Saturday, October 6, 2012

Farewell To Team Rocket?



Well...this was it. I've built up to an entry about this, so it's time to do it. The second part of the two-part finale for the first season/act of "Pokemon: Best Wishes Season 2" aired the other day. The arc that featured our heroes going to East Unova, staying at a villa in Undella, getting into various beach hyjinx, participating in the Junior Cup Tournament, and hanging with the wandering Pokemon Meloetta. And in the background, Team Rocket was building up to what was said to be their biggest mission ever. All TR-related promotional material used to hype this really made it seem like this could very possibly be TR's last hurrah, and then the trailer, promos, and summaries for this two-part event came out calling it "Our farewell to the Rocket Gang", "a finale after 15 years of activity for the Rocket Gang" and "the final actions of the Rocket Gang". If that wasn't enough to be convincing that this was more than just a cheap gimmick to generate hype, the finale was confirmed to feature something that definitely marked the end for Team Rocket..a confrontation between Ash and Giovanni! I was blown away by this news and pumped to see how this would go. But the fact that it was a finale for a team of villains (something this anime sucked at doing twice!) and written by Atsuhiro Tomioka (the show's biggest hack who wrote them both!) had me worried about it. It could seem epic but then turn to crap at the last act, as was the case with poor Team Galactic. Well, it's all done now. Did it disappoint?  FUCK NO. This was almost everything I could've hoped for out of an arc finale, and a Team Rocket finale.

Now to clarify what was so great about this, I'll first have to talk about my favorite incarnations of Team Rocket again: the original series' Team Rocket as handled by the late head writer Takeshi Shudo, and this current "Best Wishes" Team Rocket as handled by director Norihiko Suto. Jessie, James, and Meowth of the original series were legendary comedic villains. Funny, dim, wreckless, bumbling, inept, eccentric, inventive, silly, stupid, self absorbed fools who were nevertheless nefarious and could pose a serious danger or/and bring genuine villainous conflict to the show....in the "Indigo League" arc at least, but even after their Villain Decay, they rarely failed to entertain and delight. They were NOT the completely ineffectual, completely harmless, completely unintelligent, mentally challenged blithering idiot derps who try too hard to be funny but end up being annoying and obnoxious instead that they were in the bulk of "Advanced Generation" and all of "Diamond and Pearl". Shudo, who created the characters, saw them as creations whose existence held great value, and hated it when his writers would treat them as nothing more than gag generators and punching bags who engaged in formulaic villainy. This is why I loathed how much worse they got handled after Shudo's departure, and why I love how they are today. It's much closer to Shudo's original vision of them, minus the comedy, quirks,
three-dimensional personalities, and appearances in every episode. What's even better about all this to an eerie degree is that Shudo had planned to tell a story in the Johto seasons in which Celebi would emerge from that GS Ball and would befriend Ash and co., and the larger Team Rocket organization would be the main antagonists in a mission to capture Celebi and control nature, directed by Giovanni himself. This would ultimately lead to Team Rocket's grand finale. However, the show crashed and burned in the Johto seasons, so Shudo's vision was destroyed and the GS Ball was just dropped off and never heard of again. And yet now all these years later we've gotten a storyline that uses an eerily similar premise. Perhaps this was similar to how Shudo would've wanted Team Rocket's story to end. Perhaps this was destined to be...

Second of all, I have to mention just how utterly overjoyed I feel that we've been given a totally GOOD evil team finale for once! This wasn't pure crap (with crappy effects and animation) like the 2-part Team Aqua & Team Magma finale, or an increasingly epic spectacle that took a HARD left turn to pure crap (with better effects and animation) like the 3-part Team Galactic finale. This two-parter was pure EPIC from start to finish, and actually left me feeling more satisfied than letdown. Amazing! In fact, this one did almost everything that those previous finales did and did them all better. Similarly to the Aqua/Magma finale, it took place around an ocean, featured a natural disaster crisis that threatened to destroy a region, an evil team leader getting possessed and crazy, Pikachu playing a key part in saving the day, and the villains giving up in the end.  Like the Galactic finale, it featured three young commanders, a mad scientist, and the team boss as the main villains, took place on the peak of a legendary place, featured a small, weak legendary Pokemon being used to harness the powers of bigger stronger legendary Pokemon, and that weak legendary being the key to snapping the stronger ones out of their destructive madness. But in this one, it all came together better and it ALL ended in a satisfactory manner, with no character shafted, derailed, or disrespected in any way. So much was rehashed and recycled from other points of the show, particularly past evil team plots, and there were many of Tomioka's typical hack writing devices to be found. Yet under Suto's now experienced direction, this story just...worked. Take note, AG & DP fanatics - THIS is how you do a truly grand finale!

And so, here's my review on this glorious event:

Episode 97, all preparations had been made and Meloetta's location was secured.

And it ended with the brilliantly done reveal of Giovanni's return! *FANGASM*

The episodes start off with a familiar jet plane flying over the ocean.

Giovanni has arrived in East Unova, landing his plane on top of TR's boat.

The Rocket Gang stands in this familiar position. Just like in the lost episodes, minus one Pierce.

Giovanni looks out at the ocean as he announces his diabolical plan of conquest.

"It's time for the deciding phase of Operation: Tempest!" he declares sternly.

Meanwhile, at Cynthia's villa, this random dude named Larry arrives on the scene.

He interrupts a training battle between Meloetta and Ash's Pokemon.

Jervis the butler calls Cynthia on his phone. "Lady Cynthia, you might want to come see this!"

I love that we've been seeing Cynthia's vivacious, laid-back in-character self in this arc, as opposed to the preachy, pretentious hypocrite she was in DP. Better direction works wonders, people!

It turns out that Larry is Meloetta's sworn protector, who's mistaken Ash and co. for kidnappers!

We learn that Meloetta came from a foresty wilderness land located somewhere northeast.

Team Rocket had tried to capture Meloetta before this arc even began, which implies that they had Meloetta (and the Kami Trio) as part of this "Plan B" after the failure of the Meteonite mission.

It's revealed that Meloetta was fond of Ash because she saw some protector-like quality in him. Aaaw, this little moment here is so adorable.

But then Team Rocket shows up to launch a surprise attack on the villa!

Larry says he'll handle the grunts. Ash and co. must take Meloetta and GO!

"Lady Cynthia, you REALLY might want to come see this!"

Really creepy shot: our heroes run through the forest as the smoke continues to rise behind them.

Ash tries to get Meloetta safe, but the group is cornered by Jessie, James, and Meowth!

Wearing Meloetta-vision goggles, James sees through the ruse and orders Yamask to attack!

Oh no! Meloetta's been hit!

TR is feeling more competent and dangerous than ever!

Iris and Cilan tell Ash to take Meloetta and get out of there while they contend with TR.

Ash and Pikachu go deeper into the woods with Meloetta, when WHAM! Persian pounces!

And then...it happens. Giovanni himself appears in person, riding a hover board and wearing goggles.

At long last, it's Ash vs Giovanni! Face...

...to face! (I only wish it was the real Ash Ketchum, not this mindless, soulless poser!)

Their signature Pokemon face each other, and Persian finally shows it's claws in action!

And then Dr. Zager flies his helicopter out of nowhere to trap Ash and Pikachu!

With Ash and Pikachu at his mercy, Giovanni forces a sadistic choice upon Meloetta!

If she doesn't surrender, the cube imprisoning Ash and Pikachu will shrink, crushing them to death!

Meloetta cannot stand the thought of losing her friends, so she complies with Giovanni.

A satisfied Giovanni recalls Persian to it's Poke'ball. *gasp!* Persian has a Poke'ball?!?

Cilan and Iris arrive on the scene too late: Ash, Pikachu, and Meloetta are taken by TR's chopper!

The TRio hop inside the chopper on their jet packs, taunting their enemies as they leave.

Larry fought off the grunts, but received a major beating in the process!

Team Rocket goes back to their boat, get inside their submarine, and deploy it into the sea.

Our main TRio manages the controls while their bosses sit in the back.

James tracks the location of the Abyssal Temple and underwater ruins.

Giovanni is pleased to see the location of Team Rocket's most glorious achievement!

Utilizing the entranceway they carved out three episodes ago, TR takes the sub inside the temple.

The sub emerges from a pool of water within the temple's core chamber.

Giovanni sneers about how Meloetta will unlock the seal, and how Ash is powerless to stop them!

He then orders for Meloetta to be crucified upon a slab! Geez, this is getting dark!

TR has brought their own special sound system, which they use to play Meloetta's Ruin Song.

Meloetta is put under a trance by her own song playing while she's in this crucified position.

Golden energy illuminates on the circular floor.

Following this, a large spiral stairway rises from the ground and lights up...woah, deja vu?

Giovanni ascends the stairway while Meloetta's beautiful soothing song still plays, making this 
a chilling, unsettling moment.

And at the top, on a pedestal rises...the Reveal Glass Mirror!

Quite obviously, the Rocket gang is delighted by this!

"At last, the Reveal Glass! And it's all mine!" Giovanni laughs.

Meanwhile, Cynthia's arrived at her villa. It's time for her to stop being lazy and get dangerous!

Back at the temple, Giovanni commands for the temple to rise from the sea!

Operation Tempest has reached it's climax: Team Rocket's triumph is now at hand!

What's going to happen next? TO BE CONTINUED... End Part 1.

The temple has risen above the water, and the roof has come off too!

Meloetta must remain on the slab in order for the mirror's energy to be kept in balance.

Meowth turns to the camera to talk about conquering Unova. "Be sure we get this for da trailer!"

Giovanni makes a wish upon the Reveal Glass to summon the three great powers!

The energy beam from the mirror shoots into the sky, creating a huge dark Tempest cloud.

Larry explains the history behind Meloetta, the Reveal Glass, and the Abyssal Ruins. The ancient people of Abyssal had fought over the power to control the forces of nature that Meloetta and the mirror held until the city sunk beneath the sea, leaving Meloetta to feel like it was all her fault.

As the storm gets worse, the clouds open up. The three great powers have been summoned!

It's the Kami Trio! They had a deeper purpose all along!

Giovanni releases the mirror into the air so that the Kami Trio can change form!

Ash and Pikachu break free, but Jessie and James are ready to stop him!

But all of Ash's friends arrive on the scene, and their top Pokemon charge into battle!

The ritual circle glows a Satanic red as Giovanni shouts his command to the Reveal Glass.

The Kami Trio sees their true souls reflected in the mirror, and so they start to change form...

And with great power there has come great insanity for Giovanni!

Now glowing with chaotic red energy, the madman gives his best slasher smile.

His madness and rage keeps building until...YIKES!

When the red explosion clears, the Kami Trio have turned into their bestial Therean forms!

Giovanni commands the Kami Trio to go ravage Unova with their powers, starting with the east!

Our heroes' Pokemon stand in his way, so Giovanni orders the Kami Trio to fight back!

Thunderus zaps Pikachu, who actually absorbs some of it's godlike electric power!

Iris and her fresh Dragonite have a heart-to-heart moment in which Dragonite actually listens to her!

Giovanni raises the mirror's full power, causing the legendaries to fall under demonic possession!

The Kami Trio seem to call upon the power of Kyurem as they launch an attack that freezes things.

The effects of this crisis reaches Undella Town, and Officer Jenny tries to keep things in order.

Ash finally reaches the top of the temple. He must stop Giovanni and save Meloetta!

Giovanni orders the Kami Trio to turn their attention towards Ash now!

Combining it's power with Thunderus', Pikachu produces a GIGANTIC electro ball! It's fired, and....

..BOOM! This happens. It is epic beyond words. The podium is decimated, Giovanni is zapped, the mirror flips over and blasts Giovanni with his own reflection! Pikachu has defeated Giovanni!

I normally don't root for Ash and Pikachu anymore, but this was a Crowning Moment of Awesome!

Meloetta is freed at last, and now reunites with Ash and Larry.

The Rocket Gang rushes over to their boss' side. "We don't need Meloetta..." he says.

Oh geezus! Giovanni's been possessed by the Devil!

Actually, his inner soul has just been possessed and now he's lost his mind. He's been consumed by
the evil he's always had deep down on the inside. "How do you love me now, mother?"

With the mirror's energy and the Kami Trio's power, Giovanni says he shall destroy Unova! This horrifies the Rocket Gang: Team Rocket's way is supposed to be that of conquest, not destruction!

"KILL EVERYTHING!"
Good lord, what is up with this man's face? He's turning into Lord Voldemort!

Dr Zager is told that without Meloetta, there's no balance between the mirror and it's beholder.

Larry tells the Rockets that Giovanni might destroy himself if this keeps up. They must act NOW!

BIG DAMN HERO TIME! The TRio jumps at their boss and knocks him off the glowing circle!

Giovanni lands smack on the ground and hey, he's back to normal!

Giovanni asks what just happened there, but Zager wants to dodge that question.

When asked if they should take back Meloetta, Giovanni simply looks at his adversaries, gives 
a grudging but humble smile, and says..."We withdraw."

So Team Rocket retreats to their plane and take off. That was surprisingly fast!

Inside, Jessie remarks about how Pikachu's giant electric ball proves they were right all along: 
Ash's Pikachu is a very special Pikachu. James agrees. A perfect book end for them.

Giovanni says nothing, but the look on his face implies that his mind is still troubled.

Meanwhile, to stop the rampaging Kami Trio, Larry makes a wish upon the Reveal Glass.

The mirror's energy is reversed and given to Meloetta, who immediately sings her melody of love.

Meloetta's song soothes the savage beasts, and they get changed back to their normal forms.

Back on his plane, Giovanni remarks that his actions almost led to his own self-destruction.

"Let us return to Team Rocket's home base in Kanto!" he then commands.

"Roger!" the TRio replies. And they fly off over the horizon. Never to be heard from again, right?

The Kami Trio depart back to the heavens, the Tempest vanishes, and the ruins sink back under.

Cynthia then gets into preachy mode and talks about how Meloetta has brought both war and peace. Ugh, and you were doing fine until now! Guess Tomioka had to get some pretentiousness in.

But I love how Larry seems to be scowling in disapproval over it, but Meloetta enjoys it!

We cut to the cliched afternoon ending, where it's time to say goodbye to Larry and Meloetta.
(Poor Oshawott.)

And after a genuinely emotional and moving farewell, our friends take off into the gorgeous sunset. In a final scene for a finale that feels satisfying, well done, and not rushed! With a Meloetta song playing in the background as the narrator closes it all out and it ends... I got something in my eye...

And that was it. That was Team Rocket's big exit. I've got to say that I was thoroughly intrigued and entertained by this Meloetta story arc, in a way I hadn't been since the Meteonite arc and the Nimbasa Subway arcs from the first two seasons of BW. The way it played out was so mysterious and cool, and at times, especially this finale, it felt like a feature film or something! This climax and ending was as epic as anything we could get out of a movie, and again, that last scene! In the previous evil team finales, the story got rushed towards the ending and then ended in a really abrupt, ho-hum unsatisfactory way. Not this time. This ending had a sense of actual closure, and the events that preceded it were all freaking amazing! And as for Team Rocket?  I LOVED how they've been handled in this series. Suto's direction of the characters has been so well handled and so well done, but even I was blown away by what happened with them here. It is the complete opposite of Team Galactic. The normally 2-dimensional villains of the show actually show humanity and are treated with respect by the narrative. We see that heroism, sympathy, and redemption is not beyond them. And this IS the end of their run as recurring main villains on the show. This is where they get written out of the main cast for good. All evidence shows it: they made it no secret that this was Team Rocket's "final mission" in the promotion for this finale, made it clear that it wasn't just the end of their missions in Unova, but the whole show, with lines such as "Farewell, Rocket Gang!" and "finale after 15 years!", and the story played out like your regular evil team finale with Team Rocket summoning Legendaries that put the world in peril, and Ash meeting, confronting, and defeating the freaking boss! How do you top this? Where do you go after that? There's not much else left, is there? Which is why TR's final scene in this episode had a dramatic feeling of a true departure, complete with Jessie and James bringing their characters full circle - in the boss' good graces, and remarking on the specialness of the Pikachu that defeated them. Even their positions mirror their first shot:

 

And if there remained any doubt that TR was done for, the end credits of this episode was a special one that played a montage of Team Rocket clips from various points of their long run on the anime, including the first time we ever saw the characters looking at their wanted poster in Viridian City from episode 2. As this montage played, the song playing on the credits was "Rocket Gang Forever!", the TRio's theme song. Now there was no mistaking it: this was TR's goodbye. They have been written out at last. And seeing as their 15 year run had a strong beginning, an inconsistent-to-crappy middle, and a strong finish, I'm quite satisfied. But if you think this means we're never seeing them again, I'm not so sure. We've seen with Tracy, Misty, May, Dawn, and Brock that even after a character has been written out of the main cast, that doesn't mean they've gone away for good. At the very least, I'm expecting three possibilities for when we see TR again. Most likely would be a Hoso special episode that gives them proper closure. Considering how open-ended their exit was here, they're just asking for that. Otherwise, or maybe also, we'll be seeing them at the very end of the BW series when Ash inevitably returns to Kanto, which is where Giovanni said they were headed back to. OR perhaps we'll get to see them come back to guest star in a stretch of episodes on the show, just like Ash's female companions have done. Perhaps it'll be all of these. I don't know. I just think that while the Rocket Gang has indeed had their climax, their fate has not been sealed. They need a proper conclusion. And seeing how shaken Giovanni was by what happened in this mission, I think that once he's had time to think everything over, he'll realize how extreme he's been this whole time, and will disband Team Rocket for good. This will give all agents, the TRio, and even Giovanni the chance to live their lives as honest trainers. Given Giovanni's place in BW2, it doesn't seem like a stretch.

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