Fans in Japan have very different reaction to famous Pokémon’s first intelligible dialogue.

I’m really glad that the latest Pokémon movie, subtitled I Choose You!, has finally made its way to theaters in the English-speaking world. Not just because, as an anime fan who grew up in the pre-simulcast era, I know how agonizing the wait to watch stuff that’s already out in Japan can be, but because there’s a scene in I Choose You! that I’ve been wanting to talk about since its Japanese release in July, but didn’t want to spoil for overseas audiences.

As foreign Pokémon fans have now heard, or seen for themselves, there’s a scene in I Choose You! where franchise mascot Pikachu speaks. And no, not in the way that most Pokémon speak by saying their names with various inflections; Pikachu actually has an intelligible-to-humans line of dialogue, as shown in this clip shared by Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick.

In the midst of a dramatic battle against hostile Pocket Monsters, protagonist Ash is trying in vain to get Pikachu to take refuge inside his Poké Ball, prompting the following exchange:

Ash: “Pikachu, why won’t you get in your Poké Ball?”
Pikachu: “It’s because…it’s because…I always want to be with you.”

After 20 years of hearing nothing but variations of “pika” and “Pikachu” come out of Pikachu’s mouth, it’s startling to hear the beloved electric-type form a standard sentence, even though it’s heavily implied that the dialogue might simply be Ash’s interpretation, while under severe physical and mental stress, of Pikachu’s sentiments.

In the English-speaking world, many fans have dubbed the scene “weird,” or, as appears numerous times in the tweet thread shown above, “fucking weird.” Other comments included:

“If Pikachu speaks to me I will murder him in front of God and anyone.”
“It’s supposed to be all emotional, but everyone just sorta gets caught off guard.”
“Yeah, it’s hilarious.”
“Worst part of the movie right there.”
“This is terrifying.”
“Actually traumatized.”
“I can’t find one good thing about this scene.”

But on the other hand, when I Choose You! played in Japanese theaters, online reactions almost unanimously praised the scene where Pikachu speaks as the emotional high point of the entire film. At the screening I attended, there were no shouts of “What the fuck?” like in the above video, just gasps followed by gentle sobbing from an audience touched by the first direct statement from a character they’ve loved for 20 years.

▼ English trailer for Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!

There are a couple of factors at play here. First, on average, Japanese movie-goers tend to be much less cynical than their American counterparts. A common local advertising tagline for emotionally charged movies from the U.S. is “Zenbei ga naita,” meaning “All of America cried (at this film).” Faced with an either/or situation, Japanese media consumers will almost always let genuine catharsis wash over them as opposed to taking the chance to fire off a snarky zinger.

In addition, the Japanese version of Pikachu’s speaking scene has a a bit of an advantage over the English dub. For the past 20 years, Pikachu has been voiced by Japanese voice actress Ikue Otani in both the Japanese and English versions of the anime, and when Pikachu speaks actual Japanese dialogue in the Japanese release of I Choose You!, it’s with Otani’s voice. However, the line had to be dubbed over in English for the English version of I Choose You!. Voice actress Kate Bristol’s friendly, high-pitched delivery is a pretty good approximation of Otani’s performance, but it’s still a different voice from the one English-speaking fans have been hearing from Pikachu over the past two decades, and you could make the argument that the aural shift makes it feel a little like Ash is delusional, as opposed to hearing a message that’s coming straight from Pikachu’s heart.

But hey, just be happy the producers didn’t go with Detective Pikachu’s deep, manly voice.

Source: The Guardian via Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/The Official Pokémon YouTube Channel

Follow Casey on Twitter, where his deeply cynical nature and love of life in Japan often battle for control of his soul.