Because you really wanted to read a needlessly long essay about three Pokemon episodes that premiered over two decades ago, right…?
In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Mewtwo Strikes Back, I’ve decided to do a little retrospective on the ‘Mewtwo Episodes’ that were supposed to air during the weeks before its showing: Battle of the Badge, It’s Mr. Mime Time, and Showdown at the Po-ke Corral. Specifically, I’m rambling about how these episodes served as a backdrop for the development of Mewtwo’s character. Japanese fans were also treated to the radio drama, The Birth of Mewtwo, that aired during the 5 weeks preceding the movie’s debut on July 18, 1998, but unfortunately it was never officially released outside of Japan. You can read a wonderful synopsis by mewmewtwo here and you can view piraticoctopus’ fantastic fan translation in English here.
First, some background info for context: Originally, Mewtwo Strikes Back was supposed to open with Ash battling that pirate Trainer (you know, this guy), with Badge, Mr. Mime, and Showdown acting as the sole intro to Mewtwo’s character.* However, Episode 38 Electric Soldier Porygon caused the show to go on a four-month hiatus due to causing “adverse health effects” in its young viewers. The interrupted schedule meant that the ‘Mewtwo Episodes’ would air after the movie’s premier in Japan. So, the show runners came up with the 20-minute beginning of Mewtwo Strikes Back to better explain Mewtwo’s backstory.
So how do these episodes set up Mewtwo’s motivations and character?
Disclaimer: I’ll be using the English dub of the TV show for these episode synopses. I realize that they’re quite different from the original Japanese, but they’re what I have on hand! Also, if it isn’t already obvious, this writing refers to the Mewtwo that appears in the anime-verse, including Mewtwo Strikes Back and Mewtwo Returns.
In Episode 63: The Battle of the Badge, Gary Oak is defeated by Giovanni at the Viridian Gym when he uses an immensely powerful but unknown Pokemon: Mewtwo, disguised in his power-suppressing armor. Ash stumbles upon the aftermath of the battle, where he finds Gary and his entourage unconscious. Upon waking, Gary tells him that there was something different about this Pokemon he fought, something not right: “This Pokemon’s not just powerful, it’s evil.”
“There can’t be an evil Pokemon…” Ash responds uncertainly.
Thus the audience is posed with the question: can a Pokemon be inherently evil? Why would a Pokemon do something like this? Knocking out a bunch of kids…? The next two episodes seek to explore this and related topics in order to give context to Mewtwo’s character.
Episode 64: It’s Mr. Mime Time gives us an example of how bad training practices on the part of the human can make a Pokemon act badly. Stella the Circus Ringmaster can’t get her Mr. Mime to perform their act anymore.
“I wanted it to be perfect so I trained it hard, night and day…now it won’t listen to me at all. …But now I have a way to get Mr. Mime to perform again. I’ll just get another one to be its competition.”
–Stella, to Ash, Misty & Brock outside of Mr. Mime’s trailer; It’s Mr. Mime Time
Stella disguises Ash as a Mr. Mime and trains him to do its act. In doing so, it becomes apparent that Stella is a taskmaster and uses intimidation to force her Pokemon to do what she wants. In this way, she serves as an example of how Pokemon will often behave in bad ways due to abusive training. Compare this to how Giovanni’s “training” practices contribute to Mewtwo abandoning him. Forcing Mewtwo to use the restrictive armor, having him catch multitudes of Pokemon for Team Rocket, making him fight in the Viridian Gym, then sit for long periods of time in his holding cell, etc. eventually cause Mewtwo to resent him and the rest of humanity. (This is something he ponders over much more in the radio drama than in the film – I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.)
Similarly, Stella attempts to use jealousy and competition as a means to motivate her Mr. Mime. Compare this to how Giovanni uses Mewtwo’s jealousy of Mew to manipulate him for his own purposes:
“Surely you may be the rarest and the world’s strongest Pokemon. Show proof of that, and the real Mew won’t ignore you. …We’ll start by catching Pokemon. Then we’ll know your true strength as well. …You’ll become an existence that will surpass Mew. Then you’ll be the best Pokemon in the world.”
–Giovanni to Mewtwo, Ch. 4 of The Birth of Mewtwo radio drama
Mewtwo is driven to think that he must be the strongest creature in existence – even more powerful than Mew – in order to fulfill what he perceives to be his true purpose. Only then will he feel he deserves to be alive. Giovanni knows this and uses Mewtwo’s insecurity to his advantage.
In Episode 65: Showdown at the Po-ke Corral, Professor Oak shows Ash, Gary and company what he does as a researcher, all while Ash and Gary compete to prove that they are the better Trainer. Through Professor Oak, though, Ash, Gary and their friends learn what it means to be a good person in relation to Pokemon:
“Pokemon are special, and they need our special care. Just like every other living creature, they deserve our consideration and our respect. If we care for them the way we care for those we love, we’ll be able to live in peace, as we learn about them and ourselves. …My research has taught me that we need to deal with Pokemon like we need to deal with people: as individuals, if we want to discover their mysteries.
–Professor Oak, while talking to Gary, Ash, Misty & Brock in his lab about his daily research routine; Showdown at the Po-ke Corral
This gets at the core of Mewtwo’s conflict that will be explored in the movie: created as a creature with incredible power and massive intellect, Mewtwo is caught between what it means to be a human being and a Pokemon in a world where the latter are often treated as chattel. As a Pokemon, he is a tool to advance the agendas of men. He is not treated as a living being worthy of care by the scientists who created him, he is not given the respect an equal partner would receive in Giovanni’s organization, and he lives in a world that makes sport out of battling his own kind. With this statement, Professor Oak sets up the injustices Mewtwo will face in the beginning of the film. It is fitting, then, that it’s during the course of this episode that Giovanni (off-screen) outright admits to Mewtwo that he exists to serve humans.
“You were created to fight for me. That is your purpose. …You were created by humans to obey humans. You could never be our equal.”
–Giovanni, while speaking to Mewtwo in Team Rocket’s headquarters, minutes before the latter destroys it; Mewtwo Strikes Back
Giovanni does not respect Pokemon as individuals. For men like him, Pokemon are tools for profit and war. As in Mr. Mime Time, Showdown insinuates that Pokemon act badly when humans do not treat them with dignity.
Finally, Showdown addresses the original question posed in The Battle of the Badge: can a Pokemon be evil?
Is Mewtwo, by nature, evil?
“When Pokemon live in an environment like the one they were born in, it’s easier to observe how they are affected by their Trainers. …Pokemon frequently take on the characteristics of the humans who capture them. …Of course, this effect only occurs when a Trainer keeps in regular contact with his or her Pokemon.”
–Professor Oak, while talking to Gary, Ash, Misty & Brock in his corral about his newest findings; Showdown at the Po-ke Corral
According to Professor Oak, then, Pokemon are not evil by nature, just as Ash insisted at Viridian Gym. Like human beings, they are products of their environment and the people who associate with them. Giovanni, for instance, has Mewtwo perform many criminal acts for Team Rocket and in the process nurses his insecurity, which in turn causes Mewtwo to develop a severe inferiority and superiority complex. He teaches Mewtwo that the point of life is to “fight, destroy, and plunder. The strong win.” (The Birth of Mewtwo radio drama, Chapter 4). Even after Mewtwo ditches Giovanni in a rage, he maintains this attitude and redirects it towards humanity as a whole. In executing his plot on New Island, Mewtwo exhibits many of Giovanni’s characteristics, such as an insane sense of preparedness, arrogance, cruelty, and paranoia. He may not have been captured in a Pokeball, but Mewtwo takes on Giovanni’s personality traits through his time spent with him nonetheless. Luckily, as Professor Oak points out, these characteristics only last as long as a Trainer keeps in regular contact with the Pokemon: Mewtwo, fortunately, escapes Giovanni for a time. Like any human youth, Mewtwo is capable of outgrowing the worst of these traits with time and experience.**
The proper care of Pokemon is touched on in just about every other episode of the series, but I feel like these three stories were important back in 1998 in serving as a foundation for understanding Mewtwo’s motivations and character. Despite whatever Pokedex entries state about Mewtwo, he isn’t born – or rather, created – completely and irrevocably evil, but transforms into the monster that eventually lashes out against the world due to a series of horrible experiences with humanity. This isn’t to excuse or pardon his crimes, of course – he still makes many mistakes of his own volition, and he does have free will – but is to instead give context to what he becomes.∎
Thank you for reading my incredibly long and nonsensical ramblings! If you made it this far, you deserve a truckload of Pokepuffs. I hope you enjoyed reading, and hopefully I’ll be posting more Mewtwo-related garbage to celebrate this crazy murder-cat’s movie anniversary in the future. :)
*You can still see remnants of this story structure in the movie. It makes the Rocket Trio’s exploration of Mewtwo’s palace make more sense, as the audience was originally supposed to be learning alongside them who this Mewtwo guy was and how he got there. Adding the 20-minute beginning, however, makes this B plot a tad redundant.
**See: Mewtwo Returns (2000). In the sequel (in all language versions), Mewtwo is no longer the cruel, raging tyrant he was on New Island, though he still retains some of the paranoia and standoffish-ness he developed early on.
It is well known that there are gigantic distinctions between the Japanese and English versions of “Mewtwo/Myuutsu Strikes Back”. Between the script rewrites, score edits, narration (existent only in the dub), and the opposing personalities and intentions between Myuutsu and Mewtwo, any fan can agree that these movies are very different. At the very end of it all, there are only a few elements that remained the same.
Perhaps the most important of these differences are of Myuutsu/Mewtwo. As we all know, Mewtwo starts out as a stereotypical megalomaniac villain who has very little substance – he simply wants to purge, destroy, and reign, until his heart is softened by Ash. However, Myuutsu is a philosopher who only carries out his plans in an effort to come to understand himself. Myuutsu has no desire to create a war against all of humanity and pokemon; instead, he wants strike back (gyakushuu – more literally, counterattack) against those who harmed him.
But what about Myuu/Mew?
Many websites and Japanese fans leave out the differences between Myuu and Mew. The result: Americans are under the impression that Mew is a playful, innocent cat that appears out of no where with the implied idea that it needs to stop Mewtwo. After all, it certainly seems that way, especially thanks to Meowth saying: “Mew says you don’t prove anything by showin’ off a lot of special powers, and that a pokemon’s real strength comes from da heart.“
Let me make it clear that Myuu is nothing like this. And if anything, in some ways, Myuu is as multidimensional as Myuutsu – only subtle.
When Myuu appears before Myuutsu, it is not playfully teasing him like Mew. Instead, it comes across as downright mocking Myuutsu through “play”. Myuu only turns serious upon being attacked by a Shadow Ball. It is then that it has its elaborate – and very insulting – speech. Nyarth (Meowth) translates: “The real one is real. If they fight using only their bodies without their abilities, the true ones will not be beaten by their copies.” This is short, but the difference is profound. Myuu refers to as the originals as the REAL ones, implying that they are the only ones with reasoning to be alive. This is emphasized that throughout the Japanese movie, Myuutsu constantly is plagued by the idea of if his existence is worth anything (in the dub, he is driven by the idea that he has to prove himself BECAUSE he’s a clone; that is, he is narcissistic and selfish). Also, throughout the Japanese movie, the word “clone” is never used. “Copy” is the chosen word, as it is stigmatizing and hints at the concept that a clone is not an individual. Remember, this movie came out at the end of the 1990s when the idea of cloning was a heated controversial issue in bioethics.
So already we can see that there is more to Myuu than an adorable kitty. For one thing, Myuu has a clearly calculating mind and has deep-seated – and in some ways, downright demeaning – beliefs.
The Japanese version also has more information about Myuu that was eliminated from the dub.
Recount that in “The Origin of Mewtwo” (the ten-minute short of Amber and Mewtwo), Dr. Fuji states his intention of the Mewtwo project was for Giovanni to have the world’s most powerful pokemon. Yet throughout all aspects of the Japanese version – from the radio drama to the short to the movie – it is never once highlighted that Myuutsu was meant to be some all-powerful pokemon (and that makes sense. I mean, really, why the hell would Fuji-Hakase care about that?). Instead, the scientist took on the project because he was working with Myuu’s DNA – said to be powerful, yes, but more importantly rumored to be immortal.
Myuu is far more than a super powerful pokemon. It has the gift of immortal life. Possessing and manipulating Myuu’s DNA,Fuji-Hakase believed, would be the key to revive his daughter.
So let us bring this back to Myuu. Here were have a pokemon with godly powers, believed to be immortal. If Myuu indeed can live forever, this is likely why it never cried when Satoshi was turned to stone (try explaining that, 4Kids; after all, didn’t you paint Mew to be some goody-two-shoes?). Myuu is confused by what happened to Satoshi – it is so lost in its godly abilities that it is also detached from mortality, much like in myths in which gods cannot understand why things die/change.
Finally, we have Myuu as one of the leading characters in the radio drama. It is made clear that Myuu was present for when Miyamoto (Musashi’s/Jessie’s mother) went disappearing. Yet interestingly, Myuu did nothing to protect Miyamoto from the avalanche. Nothing. Considering this pokemon – at the time, anyway – was said to be the most powerful of all, there is no reason it could not have stopped an avalanche (I mean, really, Myuutsu/Mewtwo effortlessly formulated a hurricane while sitting on his throne). My theories: A) Myuu could not understand that a life was on the line, much like the scene in which Satoshi turned to stone, or B) For unexplained reasons, Myuu is not allowed to intervene (but why would Myuu later intervene with Myuutsu? Questions, questions…).
There are more differences between Myuu and Mew, but I will stop here. Regardless, I hope this has opened your eyes to this mesmerizing character. Remember, there’s a lot more to that cat than pink bubbles and cuteness. To quote a well-known Myuu fan, “Myuu is a phantom pokemon, and Myuu is a mystery.”
I also have no life but it’s my day off and it’s raining, so I don’t care.
Note: In the future, I intend to write an improved version of the above essay, including comparisons between this Myuu and the one from the Lucario movie. I realize this essay is kinda… ranty. But I’m lazy. In addition, I will write an essay comparing the differences between Myuutsu and Mewtwo. That one will be long!
Interesting post. I enjoyed reading this! :D
If you have yet to see the masterpiece that is Myuutsu no Gyakushuu (Mewtwo’s Counterattack), better known as Mewtwo Strikes Back, here is a link to a streaming version.
As an additional treat, this version also includes the subbed version of the featurette The Birth of Mewtwo (Myuutsu no Tanjou), also known as The Origin of Mewtwo. If you don’t have the time to watch the whole movie, at least watch this part. Baby Myuutsu’s voice is soooo cute!
I have made brief comparisons between the Japanese and dubbed versions. But in short, this is the most you need to know:
- Myuutsu has less dialogue than Mewtwo.
- Despite having less dialogue, Myuutsu says enough to portray him as an intriguing character.
- Mewtwo is angry, confused, and ultimately is a megalomaniac until having a change of heart through Ash’s sacrifice. In the scene in which he returns to New Island and throws down his helmet, he says, “I will find my own purpose, and purge this planet of all who oppose me, human and pokémon alike! The world will heed my warning: The Reign of Mewtwo will soon begin.”
- Myuutsu is angry and confused (“Who am I? Why was I born?!”), but he is far from power-hungry. He is driven by making a point that he feels he has the right to his own identity and destiny. In the scene in which he goes back to New Island, he says, “Who am I? Where am I? Who wanted me here? Who wished for me to be created? I curse everything I was born upon. That’s why… not as an attack or a proclamation of war, against all of you responsible for my birth, I’ll strike back!” (This is somewhat vague, though. I mean… if he isn’t starting a war and is only pissed off at his creators, why get trainers and Joi/Joy involved?)
- The theme of the dubbed version is that war is wrong.
- The theme of the Japanese version is that we all have the right to exist, no matter our circumstances. That’s all, but it’s powerful. The same is said in the dubbed version as well, but it is somewhat overlooked due to the added element about war.
- My point: In the dub, when the originals and clones fight, it is seen as an act of war. It is viewed as senseless, cold-hearted battle. But in the Japanese version, they seem to be fighting to prove that they both have value because they both exist.
- As an added aspect to the harshness of Myuutsu’s existence and that of the clones, the Japanese version refers to them as copies, not clones. It’s a simple change of a word, but it’s far more degrading.
- Remember when Miranda (the wharfmaster) spoke of the Winds of Water legend? Well, Voyager (her Japanese name) never says anything about that. I guess the reason for the addition of the legend was so the audience wouldn’t be confused by Ash later on turning into stone.
- And finally - and this is my favorite - Mew is cute, innocent, and kitten-like. Myuu is adorable, but certainly isn’t innocent. Myuu makes fun of Myuutsu for being a copy. Myuu’s a fricken’ jerk, but I love it anyway.