Network: Disney XD
Starring: Voices of Sarah Natochenny, Rosie Reyes, Marc Swint, Laurie Hymes, Jessica Paquet, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld and Ikue Ohtani
Genre: Animation, Action, Comedy
My Rating: ****/5
The “Pokémon” anime has made its move to Disney XD with the milestone 20th season: “Pokémon the Series: Sun and Moon.” Even with many years having passed since the peak of its popularity, this new take on the world of “Pokémon” manages to provide a fun and unique take on the series and tie into the acclaimed and best-selling video games.
After the events of the “XY” series, Ash and his longtime partner Pikachu are on vacation on Melemele Island in the Alola region. After seeing what the area has to offer, he decides to study at the Pokémon Academy under the tutelage of the laid-back Professor Kukui (voice of Abe Goldfarb) and the eccentric Samson Oak (voice of Marc Thompson), cousin of Professor Samuel Oak (voice of Jimmy Zoppi). He also makes friends with the gruff but caring Kiawe, the eccentric but intelligent programmer Sophocles, a young female chef known as Mallow, a seafaring fisherwoman called Lana, and the mysterious Lillie. During his time there, he is also given a device known as a “Z-ring,” which can make use of special abilities known as “Z-moves” in battle. While the structure of the series may deviate from previous versions with this premise, the concept provides a new and unique way of looking at the anime series while providing an ideal way to transition to its new home on Disney XD after being on Cartoon Network for ten years.
Rather than trying to shy away from the obviously bonkers nature of the concept, the anime has wholeheartedly embraced its totally insane lineage. The series has an idealistic tone and a unique art style that suits the journey in the Alola wonderfully, even if it has yet to reach the heights of its video game namesake.
There is a host of comedic potential to be had from the revamped presentation. Even though there are subjective comparisons to rival anime series “Yo-Kai Watch,” make no mistake: the “Sun and Moon” series is easily the anime hit for Disney XD that the “Yo-Kai Watch” series was supposed to be. Samson Oak and Professor Kukui pepper their dialogue with Pokémon names and moves in a context that makes more sense than the bad puns and dated pop-culture references that plagued “Yo-Kai Watch” (talk persists of more of the latter series being dubbed in the near future). Ash is also given a redesigned “Rotom Pokédex” that is an odd-natured but useful device that sounds like C3P0 by way of Alpha-5 from earlier seasons of “Power Rangers.”
The villain faction Team Skull has also wasted no time in making a name for themselves in the series, being every bit as abrasive as they are in the video games (the most recent Japanese episode as of this writing has also introduced the team’s enforcer, Gladion as a rival to Ash). That said, this incarnation is not without its detractors. At the time of its announcement, the retool of the anime divided many fans online for its art style and revamped story structure. In particular, many were split on how the series varied so wildly in style and tone from the “XY” series of the anime. Fortunately, as the series continued, many fans have mellowed out about the anime.
While the anime still has a considerable link to advertising the video games of the same name, the “Sun and Moon” series is quickly showing potential for world-building and interpreting its source material in a unique way. The redesigned animation also shows off an array of fluid movements and colorful environments, often resembling series such as “One Piece.” Most of all, the idealistic tone can easily fit within an increasing obsession for the 1990s. It takes the setting of the Alola region and infuses its story with a laid-back attitude and fun sense of adventure that recalls films such as “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
With the promise of more episodes in the near future, “Pokémon The Series: Sun and Moon” is a fun start to the anime’s run on Disney XD and a delightful way to celebrate its milestone 20th season. Even with all the years since it began making waves and with the many competitors who have come and gone, it’s a great season to party with “under the Alolan sun.”
Review by Steven Pryor