The release of Pokemon X and Y was kind of a big deal. While the games themselves were admittedly kind of lackluster, they hit upon a new advertising method for the series- the power of nostalgia. New emphasis was placed on the older Pokemon and greater consideration was given to the franchise’s adult fans.
Naturally this new success was reflected in the show. The animation budget had stabilized enough by this point that the eye-catching visuals weren’t just reserved for big events, and the writing had improved to match the lore, with a running plotline that evolved beyond the basic and incorporated a few side specials along the way.
Once again, the travelling companions were scrapped and replaced with a new batch: Serena (Haven Paschall) is an old friend of Ash’s with a severe crush and fondness for contests, Clemont (Michael Liscio Jr.) is a young tech wiz obsessed with the power of science, and Bonnie (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) is Clemont’s little sister with substantially more common sense.
Only one of these characters is rounded or well-written at a given time, however, so take your pick.
But none of that matters, what matters is the hour and a half we’re going to spend with them before consequently judging the worth of the entire series on this single appearance.
Our featured guests this evening are the new Pokemon Diancie (Caitlyn Glass) and her legion of Carbinks, even though there is no connection between the two in the series proper. Keep in mind that although both species are officially stated to have levitation abilities, they move around through physically hopping, which is funnier than most of the intentional jokes they make in this series.
Diancie is first introduced playfully hiding from her attendants, which checks off like five boxes in Disney Princess bingo almost immediately. Her prophesied duty (it comes with the territory) is to learn to create a Heart Diamond, which has great ties to the Diamond Domain (whether Diamond Dogs are involved had yet to be seen) and of course she’s terrible at it because this seems to be the first she’s heard of it. One of the elders suggests that she seek the help of the Legendary Pokemon Xerneas, which once revived the entire forest area after a disaster, and the young fairy sets out.
Naturally, with such a major event going on there’s only one group of people qualified to help out:
The Mike Tyson Mystery Team Ash and his friends, who we first see engaging in battle with some of the “remarkable” new Pokemon and gushing over Mega Evolution even though they’ve presumably seen it several times by this point.
Wandering around the city, they find the princess being harassed by Marilyn (Lianne Marie Dobbs) and Riot (uncredited), two bounty hunters who look like bad cosplayers. A bit of redirection (hey, I never said they were good bounty hunters) is all it takes to overcome them, and the Jewel Pokemon explains her plight to her saviors.
Team Rocket, overhearing this, manages to steal Diancie away that night through a complicated plan involving throwing a sack over her and running away. Granted, she’s only too happy to make diamonds for them, after which they let her go because what’s the point if your victim can provide the ransom themself. Really the entire movie could consist of Diancie naively flitting in and out of these situations and I’d be satisfied.
Even though she seems to be doing well for herself the princess is rescued from the mill where she’s being held by a mysterious girl who subsequently disappears. It turns out that Diancie’s issue isn’t creating diamonds as much as it is maintaining them, so those who take advantage of her generosity run no risk of oversaturating the market as the product disappears shortly after. Having proven that Diancie cannot walk five feet without experiencing a kidnapping attempt and is kinda hopeless when you get down to it, our leads agree to help her find Xerneas.
Meanwhile, the mystery girl, introduced as Millis Steel (Brittney Lee Hamilton), meets up with her father Argus (Pete Zarustica) on their private airship as they monitor the activities of protagonists and villains alike. You know, like normal people do. Not suspicious at all.
Our protagonists take a bus to their next destination, because walking everywhere gets old after sixteen movies and nobody cares about seeing literal myths in public anymore. The resulting downtime allows them to overcome a plothole by explaining that Diancie can sense Xerneas’ presence through a trail known as the Fairy Aura.
That night the group goes camping (presumably there was some wacky misadventure involving their leaving the bus, preferably with a rousing chorus of “The Man on the Flying Trapeze”) and wishes on a shooting star that they’ll be able to help Diancie out. Given their previous experience with wish granting fairies you’d think they’d know better.
The heroes are next seen taking a boat ride to the city (this movie has more forms of transportation than a Ten Days game) even though the lack of turn-of-the-century Americana is a disappointment. At Bonnie’s urging Diancie makes a small diamond as a keepsake despite the princess’ insistence that it will only disappear.
These plot developments are ignored as we come across a mall so that the characters can go shopping.
These scenes demonstrate one of the greater strengths of the movie- the backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous. Most of the urban areas are filled with movement, and the designs are filled with little nods to remind the viewer that this is a society revolving around Pokemon. It’s something we’ve seen hints of in the previous films, but this is the first time that it’s ever fully realized.
Anyway, the early 2000s shopping montage is interrupted by the arrival of some Carbink, leading to one of the silliest chase sequences this side of a Buster Keaton flick, complete with an out-of-control stepladder ladder. They manage to escape from the mall, only to run into the bounty hunters again and consequently be saved by Millis.
The group meets up with the Carbink (why the hell did you run away in the first place then?) and heads to the Diamond Domain (why did you leave to begin with?) to discover that the Heart Diamond has died, robbing the kingdom of its power. Granted, it’s a kingdom of rock. Losing power really just means that the lights go out and we stumble around in the dark for a bit. Honestly this whole thing could have been avoided if the Carbink had just thought to invest in a generator.
The Aura leads the party through the kingdom into a nearby forest, known for nearly being demolished by the Destruction Pokemon Yveltal before being saved by Xerneas. Legend has it that the demon slumbers in a nearby cocoon, but for the moment we just find the deer, which is presumably thinking about what a good job it did that one time. Instead of being helpful, Xerneas only gives Diancie its aura and hightails it out of there, like any good neglectful parent would. As the initial goal has been met and Diancie now has the power to help its underlings, clearly nothing can go wrong.
For starters, it turns out that Millis and Argus are also evil, and were only waiting for Diancie to be blessed with the necessary power before going after it. A skirmish erupts between the three groups of bounty hunters, opening up an underground lake in a nearby crater. Naturally this turns out to be the Cocoon of Destruction and the increase in activity succeeds in waking Yveltal.
If there’s a downside to this movie, it’s certainly Yveltal. Granted it never got much buildup to begin with, but all it does upon its appearance is turn things into stone. It starts with the Pokemon (a much less daunting possibility when you remember that most of those present are literally rocks), gradually turning the situation into a game of hot potato as an enemy will pick up Diancie, have a chase scene, get their team frozen, and get their target stolen again.
Eventually; having lost their bounty, their Pokemon, and their dignity; Merilyn and Riot do the one thing that makes sense in this situation: they hook up. This only makes Yveltal angrier (presumably it has little patience for half-assed heterosexuality) and the two are promptly frozen. Millis and Argus attempt to put up a fight but meet the same fate, fortunately without the declaration of love.
Diancie decides it’s had enough of this after some time and attempts to shield itself with diamonds (the first person to make a Steven Universe joke gets banned). This goes about as well as you’d expect until she outright Mega Evolves out of nowhere. Turns out that the diamond she gave to Bonnie was her own Mega Stone, which is kinda overpowered now that I think about it but, you know. Girl power.
Having had enough of this, Xerneas shows up out of nowhere and decides to actually move the plot forward by purifying the darkness from Yveltal’s heart or whatever so it can be forgotten. I’m serious, it just flies off and nobody mentions it ever again. Maybe it got a part-time job at Kinko’s or something.
Everyone starts to breath a sigh of relief that they’re through with all of this, before Pikachu begins to calcify.
That’s right. Pikachu dies this time, and to be honest it’s more effective than any of the half-dozen or so times that Ash has seemingly bit it. This scene only lasts for a couple of minutes, but it’s heartbreaking. Everyone starts to grieve, and Xerneas just rolls its eyes and heals everything.
Before they can all start depending on this thing to solve all of its problems it turns into a tree. Just out of nowhere. True, it could have stayed around and become a mentor to Diancie or something, but that’s not its style. That sort of thing takes effort, and turning into a tree does not.
Bonnie gives the Mega Stone to Diancie as a token of their friendship (which is kind of a dumb move, it’s not like she’ll be able to use it), Diancie is able to create a new Master Emerald, and literally everyone in this movie who’s ever had a bad thought turns over a new leaf and goes clean.
After so many films featuring characters that are ridiculously easy to dislike coming across this one was a bit of a relief. It isn’t spectacular, but it was a pleasant surprise from the monotony that’s become commonplace across the franchise. The designs are beautiful, the plot is decent, the characters are good- it just works overall.
Look, watching a ton of Pokemon movies is surprisingly emotionally draining and I cannot express my relief that we’ve only got one more of these goddamn things left to cover. But Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction provides a brief respite from that. I’d say it’s a hidden gem, but then I’m pretty sure my editors would literally kill me.