Pokémon Visual Companion
Publisher: DK Books/Prima Games
Cost: $16.99 ($10.36 at Amazon.com)
Page Count: 207
Release Date: 12/02/2013
Get it Here: Amazon.com
Has it really been fifteen years since the Pokémon anime first debuted on WB Kids here in the States? My god, I’m old. I remember being in college, turning on the TV after a class and seeing my first episode, “The Mystery of Mount Moon” and just falling in love with the US dub. I mean, they got the cast of Slayers to do it! Over the past decade and a half, Ash Ketchum has gone through a lot of friends, a lot of outfits and of course, a lot of Pokémon. Only two things have remained the same – that Pikachu is by his side and that the cartoon has become one of the longest running animated series of all time. Heck, the Simpsons have been around for roughly a quarter of a century and they’ve just gone over 500 episodes. Pokémon? Well into 800! Because the anime has been so important to the success of the Pokémon franchise worldwide, it makes sense that DK and Prima Games have teamed up to give the cartoon the hardcover Visual Companion treatment. Inside these 207 pages is a look at all six regions that Ash has been to and snippets about various characters and Pokémon alike. Is the book perfect? No, it’s riddled with odd word choices, omissions and errors, but when you’re trying to compress 800+ episodes of a cartoon into 200 pages, a lot if going to have to be left on the wayside. What’s here is still well worth picking up if you are a fan of the cartoon, especially if you snag it for the mere ten dollars Amazon.com is selling it for. Let’s take a look inside the Pokémon Visual Companion and see if this is a release you feel like catching.
First, let’s talk the cover. It’s exceptionally done in terms of materials. The cover is extremely study and the glossy finish really makes the thing shine. The artwork for the cover is merely a collage of still images from the anime photoshopped together. It’s mostly some legends, Pikachu, Ash, a few friends and the Unova starters. It’s cute, but I would have hoped for something a little more impressive or original for the cover art. As it is you can really tell the figures are from fifteen different years of the anime and so the difference in style when say, the early 1998 Brock still is stuck next to late Diamond and Pearl Dawn is really apparent.
Inside the book is divided into seven chapters. The first is named “The World of Pokémon” and here we are given a brief look at some of the core aspects of the cartoon like a quick bio on Ash and a two page spread of each outfit he has worn over the past fifteen years, a look at Pokéballs, Pokémon Centers, Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny (complete with their new horrible Black and White based outfits that everyone hates). There are some interesting looks at obscure Pokémon info like Baseball in Kanto/Johto, a list of known celebrities in the Pokémon world, ancient civilizations like Pokémopolis and Pokélantis and more. As much as I appreciate throwing in the little things like this, the book regularly drops the ball on the big things. Case in point: In Chapter One, we have a four page spread devoted to Ash’s Pokémon but that’s not much room for such an expansive topic, especially when each Pokémon only get one to three sentences about them. Yes, even Pikachu. Why he doesn’t get his own entry is completely inexcusable since he’s technically the star, not Ash. Meanwhile some Pokémon are outright missing, like his Aipom and Lapras, or there are some errors, like the book stating Ash only has a single Tauros when he actually has THIRTY DIFFERENT ONES. So there are some definitely odd moments with this book and it gets weirder as it goes on. For the most part though, the book does a nice job with the space it has allotted as honestly, if you just did an episode guide for the series, it would take up half the space of this book – if not more. For those wondering, this means there IS NOT an episode guide in the Visual Companion.
From there the book breaks down into six more chapters – one for each of the regions Ash has been to. We have Kanto, the Orange Islands, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh and Unova. Each chapter looks as some important characters and events from each region and the ends with a picture of each Pokémon that first appeared with that region’s release. Again though, there are some really odd decisions here. For example Giovanni is given a tiny entry under Unova of all places but there is no space for him in Kanto where he is a Gym Leader. Even stranger his paragraph only talks about a tiny appearance he made in Black and White and not the copious amounts of appearances in other seasons. He’s not even given a spot in the glossary at the back of the book. You would think such an important character would be given more room or at least placed in the section that he belongs in addition to little known facts about him (like who he is the father of…), but that’s not to be here.
Team Rocket is another aspect of the cartoon that is handedly exceptionally oddly by the book. They are given three entries – one in Kanto, one in Sinnoh and one in Unova. Why? I don’t know. The Kanto Entry also gives the Team Rocket motto that a) everyone hates instead of the original beloved one and b) the one they didn’t start using until they were in Hoenn. There are also mistakes like, “Meowth wants to supplant Giovanni’s favorite pet Persian” when actually he was Giovanni’s favorite but was eventually replaced by the Persian he currently has (Due to the fact Jessie and James’ Meowth can’t use Pay Day). The book also never talks about a certain other Team Rocket duo in Butch and Cassidy, which surprised me as they were occurring (albeit rarely appearing) characters throughout the series. If it was up to me, I’d have just given Team Rocket one big entry so that information was centrally located and I’d have actually put more information about the organization in. I’m just baffled at the decisions constantly being displayed in this book. Nando from the Sinnoh episodes gets an entire page devoted to him, but there’s not even a single mention of the Jigglypuff that was a major character from Kanto through Johto? Whoever designed this book either put it together based solely off reading Bulbapedia and Serebii entries or they are exceptionally new to Pokémon and actually haven’t watched much of the anime.
Now that’s not to say the Pokémon Visual Companion is a complete disappointment, but I can’t deny that I would have completely changed the layout, allotment of who gets what space, the information provided, the order content is provided in and so much more. I have to assume that no one from The Pokémon Company was involved with this simply due to the errors, comments and lack of Easter Eggs or inside information. It’s a shame too, because some actual insight from the people who know the cartoon inside and out could have really made this book something special instead of an oddly put together mess. I mean, since this is a guide to the anime, you know what would have been really something? Tributes to the two big Pokémon voice actors who have died in recent years. Maddie Blaustein and Hirotaka Suzuoki who were Meowth and Giovanni respectively. (Man I’m really talking about Team Rocket in this review. Odd that so many problems with the book revolve around them for some reason). Obviously the Pokémon anime isn’t just for kids and again, it would have been a great service even to young readers to learn a little more about the series than the most basic fluff provided here.
So what IS good about the Pokémon Visual Companion? Well, a lot actually. I’ve probably been harder on the book than most critics just due to my professional history with the product. I definitely think the book is worth the $10 price tag Amazon has on it and that casual fans of the anime or younger kids who missed out on the earlier seasons (especially Johto as it’s the most popular and the only one not readily available on DVD) as it gives them a look at how deep and detailed the world of the Pokémon anime is. Although if that was the point of the book, you’d think the older seasons would have gotten more space than they did (Kanto, the Orange Islands and Johto combined get less pages than Unova…which is odd as Unova seasons are the least popular of the entire series. Again, odd decisions abound in this book). The art is fantastic, especially the full maps of each region. The book also provides a fine collection of stills from the cartoon, although the picture quality varies greatly throughout the book. Whether it was bad photoshopping skills from an editor or the team behind the book didn’t have full access to things, I can’t tell you. Still, the Pokémon Visual Companion is a nice feast for the eyes of any Pokémon fan and, based on the title of the book, that’s what the team behind it was going for. After all, the book isn’t called, “The Comprehensive Guide to the Pokémon Anime.” I also enjoyed seeing the short recaps of each of Ash’s Gym Badge battles. Whether you want to see how many ribbons Dawn earned and where or you want to know what Pokémon Pokémon Hunter J carried, there really is a lot of great information in this book – it’s just not necessarily organized or as accurate as I personally would have wanted.
For seventeen dollars, the Pokémon Visual Companion gives you over 200 pages of information and art from fifteen years of Pokémon anime. With Amazon asking only a little over ten dollars, this is a must have for those who have watched Ash’s adventures since 1998 and have no plan on stopping anytime soon.The quality of the cover and pages are top notch and alone make the book worth the cover price. While you might bristle as the errors, omissions and layout of the book, there’s no denying that there is a lot of quality content in the book and any fan of the anime can flip through this and be overwhelmed with nostalgia. Any fan of the anime will find the good outweighs the bad with this book, but there’s no denying it doesn’t really live up to its potential. Ah, what could have been. Maybe someday Nintendo and/or The Pokémon Company will make an official companion to the anime.