"Mega Blaziken, thanks for everything!" - Ash Ketchum, a 10-year-old boy who is probably really 29 by now.
Pokémon sure is strange. The whimsical air of the kid-friendly franchise and all of its adorable little creatures belie the sinister nature of the stories that it tells. In every game, you run away from home as a preteen in order to enslave wild monsters and have them fight other enslaved monsters for money. But HEY, it's all okay, because your ability to fight well is derived from the friendships that you've forged with your enslaved monsters, and their ability to hurt other monsters is simply a reflection of... your love? God, I don't know.
Like seemingly every other kid in the 1990's, I was swept up by the Pokémon craze, devouring every lazy rehash of the core games and pestering my parents to drop tons of cash into flimsy trading cards. More than 15 years later, Pokémon has transcended from its initial fad status into an eternal cultural fixture. New games, which are released on an almost annual basis, continue to sell into the millions. Hundreds of new monsters and constant, subtle iterations to its ruleset have pushed what is marketed as kid's-first-roleplaying-game into feeling almost as complex and deep as chess. One number is particularly staggering: the Pokémon anime has had over nine hundred episodes.
Because I have a job and I occasionally go outside, I did not watch all 900+ episodes for this post. Instead, I decided to watch the first couple of episodes of the XY series. Like many cartoons with children as the intended audience, this show's creative impetus is "let's get these kids to beg their parents to buy them things until the parents finally acquiesce just to get them to shut up for a second." In this case, Ash Ketchum's billionth adventure is designed to show the viewer just how many cool new features the region of "Kalos," the setting for Pokémon X and Y, has.
While I'm a dork who still plays Pokémon as an adult, I was taken aback by how obtuse and nonsensical this show must now be for someone who doesn't already know what's going on here. Characters continuously say absurd things in a matter-of-fact way, like "When Pokémon cry, you'll find that people cry as well" and "Bunnelby's ears can do lots of great things." Large chunks of this show's dialogue may as well consist of people reading video game strategy guides aloud. At one point, the show's writers attempt to wring pathos out of "that attack must have really hurt him because it's super effective against water types!"
Ash Ketchum, who to my knowledge has never taken a break from protagonist duty over the course of 900+ episodes, has become an individual of indefatigable nobility. Everyone that he meets is instantly impressed by him, to the point of becoming inspired to be the best possible versions of themselves. His two other character traits are "he wants to beat everyone else in battle" and "he's sort of a wacky clutz, how droll." New characters are introduced at a rapid pace, and they all want to either abandon their current lives to follow Ash around or give him a bunch of free shit.
Outside of Ash having become our infallible hope for the future, very little seems different from my vague memories of what this show was like in the late 90's. The show's overall look is drenched in soft lighting, and since most people watching this are already hundreds of episodes deep into the series, they don't bother to develop characters any more. It is a little heartwarming to know that this show is likely to connect with a new generation of kids, though. If I'm not buying those trading cards anymore, someone has to!