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Pokemon’s Legends: Arceus Animated Special Might Have Already Shot Itself In The Foot

Pokemon has announced a new anime special based off Pokemon: Legends Arceus coming to Netflix next month, and that should be great news. Legends: Arceus was a breath of fresh air for the Pokemon formula, and while change has come slowly for the behemoth and there's still a lot of work to be done with Pokemon staying stagnant for far too long, the series is finally starting to evolve. It has put down the Everstone and is growing into something deeper, with Scarlet & Violet taking its cues from Legends: Arceus (plus a little bit of Breath of the Wild) to become even more expansive. Legends: Arceus is still a big contender for my game of the year and my favourite mainline game since HeartGold, assuming we don't count Let's Go. Unfortunately, the animated special already feels like a misfire.

Legends: Arceus is set in the distant past of the Sinnoh region. So distant, in fact, that it contains a few species of Pokemon that have apparently since died out and is known by a completely different name: Hisui. This is part of what makes Legends: Arceus so appealing. The mechanics are simpler, to accommodate for the fact that the people know less about Pokemon and therefore do not have an established battle meta for held items. We also see Poke Balls being built by hand and the Pokedex currently in the midst of being written. These are all fascinating concepts that the game takes full advantage of, tasking you with tracking a whole range of Pokemon behaviour in order to fill in the hand-written Dex. Unfortunately the animated special, which is uniquely placed to offer even more depth, will be ignoring all of this entirely.

That's because the Arceus special will not be set in the past. You know, the one thing that makes the game stand out from its peers. It will instead be a modern day story featuring Ash, Goh, and a handful of familiar faces travelling to a Sinnoh tourist attraction of a town set up to look like the Hisuian settlement in Legends. It's a little bit like making a TV show set in feudal Japan, but then it turns out it's just set in Disney's Epcot. By taking away the unique hook of the premise, the special has lost steam before it has even arrived.

It could still be an interesting story. Brock and Cynthia, two of the anime's all time greats, are present, and the Pokemon anime has been in red hot form as of late – it even had its coolest moment ever very recently. Pokemon's anime is always competent, but we've seen Ash so many times now I have to wonder why this story needs him. There were whispers Ash's time might be up entirely, with Goh taking the wheel, but this special seems to go against that theory. It's not that I hate Ash or want him gone, it's that he doesn't belong in this story.

Legends: Arceus being set in the past might have gotten me through the door (who am I kidding, Pokemon got me through the door), but the reason it's still near the top of my GOTY list is because of its cast of characters. With Ash involved in the modern day, that means we get no character development for Cyllene, Professor Laventon, Akari, or Rei's resting bitch face. No Adaman, no Melli, or Iridia, no Ingo. No Cogita, and no Miss Fortune sisters. All of them deserve the chance to shine in a special celebrating Legends: Arceus, but instead we get Cynthia fighting with her Roserade. Again.

There is a chance they're all there, still. A sliver of hope. The game is about time travel, and the trailer does hint at Ash going back in time, but even then, it feels out of place. Our protagonist might have been from the future, but they shook off their modern sensibilities fairly quickly. Ash, who never wastes a chance to brag about his Pokemon knowledge, is a terrible fit for a reverent culture still learning how to connect with the beasts they share a how with. Besides, we've seen a time travel Hisui story before. We have seen literally only one story set in Hisui and it's a time travel story. Shouldn't this animated special be doing something different?

It's not like Pokemon needs Ash to fly. He has zero involvement in any of the games, and his de facto analogue Red is absent for most of them. These characters deserve to spotlight, not just to settle for basking in the reflection that bounces off Ash. A Legends: Arceus anime is a great idea, but having Ash they already feels like it might have ruined it.

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