Young Pokémon trainer Ash, his loyal companion Pikachu, and their friends Dawn and Brock are getting caught up in the craze for a new sport: Pokémon Baccer. A vaguely soccer-like game played by teams of Pokémon under the direction of their trainers, Pokémon Baccer is attracting huge crowds. When Ash hears that the World Cup competition will be held in nearby Crown City, he and his friends set off to see it. These matches will be especially thrilling, since wealthy businessman Kodai will be participating with a team of three legendary Pokémon.
Or so he says. Kodai, it is rumored, can see into the future, which accounts for his great business success. In fact, he really does have this ability – but he’s losing it. The only way to preserve his power is to repeat what he did to obtain it: ambush a time-traveling Pokémon and steal some of its power. Never mind that this ambush will cause serious ecological collateral damage; last time, it killed all of the plants in the city. According to Kodai’s fading visions of the future, he will find the Pokémon he needs at Crown City on the day of the World Cup games. Which means that Kodai has plans for the city, and they don’t involve playing Pokémon Baccer. They do involve two kidnapped Pokémon: mischievous little Zorua and its powerful companion Zoroark.
Kodai’s plans to manipulate Zoroark using Zorua are thrown off when Zorua escapes. Ash and his friends stumble across the shapeshifting, telepathic Pokémon, and they agree to help it reunite with its “Meema,” Zoroark. That won’t be easy: Kodai has used Zoroark’s powers of illusion to fake an attack on Crown City, and the place is now evacuated and under lockdown. Ash, Zorua, and the others will need the help of a courageous reporter who is looking to expose Kodai – and a time-traveling Pokémon that lost its power to Kodai once and isn’t about to do it again.
One of the most interesting things about this story is the relationship between Zorua and Zoroark. Pokémon are not generally given gendered pronouns – they’re referred to using “it” or, more frequently, by their species – and it is never specified exactly how these two creatures are related. Zoroark is referred to as Zorua’s “Meema” – when asked for explanation, Zorua says, “Meema is my Meema” – and Zorua as “your [Zoroark’s] Zorua”. “Meema” might be interpreted as “grandmother” or “mother,” but all that is certain is that they are close, with Zoroark being larger, more powerful, and protective of Zorua.
The plot takes many turns, but they are easy to follow. The protagonists are good-hearted and have strong relationships – Ash, Pikachu, and their friends will be familiar to some readers already, but Zorua is also surprisingly well-developed. With its friendships and desire to prove itself as well as its attachment to “Meema,” Zorua may be even easier for young readers to identify with than the human characters.
The illustrations are clear and energetic, matching the action-packed story. There is quite a bit of violence but, in typical Pokémon fashion, most leaves no lasting effects. The story stands alone well, though fans of the franchise will recognize characters and running gags; for those who don’t, the beginning of the book includes an introduction to the characters. A movie has been made of the story which may be a good tie-in for some readers.
Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions
by Momota Inoue
VIZ Kids, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages