The anime 20th Anniversary is only a week out, so I thought a cool way to celebrate would be to go through as many categories as I can think of and rank my favorite aspects of the anime. This will be a long post, so let’s get started.
Island of the Giant Pokémon: I love this episode so much. The obvious reason is the sequence where we actually get to see (well, technically read) Pokémon talk for the first and only time. The likely reason that this happened was because it was still so early on in the series that the writers didn’t know if they could get away with just having a group of Pokémon with no humans to interpret what they’re saying. We all know from modern episodes that they were wrong, and that an episode with a group of Pokémon and no humans works just fine. That being said, it was still incredibly fun to have this one time to actually see what Pokémon are saying directly, instead of just having to figure it out based on context. This translation of the Pokémon’s words also gave us an analysis into the mindset of Pokémon like Ekans and Koffing who have evil masters, and yet don’t find themselves to be evil. The one other thing that I love about this episode was the “supernatural” aspect to it. Even if the giant Pokémon turned out to be just robots, we went the entire episode thinking they were real, creating one of the more unique scenarios in the entire series.
Honorable Mentions: Pokémon I Chose You!, Charizard Chills, and Battling the Enemy Within
Sinnoh: As a whole, Sinnoh was the region of the anime that got it closest to perfect. It did so many things right that other series just can’t seem to do well. This list includes, but is not limited to: a proper story arc dedicated to he region’s villain (Team Galactic), a good rival that exists throughout the entire region, a good balance of humor and seriousness, Ash evolving most of his Pokémon, a main character other than Ash with a dedicated story arc, A good usage of Team Rocket (essentially anything that isn’t Unova or Kalos’ handling of Team Rocket), and an amazing Pokémon League. Another wonderful thing about Sinnoh was its movies. Three of its four movies were a part of a trilogy, actually connecting to each other and having a continuing story. It’s such an amazing idea, that I’m forced to question why they haven’t done something similar since. I don’t know if it’s obvious or not, but there are many aspects of Cosmic Quest that I model after Sinnoh, as Sinnoh came the closest in my opinion to getting everything right, and I want to get everything right myself.
Honorable Mentions: Kanto and Hoenn
XY and Z: While Sinnoh may have been my favorite region when averaged across all of its seasons, XY and Z is easily the best single season. I absolutely loved this season, which is ironic seeing as I didn’t enjoy the previous XY seasons that much at all. What XY and Z did best above all else was its heavy overarching story. Its story was the strongest that we have ever seen in the show. I also loved the usage of Alain. Giving him his own 4-part series of specials, and then actually introducing him into the main series as a rival for Ash was just great. Plus having him actually mixed up with the villain of series was pretty cool too. The best part of all was the finale arc. The 5-part episode that wrapped up XY and Z’s story line was a new height for the anime. They essentially turned Pokémon into an action movie of episodes, and it worked wonders. That arc had action, story, and character development all done just right. I was left stunned. Had all of Kalos been on the level of XY and Z, then Kalos would easily have been my favorite region.
Honorable Mentions: Battle Frontier and Sinnoh League Victors
The Rise of Darkrai: After what I said about Sinnoh’s trilogy of movies earlier should make this one not a surprise at all. But even disregarding the trilogy aspects, this movie as a standalone is still my favorite. In general, I tend to be a major fan of the movies that focus on an epic battle between two or more Legendary Pokémon. The biggest issue with such movies is that they tend to have a lack of story and characterization of the Pokémon fighting, but Rise of Darkrai did not fail on that front at all. The combination of this epic battle with the great story and characterization easily allows this movie to be my absolute favorite.
Honorable Mentions: Mewtwo Strikes Back, Destiny Deoxys, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, Giratina and the Sky Warrior, and Arceus and the Jewel of Life
Favorite Opening Theme:
Pokémon Johto: If I disregard the pure nostalgic joy I get from hearing the original theme song, then that leaves the theme of Johto Journeys as my favorite theme song. The theme was just so upbeat and cheery that you can’t help but smile at it. There’s just so much fun and wonder expressed through this song. It really did get its main point across, being the the Johto Region is a whole new world to discover.
Honorable Mentions: The Pokémon Theme, Unbeatable, and Battle Frontier
Favorite Human Character
James: It’s no secret that Team Rocket is one of my favorite things about the show. They just add so much joy and humor, while also being the most complex characters in the series. And the best of Team Rocket is certainly James. Not only is he just a joy to watch, but he easily the best written and most complex character to exist in the entire show. Deep inside he is a truly good and caring person, and yet he self-identifies as a villain. This duality of his character leads to some of the best episodes in the anime whenever there’s one focused on him.
Honorable Mentions: Brock, Ash, and Jessie
Favorite Traveling Companion
Brock: Brock is just great. I’ve seen people accuse Brock of being little more than a walking gag, but that’s part of the reason I love him so much. Brock will always bring a smile to your face and get you to laugh. But still, he’s not just a gag. He’s a wise, older brother-type figure to Ash. Admittedly, the later in his appearances you go, the less of an impact he has on the series, and that is a major shame, but that doesn’t make me like him any less. When Brock left after Sinnoh, I was left very sad by his departure. Cilan and Clemont just haven’t been able to fill the void left behind by Brock. To this day I still hope that Brock will someday return as a main character, as evident by his place in Cosmic Quest.
Honorable Mentions: May and Misty
Paul: I stated it earlier that one of the best parts about Sinnoh was it’s rival, and that handling of the rival is why Paul is my favorite of Ash’s rivals. Paul wasn’t just someone who Ash wanted to beat, he was someone who’s entire definition of character ran completely contrary to Ash’s. This stark contrast not only allowed Paul to be a better character, but also helped Ash to shine in a whole new way. Not only that, but unlike most rivalries of Ash’s, his rivalry with Pal actually had a clear progression and story to it, rather than a simple collection of random battles that we normally see. I also liked Paul because he was a form of social commentary of competitive Pokémon battling. It showed how morally wrong the techniques that competitive battlers would be if they actually lived in the world of Pokémon, which is an opinion I hold strongly.
Honorable Mentions: Gary and Alain
Favorite Villain Team
Team Galactic: After all my gushing over Sinnoh, this one should come as no surprise. Team Galactic is really the only evil team in the anime that has been treated in a good way. Team Rocket was alright, but beyond Jessie, James, and Meowth, they barely had any presence. Team Aqua/Magma were pretty good for their story, but they only had a small handful episodes. Team Plasma didn’t appear until the very end of Unova, and it was only Neo-Plasma, which I find much more boring than the original Team Plasma. Team Flare is the only team that could hold a candle to Team Galactic, but it was all confined to XY and Z, instead of being spread out across the entire region. Unlike all of those, Team Galactic had a good balance of both story and appearances.
Honorable Mentions: Team Flare
Favorite Standalone Villain
Hunter J: Admittedly, this isn’t much of a category, as J is pretty much the only candidate. Sure there are other standalone villains, but they only ever appear for one, maybe two episodes. J actually became the only standalone villain to reappear multiple times and have an impact on the overall story of a region. It is yet another thing that Sinnoh got right.
Honorable Mentions: Malamar
Favorite Pokémon Character
Ash’s Charizard: I admit, it’s a bit of a stereotypical choice, but I just love Charizard. There are two different parts of Charizard’s story, and both have different reasons for making me love it. The first is its disobedience stage. It was not only amusing to watch this Pokémon constantly disobey Ash and attack him with Flamethrower, but it also was a great way to help give Ash additional character. The next phase of Charizard is once it actually starts listening to Ash. This is now great because, with the exception of Pikachu, Charizard and Ash manage to develop a bond stronger than any other of Ash’s Pokémon, once again creating strong character traits in the two of them. One of the only things done right in Unova was the return of Charizard. It was random and pointless, but it was great to see Charizard again.
Honorable Mentions: Wobbuffet, Meowth, and Pikachu
Favorite Battle Overall
Ash vs. Brandon (3rd Battle): I loved this battle because it had so many different things going for it. It was the finale battle of the Battle Frontier, which itself was full of great battles. It had Ash taking on a Legendary Pokémon and winning for the first time ever. It brought back Bulbasaur, Charizard, and Squirtle. And Brandon was perhaps the strongest trainer that Ash has ever defeated. Also, the fact that this was the third time that Ash had to fight Brandon just drives in how important of a match this was and how tough of an opponent Ash was up against.
Honorable Mentions: Paul vs. Ash (Sinnoh League), Ash vs. Tobias, Ash vs. Alain (Kalos League), and Ash vs. Gary (Johto League)
Favorite Rival Battle:
Ash vs. Paul (Sinnoh League): Honestly, anything I have to say about this battle would simply be an extension of what I said about Paul already. This battle was great because it served as the finale of Ash and Paul’s rivalry. I don’t even know what else to say, it was just a great battle to put an end to a great rivalry.
Honorable Mentions: Ash vs. Gary (Johto League) and Ash vs. Alain (Kalos League)
Favorite League Battle:
Ash vs. Tobias: Let’s face it, Ash is not going to win a Pokémon League anytime soon. That’s just a truth of the anime, and one that I don’t necessarily have any issues with. However, if he is going to lose, then that loss should be meaningful, and that’s why I love his fight with Tobias so much. I’ve seen many people complain about Tobias because he had no character and was nothing but a plot device. That’s the reason why I loved him so much. He wasn’t a rival for Ash to defeat, he was a force of nature for Ash to test himself against. Ash may have lost the battles, but in the process he defeated two Legendary Pokemon in one battle, one of which defeated eight gym leaders’ Pokémon as well as every other Sinnoh League opponents’ Pokémon that it faced all by itself. Ash may have lost, but this was the absolute highest point Ash has ever achieved, and that’s the genius of it all. Ash was able to lose in the league like he had to, but it didn’t matter, because he proved how amazing of a trainer he was regardless.
Honorable Mentions: Paul vs. Ash, Gary vs. Ash, and Alain vs. Ash
I know it was a long post, but I hope it got you thinking about what your favorites are. If you want to suggest other topics I should list my favorites for, or if you want to provide a list of your own favorites, feel free to leave a comment.