Pokemon Sun and Moon – Episode 21

4 months ago 51

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I hope you’re all keeping it together out there, and taking some time to treat yourself and maintain your mental health during this absurdly taxing time. I know that’s a reminder I have to give myself a lot – that I’m not necessarily feeling bad because of anything I did, and that I should learn to cut myself a bit more slack, because we’re all struggling with a uniquely demanding moment in history. It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed by everything happening – if you try to bear the weight of all of it, all the time, you’re likely to be crushed.

All of this is to basically say that I could really use some Sun and Moon, as it’s turned into one of my own favorite emotional oases, and I can only hope it’s been similarly helpful to all of you. Not all art needs to challenge or devastate us; in a world filled with hardship, we also desperately need beautiful, charming works that help us get through the day, and remind us of our capacity for kindness and joy. Sun and Moon’s firm friendships and adventurous spirit are a steady comfort for me, and I hope you’re cheered up as well as we explore one more episode!

Episode 21

Rather than start with the usual Pokeproblem, we immediately pan down into an Alolan market, where Ash is carrying a heavy load of new purchases. It’s interesting how structural familiarity breeds a natural kind of expectation – the fact that the Pokeproblem is skipped here makes this opening scene feel somehow less mediated, like we just sort of snuck up on the characters in action, rather than being actively invited on an adventure with them. I don’t believe that’s necessarily an intentional effect, but it’s an interesting quirk of how Sun and Moon’s rhythms have guided my understanding of its drama. When you repeat something in drama, you are teaching your audience to expect it, and thus building an understanding of the text that can later be subverted for greater dramatic effect

Nyabby’s up to his old tricks again. It’s always nice to take a trip through this town’s winding alleyways

Stoutland is still living on his couch under the bridge. I am very amused that Nyabby’s arc possesses more narrative continuity than any of this show’s human characters

A nice cut of leaves falling from a nearly barren tree, presumably implying it’s time for Stoutland to set off for a new home – or the grimmer implication that his life is nearly ending

“It is Time for Nyabby to Set Off!” Is Stoutland just gonna fade into the ether like Yoda? Is he going to become ghost-type Stoutland? I’m still not really sure how “ghost” counts as an elemental type, or what the existence of ghost pokemon means for pokemon-world theology

He’s still teaching Nyabby new moves, in spite of his weakening condition. Some nice fiery impact frames for Stoutland and Nyabby’s fire fang attacks

Haha, yeah, this is one of very few episodes that actually requires an expository flashback, because Nyabby and Ash have so much history. Nyabby is somehow this series’ most lore-dense side character

I love how clear the pokemon conversations are with this group. Stoutland getting angry at Nyabby for being rude to their guests, and then graciously apologizing to Pikachu, is adorable

Rowlett and Nyabby’s reunion is equally understandable: “it’s great to see you again!” “yeah, I guess”

OH MY GOD, WHAT INCREDIBLE DISRESPECT. Team Rocket show up and play out their entire introduction sequence, and then the moment it cuts back to the island, Nyabby sets all of them on fire. What a great goddamn joke – I love how they use the theatrical self-seriousness of Team Rocket’s intro as the setup here. This is actually another, intentional example of how expectations can facilitate drama; here, the humor rests in how our expectations of how Team Rocket work are immediately undercut by Nyabby’s introduction, which simultaneously emphasizes how much trivial of a threat Team Rocket are. “No time for you guys, a kitten is in trouble!”

Most of Team Rocket are so bummed out by this disrespect that they decide to head home, but Meowth recognizes Nyabby as the protector of the town from their last encounter

Stoutland is in pain, but fortunately, pokemon all get free health insurance

Wonderful use of squash and stretch for Ash’s expressions of exertion as he attempts to carry the Stoutland

The leaves keep falling and spiraling downstream, a familiar yet ever-sturdy metaphor. It’s always handy to be able to convey urgency through metaphor, without having to tamper with the actual stakes of your drama

The ominous imagery continues as we arrive at the pokemon center, and are introduced to Stoutland’s condition through sober establishing shots of the equipment surrounding him

Nyabby whining and pawing at the glass is convincingly cat-like and heartbreaking

Oh man, I love this trick. Just as Ash is about to receive the prognosis, the door slides shut, leaving Nyabby alone with Stoutland, and silencing Ash’s conversation. This places the audience there alongside Nyabby, as he attempts to gauge Stoutland’s condition from Ash and Joy’s faces, without understanding what they’re saying. What a great way to draw the audience emotionally closer to Nyabby

Kukui rightfully points out that Nyabby rushing to Ash is a symbol of its trust in him

As Ash and company hunt down Nyabby and Stoutland, Meowth stops them to say that Nyabby is an extremely tenacious little fella, and that Ash better take good care of him. I love Team Rocket so much

At this point, it feels like this episode disposed of the Pokeproblem as a sign of respect for the seriousness of its drama

It seems like Stoutland would rather finish his life in his own home, continuing to teach Nyabby. I was not expecting this episode to be about coming to terms with the death of a loved one, and living your life with dignity throughout. But Sun and Moon is really pulling it off!

Terrific, fluid expression work as Nyabby once again fails to Fire Fang the wooden coconut

Nyabby snuggling next to Stoutland as he fitfully sleeps is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. How dare they express this Nyabby’s feelings so well!

The music is also playing a key role this time. It carries us gracefully through Nyabby’s anxieties, as he dreams of failing to catch up to Stoutland

Oh wow. The background for the return to Stoutland’s original home is gorgeous. For once, Alola is overcast, and this shot’s rich greens and shadows absolutely make the most of it

The direction of this sequence is so good. Love these evocative closeups as Stoutland’s couch collapses, ending on the inevitable shot of the final leaf falling to the ground. They’re paying careful attention to layouts in this episode; rather than the show’s usual focus on clarity of characters in frame (a natural choice for this expression-heavy production), they’re constructing each shot for a specific emotional effect, even if it makes the drama less clear

More terrific shots, as we see Ash and Kukui in silhouette, silently watching Nyabby’s lament

“This is from the old lady at the market. She says you’re always welcome there.” That’s all you can really do for people suffering from grief – you can’t take their grief away, but you can emphasize that it’s okay to feel the way they do, and that you’re there to support them in whatever way you can. This is a remarkably sensitive episode

Aww, Meowth visits as well, and asks if Nyabby wants to talk about it. Truly a superb Meowth episode, too

Oh my god, now he’s singing a romantic ballad as we montage through Nyabby’s recovery. WHAT IS THIS EPISODE

Nyabby recovers, but won’t join the team unless Ash proves his strength in battle. And so we somehow get another of the show’s most beautifully animated fights yet, with lots of active choreography and a very effective visual interpretation of Pikachu’s Quick Attacks

And Nyabby at last joins the lineup!

And Done

WHAT THE HELL. I had this whole opening spiel about how Sun and Moon offers a welcome, laudable escape from the sorrows of the real world, and then we get this poignant, beautifully shot, life-affirming portrait of death, grief, and recovery. Apparently Pokemon is also an effective vehicle for intimate, moving life lessons, and though this episode wasn’t what I was expecting, it was also one of the very best episodes of the series so far. The storyboards were dynamic and beautiful, the script was effectively minimalist, and the narrative demonstrated the enduring appeal of characters like Ash and Meowth, while also making terrific use of Sun and Moon’s own heroes. Just an outstanding episode by any metric.

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