It's in black and white: the show's still great.
During my recent trip to Sydney for the Symphony of the Goddesses tour Down Under, I was victim to an onslaught of many intense downpours of rain broken up between scorching, humid summer heat. It is thus no wonder that shortly after returning home I've come down with pneumonia, and I'm stuck at home while I recuperate.
How nice it was, then, that the guys at Beyond have sent me the latest Australian Pokémon DVD collection from the Black and White series - just the thing to take my mind off the constant coughing fits and cold sweat. Watching through these episodes has rekindled my intermittent love for the Pokémon anime.
Sure, the Pokémania trend is long over and the new episodes don't quite hold up to the appeal of the original series, but there's still plenty of charm to be discovered.
If you haven't seen any of the Black and White series yet, at the beginning of the Unova saga (set, of course, in the latest region from the game series), the show received a major overhaul in both style and substance. The art style still retains the direction of Ken Sugimori's iconic character designs from the games, but is much more detailed and pronounced than ever before, with emphasized lighting and shadow techniques. The CGI battle effects, first introduced in the Diamond and Pearl series, is still prevalent but thankfully integrated into the 2D animation with much more thought than previously attempted, so it blends together quite nicely.
Story-wise, Ash has once again left his entire Poké-platoon back with Professor Oak and journeyed to a whole new region with only his Pikachu in tow. Not even series mainstay Brock has come along for the ride this time, having decided on his true calling at the end of the previous saga and settled down to study as a Pokémon doctor. Instead we have an all new supporting cast of Cilan and Iris, characters I'm sure are very familiar to fans who have played Black or White, or their sequels. The new cast's personalities and differing mannerisms change the way the new group interacts, and it's refreshing and welcome - even Ash seems to be much less of a whimsically bumbling Poké-newbie this time around, and the whole thing makes for a slightly more mature stance on the Pokémon world.
Probably the biggest change to the aging formula of the show, however, is that Team Rocket, my personal favorite characters, have undergone a major career change. Taking the credit for various deeds (that had little to do with them) in the last saga, the trio of Jessie, James and Meowth scored big promotions, and for a time, snazzy new black uniforms! The success has gone to their heads, and as such they're no longer the incompetent Pikachu stalkers they once were, now spearheading large-scale operations for their boss such as city takeovers and legendary Pokémon poaching. Sadly this new seriousness detracts from their once lovable personalities, but seeing them with their cool new high-tech equipment and threatening presence in battle is a decent tradeoff.
The latest DVD set to be released in Australia contains the first 25 episodes of BW Rival Destinies, which is the second season since the Black and White saga began. I'm pleased with the decision Beyond have made to present these episodes in 16:9 as they were intended to be seen - one of the biggest downfalls of their previous Sinnoh releases was that the widescreen episodes were cropped to fit standard television sets. On the other hand, the lack of special features is nothing new to this line of Pokémon DVDs, and as with previous releases they continue to present only the English dub of the episodes. When 4Kids Entertainment lost the Pokémon rights and the new dubbing cast took over back in the Battle Frontier series, I found the change to be quite grating and my interest in the English version of the show diminished considerably. Fortunately if you stick with the show you can hear the actors settle into their respective roles and by the time the BW series rolls around you'd hardly notice that the show's license had changed hands.
I'm hoping for the eventual news of a Unova Pokédex Collection like the series' previous boxed sets, but seeing how this saga is still ongoing even in Japan, that could be some ways away. As it is, this collection delivers what it promises, and there's plenty of enjoyment to be had.
In the meantime, thanks Beyond, and thanks to the TV Tokyo animation studio for helping keep the franchise alive. It's certainly not the best anime in history but it's still a lot of fun, light entertainment that doesn't require too much concentration to keep up with. Perfect for a sick day!