People are freaking out about a new Pokémon movie, but not because it’s somehow magically 1998 again. Nah, the new flick, a glossy reboot of the first-ever episode of the anime, has fans up in arms because of a really upsetting moment at the film’s climax. See, in Pokémon: I Choose You!, our beloved protagonist Ash Ketchum dies. Which, whatever, nobody cares. Dude already died once and came back when Mewtwo snuffed him in Pokémon: The First Movie. The controversial part is when Pikachu speaks English.
It’s a “what the fuck” moment to be sure, as Pokémon typically don’t say anything other than their own names. There are some exceptions — Team Rocket’s Meowth and a handful of other Psychic, Ghost, or Legendary Pokémon — but one of the hallmarks of Pokémon is that Pokémon don’t talk. This isn’t goddamn Digimon, after all.
Yes, it’s disconcerting to see Pikachu turn to Ash, who has been mortally wounded by a bunch of pissed-off Pokémon, and speak the Queen’s English. Why isn’t Pikachu in its Pokéball, like normal Pokémon? “It’s because… It’s because I always want to be with you,” Pikachu says.
But, here’s the thing that the Poké-MAN won’t tell you:
This is actually fine.
Pikachu has talked before, and while the English in the movie is jarring, it’s not as unprecedented as you might believe. In the 17th Episode of the Pokémon anime, Pikachu and the rest of Ash’s Pokémon are stranded along with Team Rocket’s Pokémon on an Island of Giant Pokémon. (Side note: How wild is it that by Episode 17, Pokémon had already done a Titanic parody and introduced Kaiju-sized robot Pokémon?)
During the episode, the Pokémon speak to each other, and their speech is translated through subtitles at the bottom of the screen, the makers of the anime apparently having a lot of faith that their target audience was appropriately literate.
“But wait!” you’re probably saying. “They’re still just saying their names, not speaking English!” This is true, but take a moment to reflect on how frickin’ weird it is to see Pokémon articulate the ethical conflict of having a bad “master.” This episode doesn’t set a precedent for Pokémon speaking English, but it shows they’re capable of expressing complex thoughts, akin to Pikachu’s confession in Pokémon: I Choose You!
Still, that’s not really talking, and Pikachu speaking a human tongue in a movie is unprecedented and worthy of controversy, right?
Wrong. My friends, let me direct your attention to Detective Pikachu.
Great Detective Pikachu is a 2013 Nintendo 3DS game about Pikachu, except he’s a detective who speaks fluent Japanese. The trailer for the game, seen above, shows Pikachu speaking in a shockingly deep voice as he solves grisly murders. It is buck wild, and it is perfect.
On July 20, 2016, Legendary Entertainment, the studio behind The Dark Knight and other blockbuster Hollywood movies, announced it had acquired the rights to make a live-action movie based on Detective Pikachu. Reportedly, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, and Mark Wahlberg are all being considered as the English voice of Detective Pikachu in the U.S. release of the movie. Filming will begin in 2018.
Look at that list of possible names. Listen to the Japanese-language game trailer again. Then listen to the controversial clip from the new movie.
The problem with Pokémon: I Choose You! isn’t that Pikachu talks. The problem is that his voice isn’t that of a grown-ass man.