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Pokémon: The First Movie Was a Surprisingly Heartfelt Film


Get your tissues ready, because we’re about to talk about Pokémon: The First Movie (full title Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back). If you didn’t cry during this movie, you ain’t fam, because not only is this movie really good (so good your parents weren’t mad about you taking them), but it actually raised some interesting philosophical questions about the nature of Pokémon.

(Note: I will be using all the of the English/Dub names because I’ve never seen Pokemon subbed, and I’m not going to pretend. Feel free to shame me.)

Pokémon: The First Movie, released just over 20 years ago on July 18, 1998, is about the genetically engineered Pokémon Mewtwo, based on the genetic makeup of the legendary psychic cat Pokemon Mew. Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket, is the one who organizes this project, because he wants to create a Pokémon weapon. Mewtwo rebels against this because, unlike most other Pokémon, he has independent thought, is able to speak, and has no desire to be anyone’s slave. Feeling slighted by his creators, in true sci-fi nature, he plots revenge against humanity.

Mewtwo invites several trainers with messages to battle the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer at New Island, keeping his Pokemon identity a disguise, using a kidnapped Nurse Joy, and bringing a storm to wipe out humanity and Pokémon loyal to humans—which, for the record, is not something a Pokémon can do in the games, and I feel really cheated because of that. Mewtwo then clones the Pokémon belonging to the trainers and begins his war for Pokémon domination.

Eventually, the original Pokémon who belong to trainers escape and do battle with their clones, and the legendary Pokémon, Mew, shows up because he likes a good party.

Throughout the battle, only Pikachu and Meowth choose not to fight, and Ash eventually tries to bring a stop to the violence by putting himself between psychic blasts from Mewtwo and Mew, the colliding attacks turn Ash to stone. Pikachu tries to revive him but can’t. It’s one of the saddest scenes in anime history, and I dare you to not be moved. I DARE YOU. Okay fine, you don’t want to be moved.

Anyway, the tears of the Pokémon are able to heal and revive Ash. Stunned by Ash’s sacrifice, Mewtwo realizes that not all humans are terrible and that fighting isn’t the answer, nor is destroying all of humanity. Mewtwo, Mew, and the clones leave, but not before Mewtwo turns back time (how?) and erases everyone’s memories of what happened. Mewtwo learns: “The circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

The interesting thing about Mewtwo’s conflict with humanity is the question of Pokémon’s purpose outside of being literal battle monsters. I’m not gonna go full “Pokémon is slavery,” but it is weird when you think that a Pokémon pretty much exists to be captured, trained for battle, and made to fight. We never really understand how that kind of existence can look to those who don’t want it. I mean, when we meet Pikachu, he doesn’t want to be in a Pokéball because he’s afraid of it. Surely he can’t be the only one who feels that way?

Also, considering how many times we’ve seen Pokémon fight each other throughout the series, this was one of the few times it seemed truly brutal. The slap fight between Pikachu and his clone always makes me sad to watch because we know Pikachu is a fighter, but not in something like this. I remember wondering then if making Pokémon fight is, at its core, immoral, since they don’t fight each other usually, without trainers, and there is no such thing as an “evil Pokémon.”

Pokémon: The First Movie‘s almost Jurassic Park storyline about cloning and the nature of humanity, on a show that often blurs the line between the autonomy of Pokémon and the nature of the franchise—which is the collection and battling of these creatures—makes time for quiet moments to highlight that sometimes the answer isn’t to fight; it’s to say no, like Pickachu.

“We do have a lot in common. The same Earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same instead of what’s different … well, who knows.”

Of the twenty plus Pokémon movies, which is your favorite?

(image: Toho)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.