WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Pokmon: Indigo League

Thanks to the flashpoint popularity of Pokmon Go, Niantic’s mobile game featuring the first generation creatures from Nintendos Pokmon series, there has been a resurgence of interest in the original 151 monsters. Nostalgia for 1990s handheld videogames has also led to interest in the companion anime series, which first debuted in the United States in 1998. Since the series is still ongoing, there are over 900 episodes across 19 seasons (by US series designations), but the chunk of episodes most viewers remember best is now known as Indigo League, comprised of the first 80-ish episodes, depicting mostly the original 151 Pokmon featured in the first videogames and trading cards.

The series centers on perpetual 10-year-old Ash Ketchum, a bumbling aspiring Pokmon Master who has big dreams but little follow-through on the hard work required to become a top trainer. He departs Pallet Town after oversleeping the first morning of his journey, causing him to miss out on the traditional starting Pokmon given out by resident expert Professor Oak. Instead, Ash receives an unruly electric mouse Pokmon named Pikachubut the two form a bond that is the central relationship of the series.

Shortly after departing, Ash meets Misty, a young girl who dreams of eclipsing the training acumen of her talented older sisters, and Brock, a gym leader caring for his many younger siblings who dreams of leaving his hometown. Together, the three journey throughout the fictional Kanto Region, catching Pokmon, earning badges to compete in the Indigo League tournament, and evading the humorously incompetent Team RocketJesse, James, and Meowth, a talking cat Pokmonwho yearn to steal Pikachu for their gang leader.

Pokmon is mostly a kids program that emphasizes the value of hard work, the importance of family and close friendship, and the ideals of love, trust, and honor. But it’s also a largely silly show with slapstick comedy and colorful battle sequences, making Ash’s Sisyphean task to become the worlds best Pokmon trainer continually entertaining. Binge your way through his journey using this helpful guide.

Pokmon: Indigo League

Number of Seasons: 1 (82 episodes, 80 broadcast in America, 78 regularly broadcast)

Time Requirements: If you watch only the episodes that are still available in the US, it takes a little under 30 hours. That makes it possible to cover in a month only watching an hour (three episodes) per day. Or if you feel like a marathon, watch four hours every day and get caught up in a week!

Where to Get Your Fix: Netflix currently has 52 episodes from Indigo League, just over half the first installment of the series, but its a little more difficult to track down the back end of the season. But they are available for purchase on Amazon, Google Play, and other services.

Best Character to Follow: Ash and Pikachu. The emotional through line of the series is the “boy and his dog” bonding between Ash Ketchum and his fiercely loyal Pikachu. The electric mouse is an incredibly expressive character, who functions as Ashs signature battle participant. But since Pikachu rejects the typical captured Pokmon travel method of living inside a Pokeball, hes out and about to interact with Misty, Brock, and anyone else the trio encounters. The evolving relationship between Ash and Pikachu tracks how the two learn to play off one another, read opponents, and solve problems in order to get Ash and his friends through the various narrative obstacles in their way. There’s a reason Pikachu has become the de facto mascot of Pokmon, the most in-demand creature for Pokmon Go players to capture.

Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:

There are four episodes produced for Indigo League that arent in regular rotation when the series airs. A couple episodes were deemed controversial in Japan and were never dubbed into English, and another couple aired once before being removed from the rotation. Theyre not essential, and theyre easy to track down for those with completist tendencies, but well detail them here so you can get the gist of them without missing out.

Season 1: Episode 18, “Beauty and the Beach” James of Team Rocket dresses up for a beauty contest in a bikini, including inflated breasts. Thats basically the reason this episode is heavily edited or excised from home video collections of the series. Theres a bunch of overly sexual material, but its the first episode where Misty and Brock meet Gary and Delia, so it does remove one important bit of continuity, along with being incredibly prudish.

Season 1: Episode 35, “The Legend of Dratini” Ash, Misty, and Brock visit the Safari Zone, where Ash catches an entire herd of Tauros. But this episode never made it to the United States because of the extensive use of firearms, as the Safari Zone warden aims a gun at Ashs head and fires it at Team Rocket. It’s a big continuity gap, since in later episodes Ash’s herd of Tauros show up with the audience having no idea when he caught them, but its for the best.

Season 1: Episode 38, “Cyber Soldier Porygon” Better known colloquially as “the Seizure Episode,” at one point in this episode Pikachu uses a Thunderbolt attack, causing a huge explosion represented by flashing red and blue lights. Viewers in Japan complained of blurred vision, headaches, nausea, and some even had temporary blindness or seizures. Its a shame, since the episode reveals the Porygon, a prototype digital Pokmon, as the latest creation from the Professor who created the system by which Pokeballs are transferred between Pokemon Centers.

Season 1: Episode 63, “Holiday Hi-Jynx” In 2000, cultural critic Carole B. Weatherford noted that Jynx, a psychic and ice-type Pokmon, could be seen as a racist stereotype. That controversy took “Holiday Hi-Jynx” out of the regular rotation for Pokmon episodes. It would be hard for anyone to defend the non-caricature status of Jynx, and thus this Christmas-themed episode—which features Team Rocket trying to get revenge on Santa for stealing Jesses childhood doll—is no longer on regular broadcast schedules.

Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:

Once you get through the first episode, the narrative path of Indigo League takes many detours to develop Ashs companions Misty and Brock, as well as build out the world of Pokmon Trainers. The best way to hit the highlights is to focus on three types of episodes: major Pokmon captures, major Pokmon evolutions, and gym battles. That way you see how Ashs stable of Pokmon develops and how he makes progress toward the Indigo League tournament at the end of this first installment of the anime.

Season 1: Episode 1, “Pokemon, I Choose You!” Meeting Ash, Professor Oak, and Pikachu makes the pilot essential to the series. But it also might be one of the more heartstring-tugging episodes, since it involves Ash earning Pikachus loyalty and doing whatever it takes to protect his new Pokmon from danger. Its a strong foundation that ends with a legendary sighting and shows why Ash has the making of a uniquely powerful trainereven if he oversleeps, steals bikes, and has trouble containing his ambition.

Season 1: Episode 2, “Pokmon Emergency!” Misty is the orange-haired, fiercely independent companion to Ash on his journey to the Indigo League. Shes the girl whose bicycle Ash stole in the pilot, and because Pikachu destroys the bike with his first attack, Misty joins Ash’s quest until he can pay her back. She is as fired up as her hair color, frequently the voice of reason, and ready to undercut Ashs bravado whenever necessary. This is also the introduction of Jesse, James, and Meowth of Team Rocket, Pokmon thieves seeking to break into a Pokmon Center. They set their sights on stealing Ashs Pikachu, and the various pratfalls that lead them to be “blasting off again” continue in almost every episode.

Season 1: Episode 4, “Challenge of the Samurai” The beginnings of the Pokmon videogames dont present too many challenges to new trainers. They face off against rat and bug Pokmon while training their starter for a first gym encounter. And thats exactly what Ash does here, pitting his boring, motionless Metapod (essentially a green chrysalis) against a samurai trainer with… another Metapod. The boring standoff thankfully ends with a rescue mission that forces Ash to confront his fears as a trainer, stop abandoning the creatures under his care, and end up with an evolved Butterfreebasically one of the stronger Pokmon available to trainers very early in the videogames.

Season 1: Episode 5, “Showdown in Pewter City” Ash discovers he must win badges against gym leaders in various cities throughout the region to qualify for the Indigo League. He faces off against Brock in Pewter City, whose rock Pokmon can nullify Pikachus electric attacks. There’s some supercharging of Pikachus abilities and a lot of sad family backstory for Brock—but it all leads to Ash’s first badge, some fun battle sequences, and Brock joining Ash and Misty as the final member of the main trio.

Season 1: Episode 7 “The Water Flowers of Cerulean City” If you wondered where Misty got her attitude, look no further than the backstory that comes up in this episode. Shes the youngest sister of the water Pokmon trainers who run the Cerulean City gym, and as a member of the family she can challenge Ash in order to prevent him from earning his second badge. The gym battles often serve more of a narrative purpose in the show than they do in the games, and here Team Rocket intervenes, and once again Ash doesnt really earn his badge so much as prove himself helpful enough to be given one anyway.

Season 1: Episode 10, “Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village” Since Ash missed out on picking one of the traditional starter Pokmon (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle), the show gives him the opportunity to catch all three of them along his journey. He earns Bulbasaur, by helping Melanie, who treats sick, hurt, and abandoned Pokmon. By now you should be able to pick up on the comedic pattern of Brock falling in love with literally every single woman the trio encounters.

Season 1: Episode 11, “Charmander: The Stray Pokmon” There are strong strains of animal husbandry running through Pokmon, where trainers who mistreat their monsters lose them to others who will care for them. Thats essentially how Ash captures his Charmander, by treating an abandoned fire lizard like it really matters. When the Charmander’s original trainerwho believed the creature too weakshows up to claim him, the monster picks Ash instead. Trainers can capture Pokmon, but they need to earn their trust and actually provide care in order to keep them.

Season 1: Episode 12, “Here Comes the Squirtle Squad” Charmander is a fan favorite, Bulbasaur has great attacks, but personality-wise the absolute coolest Pokmon Ash captures is his Squirtle. A group of the water-type turtle-shell Pokmon known as the Squirtle Squad play pranks on people, and Ash, Misty, and Brock befall one of them. The leader of the Squad, with some dope sunglasses, eventually joins Ash after putting out a fire started by Team Rocket.

Season 1: Episode 14, “Electric Shock Showdown” Theres a stigma against trainers who do not use the evolution stones available to transform their Pokmon into more powerful creatures. Pikachu can be turned into Raichu with the help of a Thunder Stone, and Vermillion City gym leader Lt. Surge encourages Ash to match his own Raichus power by evolving Pikachu. But the moral here is of the “stay true to yourself” variety, and Ash discovers that advanced power is susceptible to Pikachus superior speedand earns himself a victory.

Season 1: Episode 24, “Haunter vs. Kadabra” The episode preceding this one, where Ash captures his ghost-type Pokmon, Haunter, is one of the more emotionally disturbing in the series, and also one of the most under-appreciated. But this one, where he uses Haunter to counteract the Psychic-Type Pokmon used by Saffron City gym leader Sabrina, has way more action.

Season 1: Episode 46, “Attack of the Prehistoric Pokmon” Of Ashs major Pokmon, the Charmander/Charmeleon/Charizard evolutionary chain is the only one he follows all the way through. In the games, if a trainer without the proper number of badges gets a high-level, powerful Pokmon, the creature sometimes disobeys and wont listen to commands. Thats exactly what happens to Ash when Chameleon and then Charizard evolve beyond his abilities.

Season 1: Episode 59, “Volcanic Panic” Ash finally getting Charizard under control when fighting on Cinnabar Island, at the coolest gym in the entire Kanto region, is one of the best moments of the series. Charizard using Seismic Toss on Magmar, gym leader Blaines prized fire-type Pokmon, is vindication after so much insolence from such an awesome monster. Ash only sort of has control at this point, but hes able to convince his most powerful Pokmon to listen to him, and it nets him the seventh of the eight badges he needs to compete later in the series.

Season 1: Episode 63, “The Battle of the Badge” Its kind of a copout that Ash only has to battle Jesse and James as temporary stand-in leaders in Viridian City to win his eighth and final badge. But this episode does introduce Mewtwo, the all-powerful psychic Pokmon genetically engineered to take over the world who features in Pokmon: The First Movie.

Season 1: Episode 81, “Friend and Foe Alike” One of the great frustrations over 900-plus episodes of Pokmon is that while Ash has won badges all over the Pokmon world, hes never won a major tournament. That all started in Indigo League, where he makes it to the fifth round and has to face off against newfound trainer friend Richie. They both use similar Pokmon, similar training styles, and Ash just… doesnt catch the breaks to win. After nearly 1,000 episodes, the continued disappointments have become frustrating to longtime fans. But watching it again for the first time, its a heartbreaker that still underlines how much more Ash knows about Pokmon than when he started out in Pallet Town.

Why You Should Binge:
In order to watch the episodes with key captures, evolutions, and gym battles, viewers need to grind through a lot of filler, and a lot of Team Rocket blasting off with the same plan over and over again. But by filtering out the episodes that dont advance the plot much, or moving through them quicker in a binge of the first installment, it shows the evolution of Ash from an overeager, arrogant kid into a trainer with some actual knowledge and skill.

Best Scene—Ash Protects Pikachu:
Yes, its all the way back in the pilot. But its the most emotionally stirring scene of the series, demonstrating just how much Ash wants to achieve his goals as a Pokmon trainer, and how he wants to protect the monsters under his care instead of simply powering them up to achieve personal glory. Its an attitude and protective instinct that will inspire any animal lover.

The Takeaway:
There is a vibrant and lasting fan base for the extensive run of Pokmon games and series, but the one that resonates with the widest swath of casual players and viewers remains Indigo League, and its most memorable episodes demonstrate why certain Pokmon are still pop culture fixtures.

If You Liked Pokmon: Indigo League Youll Love: Well, there are hundreds more episodes of Pokmon to seek out, from Adventures on the Orange Islands and Johto Journeys to multiples series based around the Diamond and Pearl, Black & White, and XY installments of the videogame series.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/09/binge-guide-pokemon-indigo-league/