Media Essays: Pokémon Horizons First Impressions
Updated: May 19
It's been two weeks since the brand new anime, Pokémon Horizons has started and I thought a blog post devoted to my first impressions of the show was in order. As of now, there are three episodes of the show currently released but only in Japanese. There is no English dub as I'm writing this though I imagine one will come later in the year. Rough estimate? Probably summer time or early autumn/fall.
For this post, I'll be explaining what Pokémon Horizons is, give a small review on the first three episodes and then I'll give some predictions on where I think the show will go and what it might lead to.
In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy as I go over my first impressions of the brand new Pokémon anime, Pokémon Horizons...
What is Pokémon Horizons about?
After the conclusion of Pokémon Journeys that saw Ash's legendary 26 year run on television drawn to a close with his victory over Leon at the World Coronation Series and him finally defining what it means to him to be a Pokémon Master, Pokémon Horizons takes us in an entirely different direction to any season of the anime that's come before. This season, like Journeys, isn't a direct adaptation of any of the games but rather it's own story with some of the Gen 9 Pokémon making their debuts here to give Pokémon Scarlet and Violet some publicity.
Pokémon Horizons sees us following the life of a young girl from the Paldea region named Liko who is attending a boarding school in the Kanto region. Because if there's anything GameFreak loves doing nowadays, it's pandering towards Kanto nostalgia. (rolls eyes) Anyway, Liko receives her first Pokémon in the form of the adorable but fussy Sprigatito. While they don't hit it off straight away, Liko puts in the effort to bond with her partner and the two come to understand one another over time. But Liko's life gets flip-turned upside down when two groups come into conflict. One side is the Rising Volt Tacklers and the other side is The Explorers. Both groups are after one thing: a mysterious pendant that Liko's grandmother passed down to her years ago. One side wants to keep it safe, the other wants to claim it and its power for themselves. Liko soon finds herself whisked away on an adventure like she never would've expected as the battle for her pendant unfolds and she gets caught in the middle of it...
My Thoughts On The Show So Far...
Like everybody else who has started watching it, I feel the show hit the ground running and has set a strong first impression in just those three episodes. Quite impressive isn't it, especially as the show had an uphill battle to face when you consider this is the first season without Ash Ketchum as the protagonist and many people are still not really over this. I on the other hand embraced this change with open arms and am even saying "It's about time we got a new protagonist!" No offence to Ash but he really did overstay his welcome and stifled the anime's potential because they just wouldn't let him go and thus we were stuck with the same repetitive formula for 26 years. Now they have let him go, the show is firing on all cylinders and proving VERY quickly why getting rid of Ash was the right move to make.
Starting from Episode 1, we see that this is NOT the same Kanto we grew up with years ago. Kanto now has its own boarding school known as the Indigo Academy and students and receive their starter Pokémon there. And what's really neat is that you're not limited to the Kanto starters either, you can get a starter from any region as we see with Liko getting Sprigatito and her friend Anne getting Oshawott. The story also makes it very clear that this isn't a straight up adaptation of the games but is instead its own story. I imagine we're still following the set-up that was introduced in Pokémon Journeys in where we're not set in one particular region, but we get a globe-trotting set-up that allows all regions to be featured in some way. Personally, I think it's a bit silly we're getting ANOTHER globe-trotting series so soon after Journeys and wish we got a new set-up instead but unlike Journeys, this feels like it may do a better job on that aspect for this series is clearly NOT going to be episodic like last time. Episodes 1, 2 and 3 all lead into one another, clearly setting up an ongoing storyline to follow week after week. This already feels like a step in the right direction and this further shows why Ash had to go. Keeping him as the main character only stifled creative potential such as this in the anime so replacing him with brand new characters allowed for this series to set up an interesting new set-up and to put more focus on story for a change.
The story itself is already off to an interesting start and has instantly hooked me for this series going forward. We get a good set-up for the series with Episode 1 focusing mostly on Liko's school-life and her growing relationship with Sprigatito with some world-building and lore added such as the new Indigo Academy and Liko's pendant that will be the driving force of the series going forward. Right at the end, the villains make their entrance along with Professor Friede which sees the episode conclude with a battle between Friede and Amethio that causes Liko to nearly get caught in the crossfire, only for her pendant to activate a mysterious power that protects her. Things especially got interesting when Episode 2 followed on from that and...well, this happened:
This scene. SHOOK. the internet! No joke! For context, this Pokémon was never even so much as HINTED at before Pokémon Horizons finally aired. Even the trailers that revealed the upcoming DLC for Scarlet and Violet didn't so much as tease its existence. Sadly, social media spoiled this twist for everybody who hasn't seen the episode yet due to not being able to watch it and the English dub not even being available yet so this moment won't be so shocking anymore. Still, what a way to hook your audience am I right? Show off this brand new Pokémon that hasn't had ANY kind of reveal in the marketing beforehand and all we know so far is that it's some crystalline tortoise creature supposedly living in Liko's pendant and it bares a heavy resemblance to Terapagos from the upcoming Scarlet and Violet DLC pack! This was the moment I feel that audiences knew they were in for an intriguing series and I imagine many viewers will be following on just to find out what this Pokémon even is.
Anyhow, Liko is whisked away by Professor Friede and is introduced to his crew, the Rising Volt Tacklers. Unfortunately the villains pursue them and another battle ensues that sees Liko's Sprigatito being kidnapped by said villains. And the episode ends right there! Talk about hooking your audience and refusing to let them go! Two episodes in and we can see that this is a story-focused series where most episodes lead into one another and I'm all for it. These two episodes set off a fantastic first impression with a nice slow start to build-up and then we shoot into overdrive as the pace quickens and we're left just as breathless as Liko is. We're two episodes in and already have so many questions to keep us intrigued for future episodes. What's so special about Liko's pendant? What's that Pokémon living in it? Why do the villains want it? How do the Rising Volt Tacklers and The Explorers know about it? Is Liko's grandmother hiding something from her? Does she know any of these groups? Thankfully these episodes don't answer any of these questions straight away and leave us completely in the dark so there's still some mystery and intrigue to unfold as the plot thickens over time.
If there's anything to criticize about the story other than it being ANOTHER globe-trotting series like Journeys, it's probably how they kinda repeat the first episode of the original series with Liko and Sprigatito's relationship. I mean did we need to open up with another "Pokémon doesn't like its trainer but grows to like them in the end?" kind of relationship? Thankfully though, it doesn't feel like a direct copy of what they did with Ash and Pikachu as Sprigatito doesn't hate Liko, it's just fussy about how its handled and has a bit of a fickle nature. It was especially neat how Liko starts taking notes about Sprigatito's sunbathing spots and makes an effort to get to know her partner some more so they can understand each other. So while it is a little copy-paste, I do like how the execution made it so it didn't feel like a complete rehash.
Also after the great first impression the first two episodes set, Episode 3 felt a bit lesser by comparison. Not that it was bad, mind you, just that it felt like Sprigatito's rescue was too easily and quickly solved and they got away from The Explorers too easily too. Though it was rather surprising to hear that the Rising Volt Tacklers were hired by Liko's mother, I really didn't expect that to be the case with them.
Other than that, I don't really have any other criticisms to give. This was just a really solid opening to the series and I hope they keep the ball rolling from here.
Now let's cover the character that has succeeded Ash as the main lead, Liko. And no people, her name is NOT Riko. It's Liko spelt with an L, not an R, so stop getting it wrong! X( Anyway, Liko has already won many viewers over, me included, as the new protagonist. These two episodes establish quite firmly that Liko is VERY different from Ash and what kind of protagonist she's going to be. Liko is shy, introverted and socially awkward and has a tendency to talk to herself internally. Seriously, a majority of her dialogue takes place in her head, I kid you not. XD She's quite aware on how socially awkward she is too as she laments over a recurring problem people have with her is being unable to tell what she's thinking at times and even mutters in her head about her awkwardness. As is, she's also very polite and friendly when she's able to actually make friends, such as with Ann, and despite Sprigatito's cantankerous personality, she's very patient with it and puts in the work to understand her partner even if it may not seem very interested in her. In her downtime, she likes to write and draw on a Rotom tablet that she uses to keep a personal diary and as mentioned before, she even gets to use it as part of her attempts to bond with Sprigatito. Not only is Liko very relatable and adorkable in the best way possible, but this personality makes her very likeable and I can see this anime's in good hands with her. They could've EASILY just made her a female version of Ash, but they didn't and I'm grateful for it. Liko's her own character and thus she stands out on her own and won't just be stuck under Ash's shadow.
Also I have to mention this moment of hilarious self-awareness she displays in Episode 2:
Gee, what tipped you off there, mate? =P The only way she could've been anymore self-aware is if she said "Am I the protagonist of some anime?!" XD
As of Episode 3, Roy has only just been introduced right at the end of that episode so we're still yet to get a feel for his character. We see him running down to a beach and then he finds the flag of the Rising Volt Tacklers and the next episode sees him meeting the team and Liko so we'll see in due time what he's like. For now, we've got Liko and she's already setting a solid first impression. I look forward to where her character will grow from here and what kind of developments await her.
We also got introduced to another new character named Professor Friede. Despite his title of "professor" he looks and acts more like an adventurous pilot than a professor so I'm not entirely sure why they've given him that title. Still, he's quite fun from what we've seen so far with his daredevil attitude, tendency to forget to explain himself and reckless piloting to try and throw the Explorers of his back and he displays quite quickly what a cool heroic guy he is when he defends Liko from the Explorers and even saves her from falling to her death. Though are we gonna ignore the fact he totally kidnapped her? Seriously, he just has Charizard grab her and fly her away to his airship! I joke of course but still, does he regularly do this with any kid he saves? XD Anyway, Episode 3 added some interesting new developments to him when he rather casually reveals to Liko, and also the audience, that he and his team were hired by Liko's mother to be her bodyguards. It does explain how they know who she is and how they know about the pendant too and it gives them a closer connection to Liko than we initally thought so that was interesting. What's not interesting is the Pokémon he has on hand. Like come on guys, a Pikachu and a Charizard again? At least let some other Pokémon have some time to shine instead of just the big two again. I know they're the most popular but still...
And finally, let's talk about the other big players we've been introduced to: The Explorers. These are our new villains in place of Team Rocket. From left to right, we have Conia, Amethio and Zir. If there's anything I'm the most grateful for with Ash's departure, it's the fact we can FINALLY get rid of Team Rocket and have some ACTUAL villains for once! This is a hot take and I'm aware people will hate me for this but I can't stand Team Rocket. They were fine in the first season but after Johto, they LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG overstayed their welcome and didn't even feel like real villains anymore, just an annoying running gag that was never funny. Once the anime stopped shoving them into every single episode, it got a lot better for me and now we get this brand new series without them at all, which is an even bigger bonus! :D I'll admit, The Explorers don't have too much going for them at the moment. Only Amethio has displayed any real personality so far, showing he's a cool and collected leader with a creepy edge to him and he doesn't fool around on the job either. Episode 3 did at least show us that Conia likes cute things but that's not exactly a personality trait. As the show goes on, I imagine their characters will develop some more and we can see more of their personalities and what makes them unique from one another. Still, The Explorers set themselves up right off the bat as antagonists who are dedicated to their cause and they're no jokes. All three of them even have pretty strong partners too with Conia's Golduck, Zir's Rhydon and especially Amethio's Ceruledge which is already proving to be a tough fighter. Though it is getting annoying that so far he and Friede keep getting into battles and they don't have a clear winner because one of them keeps running away at the end. Let them finish a fight, dammit! Still, these guys are instantly intriguing thanks to their mysterious nature and no-nonsense attitude and I'm curious to see more of them as time goes on. Will they continue to be good villains or not? I don't know, but I'm keen to find out...
What Do I Think Will Happen As The Show Goes On?
As I'm writing this post, there's some plot elements promised in the advertising that we haven't seen yet. Roy's only just appeared so we're still yet to see his mysterious Pokéball, but we'll see it in Episode 4 so we won't have long to wait. Also we haven't seen the shiny Rayquaza that's supposed to be appearing either. The show's still in its early days for now so there's plenty more for us to come. Now, what do I think will happen as the show goes on?
For starters, we know that Episode 4 will see Roy meeting Liko and the Rising Volt Tacklers and the trailers seem to show the shiny Rayquaza terastilizing at some some point so we'll see that eventually I'm sure. Episode 5 is hinted to be about Fuecoco and I believe it'll end up being Roy's partner Pokémon much like Sprigatito is to Liko.
Once Liko and Roy meet, I imagine the series will see the two going around the world visiting other regions and meeting lots of different Pokémon while the Explorers are right on their tails. Being a Pokémon anime, I imagine there'll be some filler episodes here and there though hopefully the more story-focused narrative will mean they're much fewer and further between than usual. I imagine Liko and Roy will also catch some Pokémon on their adventures and build up their own teams over time. They won't just stick with Sprigatito and Fuecoco. As for what they'll end up catching? I'm not even going to hazard a guess here. That's way too tall an order. XD I'm also betting that Friede and his crew will get spotlight episodes here and there to further flesh them out. I can already see Mollie and Murdock getting their own episodes for starters.
For Liko and Roy's relationship? I know for a fact it WON'T be a romantic one. Pokémon doesn't do romance unless your name is Professor Kukui after all. XD I imagine Liko will be shy and awkward around Roy at first but will warm to him over time and Roy will inspire Liko to become braver and stronger. I can see the two having that kind of friendship where one's high strung and reckless and the other's more grounded and sensible with Liko as the straight woman to Roy's antics. Mind you, we still don't know what Roy's character will be like so we'll have to see when he joins the team next time.
Will any characters from Scarlet and Violet appear? Honestly...I'm really doubtful. I feel like this series might be focused on wholly original characters and thus we might not get any game characters in there. If we do get any, I imagine that at most, Penny, Arven and Nemona might appear. But honestly, I don't want them to because this globe-trotting style won't do them any favours as their storylines would likely have to be condensed and squeezed into a single arc or even a single episode much like how Journeys screwed the pooch when adapting Marnie's story and The Darkest Day storyline from Sword and Shield. I also imagine that Geeta might show up too so they can show off Paldea's Top Champion to advertise the games some more but with how things are going and we're clearly not getting a typical Pokémon anime? I'm not that convinced any game characters will be showing up anytime soon.
As for the plot-points currently established or soon-to-be-established, what do I think is the deal with Liko's pendant and Roy's Pokéball? I'm guessing that Liko's pendant will tie into the upcoming Scarlet and Violet DLC, specifically The Indigo Disk chapter. That part of the DLC features a Pokémon called Terapagos, which the Pokémon in Liko's pendant resembles heavily so it's likely it'll be related to Terapagos in some way. The pendant has a power that can create barriers to protect the wearer from harm but it clearly has more powers than what we've seen so far. The Explorers are probably after it because they want the Pokémon in the pendant. I'm guessing they want the Pokémon's power for whatever reason. Given they're called "The Explorers", maybe they want to use its power as part of their goal, though what their goal is I have no idea. The organization's name is so vague that I really have no idea what their big plan is.
For Roy's Pokéball, they might do what they did with the G.S. ball back in the original series and have it turn out to contain a Legendary Pokémon of some kind. Unlike the G.S. ball, they won't leave this plotline dangling and we'll actually see what it contains. Who knows, maybe it contains the shiny Rayquaza that we haven't seen yet? Or if Liko's pendant ties into The Indigo Disk chapter of the DLC, maybe Roy's Pokéball will tie into The Teal Mask chapter somehow? So many possibilities with this plot point...
Also I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't talk about one of the most interesting theories that has sprung up about this series. I've seen some people on YouTube making video analyses that suggests Liko's friend, Ann, might be a spy working for The Explorers. They do raise some good points I'll admit and even I'm kinda finding myself onboard with this theory. I mean doesn't it seem awfully coincidental how Liko tells Ann about her pendant and that her grandmother gave it to her and the moment Ann leaves school to go home, Amethio just happens to show up and not only knows Liko's name, but knows she has the pendant and claims to have a letter from her grandmother? Does make you wonder, huh? The Pokémon anime doesn't usually do twists like this so I imagine Ann will just be a generic best friend with not much plot importance but given the writing is already going in a direction unlike what the anime's ever done before, maybe they will pull off this twist and Ann will turn out to be an Explorer spy. If they do go with this twist, I hope she won't be a willing spy and she's being forced into it as it would really sour the character for me.
And now here's the big question: Who is Liko's grandmother and why did she give her the pendant? How did she even GET it to begin with? The most we have so far is Liko's word and a flashback in Episode 3 showing her talking about the pendant. I'm not sure about how she got it but I'm going to guess that they're building up some kind of big reveal with this so-far-unseen character. My suggestion? She might turn out to be an ex-Explorer herself and the group wants the pendant but she gave it to Liko in the hopes they'd never find it and maybe the reason we haven't seen her so far is because she's either captured or dead. I'm not sure if I can see them pulling a "she's really a villain" twist with this one. As is, Amethio seems to know of her to some degree as he gives Liko what's supposedly a letter from her and he knows of the pendant so Liko's grandmother and the Explorers likely have some kind of history together. Whether she ran into them one day or was once part of the group and later betrayed or deserted them, I can't say but it'll likely be either one of those cases. Also, you notice that the letter was never opened and read and it's so far been forgotten about? I wonder if they'll bring it up again and we get to see what the letter actually said...
Pokémon Horizons is a breath of fresh air the anime has needed after so long and it's off to an intriguing start with a great first impression. I dunno if the series can keep it up or not but I know that I'll be following this show VERY closely from here on out. Here's hoping we're in for a truly special series and it'll live up to everything it's shown us so far. Keep up the good work Pokémon Horizons and I hope to keep enjoying you as time goes by...
So that's my first impressions of the brand new Pokémon anime. I hope you enjoyed it and found it an interesting read. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Did you enjoy the first three episodes? Is Pokémon Horizons on your watch list? What do you think to my theories? I'd love to hear all about it. ^^
Join me again this Friday as I review The Owl House's grand finale...