We enter this, the thirteenth episode of Pokémon, on a familiar scene: our heroes are struggling lost through a wooded path. "The road's gotta be somewhere," moans Ash, our brainless protagonist; hopefully not referring to the thing he is literally walking on, but perhaps the road to Vermilion City. "Everything's somewhere", retorts Brock with more than a hint of frustration in his voice. Perhaps he is finally coming to the realization that it was a mistake to abandon his life as the respected Gym Leader of Pewter City in order to follow Ash the idiot messiah, all in the vain hope of becoming a breeder (…of Pokémon).
But Brock's virginity remains very much intact, and speaking of the sexually-frustrated, Misty interjects, "Ash have you gotten us lost again?" I could opine on the ridiculousness of putting Ash in charge of navigation (you wouldn't let your child give you directions), and even Pikachu seems a bit exasperated with it all, but in this case one assumes that Misty's dig is more likely part of her patented argue-flirtation strategy with Ash – she is here on an even flimsier premise than Brock: that unemployed elementary-school drop-out Ash Ketchum will somehow come up with the money to replace the bike he "borrowed" from Misty and then destroyed way back in Episode 1.
We're only two-and-a-half weeks into this whole Pokémon fad in 1998 America and already a lot has happened to Ash and company – due both to the rapid pace of the early Kanto anime and also the fact that Pokémon debuted on American television in syndication, meaning that there was a new episode on after school five days a week. So for the benefit of all the people just tuning in, the narrator assists our heroes in recapping the story so far. In the span of only twelve episodes Ash has accumulated two gym badges and added six Pokémon to his team.
"Pretty impressive, huh!" says Ash, flashing the inside of his vest where he has pinned the Boulder and Cascade Badges he received in Pewter and Cerulean Cities. "You didn't earn those badges," interjects Misty, never one to allow Ash's ego to inflate too expansively. "You got them just because Brock and my sister felt sorry for you!" Brock cuts in—as he is wont to do whenever things appear to be getting too hot and heavy between his younger travelling companions—and explains to us (and honestly Ash as well), that however he got them, Pallet Town's village idiot now has two badges and he will need six Pokémon to continue earning badges and compete in the Pokémon League.
This prompts the narrator to ask Ash to name his six Pokémon, which serves the dual purpose of a basic recall test for our hero's puny intellect, as well as resetting the series for new viewers.
"I caught 'em all fair and square!"
"Caught them?!" exclaims Misty. "All of your Pokémon followed you!"
Well, this isn't quite true, Misty. To be fair, Squirtle did literally chase Ash down as he was leaving town last episode, and Ash somehow granted himself ownership over Charmander, which more rightly belonged to Brock, but all the rest were acquired in a more traditional manner: Bulbasaur agreed to battle Pikachu and was defeated and captured; Pidgeotto was about to eat Caterpie and was captured after it flew into a tree trunk; Caterpie just passively got hit with a Poké Ball and didn't do much about it; and Pikachu was given to Ash as a starter Pokémon, albeit not quite consensually.
"This may come as a surprise to you," continues Misty, refusing to concede the point, "but real Pokémon trainers actually catch Pokémon on their own." At this point Brock decides to pile on, sagely noting that "it's really not unusual for most trainers to catch twenty to thirty Pokémon." (Gotta get that Itemfinder!) "You're lucky your Pokémon follow you around," Misty adds, which prompts Ash's Pokémon team to humorously nod in agreement. Plus, as Ash's gym leader companions conclude, Ash had a lot of help from them, as well. This last point results in some further agreement from the Pokémon gallery.
Having received a thorough negging from his only friends in the entire world, as well as his six enslaved cockfighting monsters, Ash sets off to prove that he can catch a Pokémon properly. Just how he proposes to do this is unclear, since he runs deeper into the forest with just a single Poké Ball and none of his Pokémon. Ash seems to realize he has made a mess of it again when he reaches the sea and discovers that not a single wild Pokémon has managed to fall backwards into his outstretched Poké Ball. Just when all hope seems lost, Ash spots a single Krabby scuttling between his legs on the beach.
Proving the axiom about the broken clock being right twice a day, Dumb-Ash has managed to find a wild Pokémon all by himself, albeit by practically stepping on it. Of course it would be too much to have asked Ash to bring some of his other Pokémon with him to help weaken Krabby, but Ash must approach this problem like he does when trying to decipher how to get his pants on: one leg at a time. Unsheathing Dexter, Ash and thus the audience learn that this tiny red crustacean is Krabby: the River Crab Pokémon.
Exploring his surroundings by touch, much like a toddler, Ash begins to prod Krabby's claw with his finger. It is through this process that our dimwitted hero discovers that being snapped by a crab claw is painful. There is nothing left for Ash to do now but to have a sunset samurai showdown with Krabby, which he accomplishes by grabbing a twig off the sand and charging straight for the River Crab Pokémon. Krabby makes quick work of the stick, but I guess we are supposed to surmise that this was very exhausting for it? Because moments later Ash spins his hat backwards and tosses the Poké Ball he brought with him…and Krabby is captured!
Having succeeded at another one of his patented Old-Man-from-Viridian-City-no-Weakening-Pokémon-Captures (made all the more impressive by the non-existence of Quick Balls in this generation), Ash has somehow proved the point he set out to make, declaring "Now I really caught one!" – apparently forgetting that this is exactly how he caught Caterpie, and to a lesser extent Pidgeotto.
Of course, no sooner has Ash begun to gloat then things take an unexpected turn. Krabby's Poké Ball starts to crackle with electricity and before Ash has a chance to do anything else, the ball teleports away into the ether.
Our pea-brained protagonist vainly searches between his legs for Krabby, perhaps reasoning that the River Crab Pokémon has returned to where Ash first saw it, but to no avail. It is at this moment that Brock and Misty reappear, just missing the chance to witness Ash catch a Pokémon, who must now take on the existential quality of a girlfriend that your friends can never see because she "lives in Canada."
Fortunately for our dimwitted hero, Brock and Misty do not question the existence of Krabby, and Daddy Brock takes the opportunity to explain more of the facts of life to Ash—in this case the rule that a Pokémon trainer can only carry a maximum of six Pokémon with them at any one time.
We learn that any additional Pokémon after the sixth are transported into storage automatically and that the Pokédex can be used to initiate party changes. Furthermore, unlike the games where Pokémon not in use by the player get stuck inside some cryogenic deep freeze inside Bill's P.C., Pokémon in the anime are kept by whomever gave the trainer the Pokédex, in Ash's case his secret father, Professor Oak.
Ash ruminates on this for a beat (perhaps trying to remember the identity of the man who gave him his Pokédex), and then reacts in horror at the thought of Krabby being entrusted to Professor Oak. We are treated to what I assume is some lost-in-translation visual gag about Dr. Okido eating crab ramen all the time (perhaps Ash just overheard and misunderstood his mother saying that Professor Oak has a taste for seafood…), because Ash is suddenly very concerned about Krabby's wellbeing.
Ash's more worldly-wise friends are less concerned about his father's habit of eating out on fish, and more concerned with concepts like "food" and "shelter", but fortunately Pikachu solves everyone's problems when it begins hopping up and down and pointing to a lighthouse on a hill in the distance. Ash impressively marshalls all of his cognitive reasoning skills to deduce that the lighthouse will have a keeper, and thus a telephone. (Kids, ask your parents about a time when needing to find a telephone could be a plausible plot device) Misty and Brock are also satisfied that the lighthouse will have beds to sleep in, and a kitchen to prepare dinner in, and so our heroes trudge off up the hill to the lighthouse on the edge of a foggy cliff.
Ringing the doorbell on the lighthouse, Ash and company are met with a cacophonous chiming that causes them to recoil in fright. The voice that greets them through the intercom proves to be very British, and strangely no one questions the fact that the lighthouse keeper is apparently Damian, the blue-haired Charmander-abuser, given the same Maddie Blaustein voice just two episodes ago.
Ash is still concerned with locating a telephone to call Professor Oak, but Misty has more pressing business and shoves her pathetic paramour aside to ask the intercom if there is a bed she can sleep in, as she is tired from camping out every night (and no doubt also Ash's unwillingness/inability to "pitch a tent" in both senses of the phrase).
Mommy Brock adds diplomatically that he would be honored to make "bacon double cheeseburgers" in the lighthouse kitchen for everyone to share. ("Bacon double cheeseburgers" will be yet another ask-your-parents thing if A.O.C. and Comrade Biden get their way!!)
4Kids, however, is totally onboard for some toxic nativism, and has the lighthouse keeper twist the knife in the Weeaboos. After translating Brock's line from something that certainly wasn't "bacon double cheeseburgers," the intercom voice craps all over tofu, which is apparently the only thing he has been eating since his cook went on vacation. (Talk about Killer Tofu…)
In any event, the man on the intercom (can we just call him Bill?) remotely opens the large ornate doors to the lighthouse, and we get some detail on the Pokémon reliefs carved into the door's many panels—including, interestingly (as Dogasu pointed out), Mewtwo, which only Giovanni should know about. Is this lighthouse keeper/Pokémon fanatic perhaps in cahoots with Team Rocket?!
But this intriguing line of thought must be put on hold as our heroes enter a dark empty cavernous hall—empty that is except for a video monitor and a telephone in the shape of a Bellsprout. "The Professor won't mind if I call him collect!" announces Ash with the assurance of a true deadbeat son. (It seems like Ash forgot Professor Oak recently lost $1 million…). Ash is nonplussed to see that Daddy Oak is indeed cooking some kind of seafood ramen over a Bunsen burner, with chopsticks in hand and a block of tofu and a rice cooker clearly visible. (I'm excited to hear 4Kids translate this as 'pizza' or something…)
It appears that Professor Oak's cook is also on vacation, thus forcing him to subsist on tofu just like Bill. Ash's pater familias reacts nonchalantly to the notion that he is eating Ash's Krabby – in fact, Gary's Krabby would make a much more filling dinner!
The camera pans from Ash's Krabby inside a fishbowl to Gary's much more substantial Krabby (more than twice as large as Ash's) in an even larger fishbowl. Brock cannot ignore Gary's girth and blurts out "awesome!" And speaking of Pallet Town's one and only Pokémon Master, Professor Oak cannot help but upbraid his bastard Ash with the knowledge that Gary has already caught 45 Pokémon!
The reminder of how far behind his older nephew Gary he is sends Ash into a brief fit of despair, and Professor Oak fills the gap in the conversation by asking just where his prodigal son is calling him from anyway? (Because again, in this universe we have analog video phones and no caller i.d.) Ash explains to Daddy Oak that he is at a lighthouse on top of a hill, and that is apparently enough description for the professor to conclude that it must be Bill's Lighthouse. Bill, as Oak explains, "is a young Pokémon researcher who knows even more than me!"
This once again begs the question, of just what Professor Oak has been "studying" all these years. But loyal readers of Garyland will know the answer: it's Delia Ketchum, of course!
But just then the lights turn on and we are treated to something truly dreadful. And no I'm not talking about the continued subpar animation, which has Ash's hat mis-colored and Misty looking like she is having an allergic reaction to her own tongue. No, what I am alluding to is the eldritch horror that has manifested itself at the top of the stairs, some kind of giant bipedal horseshoe crab with glowing red eyes and menacing claws!
We don't get resolution on this, however, because capitalism intrudes with a commercial break, and once we return the point-of-view has shifted from the Lovecraftian monster imperiling Ash and friends to the true heroes of the show: Jessie, James, and Meowth of Team Rocket.
"According to the phone book," (ASK YOUR PARENTS) says Jessie, "that lighthouse belongs to Bill the famous Pokémon researcher." Pressing her eyes to the high-tech rangefinding binoculars graciously provided by Giovanni and scanning the hills between their location and the lighthouse, Jessie continues, "we could take the road, or… risk our lives climbing up the cliffs."
"Well we certainly can't take the road!" declares James theatrically. "The bad guys always got to sneak in!" concurs Meowth, advocating a trademark of the Team Rocket trio: an unnecessarily complicated plan.
And then because its Season One and the animators are still writing for an entirely Japanophilic audience – but also because Team Rocket are consummate professionals when it comes to theatricality – Jessie and James dress up like Kabuki actors for no particular reason. (Well, no reason other than the fact that James made them lug his costume trunk all the way from Viridian City and they might as well make use of it)
"It's time for us to 'rain' on someone's parade again!"
"We're back to back so prepare for trouble, watch your step or we'll make it double!" declare our voluptuous villains, before launching into the Team Rocket motto. This act is all the more impressive because there is absolutely no one around to hear it except for Meowth. Even putting aside the admirable artistic integrity to perform the motto when no one is listening, there remains the existential question, if a motto falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it…
But returning to the plan to scale the cliffs, Jessie concludes, "to be truly great criminals, we have to do things the hard way!" Which prompts James to add gaily, "And then we'll be hardened criminals!" Unfortunately, and despite how hard it will make them, the fact remains that Team Rocket are afraid of heights. And as his human companions embrace in mutual fear, Meowth looks on with a mixture of horror and disgust at the perversions Rocketshippers will undoubtedly concoct over Jessie and James hugging.
Meanwhile, back at the
ranch lighthouse, Ash and friends are still moments from a grisly death at the hands mandibles of the cursed giant horseshoe crab glowering over them. "That's Kabuto, an extinct Pokémon!" declares Brock, with all the self-confidence of someone who paid the ₽50 to visit Pewter Museum. But as it turns out, the creature is not a giant reanimated prehistoric Pokémon, but Bill the lighthouse keeper wearing a costume – IT WAS BILL ALL ALONG!
Despite being probably the most helpful Pokémon Card ever printed, anime Bill can't even help himself out of his Kabuto outfit, and he must summon Pallet Town's village idiot to literally come push his button. Fortunately this is a task that not even Ash can mess up, and our heroes soon find themselves standing in the presence of the green-haired British Pokémaniac who is canonically brown-haired and Southern in the games.
Misty asks if Bill "came from a costume party," seemingly forgetting that Bill famously "can't stand fancy do's."And as it turns out, Bill was merely engaging in some Pokémon
cosplay research in order to better understand how the extinct Kabuto might have lived – by figuratively and literally getting under its skin. (This is the pre-eminent Pokémon researcher in all the known world?! Has Bill even heard of the scientific method? Then again, when the "known world" is just Kanto, for the time being, and your biggest rival is Samuel "how's your mother?" Oak, I guess it's not a particularly competitive field for "world's best Pokémon researcher"…)
In any event, Bill celebrates his newfound freedom by taking a seat (amidst some more positively atrocious animation art) and explains to our heroes that "on this planet there are more than 150 species of known Pokémon," … which is, technically right? But has anyone bothered to walk next door to Johto? And also, Bill seems to be including Mewtwo, which again, he should have no business knowing about; unless our resident Pokémaniac is moonlighting as an agent of Team Rocket!?! For his part, Ash at least has the decency to seem suitably awestruck at the enormity of the Sisyphean task his secret father has set him to in capturing one of literally every Pokémon. Meanwhile, Team Rocket is having a bit of an existential crisis of their own, as they scale the cliff below Bill's Lighthouse and discuss their Prime Directive of stealing Pokémon for personal enrichment.
And speaking of existentiality, Bill leads our heroes out onto the observation deck of his lighthouse in order to witness a singular Pokémon so rare that it may not even exist, as "no one has ever seen it!" There is only one Dragonite! It's cannon! All of Ash's future travels will surely bear out the truth of the Dragonite singularity!
"No one has ever seen it"
Ahem, yes, so as I was saying there is only one Dragonite and Bill just happens to have the lowdown on where it is and what it is up to. You see, this Dragonite is incredibly lonely and it has been wandering the oceans looking for a friend. Bill knows this because he has heard it calling to him from across the sea and deciphered it's whale song-like speech. Pikachu, for one, seems to doubt Bill's translation (at least someone is suspicious of this research fraudster! He's not intelligent, he's just English!) But the rest of the group simply takes Bill at his word. Pallet Town's village idiot asks if Bill will try and catch the Dragonite when he meets it, but Bill replies incredulously, "why would I want to capture it?" – which is soon to become Ash's motto when it comes to Pokémon as well!
But maybe Bill is on to something after all, because before too long an absolute unit of a shadowy Dragonite appears in the distance and wades ever closer to the cliff where Bill and our heroes await on the lighthouse, and the show's real heroes Team Rocket cling to the rocks below. "That's a big Pokémon," declares Jessie in the understatement of the year, before James concludes rather disappointedly, "so size does matter?!"
Unlike James, Jessie seems unimpressed at Dragonite’s girth and orders an artillery barrage on the unsuspecting Dragon Pokémon. Bill rather comically pleads with Dragonite not to run away, even as it is being actively bazooka’d by Team Rocket – although James is sensitive enough to add that "even I think this is rotten!" Dragonite makes the rather sensible choice under the circumstances to neither stay and be ogled by Bill, nor be murdered by Team Rocket (I'm not sure what their end game is here with the bazookas)—instead the Dragonite destroys the lighthouse and turns to leave, but before doing so it reveals that it is actually a time-traveling trade-back Pokémon from Gold and Silver, as it unleashes an as-yet-nonexistent Twister move on our beautiful baddies and sends them blasting off again!
And although the Team Rocket Trio are gone from the scene, a question lingers on in this author's mind—have they just inadvertently ruined their first Giovanni scheme? As evidenced in basically every Butch and Cassidy episode, and their escapades in Pokémon Land, Jessie, James, and Meowth have a knack for accidentally working at cross-purposes with Team Rocket leadership. Indeed, Giovanni will eventually use this to his advantage in ridding himself of the Team Rocket Dirigible Division for the insurance money. So with the revelation that Bill somehow has knowledge of Mewtwo, a Pokémon that was only created on Giovanni's orders, can we not conclude that this eccentric Pokémon "maniac" is probably on the payroll of Team Rocket? What else could explain his supervillain-like lair inside a lighthouse, or his lavish suit-and-ascot wardrobe? I'm going to go ahead and say conclusively that Jessie, James, and Meowth just unwittingly crossed swords with an undercover Team Rocket asset and accidentally kept their boss from acquiring a giant time-traveling Dragonite with access to dangerous Gen II attacks!
Back on shore, it is suddenly daylight and Ash is feeling strangely pensive. "Bill," he asks, "do you think we'll ever find all the Pokémon there are?"
"No," reply Bill and the Nintendo corporation in unison. THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST!
And with that, safe in the knowledge that he will literally never complete his secret-father's mission, and thus never be able to return home and interrupt the alone time between Professor Oak and Delia Ketchum, Ash waves goodbye to Bill and his lighthouse and gamely soldiers onward with his loyal disciples Misty and Brock. And so the journey continues.
Final thoughts: Another generally decent Kanto episode. This episode is double or triply not filler in that Ash caught a Pokémon, and encountered a character and location from the games; however, I wouldn't describe this episode as all that memorable. Even Ash will basically forget about Krabby for the next 60 episodes or so—although basic recall is not exactly our hero's strong suit. On the flip side, since the story is still moving at a breakneck pace, and now that we've checked Bill and his lighthouse off of the list, next episode we will be in Vermilion City for another gym battle! See you then!
As of the end of this episode, Ash has caught 8 of the 151 Pokémon available at this time—meaning he is 5.30% of the way to his self-declared goal to "catch 'em all."
As of the middle of this episode, Gary has caught 45 of the 151 Pokémon available at this time—meaning he is 29.80% of the way to Ash's self-declared goal to "catch 'em all."
1.) Please note that I am using the original and correct definition of the word, meaning "unsure about what to say, think, or do : PERPLEXED" and not the American bastardized neologism with almost literally the opposite meaning.
2.) See, this would be a much better choice of a word with a 'non-' prefix for someone who is unfazed, unimpressed, or disinterested in something.