Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Takeshi Shudo: The Tragic Hero of Pocket Monsters

I'd wager that most Pokémon fans don't know who Takeshi Shudo is, which is a damn shame. As the head writer for the Pocket Monsters anime from 1997 until 2002 (read: from Kanto to Jouto), he was one of the most influential forces in the writers' room...or at least he should have been. Clashing opinions between him and his producers led to his artistic vision being compromised time and again, which is a big part of why the show became so formulaic and boring in the Jouto saga. They kept going with what they knew made money, rather than what could have been a creative new direction.

Shudo always valued creativity over marketability, which is a guaranteed recipe for frustration when you work in television. He spoke about his experiences on Pocket Monsters in a series of blog posts several years ago, which have been translated at the RocketShipper Photo Album. Among the interesting behind-the-scenes nuggets to be gleaned from these journals:

- Musashi, Kojirou, and Nyasu were Shudo's favorite characters, and he deliberately gave them more depth of personality so that the adults in the audience could have something to enjoy about the show too. (He originally conceived the Lugia movie as a film about Musashi-tachi coming to terms with the fact that they're basically good people who work for an evil criminal organization.)

- In fact, his goal from the very beginning was to make Pocket Monsters a show that anyone could enjoy, young or old, but the producers steered it in a more kid-friendly direction, simplifying Satoshi's personality and arresting character development overall. The anime was originally meant to run only for a year and a half, so Shudo had planned out how the characters would evolve over time, but when Pocket Monsters became a huge hit, it was decided to keep the show going as long as possible, throwing Shudo's series outline out of whack.

- He felt Kasumi suffered the most from the limitations of character development permitted to the show, and in fact she was only added to the principal cast so girls would have a main character to relate to. When ratings began to drop at the end of the Jouto region, there was discussion among the writers about how to change the main cast; they could either get rid of Musashi-tachi or Kasumi. Of course, we know what they chose, and Shudo feels they made the right decision - Kasumi, in his opinion, had become "unnecessary".

- And speaking of Kasumi, Shudo never intended any sort of romance between her and Satoshi, implied or otherwise. The show was meant to be about Satoshi's Pokémon journey; Shudo felt that a romantic thread between two main characters would be too distracting. (As someone who despises PokéShipping, I can't help but smile at this.)

Tragically, Takeshi Shudo died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage in October 2010, at the age of 61. And even in his retirement years, I don't think he was ever fully satisfied with his work on Pocket Monsters - his creative vision had been compromised so many times, and there was basically nothing he could do about it. Imagine what a world it might have been if he'd been given more free reign over the show - if the characters had been more fully realized, if the formulaic fillers had been eliminated, if it had ended in 1998 after a mere 80 episodes, would it be as popular today as it currently is? Almost certainly not. Would it have been better? That's something to think about.