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Review | Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice

Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice
By Momota Inoue
Viz Kids; $9.99

Understanding that “all-ages” and “for kids” aren’t synonymous terms, I have a low tolerance for kids’ entertainment. I was never one of those parents who could drive the car patiently while “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” blared from the speakers. My son grew up listening to whatever I listened to. Likewise, we didn’t watch a lot of Barney in our house. The Wiggles, yes. Blues Clues, absolutely. They’re all awesome. But the rule is that if everyone’s going to have to sit through it, it has to be something we can all enjoy. All-Ages rules; Kids Stuff drools. My wife and I don’t force David to sit through our childhood favorites if he’s not enjoying them, but the reciprocation is that we get to check out too if what he really wants to do is watch Pokémon.

I tried with Pokémon. Not that hard, admittedly, but I gave it a shot. I’ve watched a few episodes with David and I just can’t understand the relationship between the Pokémon and their trainers. The trainers catch the Pokémon, make them live in little billiard balls and battle each other, but the Pokémon are somehow cool with this. Even though they sometimes resist being captured. The more I talk about how I don’t get it, the older I’m going to feel, so I’ll just point out that the concept doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny and be done with it.

Kids don’t care about that though. My son certainly doesn’t. He’s just into the monsters. He loves discovering new ones as they’re revealed, and making up and drawing his own creations. It’s a big passion for him. He watches the episodes, plays the video games, and collects the cards. And it’s a little sad for both of us that I don’t share his enthusiasm. I mean, I’m totally supportive of his being into it, but he doesn’t totally understand why I’m not. I’ve explained that it’s a little like his not really caring about Downton Abbey, and he gets that, but I think I might lose some cool points with him for not being able to name more than five or six Pokémon. Still, I check in periodically to see if my tastes have changed or if Pokémon has improved. Which brings us to Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice.

I’ve heard David mention the giant dragon Kyurem before, but other than him I was familiar with exactly two characters from this manga adaptation of last year’s Pokémon anime. Pokémon trainer Ash and his cute, little pal Pikachu are still traveling around as Ash tries to become a Pokémon Master, but they’ve got new companions now instead of the ones from the TV show. That doesn’t really matter though, because none of these guys are the main characters in the story. That role falls to a Pokémon named Keldeo, whose one dream is to someday become the fourth member of a Pokémon team called the Swords of Justice.

Keldeo’s been training with the team for a while, but his impatience with his progress is causing him to make mistakes. It also sets up the action in this story when he picks a fight with Kyurem. Fighting the dragon is a rite of passage for entry into the team, but Keldeo’s rushing it before he’s ready. Once he figures that out he tries to run away, but Kyurem chases him, declaring that the battle isn’t over yet. Keldeo’s flight puts him in the path of Ash and his friends, who take up with the struggling Pokémon and encourage him to face his fears.

Patience and courage are excellent traits and I’m happy that Pokémon is encouraging them. Structurally, there are a lot of problems with Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice that reinforce my opinion that it’s not for me. None of those things matter to its primary audience though. This is a kids book, not an all-ages one, and I’m okay with that as long as a) it’s not harming my son, and b) I don’t have to read it again. Far from harming him, it’s reinforcing positive values, so Pokémon and I are cool as far as manga goes. I’m not super fond of how the games manipulate the collector mentality for a buck, but that’s a battle on a different front.

Since Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice is pretty bulletproof against any criticism I might shoot at it, I asked my son for his opinion of the book. He’s seen the movie and enjoys it, and he dug the comic enough to ask if he can have it when I’m done with it. He saw three areas though where he could see room for improvement. First, there are scenes from the movie that didn’t make it into the manga and he wishes they had.

Second, it’s difficult to tell from the art which attacks each Pokémon is using in battle. Pokémon attacks are hugely important to my son and he wants to see them in some kind of recognizable action. I completely agree, by the way. The action in most of the manga is indecipherable whether you know the attacks or not.

Finally – and this is a complaint against the anime as much as the manga based on it – he says it would be nice if the characters visited locations from the video games instead of all new ones created especially for this story. It makes me happy that he’s thinking about world-building and wants to see his favorite cities in the game brought to life on the page.

It also makes me happy that he’s able to engage critically with this kind of stuff. As much as he likes Pokémon, he sees the flaws. They’re not all the same flaws I see, nor are the benefits he gets from it the ones that I’m most grateful for, but that’s as it should be. It’s just great to be able to talk about a work with him and share what we think about it. That’s more bonding than we usually do over Pokémon.

Michael May About Michael May

Michael May has been writing about comics for a little over a decade. He started as a reviewer for Comic World News and soon became editor-in-chief of the site. Leaving editorial duties to focus on writing, he joined The Great Curve, the comics blog that eventually became Blog@Newsarama and finally Comic Book Resources' Robot 6. In addition to loving comics, he loves his son and enjoys nothing more than finding (and writing about) awesome comics for the boy to read.


  1. I could try and explain the concept for you by drawing a comparison:

    Think of Pokemon as athletes. Gyms, tournaments– it’s all for sport. That’s pretty much stated. But they also have a warrior’s sense of honour, so /most/ ( but Pokemon are individuals, so some are happy going without a fight ) want to battle a trainer and have that trainer and their Pokemon /prove/ that trainer’s strength and capability before they allow themselves to be captured.

    Unless it’s a horrible criminal or the trainer’s some horribly abusive character like Shinji/Paul (do watch the DP episode Tears for Fears– it’s basically about Satoshi/Ash helping it deal with P.T.S.D. after the abusive training it endured its previous trainer before he abandoned it carelessly), Pokemon do want to be with their trainers and love and respect them.

    You’re misunderstanding fighting spirit and a warrior’s honour for resistance to being caught.

  2. Lamees Tayyib says:

    Pokemon are a little like athletes– most of them, anyway. They LOVE to battle. It’s not “resisting capture,” in most cases, as much as a show of pride. You need to /prove/ your salt as a trainer for the Pokemon to want to be captured, many won’t go down without a battle to prove a trainer’s worthy of bringing them to their full potential.

    Also, they’re not crammed in there! The series has light sci-fi elements and those things can transform huge Pokemon into neatly stored away data that can make it easier to carry them, also to transport/teleport them across long distances, and keeps them safe from harm.

    Pokemon are rather like the TV tropes definition of a Blood Knight. They just love battling! The rare Pokemon that doesn’t, also shows up, because they’re all individuals, and some have a more like a house pet or an equal soulmate (given some have human intelligence or exceed even that) or whatever else they might be to someone else. They can also work together with humans in various jobs, like a Fire Type can help out in a restaurant, cooking on its flames, or a Perap in an episode of the Diamond & Pearl series acts as a sort of therapy Pokemon, putting on shows with its amateur magician trainer for kids in hospitals.

    The show also frequently has plotlines, especially later on, but even as early on as the first season (see Charmander’s capture episode, see Chimchar’s whole plotline of abuse at the hands of his previous trainer Paul and his slow recovery under Ash’s care culminating in the beautiful Tears for Fears episode– similarly, Tepig was tied to a post and abandoned by his sadistic and strength-seeking trainer Shamus, who pretended to be sad at leaving him, but when he saw him again, ran to him adoringly as if he hadn’t nearly starved to death when that rope wound up around his mouth for days… in Evolution by Fire!).

    Ash’s Pikachu is ALWAYS out of his pokeball. Why? Because he made it very clear in the first episode, he is /not comfortable/ with going inside. Even in danger of death, with Ash begging him to go inside, so he can face the danger alone and keep Pikachu safe… Pikachu also exhibits fears of abandonment early on (Sparks Fly for Magnemite), refusing to stay for care overnight, worried Ash might not return for him. (An old Japanese magazine scan has Ookido-hakase [Professor Oak] suggest Pikachu’s old trainer injured it in capturing it, so possibly even Pikachu’s strong aversion to pokeballs is trauma-based.)

    This is what fans know and see.

    Many of Ash’s Pokemon were previously hurt or abused and grow stronger and more capable of trusting under Ash’s gentle care. That boy loves his Pokemon and we love the trainer-Pokemon bond because that’s what we know and see. Watching a few random episodes out of context, maybe a cynical adult can’t see it, but your average kid can. Ash loves Pikachu, that’s why he never forces it in its pokeball and has a breakdown in a recent series [XY] when Pikachu’s stolen from him in a pokeball factory and in the chaos and confusion, he believes Pikachu was forced into a pokeball. Ash punches his hands against glass and cries out and shows great anger and regret, until Pikachu returns to his side, happy and safe, not forced in at all.

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