Life's been difficult lately. As much as I want to catch up on all the heart-racing tension of all the TV shows that everyone else is watching — Squid Game, Succession, the new season of The Witcher — I just don't have the energy for it. If I only have an hour or two after work, I don't want to spend it on edge, and it doesn't help that shows like Squid Game really put me off my dinner.
So, my partner and I started watching the original Pokémon Indigo League series, kind of as a nostalgic joke, kind of as filler, in the same way you eat popcorn just to keep your hands and face busy during a movie. Then, we decided to switch to the more modern Pokémon series (partly to see how it had evolved, and partly in hopes of seeing a Snom), and we settled on Pokémon Journeys, which is the most recent Sword and Shield tie-in season... and, spoiler alert: It kinda rules.
I'm sorry to people who've been banging the Pokémon anime drum for years. I was shocked to find out that Pokémon Journeys is the twenty-third season, and although I've played almost all the games (so it wasn't too hard to catch up), I'll admit that my diligence has slipped on the TV show.
Luckily for me, Pokémon Journeys doesn't expect me to know much about the intervening years. Ash is still ten, Pikachu is still his best pal, and although there's a little bit of confusion as to how much Ash has done already — he seems to reference, or at least imply, that he's already beaten multiple gym leaders and had many adventures, so this isn't just a straight reboot — it's mostly extremely easy to jump into the new story.
With series newcomer Goh, a charmingly excitable boy who genuinely wants (and tries) to catch 'em all, Journeys is the first time that two protagonists have had equal billing in a Pokémon anime season. Goh and Ash are both very well-written as pre-teen best friends: They have stupid fights, lofty goals, and teach each other important things about life and growing up. Ash is, as we know, a courageous and knowledgeable young scamp, and Goh's catch-first-ask-questions-later attitude, mixed with an overabundance of cautiousness in battle, is a great balance to Ash's enthusiastic ambition.
The Pokémon that star in Journeys are full of personality, too, with Pikachu seeming more mature and supportive than before, and Goh's partner Pokémon Scorbunny having an entire story revolving around wanting to help the disadvantaged, and later becoming a sulky teen Raboot. Pikachu even gets a backstory about being adopted by Kangaskhan, and it's genuinely quite weepy.
The original Pokémon was plenty well-animated by Japanese studio OLM, who would later go on to do several Pokémon movies, the Inazuma Eleven and Yo-Kai Watch anime, and cult favourite Komi Can't Communicate — but Journeys is something else. The animators have leaned even further into exaggerated emotions, extremely cute and goofy moments, and a million things that I've loved so much that I've had to pause the video to take a photo and send it to friends.
Put that all together, and what you get is a series that's built on the same Pocket-Monster-of-the-week tropes as the original, including Team Rocket's Jessie and James as foes, but updated for the modern era. Messages about consent, burnout, and trust are woven in to a structure that we all know and love, making it a surprisingly deep show for both adults and kids (at least, I assume that it's good for kids... I have no kids myself, so it's just me and my partner, two adults in our 30s, watching Pokémon as we eat our lunch).
I'm so invested in this show that's supposed to be about little animals that fight, aimed at children, that exists entirely to sell games... and I'm not ashamed. It's painfully cute, and I've laughed out loud at multiple points.
Sure, some of it is predictable — Team Rocket will always blast off again, Ash will almost always win any battle, and there's never any true conflict — but who cares? It's full of heart, it's gorgeous, and it's honestly remarkable for how many of its stories consist of Pokémon just saying their names in various tones for 15 minutes, and still make you feel emotions.
I know that your backlog of TV shows to watch is probably just as long as mine, but if you're ever looking for something that's both light-hearted and surprisingly meaty, then you might enjoy Pokémon Journeys, too.
I will warn you, though: I'm 27 episodes in, and there hasn't been a single Snom.