The Space Debris
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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Pocket Monsters XY The Space Debris
The Pocket Monsters planetarium shows have been a thing for years and years and yet next to nothing is known about any of them. The fact that they're released during a very short window of time in Japan before disappearing forever, never to see a home video release, combined with how the few people who actually do see these things aren't running to the Internet to document what they saw makes it very difficult for even Japanese fans to find out anything about these, much less the rest of the world.
Let's put an end to that, shall we? I recently had the chance to see the newest planetarium show, Pocket Monsters XY The Space Debris - over at the Konica Minolta Planetarium "Manten" in Sunshine City here in Tokyo and would like to share with you what it's like to watch a Pocket Monsters planetarium show.
The show took place at the Konica Minolta Planetarium "Manten" in Sunshine City. It's about a ten minute walk from Ikebukuro Station on the Yamanote train line. After buying my ticket for the 3:00pm show (there was no way I was going to get up early enough on a Sunday morning to be able to get tickets to the 10:00 show) I killed a few hours in the shopping center. I live fairly close by but had never really explored Sunshine City all that much so having the time to just walk around was great.
As I walked around the complex I noticed something rather troubling; there is absolutely no advertising for this special anywhere. Other programs being shown at the planetarium had these big posters hung up in high traffic areas and yet advertisements for the Pocket Monsters show were conspicuously absent. If you didn't come to the area specifically to see this special then there's almost no way you would have known it even existed.
The image to the left is a flyer advertising the various shows they have going on at the planetarium. See how Pocket Monsters is just kind of shoved down there in the corner, barely getting a mention at all? The image on the right is part of a much larger poster on the ground floor but is located in such an out-of-the-way spot that there's now way a random passerby would see it.
Another troubling issue I noticed was the scheduling. Take a look:
You should hopefully see something's not right here even if you don't read Japanese. Pocket Monsters XY The Space Debris (ポケットモンスターXY 宇宙の破片) is only shown two times during the day - once at 10:00am and another time at 3:00pm. That's it. One Planet the Earth, on the other hand, is shown four times a day. That ALMA show is up there three times. The schedule looks like this every single day so it's not like this is a one-off thing.
So, there's a lack of advertisement and it's barely on the schedule. That's...not what I expected out of something with as much of a draw as Pocket Monsters.
I was told that we would be allowed to start waiting to be let in up to 45 minutes before the show started and that the doors would be opened ten minutes before showtime. There were no assigned seats. I arrived maybe 20 minutes early and was immediately led to the waiting area where maybe...50-ish? people were waiting. As you'd expect, it was pretty much all just parents with their kids. A TV behind where the staff member was standing played the trailer for the special. Before long, the doors were opened and we were allowed inside.
So the show is billed as having a 40 minute runtime but a good portion of that is used for advertisements and a ten-minute lecture called "Summer Sky - A Guide to the Summer Constellations" (Summer Sky 夏の星座案内). Think of it like the Pikachu short that airs before the main feature during a Pocket Monsters movie, only this has absolutely nothing to do with Pocket Monsters.
This ten minute lecture teaches the audience about various constellations in the summer sky. We learned about the Summer Triangle and the three stars that make it up - Altair, Deneb, and Vega - as well as the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. The short is narrated by Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾). It's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see at a planetarium: looking up at the stars while a voice directs you to look at various constellations around the dome.
Once the planetarium-y part of the program was over, Pocket Monsters XY The Space Debris begins.
"We've finally arrived at PAXA!," Citron announces. Satoshi, Pikachu, Serena, Citron, Eureka, and Dedenne all look up at the building in front of them. "That's great!" replies Satoshi. "So...what is PAXA, anyway?" Everyone does one of those "fall over because someone just said something stupid" things before Citron begins his explanation. PAXA stands for the "Pokémon Aerospace eXploration Agency" and it is an organization that conducts research and development related to outer space on a daily basis. They even have a rocket launch pad! Before long the doors to the center open and a lady astronaut (宇宙飛行士のおねえさん), who is literally only ever referred to as "lady" (おねえさん) throughout this whole special, greets our heroes.
The logo for the special appears on the dome before the opening theme V (Volt) plays. The animation used is the exact same animation used in the TV series only without any credits or lyrics on-screen. Kind of weird that they'd use V (Volt) when that's not the opening theme anymore but whatever.
Next, we see the Rocket trio crawling through air ducts elsewhere in the facility. Their plan is to take control of the space center because it has a rocket and they're the Rocket-Dan and how could they not try to steal it? The trio finally reaches the grate overlooking the control room and announces that they're about to debut their brand new secret weapon. They produce a box that ends up being...just a regular ol' rope! Musashi and Kojirou tie it around Nyarth's waist and tell him that they'll lower him into the room and have him input the password needed to override the system. Kojirou prepares to lower him down slowly...slowly...until suddenly a Bachuru drops down and startles him! Kojirou jumps up and lets go of the rope, sending Nyarth falling straight to the bottom! The rope stops him right before he hits the floor.
Elsewhere, Satoshi and the others are led to a room where the lady astronaut tells them about the wonders of space. As she does this, real photos taken from space are shown on-screen. She explains how there are even Pokémon in space and points to Deoxys as being one such Pokémon.
The lady then launches into a long explanation of space debris, garbage that has entered the earth's orbit. A pie chart is shown on-screen showing the various kinds of garbage that makes up the space debris. Next, a bar graph depicting the average size of the space debris is shown. Some are bigger than 10 cm - which is about the size of a Monster Ball, she tells us - but most of it is actually less than 1 cm big. Next she explains the speed that most of it travels around the earth. Most of it burns up when it enters the earth's atmosphere but some of it doesn't, like certain fuel tanks, and if any of that space debris happens to hit someone down on our planet then it's bad news for them.
Also, at some point during all this both Serena and Eureka imagine themselves wearing astronaut outfits.
This exposition scene is broken up at various points by the Rocket-Dan. During one segment, Nyarth tells Musashi and Kojirou that he doesn't know the password and asks Musashi what it is. She doesn't know either so she asks Kojirou. As expected, he doesn't know either, prompting him to scold Musashi for sending Nyarth down without the proper information. During another segment, Musashi announces that she's figured it out! The password is 634 526. When Nyarth asks what that is, she reveals that it's MU-SA-SHI KO-JI-RO.
(This is a common type of Japanese wordplay known as goroawase (語呂合わせ) where phonetic values are substituted with numbers based on the numerous ways each number can be pronounced in Japanese. More information can be found here).
Nyarth tries this password and, of course, it doesn't work. In fact, all it does is set off an alarm telling everyone that intruders have entered the building! Nyarth is pulled back up into the air ducts and the Rocket trio try to make their way back to the ext. Their frantic crawling causes the air ducts to come loose, however, causing it to fall apart and dump them into the same room that Satoshi and the others are in! Our heroes shout out "Rocket-Dan!" and the trio launches into their motto. The footage used is the same motto footage they use in just about every episode of XY.
Nyarth leaps forward to battle Pikachu but Pikachu jumps out of the way. The lady astronaut warns everyone not to damage the equipment, prompting Satoshi to ask the Rocket trio if they can take the battle outside. Nyarth doesn't care about any of that and jumps forward to resume his attack. Pikachu jumps out of the way again, sending Nyarth crashing into one of the control panels. This causes the machinery operating a space satellite above to malfunction and sends it on a collision course with a piece of space debris! The Rocket-Dan, seeing how much they've messed everything up, quickly tiptoes out of the room while nobody's watching.
The lady astronaut tells them that they need to send a great amount of electricity to the machine to bring it back online. Citron steps forward and uses one of his inventions to connect Pikachu to the device so it can start sending electricity its way. After a while they discover that Pikachu's power isn't enough by itself and so Dedenne is asked to help. The two Pokémon are now strong enough to be able to bring the machine online just as it's about to collide with the other space station. Whew! The two narrowly miss!
Now that the crisis is over, the lady astronaut puts on a space suit and prepares to go up in the rocket. Satoshi and his friends watch the launch excitedly. Up above, the Rocket trio are riding in their big Nyarth balloon, ready to make another attempt at infiltrating the PAXA Center. They hear a rumbling down below and see that the rocket has just launched! The space rocket shoots up through the air and bumps the Rocket-Dan's balloon off into the distance. Ya na kanji~!
Our heroes watch until the rocket fades off into the distance before getting back on the road to their next destination.
The ending theme, X Strait Y Scenery, plays as the end credits roll elsewhere on the screen. Again, it's not the current ending theme, but maybe this had to be completed a long time ago due to various technical reasons and so they could only use what they had at the time?
The visuals are presumably the biggest draw here. They were also the biggest distraction.
This was obviously a show done on a budget. One hundred percent of the backgrounds in this special are done with CG, and it's not particularly high budget CG, either. Like, the old show Reboot from 20 years ago had better looking backgrounds than this. The textures are boring and it looks like the minimum amount of effort was put into creating the various objects.
The overuse of CG, if I had to guess, is mostly done because of the venue. The animation's being projected on a massive dome, not a flat monitor like everything else in this franchise, and so everything looks like it was shot through a fisheye lens to try to fill out as much of the dome as possible. This maybe looks alright if you're directly in the very middle of the auditorium looking up, but if you're anywhere like where I was seated - off to the side a little bit - everything looks stretched out like it's made out of rubber.
The 2D stuff is alright save for a few sequences that are hilariously jerky and awkward looking. The big thing with the hand drawn stuff, however, is how badly it stands out against the CG backgrounds. Ever want to see what a Pokémon feature looks like if it was made to looks like the Paper Mario series, minus the charm and care that goes into creating them? Well have I got the show for you! The 2D animation looks so flat, and it's something that never stopped bothering me throughout the entire show.
Another thing - the recycled footage. The four times the program recycled footage from the TV series - the opening theme V (Volt), the Rocket-Dan's motto, a random shot of Citron's invention (which I've can't for the life of me figure out which episode it was taken from), and the ending theme X Strait Y Scenery - said footage was projected on a tiny portion of the screen while a very Windows 95-esque star screensaver background filled out the rest of the dome. This is obviously because the TV footage wasn't designed for the planetarium's large dome surface but the fact that there's any difference at all makes it extremely obvious whenever it is done. It's like watching a movie that keeps switching back and forth between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios; you can't not notice it.
I know the idea of putting this show up in a planetarium (well, other than to make money, obviously) is to be able to use the unique screen space to give viewers an experience they can't get anywhere else but honestly it feels like the venue creates more problems than anything else. There was never any point throughout the special where I felt like watching this in a planetarium made it more enjoyable.
Moving on from the visuals, the special is fine voice-acting wise. All of the cast from the TV series returns minus the narrator (seriously, he's not in this at all!) and Sonansu (also MIA) and they're all up to their usual level of performance. The new astronaut lady is voiced by Chinatsu Akasaki (赤崎千夏) and she does an alright job but doesn't really deliver a knockout performance or anything.
The music used in the special is the same background music from the XY TV series. There's also that one track from the Arceus movie soundtrack they like to keep whipping out every so often (Track 18 on the official soundtrack, "Keep Going, Notch-Eared Pichu!"). The music fit appropriately and served its purposes quite well.
The special was produced in part by the Japan Spaceguard Association and so all the real world science and the "space debris is a serious problem!" chants take preference to silly little things like "plot" or "character interactions." I think the space debris thing is interesting and actually did learn some neat information out of this thing but I'm also an adult. What about all the six year olds in the audience? Did they enjoy being bombarded by pie charts and statistics dealing with a problem that is so far beyond their scope of understanding? Are elementary school children really the audience you want to be targeting with this kind of information in the first place?
Do they think kids are actually going to leave the planetarium saying "wow, we've got to solve this space debris problem right away!" Or are they more likely to say "that was boring, there were only like three Pokémon and almost no battling!"
Whenever I go to see one of the movies in theaters here you often hear kids calling out the names of the Pokémon that appear on-screen. "It's Pikachu!" "It's Mijumaru!" "Nymphia!" And then when the movie's over the kids are talking on and on about the movie as they walk out the theater. "Wow, that part was so cool!" "He went "zoom!" and then he went "ka-pow!" and it was awesome!!" But...none of that happened here. Maybe the set-up of the room made it difficult for me to tell but I couldn't hear any of the kids laughing or otherwise enjoying the special. Maybe they did and I just couldn't hear it. Or, maybe the kids were just bored with it.
And maybe the planetarium was right to not expend too much on advertising this thing?
Pocket Monsters XY The Space Debris is more interesting than it is entertaining. I know that fans all over the world would like it if they got every piece of animation produced in Japan translated and brought over to their shores but believe me when I say that not getting this planetarium special isn't a huge loss. If you just happen to be in Japan for whatever reason during the summer of 2014 then by all means go see it just for the experience of it. But I wouldn't lose any sleep over it if you can't.
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