Pokemon Horizons Episodes 1-4 review: An enthralling refresh

Nathan Ellingsworth
The young girl Liko looks at her Pokemon, Sprigatito

Pokemon Horizon: The Series is the much-anticipated new chapter of the Pokemon anime, and the first story without beloved Ash Ketchum. However, great character work, beautiful animation, and the potential for new stories promise an engaging new tale.

For a series so focused on evolution and generation, there was always one element of the Pokemon franchise that stayed steadfast, almost frozen in time. Seen as a constant cultural touchstone for fans of the games and cards alike: it was beloved protagonist Ash Ketchum.

Well, nobody can stop the march of time, and we live in a world where Avatar 2 is a real movie that finally exists, so it’s certainly interesting as a Pokemon fan to finally be able to see Ash’s adventures come to a natural conclusion. It’s time for a brand new story after 25 years with Ash, Brock, Misty, and more.

The new series is called Pokemon Horizons: The Series (called Pokemon Horizons from here on out), and while it’s been available in Japan for a while, this month finally sees the show debut in the West as UK fans can watch the anime on BBC iPlayer.

Recently we got the chance to watch the first four episodes, and while it’s tough to make a call on where the series will go and if any current issues will be addressed, we came away impressed. A fresh batch of characters, Pokemon, and an invigorated injection of passion are clearly working wonders.

As noted, this review is of the first four episodes of Pokemon Horizons, and we are going to talk about story elements from all four episodes. Be warned, spoilers ahead!

A battle with confidence

In the opening moments of Pokemon Horizons, we’re introduced to the new protagonist Liko. A young girl from Kanto, Liko is on her way to Indigo Academy to learn all about Pokemon, and get experience in Pokemon battles.

One great thing immediately is that Liko is unlike any previous Pokemon protagonist. She’s smart and passionate, but she’s also incredibly shy, and we see her battling an internal monologue as she desperately tries to connect with people around her.

Liko is voiced by Alejandra Reynoso, and a stellar performance imbues the young character with a sense of quiet confidence, often betrayed by doubt. Soon enough Liko enrolls in Indigo Academy, and is introduced to her Pokemon Sprigatito the adorable grass-type cat from Paldea.

After their first introduction, Liko and Sprigatito struggle to bond initially, a dynamic could easily tread familiar ground. Luckily Sprigatito is a scene-stealing delight, and fantastic work from both the animation and VO (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure alumni Kira Buckland voices Sprigatito) bring ‘Tito to life.

What makes this dynamic work is that Liko and Sprigatito compliment each other perfectly. The grass-type Pokemon simply acts like a cat, hilariously aloof, and constantly on their own mission, only occasionally deeming Liko as acceptable company.

As the two characters connect, they bring out the good in each other, and Liko’s continued efforts to care for Sprigatito are rewarded, as the foliage-based feline also helps remind Liko to be confident, speak her mind, and ultimately do things for herself.

Liko holds up Sprigatito during sunset, with a ahppy look on her face

Team Rocket has blasted off forever

It wouldn’t be much of a story without conflict, and pretty quickly into the first few episodes Liko is being hassled by strangers. for a particularly interesting family heirloom. While most of the details are a mystery, a flashback reveals that Liko’s grandmother left her a mysterious pendant.

While her classmates head home to enjoy a school break, Liko stays behind at the Indigo Academy, only for several nefarious strangers known as the Explorers, led by the quietly terrifying Amethio, to start following her in the hopes of nabbing this strange bit of jewellery.

Once confronted, the eccentric new character Friede swoops in on a Charizard to save the day. The first part of this series is pretty light on Pokemon battles, but it’s worth mentioning that the few glimpses we get are absolutely gorgeous.

Obviously, we’re 25 years and change away from the original Pokemon anime, but it really is amazing to see just how dynamic and entertaining Pokemon battles are nowadays. An early battle sees Friede and his Charizard confront Amethio and their Ceruledge, and the fiery match doesn’t disappoint.

Alongside a few other battles in later episodes, including Sprigatito showing off blasts of botanical power, both the direction and the detail showcased makes battles a thrill to watch.

Whether it’s the sense of power behind a blasted beam or the stunning details of leaves wrapping around a Pokemon, it’s clear that a lot of attention has been paid in how battles look, and I’m really excited to see how much more visually interesting they get.

Leaving on an airship

While Pokemon Horizons focuses on Liko, and eventually the other protagonist Roy, if you’ve looked at promotional materials you may have spotted a new addition in the form of a floating airship and its crew, known as the Rising Volt Tacklers.

The aforementioned Friede is a member of a friendly crew aboard this floating ship with his companion, the fantastic (and scene-stealing) Captain Pikachu: alongside these two is surly chef Murdock, the quiet but caring Mollie, spirited mechanic Orla, and the senior fishing fan called Ludlow.

It’s an interesting crew, but Liko is picked up fairly abruptly by Friede and taken aboard the airship, and it’s a little overwhelming meeting both an established group of characters, and meeting so many at once.

One great strength of the original Pokemon anime was that each character was slowly introduced, and people like Brock had a whole story arc before they officially joined the crew. If this is the gang we’re adventuring with from now on, I hope we get more chances to know and like them all.

The character Friede is visible with Captain Pikachu on their shoulder

With a Liko bit of luck

This brings us to another minor complaint, as Liko’s swift introduction to the Rising Volt Tacklers is played for laughs, with characters like Mollie chastising Friede for not properly informing Liko of their mission, but it also makes the early episodes feel as if they’re in a rush to kickstart the adventure.

It feels almost jarringly quick before Liko is a full-fledged member of the Rising Volt Tacklers, and whisked away from her school and friends. Plus, she seems to have very little choice in the matter.

I was really impressed with the early characterization of Liko, especially the importance of her relationship with Sprigatito, but she becomes something of a bystander to the events of the story as other characters act around her. Hopefully, she gets more agency moving forward.

Thankfully this is a minor complaint, as soon she meets the young adventurer Roy, and Liko gets another chance to show why she’s a deserving protagonist. It’s clear that Liko isn’t the obnoxious optimist that Ash was early on, instead, she’s an intelligent and caring young girl, whose biggest flaw is her self-confidence.

Everybody loves Roy

After a few episodes, Liko finally meets Roy, a young boy stuck on an island, who dreams of a grand Pokemon adventure. Voiced by Anjali Kunapaneni, Roy is an endearingly hopeful character that showcases a deft touch with the Pokemon world.

One of the Rising Volt Tackler’s many ship-mates is the Pokemon Fuecoco, and one morning the fiery croc is singing to itself, only to be abruptly interrupted, and flees from embarrassment.

Finding itself deep in a nearby jungle, Fuecoco meets Roy, who works hard to make Fuecoco feel comfortable. In a nice display of character, Roy often uses stones to create sounds in the Jungle, and after Fuecoco eats some nearby Pokemon’s food, Roy uses this clever technique to save the pair.

Soon after the two meet, it becomes clear that Liko and Roy’s dynamic is the heart of the show. Alongside the adorable Sprigatito and their perfectly portrayed cat-like attitude, and the wacky Fuecoco and its suspect singing, the core group is a joy to spend time with.

Meanwhile, while Liko has a mysterious pendant that is sure to drive the plot forward, Roy also holds an ancient Poke Ball, and both feel like fun plot devices in their own right. Hopefully, the story of both McGuffins is given enough material to intrigue and impress in equal measure.

A whole new world

Minor story quibbles aside, the first four episodes are a fantastic way to kick off a grand new adventure, even if they do feel a touch rushed. We’ll have to wait and see whether Liko gets more chances to actually steer the story, but for now she’s a charming new hero with a different mission.

One element that does not disappoint is the visual style, as while early episodes jump from many different locations, each is given a gorgeous coat of paint and a sense of variety that brings the Pokemon world to life.

Whether it’s the soft tones of a sunset or the brewing clouds of a brutal storm, the environment and backgrounds in Pokemon Horizons are stunning, and this new adventure is working overtime to deliver some beautiful moments in every episode.

Alongside the impressive battle animations, and the detail added to imbue Pokemon like Sprigatito with an overwhelming amount of charm, it’s really impressive just how captivating the new world of Pokemon Horizons is already.

Pokemon Horizons review score: 4/5

A clean slate full of promise, Pokemon Horizons is a charming refresh that quickly introduces viewers to an endearing new cast of characters, and some interesting mysteries for our new heroes to solve.

It’s clear that so much love and attention is being poured into the series, and great animation and vocal performances allow new characters like Liko, Roy, and their Pokemon to make a fantastic early impression.

While we’re yet to learn more about either our protagonist’s motivations, or the crew members along for the ride, there’s so much to love already from Pokemon Horizons, and it helps that each episode is filled with fantastic fine-detailed animation and a wide variety of gorgeous environments and effects.

It’s still early days, but a fresh cast of characters and regions to explore allows Pokemon Horizons to populate its world with some excellent personalities, adorable new Pokemon, and refreshingly different mysteries. Liko is a fantastic anchor for a new generation of Pokemon fans, and Horizons presents a whole host of engaging and enthralling new reasons to love the Pokemon world.

Pokemon Horizons Episodes 1-6 are available on BBC iPlayer now, and the series arrives on Netflix in the US in February 2024.

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