Pokémon and Film Reviewer Discourse

Let’s talk reviewer bias.

A while back, I had the pleasure of watching the following video on YouTube:

Yeah… (Courtesy of Polygon.)

I don’t know much about these guys' videos, nor do I really want to. But their mockery over reviews of Pokémon: The First Movie struck me as odd. Even ignoring that most of the reviewers in question seemed to be heavily perplexed by the film’s existence, or that the video was mildly funny, Griffin and Nick appeared to be lampooning reviewers for “not getting” this movie. This is especially troubling in light of the following comment:
“All I have to say is, why did professional film critics need to review pokemon movies anyway? They're kids movies, and from a completely different country. Not really your area of expertise, my dude.”
Ignoring that this comes off as a thinly veiled “keep your opinions away from what I love!” comment, it raises the issue of whether or not there are films that critics are able to comment on objectively. Pokémon: The First Movie, going by this video, appears to be one of them. So the question that needs asking is, “Is a movie fair game for bad reviews if its target audience isn’t reviewers?” I know the Nostalgia Critic has already made a video on this matter, but I figured I’d share my thoughts anyway.

Keep in mind that reviewing, like any facet of entertainment, isn't a science. There’s no definitive method for reviewing something: I’ve seen reviews that look at something analytically, and I’ve seen reviews that look at something farcically. There are reviews that compare to other films, and there are reviews that don’t. Some reviews use humour, others don’t. And some reviews even span multiple reviews, as the author’s thoughts can’t be done justice in one piece.

Regardless, the point of a review is to give a personal take. And that means that there won’t be 100% objectivity, as that’s impossible. Reviews are opinion pieces, and opinions vary from person-to-person. To assume that a review can be totally impartial is to assume that there’s a right way to view art. And Pokémon: The First Movie, irrespective of its target audience, is no different.

The complication is in a detachment from the source material. Like it or not, Pokémon is relatively new to film entertainment. Up until 1998, there were no Pokémon movies, so people had little to go with outside of the show and games the movies tied into. That in itself is a challenge, but given that appreciation of Pokémon: The First Movie is heavily tied into prior knowledge of the IP it becomes much harder to discuss objectively. At least comic book movies have the flexibility of using comics as templates that they need not follow rigidly, but the Pokémon movies? Not so much.

My point is that, like it or not, reviewing the Pokémon films does require a level of prior knowledge of what Pokémon is to review them fairly. This is why the comparisons to other anime films of the time, i.e. Princess Mononoke or Akira, are unfair: to review the films, one must be a fan of said films, as opposed to crap-shooting in hopes of getting it right. Most reviewers of Pokémon: The First Movie didn’t have that when they reviewed it.

That said, I can’t help but take umbrage in saying that only Pokémon fans can review Pokémon movies. For one, reviewers review because it’s their job. And two, putting up gates around franchises you hold dear is arrogance. It reeks of paranoia, and makes you look like you’re hiding something; after all, why should your fan-favourite property be given special treatment?

But even outside of that, why is Pokémon so unique? Speaking as a lapsed fan, the Pokémon movies, particularly the first one, are garbage. The animation is choppy, the characterizations are flat and the messages and writing are subpar. Even ignoring the dub changes, they don’t hold up, and they serve as nothing more than cheap marketing ploys for the grander franchise. Shouldn’t that be legit reason for harsh critiquing?

This is why the aforementioned comment is so troubling: reviewers can, and should, be entitled to review Pokémon: The First Movie. They should be entitled to criticize its flaws, and they should be entitled to give better recommendations. And even if they’re not familiar with the franchise, they should be entitled to explain why the film, and its subsequent sequels, aren’t any good. Because what makes this film different than other films, with ham-fisted, hypocritical messages about violence and death, outside of the brand name? It’s behaviour like this that allows celebrities to run countries without accountability for their actions, after all!

So yes, I don’t think Griffin and Nick should’ve been so snarky, even if they were trying to prove a point, and I also don’t think that comment was fair. Does that mean the video has to be deleted? No, but it doesn't mean that I can't take issue with it. Because, at the end of the day, that’s the first step to engaging in discourse. Especially over something as trivial as a Pokémon film.


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