Worst 5 Pokémon League Battles in the Anime

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The Pokémon anime has been going for 22 years and counting, with over 1000 episodes under its belt. Every region in which Ash has travelled has had a League Conference which he has challenged to varying degrees of success (or not).  There have been some spectacular battles over the course of Ash’s various League campaigns, but equally there have been some pretty bad ones. While I have been discussing the best battles per region this year on the blog, this time I am going to take a step back from complimenting Pokémon battles which have happened on screen and, with the upcoming Alola League beginning to air in Japan next week, look at the worst battles in the League Conferences so far.

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5. Ash vs. Tobias (Sinnoh League)

Where the animation is concerned, this battle was outstanding, particularly the aerial battle between Tobias’s Latios and Ash’s Swellow, plus to see Ash’s Sceptile defeat a Darkrai which had swept in every Gym and League battle that it had partaken in was great, as was the explosive tie between Ash’s Pikachu and Tobias’s Latios. However, after the spectacular full battle between Ash and Paul, what a cop-out ending for the Sinnoh League. To see Ash’s team of six get swept by a Darkrai and Latios just felt like such an anticlimactic way to round off what had been a genuinely fantastic regional League. Plus, Ash knew that Tobias had at least one Legendary Pokémon on his team, so why he did not bring powerhouse Pokémon such as Charizard, Snorlax or Infernape to his own team is anyone’s guess.

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4. Ash vs. Trip (Unova League)

Okay, this is probably the most controversial pick on this list as it was the battle in which Ash defeated his long-term Unova rival for the first time. However, after all of the focus on their rivalry, after all of the times Trip defeated Ash and subsequently belittled him, we expected them to face each other in a full battle, similar to those which Ash had faced previous rivals Gary and Paul in. Instead it was a one-on-one match between Ash’s Pikachu and Trip’s Serperior. While it had an explosive ending, Serperior had dealt a lot of damage to Pikachu, before the Electric-type turned the tables with apparent ease. This felt like a huge cop-out, especially after Serperior had been built up as this absolute tank during the World Tournament Junior Cup arc only a few months earlier, and was a very disappointing way to end Ash and Trip’s rivalry.

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3. Rounds Two and Three (Kanto League)

Nothing reflects the fact that the writers were unsure what they were doing with the Kanto League more than these two battles, which were crammed into the first few and final few minutes of a single episode respectively, so much so that we never even learn the name of Ash’s opponent in Round Two. While Ash won both of these battles (and it was nice to see Squirtle, Kingler and Pikachu in action), with the anime having built up to the Kanto League since day one, and with it being Ash’s first regional League, it felt ridiculous to see two battles being crammed into barely half an episode. Given that the writers had no true certainty as to whether they would create another regional League Conference, it seems crazy that they did not put more effort into the Kanto League, speaking of which…

2. Ash vs. Ritchie (Kanto League)

Ash’s fifth battle in the Kanto League would determine whether he made it to the quarter-finals, and he battled Ritchie, a friendly rival whom he had made. This was it, this was what both the League and the entire anime to date had been building to…so, what a let down. Ash only just made it to the match (very late!) as he had been kidnapped by Team Rocket, so by the time he got there both Pikachu and Pidgeotto were exhausted. Very soon, Ash’s only option was his disobedient Charizard…who cost Ash the match by choosing to nap rather than battle Ritchie’s Pikachu. What. A. Joke! Over 80 episodes and over 18 months…for this? What if the anime had never got as far as the Johto League? This would be Ash’s best effort at a regional League (bar the Orange Islands), and what a sour note for the series that would have been (it still kind of is one).

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1. Ash vs. Cameron (Unova League)

While Ash’s defeat at Ritchie’s hands was probably his most humiliating, he was at least motivated to push himself further and developed a more approach to losing as a result. His defeat at Cameron’s hands, however, was just as much of a joke, but served no purpose character development wise. Despite Cameron having been built up as a trainer to take seriously, he was just goofy in this match, sending Ferrothorn and Swanna out against Ash’s Pignite and Pikachu respectively in spite of 4 x type-disadvantages. Plus, Cameron thought that a full battle meant five Pokémon instead of six, so when he defeated Ash, he did so with only five Pokémon. For Ash’s Unova League campaign to end with him losing to a goof who did not even make it a full six-on-six battle in many ways encapsulates everything wrong with the Unova saga, leaving us fans seething in a way which even Ash’s loss to Ritchie did not manage.

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FILM: Men in Black: International (2019, F. Gary Gray)

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Men in Black: International is the fourth and (sort of reboot) of Sony Picture Releasing’s science-fiction franchise. Probationer Agent M (Tessa Thompson) is sent to the London branch for her first assignment, where she is paired up with the legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Their mission takes them across the globe, and it becomes clear that there is not just an intergalactic threat to Earth that these must deal with, but also that the London branch has been infiltrated.

CONS

  • An appalling screenplay which is very convoluted with no real sense of stakes, a lot of poorly realised new characters and no funny jokes. Speaking of the jokes, there is an entire scene which makes jokes at the expense of suicide and, later, there is a very subtle joke about sexual assault. These are never topics to joke about in a film, let alone in one which children can (and will) watch in cinemas.
  • The narrative is a real bore to watch, not just because it is unfunny, but because there is no energy to it. The film feels so dragged out and the cast (bar one exception) have no energy or enthusiasm, made even more obvious by the lack of chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
  • While the poor pacing could easily be attributed to F. Gary Gray’s direction, it feels so disjointed that you cannot help but wonder if this film was a victim of studio interference, a la Fantastic Four.
  • An altogether appalling cast, with Tessa Thompson coming across as quite bored, while Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson and Laurent and Larry Bourgeois being just four of the cast members to give wooden turns (the former two also being quite cringy to watch as well).

PROS

  • Chris Hemsworth is actually rather charismatic as H, despite the appalling dialogue and narrative.

VERDICT: 1/10

FILM: Late Night (2019, Nisha Ganatra)

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Comedy-drama Late Night is distributed by Amazon Studios, following its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Looking for a career change, chemical plant efficiency expert Molly (Mindy Kaling) cannot believe her luck when she gets her dream job as a writer for legendary talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). However, this new role has a lot of pressure as the writing department need to make material popular enough to save Katherine from firing/cancellation, while Molly must also prove that she has value as a writer and is more than just a “diversity hire”.

PROS

  • A sharply written screenplay, with the dialogue (both dramatic and witty) being fast-paced, snappy and really requiring the viewer to maintain their full attention.
  • There are some moments of genuine warmth as various characters come to appreciate each other and undergo a learning process over the narrative’s run.
  • An excellent cast who bring real energy and panache to the dialogue-heavy narrative, with Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling giving two excellent leading performances.

CONS

  • The film would ultimately work better as a miniseries as there are several plots and subplots going on, with the final product lacking focus as a result.
  • Misjudged attempts at social commentary, with the feminist aspects of the film feeling quite generic and shoehorned in, and jokes about racism and sexism going down like a lead balloon.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, Simon Kinberg)

Note: Yes, I know that the word ‘X-Men’ is not part of the title in most countries, but it is in the UK, ergo that is how I know it.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix is the seventh and final film in the main series, and the twelfth and penultimate in the wider superhero franchise (assuming that The New Mutants does actually get released next year). It is 1992, and the X-Men are doing missions for the US Government. During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs the energy from a solar flare but miraculously survives. However, back on Earth she begins to lose control of her newfound powers, while also having an emotional breakdown after learning that Charles (James McAvoy) has been lying to her for 17 years. Now it is up to Charles, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) to lead the X-Men in stopping her to save both her life and numerous others’.

PROS

  • Good performances from Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult in particular.
  • Very good visual effects, particularly the scenes set in space which boast good detail, a crisp visual quality and a beautiful colour palette.

CONS

  • A rushed narrative, the stakes of which are never fully realised, with an overwhelming sense that director/screenwriter Simon Kinberg wanted to pen a 15/R-Rated film and enter darker, grittier territory (a la Logan) but was unwilling to take a ‘risk’, opting for 12A/PG-13-Rated content instead.
  • Some very convoluted fight scenes, particularly in the climax, which are frankly a mess where editing is concerned.
  • An incredibly underwhelming antagonist in Vuk (Jessica Chastain in a restrained role that prevents her from being able to show her acting chops), while multiple cast members are very underused, despite being key characters in the franchise.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)

Official poster shows The X-Men Team with Professor X sitting in his wheelchair, surrounded by friend and foe mutants, with the film's titular enemy Apocalypse behind them with a big close-up over his head and face, with nuclear missiles flying into the air, and the film's title, credits, billing, and release date below them and the film's slogan "Only The Strong Will Survive" above.

X-Men: Apocalypse is the sixth film in the franchise’s main series and ninth overall. In 1983, the original mutant – Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) – awakens after over 5000 years. Apocalypse brings Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy) onto his side, before kidnapping Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to use in his plan to destroy the world. To stop Apocalypse, save the world and get through to their old friend, Magneto, Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assemble a team of young mutants from Charles’s school, a new generation of X-Men.

PROS

  • An intense opening prologue which establishes Apocalypse’s backstory, followed by some fun moments of adventure and some exciting battle sequences scattered here and there throughout the rest of the narrative.
  • A technically excellent superhero film with detailed production design, outstanding visual effects, cinematography and editing, which stands out the most in a brilliant scene in which Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves the lives of the school’s staff and students.
  • A solid ensemble cast, with good reprisal turns from James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, and welcome and enjoyable new additions in Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner. Michael Fassbender, however, is the stand-out, giving a powerful performance that is rich in raw and intense emotion.

CONS

  • Patchy pacing, with a poor balance between slow-burn, character-driven drama and spectacular and exciting superpower moments, while the narrative as a whole feels somewhat rushed, with too many ideas for even a 2 hour and 20 minute film.
  • The film tries to establish multiple characters, some of whom are clearly being set up for significant roles in future films, but does not give us much reason to invest in them, while some returning characters such as Colonel Stryker (Josh Helman) and (a cameoing) Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) feel somewhat shoehorned in.

VERDICT: 6/10