Pokémon: Volcanion, Mechanical Marvel seems like the same, tired Pokémon story with a glossy steampunk mask and no heart. Set in the steampunk Azoth Kingdom, the story has a lot of failed potential – new Pokémon are interesting, new characters have promise, and the setting is something the Pokémon series has never explored. However, laughable voice acting, a mediocre story and unexplored possibilities make Pokémon: Volcanion a disappointing addition to the Pokémon Universe. Check out the trailer and then read on.
The Azoth Kingdom is an ancient and successful kingdom that exists in the world of Pokémon. Ruled by the royal family, the society explores something called “arcane science,” wherein science and Pokémon combine to create fantastic new inventions. Pioneered by a scientist named Nikola (a nod to Nikola Tesla), arcane science has flourished – but is now being abused by an evil arcane scientist named Alva, who is close to the royal family. Mega evolution is being abused, and a steampunk tech/Pokémon hybrid called Magearna is the key to the mysterious “Soul Heart” being used to take over the kingdom.
From a distance, the plot seems interesting, and the setting is a refreshing change from the Kanto hybrids that have been produced in the past. However, Ash and the gang spend barely any time exploring Azoth, and instead wind up chasing around the legendary Pokémon Volcanion as he spends time fighting Alva and preaching about the abused Pokémon who now live with him in a place called the Nebel Plateau. Volcanion hates humans but is forced to work together with Ash and his friends after being bound to Ash by a mysterious force.
This is the same old Pokémon story. A super-smart, talking Pokémon hates humans and any Pokémon that aligns themselves with humans. They believe Pokémon are better than humans, and distrust even the purest and kindest of them (like Ash). There is a force trying to abuse the power of Pokémon and use it for personal gain, and Ash is the only trainer with the heart and the ability to stop them. Sound familiar? That’s because this has been the plot to nearly every Pokémon movie since Pokémon: the First Movie. There is no creativity in exploring another story or lesson, with the message again being anti-discriminatory. Everyone should be equal, and people should not be judged as a whole because of the sins of another. In a setting like the Azoth Kingdom, this stale message feels like a waste when there were so many other messages to be explored.
Like in any Japanese-to-English story, the dialogue in this movie suffers. There is a lot of grunting, yelling, and substance-less dialogue between main characters. While it’s understandable that the dialogue must be accessible for a children’s movie, it’s no excuse to dumb things down to the point of ridiculousness. What’s worse is ridiculous dialogue paired with terrible voice acting – something Volcanion has plenty of. The characters in the Pokémon series have undergone many changes throughout the series, and for the most part, the voice acting of main characters is alright. Ash is the same, stubborn Ash, and Alva sounds like a conniving, slithering antagonist. Even the Prince of Azoth has a believable delivery as a little boy. However, the voices only go downhill after that. Ash’s friend Clemont sounds like a grown man forcing his voice into a child’s tenor, which is terribly distracting to the character. Volcanion sounds a little too old and sage-like, seeming to force his “legendary” status a little too far. Worst of all are the new Jesse, James, and Meowth, who deliver their lines so melodramatically that watching their scenes is almost painful. Silliness in a Pokémon movie is expected and even welcome, but the new Team Rocket absolutely abuses it.
The animation of Volcanion is good, though at times lazy. The use of computer animation alongside hand-drawn makes for easy transitions and less work for the animators, but it’s far less enjoyable or impressive when done hastily. Obvious 3D transitions seem like a copout, especially when used in place of actual animation during battles or while exploring Azoth. Backgrounds are often flat and mismatched, looking like a crappy attempt at green screening. Volcanion itself is almost completely computer-animated, making it look strange and out of place next to the other Pokémon. It felt like very little love went into the animation of the actual movie, leaving something to be desired and killing a lot of the potential the steampunk setting presented.
Pokémon: Volcanion, the Mechanical Marvel is a decent movie for Pokémon fans, but really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. One of the best parts of the movie is its soundtrack, which is interesting, varied, and perfectly follows the scenes as they unfold. Overall, Volcanion lacks charm, heart, and creativity which makes it a real disappointment that’s hard to watch more than once.
A copy of the film was provided by VIZ Media for this review.