I’m going to admit right off the bat that Arceus and the Jewel of Life had a lot of potential for me as a movie. It is an epic tale following Ash Ketchum, a youthful nature enthusiast, on a Linnaean quest to capture, document, and taxidermy all of the pokemon in order to one day be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Science. However, in this installment of the saga, Ash’s late-Victorian paradigm of descriptive science is challenged when he encounters Dialga and Palkia, the pokemon of Time and Space, and Giratina, the Antimatter pokemon. When these legendary pokemon start to battle in the first few scenes, the ensuing story of the crisis of modern physics, the discovery of the unity of time and space, and the dual nature of the photon seems certain. Curl up, grab a handful of popcorn, and watch as Ash proves that Pikachu has both fainted and not fainted if he’s inside the pokeball.
But this movie even has potential appeal for those who more closely identify with “math class is tough” Barbie. Pokemon is also a coming of age story. In the first scene, for instance, we encounter our hero playing in a stream with Brock, Dawn, and their pokemon. When a few watermelons mysteriously float their way, the time is ripe for Upperclassman Kuno to pop out of the bushes and challenge Ash’s budding sexuality with an invitation to go on a date if Ash beats him in a fight. (I learned my sex-ed from Rumiko Takahashi; maybe Ash will, too.) In the words of a wise black man, “Pikachu, take notes.”
As if this isn’t enough, Arceus and the Jewel of Life even narrates a third, unanticipated story. This is a story of time travel, in which our heroes are thrown back to the ancient site, witness the religious ceremony in which the titular jewel of life was acquired, and interview the high priest of the lands, Damos. It is an archaeologist’s fantasy, an Egyptologist’s wet-dream, an anthropologist’s drug-induced vision, played out in artfully stylized animation.
What’s the catch, then, you might ask? Why was this movie not the first unanimous winner of the tournament? The answer to this lies in the unfortunate writing of the dialogue. Somewhere down the production line, an English major from a community college thought it would be a good idea to have the characters repeat each other for emphasis and to show surprise or shock. I present to you a brief, but exemplary, passage:
Ash: “What’s that?”
Sheena: “The time-space axis.”
Dawn: “Time-space axis?”
Kevin: “Yes, that’s right.”
Sheena: “We use it to investigate those places where time and space have been disrupted.”
Brock: “Time and space disruptions?”
Kevin: “That’s correct.”
About two minutes of this, and I was yelling at the screen.
Sheena: “You see, I have the power to connect my heart with the hearts of pokemon”
Dawn: “With pokemon?”
Sally: Nooo, Dawn, -- with squirrels.
Sheena: “Yes, and [Dialga] has surely lent me some of its strength.”
Ash: “Dialga has?”
Do the characters have the working memory of a goldfish, or do the writers think the audience does? Hard-core Pokemon viewers suggest getting over the annoyance of this literary style by “just watching Piplup” (which I was instructed to do many times). However, if watching Piplup can make this a more bearable – or perhaps even pleasurable – movie-watching experience for you, I’m guessing you’ll probably need the repetitive dialogue to be able to follow the plot.
Repetitive dialogue? Yes, the dialogue. Dialogue… you mean what the people are saying? That’s correct: you’ll need the dialogue repeated to understand the plot. The plot? Yes: the sequence of events. Oh, the plot! Pika!