Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time! It has been far too long since we visited the islands of Alola, at least from my perspective, and I’m eager to dive into another episode of Pokemon Sun and Moon. And we’ve got a genuinely climactic episode in store for us, as Ash at last takes on his first Grand Trial, and hopefully completes the first major step of his island pilgrimage. Last episode saw Pikachu and Rowlet teaming up to conquer this island’s Totem Pokemon, offering perhaps the strongest demonstration yet of this production’s ability to turn the rigid, turn-based combat of the Pokemon games into energetic, tactically rewarding action scenes. Given how well this show’s art design has elevated even its slice of life material, I’m eager to see how the show illustrates its major battles, and also just happy to check in with this show’s charming cast again. Let’s get to it!
This time it’s Island King Hala who provides the opening monologue, which is a pretty convenient way to remind us who Island King Hala actually is. Most of this show is purely episodic, as befitting a production designed for kids who might be catching any random episode on TV, but the Island Trial episodes demand quick refreshers on narrative continuity. And since the opening monologue speakers always introduce themselves, that conceit can work double time here
Pikachu and Rockruff excitedly chirping about getting food is achieving cuteness levels I didn’t think possible. LOOK AT PIKACHU’S BIG SHIMMERING EYES
The local newspaper reported on last episode’s exploits. I love these absurd mugshots for the Rattatas responsible
Oh no, Jenny’s adopted one of those awful Trumpweasels. Jenny nooo
There is something intensely charming about how frequently this show cuts to a shot of Pikachu, as if Pikachu is about to say something that propels the ongoing conversation, and of course Pikachu just says “Pikachu”
Ash receives a letter of commendation and key to the city
Some lovely backgrounds as we peer into the jungle, and approach Ash’s trial at the Ruins of Conflict
Ash continues to be a model Pokemon trainer, respecting this island’s complex battle traditions without complaint
Hala’s announcement that Kapu-Kokeko “might have heard them, and might not. It is a fickle god” is somewhat undercut by Kapu-Kokeko loudly hooting its confirmation right afterward
Professor Kukui efficiently sets up some tactical limitations for the fight ahead, stating that Z-moves require a great deal of energy to perform, and thus Ash and his pokemon will only be able to use their Z-moves a single time. This fight is thus given a major tactical question, as well as a resulting dramatic consequence: when should Ash use his move, and how will he handle the consequences if he uses his move and fails to win. Just a brief conversation like this can be enough to instill a fight with a sense of coherent strategy, as well as a clear dramatic arc based in the use and consequences of Ash’s special attack
In the actual game, margins of victory in competitive battles are decided by an incredibly complex interplay of abilities, with far too many details to convey in animation, and far too little clarity and impact in how they interact. “Ash has a special gun that only fires one super bullet, so he better use it wisely” is much easier to understand
Ash throws out Rowlet, and Hala throws out… some kind of boxing crab?
Ash’s consistent reliance on Rotom actually feels very true to the games. Preparation and knowledge of your opponent’s abilities is crucial – the gameplay of “I must prepare the correct team to beat this specific opponent” is here condensed into the more urgent “I must quickly discern this opponent’s powers”
See, I would expect this punching crab to be part water type, since it’s a friggin’ crab
These frames of Rowlet taking a punch to the face are wonderfully exaggerated
With Leafage initially countered by Bubble Beam, Ash embraces a long-standing Pokemon tradition, and just tries the same move and hopes it works this time
It’s interesting seeing how the type advantage-centric battles of the Pokemon game are shifted to a more lateral thinking-based model here. Ideas like “we’ll use the steam from Bubble Beam and Leafage colliding as cover” aren’t a one-to-one translation of Pokemon tactics, but provide the same intended sense of cleverly outplaying an opponent. It’s a tricky thing, because what games expect of us in terms of puzzle-solving tends to be very different from what comes across as clever and dramatically satisfying in fiction
Rowlet being proud of itself is adorable
“It is said it can send a ten ton truck flying with a single punch.” Please do not kill Pikachu, giant enemy Pokemon
The animation cuts get fluid and exciting the exact moment Pikachu takes the stage. Excellent use of dramatic foreshortening in these camera angles, creating a sense of energetic movement and impact as the two trainers send their pokemon into battle. Sun and Moon’s designs are very amenable to these sorts of perspective-warping shots, as the character designs are malleable yet clearly identifiable even when distorted
Pikachu just got slammed into cement by a force capable of lifting a ten ton truck. I’m sure he’s fine
Pikachu takes a series of punishing hits, but responds at last with his reliable bank footage Thunderbolt strike
Very expressive Pikachu faces as this massive pokemon bears down on him
The nature of Z-moves adds a nice bit of martial arts flourish to Sun and Moon’s battles, as well as creating a greater sense of teamwork between the pokemon and its trainer. I’ve actually been watching a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender recently, and appreciate how it tethers fantasy powers to traditional martial arts, resulting in fights that feel like tangible contrasts of ability even in the context of dramatic, theoretically limitless elemental powers
Excellent contest of speed and overwhelming power as Pikachu attempts to dodge all of these incoming attacks
I’m trying to figure out if Ash’s Pikachu actually has four moves. If it does, they’d be Quick Attack, Iron Tail, Thunderbolt, and Electroball. Has it used any other powers?
Ooh, wonderful animation as Ash and Pikachu power up for their Z move. Cuts alternate between Ash and Pikachu as each of them performs one of the movements in sequence, neatly implying their coordinated spirit. And this cut at the end cleverly uses the effects animation to hide a perspective shift, as the camera pans its perspective halfway towards Pikachu, and then shifts to actually moving itself in order to spin around to Pikachu’s front. Very impressive sequence, given a further sense of consequence through the heavier shading that follows
And the actual attack is just as impressive! Once again, exaggerated foreshortening make for an incredibly dramatic series of shots as Pikachu charges directly at the camera
Pikachu jumping up for a high five warms my heart
Hala offers Ash a fighting Z-crystal, but Kapu-Kokeko disagrees, and swoops through to replace it with an electric one
Ash asks if his friends can join the post-match party, saying he might not have won without their help. Both the framing of the pokemon-trainer bond and moments like this emphasize humility and cooperation
That was an action-packed episode! Almost certainly the show’s most action-packed so far, in fact, with Ash’s battle against Hala pretty much consuming the entirety of the second half. That battle was packed with fun new animation flourishes, and did a fine job of evoking the actual mechanics of pokemon battles, while centering tactical conceits that were more suited to visual and narrative drama. While I actually think I enjoy Sun and Moon the most when it’s simply rambling around going on adventures with Ash’s friends, this was a dynamic battle and a fine testament to this production’s fundamentally excellent art design. Nice to see Ash take his first win!