The voice of Ryan Reynolds stars as America’s most popular anime mascot in the new Pokémon: Detective Pikachu trailer. And it’s… surprisingly and decidedly dope. It’s got all those Guillermo del Toro-ey qualities that scream “production design” and shows off a movie that appears to love but also be ready to satirize all of its original franchise’s odd bits and pieces.
And what an original franchise indeed. Pokémon is a merchandise and mass media empire that has explored probably every branch of entertainment industry except live action movies. The critters are everywhere, now sort of literally thanks to the mobile game craze, which some people still play. It’s no exaggeration to say that this franchise has a full-blown lore, and I’m here to explain that lore here to you, dear readers.
The Detective Pikachu film stars a young man named Tim, played by Justice Smith, living in a highly urban Pokémon setting. This kind of environment has only been previously attempted in the games’ fifth installment, Pokémon Black & White, but the graphical limitations of the Nintendo DS prevented it from being fully realized. Here, the full might of CG rendering is on display.
Tim’s father, Harry, is a police detective who has gone missing, like most of the fathers of the game’s player characters. A bit of Ken Watanabe narration, in the role of Harry’s old colleague, notes that Tim had ambitions to become aPokémon trainer, and a brief glimpse into his room reveals dozens of Pokémon-related newspaper clippings, a Pikachu-eared bed, and a poster for the Sinnoh Championship XXVI.
For video game fans, this Championship may have been the one they conquered on the back in 2006 in Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, which took place in the fictional region of Sinnoh (an analogue for real-world Hokkaido). Tim’s other clippings imply him to be a massive fan of the Pokémon blood sport.
We can also see a picture of Tim’s mom, presumably deceased. All anime moms are. Other Pokémon that make cameos include Blastoise and Charizard (who appear here to be star prizefighters), Rayquaza and Articuno (implying Tim to be a mythology buff, as these Pokémon are super rare and considered legendary in-universe), Steelix, Dragonite, and Hypno.
Note that the Steelix probably won the Johto Sport Club match (another reference to the fictional locales of the games), because Steel-types are super-effective against Ice-types like Articuno.
We then meet the Reynolds-voiced Detective Pikachu, a Pikachu who can talk but who only Tim can understand. This is made clear during a night-market scene featuring a cameo from a group of Emolga on top of one of the food stands (top image) and a Blissey that appears to be buying food from a vendor (bottom image), casting serious questions on the issue of Pokémon sentience. Is she buying takeout for an owner? For herself?
The Asian cityscape that appears to be the backdrop of this story bears a distinct resemblance to cyberpunk cities like those of Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner, but the brighter colors imply an adaptation of the games’ original settings. Despite the brightness, though, the film seems to aim for a film noir sensibility. The world’s colorful, stagey lighting supports this, with hard shadows emphasized to create a sort of extremely colorful chiaroscuro that conforms to the whole orange-and-blue highlights-and-shadows scheme.
Despite Tim’s insistence that he doesn’t need a Pokémon (even though he ostensibly lives in a society where Pokémon are commonplace and nearly universal), Detective Pikachu insists that his assistance will be crucial in finding Tim’s missing father, with accompanying footage implying a murder most foul, or at least a car accident. Also missing, evidently, are someone’s Squirtle and Pancham, according to a bulletin board. These are both small, cuddly Pokémon, so I assume they are missing pets.
I can’t talk further about this trailer without talking about the CG Pokémon. I… don’t hate them. I admit it’s terrifying to see Pikachu and Jigglypuff with visibly defined fur, but the way the creatures are animated to move is shockingly lifelike and, combined with the colorful look of the film, manage to look perfectly in place. Pikachu’s emotions are animated all the way up to his ears, and his movements are similarly on point.
The studio hired RJ Palmer, the guy who drew a bunch of realistic Pokémon on the internet, to contribute to the film as a character designer, and all the ‘mons in the trailer maintain a distinct resemblance to their original looks while taking on certain more realistic elements, mostly textural.
Back to the trailer: Shenanigans ensue. We get cameos of the famous singing Jigglypuff from the anime, a colony (Pod? Herd? Cuddle? What’s the word for a large group of these?) of Bulbasaur, and a Charizard fighting in what appears to be a cage match. A gang of Greninja appears, seemingly employed as actual assassins, as they chase our protagonists through some halls.
The female lead, a young reporter named Lucy (played by Kathryn Newton), appears to have a Psyduck, and the trailer implies it to have the same absurdly powerful psychic migraines as the one from the anime.
The trailer ends with an interrogation scene with a Mr. Mime. He uses either Reflect or Protect (moves in the game) to stop Detective Pikachu from tackling him, but it’s unclear which because the properties of these attacks are poorly defined outside the game world. That’s one of the things we expect to understand more as we see and learn more in the coming months.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu hits theaters on May 10, 2019.