Pokémon Diamond & Pearl
Studio: OLM, Inc. (Steel Angel Kurumi, Berserk)
Writers: Satoshi Tajiri & Ken Sugimori
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Shōnen
First run: 1997-ongoing
Regular episodes: 656+
Scoff if you will, but if by some miracle you've never seen an episode of Pokémon, you should. The anime has been running for 13 years and over 600 episodes, split into three continuous "series:" Pokémon, Pokémon Advanced, and Pokémon Diamond & Pearl. Compare its 650 and counting to 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z. Along with TV specials and 13 movies, Pokémon is the longest anime I know of at over 200 hours. And it's been an incredibly influential work for the shōnen genre as a whole. The plot is simple, the world is enchantingly fun, and each episode follows the show's formula to the letter. Pokémon chronicles the journey of Ash Ketchum, a young Pokémon "master," as he strives to gain fame and recognition for his Pokémon "training" skills. Pokémon, the critters which inhabit Ash's world in place of animals, fish, or insects, are primarily cute creatures whose only form of speech is to repeat their own name. Ash travels with his pet Pokémon, Pikachu, along with some friends who vary from season to season. The focus of the show is on Pokémon "battling," an activity in which two Pokémon fight one another, using a variety of fantasy-themed abilities in order to knock out the opposing Pokémon. By catching and training his Pokémon, Ash hopes to become the world's premier battler.
In some ways, the anime is successful for the same reason the game is: the world is irresistible. The Pokémon range from cute and cuddly to modestly big and scary. There are hundreds of distinct species and the show does a good job of slowly introducing the viewer to each new type of Pokémon. Battling the Pokémon looks like so much fun that the anime is a really cathartic experience; it provides better visuals of the action than the video game series it's based on, and it really makes you wish you were there. Ash is clever and talented at times, stubborn and stupid at others, and it's generally entertaining both to watch him triumph and to laugh at him fumble. The voice acting is solid in both English dub and subtitled versions. But the Pokémon are the true stars of the show, and there are few franchises in existence whose characters are more colorful, diverse, and adorable to watch.
The show's biggest drawback is its repetitiveness. The actual Pokémon battles themselves have a surprising amount of variety, and Ash faces a new and challenging "gym leader" every 10 episodes or so. But the individual episodes themselves can get old because the plot is, to put it lightly, not very deep. A simple conflict arises within the first five minutes of each episode. In the next five to ten minutes, the conflict deepens, and Team Rocket is implicated. In the final five minutes, the conflict is resolved along with Team Rocket's inevitable defeat, and the show picks up where it left off. A major change in the cast of main characters or in Ash's Pokémon collection take place only a few times each season. For young viewers who won't feel hindered by the show's formulaic structure, Pokémon is an unbelievable shōnen journey in a one-of-a-kind universe. And for the older guys, well, the anime's serious lack of plot may actually be a good thing. Watch a season or two, and you'll understand why this enjoyable franchise continues to be one of the biggest names in animation.