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Review: Pokémon Horizons is the reinvention the Pokémon anime desperately needed

How do you move on from Ash Ketchum?

As iconic a main character as any, Ash Ketchum is Pokémon for multiple generations of fans. That being said, it was time to freshen things up.

Jokes about being perenially 10 years old aside, Ash had climbed the mountain. He’d finally won. He’d finished the game.

Now that we’ve had our farewell tour and heard that iconic “I wanna be the very best, intro one last time, Pikachu and Ash are enjoying some well-earned rest as we begin a new era in the anime with Pokémon Horizons.

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Starring new protagonists Liko and Roy, Pokémon Horizons breaks from the convention of the Pokémon anime instantly in several smart ways.

We don’t begin with Liko waking up in her small town in Paldea and going to the local professor for a Pokemon. Instead, Liko is a student at Indigo  Academy, a school in the Kanto region for aspiring Pokémon trainers.

Right from the jump, the series appropriately broadens its horizons. All regions are in play, there’s an understanding that Pokémon come from all over the world, and the rigid structure of going after gym badges and fighting the Pokémon league seems (so far) mostly gone.

Instead, Liko and Roy travel with the Rising Volt Tacklers, a group of traveling Pokémon adventurers who sail across the world of Pokémon in their airship led, naturally, by a Pikachu in a captain’s hat. That’s Captain Pikachu, to you and me.

In the episodes we’ve watched, the show does a great job at quickly introducing characters and giving you a reason to care about them.

It’s all going at absolute break-neck speed, which comes at the cost of the first four episodes essentially feeling like one massive prologue, but there’s a lot to set up, including the villains and the show’s central mystery.

Review: Pokémon Horizons is the reinvention the Pokémon anime desperately needed

In a move that echoes the very first episode of the Pokémon anime, the opening episodes of Horizon tease a mystery surrounding Liko’s pedant, and the legendary Pokémon seemingly locked inside it, Terapagos.

Terapagos hasn’t even been introduced in the games yet, and will make its debut in the second piece of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet DLC, The Indigo Disk next month, so this is a very forward-thinking move and sets up an engaging mystery.

Roy has a mystery of his own, an ancient Pokéball that he’s unable to open. We weren’t told what’s in the ball itself, but a certain legendary Pokémon that looms large over the promotional material for the series may provide a clue.

The early series of Pokémon were brilliant at setting these kinds of mysteries up and we hope Horizons continues that, and delivers on them (GS ball, we’re looking at you.)

The episodes themselves also served as lessons in how to play the Pokémon video games for younger fans. Much like how the original anime ingrained certain type matchups in all of our heads, the new series has occasional video segments featuring Nido-thing, a streamer in a Nidoqueen costume, who gives tips.

The bad guys of the show are a group of mysterious figures called The Explorers. A shadowy outfit with unclear goals, they desperately want Liko’s pendant, and to understand the power that’s inside.

The episodes that we watched established the characters well, and strongly differentiated them from Team Rocket’s loveable clumsiness.

Review: Pokémon Horizons is the reinvention the Pokémon anime desperately needed

The highlight for us, however, was the Pokémon themselves. The animation quality of the show has steadily improved over the years and this is never more clear than in the animation of the Pokémon.

Brimming with personality, Pokémon Horizons is going to create new favorites out of so many of the featured Pokémon. Liko’s Sprigattito, her partner Pokémon, adorably mashes its paws into Liko’s bed before curling up into a ball.

The physical comedy is still top-notch, with a well-placed Pokémon interruption just as funny as ever. The region of Kanto itself has never looked nicer, even if the 3D model of the airship is a bit at odds with the world it’s flying across.

Sadly, there is one element of the show that we weren’t thrilled with, and it’s the opening credits theme. While we know there was no world in which the show was able to come up with something more iconic than “I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was,” we were disappointed in the effort.

We watched four episodes in a row and we couldn’t hum a line of the opening theme even in the minutes following the showing. This is a minor thing, especially with how good a start to the new series these episodes are, but a great intro song would have been the icing on the Alcremie.