Back in the day, when Denise first saw the fresh-from-Japan trailers for the fifth Pokémon movie, she was not very excited for it. In the trailers, the twerps are in Venice, water-skiing through the CG canals with Latios and Latias, two Pokémon that Denise just couldn't get excited for at the time. Then she heard that the plot revolves around Ash and Latias falling in love, and, well, this sounds like nothing of interest, thanks, bye.
Many years later, we finally watched this movie together, and actually... it's pretty good. Latias's crush on Ash is cute and not gross as we feared. And while the plot is centered on their new friendship, that's not the only thing that's happening.
You see, if you look up this movie on Google, the sidebar will tell you that this is a "Crime film/Science fiction film". We're not sure where they got science fiction from, but the crime film part is somewhat true. As funny as that is as a description, yes, the movie also features a duo of thieves who, refreshingly, are trying to steal an object rather than a Pokémon. And, also refreshingly, as both thieves are women, this movie passes the Bechdel test in the first few minutes.
The dubbed version of the movie, which is titled Pokémon Heroes for reasons known only to 4Kids, starts with these two super thieves, Annie and Oakley, stealing an old book from a museum or library or something, tricking the guard, and running over the rooftops a la Lupin III. The dub also makes these two out to be members of Team Rocket, because 4Kids thinks everyone breaking the law in the Pokémon World is affiliated with Team Rocket. Annie and Oakley are plotting to steal a famous jewel known as the Soul Dew, and this book will give them valuable hints as to the nature of the jewel so that they can successfully pull off their heist.
Those watching this movie in languages other than Japanese will never actually know what is in this book. Instead, the original Japanese version starts with a beautiful introduction done in that style similar to religious artwork made of pieces of wood ✽, telling the story of how two siblings were found washed up on the shore of the city of Alto Mare. The people who lived there cared for these strangers until they regained their strength, and then, when disaster befell the town, the siblings revealed themselves to be Latios and Latias merely in the guise of humans, and they and several other Latios and Latias saved the whole city from destruction.
It wasn't until we watched this missing intro that we realized that Latios and Latias seem to be based on the Hebrew idea of angels, especially given their roles in this movie. It happens in several Bible stories that people will welcome and help strangers who then turn out to be angels disguised as humans, and then the angels will in some way protect or reward those who showed them kindness without knowing what they were. Abraham unknowingly welcomed angels as his guests and served them a meal, and so he was blessed to be the father of many nations. Lot unknowingly welcomed angels into his house and protected them from his crude neighbors, and in return he was spared from the city's destruction. Actually, yeah, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is particularly relevant to this Pokémon movie, and that's a sentence we never thought we would say.
So, this intro allows us to understand that Latias and Latios are angels and that the two in Alto Mare are the guardians of the city, immediately explaining the Japanese title of this movie: The Guardians of Altomare. Latias and Latios being angels also goes along with the other Pokémon designs in Generation III that reference Jewish mythology (Groudon as Behemot, Kyogre as Livyatan, Rayquaza as Ziz, and the Regis as golems), and fits nicely with all the church stuff going on in this movie. Wait for that.
Considering that this introduction is artistically beautiful and provides the necessary backstory to understanding Latias and Latios and all the events of the movie... 4Kids cut it. Why? We have no idea. Was it too religious-y for the United States? Did they not think American children would respond well to it because, as we all know, American children only respond well to 80s-style power ballads? ✽ Only 4Kids will ever know.
The first time we watched this movie, we watched it in English, without this sequence, and so we thought this movie was okay, but a few things were weird. For example, Latias and Latios just seem to show up in town, and Ash seems to meet them just because of his unfair Legendary magnetism, and only much later it is revealed that Latios and Latias have been guardians of the city for generations. When you know the deal of Latias and Latios from the beginning, instead, you know what you're seeing as it happens. Also, at the end of the movie, there are multiple Latios and Latias flying around the city, which, in the dubbed version, seems to directly contradict the events of the climax of the plot; with the original opening, we already know that many Latios and Latias exist and regularly visit Alto Mare, so it's not strange at all.
Why did 4Kids remove this part that made the movie make so much more sense? We wrote before about how 4Kids has made edits to the Pokémon movies with the goal of aiding understanding. In the third movie, that change indeed made the movie better. In the fourth movie, that change was unneeded, as the point was already perfectly clear. Now, in the fifth movie, their change makes the movie harder to understand. Good job.
We're not sure if this was 4Kids' fault, but this movie also suffered from another bizarre dub edit: for some reason, the out-of-Japan DVD releases of this movie have been visually adjusted to be extremely blue, to the point where there are no other colors and everything looks like night all the time - or like something is wrong with your screen. Did someone drop the film in a paintcan? This color tampering is so bad that fans felt the need to make video edits where they combined the Japanese unaltered footage with the dub audio track in order to recreate something watchable in English.
In any case, after the title sequence, we see Ash and Misty participating in a water-ski race through the canals of the city. Here is where we need to explain that the setting of this movie, Alto Mare, is unashamedly based on the animators' trip to Venice. Actually, nevermind based -- it is Venice down to the road configurations. Rosy knows that she stood in that very spot and went to that very same restaurant that Team Rocket visits. While basing your artwork on references is a good thing and how professionals work, way to just straight-out copy reality. This is a Pokémon movie, and the Pokémon world often references our world, but with fantastic elements to it. There could be a city in the Pokémon world that resembles Venice, but this goes way beyond resembling! The artists didn't synthesize Venice into something new, they just lifted Venice and plopped it in the Pokémon world. The characters that Ash and friends meet even speak some Italian, because the creators of this movie couldn't imagine people in the Pokémon World's Venice saying anything other than ciao.
And way to make the racers go through CG buildings at the points where it would have been most important for the movie to look better than that. This is especially strange because, other times, the background artists did indeed draw all the complicated buildings and difficult shots. Just, what, they didn't have enough money for the opening sequence? Or they still thought it would be cooler to make it CG instead? We guess they were really pleased with these CG parts, since they did heavily feature them in the trailer... which was one of the reasons Denise was less than enthused to watch the movie back when it was new. That went well.
Anyway, during the race, a strange invisible force helps Ash almost win, but then another strange invisible force brings him off-course, and in the end, Misty wins the race! Yay for Misty!
If you've seen the Japanese beginning, you will know that these strange invisible forces are Latias and Latios. Latias was trying to help Ash win this competition, but Latios stopped this cheating from being successful. Good. In a future movie, Ash will straight out cheat at a competition with the help of a Legendary Pokémon, and there won't be any Latios to stop him.
Since Misty won, she gets the trophy, which is made of glass. In case you think this is an original idea, keep in mind that Venice is famous for its glass sculptures. As the new champion, she's offered a tour on the personal gondola of last year's champion, who is a hot Italian dude who likes her. Misty is looking at the trophy she won and saying that's really pretty... but what is it, honey? And the hot Italian dude who likes her explains that those squiggles are meant to depict Latias and Latios and the Soul Dew. If you squint.
He tells them that Latias and Latios are the guardians of the city and that those are the Pokémon depicted as statues on columns in their square. In real life, Venice also has statues on columns in the square, depicting the patron saints of the city. One of them is the Lion of St. Mark -- the winged lion is the symbol of Mark the Evangelist, and also one of the Living Beings, a type of angel described in the Bible, further linking Latias and Latios to angels.
By the way, look at this pre-release poster for this movie in which Latias and Latios look a lot like winged lions and nothing like themselves:
In the meanwhile, Latias has disguised herself as a human to get a closer look at Ash, since Ash peaked her interest with his main character powers. While she is trying to meet Ash, Annie and Oakley are trying to find her or Latios for their nefarious schemes. They are able to identify Latias even through her disguise because Pokémon apparently have a cooler body temperature than human beings. Huh, that's interesting. Is that true of Slugma too?
Ash hears a commotion and arrives to see Annie and Oakley attacking this poor girl with their Ariados and Espeon. The girl cannot speak, but Ash doesn't need to know why or how or what is going on to know that this is fucked up, and he comes to the girl's rescue. He and Pikachu battle off the attacking Pokémon, and Ash pulls the girl through the alleys of Alto Mare to safety, but when he looks away, she disappears.
Later, Ash is going around as a tourist with Brock and Misty, and they are visiting St. Mark's Basilica. In the Japanese version, Brock refers to it as a "temple", which we suppose is technically right, but it is kinda funny to hear when referring to a church. But at least they didn't do what 4Kids did: in the English version, the characters all refer to this building as a "museum". Because that's more politically correct than calling St. Mark's Basilica a church. Yeah, "museum". That's offensive -- that's saying that a place of worship only has value to you as a tourist as something cool to see and learn about, instead of calling a real place what it really is. A church is not a museum, and a Shinto shrine is not a museum, and a temple to Athena is not a museum. We can imagine that 4Kids did this to avoid having anyone yelling about how disrespectful it is to have Pikachu thundershocking Pokémon inside a church, or having a church be related to something as unholy as Pokémon... but calling it a "museum" is far more disrespectful yet. Besides, having Pikachu thundershocking Pokémon inside a museum would be disrespectful too, lol. People who get offended about this sort of thing are going to get offended no matter what -- those people are offended at calling out a Pokémon is remotely analogous to summoning demons. So, 4Kids, just do your job and translate things correctly, without trying to appease the unappeasable.
Talking about this church is problematic, and also drawing this church is problematic, apparently. For as much as the animators were directly tracing Venice, they really didn't do St. Mark's Basilica justice. Probably, if they drew it how it really is, it would take their entire budget and look too extravagant to be real. But they didn't just tone it down to a reasonable level of extravagance, they actually made it kinda underwhelming and boring-looking instead. Come on, what's your job again? You have a scene in which Ash is there acting all impressed at the church, at least give him something to be impressed over.
The only feature of note in Alto Mare's church are the fossilized Kabutops and Aerodactyl in the floor. We're not sure why they are there. From the real-life angle, we looked up any information we could find about the floor of St. Mark's Basilica, about it having any bones in it or whatever, but no. The closest thing is that there are some mosaics of animals on the floor, but we don't really buy that as a valid explanation for why the people making this movie put fossil Pokémon in the floor - that's even flimsier than many "Origin" sections we've read on Bulbapedia!
For the in-universe perspective, it's not really clear either. The fossils seem to be somehow linked with the mysterious doomsday device in the church, and we're not really sure why that's there either.
For the 4Kids explanation, they are the Pokémon of some eeevil trainer who terrorized the city with them in the past, until a Latios saved the day by creating the canals and drowning those Pokémon to death, including the water-dwelling Kabutops, somehow. Wow, that's really wholesome, 4Kids. Also, the past, when? Back in Poké-Flintstone times?
Disregarding all that, the best meta-explanation we can come up with is this: when this movie came out, there were just Generations I and II, with Generation III on the horizon. Generation I prominently featured fossil Pokémon, and Generation II didn't add any, and the only way to acquire the old ones was by trading. Now we know that Generation II is the outlier as the only generation without fossils, but, at the time, all fans knew was that Generation I had fossils and Generation II did not, so the future of fossil Pokémon in the franchise was uncertain. Featuring fossil Pokémon in this movie may have been an attempt to signal to the fans that they would be making a return in future games.
Fossils aside, Ash, Misty, and Brock are being guided through the church by Mr. Vongole -- and Rosy needs to stop everything here to point out that his name is literally Mr. Clams. This would be like if there was an Italian movie taking place in the fantasy city of Sakura Fuji, which is traced directly from Tokyo down to the streets, and there is a tour guide named Mr. Sushi. Dude. Don't do that.
At least 4Kids changed his name to Lorenzo. Thank god. ...unless his full name is Lorenzo Vongole. Oh no.
Anyway, even though Ash, Misty, and Brock are getting a personal, private, guided tour of the church given to them in their native language, Ash is being a BAD BAD tourist. He goes to touch the ancient machine on display and needs to get yelled at, and then he runs out of the church to chase after the tour guide's granddaughter.
Ash thought it was the same girl that he had saved before, but, yeah, it's actually Bianca, the tour guide's granddaughter. Bianca chews Ash out, which is very disconcerting for him. But then Latias disguised as the same girl comes by and urges Ash to follow. Poor confused Ash.
Ash is eventually lead through the alleyways of Alto Mare through a mystical sunlit tunnel draped with wisteria and to a seemingly dead end bathed in dark shadow. Ash is able to approach the shadow on what seems to be a solid wall, and he steps through this mysterious barrier. He then emerges into the blinding light to find himself in a lush secret garden, and deeper in the beautiful garden, the mysterious girl is waiting for him on a swing under a tree.
Ash is not the right person to be in this situation. Misty would be rightfully amazed. Brock would be nose-bleeding and counting his lucky stars. But Ash... Ash doesn't get it. Pearls before swine.
Ash steps forward to find out what the fuck is going on (what the fuck indeed), when suddenly Latios appears and attacks him.
In Japanese, Latios goes "WAHOO!" and that's really funny.
Hearing the commotion, Lorenzo and Bianca show up and find this stranger in the secret garden with Latios attacking him, and the girl trying to signal to Latios to stop. Ash is ever more confused, but somehow unfazed at how there are now two Biancas. He explains that he was led there through the darkness by Bianca's double, and, even though this explanation sounds absurd, Lorenzo and Bianca chill out and are all, oh, okay, then Latias invited you here.
Ash is there with the girl pushing him on the swing and he goes, Latias?? But isn't Latias the name of a Pokém-- cue the girl transforming back into Latias and the romantic song starting in the background. This is the moment that Ash realizes he is being shipped, and he is not ready. He falls to the ground in horror, and Latias goes for his ass.
Ash understands that the girl has been Latias disguised as Bianca, and Latias, Latios, Ash, and Pikachu all get to play in the beautiful secret garden and fly all around for the flying scene of the movie. And Latios is now even friendly enough to show off his special power of psychically transmitting a projection of what he sees as he swims around the bottom of the canals. In real life, in Venice, that would be gross, but in Alto Mare, the canals are clean and full of water-dwelling Pokémon, and it makes for a lovely scene. We guess this is the only fictional thing about Alto Mare compared to Venice: the canals are not notoriously clogged with filth.
Eventually, Ash goes back to his hotel room and reunites with Brock and Misty, who have been completely out of the loop of all the secret adventures he's been having with a mysterious girl in Venice. What must they be thinking? Then again, what has Misty been doing in the meanwhile with that hot dude? Poor Brock is the Old Maid here, of course.
In the night, Annie and Oakley manage to sneak into the secret garden, and they launch their attack on Latias and Latios. As a side-note, we want to say how interesting it is that their Pokémon are Ariados and an Espeon, and not the more typical "villain" Pokemon, like Houndoom or Crobat. Yeah, why not have a villain with an Espeon -- even if Espeon is the supposedly "good" counterpart of Umbreon, Espeon is creepy. In order to sneak into the garden, Espeon slunk like a cat into Lorenzo's boat house and blasted his brains. Terrifying.
With Ariados and Espeon and all of Annie and Oakley's spy tricks, Latios and Latias are in trouble. Latios keeps protecting Latias, Latias manages to escape, but Latios gets all tied up in goo. Oakley says not to worry, as "they only need one," and they also get the Soul Dew out of the mystical pool.
Annie at this point would be perfectly happy with just this lovely jewel that is one-of-a-kind and wonderful ✽. However, Oakley has been studying that book from the beginning of the movie, and she has grander plans.
They bring Latios to church, and they use him and the Soul Dew to power the mysterious church machine. With the machine, Oakley is able to put the entire city into lock-down mode, in which gorgeous but somehow threateningly-designed wrought iron bars appear in every doorway. Oakley is also able to resurrect the Aerodactyl and Kabutops fossils in the floor, and they become rampaging monsters with shining white eyes, obedient to her will. She also has complete control over the water in the canals, which she orchestrates with her hands, and, man, she is fully enjoying this power-trip.
So, there's a machine in the cathedral that is powered by the lifeforce of an angel that resurrects prehistoric demons to rain terror on the citizens trapped by beautiful but horrible iron bars. Who designed this? Who made the Armageddon machine and put it in Venice???
By the way, the pre-release material for this movie showed the skeleton of the Kabutops rising from the floor and then becoming flesh -- which was super cool to see and links with the ability to resurrect fossils that is featured in the games. Denise was really hoping that this movie would somehow link with Mewtwo, a Pokémon who was similarly resurrected from a fossil, or with Missingno., a famous glitch in the Generation I Pokémon games that can sometimes appear as, specifically, a Kabutops skeleton or an Aerodactyl skeleton... but in the end, in the movie, none of this is explored or even relevant. Drat.
Anyway, when Latias escaped from Annie and Oakley, she fled to Ash. She appears as a glowing apparition in the window as she transforms from her Latias form to her human form, and appears for a moment as a shimmering humanoid form with wings.
She comes to Ash in the night to tell him that she is preg--- no. That something bad has happened. Though what exactly is the bad thing that has happened, Latias cannot say. Because Latias cannot speak.
Why exactly can't Latias speak? Both Latios and Latias are described in the PokéDex as being very intelligent and capable of understanding human speech. Whatever that means, considered that all Pokémon seem to be able to understand human speech. Latias and Latios are also Psychic-type Pokémon, and such a fact is often used in the movies as the excuse for why a certain Pokémon can speak. Latias and Latios have been living with humans for presumably thousands of years, and with all that intelligence and psychic-ness, you'd imagine that they would have picked up at least some human language up by now.
Maybe they just don't have the vocal cords for it, and can't actually articulate more than "WAHOO!", but if they can transform into humans, can't they also transform to have human vocal cords? Do they only appear human, but still not have human organs? But they are magical angel beings, why can't they speak?
Denise kinda likes that they cannot speak, since it makes them more mysterious and other-worldly. And Rosy points out that if they could just speak, Latias could have just said to Ash, "Hi, I'm Latias and I've got the hots for you." And Latios would charge in all, "Are you tryin' to fuck my sister?!" and all in all, this would be a very different movie, and probably... let's not.
While from the storytelling perspective we can understand why they do not speak, in-universe, why not?
In any case, Ash is able to present his new girlfriend to Brock and Misty, who have missed pretty much the whole plot of the movie so far. Latias manages to convey to Ash that something bad has happened and she needs help. Luckily, they get a psychic phone call from Latios right then, and they are able to see that he's being confined in the church with bad stuff happening.
This is about when the wrought iron fences start sprouting all over town. Ash, Latias, and Pikachu manage to jump through the window right before a very ominous X-shaped decoration almost impales Ash's torso. My god, just look at that. Brock and Misty cannot follow through the bars, but they send out their Pokémon to help Ash.
While Oakley has been in the Armageddon machine, she has been getting more and more power-hungry. First, she just wants the fossil Pokémon to help her catch Latias. Then she wants to take over the entire city! Then the whole world! After the events of the movie, hopefully she and Vicious can be in the same support group for villains whose plans completely went out of control.
Ash, Pikachu, and Latias fight their way through the canals against Aerodactyl and Kabutops, and make it to the cathedral where they save Latios from the Armageddon machine, and Lorenzo and Bianca from Ariados's web. Oakley snaps out of whatever power-trip she was on, and Annie just goes to pick up the Soul Dew, which is all she ever wanted in the first place.
However, the Soul Dew has become corrupted by Oakley's evil thoughts. For some reason, because Annie disturbs the darkened Soul Dew, it shatters, and the whole machine goes haywire. Annie and Oakley both get stuck inside the control seat as it spins around like a carnival ride from hell, and it sucks all the water out of the canals, forming a massive tidal wave, which is now heading for the city to destroy it. It is tall water. Alto Mare. Get it? Also, this echoes the story in the book at the beginning... the one that 4Kids cut.
Even though Latios has struggled to survive the Armageddon Machine Part One, he goes with Latias to stop the tidal wave, and after a tear-jerking farewell, he uses the last of his energy to sacrifice himself and stop the evil tidal wave.
Latios dies. For the first time in a Pokémon movie, a Pokémon dies. Not fainted. Not turned to stone. Not revivable in any way. He's dead.
And not just that. Latias connects with Latios so that Ash and the audience get to see what happens to a Latios when it dies. He ascends up into the dark, silent emptiness of space, where he can see the earth far below, until his consciousness is no longer. Latios then condenses his soul into a new Soul Dew, which somehow winds up in Bianca's hands, to be placed again in the mystical fountain in the secret garden for whatever reason.
By the way, poor Bianca. While Latias was having her little romp with Ash, there are a few hints that Bianca and Latios might have been very close as well. When Bianca first sees Ash in the secret garden, she encourages Latios in his attack, her attention fully on Latios to the point where she misses that Latias is there and in disagreement. Bianca always seems to direct what she is saying to Latios first and foremost, rather than Latias. Hm... And then Latios puts his soul into specifically her hands, as his final farewell. Maybe she is the one who lost the most in this movie...
In any case, after watching the chilling experience of death, Ash, Misty, and Brock have pretty much seen all they wanted to see on this tourist trip to Alto Mare, and so they are getting ready to leave. Latias disguised as Bianca runs out to give them a parting gift -- one of those shitty portraits for tourists of Ash and Pikachu. Who drew it? Bianca? Latias? Actually we're not sure. But then at the last moment, Latias kisses Ash farewell on the cheek.
Not only Latios died, but now Brock is dead, too.
During the ending credits, Latias and two Latios are seen flying around Alto Mare, confusing anyone that doesn't know that there are more than one Latios and Latias alive, which would be anyone not watching the Japanese version of this movie, thanks to 4Kids.
While the things that happened in the movie are cute and enjoyable to watch, the plot itself is insubstantial and flimsy, and it never reaches a real satisfying moment where it all comes together. It's more of a soup of plot elements that never quite form a whole.
A majority of the movie is focused on Latias and Ash's new relationship, which is good and really establishes their dynamic, but in the end, this relationship doesn't actually have any plot relevance. It is never important that Ash even knows Latias or vice versa. Latias knowing Ash lets her go to Ash for help at the end, but if they had been strangers, and if she just happened to bump into Ash while she was desperate for help, the rest of the plot would have gone the same way. Their friendship or understanding of each other or caring for each other never actually comes into play, even though that seems like it should be in some way important or at least referred to in the climax. And then Ash just leaves and goodbye.
There are Annie and Oakley trying to do their heist, but we're not sure why. We are told they are super thieves, and we see them running on rooves and using gizmos, but what is so impressive about them? Why are they thieves? What makes them tick? And why did Oakley escalate this from stealing a nice jewel to destroying the town or even the world? It seems maybe implied that something supernatural was at work here, or maybe it was just plain old greed, who knows?
Why is there an Armageddon machine in the church and who made it and why is it supposedly for protecting the town, but only seems to do horrible things? Does it have an alternate good function that we don't get to know about?
Why is the Soul Dew so important? Why is it needed in the fountain? Or is that just a nice place to have it so you don't forget where you left it?
One important good point that this movie does have above other shittier Pokémon movies is that it has a lot of individual cute moments that set the right mood. At the start of the race, there's a tower of Natu and Xatu serving as the starting "light". There's a Vaporeon at the fountain. There are Pidgeys bathing in another fountain, and looking at Ash disapprovingly for disturbing their nice bath. There's the entire scene where Ash goes into the garden which has the mood and the tension of something mystical and romantic. There's Latias and Latios playing with Pikachu and horsing around with Ash, pretending to drop him, but catching him at the last moment. And generally, the environments look good (even if they don't get any points for originality). Pokémon Heroes is a cool movie of showing off Pokémon doing cute things in a pretty place. It makes nice gifsets.
We wish Brock, Misty, Jessie, James, Meowth, Bianca, Lorenzo, and even Latios weren't such afterthoughts. The movie is focused on Ash and Latias, and it is good that their relationship was given the time it needed, but it almost would have been better to find a convenient excuse for Brock and Misty to be elsewhere than to just have them pop up occasionally, all, "Where's Ash? Can someone tell us what's going on?" And we would rather not have Jessie, James, and Meowth in this movie at all, if all we're going to see of them is their sad faces after their soft-serve gelato is ruined. They did nothing in this movie, and certainly not anything wrong, so why would we want to see them get so abused by the random unfair things that happen to them. :(
We wish we could know more about Annie and Oakley, but we liked the small bit we got to see of them. We don't even know what their relationship with each other is. In the Japanese version, there is one line that implies that they might be literally sisters, but that's it.
Overall, in the end, if you like Pokémon, this is worth a watch. If you are new to Pokémon, or are looking for a good plot, maybe don't start with this one.
- If you know what this sort of art is called, please let us know. We've seen it but can't figure out what it is called.
- But, strangely, has a selling price in the Pokémon games of a whopping 100 PokéYen, despite being made from the literal soul of a Legendary Pokémon...
- They put two power ballads in the ending credits this time. TWO.