In anticipation of the new season of Pokemon Master Journeys coming to Netflix this week, I’ve been revisiting Pokemon Journeys, Netflix’s first original season of the long-running Pokemon Anime. Journeys is a lot different from the 22 seasons of Pokemon that came before it. Ash and his companion, Goh, are essentially co-stars, whereas in the past Ash’s traveling companions have always been sidekicks. Journeys takes Ash and Goh all over the world to collect and train Pokemon instead of keeping them contained to one region. Because of this, Ash is able to revisit places from the past and reconnect with characters from throughout the entire series in a way he never has before. It’s a great place to jump in for new or lapsed fans of the anime series, especially if you’ve played Pokemon Sword & Shield.
Aside from those key differences, Pokemon Journeys is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Pokemon anime. Ash and Goh travel from region to region capturing Pokemon, solving mysteries, and having trainer battles. Instead of fighting his way through a series of gyms, Ash joins the World Coronation Series and tries to improve his rank by challenging trainers around the world, which more closely mirrors the Pokemon TCG league. It's a breezy watch that’ll fill any Pokemon fan with warm fuzzies, but it takes one sharp turn that I think everyone needs to be aware of. Hidden in the back half of the season is an episode unlike any other, and one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen in the Pokemon universe. Consider this your warning: Episode 26, Splash, Dash, and Smash for the Crown, is a real acid trip of a Pokemon episode, and I’ve got a lot of questions about how it came to be.
Part 3, Episode 26 is actually two episodes: Splash, Dash, and Smash for the Crown, and Slowking’s Crowning. After 1113 episodes, this is the first one to ever be broken up into two parts — which is just the start of this bizarre adventure. The episode begins with a confusing framing device. Team Rocket, bored in their secret hideout as they await orders from their boss, receive a mysterious delivery from a Pelipper. The delivery is something called a Secret Rocket Prize Master, which looks like a roboticized gashapon machine. James turns the crank and retrieves two pokeballs that contain Magikarp and Slowking. When they appear out of their pokeballs, James exclaims “GADZOOKS!” and launches himself at the fourth wall. He announces to the audience that this will be a double feature starring Magikarp and Slowking, and it starts right now.
The first segment, Splash, Dash, and Smash for the Crown, is based on the 2017 mobile game Pokemon: Magikarp Jump. Goh decides to enter the 10th Annual Magikarp High Jump Challenge with his recently captured Magikarp. The reigning champion, Kasukarp, is a famous bodybuilder, and all of his Pokemon, including Magikarp, have amazing, 12-pack abs. The only problem is that Goh’s Magikarp is a bit of a chubster, and the last kind you would expect to see in a high jump competition.
Ash, Goh, and Magikarp get to work training for the contest using all of the same workout methods from the mobile game. Near the end of the Rocky-esque training montage, there’s a shot of Ash and Goh with disturbingly ripped little bodies.
Magikarp enters the competition and wins every round until he reaches the final match against Kasukarp’s shiny Magikarp, Shinegoldie. Kasukarp reveals that he’s been holding back, but now he’s going to unleash Shinegoldie’s full potential against Goh. Goh, in turn, reveals that his Magikarp was wearing large, fin-shaped weights the whole time. A Pair of Machamps attempt to haul the weights away, but one of them throws out his back and is carried off in a stretcher.
When it’s time to jump, Goh’s Magikarp just sits there, gathering its energy. Finally, at the height of Shinegoldie’s jump, Goh’s Magikarp finally takes off. The Magikarp jumps so high that it leaves Earth’s atmosphere and begins to float away in space. Goh believes he has won, but the official rules reveal that the Magikarp has to come back down in order for its jump to count. Goh realizes that he’s lost the contest, and that’s the end of the episode.
Now shit gets really wild. Slowking’s Crowning starts with Ash and Goh on a trip to Slowpoke Island. As soon as Goh sees the Slowpokes, the show turns into a full-length music video for a Reggae-style Slowpoke song. The Slowpoke Song was first uploaded to the official Pokemon Youtube Channel in 2015. Watch at your own risk; I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week.
After the song, Ash sits down to eat a cup of noodles just as a Slowking appears. The Slowking approaches Ash and uses Psychic to swap Ash’s noodle cup with the Shellder on his head. When the Shellder lands on Ash’s head, his personality changes instantly. Suddenly, he has a genius-level intellect and speaks with a British accent.
Ashking, as he demands to be called, claims he is now a Slowpoke master. He holds up a Shelder and demands that Goh become a Slowbro, presumably, by letting it clamp onto his butt. Raboot kicks the shell off of Ash’s head, but it quickly lands on Goh’s head, turning him into Gohking. This begins a Three Stooges-style bit where each character takes a turn wearing the Shellder and ranting about Slowpoke supremacy in a posh British accent.
The shell lands on Pikachu’s head next, then Raboot’s, and then back on Ash’s and round and round until, eventually, Magikarp comes crashing back down to earth and somehow puts the Shellder back onto Slowking’s head.
Finally, we return to Team Rocket’s secret lair just as there’s another knock on the door. James runs to open the door and finds Kasukarp, who demands that James look at his abs. James slams the door shut, ending the weirdest episode of Pokemon ever created.
There’s plenty of silliness and meta-humor throughout the Pokemon series, but these two mini-episodes feel like they came from an alternate universe where Pokemon is written by Stephen Hillenburg or Pendleton Ward. It’s a version of Pokemon where anything can happen, and after 1000 episodes, it’s a welcome change of pace. The rest of Journeys plays it pretty straight by Pokemon standards, which makes this episode stand out even more. Part of me hopes there will be more episodes like this in the future, but if not, it’ll make Splash, Dash, and Smash for the Crown/Slowking’s Crowning all the more special…and bizarre.