Naoto TakenakaMayumi IizukaRica MatsumotoMasami Toyoshima
Pokemon movie #3: The Spell of the Unown
Also known as: Pokemon: Emperor of the Crystal Tower
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Original creator: Satoshi Tajiri
Writer: Hideki Sonoda, Takeshi Shudo
Actor: Ikue Ohtani, Mayumi Iizuka, Rica Matsumoto, Shinichiro Miki, Inuko Inuyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Naoto Takenaka, Tomokazu Seki, Unshou Ishizuka, Yuji Ueda, Ai Kato, Akiko Yajima, Ayako Shiraishi, Chinami Nishimura, Etsuko Kozakura, Hiroide Yakumaru, Katsuyuki Konishi, Koichi Sakaguchi, Kouichi Yamadera, Masami Toyoshima, Yoko Soumi
Keywords: Pokemon, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 91 minutes, including Pikachu & Pichu
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 27 February 2013
No, not "Unknown". It's spelled "Unown" and they're a race of extra-dimensional living runes that can sense the feelings of other living creatures and warp reality to suit that person's wishes and dreams. You can see where this is going.
The film's likeable and even charming, but also soporific enough to be a struggle to get through.
The charm comes from the fact that there's no villain. There are characters who serve the function of antagonists, but these people are: (a) a little girl (Mei) who just wants her mummy and daddy, and (b) a mystical Pokemon called Entei who only wants to make the girl's wishes come true. This is heartwarming. It makes for a lovely-looking film, when Entei turns the landscape into crystal and builds the world's biggest flowers for himself and Mei to live in. From start to finish, this film doesn't have a malicious thought or even a cross word. It's innocent.
Even Team Rocket don't break this rule, by the way. They're quarantined into their own subplot and never even meet the other characters, let alone try to do anything bad to them. At one point Meowth breaks the fourth wall with "I wonder if we have a bigger part in the next movie?" Answer: undoubtedly.
Unfortunately this gives the film the dramatic strength of a blancmange. I was fond of the characters. I wished them all the best. I was just having trouble staying awake. The only conflict in this film is Pokemon battles and even those are friendly, good-natured and sportsmanlike. Our heroes compliment their opponents afterwards. There's no danger. Nothing compels you to watch. It's inoffensive and pleasant on a moment-by-moment level, but I wouldn't recommend putting it on television except as visual wallpaper while you're doing something else.
Naturally, my mind wandered to the Pokemon battles. This is such a fluffy, heartwarming franchise that I don't think it's possible to make sense of its subliminally disturbing human-Pokemon relationships. There are plenty of Pokemon battles here, enough to make this the only film in which Satoshi uses all the Pokemon he owns. This means plenty of opportunities to think too much about the fights you're watching. No one thinks anything of sending Pokemon into battle for the entertainment of their owners, for instance. For the humans, it's their obsession and the only thing they think about. For the Pokemon, it's just the way things are. However those energy blasts and so on look dangerous to me and I'm sure Pokemon get killed from time to time as a result of these battles. What happens then? Perhaps the humans zap the corpse back into that energy ball to be resurrected, in which case can we also assume that they're necromantic duel-to-the-death merchants?
Then we have the prison-balls themselves. What's it like to be inside one? Is it like a TARDIS? Do the Pokemon even exist when they're currently in storage, waiting to be zapped out to fight? If a trainer gets killed or drops his ball down a drain, will the Pokemon trapped inside it live forever? Will they be conscious? Would they eventually age to death, or are they in cold storage and so wouldn't realise any time had passed if the ball was reactivated a million years later?
I thought about these things. The film invites you to.
Other possible puzzles include the Peter Pan and Tinkerbell physics. "Believe in me." How does that work? How do you believe in someone when they're standing in front of you? However I liked the water Pokemon battle, which is fun and a bit different. The English dub is fine, by the way.
Oh, and as usual it was released with an animated short, this time the rather good Pikachu & Pichu.
I find myself in the unusual position of being fond of this film, while thinking it spectacularly fails to do its job. On the upside, it's pleasant and it has a plot role for Satoshi's mum. This isn't one of the thematically meatier Pokemon films, but it's clearly addressing the subject of a child's desire for its parents. Mei's wish being granted thus inflicts (but less drastically) the same predicament on Satoshi. There's plenty to enjoy here, but the storyline really needed some urgency to give it entertainment value. I often admire stories in an adventure franchise that manage to get away with not having a villain (e.g. Gridlock), but that's because it's unusual and difficult. This film doesn't get away with it.