Well, here we are. The first single episode of the Diamond and Pearl series after the fantastic three-part opener. Today also introduces us to a Diamond and Pearl segment that is …less than fantastic. Every episode now begins with a short teaser before the theme song. Some times, like today, this is original footage, but more often than not, this will be pointlessly recycled scenes from later in the episode. This seems to me like a very poor use of the already limited time that is allotted to actual content on American television. It probably doesn't matter over in Japan, because they already have a bunch of extra bonus Pokemon content each week, but in the States we have to pay the piper in the form of commercials and now we have to put up with sixty seconds less episode most weeks.
Today master trainer Ash Ketchum is giving his new female companion advice on capturing Pokemon. Faced off against the least-threatening-looking bunny Pokemon I've ever seen, worldly-wise Dawn is actually having trouble handling balls (Poke-balls, that is…). She ends up clocking Ash right in the face, and the Buneary escapes during the ensuing argument between Ash and Dawn. Hmm… an angry female co-star who likes to go at it with Ash to the consternation of Brock? We've reverted to the original Pokemon twerp dynamic! Brock better be careful before Dawn and Ash's fighting turns into flirting like with Ash and Misty – he wants what is under that much-too-short skirt for himself, darn it! (And this time, there will be no Max to get in his way!)
But the argument continues past the theme song and title screen, and Brock's worst fears seem to be coming to fruition as Dawn and Ash's faces get closer and closer. "Are you calling me stupid?" asks Dawn. "No," responds our dim-witted hero, "but I'm thinking about it now!" "How can you think without a brain?!" retorts Dawn – she's only known Ash for a day or two, but she seems to have already figured him out. Finally Brock can take it no longer and butts in before his two traveling companions can segue from angry words to passionate kissing (Ash still has those Oak instincts hardwired deep down somewhere…), but suddenly a sunbeam bursts through the clouds and everybody suddenly feels chill and groovy – just like in the 60's!
What could be the cause of this sudden change in the weather and everyone's mood? Why it's Nando the dago, of course! The silky-tongued European emerges from the trees fondling a Mew harp with his Sunny Day using Budew in tow. Nando introduces himself as the "Pokemon Bard," and explains that he and his Budew travel the world bringing joy to all (sounds like a euphemism for using his accent to bed wannabe-worldly college girls). Dawn decides that the best way to prove herself to Ash will be to have a battle against this dreamy Mediterranean. She asks Nando if he's down and he responds "if that pleases you… (he's all about pleasing the ladies). Upon learning that Dawn is an aspiring coordinator, Nando agrees to participate in a contest battle, but the mention of performing has attracted the attention of certain artistes hiding in the bushes.
It's Team Rocket!
Jessie is sick of Dawn's youthful confidence (an undoubtedly also of her youthful looks/slutty attire), and boldly declares that "only one diva wins the next contest – this one!" Meowth and James make the unwise decision to less-than-enthusiastically support the unrealistic fantasies of their omniscient bitch goddess queen, and must therefore face her wrath as a result. Wobbuffet happily snaps to attention, patiently pleased as always to be in the service of such a wise and beautiful master.
Over on the battlefield, Dawn prepares to unleash cheap-shot-artist Pipl-ulf Samuelsson on Nando's unexpecting Budew. Unfortunately for our young heroine, Nando brings the same strategy to contest battling as George Foreman brought to boxing – why win on style points when you can simply win by knockout? Piplup ineffectively BubbleBeams Budew before the Bud Pokemon unleashes a super-effective Solar Beam that leaves the angry penguin smoking on the ground and Dawn with a winless 0-1 record.
As twilight sets in, our heroes are still traveling, and Dawn is beginning to fret over her frequent rookie mistakes. Ash urges her to "chill out," probably hoping she will fade into the background and irrelevancy like his previous angry female co-star – thus ceding more screen time to him. His advice is to eat and sleep her worries away, and lucky for Dawn, she can do both of these things at one of the many Pokemon Centers established by the socialist Revolutionary People's Democratic Republic of Sinnoh. Brock – familiar with the inner workings of the Pokemon welfare state – has located just such a center in his ever-present guide book, and calls out Bonsly, excitedly telling the baby bonsai tree that it is going to get "checked out" by Nurse Joy. Ash is surprised to learn that Brock left all of his other Pokemon back at the Pewter Gym, clearly he is missing Geodude and Onix (I refuse to acknowledge the abomination that is Steelix) as much as I am (heck, even oft-forgotten Crobat was a good guy).
Inside the Pokemon Center, Dawn reveals her newb status once again by asking Nurse Joy if she is the same nurse from Sandgem Town. Fortunately, Brock is able to illustrate his lesson about the incestual nature of the Joy clan because he is in possession of the Sinnoh Nurse Joy yearbook (of course he is…), but Dawn is still puzzled because Brock is acting the same way he did with Officer Jenny. "There's a question with no answer," responds Ash, as mystified by love as always.
Dawn puts through a phone call home to her mother, much as Ash used to do, you know that one time. Johanna thanks the two older boys for escorting her nubile and barely-dressed daughter around the country. Brock in particular seems well-suited for "looking after" Dawn, who as Johanna notes can be "a handful." (Brock would like nothing more than to have his hands full of Dawn…). Of course, Nurse Joy can't allow these young people to leave her government facility without making sure they're papers are all in order and that they are being properly monitored by Big Brother. She takes Ash's Pokedex and uploads his information straight into the secret police's database, but strangely it is Dawn who seems most interested when the nurse bends over to access her computer. Our young heroine asks if she can register for contests here, but Nurse Joy claims there is no need – a polite way of saying that as a Sinnoh resident, the KGB have been monitoring Dawn since birth.
Meanwhile, Nando saunters his European self into the Pokemon Center.
Imagine seeing you here, Nando…
Ash learns a new word – pondering – which is the excuse Nando gives for not wanting to stay at the Pokemon Center (that and the fact that they probably don't have the same amount of accepted sexual license as the hostels of Nando's native continent). Nurse Joy explains that Nando is torn between taking the Pokemon gym challenge and entering Sinnoh's contest circuit. Our younger heroes have very different ideas about which activity the seductive singer should focus on, and this – surprise, surprise – leads to an argument between Ash and Dawn before the former uncharacteristically has a bright idea: why not let Nando decide for himself? And with that the pair races off to ensure that Nando makes the correct choice.
An unspecified time later, we find our heroes deep in the forest, unable to locate Nando, and according to Ash, too far away to make their way back to the Pokemon Center. He informs Dawn they will need to camp out here, which comes as quite a shock – apparently she didn't realize her Pokemon journey would involve quite so much roughing it… (I guess she figured she would be a high calibre call girl and that her johns would put her up in only the finest of Sinnoh's lodgings?) "You always do this," Brock admonishes Ash – finally acting like the adult he has always claimed to be. "You go running off without thinking about the consequences!" (Geez… You'd think Brock had spent the better part of ten years being the much-abused Sancho Panza to Ash's Don Quixote or something by the frustration in his voice). Luckily a pair of hoteliers and their talking Meowth arrive seemingly out of nowhere to save the day. Claiming they can provide "three hots and a cot" they welcome everyone to the Rickety Roof Inn. A hotel way out in the middle of the forest? How convenient! "You see, we love consumers but its people we can't stand!" the red-haired lady explains. "But since you fit neither category you can stay for free!" adds the blue-haired man, who somehow seems to already know of Ash and company's free-loading ways. Brock advises they accept the offer, seeing as the people seem so nice – the talking Mewoth even offers Ash a custom-fitted case to "schlep his Pikachu in." Unfortunately a strong wind serves to put a premature end to the Rickety Roof Inn – as it is really nothing more than a Hollywood studio facade – and Meowth (yes that Meowth) complains to Jessie "let's see what you build with two bucks!" For you see, the hoteliers were Team Rocket all along!
Team Rocket rehearses their new motto and James takes the opportunity to introduce the twerps to his fourth-generation abusive Grass-type Pokemon – with painful results.
I think we found this year's Team Rocket Christmas Card!
Dawn orders a Bubblebeam, but Carnivine springs into action and swallows them whole. The Mayor McCheese Pokemon is about to turn his bite on the twerps when Nando's Budew appears out of nowhere and unleashes a Bullet Seed – which is apparently sufficient to explode and cause Team Rocket to blast off. (Why is everything in the Pokemon world spontaneously combustible?)
Around a campfire, Nando explains his conundrum to our heroes. It will take eight gym victories to get him into the Sinnoh League, whereas only five contest victories will pave the way to the grand festival. "Sounds to me like the gym's your best bet!" declares Pallet Town's village idiot. (Explain to me again why it's a good idea for kids to drop out of elementary school and travel the world?) Nando encourages our arguing heroes to quiet down and listen to the sounds of nature, and this inexplicably causes Dawn and Ash to make up. They both recall the legendary Pokemon they saw on the first day's of their respective Pokemon journeys. In Ash's case this leads to some re-animation by the producers, who didn't want to recycle the low-quality hand-drawn art from the first episode for some reason. Ash demands a turn at battling Nando and
suddenly it's tomorrow!
Pikachu smacks Budew with a Quick Attack, which the Bud Pokemon manages to easily heal with a Mega Drain. It absorbs a Thunderbolt and then – evolves into Roselia! "Roselia?!" stammers our brainless hero, "Budew evolves into Roselia?!" (Pokemon master my ass… It's not nearly as big a leap as Remoraid to Octillery) Nando makes a typically understated European villain remark about this being an interesting development, before quickly ordering a combination Sunny Day and Solar Beam. Luckily, Ash is not bound by the laws of physics like most mortals and orders Pikachu to dodge it. Moving faster than the speed of light, the fat yellow rat leaps high in the air and rains down a devastating Iron Tail on the Thorn Pokemon to win the match!
It seems that the ass-kicking he just received courtesy of Ash has helped Nando to make his decision between gym battles and Pokemon Contests. He chooses: BOTH!
Yes folks, in typical European fashion, Nando has found choosing one way of life too constraining, and has rejected the puritanical straightjacket of American sexual norms – he's officially bi, people!
Final thoughts: Hooray for Nando! I live for interesting recurring characters in this show, and in a series that has already given us Paul, I'm overjoyed that the writers have given us the delightfully European Nando. Despite his "I go both ways" claims, I envision Nando as more of a rival for Dawn than Ash – maybe it's because he already has last series' signature contest Pokemon in Roselia. And with his malleable sexuality, Nando could fill the roles of both Drew and Harley – brilliant! This episode in and of itself wasn't all that great, but so far Diamond and Pearl seems to be fulfilling the high expectations that I have for it based on other people's reviews.