*NOTE: Turns out some of the information I have in this post is inaccurate. Check the comments below for the correct information!
Shudou Takeshi, anime writer, has passed away at age 61. To fans of magical girl anime, he may be best known as the writer for Fairy Princess Minky Momo, and giant robot fans may associate him with his work on series such as Sengoku Majin Goshogun, but as for me and for millions of others all over the world, our first true exposure to Shudou was through his work on the Pokemon anime. Pokemon is undoubtedly one of the most successful anime series of all time, having penetrated popular culture down to its core along with the games on which it’s based, and while a good portion of its success can no doubt be contributed to effective marketing, underneath it all you will find a surprisingly engrossing story that can attract people of all ages, particularly in the beginning. It is Shudou’s work on those early seasons of Pokemon that helped to give it so much character and memorability.
Pokemon wasn’t always considered the evergreen franchise that it is today, and Shudou’s writing on Pokemon in those early days reflects that. Let’s go back to the very first Pokemon series, to the time when it was just 151 Pokemon; if you were to ask someone who watched the series avidly during this time to list their most memorable moments with the show, what would they say? Most likely, they would recount moments such as Pikachu defeating an Onix by activating ceiling sprinklers, Team Rocket giving their famous speech for the first time, a Bellsprout with expertise in martial arts overwhelming opponents many times its size, and a mysterious and absolutely menacing Pokemon in cybernetic armor asserting total domination over Gary Oak. What these events and many others have in common is that they not only broke the rigid logic of the Pokemon games but also created rules where there were none.
Before the games told us that Pokemon lay eggs and that Rhydon’s horn can act as a lightning rod, the anime gave us a story about how Ash’s Butterfree had to leave to find a mate and showed us that Rhydon’s invulnerability to electricity could be bypassed by attacking it through the horn. Before female main characters were an option, the anime saw fit to turn a water-loving boss character into a supporting cast member. Unorthodox creativity characterized those early seasons of Pokemon under Shudou, and while it meant that kids who believed the show’s every word tended to do poorly when playing against their friends on their Game Boys, on a storytelling level it was a complete boon. I believe that it is this dedication and relative freedom that Shudou and his fellow staffers were able to exercise is that enabled the anime to capture the imaginations of people everywhere and bring them into the Pokemon franchise. They wanted, above all else, to tell a good story.
Nowhere is this desire to entertain and inform more evident than in the very first Pokemon film. Placing Ash, Pikachu, and their companions against the formidable armored Pokemon which so soundly defeated Gary, Mewtwo Strikes Back on its surface seemed like it would be the story of Ash taking on a villain and coming out victorious, but it turned out to be far more profound than perhaps anyone anticipated. Watching the movie through a VHS fansub, I was introduced to Mewtwo, a cloned Pokemon genetically engineered to be the ultimate fighting machine. Having come into the world fully grown and told of its purpose as a living weapon, Mewtwo first destroys its creators and eventually sets out to show that clones are inherently better than their natural counterparts, or at least that’s the initial story. While perhaps even Mewtwo believes that its own goal is telling the world about the superiority of genetic enhancement, in actuality Mewtwo’s true desire is to find worth in its own existence. Ultimately, the important message to take from the film is as follows: the circumstances of why you’re in this world don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you’re alive and have the right to keep on living.
As the man responsible for the story of Mewtwo Strikes Back, Shudou Takeshi gave us an amazingly complex antagonist in Mewtwo, by far the most well-developed character in Pokemon to date, as well as an amazingly intelligent children’s movie, and his only cues from the original games were that Mewtwo was an offspring of a Pokemon named Mew, that Mewtwo destroyed a lab and escaped, and that Mewtwo is designed to be the strongest Pokemon ever. The manner in which Shudou was able to weave these simple story elements together into an existential tale of a being cursed with incredible power is nothing short of amazing, and it is this very reason that I consider Mewtwo Strikes Back to be the best movie of the franchise, with or without nostalgia. This is also why I was so disappointed at the English release of the film back in 1999 and still am today, as it almost completely whitewashed the actual message of the movie, replaced it with a thematically inappropriate “fighting is wrong” moral. But even with such a compromised story, the light of Shudou’s script is able to shine through, at least a little.
Pokemon was and is one of my first great obsessions, and I cannot understate how beneficial my time with Pokemon has been. I have made lifelong friendships through it. I have interacted with fellow fans about it, and through those interactions established the roots of both my writing style and my approach towards anime as an artform. Without those early seasons of Pokemon, I would not be who I am today. Thank you, Shudou Takeshi. You have made my life.