Nineteen Meltdowns: Pokémon Movies While Autistic

Pokémon is a long-running television series, currently spanning nearly 1000 episodes since its Japanese debut in 1997. Like many such cartoons, it also encompasses a number of feature-length films, set between the episodes of the series and occasionally referenced thereafter. The nineteen Pokémon films are a fascinating oeuvre in their own right, because they return repeatedly to themes particularly dear to me and to other autistic, indigenous viewers.

Most of the nineteen Pokémon movies—a least 12 of them—have antagonists that are not driven by any destructive impulse. Some of them are gripped by powerful emotions that they cannot contain, and demolish anyone and anything that stands between them and resolving those emotions. Some of them have routines that they will not suppress, and do not care about humans those routines might inconvenience or harm. A rare few are compelled by outside forces that they cannot defeat on their own. In each case, merely speaking to the Pokémon or humans driving these plots accomplishes little. Whether because of the intensity of their emotions or the importance of their routines, they will not be swayed by mere negotiation. In each case, the day is won, not by fighting these Pokémon to a standstill, but by figuring out what they want. The heroes of Pokémon have ample experience in solving problems with clever applications of brute force, but here, they don’t use it. They recognize quickly when they are dealing with someone who is not accessible to ordinary communication, but they don’t treat them as forces of nature to be resisted or beaten. They get creative, both in receiving what their erstwhile foes are saying and in sending messages back. They figure out what these beings want, and if they can, they give it to them.

The purple, armored, Bug/Steel pokemon Genesect hunched over in sadness as Ash and Pikachu console them.
“I just want to go home.”

Twelve conflicts that could have ended in subduing and confining a seemingly hostile force instead end in old friends and families reunited, exiles returned, relics restored, unfairly maligned Pokémon given homes and recognition, and misaimed anger dispersed.

They don’t twist themselves in knots trying to parse the cryptic sentences they sometimes get from emotional Pokémon. They don’t lash out in anger or frustration when shouting at their would-be foes about the consequences of their actions doesn’t dissuade them. They don’t invent incentives for Pokémon to behave in more convenient ways and deny these rewards to the recalcitrant. They don’t assume anyone can’t be redeemed until they see them do harm without remorse, and sometimes, not even then.

They restore the life force of the Tree of World’s Beginning even though its immune system had devoured their friends moments earlier. They free Deoxys’s imprisoned friend, and the two fly off to live a new life together. They reunite a mother Zoroark and her child Zorua. They free Celebi from mind control. They identify the source of rampaging Kyurem’s rage and address it. They talk Shadow Hoopa Unbound through a personal revelation that resolves their pent-up anger. They find a little girl so mired in grief and loneliness that she accidentally summoned a flock of Unowns to make her fondest dreams manifest and talk her back to reality. They find a new home for five lost, terrified Genesect, until then adrift in time and space.

No one is rewarded for their brief claim that these needs are false or invalid. No plots are solved or creatures pacified by coercing or convincing them to do without. No punishments are rendered for what the needful beings did before the heroes learned to read and help them.

The Pokémon movies, by and large, are case studies in identifying and resolving emotional needs that are so urgent that they cannot be articulated. They are stories about friendship, empathy, and nonverbal communication, heart-warming and heart-wrenching in their beauty and in how aggressively and naturally they remind us that needs are no less valid when others don’t understand them.

They are a fantasy of our own needs being so urgently recognized.

Even if they weren’t interspersed with some of the finest Jessie and James heroics, unambiguous statements of the fascinating duo’s queerness, and stories about indigenous minorities fighting to maintain their cultural heritage, or the fact that the only deities characters believe in are creatures they met in person, they would be a treasure.

 

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Nineteen Meltdowns: Pokémon Movies While Autistic

2 thoughts on “Nineteen Meltdowns: Pokémon Movies While Autistic

  1. 1

    Very reminiscent of much of CLAMP’s work as well. Antagonists are misguided or tragic and can usually be enlisted as allies. Even the ultimate “big bad” of Magical Knights Rayearth has their tragic reasons.

    1. 1.1

      I suspect this theme shows up in Japanese media a bit more often than it does in Western media. Certainly, Western media that uses these patterns, such as “Home,” tends to come off as trite and childish in ways that the Japanese versions don’t.

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