikachu) around, and it's insanely adorable comedy.
If you're like me and haven't watched the anime in a long time or played any of the games since Silver, you'd imagine this would get confusing. But really, it doesn't. It's a pretty basic "good-vs-evil" story and this movie is easy enough to follow for the Poke-lapsed. It's not groundbreaking but it's a fun romp that takes how weird this franchise can get at times and runs with it.
Written and drawn by Makoto Mizobuchi and published directly to book form, the Arceus manga is a more-or-less straightforward retelling of the film. Mizobuchi, a veteran illustrator of Pokemon manga and of the trading card game, faithfully recreates character models and the settings of the film.
This is quite a bit shorter, though. The bad guy's final weapon against Arceus isn't shown. Nor is the movie's opening battle or all the Pokemon-only scenes. It's that last one that's a real shame; those scenes are genuine laugh-getters, and Mizobuchi is so good at depicting Pokemon body language they would've been a home run.
Team Rocket's role is basically cut down to a quick cameo, which is understandable but again disappointing. Also unlike in the movie, the Legendaries who aren't Arceus (who can speak English like Meowth) do talk but only say the first part of their names. It doesn't exactly remove the fact that these big things are kaiju compared to Pikachu, but it makes them a bit less alien. Which, considering that these things can control time and space, is maybe selling it short a bit.
Still, though, like its source material, this is a fun little story that can pretty handily sum up what this franchise is all about: plucky kids battling with all-powerful monsters for, occasionally, the fate of the world. It's good comfort food comics and worth checking out.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go hunt down a Vulpix I spotted in my neighborhood earlier...
Pokemon: Arceus & The Jewel of Life is streaming on Hulu Plus and is available digitally and on Blu-Ray & DVD. The manga is available digitally from Viz Media and physically from a variety of retailers and your local library.
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