Since the very first North American screenings of Pokémon: I Choose You!, the latest visual romp in the Pokémon universe, viewers and critics have shared their mutual horror over one specific moment. Pikachu speaks. Not in its usual cute, “pika pika” sort of way, but in a quavering, squeaky human voice.
In the scene, an injured Ash asks Pikachu why it won’t return to its pokéball. Cue surreal blur effect, which I can only interpret as Ash having some sort of head trauma. Pikachu then chokes out, in perfect, saccharine English, “It’s because I always want to be with you.” The audience response, which I advise you to watch below, is the only correct one.
Hi, I am just learning that Pikachu speaks English in the new Pokemon movie and, yes, it is extremely fucking weird pic.twitter.com/k5hm5lyW7Y— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) November 13, 2017
I think the person screaming “the fuuuuuck?!” speaks for us all.
As my colleague over at Polygon pointed out, only a handful of pokémon are able to use fully formed sentences. Meowth painstakingly taught itself to speak in order to impress a crush; in Pokémon: The First Movie, Mewtwo is a talking, man-made creature made to be a living weapon. Like most of the rare exceptions in the Pokémon universe, these special, speaking characters have some rhyme or character-building reason as to why they’re like this. If I had to guess, the fan reaction to this moment — horror, screaming — is probably not the emotional response filmmakers were going for here.
Pokémon typically have to communicate by showing their feelings rather than telling them, which leads to more nuanced emotional moments. Consider Ash’s “death” scene in Pokémon: The First Movie. Pikachu doesn’t need to deliver a sappy line about how it feels, because it’s acting those feelings out. Ash is hurt, and Pikachu runs over to check on him. After Pikachu can’t revive Ash, it starts to frantically zap him. As a kid, I bawled my eyes out because there is something so sad and desperate in the way Pikachu’s puzzlement gives way to increasing panic and then, despair.
But in the context of I Choose You!, Pikachu’s concern comes across as disingenuous, as though Ash is projecting what he wants to hear through a fading haze. It’s sort of like imagining your cat delivering a sweet speech to you on your deathbed, when what he’s probably thinking is “I will wait two hours before I begin to eat you.” Ash’s fever dream version of Pikachu undercuts what the real Pikachu is thinking and feeling. So how long would Pikachu wait before eating Ash? Now we’ll never know.