Pokemon Sun and Moon – Episode 30

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We’ve made it, folks. Thirty episodes in, and Pokemon Sun and Moon is still pulling off delightful new vignettes every episode, and still demonstrating animation flourishes that put much shorter shows to shame. One of Sun and Moon’s principle themes is “it’s not about victory, it’s about the journey,” and that maxim comes through clearly in the show’s episodic design, as it offers adventure after adventure with no clear destination, but plentiful fun moments that serve as their own inherent reward.

At the same time, Sun and Moon’s laid-back, slice of life style is serving an ongoing dramatic purpose, the same as it does in any great, atmosphere-focused slice of life show. Through sharing adventures with these characters at the steady pace of their own lives, the audience is also being integrated into Alolan society, coming to understand its rhythms, and gaining a sense of belonging within the familiar walls of Kukui’s cabin, or the Pokemon School. The more time we spend in Alola, the more friendly and familiar it feels; ultimately, while slice of life shows frequently lack lateral narrative movement, they exchange that for a greater sense of texture, solidity, and belonging in their chosen location. The end result is that returning to a great slice of life show feels like returning home – so let’s celebrate that home once more, as we explore another episode of Sun and Moon!

Episode 30

Unusually, this episode is starting not with a Pokeproblem, but with a series of shots leading us into the Pokemon School. I believe the last time this show skipped the Pokeproblem was for Stoutland’s goodbye, so hopefully nothing terrible has happened

The students are now cheering their Pokemon on through a Pokerace. I love how delightfully non-educational this school is; even if we’re accepting that children are allowed to receive an entirely Pokemon-centric education in this world, that doesn’t mean they should spend all day playing baseball and watching their pokemon run in circles

Nice boards for this sequence, incidentally. I like how the close-to-the-ground camera and dutch angles orient us alongside the pokemons’ perspective

And now a playful changeup for this top-down view, as we watch Pikachu bounce around the room like a pinball

“It seems you’ve perfected how to Play Nice.” Calling it that doesn’t make it a real class, Kukui

“You’ll now switch your partner pokemon.” Hah, what a fun twist on a sitcom mainstay. “Unlikely pairings within the main cast have to team up and see what they have in common” is a staple plot you’ll see in any sitcom that lasts a few seasons (there are only so many plots!), and is always good for pushing characters outside their comfort zones. And even within a peaceful slice of life framework, challenging your characters in this manner is one of the best ways for the audience to come to know them, as they become accustomed to not the stable snapshot of a character in their chosen element, but the multifaceted individual who must express all of their strengths and weaknesses in order to return to that element. A character who’s always comfortable is rarely interesting!

Oh damn, looks like it’s time for a new OP as well

Or maybe not quite yet. The song is new, but most of the footage is recycled from episodes we’ve seen before. The exception is this brilliant Pikachu cut halfway through, with some remarkable camera movements and perspective work

“Lillie, Take Good Care of Pikachu.” Yesss. Sun and Moon clearly understands tormenting Lillie and demanding she Do Her Best is one of its greatest strengths

“I’d like you to learn about pokemon other than your partner, and the best kind of lesson for that involves trying to live with one.” Yep, we’re doing the New Roomies episodes

Lana is anxious about being separated from Popplio, because she is an angel. On the other hand, Lillie is surprisingly excited, given her general pokephobia

Oh my god, Lana’s stuck with Turtonator. This is absurd

Love Popplio and Turtonator’s polite bows to each other

Mallow and Togedemaru set off with plenty of energy. It feels like Mallow is actually the most responsible, level-headed member of the group; Kaki clearly thinks it’s him, but he’s far too brittle, and also hides strong emotions under his self-serious shell. In contrast, Mallow doesn’t take herself nearly as seriously, but possesses the steady confidence of genuine self-assurance, and generally makes thoughtful decisions

I actually kinda surprised myself with that analysis; this show’s overt “character arcs” are light, but it’s clearly differentiated all of their personalities in a variety of subtle ways over the journey so far. Sophocles always comes off as a year or two younger than the others, for example, while Lana is shy but also fairly independent

Ash cheerfully reminds Pikachu not to electrocute anyone

Oh my god, Pikachu nudging sideways on the car seat to make room for Lillie is the most adorable thing in human history. I think this is it for me

Alright, here it is, the main event. Lillie has assumed her Do Your Best clenched fist pose, and is attempting to Touch the Pikachu

And of course Pikachu’s just having a grand old time, eating fancy snacks and playing on Lillie’s poke-jungle gym

Togedemaru’s going on one of his rampages over at Mallow’s restaurant. The pokemon themselves have fairly limited characterization, but Togedemaru’s tendency to get overexcited is convincingly pet-like behavior, and makes for a natural dash of conflict here

Kaki doesn’t know what to do with Popplio, but fortunately Hoshi is there. Bless Hoshi

In spite of being a fox, Snowball is clearly modeled after cat behavior. Ash keeps trying to actively reach out and pet him, but like most cats, if you try to be aggressively affectionate, they’re just going to shy away. Instead, Snowball walks around him and curls up next to Litten, who doesn’t give a shit either way – precisely the attitude you need to adopt if you want a cat to pay attention to you

This episode is certainly demonstrating how well-matched all these characters are to their original pokemon. Like Pikachu, Ash is energetic, affectionate, and curious – meanwhile, Snowball just wants an owner who will respect their space, like Lillie

Sophocles can’t sleep without Togedemaru, so Steenee helpfully drugs him to sleep with sleeping powder

Togedemaru discovers his true calling: rolling around while covered in cleaning supplies, thereby cleaning the whole floor. Mallow has turned him into a Roomba

We actually are getting a stronger impression of the pokemons’ personalities here, too. Popplio is inquisitive and eager to help, while Turtonator is remarkably patient, which is definitely a good quality in a pokemon twice my size and covered in explosives

Oh my god, Nyabby sharing his food with Snowball. MY HEART CAN’T TAKE IT

Ash is determined to make Snowball into a honed killing machine before he returns to Lillie, which I’m not sure is necessarily what Lillie wants, but I appreciate the sentiment

Lillie dissolves into cubist terror as Pikachu approaches. It seems most anime value a cohesion of aesthetic that prevents them from embracing reaction shots like Sun and Moon’s complete art style shifts, but I’m here to say that’s stupid, and more shows should have better faces

Granted, this approach also requires a team of highly talented animators who can actually accomplish those style shifts; Sun and Moon embodies the best of both worlds, combining a loose, animation-friendly stylistic mandate with brilliant animators who’d seemingly be just as comfortable working on Precure or a Yuasa production

Aw, go Lillie. In order to connect with Pikachu, she’s going even further outside her comfort zone, and choosing to battle alongside him

Ooh, I really like this effect as we pan up Lillie after Pikachu takes a series of hits. The divergent movement of Lillie and the background plane, combined with her hair flowing in the breeze, creates a strong sense of momentum. Lillie’s panic, and the sense that the battle is slipping away from her, comes through clearly just through the relationship between the foreground and background objects

And that naturally feeds into her subsequent turn, as she remembers that she must be strong to keep Pikachu strong. That crucial shift from “can I do this?” to “I’ve decided I’m going to do this!”

And Done

Well what do you know, that was absolutely delightful. There are few more certain ways to highlight a character’s charms than to push them outside their comfort zone, and this episode basically shoved everyone into a new character dynamic, with predictably charming results. Certainly a lighter episode in terms of animation, but still full of little flourishes that celebrated the convincingly animal-like behavior of the pokemon, and a bunch of excellent cuts for Lillie’s journey in particular. It seems Lillie is finally flourishing as a pokemon trainer in her own right!

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