Graphic Novel / Reviews

Retro Review: Pokémon Adventures, Vol 1

Pokémon Adventures, Vol 1 by Hidenori Kusaka and Mato
Genre: Media Tie-In/Graphic Novel
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: August 8th, 1997 (Collector’s Edition released April 14, 2020.)

Review

It’s been ages since I read any of the Pokémon manga, but seeing as how the games have hit their 25th anniversary (turning 26 tomorrow), I thought it might be fun to give them another look for this month’s retro review.

There’s several different variations of Pokémon manga, but Pokémon Adventures is the longest running. I actually dug out an old single issue I got, mostly to compare a scene I thought I remembered a little differently. (I was right; the collector’s edition did make a couple changes from the original release.)

The first volume naturally follows the protagonist Red on his journey through the Kanto region. Red is used to being the best Pokémon trainer around–not too surprising, since he’s only seen being challenged by kids about half his age. When he runs into his soon-to-be-rival Blue in a battle with the mythical Mew, Red takes his first loss. The manga version of Blue is still pretty unfriendly to Red. However, unlike his game counterpart, he seems to have a bit more sense, backing out of the Mew battle when he realizes how underpowered his Pokémon are in comparison to a mythical creature. Red decides he needs to get out into the world if he’s doing to become a truly strong trainer and not just a big Magikarp in a tiny pond.

Red faces his first gym battle against Brock without too many obstacles. He then runs into the second gym leader, Misty, not realizing who she is. Misty needs help getting a rampaging Gyrados under control, which the villainous Team Rocket has been manipulating. The story arc takes a pretty hard turn from the games at this point, setting up most of the later gym leaders in some sort of battle with Team Rocket. Three of them are executives within the organization, one used to work for them but has gone rouge, and yet another is organizing a group to counter them. I really enjoyed this element of the manga–the chapters are episodical to a point, but there’s a larger plot at play involving the entire Kanto region and its cast of characters, not simply Team Rocket and its leader alone.

The artwork is charming, and the characters are adorably expressive (unlike the anime, which tends to show Pokémon looking more static.) Despite the young audience, the book gets fairly graphic at points. During the Lavendar Town chapter, Red and Blue are attacked by a group of zombie Pokémon being controlled by Team Rocket. A Psyduck in one frame looks normal, then appears with empty eye sockets in the next. A zombie Arbok, after being defeated, is shown decapitated on the floor, and one zombie semi-disintegrates from a flame attack. In a later chapter, the gym leader Blaine’s arm effectively looks like it’s melting. It’s nothing an older elementary student couldn’t handle–and the plot might be a little complicated for a younger audience, anyway–but I wouldn’t read it as bedtime story to a first grader, either. The scene edited from the single issues isn’t for gore but rather for the trainer Green hiding some Pokeballs under her shirt and then teasing one of the Team Rocket executives for not being as curvy as her. In the original, a Pokémon slashes at Green’s shirt, revealing the Pokeballs for her to use. In the edited version, the Rocket executive simply yells that she “lost her focus” when Green was teasing her. (I could see the original potentially stretching the manga its “all ages” rating.)

Overall, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and I’ve already ordered some of the later volumes. Happy Pokémon Day, everyone!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

You can find Pokemon Adventures, Vol. 1 (Collector’s Edition) on Goodreads

You can also buy Pokémon Adventures, Vol 1 (Collector’s Edition) on Amazon. (Affiliate link)

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