Pokemon Horizons preview - A worthy successor to Ash & Pikachu
Following 26 years of anime series and movies, Ash Ketchum and his loyal Pikachu are entertainment icons who were always going to be tall order to replace. So when a new set of protagonists were revealed for Pokemon Horizons: The Series back in March 2023, it was easy to be sceptical.
However, after just seeing the first four episodes of the show's English dub, I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised in more ways than one. As far as first impressions go, Pokemon Horizons: The Series tells of a bright future ahead for the anime franchise to the viewing pleasure of Pocket Monster fans old and new.
Twists and turns on the horizon
Rather than just sending off another 10-year-old into the wilderness with his partner Pokemon like the mainline protagonist that came before, Horizons spices things up with an all-new plot and the way the show goes about it.
Enter, Liko - a young girl from the Scarlet & Violet games' Paldea region starting at Kanto's Indigo Academy to learn more about becoming a Pokemon trainer. Soon after partnering with her new Grass Cat Pokemon, Sprigatito, events see Liko needing to adventure out with the Rising Volt Tacklers, led by Friede and his Captain Pikachu on their airship.
Together, they head off to learn the mysteries of the Pokemon world as well as those surrounding them. Liko is later joined by a second protagonist, Roy, and there's also the rest of the lively Volt Tacklers crew and a shady group called The Explorers - who, for some reason, are after Liko and the pendant given to her by her grandmother.
The unexpected appeal of Pokemon Horizons is how it seems to strike that fine balance between old and new for different audiences. Does it still have that family-friendly tone that can sell to young viewers the grandiose allure of a Pokemon adventure? Absolutely.
On the other side, though, there's a remix of the classic Pokemon adventure with not only a more serialised overarching plot, but with some mature elements mixed in as well to engage those who've seen plenty of what's come before.
A super-effective cast
Whether it's a mainline series or a spin-off, a Pokemon anime would never hit the mark without likeable characters who get you to care about them. Fortunately, those in Horizons do just that, both in their writing and their performances.
As the character we get to see the most in the first four episodes, Liko is an immediately charming and relatable protagonist - delivered wonderfully with a light and bubbly performance by Alejandra Reynoso (known previously as Sypha in Castlevania). Not only does she carry a sense of wonder for the world of Pokemon as you’d expect, but also real-world issues those of her age often feel - like feeling anxious towards trying to make conversation with fellow students, or overthinking a social faux paus.
Sure, Liko’s frequent narration in these early episodes can feel like exposition dumps with over-explanations, but given the young ages this show is aimed towards - with some no doubt having this as their Pokemon anime introduction - these can be forgiven when considering the new elements veteran trainers can still get out of the show.
Sprigatito is an adorably great choice as the protagonist's partner Pokemon. It's already the arguable fan favourite among the Paldean starters as the “cute cat Pokemon”, so having the grassy feline front and centre makes way for plenty of heart-tugging and comedic moments.
Oh Captain, my Captain Pikachu
Pokemon purists have no need to worry, as Horizons still has plenty of Pikachu in the form of Friede's Captain Pikachu. Friede and his own electric mouse offer far more than just being insurance for those who miss Ash, Pikachu, and Charizard - which Friede also has, because of course.
Both a little more cocky and an effective leader duo of the group, Friede and Captain Pikachu add an assertive energy to the dynamic, but also serve as a means to showcase Horizon's high-quality animation in fluid and engaging battles against The Explorers' leader, Amethio - which are far more visually stunning and well-choreographed for a more exciting presentation when compared to those from past Pokemon seasons.
As an anime fan who always sticks by a series' original Japanese version with few exceptions, I would without a doubt come back to the English dub of Pokemon Horizons just for the energy that those like voice-acting heavyweight Crispin Freeman and other cast members have given to their roles.
As refreshing as the premise and its performances feel, Horizons also seems to have thankfully not forgotten the most important part of a Pokemon anime to tie it all together: it's just fun to watch.
That's because overall, this large cast of zany characters are simply delightful to see interact with one another through their wholesome comedy and comradery, watching their personalities shine alongside their Pokemon.
Whether it's Roy and Fuecoco casually singing together to lift each other's spirits, the chef Murdock adoring his beloved Rockruff, or watching old man Ludlow catching Magikarp off the side of the ship - what we've seen of Horizons so far still tells of a grander tale altogether, but with the daily lives of the crew at the centre.
Even Onia of The Explorers, in contrast to the calm and collected Amethio as their leader, ended up owning some of the early episodes' funniest moments by doting over Sprigatito. It's a tough manoeuvre to bounce between humour and drama like that, but Horizons does so for the betterment of pleasing all ages.
Although it may be too early to proclaim "classic One Piece vibes", the signs so far are looking good nevertheless.
How good is Pokemon Horizons so far?
In the early chapters I've seen, Horizons looks like it's just what we need from the next Pokemon series as we move away from the Ash Ketchum era.
Instead of repeating the overdone formula, the new anime manages to tick all major boxes by offering something new in a more serialised story whilst still capturing the Pokemon world's 27-year-old sense of wonder - made even better by a great English voice cast with performers like Alejandra Reynoso and Crispin Freeman at the top of their game.
Altogether, Horizons is brimming with fun, action, and plenty of heart. If you're new to Pokemon, you'll love it. If you're a Pokemon veteran like me, you might love it even more.
The English dub of Pokemon Horizons: The Series will be launching this December on BBC iPlayer and CBBC in the UK.