Ash Ketchum has to be the most iconic human character of the Pokémon franchise. He and his pal Pikachu have starred in every Pokémon movie and TV series. Their companions change, and so do the settings they explore, but Pokémon-loving Ash and loyal Pikachu stay much the same. Indeed, Ash has been ten years old since his first appearance more than twenty years ago
This stand-alone volume recaps the 20th Pokémon movie, which is a reimagining of how Ash and Pikachu started their journey together. This story has been told before, back in 1997, and many elements remain the same: Ash oversleeps and misses out on choosing his first Pokémon, leaving him stuck with a stubborn Pikachu. He meets another Pokémon trainer who makes fun of him, and who will reappear through the story as Ash’s rival. Ash and Pikachu bond when they protect each other during a wild Pokémon attack. They then glimpse a phoenix-like legendary Pokémon called Ho-Oh. The duo soon meets two new friends who join them on their journey as Ash pursues his goal of being the greatest Pokémon Master ever. This story even keeps some of the minor plotlines from the original, like Ash’s bond with his Charmander and his decision to let his Butterfree return to the wild.
So what’s new here? For starters, the supporting cast has changed. Ash’s rival and his traveling companions are quite different from the ones in his first go-round. And while the villains from Team Rocket appear, it’s only briefly and only as comic relief, never as a serious threat. It’s also worth noting that the Pokémon franchise has expanded a lot since 1997. While Ash’s own Pokémon come from the original set of creatures, newer types do appear in this volume.
There’s added significance to Ash’s early encounter with Ho-Oh, too. This time, the Pokémon drops a feather down to Ash, a sign that he could be the legendary Rainbow Hero. Ash and Pikachu make it their goal to find Ho-Oh again, and spend much of the book tracking it down.
Ash retains his personality from the previous series: determined, impulsive, and a bit naïve, but deeply good-hearted. His new friends, too, are kind people and easy to root for. His new rival, meanwhile, is nastier than the one in the original series, even abandoning a Pokémon to die because he thinks it is weak. Of course, Ash saves the Pokémon and proves his rival wrong. As in most Pokémon stories, good wins the day.
The art is pretty standard Pokémon fare: the focus is on characters and action rather than backgrounds, and most of the characters are cute, young-looking, and not overly complex in their design. The frequent action scenes are visually clear and easy to understand. Characters’ emotions are often exaggerated for effect.
This book has fewer jokes and less visual humor than a lot of Pokémon manga. But while it’s short on silliness, it is long on emotional drama. One of Ash’s companions tells a sad story about a Pokémon who died protecting him when he was a child. The Pokémon abandoned by Ash’s rival is heartbroken and nearly dies. And in the end, though it’s unclear exactly how we’re supposed to interpret this, it seems that Ash actually dies protecting Pikachu, but is brought back to life by the strength of their bond. Intense stuff.
This volume is considerably longer than most Pokémon manga. Even given that, it feels like a lot is packed into it. While it does stand alone in terms of plot, it does not explain anything about how its world works: what Pokémon are, what their trainers do, and so on. It may, therefore, be more rewarding for readers who are already familiar with the Pokémon universe than for newcomers.
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!
By Ryo Takamisaki
VIZ Media, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages