It's a sequel to the first Pokemon movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back
, and every bit as rich thematically. In all seriousness, it might be the most interesting fictional treatment I've ever seen of environmentalism.
Also Mewtwo is awesome.
Firstly, the story. Mewtwo is everyone's favourite super-Pokemon with near-godlike psychic powers and even more overwhelming psychological issues. Last time we saw him trying to commit genocide and take over the world, of which we're reminded here in a recap sequence. You see, he's a clone, created as a genetic experiment by scientists. This is a big deal for him. "I am not of this world. We must live like outcasts if we are to live at all."
Mewtwo's got over his phase of being evil, but he's also got some silly ideas in his head and he's talking like a suicide risk. After saving the lives of some humans, he then goes out of his way to explain that this was an entirely dispassionate act and that he felt no emotional connection with them. As for the idiot thinking, he seems to regard being a clone as like being undead. "Whatever we do, wherever we go, we don't belong." For him, the key is whether you came into the world by being born. He wasn't. He was built. He was created in a laboratory and so doesn't even have the right to breathe the same air as the rest of us. Obviously this is silly, but Mewtwo is torturing himself with it and in addition he's still leading that clone army he grew last time.
What's interesting here is that these clones have bred, despite the fact that the games have rules about this that the anime, as it sometimes does, is ignoring. (I looked that up, so it might be wrong.) Surely the conventionally born children of two clone parents should be a loophole in Mewtwo's logic?
Anyway, it would normally be hard to care about anyone with so much garbage between his ears, but with Mewtwo that's why he's so fascinating. Partly it's simply that he's earned it. We've seen how far his beliefs will take him. However it's also the fact that he could drop a mountain on you with a flick of his fingers.
So that's Mewtwo. Any story that's doing him properly is automatically going to be strong. (They are.) However he's just one of several sides in this sophisticated plot, which is a good deal more complicated than you'd have expected for a full feature film, let alone an hour-long TV special. The combatants are:
(a) Mewtwo and his clone army.
(b) Satoshi, Pikachu and the other regular heroes.
(c) Jessie, James and Meowth, the Team Rocket goofballs who are basically comic relief, as you often get with ongoing villains in a children's cartoon.
(d) nastier and more heavyweight villains from Team Rocket. The main one is Giovanni, who's the head of the entire organisation and normally far too important to be the direct antagonist in Pokemon TV episodes. Think of him as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, complete with a cat. On this occasion he even has a special agent with the code name of double-oh nine.
(e) ordinary Pokemon who also live in this area
(f) human scientists, studying the environment.
That's a lot, especially in an hour. The environmentalists fare the least well, successfully conveying their exposition but not really being particularly successful as characters. More surprisingly, Satoshi and the other human regulars also get less of a look-in than you'd expect. They feature heavily in the first fifteen minutes, in which the episode is basically following the heroes on a day trip and not bothering to get on with the plot, but after that they drift from the picture a bit and we're watching the ping-pong between different groups of monsters, villains, comedy villains and reformed but still scary ex-villains.
Pikachu gets an important story role, though. I like Pikachu and she's important here, but it seems unfortunate to give her a ton of dialogue that then has to be translated from "Pikachu" into human language by Meowth. Nevertheless she's again an important symbol of good, but with the surprising new information that her cloned counterpart tends to be violent and aggressive. There are plenty of reasons for this, but it's still intriguing.
Anyway, that's a cool line-up. You could lock them in a closet and still get a good story out of it, but in practice there's also that environmental theme I mentioned. Mewtwo's taken his clones to live on a mountain plateau, as far from interfering humans as it's possible to get. (He says that humans are the last thing a Pokemon needs and it's hard to disagree.) This by definition makes Mewtwo's mountaintop colony an environmental sanctuary. The local species are living undisturbed by mankind. It's surrounded by jungle and so hard to get to that the only human living anywhere nearby is a lady scientist who makes ends meet by also working for a bus company.
That's the set-up, but where this goes is better than that. This episode never talks like a hippy. Environmentalist movies tend to be a bit worthy and preachy, but this is a children's cartoon and they don't have time for anything you can't explain inside three seconds. The great environmental treasure here is... WATER. It's pure. It might have magical healing powers. It also tastes so good that a drinker appears to have having orgasms, although Satoshi disagrees and says instead that it tastes as if something's been swimming around in it. Having thus established that the local water is a combination of ambrosia and regenerating medicine, the scriptwriter then dumps it in the plot crossfire. What makes this such a cool device for addressing this theme is that it stops the story from focusing on abstract concepts, but instead on the shittiness of rich, powerful people who see the world through Selfishness Goggles. The audience knows the water's magical, but also a delicate resource that only exists in the first place because it's undisturbed. That's no secret. The characters work all that out too. It's just that half of them don't care. For them it's a plot device, or something to be exploited.
That's enough meat for two powerful films. Mewtwo is obviously magnificent, but adding the environmental angle makes for greatness squared. There's both emotional and intellectual weight, if you can get past the fact that it's a children's cartoon with bright primary colours, action scenes and goofy monsters bashing each other.
1. The English dub is better. No pain.
2. There's less heavy-handed moralising.
3. There's a weird romantic comedy element. I hadn't expected that in a kiddie show like this. Brock/Takeshi's girl-chasing annoyed me, but apparently that's part of his characterisation and he does it all the time. Huh. However Jessie's fantasising was funny, then at the end there's an actual "no, we're not kidding" romance! It's throwaway, but it's there.
4. "I'm valuable because I can talk human talk." Why can Meowth talk human, but his clone can't? Later answer: that's because of his backstory. A long time ago Meowth met a female Meowth he fancied, but she only wanted her human owner. Meowth learned to talk, thinking this would win her affections, but it didn't. He sacrificed his Pokemon-ness for it, though, and can't really fight as a Pokemon would. Heh. More romance. Anyway, the episode doesn't go into any of this, but it's correct that the clone can't talk.
I'm increasingly impressed by Pokemon. I hadn't expected it to be anywhere near this strong. It has strong morals and amazing thematic depth, although I'm sure I've been spoiled by so far only having watched films with Mewtwo in them. They have impressive continuity with the original film, for instance picking up on the amnesia from last time and even calling Mewtwo out on it. It's a children's cartoon based on a video game, but a really good one.
"Do you always need a reason to help someone?"