We don’t know much about the show (the project hasn’t even been confirmed by Netflix as of the time of this writing), but this early report suggests that the decision to go with a live-action adaptation as opposed to the more traditional animated adaptation can be partially attributed to Detective Pikachu‘s success. It’s early days yet concerning this entire project, but it’s certainly easy to imagine this adaptation following in Detective Pikachu‘s footsteps so far as style and storytelling go.
While that may be the most likely (and potentially lucrative) approach, it’s hard not to wonder if this is the perfect opportunity for someone to really dive into the darker side of the Pokémon universe.
Hey, I hear you. The idea of a “dark” live-action Pokémon series probably sounds like a joke. Actually, the entire idea of a gritty live-action reboot/adaptation of a property previously intended for younger audiences has become something of a meme over the years. We’ve all seen that idea go very wrong in the past.
The funny thing about Pokémon, though, is that the darkness of the series has always been there. After all, we’re talking about a video game where a small army of trainers capture wild animals and have them battle each other for their own amusement as well as a chance at fame and fortune. Even Detective Pikachu sometimes played with the darker elements of that core concept, though that movie obviously ended up going in a different direction.
Beyond what social commentary you can extract from what was probably honestly intended to be a largely wholesome premise, it’s very much worth noting that there have been many times throughout the history of the Pokémon franchise when this series has embraced darker storylines that have left many to suspect that the franchise’s writers are harboring something sinister just waiting to burst free.
Maybe you’ve heard that every Cubone wears the skull of its dead mother, but did you know that the Pokémon Drifloon carries away children who mistake it for a balloon? Did you know that Gourgeist’s Pokédex entry notes that it “sings joyfully as it observes the suffering of its prey?” Did you know that Yamasks wear the faces of the humans that they once were? Have you ever dared read the creepy history of Lavender Town’s ghoulish urban legends?
Early discussions of Pokémon‘s darker elements can certainly be traced back to overenthusiastic fans trying to turn one of the most outwardly wholesome games in the world into something a bit edgier, but as the series has evolved, its developers and writers have done more to further those conversations than anyone else. This isn’t fan fiction; it’s a part of the Pokémon canon that just doesn’t get to see the light of day that often.
More importantly, calls for a “darker” Pokémon storyline have been growing a little louder for years now. In fact, the popular Pokémon fan game Pokémonn Uranium was widely praised for its more mature storyline which revolved around the fallout of a nuclear disaster as well as how we attempt to process grief for both personal and global events. When I recently spoke to Uranium co-creator Involuntary Twitch, she mentioned that part of her motivation to tell such a story was based on her desire to see a Pokémon story that wasn’t necessarily darker but rather offered something deeper.
“I have been saying my entire life that Pokémon can, and probably should, do a little bit better with its stories than, ‘Oh no, an evil team is attacking, and now they’ve been beaten by a ten-year-old,’” said Involuntary Twitch. “I don’t think Pokémon needs to tell this grand, epic story with all these plot twists and betrayals and darker themes, even though you could argue that this game is substantially darker than a main series Pokémon game, but I think that what makes a good story is the feeling that your actions actually matter and that the things you do are instrumental to the outcome of the plot.”
Maybe that’s the bigger point here. Do I want the Netflix Pokémon series to be a Brandon Cronenberg-directed epic where the body horror genre is used to explore the twisted origins and casual manipulation of Pokémon everywhere? Yes…yes, I do. That would be amazing. Realistically, though, this series has the chance to simply touch upon the more twisted side of Pokémon to tell a story that still captures the magic of this franchise while acknowledging that many fans are ready for something different, deeper, and yes, maybe just a little darker.
In all likelihood, nobody is going to derail this potential gravy train by telling Pokémon ghost stories or taking an extended trip to the darker side of the Pokémon universe. However, that doesn’t mean that a live-action Pokémon series doesn’t have the chance to offer something so much more interesting than more of the same.