Orange Islands Offer Up Different View of "Pokémon"
So, what do you do when you have an anime based off a wildly popular video game, but the next installment is over a year away? Why, you create a filler saga, of course! So went the thought process of the Pokemon creative staff as they went to work trying to create a workable saga to stall Ash and company until Pokémon Gold and Silver arrived on Japanese shores. Thus the Orange League was born, the roller-coaster storyline of Pokémon history.
After losing to Richie in the Kanto Pokémon League, everyone in Pallet decides to have a party to celebrate Ash making it out of the qualifying rounds. Later on, Professor Oak talks to one Professor Felina Ivy, a researcher on Valencia Island in the Orange Islands. She’s discovered a brand new Poké Ball that cannot be opened nor transported. And so, Ash is charged with retrieving the special G/S Ball and taking it to Professor Oak. Once he, Misty, and Brock get to the Orange Islands, Ash discovers that they have their own Pokémon League, and wants to join it instead of returning home right away. Misty argues at first, but joins anyway. Brock, however, stays with Professor Ivy to learn more about Pokémon and to return to his duties as a housekeeper. In his place, young Tracey Sketchit (male) joins the group as both the Orange League tour guide and resident Professor Oak fanboy. With Ash’s new Lapras, Ash, Misty and Tracey surf the Orange Islands in hopes of gathering the four Gym Badges from the Orange Crew and defeating the Orange Islands Champion.
If you’re like 90% of Pokémon fans you hated Tracey as soon as he came on board. For those who don’t know, the American producers were afraid kids wouldn’t like Brock back when Pokémon was about to air way back in 1998 so they wanted to switch him out. To their surprise and dismay Brock became uber-popular and Tracey was instantly the whipping boy of the Pokémon universe. Even kids who didn’t like Brock probably won’t like Tracey better. He’s just very bland. His character design, his personality, his voice are all so plain it’s like he’s not even there at all. That’s probably why the Japanese staff gave him a Marril (that, and to drum up hype for Gold and Silver), and only three Pokémon.
But there is more to the Orange Islands than just Tracey. The Gym Battles are all especially different and unique. Instead of the standard 3-on-3 battle most of the Kanto, Johto, and Hoenn Gyms have, the Orange Island Gyms have skill contests, ranging from races to sharp shooting to type-matching to even the series’ first 2-on-2 Double Battle (years before Ruby and Sapphire came out). The Championship itself is different, as it’s not merely a tournament but a 6-on-6 match against the Champion, Drake (who was pretty cool, even if he was a Lance-wannabe). At first I didn’t like the different Gym Matches, as I had liked Kanto’s battles very much, but now that I look back on it, I find that the originality of the Orange Matches was a welcome addition and I wouldn’t mind seeing either the games or the anime (or both) try something like that again, especially considering most of the Johto Gym Battles sucked.
Some of the familiar elements from Pokémons past are done a bit differently here. Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny both wear different outfits, which is a nice change of pace, and all the native Pokémon have slightly different coloring due to the tropical environment, which enhances the Pokémon universe and makes it seem a bit more realistic. Ash and company’s mode of transport is different as well. The group ries on Lapras for most of the season instead of walking, despite the fact that this may hurt Ash story-wise since he doesn’t get to use his Pokémon as much. And of course, this is the saga where Charizard finally starts to obey Ash and become a real part of the team, strengthening Ash greatly.
Unfortunately, while some of the stuff here is good, a lot falls flat. For one thing, there’s just too much damn blue and green throughout the entire saga, which should be obvious since most of the backgrounds are blue skies and blue ocean. It gives the saga an overall gloomy and depressing feeling, even if most of the music is happy and cheerful. Also, as a sort-of a precursor to Johto, when the episodes suck, they suck HARD. In fact, some of the episodes on here are almost torture to watch, and I could barely keep from skipping to the next episode at times. Thankfully, the final battle between Ash and Drake is awesome.
This release boasts an unprecedented 12 episodes on a single disc, allowing the entire saga to be released on 3 DVDs. While it makes for a refreshing change from the standard 3-episode DVDs that Kanto and Johto Journies came in, it does pose some slight problems. The transfer is far from crystal clear and there are jagged lines everywhere, especially on Ash’s hat. It’s not unwatchable, but it could’ve been better if Viz had decided to do 2-disc sets instead of 1-disc. Sound is serviceable, about the same as on TV, but nothing to blow you away or to show off on your surround sound system. Of course, there’s no Japanese version either. And extras? Are you kidding? There’s no room!
Overall, while the Orange Islands are definitely hit-or-miss, the saga itself is an interesting ride for Pokémon. When you consider it’s only $15-$20 for 12 episodes, it becomes a great deal that any real Pokémon fan should have in their collection.