A few weeks ago, Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town set off on a journey to become a Pokemon master. Ash’s neighbor (and secret father) Professor Oak has tasked him with finding and collecting one of literally every single Pokemon on Earth – conveniently leaving the naughty professor with plenty of free time to spend with Pallet Town’s lonely housewife, Delia Ketchum. Ash managed to almost get himself and his new Pikachu killed on his first day away from home, but thanks to a bicycle unwillingly loaned by a short-tempered red-head named Misty, Ash not only survived, but actually caught a few Pokemon. More recently, our dim-witted hero acquired the first of eight gym badges required for entry into the Pokemon League at the Indigo Plateau – due more to pity than anything else – while simultaneously recruiting the gym leader Brock into his traveling party. Now Ash, Misty, and Brock are on the road to Cerulean City, where Ash hopes to win his second badge in three episodes and catch up to his older nephew, Gary Oak, who lovingly left his uncle a “Gary was here, Ash is a loser!” note on a roadside sign (and which the 4Kids censors neglected to photoshop in a few frames, causing the profane scribble known as “Japanese” to appear on the television screens of innocent American children…)
Having managed to temporary elude his persistent female stalker, Ash enjoys a little alone time with his seemingly wise older mentor Brock, and enthuses about the wonderful weather. “While you’re enjoying the sunshine, Gary is catching more Pokemon,” notes Brock sagaciously, bringing Ash crashing painfully back to reality. Misty soon returns (much to Pikachu’s delight), and does her best to dissuade the men in her life from taking her to Cerulean City. The Pokemon in Cerulean are all of the “scary ghost” variety, according to Misty (not realizing how appealing this must seem to a preteen like Ash), and she instead advocates visiting “romantic” Vermilion City (not realizing how unappealing this must seem to a preteen like Ash). To Misty’s delight, Ash concurs that they should go – but to Cerulean City. For once, someone agrees with Ash’s reasoning, Cerulean City has the “trainer badge” that Ash needs. “Makes sense to me,” pronounces wise Brock.
Meanwhile, three more of Ash’s followers have already arrived in the city surrounded by a “Mysterious, Blue Aura.” Jessie, James, and Meowth of Team Rocket are taking a temporary hiatus from trying to capture Pikachu, and are actually perpetrating criminal acts! (As opposed to future Team Rocket, who will most often commit the cardinal sin of trying to legally capture wild Pokemon that Ash and the characters of the day have deemed worthy of remaining in the wild...) On this evening, everyone’s favorite villains are inside an industrial warehouse of sorts, and have discovered a machine that they would very much like to steal.
The next morning, Brock and Ash have arrived in Cerulean at last, and Ash only now realizes that Misty is no longer following him. Brock points out that she really didn’t want to come to Cerulean City, and Ash gives it a split-second of thought (which is really all his tiny brain can handle), before shrugging and exclaiming, “we’ll never figure out girls!” Too true, Ash, too true. These prophetic words will prove prescient for Ash and Brock (as well as most of Pokemon’s male fans, I’d wager) throughout their many years of companionship. As luck would have it, Brock is provided with an immediate opportunity to prove Ash’s words true, when the two Poke-bros come across a police cordon outside of a “Machine Shop” (I realize it was 1998, but could 4Kids make their paint edits look any more obvious?) Our heroes are immediately confronted by the corrupt face of Kanto’s police force – Officer Jenny. Ash confuses this Jenny with the one he met in Viridian City, which prompts Cerulean Jenny to comment that Viridian Jenny is her sister-in-law (they’re identical in-laws? There must be some crazy inbreeding going on in the Jenny clan…), and also grow immediately suspicious of Ash and Brock because of their previous dealings with the police. (Racial profiling! Way to perpetuate the cycle of injustice, Jenny!) The thought of getting cuffed by a uniformed lady cop immediately gets Brock’s motor running, but Ash tries to diffuse the situation by once again using his Pokedex to identify himself to the Man. Brock holds up a Boulder Badge and claims that until recently he was the leader of the Pewter City Gym. Because, you know, it’s not like anyone else has a Boulder Badge and could make a similar claim. Geezy petes, literally the guy standing directly behind Brock seems to be sporting a Marsh Badge. So by his own logic, that guy is Sabrina, leader of the Saffron City Gym. Fortunately, much like the George W. Bush administration, Officer Jenny is equal parts corrupt and incompetent (zing!), and she immediately accepts our heroes’ alibis. “Well, that’s evidence enough for me!” Still horny as hell, Brock swoops in with a pick-up line, and slyly asks Jenny to show this newcomer to Cerulean around town. Despite being incredibly corrupt, Jenny declines the bait to engage in some statutory rape, and informs the squinty-eyed preteen that she does not get off work until past his bedtime.
A short time later, Ash and Brock are kicking back on a park bench, and our would-be Pokemon master is trying to press his older friend for information on the Cerulean gym leader. Brock claims that he’s never met “him,” but he does know his Pokemon’s special move…but he won’t tell Ash because of gym leader solidarity and all that (i.e. Brock has no idea either). So Ash heads off in the direction of the gym, while Brock departs for some “stuff” he “needs to check out.” “What stuff?” Ash questions. “Just stuff…” Brock responds cryptically. Read into that what you will, Pokemon fans. I, for one, tend to think that Brock was headed off to Cerulean’s seedy red-light district.
Meanwhile, Ash has managed what for him must be the herculean task of following written directions, and arrives at a carousel-looking building with a Dewgong adorning the facade. And although the 4Kids Japanese police understandably translated the Hanada Gym sign into English, they forgot to wipe the Devil’s script on the vertical banner next to the Lapras-shaped ticket booth...odd, they’re usually so anal about this kind of stuff. Once inside, Ash is dumbfounded (big surprise) to find not a Pokemon gym like he was expecting, but some sort of synchronized swimming event being performed by three attractive young women – the Sensational Sisters! Pikachu – horny rodent that he is – appears to be completely okay with this turn of events, but Ash walks off dejectedly. Descending a set of stairs, our hero comes across … fish? Real animals in Pokemon? Sacrebleu! What’s the point of collecting fish unless you can have magical cockfights with them?
Walking on down the hall, our hero bumps into the three ladies from before. He asks them if they know where the Cerulean Gym Leader is, only to discover that he is talking to them! Yes, the three Sensational Sisters run the gym, and show off their fantastic wet bodies in their spare time to paying audiences! They also have the world’s most annoying valley girl/Japanese schoolgirl laugh – so powerful that the Pentagon is investigating the possibility of weaponizing it. The scene somehow shifts to the side of a swimming pool, where Ash challenges ALL THREE sensational sisters to a battle (whoa there, bucko, you couldn’t even fairly beat ONE gym leader back in Pewter City…). Fortunately, the Sensational Sisters save Ash from the embarrassment of biting off more than he can chew by admitting that they are in no mood to battle Pokemon at the moment. They just lost three battles in a row to kids from some “nowhere place called Pallet Town,” and now they are out of Pokemon, besides one floppy Goldeen. The oldest sister tells Ash she knows what he wants from them and summons a Seel with a Cascade Badge in its mouth. (Wait a sec...isn’t Seel a Pokemon that could be used in battle?) Ash nobly declines, declaring that he’d “rather earn my badges.” (So how did you get that Boulder Badge again?) But just before our hero can give in and claim his second gym badge…
His honor is preserved by the arrival of the fourth Sensational Sister: Misty! (Although, Lily is kind enough to point out that there are only three Sensational Sisters and one runt…)
Misty’s sisters berate her for returning home so soon after running off to prove her worth as a Pokemon trainer, and she makes the mistake of admitting that she is only here because Ash wanted to come. “Well he’s totally not someone I’d choose for my boyfriend,” laughs Daisy, “but you’re no prize yourself!” (What a bitch!) Our heroine decides to prove herself by defending the honor of the Cerulean Gym against the onslaught of yet another trainer from Pallet Town. Ash chuckles at Misty’s ruling of two Pokemon each, he figures he’ll only need one, and tries to literally throw Pikachu into battle, as if the chubby yellow rodent was an oversized Pokeball. Unfortunately, the franchise mascot does not appear to subscribe to the theory of Poke-bros before Poke-hoes, and refuses to battle Ash’s girlfriend. “Pikachu, you’re a Pika-pal!” declares Misty happily. Ash does a patented hat spin and calls out the Unnecessarily Shrill Pokemon: Butterfree. For her part, Misty sends out the Staryu that she debuted against Meowth last episode, but the orange starfish is new to Ash, and he scans it with Dexter to the benefit of all the novice trainers in the audience. Learning about its bejeweled core, Ash sarcastically comments, “leave it to a girl to show off her jewelry.” Staryu and Butterfree trade blows, but Staryu is able to wash off Stun Spore in the water, leading Misty to the conclusion that she will be able to defeat Ash’s unholy abomination of shrillness so long as her Pokemon are able to use the pool to their advantage. Staryu knocks Butterfree into the water, and unfortunately Ash recalls it before it drowns to death. With only one other option available to him, our hero sends out his loyal pidgeon. Misty subs out Staryu for the ace in her rotation, Staryu’s evolved form – Starmie. The dual Water/Psychic type is one of the best Pokemon in the entire game, but this doesn’t phase Pidgeotto one bit. One bitch-slappin’ Wing Attack and super-powered Gust later, and Starmie is down for the count. (Keep yo pimp wing strong, Pidgeotto)
However, before Ash can “get that trainer badge,” Pokemon’s true heroes arrive on the scene. “Check out that hair!” notes Violet. (That could be in reference to Jessie or James, both of whom are in possession of fabulous coifs). “Sorry to break in on you ladies!” declares Jessie (haha, burn Ash!) James is mixing things up today with a blue rose, and he and his compatriots use the giant vacuum cleaner they rode in on to suck the water out of the pool. “A massive vacuum and a giant hose...Team Rocket were the robbers who broke into that store back there!” Ash realizes, already a better detective than all the Officer Jenny's in the world combined, “I should have known it was them!” (Yeah, you really should have…)
Utilizing their stolen machinery, our voluptuous villains attempt to suck the water out of gym – and with it the Pokemon! (By the looks of it, just Seel and Pikachu… That’s an awful lot of prep work for not much payoff, but then again, no one ever accused Team Rocket of being criminal masterminds) Ash, meanwhile, bizarrely manages to remember a basic science fact (or more likely, a mechanic of Pokemon battling), and has Pikachu use the water to superconduct the electricity of its Thunderbolt attack (probably killing Seel in the process). Team Rocket are thoroughly electrocuted by Pikachu’s attack, and the near-death experience causes James to rethink his life. “It’s times like these that make me want to go straight,” declares the unrepentant sodomite. (Did you see that, what James just did there? That’s called a double-entendre. It’s funny because James is both a crooked criminal, or crook, and he is also a homosexual, i.e. not straight) My favorite character in the show (besides Gary, of course) just took a big step today in opening up about his personal life for us, the viewing audience. This will be an ongoing process that will culminate in him flamboyantly coming out of the closet in the Season Three finale.
In any event, Team Rocket are violently ejected from the vacuum and sent “blasting off again” – a formula that will be repeated countless times over the coming years. (One wonders how much of their insanity is due to repeated blunt force trauma caused by Pikachu’s violent “blasting offs?” I’m pretty sure Giovanni, much like the United States, has declined to provide universal health care for his employees)
The Sensational Sisters take a moment to coin a terrible pun about the gym match being postponed “due to drain” X-( , and then Daisy gives Ash his second unearned gym badge in three episodes. Misty understandably protests, seeing as she didn’t lose, but Daisy notes that Pikachu “like totally saved us all” and probably correctly surmises that if the fat yellow womanizer hadn’t turned traitor on Ash at the start of the match, he could have easily cruised to victory.
Outside the gym, Misty’s sisters continue to rag on her, but they remind her that they love her as they send her on her way. Brock makes a sudden return from the “stuff” that preoccupied him all day, causing young Ash (still in full hero-worship mode) to cry out “yo Brock-o!” before proudly showing off the Cascade Badge that he “won.” “Cool, let’s go,” Brock hurriedly suggests, completely ignoring the three gorgeous women in front of him, and for some reason anxious to get out of Cerulean City as fast as possible. (Just what kind of “stuff” did he get up to today?) And another episode of Pokemon comes to a close with Ash and Misty in the middle of a heated lover’s quarrel over the result of their recent battle, with third-wheel Brock left muttering, “Oh brother…”
Final thoughts: Yet another great first generation episode. Can you imagine any scenario in the anime today where Ash wins two badges in the space of three episodes? The craziest thing is that this isn't even the only time Ash will do that this season! Of course, this will provide pacing problems later on, but for now, the frenetic pace just ensures that almost every episode is a winner, unlike the uneven and haphazard nature of the show now. The only down side is that people and places which would be more fleshed-out today are brushed over in these early episodes. It would have been nice for Ash and Misty to have a proper battle, for starters, or at least a rematch the next day for the badge, instead of Ash simply being given his Cascade Badge, like so many others in the Indigo League. Also, as annoying as they are, it would have been cool to see the characters of the Sensational Sisters expanded upon, and to see Misty's family dynamic, is her family rich like they are in the Pokemon Adventures manga, for instance? I also can't believe that the writers passed up an opportunity for Brock to slobber all over Misty's sisters – this could have been an ongoing joke, just like the whole Jenny/Joy thing. Although to be fair, it was kind of funny how shady Brock was about the "stuff" he was doing all episode. Of course the highlight of the entire episode for me was the first joke about James' sexual orientation. Fortunately we can look forward to plenty more of these in the next few seasons. All in all, this was a great episode despite the missed opportunities by the writers.