I have been playing Pokemon games for a long time. I started by collecting the trading cards and went on to play Pokemon Blue and so began a lifelong relationship with Pokemon. The only generation of Pokemon I never touched was X & Y and that mostly because I was a poor student and was still enjoying Platinum. Outside of the games, I have distinct memories of watching the first movie and I even have an old DVD of it somewhere at home. I even enjoyed the first season of the anime but I’ve never fallen in love with anything beyond the main games in the series. Side note – Pokemon Conquest was amazing and the world deserves a sequel.
So it was with some hesitation and reluctance that I tried the manga, Pokemon Adventures. I was expecting at best the quality of a good Pokemon film and at worst the TV series beyond the first, admittedly nostalgic, first season. What I got was none of those. Instead, I found something that fit that niche I’ve always wanted from Pokemon – a compelling story.
The Pokemon games have always been the same story, give or take a few minor details. You collect gym badges, face off against the Team Rocket equivalent for the region and battle the elite four. After which you go hunt the Legendary Pokemon and then settle down for the real game, building your team for PVP. For many people, myself included, the actual story of Pokemon always took a backseat and with some entries (I’m looking at you Sun & Moon) I felt it got in the way.
And so, we have the perfect Pokemon story, not in a game but oozing with all the little monsters we’ve come to love. The initial arc (the only one I’ve read) follows Red who is aesthetically similar to Ash from the anime but that is where the resemblance ends. Where Ash is one of the most useless trainers around, only managing wins through luck or cheating, Red uses strategies that make sense if you have played the games (most of the time at least) and is a prototypical protagonist – he is generally nice and good at most things. We follow his adventures as he battles gym leaders and grows a relationship with his Pokemon – and hey, there’s also a Pikachu.
It isn’t until we start to encounter Giovani and we start to see what Team Rocket is doing. Without spoiling anything, Pokemon Adventures contains a much darker story that you would expect from the franchise. There are actual Pokemon deaths and the manga delves into the power Pokemon hold, especially Legendary ones, and how it can be abused in the wrong hands. It brings Pokemon more in line with what this world might be like rather than the cartoon-ified version we’ve seen before. Team Rocket are actively trying to kill Red and his Pokemon and have actual plans for world domination. I’m told that Giovani grows into an even more compelling villain in later arcs and I find that genuinely exciting.
While this isn’t grimdark Pokemon, it adds a level of realism and danger that has been lacking from many of the franchises other works. This means that there is actual tension during the conflicts rather than merely the risk of whiting/blacking out and losing some pocket money.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. If you have played any of the main games or have an interest in this world, then there’s lots to enjoy. It is fun seeing gym leaders and learning little facts about the region you might not have known before. The manga fleshes out the world, especially if you are like me and only paid vague attention to the story in the main games.
It is brilliantly drawn and each Pokemon brimming with life and character. There are epic panels of fantastic battles and along with cute and silly panels for lighter moments. The manga style is of that somewhat classic era and it has aged excellently. Even though they were originally released in the late 90’s. It has all that charm associated with the first few Pokemon games and brings plenty of it’s own.
After reading the first four volumes of the manga, I think I’m hooked. This series has an arc for each of the major game releases including many of the remakes and if this exciting and entertaining start is anything to go by, then if you are a Pokemon fan and haven’t delved into the manga, you should give it a go.
Thanks for reading. If you want more Bookclubbing, there’s an episode of the podcast where we discuss Games People Play. To scratch that video game itch, why not read about Hollow Knight’s map reading? Or perhaps you want some board game hotness, if so why not read my review of London.
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