Having already won three of the eight Kalos gym badges, our longtime hero Ash Ketchum must take the backseat for awhile so other characters can hog the spotlight. Today it is Ash’s magnifique French girlfriend Serena who is the star of the show, along with her unfulfilled dreams of becoming a leading Pokemon Performer like Kalos Queen Aria. (Not to be confused with James, the Kanto Queen). The gang is quickly joined by Shauna – the Bulbasaur trainer that we met at Professor Sycamore’s holiday summer camp and child rapeatorium. Apparently the girls have made plans to take in a Pokemon Showcase featuring the aforementioned Aria and so everybody makes their way to a nearby auditorium. Despite not appearing in the video games, Pokemon Showcases seem to be this generation’s version of Pokemon Contests: aka Japan’s heavy-handed effort to get girls interested in Pokemon; because lord knows that females could never enjoy battling Pokemon like everyone else, they need the addition of dress-up and beauty pageants…
Serena is so excited at the prospect of seeing Aria live and in person that she doesn’t even seem to notice that Shauna has inserted herself between Serena and her unwitting boyfriend Ash in their section of seats (could this be a another Miette situation in the works?) More importantly, the prospect of seeing a vivacious queen performing has proved an irresistible draw to James and his fellow Team Rocket artiste Jessie. And while our favorite felons are well-dressed as always, Wobbuffet manages to steal the show with his pink mohawk disguise. Jessie provides some typical megalomaniacal dialogue about how she should be the real Kalos Queen (although James might disagree), and it seems that Jessie plans on inserting herself into Pokemon Showcases the same way she used to do with Pokemon Contests.
Meanwhile, up on stage, the showcase is being emceed by a flamboyant dude with a top hat and eye shadow named Monsieur Pierre (according to Bulbapedia) who looks as if he has just returned from a Kingdom Hearts event at Comi-Con, what with his keyhole jacket, his Flavor Flav-esque key necklace, and his Klefki staff (did he glue a living Pokemon onto a stick?!). But despite his bizarre appearance, M. Pierre has failed to win the hearts of the audience (apart from James, most likely), all of whom are waiting to see Kalos Queen Aria and her Braixen. And they won’t be disappointed because
Oh, oh my…
The perverted Japanese animators once again display their comfort in sexualizing pre-adolescent characters with an incredibly revealing up-skirt of kinky schoolgirl Aria (although to paraphrase Ben Kenobi: who’s more perverted, the pervert, or the one that combs through children’s cartoons frame by frame looking for anything sketchy?), as she and her Braixen put on a performance that demonstrates both their beauty and the Fox Pokemon’s command of fire type attacks. Jessie cattily bitches that Aria isn’t as beautiful and talented as she is (longtime viewers should remember Jessie’s more adult charms well), but it is time to move on to the actual showcase competition.
The first performer is dressed in an orange blouse and top hat, and managed to find a skirt that is even shorter than the one Dawn rocked throughout the Sinnoh region. She and her Furfrou do a lame routine that consists of jumping in and out of a hula hoop, and fortunately enough the monotony is soon interrupted by a break dancing Pancham.
The Playful Pokemon steals the spotlight, first figuratively, and then literally when it grabs hold of an overhead lighting rig and brings it crashing down to the stage. Some event staff try to chase it away, but Pancham strikes back with a dolly full of boxes before making its escape out the door.
Outside of the auditorium, our heroes note that it was nice to see Aria, but it was kind of a bummer that they canceled the performance after only one contestant. (Seriously? Because of one downed spotlight? If I was Ash I’d be pissed about the waste of money, but knowing that freeloader, I’m sure he got in without paying…) Chespin begins to ham it up with a Braixen routine of his own involving a twig, but he fails humorously and is immediately upstaged by the Pancham from before, which executes a performance of its own before giving Chespin the classic Japanese eye-lid pull/tongue thing and running off into the forest with the Spiny Nut Pokemon hot on its heels.
Inside the woods, the Playful Pokemon takes a page out of the book of some playful fighting types of the past – specifically Ash’s Mankey – by stealing our protagonist’s hat. Not to be outdone, by his pig-nosed predecessor, Pancham also nabs Clemont’s glasses for good measure. Blinded – and not by science, for once – Clemont crashes into a nearby rock formation, which he mistakes for a person and embarrassedly bows in the most honoraburu Japanese tradition.
Meanwhile, Serena manages to locate the little panda thief’s hideout and deduces that it is merely stealing things because it needs costumes and accessories for its performances. (This kind of logic would surely have eluded Ash, although James might have recognized a kindred spirit with the misunderstood Pancham who just wants to play dress-up, darn it!) Serena promises the Playful Pokemon a pair of her own red sunglasses if it will quit stealing things, but Pancham declines and runs off deeper into the woods.
Ash manages to reunite with Clemont and Bonnie – who have located Chespin – but Pokemon’s resident John Denver lookalike is concerned that without his glasses, he is destined for a life of making conversation with inanimate objects. (Worse case scenario, Clemont will inadvertently end up in a relationship with Lucille Austero)
Fortunately enough, our heroes manage to quickly locate Pancham sleeping in a clearing. They form a wring around the napping panda to prevent it from escaping again, and Chespin moves in to settle their beef. Ash demands the return of his hat and Clemont’s glasses, but Serena arrives with the aforementioned goods and explains that the real crime here is the suppression of Pancham’s innate artistic sensibilities. The aspiring Kalos Queen explains to Pancham that she would like it to become her Pokemon and perform in Pokemon Showcases with her. The playful panda acquiesces and prepares to face-off against Fennekin and begin its career as a performing artist – but not before two experienced artistes arrive and scoop up Serena’s Fennekin.
Team Rocket recite their sacred motto, and Jessie reveals her diabolical plan to evolve Fennekin into a Braixen and wrest the title of Kalos Queen from Aria. (It should be James in that dress, dammit! Bring back the flamboyant Kanto Queen!) The voluptuous villainess explains that a true Pokemon Performer needs to be beautiful, like herself, and not a child like Serena. (Look at Team Rocket being the voice of reason and standing up against child sexual exploitation!)
Unfortunately, Team Rocket’s plans are defeated as they so often are due to the flimsiness of their balloon’s canvas exterior. Ash orders a Razor Wind from Fletchinder and rather cavalierly allows the villains’ balloon to explode and crash in a fiery wreck with his girlfriend’s Pokemon still in their possession. The twerps rush to the site of the wreckage, and Pancham absolutely wrecks Team Rocket with a Stone Edge attack for daring to interrupt his battle with Serena. Pancham and Chespin continue to battle Pumpkaboo and Inkay, and Serena sacrifices her own body to protect the Pokemon from a Shadow Ball as they try to free her Fennekin. This cliched act of selflessness seems to have won Pancham over to his would-be slaver, and the Playful Pokemon playfully slams Pumpkaboo to the ground so hard with a Dark Pulse attack that the little jack-o-lanturn literally bounces ten feet in the air, and narrowly avoids hitting his teammate Inkay, whom James hugs to his chest in an athletic stereotype-defing maneuver.
Clemont orders a Vine Whip from Chespin which smacks Inkay into Pumpkaboo into Meowth into Jessie and James, and Ash decides to add injury to insult by ordering a Thunderbolt that sends Team Rocket blasting off again in style.
As the sun sets, Serena and Pancham return to their battle from earlier. Her seldom battle-tested fire fox manages to get the better of Pancham (who is undoubtedly exhausted from an episode’s worth of hijinks), although he does manage to break out of the first Pokeball that Serena throws. The second time proves to be the charm, and another episode of Pokemon ends with a brand new member for the Kalos crew.
Final thoughts: Serena catches her first Pokemon at last! I sort of assumed the dainty Fennekin would be Serena’s main performer when the Pokemon Showcase concept was introduced, but Pancham is a fun addition as well – and apparently a formidable fighter, although basically all wild Pokemon in this show seem more impressive at battling than after they are captured. Overall I found this to be a really enjoyable (and slightly sketchy) episode, my only regret is that I wish James could find a way to revert to his more overtly flamboyant tendencies of yesteryears. It’s no fair that Jessie gets to play dress-up while her drag queen best friend has to sit on the sidelines!