Another day dawns on the never-ending adventures of Ash Ketchum and his band of merry (wo)men. Today our heroes have stopped at a Pokemon Center on the way back to Lumiose City, where Ash hopes to defeat his once and future travel companion Clemont and earn his fifth Kalos gym badge. At present, the eyes of Ash, Serena, and Bonnie are glued to a public television on which Shauna – Serena's new rival – is flaunting her Pokemon Performing stuff. Bonnie comments about how Shauna is famous now, following her stunning (and in my opinion, unfair) victory over Serena in the last Pokemon Showcase. Ash happily responds "she's famous alright!" – but perhaps a little too happily for jealous girlfriend Serena.
The opportunity to win her boyfriend's love through success in Pokemon-related competitions proves to be an excellent motivator for Serena and so the gang decamps to a nearby practice battlefield where she outlines her showcase strategy for Fennekin and Pancham in the dirt. The trio perform a complicated series of gymnastic leaps and dance moves which culminates with Fennekin spewing a ring of fire that Pancham leaps through...
with less than ideal results.
The quick-to-anger little panda bear does not take kindly to having its butt set on fire, and it shares some harsh words (or whatever passes for words between Pokemon) with Fennekin. Subsequent rehearsals do not go much better, and the feud between Pancham and Fennekin continues to escalate until Serena gets caught in the crossfire. ("You shouldn't fight!" implores Bonnie, which must be the most contradictory thing someone has ever said to a Pokemon...)
Despite Ash's best efforts to diffuse the situation, Serena angrily storms off, leaving her chastised Pokemon behind. Meanwhile, somewhere off by a stream, the show's regular overly-dramatic female is over-dramatically watching Shauna's latest performance and dreaming of the day when she will become the rightful queen of Kalos. Nearby, James – the rightful queen of Kanto – is fishing, and does his best to relay to Jessie the fact that becoming the regional performing champion does not necessarily mean that one will become "queen" in the head of state sense as well. Unfortunately, James' wisdom is no match for Jessie's single-minded determination, especially once Meowth joins in on her insane fantasy with the proposition of free Pokemon.
Back in town, Serena is still stewing over the way she blew-up in front of her Pokemon earlier. She is staring blankly at a shop window, when suddenly she is accosted by a roving hipster. The red-haired Zooey Deschanel wannabe thinks Serena is in the market for a new hat, but when our heroine admits that her mind was elsewhere, Pokemon's New Girl offers a bit of free advice instead, "always keep smiling" – every 1950's housewife's mantra (repress those feelings ladies!) Serena thinks to herself that she has seen this stranger before somewhere (perhaps buying kale chips at the local Whole Foods?), but before she can dwell on this thought she is swept off on a shopping spree (undoubtedly down at the Urban Outfitters).
Aria – ahem, Ariana – is actually the first girl to recognize the other, claiming to have seen Serena's disastrous showcase debut. The thought of performing stresses Serena out again, if only she could be just like her hero: Aria, the Kalos Queen! Rather than dwell on Serena's personal crisis, Ariana presents a more pressing issue – which bracelet should she buy?
First world problems.
Abandoned and trainer-less, Serena's Pokemon are still fretting over whether she will ever come back. Meanwhile, Ash's Pokemon have taken after their trainer and are all gathered around their food dishes stuffing their faces with not a care in the world. Bonnie and Ash do their best to cheer Fennekin and Pancham up, but then Bonnie unburdens some troubles of her own. "So your worries are about Clemont – got it!" declares Ash stupidly, sounding as if he has only just now made the connection that Bonnie and Clemont are siblings.
So what of Pokemon's resident John Denver lookalike? Clemont is presently in the middle of a heated gym battle against a mysterious green-haired trainer in cargo shorts and his Treecko. [A message from your local Nintendo salesman: buy Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire and you too can battle with awesome 3rd Generation Pokemon!] Clemont orders a Wild Charge from Luxray and it quickly puts an end to the Wood Gecko Pokemon. The nasally-voiced challenger gladly accepts Clemont's battle advice and jots it down in a notebook that he carries with him (nerd!). Has Clemont actually become strong enough to defeat Ash? (Or more likely, has Clembot become strong enough to kill all humans?), only time will tell.
Speaking of getting stronger, Jessie has gone decidedly old-school in her training methods. She has apparently taken a page out of AJ's book, in terms of literally whipping her Pokemon into shape (is this allowed anymore?), to the chagrin of Meowth. It seems that Jessie will simply not accept losing a second showcase, and until she wins, James and Meowth are going to have to put up with her going full-Jessibelle, complete with whips and chains.
We leave that frightening scene to return to the twerps. Serena is back and apparently all is forgiven between her and her Pokemon. Ariana comes along to, and Bonnie wastes no time in proposing marriage for her absentee brother. Ariana has a proposal of her own – Serena should have a double battle with her! This concept seems confusing to Serena ("battle with my Pokemon?"), but her boyfriend immediately butts in and declares that it is a great idea! So without further ado, Ariana calls out the two Pokemon that will go up against Fennekin and Pancham
...and she has fully-evolved Delphox and Aromatisse. Wow, this battle is going to be about as fair as Ash's infamous Charizard versus all of Casey's Pokemon bout.
The battle starts off about as well as anyone might have expected. And for the second time this episode, Pancham gets his ass caught on fire. Ash is in awe of Fennekin's fully-evolved cousin (no doubt remembering a fully-evolved Fire-type starter he used to have...), and Ariana drops a bombshell on Serena, revealing that she is a Pokemon Performer herself.
What? I didn't mention it earlier? Oops!
Ariana chastises Serena for not working as a team with her Pokemon. Our heroine tries to use some fancy move combinations, but Fennekin gets absolutely wrecked when it tries to match Flamethrowers with Delphox. But then Serena remembers Ariana's advice to never show her true emotions. She tells her Pokemon they are the best in the entire world, even though that is patently untrue. Nevertheless, Fennekin seems to believe her, and immediately evolves into Braixen! Newly emboldened, Pancham directs an attack at the feet of Ariana's Pokemon, kicking up dust and causing them to let their guard down, which enables Braixen to engulf them both in a fiery explosion.
But just when the battle really starts to heat up, Ariana's phone rings and she informs Serena that she has to "go back now." (How convenient, just when Serena started winning...). The real victim in all this, however, is poor Ash, who has just been Pokemon battle blue-balled.
"But there's a battle going on!"
So it seems that Serena and her Pokemon have worked all of their issues out, at least for the moment, and everyone is happily preparing for the trip to Lumiose City to reunite with Clemont, when suddenly Kalos Queen Aria appears on the television in the Pokemon Center.
Holy crap! Ariana was Aria the whole time!
This revelation was completely lost on Bonnie and dumb-Ash, a pair of glasses is always good enough a disguise to fool his feeble mind, but Serena promises herself that one day she will become as great a performer as her new friend and rival.
Final thoughts: Yet another strong episode in a row. It was great to finally meet Aria in person, so far I like her as a rival for Serena much more than lame old Shauna – even if the latter is an actual character from the games. Although, if Aria is going to be performing with a Delphox, I imagine we will see Braixen evolve again before too long as well. I'm not sure what is in store for
Scottie (apparently it's Sawyer now), Clemont's mysterious Hoenn-esque gym challenger, except I can tell he is a recurring character based on his appearing in the Japanese title song animation. Perhaps he will eventually become another rival for Ash, in addition to his more obvious role as a vehicle for the suits at Nintendo to push their Ruby/Sapphire remakes?