Pokemon Johto. The very words alone are enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most die-hard Pokemon fans. But it didn’t have to be this way. By the time the second generation rolled out (2000 in America, 1999 in Japan), Pokemon was at the height of its popularity. The franchise’s second feature film (and my personal favorite) – The Power of One – had just experienced box office success that summer, and as autumn set in, Pokemon fans prepared for the release of the new games – Gold and Silver Versions – and a new season of the anime. Brock was making his triumphant return to the cast after his weird sojourn as Professor Ivy’s ass-(istant) and his temporary replacement by Tracey Sketchit: Pokemon voyeur. Season Three promised more of the zany Pokemon adventures we had all come to love, and a return to the awesome group dynamic of Ash, Brock, and Misty. What could possibly go wrong?
One Hundred and Fifty-Seven episodes later, Ash stumbled back to Pallet Town once more, but as a changed boy. This time, Ash left home defeated, alone, and friendless: no Brock, no Misty, no Pokemon apart from his faithful companion Pikachu, and most importantly, no Johto League title. What the hell happened?!
Johto, man. Johto.
For three years Ash and friends travelled around the godforsaken region trying to win eight gym badges in order to secure a spot in the regional Pokemon league tournament – so far so good, it’s just like the first season, right? So why didn’t it work? The short answer is that Ash won his eight Kanto badges and completed his adventure in that region in only 82 episodes, it took almost twice as many for him to do the same thing in Johto. This means there were twice as many opportunities to introduce fluffy filler episodes – a problem that was compounded by the total collapse of the GS Ball subplot. Far too many episodes during the Johto saga followed the same soul-crushing plot: Ash and friends are taking a “break” from their training, when low and behold, a character of the day with a problem and a new Johto Pokemon appears! Well darn it all if Ash isn’t going to put everything on hold to help them – while Brock and Misty fade into the background and maybe get a predictable line or two. (Brock likes girls, Misty likes Togepi, etc.) Team Rocket did their best to pick up the entertainment slack that the so-called “heroes” too often left, but they could only do so much. And when Ash finally, finally, got to the Johto League and managed to defeat his rival Gary Oak – the Greatest Pokemon Trainer of All Time™ – what does he do next? He loses! Again!
Johto is a scar that the anime has never been able to fully recover from. Certainly the series wasn’t all bad, and it isn’t like the show is terrible now, either. But somewhere along the way, in the demonic land of Johto, the Pokemon that I first learned to love – the zany and creative show of the Indigo League and the Orange Islands – died, and a fundamentally different show emerged in its place. That is why I will always hold a grudge against the Johto region as the area that tried to ruin Pokemon.
Well…with all that being said, the first episode of Pokemon: the Johto Journeys is actually not bad at all; in fact, it’s quite good! We join the original twerps redux as Ash, Misty, and Brock trudge along a foggy wooded path. Unwisely, the two older gym leaders in the group have entrusted navigation to the brainless dumb-Ash – who is quite lost, as even his Pikachu realizes. Misty, like the good woman she is, informs her man how idiotic he is for getting them lost again. Original Ash probably would have angrily said something about how girls are stupid and have cooties and then try to run off without Misty, but much like the “whole new world we live in” here in the Johto region, this is a whole new mature and suave Ash – fresh off of his romantic Orange Islands excursion with Misty (and also awkward third-wheel Tracey). So Ash begins to engage in some passive-aggressive flirtation with his girlfriend as they lean in closer and prepare to transition from arguing to passionate kissing (as people do all the time in Italy). Unfortunately for the two lovebirds, they are no longer accompanied by the passive and voyeuristic Tracey, but the jealously lovesick virgin Brock – who will not allow his companions to get any action while he can’t have any. Brock physically pries Ash and Misty apart, telling them, “you have to learn to be more mature…like me!”
Just then the annoying little Togepi decides that it wants to be the center of attention and runs off, and rather than letting it go and allowing Misty to be interesting again, first Pikachu and then the humans chase after the wretched Spike Ball. Arriving at a clearing, the group spots a glimmering Suicine standing on a purpose-built Suicune pedestal in the pond below them. Ash – who is fascinated both with Pokemon and with anything shiny – seems too dumb-founded by the present situation (what else is new?) to recognize the obvious allusion to Pokemon – I Choose You where Ash spotted a Ho-Oh on the first day of his Pokemon journey in Kanto. The visual stimulation proves to be too much for Ash’s puny brain to take, and his impulse to grab. shiny. Pokemon. overcomes his instinct for self-preservation. Ash tumbles down the hill as Suicune bounds away, and he is soon followed by Misty, Brock, Pikachu, Togepi…and Jigglypuff?! The gang is all here!
Right on cue, Team Rocket arrive in Johto as well to prove that last sentence true. Jessie is solidifying her place as the group’s dominatrix queen, which will force the villainous trio’s former leader to spend his days in Johto slowly growing more and more insane. But James remains the same as always: a beautiful (if air-headed) homosexual with an affinity for dressing in drag. Unfortunately, the show’s writers will gradually eliminate this last portion of James’ personality in Johto as well – no doubt catering to the wishes of the 4Kids culture police over in conservative Bush-era America. Fortunately, at the present Bill Clinton is still president, and James has no problems releasing his inhibitions and succumbing to his flamboyant tendencies. When Jessie notices that the fog in the forest has lifted, James swoons, kicks his leg up, and gayly declares, “hot diggity dog!” before throwing his hands behind his head and running along with his teammates like a giddy schoolgirl.
Oh fruity James, how we miss you.
Bounding out of the forest, Team Rocket comes across a large building of some sort, but they barely have time to catch their breath before a flock of Fearow descends upon them with Drill Pecks a-blazing. (Undoubtedly these birds have been chased out of Kanto by Ash’s loyal Pidgeot) Ducking inside a nearby door, Team Rocket finds themselves inside a scientific laboratory. Fortunately for our villains, the resident professor is too absentminded to notice that a gang of Pokemon thieves have infiltrated his premises. He robotically instructs “Nurse Joy” that the Pokemon they spoke about on the phone is running around the lab, and that she should take it with her. Beautiful but dumb James is not too quick on the uptake, but Jessie noogies him into submission and affects her Nurse Joy voice for the benefit of Professor roboto. Meanwhile, Meowth has already located the aforementioned Pokemon, due to the fact that it has clamped its jaw onto his delicious tail. (BlueShippers will note how Meowth is clinging to his Jimmy during these scenes)
Meet Totodile: the Donald Duck of the Pokemon world.
The Big Jaw Pokemon unloads his spray over James’ face (that’s a typical weekend for him), but then Jessie scoops up the small blue crocodile and Team Rocket skedaddles.
On a hill nearby, Ash, Misty, and Brock are standing in front of a sign pointing towards New Bark Town, where “the winds of new beginnings blow.” Ash professes a desire to immediately depart for the Johto League, which will stand in stark contrast to his actions throughout the next three seasons. It falls to the elder Brock to remind Ash of the authoritarian nature of the governments in the Pokemon world. “You have to register first!” declares the Pewter City Gym Leader. This gives Ash a momentary pause. “Do you have any cash in case they charge a fee?” he asks Brock, recognizing for once that he lives his life like a glorified vagabond. “There is no fee,” responds the over-tanned virgin, demonstrating one of the few upsides of living in a left-wing police state.
Our heroes make for the Pokemon Center in nearby New Bark Town in order to register Ash for the Johto League and to collect the free handouts of food and Pokemon medicine doled out by the Democratic People’s Republic of Johto. Brock is especially excited to be back on the open market (having apparently reacquired his mojo after the Professor Ivy fiasco), and rushes inside to see one of the more frequent targets of his virginly affections – Nurse Joy. Unfortunately the New Bark Town representative of the Joy clan does not appear to be here. “Chansey, you’re not Nurse Joy…” Brock declares downheartedly, revealing a level of perceptiveness that must appear superhuman to Ash. Just then a video recording appears on a nearby screen featuring Nurse Joy explaining how she is currently visiting the Elm Research Lab, but that she will return no later than 2pm. But ninety minutes have passed since that time, and Brock gets worked up worrying that some terrible fate has befallen his dearly beloved.
Brock’s fears are soon dispelled when everyone arrives outside Professor Elm’s lab and the squinty-eyed gym leader spots yet another one of his true loves – Officer Jenny. Brock produces a bouquet of flowers from out of thin air and leaps in front of the leader of New Bark’s police force in order to offer her a proposition. But now it’s Misty’s turn to cock-block, and she drags Brock away declaring that she better haul Brock off before the police can. Jenny tells Ash that a Pokemon was recently stolen from the lab, and rather than doing anything about it, her officers are meekly patrolling the perimeter, waiting to see how much Professor Elm is willing to offer in bribes before they act. Brock is too blinded by love (and his eyelids) to notice Jenny’s blatant corruption, and offers to demonstrate the level of his affections by cracking the case himself. “You can’t go in there…” Officer Jenny states without conviction, as three young children easily elude her entire police cordon and penetrate the crime scene unmolested.
Inside the lab, Professor Elm is getting an earful from Nurse Joy, who is quite upset that the absentminded professor was so engrossed in his microscope that he failed to notice that it wasn’t her that visited his lab earlier but some other woman. (Obviously Professor Elm is the anti-Oak, because Pallet Town’s resident horn dog has never met a woman that did not command his undivided attention) Brock’s raging hormones redirect themselves at Nurse Joy, but Misty jumps in the way yet again for another classic cock-Blrock™. (She’s clearly still upset that Brock ruined her moment with Ash earlier)
Professor Elm describes the Pokemon that was stolen to the kids and in the process introduces the audience to the three Johto starters. Ash mentions that where he comes from, the Pokemon that new trainers receive are either Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle (although he notes that he ended up with a Pikachu). From this information, Sherlock Elm deduces that Ash must come from Pallet Town, and he asks our hero if he knows Professor Samuel Oak. (Oh boy, here it comes…) “Professor Oak gave me Pikachu, and he’s a good friend of mine,” declares Ash in the understatement of the decade, although he unknowingly reveals more about his relationship to the good professor by adding, “he was even over at my house for dinner the other night!”
Oh poor innocent Ash.
Brock makes the mistake of asking Elm if he has ever met ol’ Sammy horndog, and the nerdy professor launches into a tirade of a backstory complete with dramatic hand gestures (so much so that Nurse Joy needs to take Cyndaquil out of Elm’s arms before he drops it). Apparently Elm was Professor Oak’s top student at one time, but he still harbors a grudge that his teacher gave him an A minus on Elm’s allegedly-brilliant thesis. The New Bark professor concludes by declaring that while he respects Oak’s achievements, he is forced to consider him a personal enemy! Elm then presents Brock with a complete set of his published works, and declares his personal area of expertise in unique Pokemon abilities to be infinitely superior to Professor Oak’s studies of Pokemon and human relationships. (That’s right, Professor Oak is an expert on human relationships – lock up your women!) Off to the side, Nurse Joy sighs and exclaims that she wishes Professor Elm would become more like Professor Oak and do some studies in human relationships, as well. (Giggity) Misty mentions that she is worried for the new trainer who is expecting to receive Totodile from Professor Elm, and Ash chimes in that he was so excited the night before he was due to receive his first Pokemon that he couldn’t sleep! “So you slept till four the next day…” responds Misty cuttingly.
Just then, one of Jenny’s lackeys arrives with a plaster cast of two footprints and a paw-print (which are not reversed like they should be, I smell a frame job) supposedly belonging to the Pokemon thieves, and the camera cuts to Team Rocket running down the street with Totodile’s jaw firmly clamped to Jessie’s hair. “Get off my hair you filthy little Jynx!” exclaims the brash beauty – doing very little to disassociate Jynx with negative black stereotypes. (Did Jessie just use a Pokemon swear word? Is Jynx analogous with the real-world n-word?) “That Totodile is really attached to you!” exclaims Meowth, while James adds, “just make sure it doesn’t go to your head!” Meowth provides another hint of all the BlueShipping to come in Johto by adding, “Hahaha, that’s a good one Jimmy!”
Following our first second generation “Who’s That Pokemon?!” (Chikorita), Officer Jenny’s Growlithe is hot on the trail of the Totodile thieves. The show’s camera has already found them, however, and we see Team Rocket sitting on a bench near a payphone (ask your parents, kids!) trying to decide who should receive the honor of calling Giovanni to inform him of their latest (and only) successful Pokemon theft. While the trio’s ascending leader (Jessie) and previous leader (Meowth) duke it out, the passive James makes his way into the phone booth and inserts a quarter, only to realize that he has forgotten the Boss’ area code. He makes the mistake of asking Jessie and Meowth if they remember and is rewarded by an impromptu game of smear the queer for his trouble.
The twerps and Officer Jenny finally catch up with our voluptuous villains and the corrupt face of New Bark’s law force has to pretend that she will actually detain and prosecute three of her benefactor Giovanni’s flunkeys. Ash appeals to Team Rocket’s consciences in order to secure Totodile’s return. James does admit to his conscience bothering him “a bit,” (no doubt lingering guilt over his deviant homosexual lifestyle), but Meowth claims he is “unconscious,” and Jessie insists that Team Rocket operates based on a “somewhat different ethical standard” (Read into that what you will…) The beautiful baddies attempt to flee, but Ash calls out Bulbasaur, which uses its Vine Whip to trip them up. James responds by fixing his hair (nothing is worth doing if you don’t look good while doing it) and calls out his Weezing to lay done a Smokescreen. Ash overcompensates just a bit in response and unleashes the king of all Pokemon: Motherf***ing Charizard!
Understandably, Team Rocket gets a little preoccupied with the giant fire lizard king and Bulbasaur is able to sneakily grab Totodile with a vine and yank it free of Jessie’s hair. While Jessie worries about her luxurious locks, James orders Weezing to sludge Jenny’s Growlithe and then invites Victreebel to join the party. Ash counters with his Squirtle and Jessie sends out her Lickitung and Arbok. Ash’s four Kanto starters team up to defeat Team Rocket’s Pokemon with a mixed cocktail of fire, water, grass, and electrical attacks. Finally, Totodile steps up to the plate and blows the villains away with a high-pressured Water Gun. “Well, no arrest…” comments Officer Jenny, as she watches her three perps sail away scot free, aided and abetted by Ash Ketchum. “Glad we could help, officer!” declares Pallet Town’s village idiot.
Back at the Pokemon Center, Ash places a phone call to his daddy (and not his mother Delia, you’ll notice) to let him know that his bastard son made it to Johto alive. Professor Oak grumbles that “someone always calls during my soap operas,” but he appears pleased to see his son and his friends again. However, Professor Elm soon butts in and racks up some serious long-distance charges for Ash (but more likely Brock) to pay, as he begins to passive-aggressively discuss research with his former teacher and “sworn enemy.” Nurse Joy takes some time to finally register Ash for the Johto League by inserting Dexter 2.0 into a computer and uploading Ash’s particulars so that the big brother Johto secret police can track all of his movements through the region. (Good luck sitting through all the filler!) In exchange for surrendering his personal liberty and right to privacy, Ash receives a complementary copy of the official Johto guide book courtesy of the region’s taxpayers. He doesn’t even have a chance to see it, however, (can Ash even read anyway?) before Brock intercepts it from Nurse Joy and cradles it close to his heart as a gift from his unwilling love interest. This book will become omnipresent throughout the next several seasons as our heroes make their long and winding way through Johto, in fact it might as well be Brock’s Togepi for the amount of time he will spend holding it. Nurse Joy next informs Ash that he will need to accumulate eight badges to qualify for the Johto League (how long could it take?) and Ash declares, “Watch out Gary Oak because Ash Ketchum is right behind you!” (The preceding line was apparently lifted word-for-word from a PalletShipping fanfic) And with that, Ash, Misty, and Brock depart for their long, winding, and maddeningly inconsistent journey through the Johto.
Final thoughts: It started off so well! Unfortunately the quality of the first Johto Journeys episode would not be upheld as the anime meandered its way through three seasons in the godforsaken Johto region. Ye have been warned, Pokemon fans, turn back now while you still can; Johto is not for the faint of heart.