This is where it all began! The first ever episode of Pokemon doesn't disappoint, setting the tone for a season-long stretch of almost uninterrupted brilliance. The first season or so of the Pokemon anime is radically different from what would come after it, and what we see today. The show has become more visually stunning and polished, but at the same time it lacks the zany comedy and unformulaic writing of the first generation episodes. The anime was unabashedly Japanese at the beginning, and with good reason since it wasn't originally created with a Western audience in mind. The post-production paint edits and nonsensical visual Japanese puns are part of the flavor of the original episodes that pass away as time moves on. The show also takes more risks than it will later on, what with characters dying (temporarily), James frequently cross-dressing, the double-entendres about his sexuality, and multiple small things (revealing swimsuits, giant boobs, guns) that would be far too risque for the show to get away with today.
I know many later-day fans of the franchise dislike the original series and don't think it stands up well to the test of time. I personally think it was the most original and exciting period for the show (my nostalgia aside), and I encourage you all to enjoy this set of episodes while they last; whether you think later seasons are better or not, we can all agree the show will never look anything like this again.
With that out of the way...on to the episode!
The Pokemon anime begins the same way as Pokemon Red Version – with a flat looking Gengar and Nidorino swiping at each other in the middle of the screen. Then suddenly the image expands and acquires color and depth, and ... OMG we're watching an actual real-life Pokemon battle! The Nidorino's shadowy trainer (who looks a lot like Bruno of the Elite Four) recalls his Pokemon and whips out a strange green poke ball (the likes of which are never to be seen again) containing the phallic rock snake Pokemon, Onix (who we are soon to become very familiar with, thanks to a certain overly-tanned squinty-eyed horny virgin).
The camera zooms out to reveal that the Pokemon match we were watching was actually being televised in the room of a ten-year-old boy, and rather than worry about why we are hanging out inside a young boy's bedroom, let's allow him to introduce himself, shall we? It turns out he is Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town, and tomorrow he is getting his Pokemon license and heading out on the road. He declares to the Pokemon of the world (and also us, by extention) that he is destined to become a Pokemon master! Yes, in this crazy country (currently nameless, but later to be called Kanto) it is accepted that children have learned all they possibly can from school by the fourth grade, and that the time has come for them to leave home and travel around the country without any source of income, engaging in competitive cockfights with magical creatures they have managed to enslave inside little plastic balls along the way.
But young Ash isn't free from parental supervision just yet, and his mommy soon intrudes to demand that her son go to bed and get plenty of rest for his upcoming journey. Delia Ketchum states that if Ash must watch television, he should listen to the nightly news lecture being delivered by the town's most distinguished citizen, Pokemon expert, poet, and professional ladies' man: Professor Samuel "hardwood" Oak. We will eventually deduce that the good professor is actually Ash's illegitimate father, and the reason Delia wants Ash to listen to Oak's lecture is because Ash is incredibly stupid and his mom hopes her imbecile son might learn something from his brilliant father; also she needs Ash to go to sleep so she can sneak out of the house and get her freak on with her (and Ash's) daddy.
Eventually Ash drifts off to dreamland, but his (tiny, tiny) mind is still stuck on its single track – Pokemon. Ash goes over the three starter Pokemon his father is handing out tomorrow (conveniently introducing them to the audience) and concludes with some rare wisdom that should make genwunners everywhere smile, "Charmander – those in the know say that's the best way to go." Exactly right Ash. Charizard rules.
Unfortunately, in all the excitement of his dreams, Ash destroyed his pokeball-shaped alarm clock. And with his mother having mysteriously left the house during the night (hmm, wonder where she went?), there is no one to wake Ash up and make sure he gets his butt to Professor Oak's on time. Ash finally does manage to stumble out of bed and rushes down the well-beaten path between his house and the good professor's lab while still in his nightclothes (something Delia has done many a time). When he finally arrives at the Oak Pokemon Lab, he squeezes through a squad of cheerleaders that has assembled there for some reason, and crashes headlong into the single greatest character in Pokemon history:
Gary Motherf***ing Oak
Yes it appears that the assembled cheerleaders and roaring crowd are there to see off Pallet Town's most promising young trainer: Gary Oak, grandson to the celebrated professor and secret nephew of the show's supposed hero. "Well you must be Ash, better late than never I guess," declares Gary (spitting in the face of future backstories by acting as if this is the first time he has met his younger uncle), "At least you get the chance to meet me." "Gary?" Ash asks, managing to summon an unusual amount of brainpower to make the connection between the Gary cheers and Gary banners all around him and the young man standing in front of him. "Mr. Gary to you – show some respect." Ash tries to find out which Pokemon his nephew picked, but Gary simply says it was the "best" one (obviously), makes a telling remark about how it is good to have a grandfather in the Pokemon business (which goes right over Ash's head), and then departs in a chauffeured red convertible with his loyal fans and cheerleaders following behind.
With his nephew gone, Ash belatedly makes his way into his daddy's lab. Professor Oak breaks the news to his son that all three starter Pokemon were already claimed by trainers who arrived on time – but fear not! Oak and Delia really want Ash out of the house, and apparently the professor (wisely, it seems) devised a back-up plan in case his idiot offspring was not among the first three rookie trainers to arrive at his doorstep. It is at this point that we are introduced to the (literal) lightning-in-a-bottle international marketing phenomenon that Nintendo stumbled upon in the late-nineties, and which it has been trying to replicate ever since.
It's Pikachu! Oak mysteriously warns Ash that there is a problem with this particular Pikachu. But this doesn't register with Ash because OMG POKEMON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The professor then hands Ash some pokeballs and a Pokedex and instructs him to take Pikachu and go catch one of literally every Pokemon in the world (and don't you dare come home and bother me and your mother until you do, dammit!) Unfortunately Pikachu does not seem to be on board with this plan – and with good reason. Ash will prove to be a particularly poor Pokemon trainer (albeit one who proves to be something of an idiot savant when it comes to battling), so much so that the Pokemon Company will eventually be forced to do away with its "Gotta catch 'em all" slogan and downplay Ash's puntastic (but inaccurate) last name.
Outside of the Oak Laboratory we find that Delia has managed to put some clothes on, and has also recruited something of a cheering squad for Ash as well. It is nowhere near as large as Gary's (rightly so) and one of the men holding a banner is crying, leading me to believe that Delia made threats against his family to get him to come out for Ash. There is also a guy who looks suspiciously like the traveling Magikarp salesman...
As Ash prepares to leave, his mother dumps a pile of clothes into his arms, gives him a (probably needed) reminder not to burn himself on hot liquids, and finally asks him why his new yellow slave isn't inside its slave ball. This leads to a funny bit of physical comedy where Ash repeatedly tries to get Pikachu to return to its pokeball, as Pikachu repeatedly bats it back with its tail. Unfortunately Delia also calls Pikachu "a little weird," causing evil-minded Pikachu to blast the crap out of everyone and results in our first science lesson from Professor Oak (rubber doesn't conduct electricity!) And so Ash leaves home with one last (also necessary) reminder from Delia to change his underwear everyday.
Out on the road to Viridian City, Ash is still having trouble getting his slave to cooperate. So he tries to make Pikachu jealous by feigning interest in a new Pokemon. Spotting a Pidgey by the side of the road, Ash spins his hat backwards for the first time (the internationally recognized sign that things are about to get serious), and unleashes the patented Ash Ketchum Pokemon catching technique – throwing a pokeball without even attempting to weaken the target first. The Pidgey gets sucked into the ball, it shakes...and the Pidgey bursts out and runs free once more.
At this point Dexter, the voice of Ash's Pokedex, chimes in patronizingly saying, "To capture a Pokémon, you usually have your own Pokémon battle with the other." Ash is unable to convince his laughing Pikachu that it should assist its idiot master in enslaving more Pokemon, and he soon becomes distracted by a foraging Rattata, leading to another hilariously sassy conversation between Ash and Dexter.
Dexter: "A forest Pokémon, Rattata. It likes cheese, nuts, fruits and berries."
Ash: "Yeah but, this isn't a forest, it's an open field."
Dexter: "It also comes out into fields to steal food from stupid travelers."
Ash: "That means...I'm stupid?"
The truth hurts sometimes Ashy-boy.
Undeterred by his failure to win the confidence of either his pet mouse or his inanimate electronic encyclopedia, Ash decides to go all Safari Zone on the Pokemon of Route 1 and starts chucking rocks at the Pidgey. Unfortunately, he accidentally strikes an ornery Spearow instead, causing it to attack Pikachu. Pikachu reciprocates with a vicious ThunderShock and Spearow calls for the backup of its feathery flock.
Ash and Pikachu try to book it out of there as fast as possible and they arrive at what will become a typical Pokemon writer's plot device – the top of a waterfall. Ash either stupidly reasons that he can fly, or correctly reasons that Spearow can't swim, either way the result is the same. Ash and Pikachu are driven underwater by the current while Magikarp and Gyarados swim by.
Meanwhile, on the shore, a feisty red-haired girl is fishing on the bank, when she suddenly gets a tug on her lure (did Ash think it was food and bite it?), and she yanks our hero and Pikachu clean out of the water. The girl's name is Misty, and we will be getting to know her quite well as the show moves forward. For now though, she shows great concern for the well-being of the Pikachu she just fished out of the river, and typical Misty-rage at the boy she pulled out with it.
Ash has no time for Misty's particularly violent brand of love at the moment. It turns out that trying to commit watery suicide wasn't enough to make the murderous flock of Spearow go away, and in an iconic moment that will have tremendous ramifications for Ash and Misty (as well as their children, if you ask Pokeshippers), Ash steals Misty's bicycle to make his getaway, promising to return it someday.
Witnessing this brash act of machismo by the mysterious take-charge man gets Misty seriously titillated. She wants him bad.
Anyway, the mental strain of operating a bicycle proves too great for Ash and he crashes to the ground as the Spearow move in for the kill and a thunderstorm dramatically rolls in. This inspires stupid, stupid Ash to stand up with arms stretched wide and declare, "Spearows, do you know I am? I'm Ash from the town of Pallet. I am destined to be the world's number one Pokemon master. I can't be defeated by the likes of you. I'm going to capture and defeat you all."
Pikachu, feeling pity for its dumb-Ash trainer, and worrying about the legal implications of allowing its master to get killed, decides to intervene and summons the power of almighty Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, to disintegrate the Spearow in fiery electricity.
As the sun returns, it appears that the energy Pikachu expelled weakened its mental state, causing it to develop Stockholm Syndrome and become friends with its erstwhile foe and master. A beautiful rainbow streaks across the sky (signifying that James is just ahead in Viridian City), and Ash and Pikachu witness the majesty of an as-yet undiscovered Pokemon (Ho-Oh) flying off to meet James and the other friends of Dorothy, somewhere over the rainbow. Fin.
As of the end of this episode Ash has caught 1 of the 151 Pokemon available at this time – meaning he is 0.662% of the way to his self-declared goal to "catch 'em all"