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"Pokémon": Lucario is No Mirage

The time has finally come. After showcasing the lazy Munchlax in last year’s movie, the promotion for Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is about to reach full force with the first ever movie release featuring a Pokémon that’s NOT a Legendary. Yeah, you could say the Unown were featured in Movie 3, but it was really all about Entei.

Thousands of years ago, two powerful armies (one red and one green, of course) clashed for control of the land, with the peaceful Cameran Palace in the middle of the crossfire. Lucario, who is mostly blue, scouts ahead to see what the danger is when his master, Sir Aaron, arrives (Sadly, no Pikachu were in the fight, so there wasn’t any Yellow to round things out) and traps Lucario in his staff. Using the Tree of Beginning, Sir Aaron somehow managed to stop the fighting. In the present, our heroes, just starting their journey through the Battle Frontier, stop by the castle in order to participate in the ceremonies being held to celebrate Sir Aaron. All four (and even Pikachu) dress up in traditional clothing, with Ash somehow finding a costume of Sir Aaron, and wander about the castle. Winning the local Pokémon tournament, Ash wins the title of Aura Guardian, narrowly beating out Kid Summers and her Weavile (the evolved form of Sneasel). However, things start to get seriously wacked when Mew appears and teleports Pikachu away! Not only that, but Lucario pops out of the staff after thousands of years, angry at Sir Aaron for betraying the kingdom! As our heroes search for Pikachu, can Ash show Lucario the true meaning of friendship before they’re clobbered by Regirock, Registeel and Regice?

With Destiny Deoxys, the writers decided to move the Pikachu mini-short to the ANA Festival and allow the main feature more running time. That movie used the extra running time for a random plot that really dragged down the movie, but here the extra time is put in to good use. The movie is paced really well, and there are few spots that feel dragged out unnecessarily. A lot of events are used to give the characters some fleshing out, to explore more about the land they’re in, or to just have the characters interacting with one another, and the result pays off very well. The story flows naturally, with the only scene that feels off being the hot spring scene, and even that has some story implications that doesn’t make it useless. While it does seem weird that Kanto would have an ancient kingdom like this in the middle of nowhere, it’s still not that strange compared to the Togepi Kingdom back in Hoenn. Really, there’s not much to complain about in the story front, everything just works so, so well. It’s not quite as action-packed as Spell of the Unown, but I believe the story itself is better than that and Jirachi Wish Maker.

Out of all the one-timers that show up in this movie, Kid is the only one who gets any real significant action, as she’s the adventurer of the group. I did like how the writers were deceptive of Kid’s good intentions, so that you keep guessing whether Kid is evil or not until the very end. Sir Aaron does get a good portion of screen time, but we don’t learn that much about him. Still, what little we do see of him does make him an effective friend for Lucario. Speaking of which, Lucario is officially my favorite feature movie Pokémon. Not only does he have a real nice design, but he also has some cool attacks to boot. And his story is highly entertaining, what with his struggles to accept Aaron’s betrayal and his clashes with Ash over whether he really cares about Pikachu. After the lack of character interaction between the main characters and Deoxys last movie, this was a refreshing change of pace. I also enjoy the way Lucario moves, kind of like the characters in Naruto when they’re running along the trees. As for the other Diamond/Pearl Pokémon, Weavile doesn’t get much screentime after it battles Mew, and though Mime Jr. and Bonsly are cute, they’re basically background characters and are used more effectively in the series.

The animation, like all the Pokémon movies, continues to impress. The CG has gotten even better, while the actual animation still flows well and the battles near the end are exceptionally smooth. Lucario’s coloring is also bright and vibrant, which is pretty amazing considering the backgrounds aren’t all that different from the backgrounds used in the series. While many of the Pokémon movies are very pretty, this movie is a benchmark, and easily the best-looking of the movies since Spell of the Unown. Thankfully, 4Kids also uses the original title screen (replacing only the actual titles), which is neat in that it shows the staff Lucario’s sealed in moving through time to the present. Also, I’ve never actually said this in any of the other music reviews, but I have to give props on the text replacement for the credits. The English credits look very professional and blend in extremely well with the movie, making it seem like they were always there and not standing out like a lot of anime companies do. The only problem? Lack of widescreen, of course. Though judging by the comments from Pokémon, U.S.A., the next movie, Pokémon Ranger and the Prince of the Sea: Manaphy will actually be in widescreen.

Speaking of which, those who hate the new dub can safely watch this DVD, as it’s the final movie recorded by the old cast. All the regulars are here and in their usual form, though Eric Stuart’s James is really starting to get on my nerves. I know the dub writers want James to be rather unmasculine, but does Stuart HAVE to overact every one of James’ lines? Eh, at least his Brock is decent for once, so I guess I can’t complain that much. The new characters are all voiced rather well except for Lucario himself. Sean Schemmel’s Lucario starts out really rough (in comparison to the super-smooth Japanese voice I’m used to), but it does get better as the movie goes along. The translation is also exceptionally done, and is arguably 4Kids’ best dub to date. The biggest gaff is the first conversation between Kid and her butler, Banks, which is almost completely re-written to try and add a subplot that not only disagrees with the action on screen (if the company’s in trouble, why is Banks leisurely jogging on a treadmill?), but is never brought up again. This is partially made up by a script change near the end when Ash says good-bye to Pikachu that actually improves over the Japanese dub. Oh, and before I forget, I don’t like the name “Tree of Beginning” for the dub, as I thought “Tree of Origin” just flows a lot better.

Music-wise, this is a very good reason why I love 4Kids leaving in the Japanese music in the movies, as the music here is simply beautiful, some of the best ever heard in the series. I’m not one to buy the musical score to a movie, but I’d pick up the score to this immediately if it was ever released locally. As for the songs, the Japanese “Battle Frontier” is replaced with an extended version of “Unbeatable,” though this time 4Kids actually creates new lyrics for the song, unlike the last movie theme they did. Oddly enough, the ending song is replaced by a dub song called “We Will Meet Again.” I say oddly because the ending song, “Song of Origin,” not only ties into the overall theme of the movie, but because it’s sung by Puffy AmiYumi. Why 4Kids passed up a GREAT chance to cross-promote with Tofu Records with arguably the most famous Japanese singers in the US is beyond me. The song itself is typical Puffy, but one would think that anything with their name attached is just begging to be heavily marketed in the US. It’s also especially odd that 4Kids would fly out Asuca Hayashi to dub the ending theme to Jirachi Wish Maker, yet not grab Japanese singers who regularly sing songs in English. Ah well, whatever.

The main extra to this DVD is the inclusion of the Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon TV Special that aired on Kids’ WB! last April. Luckily, Pokémon U.S.A. redubbed the special using the same TV cast as the new season, so the horrible dub from April is now gone forever, and Ash & Max sound different for once. However, only the lines where the characters changed VAs are re-recorded, so Wobuffet and Officer Jenny still sound off compared to the series, and the same script is used, so the odd lines (such as May’s infamous “See? Sometimes I can do the right thing!”) are still intact. Unfortunately, because this was recorded before the series, the voices haven’t had the improvements seen in the show, so they all sound a bit worse than on Cartoon Network. In particular, Ash and James are really bad, which is saying something considernig how bad Eric Stuart was through most of Hoenn. As for the special itself, it flows a bit better without commercial breaks, but overall it still feels a bit too rushed for my tastes, as if it needed an extra 10-15 minutes to flesh out the plot. The animation, outsourced to people who don’t usually work on the series, is rather stiff except for the CGI, which is pretty good.

As for the other extras, the main feature is a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, from the animation to the music, all leading up to a thank-you from Director Kunihiko Yuyama. Unfortunately, the special is WAY too short and only skims the surface of the production. I wish Pokémon U.S.A. had simply dubbed (or subbed) the behind-the-scenes special that aired in Japan, as that one actually went into detail somewhat. Also included are links to Pokémon Online, a text-based feature on Pokémon’s 10th Anniversary, and production photos out the wazoo. Since this is being released by Viz instead of Miramax, there are no trailers. Outside the discs, the casing is a digipack, similar to the Adult Swim sets back when they were first released, and they look really snazzy. Of course, that’s helped by the great artwork that accompanies the movie. There’s also a short ani-manga of the first two Pikachu shorts, an ad for the TCG, a small booklet on PokémonCenter.com that advertises the 10th Anniversary Soundtrack, the limited edition statues, and more. Finally, we have a Mew TCG card. While it’s not foiled, uses stock Ken Sugimori art (therefore making the card art rather boring), and I’d rather have a Lucario card since I have about five different Mew cards, it’s still a nice gift overall.

If you are even a little bit interested in Pokémon or are a fan in some way, this movie is a definite buy. This is one of the finest Pokémon stories and showcases just what the franchise is capable of.

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