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The Media Man Reviews: Pokémon Horizons Season 1

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


Title card

It's about time I can give this thing a proper review after making numerous posts about it throughout the year. Over in Japan, the series is divided by "chapters" and after Episode 25, Chapter 1 concluded and starting from Episode 26 onwards, we're now on a second chapter. So technically, we've reached the end of Season 1 of this show and thus, I'm considering it as such for this review. It's finally time I can give a proper review on the latest season of the Pokémon anime, the season that has truly changed everything forever. That season...is Pokémon Horizons.


Starting in Japan back in April 2022, Pokémon Horizons has been met with near universal acclaim from critics and Pokémon fans alike who love the new direction the show is going in, its stronger focus on story and character and for dropping many of the flaws of the Ash era such as little-to-no filler episodes, a complete change in formula and heavier focus on character development. Sadly the show has also been criticized by fans for "not feeling like a Pokémon anime" and for getting rid of Ash (even though fans were saying Ash should retire for years so it's rather strange they've changed their minds so quickly now he's gone) and many are still taking a while to warm up to the new cast.


As is, this series is a momentous occasion for the anime and one I've been enjoying immensely. Why is that? Well, that's what I'm here to talk about...


Also as the English dub isn't available yet, this review is based ENTIRELY on the Japanese dub. However, just this week, it was confirmed the English dub will finally premiere next month in the UK on BBC iPlayer and CBBC so while North America is still pending a release date, the UK at least can get a taster of the English dub come December so the West is slowly but surely finally getting its chance to see this show.


Section 1: The Story


With Ash gone, the story of this show sure has taken a huge change in direction!


The story sees a young girl named Liko get swept up in the adventure of a lifetime when a villainous organization known as The Explorers come for her, seeking to acquire her mysterious pendant. However, she has the Rising Volt Tacklers, a team of adventurers whom were hired by her mother to protect her, to watch her back. She and a boy named Roy are taken aboard their ship and go around on adventures around the world while also seeking answers to questions about their mysterious artefacts...


Pokémon Horizons is like no season of the Pokémon anime before. Gone is the typical games story formula that the series followed from Season 1 all the way up to Sun and Moon and gone is the tournament structure and the goal of becoming a Pokémon Master. And needless to say, it's ALL for the better in this case. Instead, Pokémon Horizons presents itself as a globe-trotting adventure story with neither protagonist participating or training for any big tournament or contest or whatever. This series emphasises the adventure side of the Pokémon franchise, so much so that our protagonists don't even catch a lot of Pokémon and any battles with Gym Leaders are training for their adventure, not to earn a badge to make it to the big Pokémon League. The game's formula worked well for the anime in the past but as anyone can agree with, it really did get so stale after two decades worth so I'm really glad that Horizons said "nope" to all that and went in a whole new direction that allows it to be its own show and to also show that the Pokémon anime can tell different kinds of stories for a change. As a result, the series feels like a HUGE breath of fresh air and I can't thank the writers enough for finally giving us something new with this series instead of just another typical season of what came before.


As for the story itself, it's really engaging and genuinely has me excited to see the next episode every week. The story is full of intriguing mysteries and every time one mystery is solved, another comes up in its place, often leaving the viewers with more questions than answers. That helps to keep the intrigue for the story and make you want to come back and keep watching to get those answers. As I commonly like to say about this show, it keeps being intriguing and it won't stop! And this is not an exaggeration, I GENUINELY feel that way whenever I watch it! XD And another thing I love about the story is that it executes its premise of a globe-trotting adventure series WAY better than Pokémon Journeys ever did. No joke, it feels like this show was laser focused on fixing all the problems people had with Journeys and made it into this show. Filler episodes? Practically non-existent here. Episodic nature? Gone, every episode flows neatly into the next one. Characters taking a while to establish their goals? Actually a plot-point for this series and executed better. Regions given little screen-time and are just random locations of the day? This series devotes entire arcs to whatever region they're visiting at the time with Paldea and Galar being the main focuses of this season. Meaningless fan-service? Gone with more focus on story and character and less on nostalgia pandering. It's like Horizons was the show the creators WANTED to make but couldn't because of Ash so once he was gone, they were like "Hurray, now we can finally make our show!" and that's what we have.


Horizons is also far more story-focused than any season of the Ash-era of the anime ever was. Now don't get me wrong, the Ash-era did have an ongoing story to tell over the seasons but they were never the best at it due to having to fill the spaces with tonnes of meaningless filler episodes that have nothing to do with the story. Horizons makes it clear from Episode 1 that this ain't that kind of anime and as mentioned above, each episode flows neatly into the next with practically no filler episodes. There are episodes that feel less important than others of course but they're more "breather" episodes that focus on character development and the character's downtime so they don't feel like filler as a result. Even characters-of-the-day are used more sparingly and whenever they do appear, it's for character development purposes. This makes the viewing experience way more enjoyable as a result because unlike the Ash-era, I don't have to be checking Bulbapedia all the time to see which episodes I should be skipping or not. The show's writing is so good that it'll often take episodes that SEEM like filler but are actually important to the story. Episodes 8, 13 and 19 are the best examples of this. What, did Dana Terrace take over as head writer for this show? XD


And as a result, we have a story that has a (mostly) solid pace to it and no episode feels wasted (except for one) and we're allowed to have an engaging story that doesn't feel tedious to sit through while also having a greater focus on character development. Unlike Ash where he often felt stagnant and his companions got all the development, Liko and friends are shown more layers to their characters and given the large cast, it means we have a lot of characters to focus on and that means we can have a different one as the focus to keep things interesting. Liko, Dot, Friede and Murdock are the ones who've had the most development so far and I look forward to seeing where they'll go in future seasons, as well as seeing if anyone else will get development too.


So as you can see, this show is really damn solid. But even the most solid shows have some cracks in their armour. First of all, while Horizons has good pacing for the most part, it has this confusing need to still rush itself sometimes even though there's no filler episodes. The worst example of this is how on at least two occasions, important events happen offscreen such as Liko beating Conia's Golduck in Episode 5 or how Episode 22 ended with Friede and Amethio trapped in the mine with Galarian Moltres...and then in Episode 23, Friede shows up like nothing happened with NO explanation on how he escaped. You haven't got filler episodes clogging up the story anymore so why do this? The answer comes in the form of my next criticism of the show...the unbalanced focus on the two new leads.


When it comes to the new protagonists, Liko is clearly the main protagonist and Roy is little more than a spare part. Literally, it feels like I could re-write this series without him and very little would change. Roy's existence is the reason for the show's erratic pacing at times. If he didn't exist then Episode 5 would've had time to show Liko beating Conia and Episode 17 wouldn't have been wasted on a training episode that went nowhere in the end. Instead Episode 17 could've been Captain Pikachu's origin episode and all the other episodes from 19 to 22 could be moved up one so Episode 22 could've been devoted to Friede and Amethio escaping the mine together while Liko tends to Captain Pikachu and THEN Episode 23 can show them facing Galarian Moltres again, only this time Friede's escape wouldn't have happened offscreen. I'll cover more on Roy's uselessness later but for now, I'll say it's his fault the show's pacing suffers at times like this.


Another problem the show has is Liko's strange development. In Episode 20, she's given this out-of-nowhere character flaw where she's a people pleaser to an unhealthy degree and it's stunting her growth as a trainer...which was NEVER a problem in any episode prior to this and she NEVER threw fights for the sake of making people happy so it kinda feels like an Informed Flaw instead of an actual flaw she has. Also the episode has her wondering what her path as a Pokémon trainer is, even though Episode 7 already established that her goal is to become stronger to protect those she holds dear and keep the pendant safe from the Explorers. So why the show forgot this and had her barely do any training is a mystery to me. Why give a character a goal if you're not going to have them follow-up on it? Geez, no wonder the discourse around Liko I wrote a whole essay about got so out-of-hand...


As is, Pokémon Horizons is a solidly written show with an intriguing adventure mystery plot that only gets more intriguing as it goes and the writing I feel will only get bigger and better as we go along in future seasons...


Section 2: The Characters


Now for the interesting part. With Ash gone, what are the new characters like? For the most part...GREAT! :D


Naturally, we must start with our new star protagonist, Liko (voiced in Japanese by Minori Suzuki and voiced in English by Alejandra Reynoso). Liko is an absolute bundle of preciousness with her sweet and kind personality, compassionate heart and how she loves Pokémon to the point that her desire as a trainer is to understand the feelings of Pokémon. I found her insanely adorable and very relatable at times due to how she can't always say what she's thinking, can freeze up in stressful situations and is also socially awkward. I am SO happy the writers made Liko her own character and didn't just make her a female Ash as that would've sucked so much. Liko is Liko and is all the better for it. The only downside to her character is, again, her confusing development I mentioned earlier. Also because she has to share the screen with Roy, it kinda feels like they lowered her independence too much just so Roy has something to do and thus it comes off like he's treading on her toes some times. It doesn't stop her being the most appealing and interesting thing about the show of course, I just wish that she was the ONLY new protagonist and wasn't stuck sharing the screen with Roy as it only came at her detriment.


Speaking of Roy (voiced in Japanese by Yuka Terasaki and voiced in English by Anjali Kunapaneni), I wish he was better utilized and didn't feel like such an afterthought. He is a spare part, plain and simple, and the show would NOT change if he was taken out of it. He is infinitely less interesting than Liko, especially as character wise he's just another Ash, and anytime the show focuses on him is when my interest goes down. I genuinely feel like I could write him out of the show, give all his scenes to Liko, Dot or Friede instead and nothing would change. His only contribution to the show is being in possession of the ball with Black Rayquaza that kicks off the adventure to find it and Lucius's other Pokémon and being a literal compass to direct Liko where the plot is. Again, it feels like ANYONE else could've done all that and as I say, his presence only created the problems I have with this show. The erratic pacing is his fault because he's taking up time that should be spent elsewhere and because he exists, they have to put Liko down just so he has something to do. It doesn't help how he sucks as a battler too. Seriously, even the more shy and meek Liko has a better track record than he does, and Roy's the battle hungry one! I know many people like this character but I'm sorry fans, he's the biggest problem this show has. Roy is the cause of some of its problems with this show and the writers needed a few more rewrites so he could feel better included here.


The third most important character is Professor Friede (voiced in Japanese by Taku Yashiro and in English by Crispin Freeman). He's an ex-professor who was burnt out on the job as it wasn't what he thought it was and instead turned to the life of an adventurer thanks to a chance meeting with his close partner, Captain Pikachu (voiced once more by Ikue Otani). As the adult with the most experience, he's often responsible for most of the action in the show and he works as quirky mentor for Liko and Roy. His backstory was especially interesting and while he's not the most interesting character ever, I like him. I just wish the show would stop giving him most of the fight scenes and let Liko and Roy have their time to shine. How are they supposed to get any better if Friede does most of the fighting?


The rest of the Rising Volt Tacklers include medic Mollie, chef Murdock, engineer Orla and fisher Ludlow. The team all have a vital role to play as part of the crew (save Ludlow) and Mollie and Murdock are at least given their own episode to flesh out their characters some more. Sadly, Orla hasn't really had a focus episode yet and Ludlow is an even bigger waste of space than Roy is. Like I genuinely have no idea why he's even here. He doesn't DO anything! Yes his boat became the ship the crew uses but that's no reason to keep him around! As is, I hope the crew will get more time to shine in future seasons.


By far the most interesting member of the crew is Dot (voiced in Japanese by Yoshino Aoyama and voiced in English by Faye Mata). At first, I found the concept to be incredibly cringeworthy. Like come on, a costumed streamer? Pokémon doesn't need that kind of modern crap! But once Nidothing was revealed to be a secret member of the Rising Volt Tackler and we got to flesh out Dot's character, she became very interesting and like Liko, she has the Pyroar's share of development here as she starts learning to make friends and becomes more open to the point she lets Liko and Roy in her room and even goes outside on occasion. I sure wish I could've had more screen time with her instead of the useless spare part! Season 2 better give us more Dot or I will be disappointed...


And now we have the villains of the show, The Explorers. These guys will make me forever happy that Team Rocket are FINALLY gone. These villains are actually a threat whenever they're onscreen, they're not shoved into every episode so they don't overstay their welcome and they don't annoy me whenever they're onscreen. There are several members of the organization so far but the most important ones to talk about are Amethio (voiced in Japanese by Shun Horie and in English by Daman Mills) and Spinel (voiced in Japanese by Makoto Furukawa and voiced in English by Matthew Mercer). Amethio feels like this show's answer to Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender with how he continuously tries and fails to catch the objective of his goals and seems to gain no respect from his fellow Explorers. I'm always intrigued whenever he shows up for not only does he give us some cool action, but I'm constantly wanting to know more about him. Why is he in The Explorers and what does he get out of this? I hope we find out...


Spinel is clearly the most competent member of the organization for he actually successfully steals the pendant for a couple of episodes. He comes off as an evil genius with a talent for pulling off complex multi-layered plans and he surveys his enemy so he can figure them out and pull off his plans accordingly. He was very devious and I hope we see him again sometime soon, he was so cool.


The Explorers are lead by a mysterious man named Master Gibeon (voiced in Japanese by Show Hayami and voiced in English by David Kaye). Gibeon is an especially intriguing enigma. We LITERALLY have not seen him yet! We've only heard his voice and that's it. Who is he and what's his endgame? I really want to know! Gibeon hasn't had much yet but from little we've seen so far, he's very intolerant of failure and seems to like playing the long game. I hope we learn more about him in the future...


Come the two-part finale, we meet Liko's grandmother, Diana (voiced in Japanese by Kiri Yoshizawa and voiced in English by Nancy Linari). She's an old adventurer whom Liko looks up to a lot and is the one who gave her the mysterious pendant that changes her life forever. We haven't seen much of her but she does give off cool old lady vibes and now she's joining the team, I look forward to seeing more of her in the next season.


In terms of the games, a few game characters do show up here such as Brassius, Iono and Nemona from Scarlet and Violet and Kabu from Sword and Shield. Brassius and Kabu play a part in mentoring Liko and Roy during training episodes, Iono helps in finding Liko in Episode 15 (and big shocker, she's a friend of Dot's) and Nemona...I'm sorry to say but she really was wasted in this season. She's just there in Episode 10 with Brassius, doesn't do anything and leaves just as quickly in the next episode. Once again if Roy wasn't stealing screen time from the more interesting characters, Nemona might've had more of a point here. As is, she's just pointless fanservice and deserved a better introduction. Brassius and Kabu are well used at least. I wonder what game characters will appear in Season 2 and how they'll be used...


With the exception of Roy, the characters are a solid bunch overall and are welcome new additions to the Pokémon franchise. Ash maybe gone, but with these characters, the anime is in very good hands...


Section 3: The Animation


Interestingly, this series keeps the animation style of Pokémon Journeys, and a good thing too as it allows for the series to have truly dynamic and cool looking animation that a Pokémon anime should have.


This is a weekly series over in Japan with only a couple of breaks between episodes. Episodes 12-13 and Episodes 23-24 both had two week breaks between them to allow more time to finish off episodes and needless to say, the animation is pretty stellar for a weekly series. It continues with the Pokémon Journeys art-style which is a good thing as that art-style allowed for some very expressive and dynamic movements and battle scenes in that series. The characters all look like they fit into the Pokémon universe with some shades of the original art-styles to their looks but also keeping the updated design aesthetics that matches the modern designs like more detailed eyes and slightly rounder features in the faces and not too much detail in the clothes. The characters all look distinctive and easily recognizable from one another with Liko's trademark hairstyle and blue hoodie, Roy's red shirt and black cap, Friede's pilot gear, Dot's purple hairstyle that resembles a Cherrim and much more. Even the Explorers are all given their own distinctive appearances and stand out from one another. It also helps how everyone's given their own Pokémon to call their own to further make them stand out from the cute looking Sprigatito, the goofy looking Fuecoco, the sassy looking Quaxly, the determined looking Captain Pikachu and the fearsome looking Ceruledge. The animators give these characters so much personality in both their designs and mannerisms and you get the impression they're loving breathing life into them.


The backgrounds are given a lot of detail and for the familair landmarks and regions we visit, they look like they came straight out of the games. The best examples include the bustling city of Levencia and the rustic, quiet looking town of Artazon from Paldea and the steam-powered Motostoke City and glittery mines of Galar. It's almost like we're playing the games again in that regard, only we're with Liko, Roy and their friends. In terms of anime exclusive locations, we mostly have the Brave Asagi, the ship that our heroes travel on, and Diana's castle. The Brave Asagi is a pretty cool looking ship that looks cobbled together yet has enough of a fantasy look to it that it doesn't look out of place in the Pokémon world and has some cool features like a pair of wings that form into a battle arena for Pokémon battles and training. That's just so awesome! Needless to say, I enjoy it when we get episodes set entirely on the ship as it's a fun set-piece and always cool to see inside of.


And naturally, it wouldn't be Pokémon without some action scenes, would it? And even if we're in a new direction with no tournaments to prepare for, we still get plenty of action scenes here and there. Most of them include Liko and friends facing The Explorers with Friede and Amethio having the Pyroar's share of action whenever Ceruledge and Charizard square off. Many fans praise the action of this series but I personally find it either OK, cool or mediocre a lot of the time. You get some cool fights, especially Friede vs. Amethio in Episode 25, but a lot of the time the fight scenes are often over in a couple of hits and too much time is spent on characters talking than on Pokémon fighting. And then you have some fights that either get interrupted too quickly like Liko and Roy vs. Zir and Conia in Episode 22 or happen offscreen like Liko vs. Conia in Episode 5! I know the show has a budget and it's likely a tight budget but still, when we want to see Pokémon battles, can you AT LEAST put some effort into them and not make only two or three of them look awesome?


Speaking of awesome, the animation of course looks its best whenever we get an animation bump and I'd be doing the show a HUGE disservice if I didn't bring up how gorgeous the effects look whenever a Pokémon Terastilizes like in Scarlet & Violet. Seriously, it looks absolutely BEAUTIFUL whenever that happens. I dunno how they did it or how they make it look so good, but kudos to the animators for doing it so brilliantly anyway!


The animation has its moments here and there as any weekly anime does. A lot of still frames, some off-modelling and clear moments where cost-saving was involved and you have the occasional goofy here and there, but for what it's worth, this show is still very well animated. It's one of Pokémon's best looking anime, up there with Pokémon Journeys, X & Y and Black and White in terms of lovely visuals. And no doubt we'll continue to get lovely visuals in future seasons...


Overall


It may have its flaws, but Pokémon Horizons has been a HUGE breath of fresh air and is the ultimate proof that replacing Ash with new characters was the right move to make in the end. The story has gone in a fantastic new direction that allows for story-telling and character development we couldn't get in the previous era, the characters are memorable and interesting, the animation is on fire and the mysteries just keep me coming back for more. If this is the future for the Pokémon anime then I'm all for it. Let all future seasons of the anime keep up this adventure focused tone and leave the past formula behind. It's time for a change and this anime has been a change for the better. I can't wait to see what Season 2 will bring to the table...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you'll check out the series for yourself, especially when the English dub FINALLY comes out! For those who have watched it, feel free to share your thoughts down below. Do you like Pokémon Horizons? Do you not like it? I'd love to hear about it.


Next week I have two Yu-Gi-Oh! related posts coming up, starting with an essay about the rise and fall of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's. See you then media fans!

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2 Comments


Yeah, I know I'm VERY, VERY LATE commenting it lately! lol


Anywho, yeah I do agree this brand-new series or new season etc was one heck of great start, new characters are great and so are the villains who were HUGE improvement over Team Rocket (Bye, bye to them!), story-focussed as it more adventure based than older seasons which I believed it gives more character development slightly. Voice acting was top notch as it's more variedly since Journeys whenever its in English or Japanese. Liko, Mollie, Dot, Fade, Sprigatito, Orla, Spinel and Friede are one of my fave voices in the show.


It's kind of Tugs because it was made by same people who did Thomas yet it was also…


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Why do I keep forgetting to watch this one? I should post a reminder somewhere...

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