Mewtwo's Origin: Introduction

Dr. Fuji and Mew from Ono's manga

As the production of the first ever Pokémon film drew toward a close, the creators turned to the idea of some sort of promotional tie-in. The movie that would be soon playing in Japanese theaters told the story of Mewtwo, beginning with the creature gaining consciousness, shattering the glass tube in which he had developed, learning that humans created him by cloning the phantom Pokémon Mew, and facing Dr. Fuji and the other scientists responsible for his birth. But what happened before? Where was Mew's DNA obtained? Why did Dr. Fuji create such a powerful monster? How was Giovanni, the boss of Team Rocket, involved in all of this? What happened during Mewtwo's development that led to him turning so vicious?

Dr. Fuji and Mewtwo

In April 1998, Toshihiro Ono was commissioned to create a tie-in prequel manga about Mewtwo's birth. He was given some advance information about the film from which to draw inspiration, including the movie script, but was otherwise given freedom to write his own plot. The resulting manga, titled Mewtwo Strikes Back (even though it's mostly a prequel), was completed by the end of May, and it was released in the July 1998 issue of CoroCoro Comic, which came out on July 15, a few days before Mewtwo Strikes Back began playing in Japanese theaters, on July 18.

Ono told one version of the story of Mewtwo's origin: during a Team Rocket expedition to South America, a disgraced scientist manages to befriend a living Mew. He is then conflicted between listening to his pure heart and his love for Pokémon, or following Giovanni's orders and proving his scientific theories right - thereby getting vengeance on those who had previously disgraced him. The scientist gives in to his darker motivations and creates an initial prototype of Mewtwo; as the experiments become more twisted, Mew abandons him. Eventually, the scientist realizes that what he has been doing is wrong and that his creations will be destined for nothing but slavery. He instructs Mewtwo to destroy the facility and everyone inside - even if that also means that Mewtwo will have to kill his own "father". Mewtwo reflects on his role as a living thing born out of hatred while waiting for the chosen trainers to arrive at New Island.

While Ono was working on the prequel manga, however, another version of Mewtwo's backstory was being created. Takeshi Shudo, the movie writer, pitched and wrote his own prequel, even though Ono had already been commissioned for that express purpose. This version took shape as The Birth of Mewtwo, an audio drama that aired in five parts on Inuyama Inuko's Pokémon Hour on Japanese radio in the weeks leading up to the movie's premiere. This means that Shudo must have started this endeavor after the movie script was given to Ono in April, but finished writing in time for it to air in June. Did he sleep at all? And during this, no one informed Ono.

[The movie Mewtwo Strikes Back] came out in July of '98, and I received the scripts and continuity in April. I wrote the manga at the end of May. [...] At first I was told to draw Mewtwo's birth, which wasn't included in the movie, so I made a manga out of the first half of the movie (until the part where Ash heads to Mewtwo's island). But after that the anime staff wrote an original Birth of Mewtwo episode that was produced, so there's not much connection between the manga and the movie.
Toshihiro Ono Animerica Interview: Toshihiro Ono
Miyamoto chases Mew, from the Drama

In the audio drama, Team Rocket wants to obtain the phantom Pokémon Mew, the rarest and most powerful Pokémon. We follow the story of the previous Team Rocket boss, known by the fandom as Madame Boss (Giovanni's mother), and a Team Rocket agent, Miyamoto (Jessie's mother). Madame Boss sends Miyamoto on an expedition to find Mew in South America - she does see Mew, but is ultimately unsuccessful. Years later, an excavation uncovers a fossilized hair of Mew, and Team Rocket, now under the leadership of Giovanni, obtains this valuable fossil. Giovanni commissions Dr. Fuji to create an enhanced clone of Mew. Fuji agrees for the sake of his real motivation: obtaining funding for his project to clone his own deceased daughter, Ai, and having access to Mew's DNA to give "Aitwo" the lifeforce needed to survive. Mewtwo starts his life as a child in a test tube near Aitwo. Mewtwo and Aitwo become friends, but ultimately Aitwo does not survive the cloning process. Mewtwo is distraught by the death of his friend and the callous way that Dr. Fuji discusses creating another copy of her, to the point that the scientists sedate him to keep his psychic powers from destroying the laboratory. Later, Mewtwo does not remember these events, and as he follows Giovanni's warped value system, he believes himself to be the strongest being ever, one that has never cried.

Mewtwo and Ai, from the Drama

Shudo was not the kind of person to talk down to children, and the plot of the audio drama tackles themes that are surprisingly dark for a piece of media made with a younger audience in mind. Mewtwo and Aitwo sing about numbers as part of recognizing that they are clones. They talk about wanting cake and milk, but not being able to have it as science experiments inside the fluid-filled test-tubes. Just, holy shit. There is nothing else quite like The Birth of Mewtwo in Pokémon.

The circumstances around the birth of the audio drama were quite relevant. At that time, the anime team was absorbed in the fallout of the Porygon incident, in which an episode of the Pokémon anime featuring Porygon was thought to have caused seizures across its audience in Japan. The show was put on hold, the higher-ups were busy with PR and whatnot, and Shudo was left to his own devices to write whatever he wanted for the upcoming Pokémon movie, apparently completely unsupervised. No wonder Mewtwo Strikes Back is so unexpectedly hardcore. It seems like this climate was also responsible for the audio drama being even more hardcore. It might be also why Shudo ended up writing something that the team had already commissioned someone else to write. It seems like Shudo had pretty much complete freedom to follow his muse wherever it went.

On February 12, 1999, The Birth of Mewtwo was released in CD form together with an art booklet in a box set. On the same day, Mewtwo Strikes Back was released on home video in Japan as the so-called Kanzenban, or "full version". It's the full version because it adds a new, never-before-seen segment at the beginning of the movie: an adaptation of The Birth of Mewtwo. This animated sequence is ten minutes long, so it is condensed compared to the audio drama, which runs for one hour in total, but it hits many of the same plotpoints, with some scenes retained word-for-word.

Amber and Mewtwo from Mewtwo's Origin

In Japan, the "full version" of Mewtwo Strikes Back is treated as the most final, ultimate version of the movie - superseding the theatrical release, and now the theatrical release is almost impossible to find. So, to the Japanese fandom, Mewtwo Strikes Back begins with the animated version of The Birth of Mewtwo.

This is not the case outside of Japan - when 4Kids localized Mewtwo Strikes Back, the part based on The Birth of Mewtwo was removed from the rest of the movie and was not shown in theaters in the United States. It seems the intention was to treat this segment as a distinct short, which has come to be known as Mewtwo's Origin. 4Kids did dub it to English in its entirely, presumably at the same time as they dubbed rest of the movie, but ultimately, only a small portion of Mewtwo's Origin was actually included as a bonus feature on the home releases of Mewtwo Strikes Back at the time, with the rest of it being cut.

Based on the dubbers' commentary that was included on Mewtwo Strikes Back DVD releases, we infer that 4Kids maybe initially intended to keep Mewtwo's Origin fully intact as an unrated bonus feature at the time. During the scene when the cloned Venusaur, Charizard, and Blastoise emerge from the laboratory, Norman J. Grossfeld points out that they have the same markings as the cloned Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle from the bonus scene, and he tells those listening to the commentary that they can find it elsewhere on the same DVD.

Right, and, uh, viewers of this DVD version could look back on, uh, our-our added footage-- the special added footage. You'll see that, uh, Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur, which were all being cloned at the very beginning of that story, with Mewtwo: The Origin, is what we were calling it, uh, had the same markings.
Norman J. Grossfeld Mewtwo Strikes Back Dubbers' Commentary
Amber and Mewtwo with the cloned Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle

So, either the intention initially was to include the entirety of Mewtwo's Origin on Mewtwo Strikes Back DVDs and only sometime after recording the commentary track the majority of it was removed, or else Norman forgot that the scene he was referring to had already been cut when he made this comment (and Michael Haigney didn't correct him either).

Rated G for General Audiences
Mewtwo Strikes Back managed to have a G rating in the United States.

Ultimately, somewhere along the line, a decision was made, and the majority of Mewtwo's Origin was cut from US home releases. My theory is that, even with the disclaimer that bonus material is not rated, the cut portion was probably deemed too riskily off-brand for how Pokémon was being marketed in the United States. Only years later, after mainstream attention on the franchise had significantly cooled down, did they quietly slip it into the direct-to-video DVD releases of Mewtwo Returns instead.

Other language dubs of Mewtwo Strikes Back are based on 4Kids' English localization - so those versions of the movie also do not include Mewtwo's Origin as part of the main feature. It also does not seem to have ever been dubbed to any other languages - at least, none of the multilingual DVDs we own let us watch any portion of it in any languages other than English, and some DVDs do not even offer subtitles for it.

So Mewtwo's Origin is all but impossible to find outside of Japan. The Birth of Mewtwo audio drama was never localized at all. Ono's Mewtwo Strikes Back prequel comic was not only never localized, but was also never re-released after its original CoroCoro issue. And then Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution came along and remade Mewtwo Strikes Back as if none of these backstories ever existed. All things concerning the birth of Mewtwo are, at this point, as rare and hard-to-obtain as Mew itself.

Without any of this crucial backstory (combined with 4Kids' other alterations of the movie), Mewtwo's character can be incorrectly perceived as inexplicably and shallowly evil. I am glad to be able to share these backstories with you, and shed some crucial light on this misunderstood monster's creation and motivations.