Culture

Detective Pikachu Review: Pokémon Fans in Japan Can See It First

A creative blend of CGI, live action and humor makes “Detective Pikachu” a must-see film says one anime fan.

By 7 min read

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is the film adaptation that I — and many other Pokémon fans — have been waiting for.

The film is based on the Nintendo 3DS video game Detective Pikachu, which received generally positive reviews and an 8.2/10 rating on IGN. In true Pokémon Company fashion, the film is just as polished and well-produced as their countless video game titles adored by millions all over the world. Unlike the numerous live-action film flops of the past, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu manages to present a story simple enough for everyone to understand, yet interesting and enticing enough to please long-time fans.

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Co-starring Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu uses its strong cast and stellar CGI to the fullest. Fans of both the Pokémon anime and video game franchises should have waves of nostalgia washing over them throughout the length of this live-action film.

Even better, you can see it in Japan now before it’s greater worldwide release. Japanese audiences got their first glimpse of the live action feature when it opened here on May 3. It opens in North America and the U.K. on May 10.

Story

Too often, live action adaptations seek to encapsulate the entirety of their source material’s story and world within a two-hour run time. As we’ve written about on GaijinPot before, previous Hollywood live action failures of popular Japanese anime have proved time and time again that this is simply too difficult to accomplish. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu succeeded — where other live action adaptations failed — in keeping the story short and sweet, yet interesting and gratifying.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman, a 21-year-old who hates Pokémon. In a world where everyone has a Pokémon partner—a single trusted Pokemon confidant—Tim seems to be the only one reluctant to accept one by his side. After his estranged father dies in a car crash, Tim meets a cute Pikachu with the strange voice of a middle-aged man who claims to be his father’s Pokémon partner. Together, the two must investigate the mystery of his father’s death and discover why Tim is the only one who can understand what Pikachu is saying.

Implementing elements of both comedy and mystery Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is enticing from beginning to end. With a typical father and son story that stands alone from the Pokémon universe, the film is relatable even for those foreign to everything Pokémon. While there is nothing groundbreaking in terms of plot, it was an intelligent and strategic decision to keep the story simple — especially for the franchise’s first foray into live-action films.

Cast

Screenshot from Pokémon: Detective Pikachu produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures and The Pokémon Company. Distributed by Warner Bros. and Toho.

One thing I disliked about the Dragon Ball Evolution live-action film — and other bad Hollywood adaptations of Japanese anime and manga — was the poor casting choices and the Westernization of the iconic Son Goku character. In Dragon Ball Z, Japanese food, culture and language are prominent within the universe of the anime, which is why Justin Chatwin (War of the Worlds) as Goku gave fans of the series extreme cause for concern.

Luckily, most of the Pokémon universe is free of real-world cultural allusions. The main character in the Detective Pikachu game, Tim Goodman, has a Western name and therefore American actor Justice Smith (Paper Towns, The Get Down) suited the role well.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu succeeded — where other live action adaptations failed — in keeping the story short and sweet, yet interesting and gratifying.

Pikachu in the original Pokémon anime was sassy, often electrocuting his own trainer if he ever got out of line. I had serious doubts about Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) as the voice of Pikachu. However, his natural wit and sarcasm brought the character of Detective Pikachu to life in a way I never imagined. Without wanting to give too much of the story away, there is a surprising twist in the film that makes Reynolds an even more ideal choice for the voice of Pikachu.

Art and animation

Screenshot from Pokémon: Detective Pikachu produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures and The Pokémon Company. Distributed by Warner Bros. and Toho.

Live action adaptations of popular anime series like Attack on Titan, Death Note, Ghost in the Shell and more are produced each year. The international success of Pokémon Go, the Pokémon anime series, and the millions of Pokémon fans worldwide would mean instant cash for the company if a live action film were produced. With that in mind, what has taken Pokémon so long to get a live-action film of its own?

In my opinion, like everything else The Pokémon Company produces, they wanted the first live-action Pokémon film to be polished. It’s likely that the company simply waited for the technology of our time to match their needs. As a result, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu screens as a well made, live-action/CGI hybrid, the quality of which I’d liken to the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar. The character design and CGI was balanced with the realism.

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Unlike past live-action/animation hybrid films like Looney Tunes Back in Action or Space Jam, the computer-generated, digital characters look believable despite being set in a human world with real actors alongside them. At the same time, they didn’t go overboard with the special effects as many live-action anime and video game films do. Pushing too hard for realism could result in butchering the original character design, much like the heat currently being taken by the Sonic the Hedgehog film remake. Luckily, the designers found a comfortable middle ground for the Pokémon in the film.

Nostalgia

Screenshot from Pokémon: Detective Pikachu produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures and The Pokémon Company. Distributed by Warner Bros. and Toho.

The film is definitely understandable and enjoyable without prior in-depth knowledge of the Pokémon universe. Despite the world of  Pokémon being so large, the simple and sweet nature of the story allowed for the writers to craft a film without much need for backstory explanation or lore. However, without a doubt, it caters to Pokémon fans. People who have played the games, read the manga or watched the anime beforehand will get the most out of the film.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film were the waves of nostalgia that washed over me from beginning to end — but this is coming from a true fan, so your mileage may vary. For me, watching iconic moments from the game and anime series brought to life on the big screen — like the first iconic Poké Ball twist and turn in anticipation of seeing a recent catch to hearing Ryan Reynolds sing the classic Pokémon anime theme song — transported me to my first experiences within the universe and kept me looking for Easter eggs within each scene.

The Pokémon universe is continuously growing, yet somehow this film managed to include Pokémon from nearly every generation of the series into one uniform world.

Verdict

From art and character design to story and casting, everything in the film fits together incredibly well. Fans of the Pokémon anime and video game series will get the most out of the film, but even those new to the Pokémon universe will be able to enjoy it and have some fun.

Bottom line: Pokémon fans won’t be disappointed by the franchise’s first foray into the live action realm. The film does the source material justice by capturing the light and fun atmosphere of the Pokémon franchise. At the same time, those foreign to the Pokémon universe can still enjoy the film while getting an introduction to the franchise with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.

If you’re a Pokémon fan here in Japan, you can catch the film now before its wider international release in the original English dialogue with Japanese subtitles or dubbed in Japanese at various Toho Cinemas and other theaters across the country.

Have you already seen the film? Have you watched or will you be watching the other live action films of 2019? Let us know in the comments!

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