With recent releases like Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Power Rangers, London-based distributor Manga Entertainment is making a name for itself as a bastion of ’90s nostalgia; a cherished position to have when so many of our generation are now desperately seeking respite from recently discovered adult life. So it should come as no surprise that they now have their sights on the crown jewel of ’90s pop culture: Pokémon, bringing the franchise to both DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in the United Kingdom. As a massive Pokémon fan myself, I couldn’t hesitate to check out this landmark release.
Manga Entertainment’s first release of the popular series takes us all the way back to the start of Ash’s journey and his first meeting with one of the most beloved icons of our childhoods, Pikachu. A total of 52-episodes are included this set, taking us right up to Ash’s arrival at Cinnabar Island – compiling what are, in my opinion, some of the series’ best episodes.
I found it a nostalgic yet refreshing experience to go back to a time where Pokémon was still finding itself not only with stand-out episodes like The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak, but also the little things like real-life animals in the backgrounds and Ash’s group being allowed to freely tease each other like friends actually do – even the Pokédex gets a few snide comments in! Nowadays, I just find myself in front of the TV grumbling like an old man about how Kiawe is too nice.
While Ash is still an excitable child in newer seasons, it’s fascinating to retrace how differently the earlier episodes portrayed his novice naivete, complete with a chip on his shoulder that is absent in newer instalments for better and worse. Ash simply feels more like an actual child in these earlier episodes, which I find more endearing than the harmless, one-note enthusiasm he’s adopted since. Even Pikachu feels like a more emotive and well-rounded character (and that’s not taking into account his chubbier design!).
For the purposes of this review, I was allowed to take a spin with the new Blu-ray discs and especially considering the release is an upscale of a 20 year old television anime, it looks pretty great on the whole and in general, the animation has aged really well. I’m especially fond of how visually creative these earlier episodes are, with examples including using black-and-white to display a Spearow’s field of view from a first-person perspective and the series’ more realistic depiction of Caterpie’s evolutions, resulting in a Butterflee actually emerging from the Metapod shell – a contrast to the generic glowing white light seen even in subsequent episodes here.
There are however, some brief and infrequent instances of noticeably bad compression (for example, a split-second shot below). Comparisons with Netflix’s stream however, reveal this to be not an issue with Manga UK’s release, but likely the masters supplied by the licensor – in fact, Manga UK’s blu-ray release is a slight improvement. It is worth noting however, that they appear so briefly as to not really disrupt the overall viewing experience.
As is to be expected, this release only contains the English language dub produced by 4Kids Entertainment and the “banned episodes“, even those previously broadcast in English, are absent. I mention this not as a slight to the release (did anyone seriously expect them?), but simply as a clarification.
Whether you’re a veteran fan who’s been incredibly patient or a rookie curious about the series’ past, I can’t recommend Pokémon Season 1 enough.
Take a trip back to the very beginning, when the adventures were just getting started!
It’s Ash Ketchum’s tenth birthday, and he’s ready to do what many 10-year-olds in the Kanto region set out to do—become a Pokémon Trainer! Things don’t go exactly the way he planned when he ends up with a Pikachu instead of a standard first partner Pokémon, and winning Gym badges turns out to be much tougher than he thought. Luckily he’s got former Gym Leaders Brock and Misty at his side, along with a bevy of new Pokémon friends, including Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander.
Title: Pokémon Season One
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
Platform(s): DVD, Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of Pokémon Season One was supplied by Manga Entertainment, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.