Hello and welcome to what will hopefully be the first of many Pokémon episode reviews on the new Garyland website. There have been lots of goings on since last we met – Ash became the first main character to obtain a dragon type Pokemon (now that the fairy type has rendered it less broken), James and his Inkay teamed up with our heroes to save the world from a band of evil Malomar, and Gaymes was allowed to cross-dress for the first time in God knows how long in order to steal a living ice cream cone from the Pokemon Center in Coumarine City. Most importantly of all, our heroes have arrived in Coumarine at long last and Ash met the city's gym leader – World Cup winning Spanish defender and master gardner Sergio Ramos.
Today's episode begins with the Kingdom Hearts cosplay enthusiast and Pokemon Showcase emcee announcing the arrival of new Pokemon Performer Serena and her Fennekin. The belle of Vaniville Town takes the stage only to fall flat on her face – and tumbles out of bed. It was all a dream! But speaking of Serena and her fantasies – where is Ash Ketchum, star of the Pokemon anime for eighteen seasons now? Serena is no doubt worried that her would-be boyfriend is out of his bed and under the sheets with a rival for her affections, but her concerns are quickly put to bed (bad pun intended) when she finds him running around outside with Pikachu waiting for the sunrise like a little kid on Christmas morning.
Ash leads the gang on a grueling climb up a giant tree that doubles as the home of Ramos' gym – and we are treated to another example of Clemont's lack of physical prowess (no wonder Bonnie has to work so hard to get him a girlfriend...). Ash unsurprisingly wants to battle now, dammit! But Ramos (who's voice is sort of a weird combination of a Southern U.S. accent and Terrance and Phillip from South Park), is as enigmatic as you would expect an old master to be on a Japanese cartoon. He forces our heroes to join him for an impromptu tea party (is it someone's unbirthday?), which doesn't exactly get Ash's motor running. Nevertheless, the tea is soon drained and Ramos consents to a gym battle – just as soon as the kids finish weeding his garden. Ramos babbles on with some kind of nonsense lesson to Ash about missing the forest for the trees and once it is over and dumb-Ash claims to have learned something, the battle can finally get under way!
Ramos chooses the floating dandelion Jumpluff to champion his cause while Ash makes the tactically wise decision to let the Fire/Flying Fletchinder spearhead his efforts. Ash sticks to the all-out offensive strategy that he is known for (I wonder where he picked that up?) and orders a super-effective Flame Charge. Ramos directs his Pokemon with the giant shears he carries around with him (perhaps there is some kind of veiled threat there? I don't want to know what happens should his Pokemon lose...) and Jumpluff avoids all damage with a Cotton Guard. Ramos orders a Sunny Day to speed up the Cottonweed Pokemon via its Chlorophyl ability, but this has the double-edged side effect of powering up Fire type moves, and Fletchinder is able to connect with a Flame Charge that puts Jumpluff down for the count.
Ramos gives his defeated Pokemon a look that seems to imply that someone is going to get a taste of the shears once the nice children leave... But soon enough the anger dissipates and the Coumarine Gym Leader reaches back to the first generation of Pokemon (the Greatest Generation!) and picks Weepinbell, a staple of Erika's Celadon City Gym as his next Pokemon. Ash cockily declares that he will sweep through with Fletchinder, but Ramos merely chuckles as wise old men tend to do when young people say anything. Still under the influence of a Sunny Day boosted Chlorophyl, Weepinbell manages to dodge a Flame Charge and then spews its Poison Powder all over the Ember Pokemon. Fletchinder tries to keep fighting through the life-sapping injury it has received, but Weepinbell grabs onto a vine Tarzan-style and knocks out its foe with a devastating Slam attack.
Ash makes another good type matchup decision and chooses his Mexican wrestler Pokemon to avenge its fallen comrade. Hawlucha unleashes its signature Flying Press technique (a Fighting type move which also acts like a Flying type vis-a-vis super effectiveness) and flattens Weepinbell into a pancake. But when Ash tries to follow this up with a Hi Jump Kick, the Flycatcher Pokemon successfully Poison Powders its second opponent in a row. The lucha libre Pokemon tries its best to fight through the pain, but Weepinbell manages to unleash a barrage of Razor Leaves, a Grass Knot, and several more Slams – the end result being a fainted Hawlucha and Ash down to his final Pokemon.
This is the toughest member of the Bellsprout family Ash has faced since the Indigo League...
Now on the verge of elimination, the question is who will Ash choose to fight? Will he make the expected choice and go with his ace Pikachu despite its ineffectiveness against grass types? Will he decide to baptize Goomy with fire and rock the dragon against Ramos?
Of course not.
Only Pallet Town's village idiot would purposely choose a Pokemon with a type disadvantage and charge him with winning two straight battles. (Perhaps he forgot Frogadier is a water type?) But as Clemont points out, "This is Ash, I bet he's got something up his sleeve!" Our hero seems to hope to out-speed Ramos and his plants, and orders a Double Team, but Weepinbell manages to trip it up with a Grass Knot. Ramos tries his Poison Powder strategy again, but Ash orders Frogadier to use its frubbles as a filter, like so many Asians with their ever-present surgical masks.
"I never would have thought of that in a million years!" exclaims the gym leader.
Well, I guess Ash has to be good at something.
Frogadier again uses its speedy Double Team and this time it cuts right through Weepinbell's Grass Knot with a super effective Aerial Ace.
Weepinbell is done!
So far Ash's bet on Frogadier is looking wise, but as would be expected Ramos has saved his best Pokemon for last, when Ash's team is already worn out. The Coumarine Gym Leader calls out his lumbering Gogoat from the previous episode and it wastes no time in Vine Whipping through Frogadier's Double Team like an overgrown weed whacker. Ramos makes a point of calmly stroking Gogoat's horns – undoubtedly to teach Ash another lesson about not being so rash or something. In any event, the Mount Pokemon is able to gain the upper hand with a combination of Horn Leech and Leech Seed. The gym leader explains to Ash the reason for this is because Gogoat and Ramos believe in each other 100% (and Ash doesn't believe in his Pokemon? If anything, Ash's greatest weakness is being too confident, bordering on cocky...). Our hero responds that, of course he believes in Frogadier, but the odds seem to be against him. Fortunately Pikachu gives a stirring pep talk, which must have gone something like, "since when have you been one to think rationally?"
Thanking his little yellow best friend, Ash shouts to Frogadier to ignore the fact that it is losing the battle and simply start winning instead; because Ash believes in it, dammit! That was all the blue amphibian needed to hear, it seems, as Frogadier immediately bounces back and uses its ninja powers to see through Gogoat's Razor Leaf screen, before finally knocking the big ram down with a Water Pulse.
Ash won a Plant Badge!
Our hero celebrates his well-earned victory, but then completely out of character, Ash turns to Serena and announces that now it's time for her to shine at her debut Pokemon Performance. Ash is suddenly cognizant of the needs and wants of his companions? Maybe he is maturing after all... Look out Misty, dumb-Ash may finally be boyfriend material, just a dozen years too late.
Final thoughts: I've certainly seen better gym episodes, but this one was not that bad at all. Despite Ramos' lack of a coherent 'lesson' or 'strategy' for Ash to learn, the battle itself was definitely worth the price of admission. I was legitimately unsure whether Ash would be able to earn his Plant Badge on the first go-around or not. Things are finally picking up in the 18th Season, and I look forward to Serena's debut Showcase soon.