About the Movie Reviews
So, well, I've been doing these movie reviews. And because I've had some people question my methods with this, and I can imagine misunderstandings that might arise, and I just like to ramble, I felt like writing a bit of an article explaining my general reasoning for doing this and how I do it.
Why Review the Movies?
Well, although I've only seen the first 52 episodes of the Pokémon anime itself (after that it stopped airing in Iceland), I like to consider the movies an occasion to catch up with the general state of that aspect of the Pokémon canon once a year. And I love reviewing and analyzing fiction. Thus, why not review the Pokémon movies?
The other main factor in my decision to write these reviews is that I generally think that there is a regrettable lack of critical reviews of the Pokémon movies written from an open-minded adult perspective. This warrants a bit of an explanation. First, what I mean by "adult" is specifically that when we're children, we don't think very critically about entertainment. To a kid, critical assessment of media tends to be mostly limited to concluding some works are "boring", with those that escape that particular stamp being judged on rather superficial qualities: Mewtwo and his clones look cool, or the three legendary birds fighting is awesome, or they wish they could get to ride around on Lugia, and therefore the movie is good. A lot of Pokémon fans, even those that are no longer at that excitable age, view the movies through the nostalgia glasses of the time when they were and thus judge them disproportionately on these superficial qualities that appealed to them as children. Most of the time when there are discussions on people's favorite Pokémon movies on forums, for instance, a lot of people tend to just answer that some movie was their favorite because "[insert star legendary here] is awesome" or "[insert scene here] looked cool". Now, adults can legitimately enjoy things for such reasons too, but by "adult" I here mean specifically avoiding this superficialness and allowing myself to think critically about the plot, characters and so on.
"Open-minded" also calls for some clarification. By this I mean simply that, unlike an irritating number of adults, I am ready to accept the basic premises of the world the movies are set in: there are creatures called Pokémon that have apparently supernatural powers, they speak in syllables of their species' names, they can be captured and stored in little balls, and human kids use them to battle one another. I find it quite tiresome how otherwise intelligent adults can have a tendency to get so caught up with ignorantly ridiculing this basic premise that they seem to forget there is an actual movie. All fiction needs to be approached on its own terms: there are fundamental ideas that have to be taken for granted to understand what the author was actually attempting to do, and to complain about these fundamental ideas is just whining that the movie isn't some other movie. What can be criticized is how well the author succeeded at what they were trying to do, and that's what I aim to focus on in my reviews. There is no reason to call the basic premise of Pokémon into question when reviewing a Pokémon movie, and I maintain that this is not just because this is a Pokémon website and I happen to be a Pokémon fan to begin with.
There is another kind of "adult" perspective, namely the one that goes something like, "Well, I was bored as hell and had no idea what was going on, but the kids loved it, so why are you grumpies complaining?" This could be mixed in with inane comments about morals, how the movie is "cute" or "colorful", and so on. I actually dislike this kind of attitude even more than the former. Fiction is fiction is fiction: good stories can be enjoyed by anyone with the mental capacity to understand them. All too frequently, however, adults are so convinced that fiction for children just isn't supposed to be enjoyable to them that they refuse to actually attempt to understand it, resulting in this thickheaded, patronizing idea that of course children's movies are really bad but it's okay because kids can't tell. Again, I seek to specifically avoid this: I will not apologize for the movies' flaws by citing the target audience or discuss patronizing concepts like how colorful it is. The fact they're kids' movies does not mean that all that matters is whether they can keep a kid amused or teach them a moral lesson.
But Why So Serious?
So some will immediately balk at the concluding sentence of the previous section. Surely, they'll point out, you're being hypocritical when you first say the movies have to be judged on the basis of how well they accomplish what the creator was trying to do but then proceed to decide to ignore that they were made to keep kids amused? Why are you taking the Pokémon movies seriously? They really are for kids, whether you like it or not. See, the thing is that I think this entire perspective on entertainment "for kids" and entertainment "for adults" is pretty stupid. I myself write stories that would be considered "children's books" if they were to be published. Does that mean that I am writing these stories with the aim of amusing kids of some target age? No, absolutely not.
The thing is that stories ought to be written for their own sake, just because they're there in your head and you need to get them out. Of course you want to be able to share that story with someone, and you can value your audience greatly, and you can have a particular demographic in mind as your likely audience, but if you're writing simply to appeal to some target audience, with no passion about the story yourself, you're missing the point and your work is a marketing ploy, not fiction. I suppose not every creator will agree with my philosophy on this, but I'd at least like to believe the creators of the Pokémon movies (and all other creators) actually care about the works they're producing, and if they don't, pretending they do is most certainly not doing them a disservice. And if they do care, then they want to make something good that anyone willing to understand it can enjoy, even if the "target audience" would settle for much less; that's part of caring about what you're creating. Thus, I consider myself to be within my right to assume that I can judge the movies as I would any other movie; heck, if I were them I would be offended to see them judged any other way. If I ever publish a children's book and a parent tells me they thought it was stupid but their kid loved it, I will consider myself to have failed spectacularly (or, well, I'd be likely to suspect the parent is of the second type of adult mentioned above, but if they brought up valid complaints about the book, the fact the kid didn't notice them wouldn't make me feel better about it).
Finally, even if I weren't inclined to think the creators really did care, this just makes for a much more interesting review, both to write and to read, than "This movie makes no sense but kids like it because it has these completely superficial qualities, so it's all good."
I Demand to Know Your Methods!
The review is written during one final viewing of the Japanese movie, during which I alternate between watching and writing the synopsis of what I've just been watching. As a rule, I try to have watched the movie at least twice before this final viewing as well: once whenever I first see it, and then at least once shortly before the final viewing, to refresh my memory on the general plot of the movie and begin to form a critical view of it (which will later become the "Good" and "Bad" sections) in my head. I may watch it more often too, especially if I'm feeling masochistic and decide to watch the dub as well, but I consider seeing it those three times to be the minimum.
After the final viewing, I generally read over the completed synopsis to be sure I remember all the stuff I commented on there and the plot points I've mentioned, watch select scenes again if I want to bring up something that I've forgotten the exact details of, and then write up the Good and Bad sections, which by that point have been brewing in my head during both of the main critical viewings and the previous reading of the synopsis. By this method I hope to catch as many plot holes and other issues as possible as well as pinpointing to the best of my ability exactly why the good points work. After writing both of these sections, I'll read over them again, contemplate my general personal feelings about the movie, and wrap it up with a summary of how it all seems to add up in my opinion. Ta-da, movie review. Then I put it on the site and poke myself about watching the next movie.
Now, why would I insist on reviewing the Japanese version of the movies while still using the English names for the characters, Pokémon, named concepts and so on? This can be broken down into two questions: first, why go to pains to find fansubs and watch the movie in Japanese with amateur translations, and second, if I'm watching the movie in Japanese, why am I specifically referring to all named concepts as if I were watching the English version? There are a couple of reasons for both.
The first reason I watch fansubs is that I cannot stand Pokémon in English. I grew up on the short-lived Icelandic dub, so the English voices don't have the nostalgia thing going for them, and the weird inflections and voices and general acting style of most English anime voice acting, including Pokémon, make it pretty much impossible for me to take it seriously. (See above for why I want to take it seriously to begin with.) The first time I saw the fourth movie was the English dub, and I spent the entirety of it being horrified by how much every single voice grated on my ears. I've heard actual Japanese people often think Japanese anime voice acting is terrible and that the English dubs are better, and that may well be true, but it is hard for me to notice awkward Japanese acting precisely because it's in a language I don't fluently understand - I know English and can tell when it's being spoken unnaturally, but since I don't really know what "natural" Japanese sounds like, I can watch anime in Japanese without the voice acting ruining it for me.
Secondly, they were originally in Japanese, and I prefer watching/reading things in their original language if I can in order to get a better feel for the intentions of the original author. This applies doubly to things like reviews, where it would simply be unfair towards the creators to review a distorted version of their original work. Of course, I don't actually know Japanese, so this point is somewhat made moot by the need for translated subtitles anyway, but because the Pokémon dub frequently just goes and shamelessly alters what is being said, it is at least preferable to have a fansub that, given the translators were competent, probably is at least somewhat closer to what the creators intended than the dub's cheerfully censored and mouth-flap-modified rendition.
Thirdly, well, honestly, there is absolutely no reason I would want to watch the English dub, even if I didn't mind the voice acting or being close to the creator's intentions. Again, I didn't grow up on the English dub, so it has no nostalgia value for me; I'd be digging up the Icelandic versions if I wanted that. Most people who prefer dubs do so because it doesn't feel "real" to them if they can't actually listen to and understand the speech, or because they find reading subtitles distracting, or something in that direction, stemming directly from the fact they're not actually used to watching media with subtitles. This is not the case with me; in Iceland all movies and TV shows are subtitled except those that are expected to have a substantial audience of children who can't read, and even then most 'high-profile' children's movies (such as all of Pixar's films) are shown both dubbed and subtitled to offer a choice. Thanks to the original language thing I mentioned above, I always pick the subtitled version. Heck, I find it kind of weird to watch Icelandic movies because I'm not used to watching live-action media without subtitles. Whenever I watch English-language media on DVD, I do it with the English subtitles on because I'm more comfortable both listening and reading than just listening. You get the idea; I'm perfectly used to watching things with subtitles. This means there is nothing deterring me from the subtitled versions and no incentive for me to watch the dub instead. I have been watching some of the English dubs too anyway in a sort of morbid curiosity and so I can complain about the edits, but for the actual reviewing of the actual movie, I prefer to watch the subs.
The main reason, then, that I don't go the route of the fansubs themselves and most people who insist on watching Pokémon in Japanese and use the original names of characters, Pokémon, moves and other named concepts is that I'm not doing this because I'm some sort of a Japanese purist. The majority of my audience is English-speaking, what with this being an English-language website, and know the Pokémon franchise mainly through the English localization, as do I myself. I don't really see a problem with embracing the fundamentals of these localizations and am all for letting people recognize the characters and so on by their official translated names instead of having to try to figure out what the hell I'm talking about from the context if they don't know the Japanese names of everything by heart. When I complain about the dub in my reviews, it is because I believe the dub is in fact a worse movie than the original, not because I want to deny its existence or its translations of names, concepts and so on.
The other reason for this is simple consistency. Japanese names have different romanizations, and Japanese titles and concepts have different translations depending on who translates. Since I don't know Japanese well enough to determine for myself how I think something should be translated, I do not feel right about just arbitrarily picking one of the fandom's various unofficial English translations and using that - I think it's my obsessive-compulsive thing. There is just one English dub, however, providing a clean reference for all names and terms used in the Pokémon anime and movies (well, except The Legend of Thunder). It's just easier that way.
He, She, It?
My policy on gender pronouns for Pokémon in these reviews is to refer to all Pokémon as "it" unless they are explicitly referred to as "he" or "she" in the dub or they speak human (telepathically or otherwise) with a voice that is clearly meant to imply one gender or the other. So in my reviews, Mewtwo is a "he", but Mew is an "it". I realize this goes against at least three lines of popular fan logic ("Both are genderless in the games", "Mew 'gave birth', so it has to be female", "Mewtwo is Mew's clone, so it has to be the same gender as Mew") but it's ultimately unimportant; really, it's just to have some sort of an internally consistent system for it that does not require me to either arbitrarily assign genders to altogether ambiguously gendered Pokémon or 'dehumanize' Pokémon that the viewer is clearly meant to think of as a specific gender.
Why the TL;DR?
My reviews all start with a long, detailed synopsis of the movie. Some people have told me they find them unnecessary and lengthy, so I feel I should explain why they are there.
First of all, the synopses contain much of the meat of the actual review. They are where I can comment on individual scenes and plot points, and it is fairly important to me to do just that. I generally aim to be reasonably objective in my final assessment of the good and the bad points of the movie, but in the synopses I am free to make more minor nitpicks, point out the individual bits that made me come to the conclusions that are detailed later, snark a bit where I feel like it, and add in my interpretations of what is going on or what the characters are thinking where it's unclear. It's not as if it's just an overly detailed plot summary that could just as well be cut out.
Secondly, well, I like to be able to fully explain what makes me think what I think. I also like it when other people express their opinions in sufficient detail to make me understand why they think what they think. I love to read reviews as detailed as mine, even if I haven't actually seen/read the work that is being reviewed, and I've always been a fan of writing the sorts of sections that I would like to read. Therefore, I write the reviews the way I would want to read them, which quite honestly is exactly this way. I can't be alone, can I?
Thirdly, when a review goes into as much detail as mine do, being sure the reader knows what I'm talking about becomes a nontrivial issue. Sure, if you've ever seen the movie you'll probably have a basic idea of the plot that would carry you through your average simple movie review without problems. But are you necessarily going to remember all the moments that I comment on, especially if the last time you saw this movie was more than five years ago? I really have a hunch that it helps to give people a bit of a refresher on what happens in the movie before I start dissecting it, if just to make myself more understandable.
Fourthly, that "even if I haven't actually seen/read the work that is being reviewed" from point two is a pretty big point. Ideally, you should be able to read, understand and enjoy my reviews 100% even if you haven't seen the movie in question and don't plan to. If you actually do plan to see it and want to avoid spoilers, obviously, you shouldn't be reading reviews like mine, but there are plenty of Pokémon fans who aren't interested enough in watching the movies to go out of their way to see them or care about being spoiled for them but would still enjoy reading reviews - I've been one of them. (Even before I saw all the movies, I liked to follow Dogasu's English/Japanese comparisons, really more for his thoughts on each movie than the actual comparison.) Naturally, for this to be possible, it is a big plus for the reader to know what happens in the movie.
I should also note that the synopses are generally written to leave out superfluous details that I don't have a particular immediate comment on and are not necessary to understand either the plot of the movie or where my major complaints and good points are coming from. They tend to leave out a lot of Team Rocket's activities, for instance, since they're usually insignificant comic relief. In other words, I am trying to keep them mostly as basic as I can without it detracting from the value of the synopsis as detailed above; it's not that I'm just randomly indulging in summarizing the movie because I have nothing better to do.
If you really don't want to read the plot synopses, you can of course skip down to the Good/Bad sections if you like, though as mentioned, you will be missing a real part of the review. This applies especially to the first few reviews, where I made most of my comments in the synopsis and only recapped them briefly in the Good/Bad sections, whereas in the later ones I have moved on to placing most of the discussion of the good/bad judgement at the end and it should be easier to skip the synopsis if you want to.
What Is "Good"?
After the plot synopsis, I evaluate the primary positive and negative aspects of the movie as I see them in two sections called "The Good" and "The Bad". What with being an aspiring writer, my idea of what makes a good movie (Pokémon or otherwise) is pretty heavy on the plot and character aspects, so most of my major complaints tend to relate to plot holes, illogicalities, inconsistent or flat characterization and the like, while consistency, suspense, character complexity and so on are listed as major good points. Nonetheless, I will also comment on visuals (most prominently the CGI, which tends to stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of all the hand-drawn artwork), atmosphere, pacing, unnecessary legendary appearances, cheesiness, humour, recycled plot points, etc., depending on what catches my eye about the movie.
On the other hand, the script itself (that is, the wording or content of the actual lines said by the characters) will generally not be commented on at all. This is because I am, after all, watching fansubs and feel it would be unfair to judge what the lines are actually like based on a fansubber's translations of them, much less the dub's translations (which are of course not only frequently rewritten in meaning but also adjusted for lip-syncing and so on).
I usually try to be reasonably objective in these parts: while I might half-jokingly mention something like "This movie has a Scyther!" as a good point, mostly it's about breaking down where the movie's main potential objective strengths and weaknesses, primarily in terms of plot and characters, lie.
How Did You Come to That Conclusion?
The conclusion is a lot more subjective than the Good and Bad sections, mostly because people weigh different aspects of the movie differently and all I can do is explain how much I enjoyed the movie as a whole and what factors I believe contributed to how I feel about it. Thus, feel free to disagree completely with my conclusion, hence the disclaimer I put in some of them.
What's With the Hate?
I'm truly sorry if you take my reviews as being hateful. The fact is that I love Pokémon with all my heart, more so than an awful lot of self-proclaimed fans these days. I do not think it's going downhill, I do not think the anime should have ended years ago, and I do not hate any of the Pokémon movies; if I didn't enjoy watching them, I wouldn't bother to write reviews that require me to watch them all at least three times. What I do believe is that some of the movies are better than others, as stories, and that there is usually very definite room for improvement. I notice room for improvement: I've been critiquing both fanfiction, sprites and websites for years and in that time I've grown a very fine-tuned sense of nitpickiness. Ask anybody who's requested a site rating from me.
So yes, I have nitpicks, and usually many of them. Occasionally, such as when Ash is made to save the day in some particularly contrived (or sexist) manner, I will be downright annoyed. But a movie having plot holes does not mean nobody can like it ever. I think the second movie has a very poorly constructed plot - but I still had fun watching it, all three times. You should not feel hurt or offended if I point out your favorite movie has plot holes: it is perfectly okay to love it anyway. And the conclusion that deems the movie good or bad overall is ultimately just my opinion. It is healthy for everyone to realize there are flaws in what they love, but that doesn't mean they are obligated to stop loving it - if you read my review and then reflect on the movie and decide it wasn't as good as you thought it was, that's fine, but if you read my review, shrug and say, "Well, it's still my favorite movie because of X and Y," that's also fine.
I also make a lot of negative comments on the English dub in my reviews, and I confess the English voices grate my ears, personally, but you are not obligated to decide, just because I said it's bad, that you can never watch the English dub again. If I mention that the English dub actively makes some movie worse, then I'd encourage you to check out a fansub simply to discover a new, better side to the movie, but if you also love the English dub of it, or if you even think the English dub made it better (though I couldn't possibly fathom why), that's okay. There is an infinite number of reasons to like things, even if they have plot holes or inconsistent characters or whatever.
I do not seek to promote hate. I am not reviewing the movies to bash the ones I dislike, to complain about everything, or (heaven forbid) to attack fans of the movies I consider sub-par. I am reviewing the movies, again, because I enjoy analyzing and criticizing fiction, I enjoy reading critical reviews, and I think the Pokémon movies deserve to be reviewed from a critical yet open-minded perspective, like all other creative work. Please do not take my reviews as hate or bashing, because that is not how they are intended. And anyone who quotes me in an attempt to prove that you suck for liking movie X should be slapped for missing the point.
Page last modified April 20 2012 at 06:14 GMT