FEATURE: Pokemon Has A History Of Working With Amazing Animation Talent

Let's explore the rich animated world of modern Pokemon!



Hello everyone, and welcome back to Why It Works. Have you checked out Shingo Yamashita’s latest poketoon video? It’s a marvelous expression of his unique vision and one more feather in the cap of one of the current era’s most talented and influential directors. At the same time, if you’ve been paying attention, seeing pokemon look this good probably won’t surprise you. In fact, we’re currently in the midst of a Pokemon-based animation revolution, featuring some of the greatest artists and animators currently in the business!



Image via Pokemon Kids TV Japan


If you watched Pokemon as a child, you probably don’t remember it being the most visually inspiring production. Exciting and nostalgic, to be sure, but not exactly a showcase of visual fluidity. Characters were generally still outside of lip flap movement, and even battles were conveyed with a generous helping of speed lines, rather than actual action choreography. Outside of the franchise’s films, Pokemon‘s early years were not exactly a highlight of the medium.


However, as an animation template, Pokemon represents infinite possibility. While the core narrative thrust of each Pokemon season is generally familiar, the animation talent behind those stories is free to experiment, tinkering with new techniques and expanding the show’s visual palette along the way. The Pokemon anime has reinvented itself many times over the years, embracing more animation-friendly linework in Black and White, and later introducing 3D environments during XY. Through the inspired guidance of its animation directors and advancements in the medium at large, Pokemon has become a TV franchise capable of all manner of animated wonders.


Twilight Wings

Image via The Official Pokemon YouTube Channel


As far as the main series goes, the most dramatic expression of this variability and advancement is the outstanding Sun and Moon anime. Dispensing with hard, complex lines in favor of rounded, simplified character models, Sun and Moon uses its uniquely animation-friendly designs to offer dazzling visual highlights again and again. No longer are these highlights confined to the battles. Even mundane scenes are brimming with endearing character acting, capturing both the goofiness of the human cast and the convincingly animal-like mannerisms of their pokemon. The show is a celebration of life lived alongside pokemon, and along with its requisite battles, Sun and Moon also succeeds brilliantly as a slice of life adventure. 


Even within Sun and Moon’s general excellence, individual creators are still encouraged to make their own unique mark. Masaaki Iwane is a Pokemon legend who’s been animating his own Pokemon episodes since 1999 — two straight decades of distinctive Pokemon excellence, now elevated through Sun and Moon’s exceptionally animation-friendly designs. Iwane’s talents are clear in episodes like the one where Mallow runs away from home to get drunk with an orangutan, which is utterly brimming with flavorful animation. And who can forget Sun and Moon’s trip back to Kanto, when the franchise’s heaviest hitters offer a celebration of Pokemon history by pitting Ash against Misty for the first time in years.



Image via Pokemon Official YouTube Channel


When you look outside Pokemon’s main franchise, the animation situation is even more impressive. In a field where most animators and directors are tied to established, adapted franchises with only so much room for individual self-expression, film shorts allow anime’s greatest stars far more freedom of movement and the ability to sculpt stories from the ground up for beauty and fluidity. Many of anime’s greatest directors have transitioned to the freedom of short films, and within that space, the Pokemon franchise has proven itself to be uniquely appreciative of their talents.


This new short is far from Yamashita’s own introduction to Pokemon. His earlier Twilight Wings series is a master class in animation and short film economy, and simply a beautiful collection of films in any right. Featuring delicate linework and stunning application of digital effects, Twilight Wings demonstrates Pokemon taking even more steps into the future and embracing the talents of the digital-native animation generation. One of my own very favorite directors, Rie Matsumoto, tried her hand at directing another delightful Pokemon short. “Gotcha!” offers a totally unique stab at the Pokemon aesthetic, marrying its charming characters to Matsumoto’s brilliant eye for color and composition.



Image via Pokemon Kids TV Japan


In a field where great artists are frequently limited by conditions outside their control, Pokemon has proven to be a sanctuary for animation talent and a proving ground for the animators of both yesterday and tomorrow. Whether it’s the continued evolution of Pokemon’s core series or the gorgeous proliferation of Pokemon-adjacent short films, the franchise embodies anime’s unique power to bring passionate animators’ visions to life. I’m delighted to see Pokemon giving these creators the room to exercise their talents and hope to see more of these beautiful works for many years to come!


What’s your own favorite slice of the Pokemon animated world? Let us know in the comments!




Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time, or follow him on Twitter.


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