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Dogasu's Backpack | Episode Comparisons | Understanding "Seasons" of the Pokémon TV Show
A new TV network or a video service announces that they're going to start showing Pokémon episodes. "Season One is now available!", the ads might say. But when fans go to check it out, however, they're dismayed to see that they only air the first 52 episodes. But wait, isn't Season One more like 80 episodes? Where's the rest of it!?
Unfortunately, Pokémon fans all over the English-speaking world do not seem to know what in the hell the word "season" actually means. So here, let's put this to rest once and for all.
Since the beginning of television in the West, shows have been divided into what are called "seasons." Anywhere from 13 to 26 episodes will be ordered at a time (though that number can certainly fluctuate) to be aired during a specific time period, usually between August and April or so. If a show does well, it'll get picked up for another season. If it doesn't, it won't get renewed.
Japanese TV does things a little different. While it's no stranger to the idea of seasons, especially in more recent years, most shows in the Land of the Rising Sun aren't really broken up in nice little packets. Instead, Japanese TV is often filled with dramas that are scheduled to start and finish within the span of a few episodes (so basically what we'd call a "mini-series" in the West) and shows based on manga or video games that just run straight through without any breaks whatsoever. In the latter case, a new episode may run every week for years (or decades, even!) without ever taking more than a two or three week break. The show just ends whenever it ends.
Pocket Monsters, in Japan, is a case of a show that just runs straight through without any breaks. The show isn't broken up into "seasons" in Japan (the existence of Best Wishes! Season 2 notwithstanding); it just airs every week with practically no breaks.
This, obviously, clashes with the Western model of TV. So when the show is brought over to the U.S. it has to be broken up into "seasons" in order to fit the model of the country it's been brought into.
In the West, opening themes tend to only change whenever a TV series enters a new season. I've been racking my brain trying to think of an American TV show, either live action or animation, that breaks this trend and actually has changed its opening theme mid-season but I'm drawing a blank. Maybe you can think of some?
Accordingly, many fans of the Western Pokémon adaptation apply this same logic to the English dub. For them, "Season One" is Episodes 1 - 80 because those episodes all use the "Pokémon Theme" opening. "Season Two" is Episodes 81-116 because they use "Pokémon World." "Season Three" is the 41 episodes that use "Pokémon Johto" as their opening. And so on and so on.
It's a perfectly understandable, perfectly logical way to look at things.
It also happens to be not the way things actually are.
For the episodes that 4Kids dubbed, Kids' WB! bought the show in 52-episode packages. The breakup of the seasons didn't care if a new arc (or, in the case of the shift from Pocket Monsters to Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation, a brand new series) started mid-season; the season was 52 episodes no matter what.
Season Nine onwards vary in length and actually do conform to the fan-made new opening = new season line of thinking. But the 4Kids stuff? Every one of them is 52 episodes long.
The official episode numbering is a three to four digit code that consists of the season number and episode number. So "Pokémon I Choose You!" would be Episode 101, "Pokémon Emergency!" would be Episode 102, ”Ash Catches a Pokémon!" is Episode 103, "Princess vs. Princess" is Episode 201, "Pasta La Vista" is Episode 852, etc.
Season One is a little different from the others but, when all is said and done, still ended up being composed of 52 episodes. Every episode in the season uses "Pokémon Theme" as its opening.
The season debuted as a first-run syndicated program on September 8th, 1998 with "Pokémon I Choose You!" and continued premiering new episodes that way until "The March of the Exeggutor Squad." What this means is that the show didn't really have any set network or timeslot; in some markets, the show aired on the local UPN network at 6:00am weekdays. In other areas, Pokémon aired at 2:00pm weekdays on the local Fox network. The show did well enough to get noticed by Kids' WB! and was picked up by the network in February 1999. Pokémon's new home would air the remaining twelve episodes of the season on Saturday mornings while also going back and rerunning the old syndication episodes. The season concluded on May 1st, 1999 with "The Breeding Center Secret."
The extra music videos tacked to the end of Season One episodes is the five part "Pokérap," a music video created to help kids remember the names of 150 Pokémon that were publicly acknowledged at the time. If you rewatch the music video you'll notice that there is zero footage in it from Episode 53 onwards; that's because 4Kids simply didn't have anything past "The Breeding Center Secret." They only had Season One footage to work with.
Another interesting quirk about Season One is that it's the only season in which the word "Pokémon" is rendered with the franchise's logo on the episode's title screen whenever it contains the title of the show.
There are a few asterixes to include with Season One that are worth pointing out. Season One does not, obviously, count the three banned episodes "Beauty and the Beach" (which was still a banned episode at the time), "The Legend of Miniryu," and "Cyber Soldier Porygon." It also doesn't count "Princess vs. Princess" or "The Purr-fect Hero" because even though those should have aired during Season One they got delayed to Season Two for reasons I'll get into later.
Season Two originally debuted on Kids' WB! on September 4th, 1999 with "Princess vs. Princess" and concluded on September 2nd, 2000 with "Charizard Chills." The season used to consist of 52 episodes, was later cut down to 49 due to The Pokémon Company International retroactively banning the three episodes that feature blackface Jynx, and was then later expanded to 60 episodes to include the Season 3 episodes. The Kanto portions of the season use "Pokémon Theme" as its opening while the Orange Islands portion use "Pokémon World."
The extra music video tacked to the end of Season Two episodes is the "Pikachu's Jukebox," a collection of AMVs set to songs from 4Kids' "2BA Master" CD. The overwhelming majority of these songs use footage from this second batch of 52 episodes though Season One footage manages to sneak its way in to some of them. These videos also feature footage from the Orange Islands episodes and so they would have spoiled a few things while the Kanto portion of the season was still premiering on Kids' WB!
In the press release announcing the upcoming 1999-2000 fall schedule, Warner Bros. announced the start date for Season Two of Pokémon as being September 4th, 1999. That's the premiere date of "Princess vs. Princess." And here's a Kids' WB! commercial from 1999 advertising the episode as the "season premiere" of Pokémon.
4Kids was usually pretty good about dubbing the episodes in order but for "Princess vs. Princess" and "The Purr-fect Hero" they skipped over them during Season One and didn't dub them until Season Two. Why would they do that? The best theory I've heard is that 4Kids didn't have enough money left over in their budget for Season One to dub "Princess vs. Princess," due to all the digital paint they wanted to use, and so they had to wait until Season Two started to be able to afford to do so.
The episode "Beauty and the Beach" premiered during this season (June 24th, 2000) but was dubbed as a stand-alone special and therefore does not count as part of the season's package. This is the reason it hasn't been included in any DVD release, ever; Viz or whoever else would want to include it on a DVD set would have to purchase it separately.
Season Three debuted on Kids' WB! on August 26th, 2000 with "The Pokémon Water War" and concluded on May 19th, 2001 with "The Fortune Hunters." It is 52 episodes long.
Season Three marked the first time 4Kids gave the season a unique subtitle to set it apart from other seasons, though "The Johto Journeys" title, unsurprisingly, is not applied to the eleven Orange Islands episodes that make up the first part of the season.
Here's a press release made by Kids' WB! at the time told us that Season Three "will follow the adventures of Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Tracey as they travel through the Orange Islands in their continued search for the final badges of the Orange League." And, well, the first eleven episodes of the season do just that!
While Pokemon.com is retroactively trying to say that the first eleven episodes of the season actually belong to Season 2, their page for Season 3 still lists "Don't Touch that 'Dile" as Episode 312, not 301.
Unlike Seasons One and Two, Season Three had two different sets of post-episode music videos. The first was the "Pikachu's Jukebox" videos that had been used throughout Season Two. These were used for those eleven Orange Islands episodes. The second was "Pokémon Karaokemon," a set of new music videos using mostly Johto Journeys footage set to songs from 4Kids' "Totally Pokémon!" CD.
Season Four debuted on August 18th, 2001 with "A Goldenrod Opportunity" and concluded on September 7th, 2002 with "Machoke, Machoke Man!." It is 52 episodes long.
Season Four is the first season to actually follow the fan-made opening = season rule, though that's probably more by accident than design.
Season Five debuted on September 14th, 2002 with "Around the Whirlpool" and concluded on September 6th, 2003 with "You're A Star, Larvitar." It is 52 episodes long.
Even though there are 64 episodes that use the "Master Quest" opening, only the first 52 are part of Season Five; the remaining 12 episodes make up the first part of Season Six.
Season Six debuted on September 13th, 2003 with "Address Unown!" and concluded on September 13th, 2004 with "Watt's With Wattson." It is 52 episodes long.
The first 12 episodes conclude Ash's journey in the Johto Region and the remaining 40 begin his journey through Hoenn.
Season Seven debuted on September 11th, 2004 with "What You Seed is What You Get" and concluded on September 10th, 2005 with "Judgment Day!." It is 52 episodes long.
Season Eight debuted on September 17th, 2005 with "Clamperl of Wisdom" and concluded on July 8th, 2006 with "Pasta La Vista." It is 52 episodes long.
Advanced Battle is the only one of these transitional seasons to not change the opening theme to go along with the change in regions (this time, from Hoenn to the Kanto Battle Frontier) even though it would have made perfect sense to do so.
Once 4Kids lost the dubbing rights to Pokémon and the show started being handled in-house by The Pokémon Company International, the show started to actually follow the new opening = new season pattern that fans had been latching onto for years. The show's move to cable TV is probably to thank for this as cable TV is much more flexible with season lengths than a broadcast station like Kids' WB! would have been.
What about them?
The number one argument that fans use to prove that new opening = new season (other than "this is the way I've always thought of it and I ain't changin' for nobody") thing is really real is that the DVDs released by Viz Media in the U.S., which are officially licensed products, list the second half of the Indigo League as being a part of Season One. The photo above, provided by EverChanger, shows a clear "Season 1" stamp on the bottom left-hand corner of the boxset that includes Episodes 53-79. Case closed, right?
Well, no. The fact that VIz is an official source doesn't make it correct, and when you look at the rest of the release there are other careless errors throughout. Half of the screenshots they use for the back cover of their 2014 re-release of their first Indigo League set are from episodes ("The Punchy Pokémon" and "The Battling Eevee Brothers") that aren't even on the set. The DVD Menu for the fourth Indigo League disc ("Pokémon Fashion Flash" to "Ditto's Mysterious Mansion") bafflingly uses a pictures of Ash in his Hoenn clothes instead of his original series outfit. The closed captions on the DVDs consistently misspell Jessie's name as "Jessy."
In that context it's super easy to see how some poor intern could mistakenly copy / paste the "Season 1" logo from the DVD cover template and just call it a day.
The counter-argument to that, of course, is that if we can disregard Viz even though it's an official source then we can just as easily disregard all those official sources that go with the 52 episode rule. But look at that sentence again; official sources. Plural. Throughout the English dub's two decade history we've seen multiple press releases, TV commercials, official website listings, and non-American DVD releases that all go by the official, 52 episode seasons. Hell, even Viz's other Season One releases avoid labeling the various sagas as "seasons": the 2014 re-release of the second and third Indigo sets do not have the word "Season" on them anywhere. Neither does The Complete Collection. And neither the 2009 nor the 2015 release of the Orange Islands sets have "Season 2" anywhere on them at all. The Johto Journeys set doesn't have "Season 3" on it anywhere.
It is literally this single DVD box set from 2008 vs. an entire mountain of evidence.
Saying that the Viz DVD (singular) proves that new opening = new season is in any way official is like claiming that the one Trainer's Choice where Ash says that Arbok evolves into Seviper is proof that Ekans can evolve twice.
Getting the seasons "right" isn't just a matter of fans being overly pedantic over unimportant details or trying to show off that you're better than anyone. It's about not being caught off guard whenever The Pokémon Company International re-releases these old seasons in, well, the official way.
Just look at what happens whenever Season One is re-released, either on home video or on some streaming service. There is always, always, always a group who get upset because whatever they're looking at "cuts off after only 52 episodes." "Where's the rest of the season?" they ask. "Viz / Amazon / Netflix / whoever really needs to fix this ASAP."
But there's nothing here to fix. The show's first eight seasons are officially 52 episodes apiece, end of story. Is the new opening = new season idea easier for fans to remember? Sure. Does it make sense? Absolutely. But that's not how the show is bought and packaged by the powers that be. Refusing to understand that does not change this fact.
So spread the word! Let people know that this numbering system, which is not going anywhere anytime soon, by the way, is just the way things are. And who knows? Maybe one day the number of people who are genuinely frustrated when the DVD they just bought isn't "complete" will go down to zero.
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