The Pokemon Company celebrated its 24th birthday on February 27th, a day dubbed “Pokemon Day”, by bringing us back a classic. Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution is a remake of the classic 1998 film that won over hearts across the world. A story about friendship, love and even included a bit of social commentary regarding things like nationality and how we choose to separate ourselves based on differences rather than come together based on similarities. It was an iconic 90’s film and is still widely regarded as the best Pokemon movie to hit the big screen.
The remake left a lot to be desired, though. While it was almost beat for beat the exact same story — though there were a few dialogue and visual changes here and there — it felt… different. The movie's charm and emotional impact were seemingly absent.
Pokemon’s move to 3d, across both the on screen media and the games themselves, has been terrible thus far. As I wrote about before, the new 3d games have lost all of their sense of character in the transition, and it seems the same has happened in the film.
First, the models of each character fall deeply into the uncanny valley. While disproportionally oversized eyes are nothing new to Pokemon animation or anime in general, the way the characters faces look in the remake film seems off. The animation style tells us they want things to look slightly more real, but the disproportional sizing of the character's faces makes everything feel off.
The way the characters move also feels wrong. They are stiff and robotic. Each movement every character makes feels deliberate and inhuman. They are moving by necessity, bot because they are human beings and humans just kind of move around sometimes. Often when a character is not the focus of the scene they are just standing absolutely still like an unactivated statue. Each of the characters feels weightless as well, making their movements seem even less natural.
These issues feel like problems that go beyond Pokemon, and into modern animation in general. “Realism” in animated and virtual media has always been something people have strived towards. Many video games have marketed themselves on their realistic graphics that look almost straight out of real life. 3d animation takes much more technical skill than 2d, while 2d is more based on artistic skill and creativity. While 3d animation is still relatively new, it already feels like it is staling out.
As great as the realism of 3d animation is, the charm of 2d animation is that it does not have to be. Since the characters we are seeing on screen have no real basis in the real world, the animators have more freedom. They can add more unique elements to each character.
This bite back against modern animation seems to be gaining steam as well. Cuphead was universally praised for their use of meticulously drawn, frame-by-frame, 2d animation. Shovel Knight and Undertale both had success bringing back old school pixel art. Fighting series’ like BlazBlue have largely stuck to their roots as 2d anime styled fighters, and have maintained their place among the world's top fighting games because of it. The allure of realistic lifeless of 3d animation has worn out, and now we all want to go back to the old days again.
Pokemon will forever be a 2d tv series. It is first and foremost an anime, where the outlandish 2d animation is more than just a feature, but one of the main appeals. Their recent experiments with 3d, both in the movie and video games, have been failures, and hopefully The Pokemon Company realizes that they should revert back in their ancillary forms of media as well.