Young Pokémon trainer Black has always had one dream: to win the Pokémon League Championship. To even compete, though, a trainer must collect badges by defeating the leaders of Pokémon gyms scattered all over the region. Black is just a kid – will he be allowed to go on such a big journey?
Black gets his chance when he and two friends are chosen for Professor Juniper’s research project. The professor needs three young people to test a new invention in the field, and she’s giving each kid a new Pokémon to take along. Black adds the cute, fiery Pokémon Tepig to his team of champions-to-be and sets off to make his dream come true.
In Volume 1, we’re introduced to Black partly through the stories told by his friends Bianca and Cheren, Professor Juniper’s other two new assistants. We see him getting to know his new Tepig and having his first battle with another trainer. There’s also the introduction of a bizarre quirk that stands out even in our fairly quirky protagonist: when he needs to think clearly, Black orders his psychic dream-eating Pokémon, Musha, to clear his head of his League Championship dream, which otherwise completely occupies his thoughts. Musha does this by latching onto Black’s head and chowing down on his ambition until his mind is freed up to think about other things. This is especially strange given that Black only pulls this trick when there are pressing matters to consider, such as “standing next to a raging inferno” or “under attack by unknown opponent.” Presumably even these concerns are not enough to make Black shake his dreams of being a champion for a moment without having those thoughts physically extracted through what appears to be a giant flowered pillow on his head.
In Volume 2, Black and his Tepig are hired by a talent agent named White who trains Pokémon for show business. Black wouldn’t normally go for such things, but since they accidentally caused some damage to a set during a battle, he agrees to let his Tepig do a few acting spots to help White’s company recoup the costs. Meanwhile, something strange is going on: a group calling itself Team Plasma is urging people to release their Pokémon into the wild. They claim it’s the right thing to do, but Black thinks that these Pokémon feel abandoned and don’t know how to live in the wild. He’s ready to tell Team Plasma how wrong they are, but when a Team Plasma member challenges him to a battle, it may turn out to be more than Black can handle. Will White help him out? And what does Team Plasma want, anyway?
Like most of the Pokémon franchise, this series includes frequent battling, but the violence is far from graphic, and its effects are temporary. Black’s age is unspecified; he’s referred to as a kid, and acts quite young, but White (who seems roughly the same age) says he is “pretty handsome” – she seems to be developing a crush. Given their ages and Black’s total obliviousness, though, any funny business in the series seems unlikely.
The art is much like that in other Pokémon manga: clear and active, matching the fast-paced story. The black and white illustrations are particularly fitting when Black is using Musha’s brain-drain focus technique, because he describes his mind in terms of “white noise” that “fades to black,” allowing him to concentrate; this is accompanied by images that show Black’s view of the situation as a grid, pieces going black as he zeroes in on important information.
The series could be especially interesting for kids figuring out how to approach their own goals and ambitions. Black’s enthusiasm and confidence are contagious, but it’s also apparent that his one-track mind sometimes makes him obnoxious and impractical. It’s made clear through the frequent use of Musha’s dream-eating that, to be successful, Black must sometimes consider things other than his own goal; at the same time, the books have a strong “follow your dream” message.
Pokémon: Black and White, vol. 1-2
by Hidenori Kusaka
Art by Satoshi Yamamoto
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781421540900
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781421540917
VIZ Kids, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages