Pokemon Sun and Moon – Episode 41

2 weeks ago 15

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I’ve spent the first half of today proofreading and messaging and formatting and emailing, and goddamnit, I’ve earned some Sun and Moon. As much as I love my work, the busywork inherent in being a full-time freelancer can get pretty stifling; fortunately, the upside of this is that my actual “core labor” mostly involves laughing and clapping at Pikachu. I’m eager to get back to that critical business, and hope you’ll join me for whatever delights Sun and Moon shares with us next. With most of Ash’s other companions having experienced some sort of trainer powerup over the last set of episodes, my idle prediction is that it’s Sophocles’ turn – but Sun and Moon is never in any narrative rush, so I could just as easily see us simply enjoying a day at the beach. Either way, the sun is out and the pokemon have been fed, so let’s go sample the sights of Alola!

Episode 41

Hah, there’s Sophocles on the pokeproblem! Truly my predictive powers should inspire fear and worship, not rolled eyes and muttered mentions of me not even committing to my guesses

Looks like Charjabug will be getting some focus this time

Oh my god, they’re selling little toy cars that run on Charjabug electricity. I dunno, strapping a little bug into a car and piloting him around in circles feels like textbook pokemon abuse

“Apparently they run at speeds you’d never imagine an ordinary Charjabug could reach.” Well yeah, Charjabugs can barely move in the first place. You’re strapping a rocket to a turtle

Sophocles, Ash, and Kaki will be competing as a team in a Charjabug race. And of course, Kaki switches to his Victory Or Death mode the moment he realizes this is a competition. We now know the cast well enough to integrate lots of little jokes of personality like this – rather than building a self-contained joke out of elements present in this scene, we can bank on the audience’s existing understanding of Kaki’s personality to create a humorous callback here. Comedy that relies on an assumption of shared knowledge between the joke-teller and audience tends to land with stronger impact, as the audience feels more like they’re participating in the activity – they are literally “in on the joke”

Of course, the flipside of this is that for anyone who lacks that information, the joke is incomplete, and thus feels emotionally distancing. Different comedies will make different choices about assumed audience information, and suffer the consequences of it – I’m guessing both Community and Arrested Development struggled to build audiences across their third seasons because they assumed so much built-in audience information, and thus were unable to connect with audiences who lacked the context of all the previous episodes. Of course, their assumption of all this shared information also allowed those shows to be incredibly funny, and to build complex, self-reflective comedic machines that carried the dramatic resonance of an entire constructed universe. Meanwhile, comedies that assume no shared information must remain fairly basic, relying on jokes that parse even to someone who’s never met the characters before – more accessible, yes, but also far less distinctive

The girls are not impressed by the boys’ Fiery Spirit, so much so that Snowball blows it out

The Japanese episode title is “Dash, Dendimushi!”, so I’m just gonna assume the english one would be “Charge, Charjabug!” Gotta keep that alliteration!

Their team will have a Director, a Mechanic, and a Support Runner. Based on our team’s strengths, I’d say Ash, Sophocles, and Kaki, in that order

Instead, Kaki suggests Sophocles be the Director, since he knows the most about these races. A fair point, but I don’t really think Kaki can manage the Mechanic role

Meanwhile, Pikachu and Togedemaru are adorable

Their Charjabug has a Mild Nature, and thus doesn’t give a shit about fighting spirit or noble victory or any of that jazz

It’s pretty tough to draw much personality out of the Charjabug’s face; like Kaki’s Turtonator, too much of its “face” is a rigid part of its head’s design for it to convey clear expressions. The most expressive pokemon tend to be the one with fluid head shapes that echo features we’re used to assigning emotions to: the ones that look like humans or naturally expressive pets

I suppose more than an intelligent division of labor, the guiding principle of their team roles was “this is a Sophocles episode, you gotta give Sophocles the main role”

The team refresh after a grueling run by chugging a bunch of milk, which I emphatically urge none of you to ever try

Yessss, they’re introducing a bunch of rival teams at the tournament hall. See, this is why Sun and Moon is great – we didn’t know Charjabug racing existed ten minutes ago, and now we’re already deep in the drama of a Charjabug racing tournament arc

Sophocles’ team may have practiced hard, but their lack of matching outfits seems deeply unprofessional

Team Red Meteor stroll up and start talking shit

Oh my god, Team Rocket’s costumes for this event are ridiculous. See, here’s a team that understands the value of presentation, even if one of their teammates is technically three pokemon in a trenchcoat

I’m pretty sure their costumes are riffing on their one-time rival franchises, Digimon and Monster Rancher. Jessie’s wearing the Monster Rancher guy’s backwards cap, while Jessie has those trademark Tai goggles on his forehead

They’ve done a fine job of designing a race with some neat internal dynamics, like these problem areas with their enemy pokemon. Different forms of competition offer differing numbers of “dramatic levers” to pull, different ways to provoke internal conflict – and normally, races aren’t a particularly interactive, narrative-friendly form of conflict. These problem areas help mitigate that issue, and create more tangible drama than just “we have to go the fastest”

Some very energetic storyboarding as we approach the race, with cuts getting quicker and quicker to emphasize the approaching drama

I love that Team Rocket named their racing crew after Bewear

Also the whimsical preposterousness of Red Meteor’s leader having a gilded throne up on the command tower

Some nice smoke animation for this first crash. This episode is pretty light in terms of animation, but the storyboarding is quite good – the episode’s doing a great job of conveying the scale of this racing hall while maintaining clarity of drama, which is no easy feat. Like this shot right after the crash, which uses a shot-in-shot closeup of Jessie’s reaction to clarify the visual relationship between the field and the director’s tower

Now Team Rocket are employing a Speed Racer-style bounce technique to leap ahead of the competition. Team Rocket frequently feel like they’re used to indulge the animators’ own senses of humor, embracing niche animation jokes and acting in ways more designed to entertain parents than children

They’ve established a naturally satisfying contrast between Sophocles and his rival: the enemy has top-quality materials, but Sophocles has more innovative tactics

Team Rocket’s car is actually really advanced. If they’d just actually captured a Charjabug, rather than hiding a Meowth in the chassis, they could have won this competition for real. But I suppose that’s not the evil way

Fool that I was, I never suspected Kaki’s milk-fastening experience would make him an expert pit crew member

Meanwhile, Team Red Meteor is falling to pieces. Those fools don’t know the first thing about pacing yourself for a Charjabug rally

And Team Rocket, bickering outside after getting disqualified, are picked up by Bewear like a mom picking up the kids from soccer practice. This show

The last challenge course sequence is An Entire Fucking City

The course is so tough that the winner is quite likely to be nobody. I have a feeling the sponsors are going to have some harsh words for the course designer after this one

Once again, Sophocles’ strength is shown to be his lateral thinking, as he uses Charjabug’s string attacks to create better gripping tires. This episode has done a good job of finding ways for him to demonstrate cleverness during this course – I frankly thought of Sophocles as less of an ambitious trainer than the others, but his distinct strengths are shining here

And directly underlining this episode’s inspiration, we even get a shot of our team in classic Speed Racer designs as they cheer for their racer. This episode is brimming with love for anime in general

And Done

Ahh, that one was delightful! We got to enjoy what felt like a one-episode tournament arc, complete with fierce rivalries and daring comebacks, all in a tidy twenty minutes. The inherent fun of a sports anime was condensed with remarkable efficiency, all while offering a variety of fond nods to other shows, and expanding our understanding and respect for Sophocles’ character. Some of Sun and Moon’s best episodes take one ridiculous concept and run with it, and “Speed Racer-style Charjabug Rally” was a brilliant example of the form. Great work, Team Mamane Labs!

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