by Logan Gion
That’s a broad question, green font… With 1,250 episodes and counting, Pokémon has followed its protagonist, Ash Ketchum, on his quest to be the very best since 1997. (UPDATE 9/14/23: Ash Ketchum’s final episode aired in Japan in January of this year. Netflix released his final episode on September 8th, 2023.) In January 2021, Statistica.com listed Pokémon as the most valuable media franchise of all time, its grosses $32 Billion ahead of Star Wars and $20 Billion ahead of Mickey Mouse. The Pokémon anime led the Japanese influx of animation content in the ’90s, with programming divisions like Kids’ WB eagerly pushing cartoons that were already drawn, saving the companies massive time and labor costs.
In the years since, celebrities from Justin Bieber to Keke Palmer to Christina Aguilera have publicly professed their love for the franchise (not to mention infamous YouTuber/Fighter…? Logan Paul).
Over 20 years after the anime started, Pokémon made American headlines again when Netflix bought North American streaming rights to the anime, using the show’s massive library to sate young viewers’ appetites in the streaming age.
–I wanted to cover one of the longest running animated shows in history. With 1,200 episodes and counting, Ash Ketchum has been training to be the very best since 1997. While I hardly have the time to watch the entire series (as an adult–Arceus knows that I watched the first couple seasons on repeat as a kid), I decided to gormandize an entire generation of the show during the COVID lockdown.
In a world somewhat like ours lives an eternally 10-year-old boy named Ash Ketchum. His dream is to become a Pokémon master, a vaguely defined goal that original viewers thought meant catching every kind of creature. Short for Pocket Monsters, Pokémon are basically the shows equivalent of animals–only Pokémon’s elemental, psychic, magical, or even cosmic abilities sometimes make interacting with the creatures somewhat hazardous.
Luckily, many Pokémon are friendly and tag along inside Poké Balls, helping their human companions or training to battle in competition. Ash Ketchum’s main passion is battling, so he and his permanent companion, Pikachu, travel the globe meeting new humans and Pokémon along the way.
Pokémon: Sun & Moon covers Ash’s time spent in the Alola region–an island paradise based off of our world’s Hawaiian Islands. Here, Ash discovers powerful “Z-moves,” showstopping forces that alter the course of a battle.
Ash and Pikachu can’t use Z-moves, however, because they haven’t yet learned to respect the land or culture of the Alola region. Luckily, an island guardian Pokémon, Tapu Koko, bequeaths Ash with a Z-crystal. To harness this power, Ash joins a nearby school. There, he meets classmates Lillie, Lana, Mallow, Sophocles, and Kiawe. Kiawe, a lifelong Alolan native, tells Ash about “The Island Challenge,” a series of trials that allow both trainer and Pokémon to gain a deeper understanding of the region and Z-Moves.
Lillie, meanwhile, has a horrible fear of all Pokémon, unable to touch them due to a traumatic incident in her past. As Ash helps Lillie overcome her fear, he’ll uncover a sinister plot to unleash a new kind of inter-dimensional Pokémon upon Alola!
Finally, as was true in other generations, Ash occasionally encounters Jesse and James of Team Rocket–mobsters from his homeland obsessed with capturing Pikachu. For Pokémon: Sun & Moon, Team Rocket receives some clever upgrades to their crew. Highlights include a disturbingly strong teddy-bear Pokémon named Bewear, a poisonous sea-urchin Pokémon named Mareanie, and a horrifying ghost Pokémon named Mimikyu (who, in an attempt to tone down its grotesque appearance, disguises itself in Pikachu merchandise).
These ingredients all make for a consistently entertaining experience; Pokémon: Sun & Moon has more highs than lows with a handful of episodes that were legitimately moving or hilarious. The main arcs of the show blend and dovetail smartly as well. That said, there were some Muk among the Comfey. Two episodes in particular were so bad I couldn’t finish them–even after I tried watching them on double speed.
Correct. To be honest, this post will read as more of a guide to the show rather then as an out-and-out review. I’ll sprinkle a few thoughts and notes throughout the table below, but, overall, I aim to label the necessary episodes to complete each arc. I’ll also point out my favorite and least favorite episodes.
It’s my hope that, as you follow this guide, you’ll realize that you, in fact, do NOT “gotta catch ’em all.”