Pokemon Sun and Moon – Episode 34

Hello all, and welcome the heck back to Wrong Every Time. We’re just about due for another trip to Alola by my watch, so I hope you’re all prepped and ready for more adventures on Akala Island – thermoses filled, compasses secured, and tiny ball-bound creatures prepped to smack the holy terror out of each other. Last episode was a ridiculous highlight, as Lana once again proved her power and ferocity by personally besting the Lord of the Lake. In the wake of that victory, Lana earned both a Z-crystal and the wrist guard for it, as well as a new move for Popplio. Given all that Lana powerleveling, I’m expecting the story to transition to another member of our team this time – but wherever the story takes us, I’m happy to return to Sun and Moon!

Episode 34

We open with a pan down from Wela Volcano, which always makes me nervous. I suppose it ultimately just becomes another mundane hazard in your mental catalog, but it’s hard for me to imagine living on an island with an active volcano

Oh nice, we’re going to another local festival! All these local events do a terrific job of giving each of the islands a distinct personality, while also efficiently introducing us to the community, and offering opportunities for the main cast to demonstrate new sides of their personalities. For both writers and readers, throwing a character outside of their comfort zone is an excellent way to better understand them

This is apparently the Wela Island Festival, where they’re tasked with learning about local history throughout the day. I frequently give the Pokemon School grief for failing to offer any kind of coherent, genuinely educational curriculum, but I have to admit that Kukui’s style seems very good for instilling a general love of learning in his students. Schools frequently encourage learning through the threat of punishment or failure, but Kukui’s free-form programming is less focused on hammering in a specific set of facts, and more interested in making sure his students learn that enriching your understanding of the world around you is a genuinely exciting process, and that learning can be pursued not because you’re forced to, but because it’s rewarding and fun

This style of teaching is hard to apply generally due to the severe demands it puts on educational programs, as well as the difficulty of quantifying its progress. But in the context of a children’s show, depicting a style of education that hammers on the underlying fun of education is a very smart choice – Sun and Moon can’t replace your teacher with Kukui, but it can at least encourage you to look for the Kukui-like motives behind your own teacher’s requests

Kaki mentions that this festival will be great training for Nyabby

This Growlithe politely accepting the ancestral crown is a very good boy

Lillie please don’t start on that “as we all know” expositional dialogue, it makes my skin itch

Apparently the Wela Crown powers up fire pokemon

And immediately after that graceless expositional tidbit by Lillie, they integrate her next piece of exposition far more effectively, by prefacing it with “I read in a book that…” Lillie is always happy to teach her friends things, and has already been established as the most bookish member of the crew – by leaning on that, you create exposition that also reinforces characterization, rather than undercutting it

Apparently Kaki’s grandfather was once the Island King

Aww, you can see Nyabby’s insecure about this whole process, with this concerned expression as he curls up in Ash’s arms. And yeah, this is all pretty stressful – you have to prove how strong of a fire pokemon you are in front of all the other fire pokemon!?

But a dastardly Alolan Marowak steals the crown!

And now it’s just strutting around and posing. I love the gang’s expressions as they swiftly jump from alarm to exasperation

Dang, we’re getting into some real battles at this point! This episode is essentially pulling a similar trick to the last one, where they separate Ash and one party member in order to battle a type-appropriate boss. I adore Sun and Moon’s slice of life adventures, but also it’s nice to see the show distributing a bunch of shonen powerups to all of Ash’s friends

“There is a fifty percent chance it went to the right and a fifty percent chance it went to the left.” Thank you for that, Rotom. Though that gag does point to one of Rotom’s dramatic purposes – when the cast split up like this, he can hold down the comic relief front

Oh my god, they made a repeating trainer character model joke. Fantastic

“Be a good little pokemon and return that crown.” Kaki is by far the most traditional shonen hero of our crew – self-serious, quick-tempered, and absolutely dedicated to harsh, continuous training. I suppose it makes sense that the fire trainer would be the most stereotypically shonen character

Ooh, very nice cut for Turtonator’s release from his pokeball

Also some excellent effects animation, facilitated by the contrast in color between their two flames. It occurred to me while watching Avatar: The Last Airbender how important that effect is – Azula has blue flames because they’re cool, but also because if she had red flames like everyone else, it’d be impossible to differentiate her in battle, or really understand what’s happening when she’s fighting another firebender

And Turtonator is defeated!

Well, I’m sure Kaki will take this loss completely in stride, and not do anything reckless to avenge his fallen pokemon

This episode makes me appreciate how expressive most pokemon tend to be, as Turtonator is the clear exception. With his giant snout and receding mouth, as well as the complex fringe of his forehead, it’s difficult to contort his face into particularly distinct expressions, or really convey much of anything outside of his eyes

“I didn’t read my opponent, and thought we could win just by unleashing a Z-move. But battle is all about watching your opponent closely, and understanding them.” Perhaps I misjudged Kaki. This post-battle analysis is actually right on the money, and reveals a total lack of ego in assessing his performance. Additionally, his focus on the opponent’s actions reflects his training as a genuine tactician, not just a warrior. This is a more thoughtful response than I expected!

“We should become like Wela Volcano: ever-powerful, and always burning with ferocity.” See, that’s more the response I expected

Of course, his dramatic speech about big ambitions fires up Ash as well, and they end up having a sparring match. The two of them have a lot in common, and Sun and Moon is good at demonstrating how they rally and build off each other

Oh man, all sorts of neat layouts in this battle. Some of the classic extreme-foreshortening shots they use to make a faceoff look more intimidating, but also neat tricks like this shot panning sideways alongside Pikachu, as he races around his opponent. And then that shot gets even more exciting, as it’s broken up by a screen-in-screen interjection from Ash, which widens to fill the screen, and then is replaced by a “wipe cut” of Pikachu himself leaping across the screen and drawing the camera with him. Just a remarkably energetic sequence, and one that does an excellent job of conveying what a unified front Ash and Pikachu present

“Pikachu, start running again!” This fight’s also lasting long enough to give us an impression of Ash’s actual battle strategy, which unsurprisingly involves taking advantage of Pikachu’s relentless agility

“You won’t win if all you do is defend!” Ash seems to be a champion of holding back just enough to make his friends feel confident, which is actually a key skill if you want to cultivate a group of sparring partners. I certainly know that I’m very bad at that when it comes to fighting games – it’s hard for me to “play down” without making it obvious that I’m doing it

With the Wela Crown still missing, Olivia is ready to take action herself – until Kaki asks for one more chance

Like with Olivia, Sophocles can’t really tell why Kaki is different now, while Lana and Mallow can sense it immediately. Real recognizes real

Even from the start, it’s clear Kaki’s moves are reactive now, and chosen with an eye for avoiding damage altogether

They really put a lot of care into Popplio leaping behind Lana to hide from the heat. This show knows what’s important

And some fantastic impact frames for Turtonator’s shell explosion

Hahaha, I love this flurry of splitscreens as the battle reaches its climax. They’re having a lot of fun with this one

Oh my god his Z-move setup. The incredible physical choreography, the effects animation, the spinning camerawork that makes everything else so exciting, but also so much harder to animate. Sun and Moon is creating some goddamn miracles here

Oh damn, and Marowak even joins his team. A huge upgrade for Kaki!

And Done

Ahaha, what the hell is this anime. After last episode’s absurdly well-animated water battle, I wasn’t expecting the show to pull off another visual highlight, but Kaki’s final battle here was a stunner. As expected, another member of Ash’s crew got their mid-journey powerup this time, with Kaki’s team now expanding to include a particularly ornery Marowak. With Turtonator, Marowak, and Charizard on his side, Kaki certainly has one of the most powerful lineups at the moment – so the question becomes, who’s next? Is it time for Mallow to at last reveal her fighting spirit!?

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