It may be hard to believe, but 2023 will mark 25 years since the Pokemon anime first premiered in the west. That’s a quarter century of battles, exploration, and boneheaded decisions by Ash Ketchum.
To commemorate this momentous landmark, we’re taking a look back by rewatching the earliest days of Pallet Town and beyond. Join us on this most marvellous trip down memory lane, and remember to stock up on Super Potions for the journey ahead!
PREVIOUS EPISODE: Episode 2: Pokemon Emergency!
Pokemon Episode 3: Ash Catches a Pokemon
First Aired: April 15, 1997 (Japan), September 10, 1998 (US)
When we last left our heroes (AKA a smattering of obnoxious children and their enslaved mouse), Ash was in the midst of attempting to capture a Caterpie. The episode ended in dramatic fashion, teasing us with breathless anticipation as to whether or not he would succeed in this task.
Now, we arrive at episode 3, where the title itself is a spoiler. Very good, greatly appreciated.
The Poke Ball wriggles, jiggles and wiggles, until finally it comes to a stop, adding a new Pokemon to Ash’s roster. I’ve always been a bit curious as to the mindset behind this process; all because some punk kid threw a handheld sphere at me, I’m immediately in servitude to them? If I were this Caterpie, the first thing I’d do is shoot some string directly into my captor’s eyeballs and then book it toward the nearest police station.
Keen to show off his new swag, Ash unleashes the tiny bug and requests it climb up onto his shoulder. Already he’s trying to get the poor thing to do circus tricks. Instead of acquiescing, it catches the unenthused Misty out of the corner of its eye and heads right for her.
I know it’s said much later on that a flirtatious Golduck that makes a brief cameo is the Pokemon version of Brock, but wow, I forgot how shameless Caterpie is upon its debut. I swear it even shouts “goddamn” when it sees her, the lecherous worm.
Misty ain’t having any of it, declaring it to be a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality (I’m paraphrasing slightly). Ash doesn’t take too kindly to these barbs, leading to an argument that carries on into the night.
While the trainers sleep, Caterpie and Pikachu share a heartfelt discussion that we of course cannot understand. The two banter back and forth, making endearing noises at each other for a literal minute — which is an absolute eternity for impatient viewers who are just desperate to know whether they are swapping recipes, engaging in political debate or actually flirting — until we see a shot of a Butterfree soaring majestically across the moonlit sky.
Ohh, now I get it. Caterpie wants to become an astronaut someday. Okay, that makes sense.
The next morning, the squad are greeted by a nearby Pidgeotto. Undeterred by his haunting failures at snagging a Pidgey a few days prior, Ash springs into action, hucking a Poke Ball which it casually swipes aside. Misty points out that, as has been discussed many, many times by now, Ash is supposed to weaken a Pokemon in advance of piffing balls like a madman.
In a stroke of pure genius, he opts to send Caterpie out for this mission. Misty thinks this is stupid. Pikachu thinks this is stupid. Pidgeotto thinks this is delicious, laying into the beleaguered insect as if it owed it money. Ash is able to recall it before it evolves into a new form (food), employing Pikachu in its place.
One Thundershock later, and our boy has caught not one but two Pokemon in this episode. Not only does this make the title a spoiler, it’s also a lie as well, misrepresenting the haul he pulls in here. Despite his enthusiasm, Misty rightfully points out that birds eat worms, making his strategy of “try very hard and think good thoughts” a hapless endeavor.
Breaking up the tension, Team Rocket arrive, providing us with a potential insight into how the plot beats of this anime will proceed for the most part. Seriously, the formula is basically going to be:
- Ash arrives at place, meets new Pokemon!
- Team Rocket are here! Grr, naughty Rockets!
- Ash wins! The moral of the story is that Ash is the winner.
- Repeat ad infinitum.
They demand Ash hand over Pikachu, and part of me would really like to see an alternate storyline where he just gives in, relinquishes Pikachu and continues on with his day. Considering he previously tried using a Bug Pokemon against a Flying Pokemon, it would probably be better off this way.
Alas, he plays the role of dull protagonist instead, defying their request. Jessie and James send out Ekans and Koffing to do battle, and Ash is downright aghast at their dirty tactics. Two against one?! Double Battles wouldn’t exist until generation 3, you utter fiends!!
Pikachu cops some Sludge to the eyes, and Ash is at an impasse. Caterpie is too weak from the preceding kerfuffle, leaving Pidgeotto as his only remaining combatant. Misty is also very much there and very much an alleged Pokemon trainer, but this is never addressed as a potential equalizer.
Pidgeotto turns out to be a bit of a badass (and/or birdass), holding its own for a while before being overwhelmed. Running out of options, Ash next decides it’s time to throw hands, and out of all the ideas he’s had so far, this is actually his best one.
Like most things he attempts in life, it doesn’t work out, so he pulls out his last gambit: a grievously wounded Caterpie. It ensnares the baddies in String Shot — which technically should have just reduced their speed by one but who’s really arguing accuracy to the source material here — and then trucks them like Bill Goldberg.
The defeated Rockets flee with their mummified kitten, and Ash celebrates his hard-earned victory. That is to say, it was hard-earned by his Pokemon, because for the most part he just stood there gawking like an idiot. I guess, if Brian Scalabrine can call himself an NBA Champion, Ash can call himself the winner of this battle.
Following what was surely a traumatic series of events, Caterpie cocoons itself in its own string and evolves into Metapod. Though this brings it one step closer to its goal of someday taking to the skies, the sudden shift in identity must also must be super inconvenient. Now you’ve got to get used to everyone calling you by a new name, expecting new things from you… jeez, my dude just wanted to engage in a bit of holometabolism, no need for such a big fuss.
Regardless, Ash’s Pokedex has now climbed to a muscular four entries, and he ventures deeper into the Viridian Forest, eager to kidnap more innocent members of the local fauna. Are we really sure he’s the good guy here?
Another episode is in the books! Give yourselves a pat on the back, trainer, or perhaps a pat on the back of someone nearby if you’re familiar enough.
The only way to find out what kind of mischief happens next time, however, is by staying tuned to next week’s edition of PokeManiac Monday! Alternatively, you could just watch the next episode yourself or read any number of synopses that have been available for several years… but that’s not nearly as helpful for padding my view count. Smell ya later!