As primarily a self-insert kind of game, telling the story of Pokémon outside of the source material has always been tricky. The decades-long anime loosely followed the structure of the game sales, but by maintaining the same protagonist for two decades has caused a lot of deviation. Even the new series coming in already has indicated that it will be telling an original story. Outside of shorts and miniseries, anime has never fully shown the full Pokémon story. However, that is definitely not the case for manga.
Pokémon Adventures, written by Hidenori Kusaka with art by Mato and Satoshi Yamamoto, has been adapting the the Pokémon games from the very start. Unlike the anime’s efforts, Adventures takes the full narrative of the mainline Pokémon games and adapting them into a serialized manga format. Where other adaptations focus on a single protagonist, Adventures follows every player character and ritual across the timeline. This type of execution makes Pokémon Adventures more of an anthology in the lines of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Just like with that iconic series, each series lead has their own full and complete adventure, but those stories help weave an even more rich broader story.
Even just the first saga of the series (which can be read in a single collected volume from Viz) covers a lot more ground than the classic anime you remember, but it also fills in blanks left by the original Red and Blue versions on the Game Boy. In this series, Red isn’t a nonverbal enigma but instead a traditional shonen protagonist. He’s determined and rash but also empathetic, which gives him a natural talent for connecting with Pokémon. Obviously that’s not exactly too much depth alone, but it does allow for Red to come off much more flawed moment-to-moment. Compared to his game counterpart, Red is allowed to make mistakes and learn as he goes. He can lose battles, make bad calls, and more. He’s the hero, but he’s not forced to be perfect in order to continue the story.
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While Pokémon Adventures does follow the structure of the games they’re adapting, the series does take liberties where it needs to in order to expand on characters and concepts that the games don’t give as much time. In the Red and Blue saga, the influence of Team Rocket is expanded by pulling the Kanto region’s gym leaders into one side or another. Brock and Misty, true to their anime counterparts, lead an anti-Rocket faction. Other leaders are on the opposite side though, and it’s fun to see exactly who ends up where. Unused ideas, such as the original Red and Blue’s female protagonist, become anchor pieces even across parts. This lends far more credibility to the denizens of the Pokémon world.
Pokémon Adventures doesn’t just play with the characters of the Pokémon games, but also the world itself. Ages before Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 gave us Black and White Kyurem and fans created horrifying mashup generators, Adventures actually fused the Legendary Birds of Kanto into one being. An Eevee introduced early on in the series has the ability to switch between each of its classic evolution forms at will, which isn’t explicitly something the games allow but does have some function with more modern form changes for many Pokémon. Pokémon battles are far more dynamic than the back and forth of the games and anime. Attacking trainers directly happens regularly and it is absolutely possible to cut a precious Pokémon in two. Don’t worry, they got better, but this does raise stakes for a world with proper universal health care. More than just losing a battle hurting someone’s pride, the various conflicts of Adventures could result in far worse outcomes than disappointment.
All of this is happening while each individual chapter still does the exact same thing that the anime does regularly – focus on a single Pokémon for a story. Chapter names often use puns built around the featured Pokémon’s name or skills and that helps build out a sense of exploration of each region throughout the story. Even when a region needs to be revisited (for example, the release of Pokémon Yellow prompted a second Kanto arc), new discoveries and pathways can be found.
What really makes Pokémon Adventures worthwhile after 20 + years, though, is seeing all this and more at scale. Each new game adaptation does bring with it a new story but not at the expense of what ‘s come before. Characters weave in and out of each other’s regions, often having direct influence on the new blood. When Game Freak decides that it’s time to remake a generation, Kusaka sees that as an opportunity to check back in on old friends. FireRed/LeafGreen and HeartGold/SoulSilver are particularly fun reads even for lapsed Pokémon fans who have always had their own theories to see some of those pay off. If you appreciate continuity like seen in more recent seasons of thePokémon anime or wish Game Freak would let players go back to old regions in-game, you owe it to yourself to give Pokémon Adventures a read.
Featured Image via The Pokémon Company/Viz Media