Right off the bat, today's episode treats us to some interesting stylized art, a poorly translated pun, and a broken fourth wall. Good ol' Kanto. Ash and Misty are arguing again about her bike—supposedly the reason she has been following him all this time—and it provides her with a great way to relieve some of her pent-up sexual energy, which her clueless boyfriend does not seem to be willing to help her exercise; at least not in the traditional way. In any event, Brock blames all this bickering for why the group hasn't reached Vermilion City yet – which is rich coming from him since he is the one handling the navigational duties. It's kind of like when the parent blames the arguing siblings in the back seat for why the road trip isn't over yet. (Don't make Brock turn this Pokemon journey around!)
Pewter City's absentee gym leader also provides the fourth-wall breaking, claiming that they are "already late" and that they've "got to start the show!" We are treated to a unique Looney Toons esque circular zoom-in to black which segues to the title screen. Apparently this was a 4Kids addition to cover up an Angry Misty log attack out of nowhere. Just why Misty felt the need to commit what -- if we judge him by his skin tone and squinty eyes -- was probably a hate crime against Brock remains a mystery. The most likely reason is because it is still early Season One and the Tomboyish Mermaid is still capable of feeling emotions ... mainly rage.
Mama Brock responds to this indignity by throwing together a complete breakfast table for three setting that he conveniently carries with him in his Mary Poppins esque backpack. He comments that nothing is better than some freshly brewed Cerulean coffee, before asiding that "you kids are too young for the stuff, but it's really quite good." (Hey, remember when Brock was old/mature?) Never fear, though, Brock also carries some terribly-digitally-altered prune juice for just such occasions! For some reason Ash isn't interested and Misty asks about herbal tea instead, and wouldn't you know it, Brock also remembered to bring the Official Pokemon Tea Set™. (Won't see that today. Lord knows, impressionable children might see that and be subliminally inspired to go out and buy an Official Pokemon Tea Set™ of their own. Because as we all know, there is absolutely nothing advertisement related inherent within Pokemon...).
Speaking of product placement, Brock also brought some Mount Moon brand bottled water -- perfect for brewing tea and mixing the batter for the French crepes that he has planned. Misty dreamily comments that she loves French things (what about Serena?), but Ash has the audacity to interrupt Misty's Parisian daydream with a bizarre montage of drinking, loud chewing, and dissonant Japanese string music -- and for this he must be punished. Misty brandishes her log again, and this time 4Kids allows it, possibly because acting Japanese is justification enough to be smacked over the head with a large knotty piece of wood?
Brock interrupts Misty's violence to comment that he can't brew tea OR cook crepes unless someone scavenges wood to build a fire with. Misty generously sacrifices the exciting chance to gather firewood in order to stay and keep Brock company, so it is Pallet Town's village idiot who is given this seemingly simple, if somewhat labor-intensive task. Unfortunately, even this proves too difficult for Ash's puny mind. Walking through a forest (full of trees, and thus, wood) our brainless hero calls, "here firewood, here firewood..." and finds it odd that the kindling doesn't come running out to meet him. From this he can safely conclude, "no firewood here, Pikachu!" The little yellow rodent responds in Rachael Lillis' voice today for some reason -- sounding more like Jigglypuff than the authoritative Ikue Ohtani version that we get in almost literally every other episode -- and points to a glowing light in the fog ahead. "Hey, looks like a fire!" Ash declares, hopefully not planning on reaching in it to remove the burning wood for Brock's fire.
As it turns out, it is not so much a fire as a group of boy's in school uniforms holding candles as one of them runs on a treadmill. ...Japan, huh? The boy on a treadmill is asked to identify the picture of what is clearly a Pidgey. "Is it a Zubat?" asks the boy, who is obviously a loser since he lacks the only kind of knowledge that has any currency in this strange Pokemon-obsessed universe. "Just because its foggy out here doesn't mean your brain has to be in a fog," remarks one of the older boys -- acknowledging the strange local weather pattern that provides the perfect cover for what I now suspect is some kind of homoerotically charged school secret society initiation. Treadmill kid correctly identified the Pidgey, and also its "special attack" of Gust -- a classification that confused me, as this term did not exist in Generation 1, although I seem to recall a tendency back then to associate Pokemon with specific attacks, which may stem from the abnormal amount of signature moves in the original games; and indeed, the Pidgey family are the only Pokemon to learn Gust in Red/Blue. But I digress. Unable to name Pidgey's evolved form, lowly treadmill pledge assumes the position, and prepares to receive his deserved punishment from the paddle of one of the fraternity brothers.
Fortunately, Vice-Principal Ketchum arrives on the scene before any illegal hazing can take place. The brainless wonder manages to insult the one thing these preppy pre-teens care about most -- their school pride. Misty arrives in the role of the cavalry, and offers to join the coming fight, but Ash gruffly brushes her aside, and Misty sarcastically congratulates him for volunteering to fight all five by himself (Ash was never good with math), and she cheerfully declares that she'll cheer him on from the sidelines and drag away his carcass at the end, like a good woman, finally urging her clueless boyfriend to "show them you're a man." Luckily for Ash, these yacht riding Vineyard Vines enthusiasts don't fight, "fighting is for cavemen." (They save all their aggression for the lacrosse field)
"So those are the infamous Tech students..." says Brock mysteriously, who has appeared out of nowhere still whisking his crepe batter. Misty explains to the perpetually-confused Ash about the Pokemon Technical Institute -- even conveniently fishing a brochure out of her skin-tight jean shorts, where I have to imagine pocket space is at a premium, especially if she is storing her attack-log in there somewhere too. Lucky she had it, really. Brock reads the flyer to us, while Pikachu simultaneously does a bit of physical comedy with the treadmill. Apparently students can attend Pokemon Tech in lieu of actually going around and competing for gym badges. Successful matriculation results in membership to the Pokemon League. Misty remarks that Tech is "one of those snobby private schools that only millionaire's kids can go to," and heretofore unknown socialist Ash Ketchum literally steams in flames of rage (feel the Bern!) and demands to know where he can find this "Pokemon Tech."
"It's right over there," points the schoolboy, who's name turns out to be "Joe."
And so it is. The fog immediately dissipates and an announcement informs us that today's fog battling lesson is over. Apparently tomorrow will feature the secrets of snow, and Joe worries that his friends will turn him into a snowman ...again. Mama Brock wisely notes that, "with 'friends' like that, who needs enemies?" But Joe defends them for providing him with tutorial help. He then reveals that he knew that Pidgeotto evolves from Pidgey all along, and learns various "tricks" (illusions!) before finally becoming Pidgeot. Even an imbecile like Ash is bright enough to wonder why Joe didn't just answer the questions about Pidgey correctly if he knew the answer. It seems that Joe is feigning stupidity to save himself from having to answer even harder questions, and furthermore, he appreciates the help studying because of the incredible dishonor he would accrue if he was to return home to his hardworking parents without a degree from Pokemon Tech -- indeed he would probably have to commit seppuku to spare his ancestors the shame. As an example, Joe points out a crazy-eyed older student under a tree who is apparently both an "upperclassman" and also in the "Beginner's Level" with Joe. The classes are so difficult that he has been held back year after year -- becoming more Buster Baxter than Billy Madison. (Although I have to think that maybe he'd be able to graduate if they could find him a textbook that wasn't in Japanese...) Beginners at Pokemon Tech have the same qualifications as trainers with two badges (aka Ash), Intermediates, four; and Advanced six -- whereas graduation confers the status of all eight badges, and with it membership in the Pokemon League, without having to travel around and get dirty training like some kind of... peasant. (I notice there is no way to get ten badges like Gary Oak, however)
Ash, still in full blown left-wing campus protestor mode, declares the study system at Pokemon Tech "a violation of students' rights that must stop immediately -- if not sooner!" and demands to know who the leader of this practice is. Joe produces the picture of a girl -- a beautiful dark-haired girl named Giselle. Ash and Brock immediately begin slobbering over her, the latter of which is no surprise at all ("she can violate my rights" -- always been a fan of jailbait, eh Brocko?), but the former has never shown any interest in girls before, and Misty is pissed. "Hey!" she roars, "if she's making your life so miserable how come you're carrying her picture around?!" "I hate the way she treats us, but I like the way she looks," Joe replies; speaking for all men everywhere. "Yeah," adds dumb-Ash, clearly not having enough sense or experience with women to know when not to speak up. "Not like some other girls that treat you bad and look even worse..."
Well, that's done it. Misty unleashes her full uncontrolled wrath on Ash, Brock, and Pikachu (although Brock manages to continue to stir his batter), promising to "find this little witch and straighten her out!" (Oh, aren't you naughty 4Kids!) And thus our hot-headed heroine stomps off in the direction of Pokemon Tech.
But even as Misty prepares to dole out some ginger justice to an unexpecting Giselle, the true heroes of Pokemon gather on a nearby hill, and reminisce on what Bruce Springsteen would refer to as their "Glory Days." Yes apparently Jessie and James of Team Rocket are actually alumni, er rather, former students of Pokemon Tech. You see, they never graduated, having received "the lowest scores in the history of the school." Gotta love that backstory. It's no surprise that James, the scion of a prominent Southern family, should attend a prestigious boarding school, but I have to believe Jessie was there on some kind of affirmative action scholarship, since her family was literally so poor that they ate snow for food. (Their friendship all makes sense now: James was the sensitive gay kid that got bullied by Mitt Romney at prep school, and Jessie was his petty bitch best friend!)
The scene shifts back to the Twerps and Joe, who exit an elevator into some kind of arcade machine computer lab. More importantly, Brock's bowl of batter has mysteriously vanished. Joe explains that Giselle usually trains down here, but she probably won't care about whether she wins or loses in any one battle, because it's the "skill" of a trainer that matters (sounds like a cop-out). Ash brushes him off indignantly, taking the opportunity to brag about all two of his gym badges. This fails to impress Joe. As the top student in the Beginner Class, Giselle has a status of someone with at least three badges, even lowly Joe believes he should beat a trainer with only two. This, in turn, makes Misty angry, and-
Are we just not having crepes then?!?!
...Ahem, yes. Anyway, Joe dismisses Misty's boast of training in the Cerulean Gym, declaring that he always wins on the simulator -- and then quickly smacks down a virtual Starmie with a Weepinbell to prove his point. Misty is unimpressed by the boy who apparently does nothing but play Pokemon video games all day, "this is real life!" she declares -- time for a Pokemon battle! Misty brings out her "real life" Starmie to battle Joe's Weepinbell, and dispatches it with one decisive Water Gun.
Joe can't believe that a life of playing video games hasn't prepared him to function properly in the real world, and it is at this precise moment that Giselle makes her appearance, flanked by Joe's fraternity brothers. She scolds him for embarrassing the school (a crime that could probably get you the death penalty in Japan), and meanwhile Brock and Ash come across red in the face. "She's really pretty..." our dim-witted hero drools. So while Misty's eye twitches irritably, Giselle #humbleBrags to the gathered audience how lucky and fortunate she is to be attending the prestigious Pokemon Tech and have people fawn over her and call her a star, etc. But despite knowing she is God's personal gift to the human race, she is still "just Giselle!" Spying from an outside tree, Jessie posits, "I think she's even more conceited than we are!" "Yes," adds James, coming over with a bad case of doe-eyes, "but she's awfully cute!" Goodness gracious, Giselle must be hot if even James and Ash are noticing!
Giselle continues to admonish Joe, basically telling him to shape up, or ship out. But Misty interjects, informing the prom queen that a true friend would never abandon someone in need, and that Giselle seems to embody the old saying that beauty is only skin deep. Giselle giggles before replying that "jealousy's not very pretty either..." Damn. This kitty has claws!
Never missing an opportunity to demonstrate how clueless he is, especially as it relates to women, dumb-Ash declares his intention to intervene. But sage master Brock informs him that Confucius say: "wise Pokemon trainers never get involved in a cat fight." And as it turns out, a fight is exactly what Giselle has in mind. In typical asshole fashion, she decides to defeat Misty in the most embarrassing way possible, picking an underevolved Pokemon (a Graveler) with a 4x weakness to Starmie's water attacks. As she brags about her Pokemon's superior training, Giselle's Graveler tucks and rolls through a Water Gun and launches Starmie out the window and on to the apron of the school pool. But the bitch goddess who could give Jessie a run for her money isn't done yet, she still wants to fight and tells Misty that now that they're out by the pool, her Pokemon have even more of an advantage, Giselle will even be so kind as to let the Cerulean Gym Leader swap out Pokemon! But Misty's had enough and she just grumbles as Giselle continues to lecture to Joe about Pokemon levels and training being more important than just type match-ups.
But Ash Ketchum has had just about enough! It's been minutes since he's been the center of attention, and now all this talk of levels has made his favorite pastime and sole obsession seem just a little bit too much like math for his tastes. "There's more to Pokemon training than calculating levels!" he blurts at Giselle, to which she rather humorously responds, "who are you?" As Ash goes through his standard introductory routine, including mentioning both of his gym badges, Giselle interrupts to ask him how long he's been "trying" to be a Pokemon trainer. Ignoring (or more likely missing) the insult, Ash responds with "two months." (Yes, that's right Pokemon fans, Ash, who has been ten years old since 1998, apparently took two months to accomplish the events of the first nine episodes, and then presumably less than ten more months to accomplish the events of the next 800?)
The subject of Ash's impossible time-bending existence will have to be shelved for the moment, however, because he has made the mistake of making himself the target for a true Mean Girl's crosshairs, and Giselle begins to pick up steam, remarking on Ash's inability to "tame" Pikachu, his laughable total of three Pokemon, and the electric rodent's inability to reach "Level 25." (Wow, all this talk of levels today, what is this, an episode of Dragon Ball Z?) For all her tough talk though, Giselle doesn't seem to be willing to take any chances battling Nintendo's yellow money-maker, and enlists a super-effective Cubone. In his blind rage, though, Ash seems to have forgotten the names of Pikachu's attacks and orders a "Shock" attack. Pikachu does produce some electricity, which Cubone easily grounds, and since it is already dipping into the realms of make-believe with regards to its moveset, Pikachu similarly produces its very own "Leer" attack to counter Cubone's.
It's all fun and games until you get smacked on the head by some guy's bone.
Ash is not fan of Cubone's Bone Club or Bonemerang either, deeming them cheap tricks, but as Giselle notes, they are "sanctioned by the Pokemon League" and Ash's opinions on the matter simply prove his own ignorance! (I like this girl!) And despite all of her talk of levels, Giselle's Cubone has been unable to put away Ash's puny Pikachu with three super-effective ground attacks, and our brainless hero dusts off his Game Shark to finish the battle with some impossible moves in his favor. Pikachu miraculously avoids a third Bonemerang before twisting Cubone's skull mask backwards, using Bite on its tail, Fury Swipes on its body, and a further Mega Kick to the head, before Cubone is finally knocked out by its own returning Bonemerang. Giselle is understandably shocked at losing in such an unconventional manner, but Misty butts in to prevent Ash from grabbing any glory, calling his success "kind of a fluke." Joe is impressed nonetheless, noting that "it was a cool fluke, wasn't it" -- providing what could be the tag line for the entire Indigo League saga.
As any good Pokemon fan should know, no self-respecting episode of Pokemon can end without an appearance by Team Rocket, and appear they do! Planning on demonstrating another way of winning battles -- through cheating -- our voluptuous villains perform their motto (including some acrobatics and diving by Meowth), before Giselle recognizes Jessie and James as the worst students in Pokemon Tech history. She and her entourage fight off Team Rocket with a barrage of Pokeballs, not even bothering to call out the Pokemon within. For once James doesn't seem to appreciate a ball to the face and no doubt realizing that discretion is the better part of valor, Team Rocket beats a full retreat away from their old alma mater.
And speaking of education, today's characters of the day have come to a rather shocking conclusion about what lessons they've learned from the episode. Giselle now thinks that there are things you just can't learn in school, and meanwhile Joe has decided to outright withdraw from Pokemon Tech and emulate his new role model, Ash Ketchum. (Hear that kids? School is pointless, so just drop out! A message from the good folks at Nintendo!) The two Techies make plans to meet again at the Pokemon League and share a firm handshake while promising to exchange photographs (what is that, like second base in Japan?). His randiness still at an all-time high, Ash asks "why can't you and I be like that, Misty?" before receiving her stock answer about being owed a bicycle. And with that, our heroes decide they have spent far too much time already at school and set off to continue their gypsy vagabond existence.
Final thoughts: The second filler episode in a row, but this one was much more enjoyable. I feel like this episode perfectly illustrates my belief that filler material should expand upon the "canon" information from the games. It stands to reason that there would be schools in the Pokemon universe, and likewise that there would be ways for people to become accredited trainers without having to crawl around in caves and live off the generosity of sympathetic gym leaders. Frankly, I'm surprised this isn't something that comes up more often. Like, I know Ash and co. go to a school of some kind every once and awhile, but wouldn't you think the mass societal ignorance resulting from letting vast swaths of children simply forgo education in order to wander and cockfight would be more of a problem? I mean, even kids like Max and Bonnie who are too young to even be allowed Pokemon can never attend class. It's bizarre. Even the wacko Electric Tale of Pikachu universe makes clear that trainers only have a year's sabbatical from school with which to attempt their Pokemon journey -- and that manga was written by a porn writer! Anyway...join us next time when Ash begins his Kanto starters mini-arc!