I want to start this review by apologizing for the lateness of it. While Pokemon Journeys has been on Netflix for over a month now (or more accurately the first 12 episodes of the new series are on it) I wanted to take it slow and enjoy it over the course of four Saturdays (3 episodes a day) to fully enjoy the experience. And despite some small flaws, I did indeed enjoy the experience.
First and foremost, let’s talk about easily one of the best parts about Pokemon Journeys…THE THEME SONG!!!!
That track SLAPS SO HARD!!! Seriously, it’s easily one of my all-time favorites of the brand and yes, I’ve heard them all.
Anyway, Pokemon Journeys is special for a wide variety of reasons. Not the least of which is that this is the first series to DEBUT on Netflix (it was previously on Disney+, Cartoon Network and Kids WB). The other reason that Journeys is different is intent. Usually, Ash and crew go to a region and explore all that there is there, and he, Pikachu and various Pokemon he catches go up against a league of some scale. However, with Journeys, it doesn’t do that in the traditional sense.
After coming home from winning the Alola League (yes, Ash is an official Pokemon Champion if you didn’t know) he meets a new Professor in Vermillion City who aims to try and learn all that he can about Pokemon from all the various regions. After a chance encounter with Lugia, Ash meets a young trainer named Goh, and the two are hired to become research assistants of a sort for the Professor.
Now while this may not SOUND like something totally different…it is, trust me. Within the first 12 episodes, we visit various locations in Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh and a few trips to Galar. Which included an intriguing look at both Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokemon.
Forgoing the usual “Ash goes to a region and wins almost all there is to win” is a bit of a risk, but given what is shown in the first 12 episodes it really works. Mainly because we get to see the true awe and wonder of the Pokemon world through both experienced and new eyes via Ash and Goh. What’s more, without the restrictions, it’s not a case of a “Pokemon of the day” or “random trainer of the day” like with past seasons, it really feels like there is a purpose and mission to each episode and that they all advance the overall plot.
Which brings me to Goh, Ash’s newest teammate/friend.
Goh is very much like Ash when we first met him, including seeing a legendary Pokemon that helped inspire his journey. But, he’s also a guy who believes in analysis, science and research to learn more about Pokemon. He and Ash have a fun relationship once they’re allowed to flesh it out because Goh sees Pokemon and the world from an analytical mind, while Ash sees the beauty and wonder of it through his child-like heart.
Seeing Goh tone down his “think first” and start to see the Pokemon world from a different perspective leads to some fun moments. Not that his analytical mind is downplayed, it’s really not. Goh is smart, and he brings a lot to the table. Plus, unlike Ash, his goal is to catch one of every Pokemon, adding more weight to the title of Pokemon Journeys because the differences between the two in their goals is vast and yet unifying.
What’s that? What about Team Rocket? Oh, they’re there of course. But this time they’re taking orders more directly from Giovanni, and now they have a large amount of Pokemon via a Pelipper reservoir that they can bust and have interesting battles with. It’s a gimmick that’ll get old quick, but at least we won’t have to worry about the same old Pokemon battles, right?
To be clear, I do know a lot of the spoilers that come from episodes beyond the first 12, including two Pokemon that Ash catches later on, but what really excites me about Pokemon Journeys is the potential. We’re going to be diving not just into the vast world of Pokemon from different angles, but Ash’s past is literally going to come back and interact with him. This includes an upcoming episode bringing back a fan-favorite Gym Leader (Kalos region if you want a hint) and we already know that Ash battles the successor of a legendary Kanto Gym Leader that delivered one of the original series’ best episodes.
And of course, just about EVERY Pokemon fan wants Ash to eventually run into his old friends, including my personal favorite…Serena, who if you recall left Ash and his crew by kissing him before departing.
The potential is there, and the references to the various regions are pretty epic. Including a very sweet “old school vs. new school” Pokemon battle that happens in episode 12 that no doubt will blow the minds of those who have been watching the anime since the original series.
But obviously there are some problems with Journeys that just can’t be ignored. One of the biggest ones is that this is the first time you can actually binge-watch Pokemon as a series (in terms of new episodes) and I won’t lie…it kind of sucks. There’s been a thrill these last 20+ years of watching the anime on Saturday mornings one at a time to help suss out the journey and its impact. Watching 12 at once and then having to wait until potentially September (based on reports) to get the next batch? It doesn’t feel the same.
Another problem is with Goh. At the early parts of the season he’s REALLY annoying, and just as bad, the way he catches Pokemon is almost directly in contrast to what has happened in the past. Mainly, he goes full-on Pokemon Go and just throws a Pokeball at a Pokemon…and he usually catches it! Even though he didn’t weaken it most of the time. Which is odd because if it was this easy, why hasn’t Ash caught more Pokemon? In fact, Goh in just one episode catches more Pokemon than Ash does in a single season most times! It’s not supposed to be this easy!
The other major problem is the character of Chloe. She’s our new Professors’s daughter and is long-time friends with Goh. Yet…she’s…just there. She even has an episode dedicated to her and it just feels like she doesn’t grow that much at all. She’s even a bit annoying in how she treats Ash and Goh for being research assistants. Hopefully, she gets more growth and purpose going forward.
And finally, to tie back into the first flaw, the end of episode 12 is a very large cliffhanger. Which seems a bit odd to do to fans who have to wait for potentially 3+ months to find out the conclusion.
In the end, though, the first 12 episodes of Pokemon Journeys are very satisfying. This is a much different kind of Pokemon adventure and I’m here for it. I look forward to the next episodes and seeing where everything goes from here.
Pokemon Journeys (Part 1) Review
Pokemon Journeys may not be your regular kind of Pokemon adventure, but the results speak for themselves. It does have some flaws, including the Netflix format, but it’s worth it in the end.
Pokemon Journeys starts out Ash's newest adventures very strongly and with a lot of fun!