The Pokemon Sun & Moon anime is an absolute blast so far.
The series oozes fun out of every pore and it’s just really pleasant to watch. Moreso, a lot of new character ideas have me hooked as well. The new direction they’ve taken Team Rocket is one such idea. It’s kind of shocking how it only took two episodes to make the classic villains interesting again.
While watching Pokemon X&Y, the only part of the series I considered more negative than positive was Team Rocket. This was because, for a vast majority of the series, they were one-note villains whose only goal was to capture Pikachu. I want to break down a few examples to show how Sun and Moon rectifies that almost immediately.
In episode three, the first Pokemon they battle is not Pikachu, but instead a wild Mimikyu. Because they’re down to just Meowth and Wobbuffet again, they need to bolster their team in order to make progress. Unfortunately, Mimikyu turns out to be quite the handful, and Meowth ends up completely traumatised by this battle.
Later on, Ash and Pikachu encounter the same Mimikyu and battle it. However, Team Rocket jumps in to stop them because they saw Mimikyu first and want another go at capturing it. Meowth challenges Pikachu to a battle, audibly acknowledging that Pikachu will annihilate him. However, Mimikyuu, who displays an intense grudge against Pikachu, decides to save Meowth.
Rather than gloat and parade about in arrogance, Team Rocket know that their opponent completely outclasses them. This makes Mimikyu’s choice of siding with them all the more exciting. It’s not fun watching the good guys beat up on weak villains, so evening out the sides makes the battles so much more intense. This single writing choice humanises them so much more than their debut in X&Y.
The ending of this battle throws yet another curveball into the mix.
This time, the bear Pokemon, Bewear, abducts Team Rocket from the battle scene before Pikachu can send them blasting off. This misdirect hints that the writers are tiring of Team Rocket’s formulaic exits. As such, they’re trying out new ideas for Team Rocket experiencing defeat, and to brilliant affect.
Moving on to episode four, Team Rocket spends most of their time trapped in Bewear’s den, desperately trying to get out, but Bewear forces them to stay every time they try. Jessie is frantically throwing Poke Balls at Mimikyu hoping to catch it, but to no avail.
Eventually, she takes a Luxury Ball from James, who tries to take it back claiming that it’s part of his collection. We’ve already seen James’s bottlecap collection countless times in the past, so hearing that he collects rare Poke Balls fits right in with his character, and it’s a nice little add-on to make him feel a bit more fleshed out.
Jessie captures Mimikyu with the Luxury Ball, but Bewear catches her when she tries to pick up the ball. Initially, Team Rocket fears that Bewear will eat them, but they relax when he starts feeding them honey, playing into Team Rocket’s needy attitude towards food.
Later, while Bewear is away, they attempt another escape just as a flock of Pikipek swoop in and steal Bewear’s berry stockpile. Team Rocket seems almost appalled by their thievery, the irony of that being lost on them entirely as expected. Jessie decides that they should take the berries back to repay Bewear for the food and shelter.
This creates a new dynamic reminiscent of classic Team Rocket.
In this instance, their criminal desire to capture new Pokemon in the Alola region has almost been relegated to a secondary goal, with their personal goal of getting the berries back for Bewear taking priority. If they happen to capture some Pokemon along the way, then all the better. As expected, they ultimately fail to capture the Pikipek or Pikachu in the end as Bewear interrupts their battle again. They do manage to get the berries back though, so it’s still a partial success.
Rather than the worn-down desire to just capture Pikachu, Team Rocket’s first two appearances in Sun and Moon are motivated by two entirely different desires: to get stronger, and to repay someone’s kindness. And this trend of giving them interesting motivations for each episodes seems to be continuing so far, which makes me a very happy Pokemon fan.
I don’t expect this from every episode, but I really hope they keep this up for as long as possible. After all, having Team Rocket be just as fun to watch as our main heroes is pretty awesome!