Pokémon Horizons escapes the anime’s previous formula

The story of Ash Ketchum and his loyal Pikachu’s story finally ended earlier this year – without them ever giving Misty a single penny towards a new bike. But, since the Pokémon franchise is an unstoppable force, fans already knew a new series was on its way in the form of Pokémon Horizons. Set in Paldea to tie in with the latest mainline series games Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, Horizons follows two new Pokémon Trainers – Liko and Roy – on their journeys. Eurogamer attended a screening of the first four episodes of Pokémon Horizons this week to take a look.

Despite primarily taking place in Paldea, Pokémon Horizons evokes the original anime straight away by beginning in the Kanto region – as Liko has moved to Viridian City in order to attend a Pokémon academy. It’s here she meets her first Pokemon partner Sprigatitio, the cat-like Grass-type starter from Gen 9, who meets all of her bonding attempts with the kind of indignation only a cat can possess. School life comes to a halt, however, when members of a mysterious organisation known as The Explorers – the villains of Horizons – arrive to steal the gem pendant her grandmother gifted Liko as a good luck charm.

Pokémon Horizons: The Series is now on BBC iPlayer.Watch on YouTube

Thankfully, a group of Trainers known as the Rising Volt Tacklers arrive in time to help Liko escape back to Paldea. Led by Friede and Captain Pikachu, the Volt Tacklers allow her to join their group so she can discover why The Explorers desire her pendant and what secrets it holds. Along the way, Liko ends up encountering Roy – owner of an Ancient Poké Ball and the most unimaginative name in the series. While Roy only made his first appearance in the fourth episode, he is the dual protagonist of the series so I wouldn’t be surprised if he joins the Volt Tacklers too in future episodes.

Image credit: The Pokémon Company

The first four episodes of Pokémon Horizons certainly create the feeling it will be a far more plot driven adventure than the original anime series, which often followed a formulaic structure I like to call The Ketchum Cycle. A typical episode usually involves Ash and crew arriving in a new location, meeting a new Trainer and / or Pokémon experiencing an inconvenience, before Team Rocket arrives to capture Pikachu (and are defeated, blasting off again) before the episode concludes with the initial problem being resolved. This was trapped within a larger cycle of Ash’s constant failure to become a Pokémon Master to ensure his journey continued to the next region, though not without revisiting his Mum and her ‘good friend’ Mr. Mime, because a new generation of Pokémon was about to be released. All the while, Ash would never age a single day. (And in my view, the various changes in art style actually make him look younger in 2023 than he did in 1997…)

Considering how the series’ creators had to churn out over a thousand episodes of Ash’s story, the fact his tale fell into this formula isn’t a surprising one. It’s notable that the Pokémon manga, which was less formulaic, was far darker than the anime creators probably wanted to put to screen. (There’s zombies, decapitations, attempted murder and actual Pokémon murder to name a few notable events – the Pokémon manga is really good.) The focus on Liko and Roy solving their personal mysteries will hopefully prevent Horizons from falling into the same pitfalls thanks to how these quests provide more definite end points compared to simply becoming the best that ever was. If these storylines have been handled correctly, then Horizons’ should have an exciting overarching narrative as well as more diverse stand alone episodes.

Image credit: The Pokémon Company

Another welcome change is that Pokémon Horizons brings a wider cast of characters. Alongside Liko and Roy, there are already five members of the Rising Volt Tacklers and three members of The Explorers, with hints at other important members within said shadowy organisation. Not to forget the Pokémon members of the Volt Tacklers crew who play a part in running the airship; from the Slugma who lives in the furnace to the Noctowl who takes watch and, of course, Captain Pikachu. Though, it’s not clear whether this Pikachu’s name is captain or if it is the airship’s captain and therefore responsible for writing the human’s paychecks. (It’s the Pokémon universe, stranger things have happened.)

The inclusion of these characters helps make the world of Horizons feel more alive as we experience the different ways Trainers can come together to achieve their goals, even if they happen to take less than legal means to do so, alongside their different talents. Whether Horizons does take the time to invest in these characters, exploring their backstories and developing their personalities, rather than simply having them be part of the backdrop for Liko and Roy’s adventure is yet to be proven. It would be a shame for the series to miss this opportunity, especially since the opening four episodes set the foundations for Liko’s character development. Here she begins to build confidence in her and Sprigatitio’s abilities, escaping the cautious shell where she was unable to even consider her own wants let alone voice them. Its growth which fits the coming of age-themed storyline Horizons appears to be aiming for; hopefully Liko and Roy will both actually come of age, instead of being confined to perpetual youth.

Left: Friede and Captain Pikachu. | Right: Liko and members of The Explorers – going from left to right – Onia, Amethio and Zirc.Image credit: The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Horizons has a promising start. I’m interested to see how it will develop and if it will continue to be as plot-focused as the opening episodes suggest, or whether it will fall prey to a similar formulaic structure to one which plagued Ash’s adventure. One thing is for sure, Nurse Joy still looks exactly the same.

In the UK, the first six episodes of Pokémon Horizons are now available on BBC iPlayer and the series will begin airing on CBBC from Monday 4th December.

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