Good lord, this week’s episode of the Pokémon Sun and Moon cartoon is a downer. A double-header ended with an episode about, of all things, death and the lingering power of grief.
Pokémon fan site Pokémon Go Master has the full recap of the series’ 21st episode, which premiered yesterday in Japan. It starts out pleasantly enough: The episode’s a charming story of the cat-and-dog odd couple Stoutland and Litten. By the end of the half-hour, though, Litten — and viewers — experience one of life’s toughest events.
Litten and Stoutland live a pretty solid life together, despite being trainer-less and out on the streets. When Stoutland falls sick, Ash and Pikachu step in as interim caretakers.
Baby Litten is devastated. Here is the closest Pokémon that Litten has to any kind of family, wasting away in a medical ward. Here is Litten’s mentor, someone who’d always been so big and strong, left vulnerable and with an uncertain future.
That’s how death works: It creeps up on the living without warning. Ash, Pikachu and Professor Kukui, the designated adult in the room, can sympathize, but they haven’t lost like Litten has. Pokémon Sun and Moon’s vibrant color palette goes grayscale. The tiny fire cat is left to ponder what a future without Stoutland will look like, far before it ever thought it had to.
Because Pokémon Sun and Moon is a kids’ show that wouldn’t dare leave viewers’ hearts on the floor without picking up the pieces, things end on an uplifting note. Grief is insidious, and it’s painful, and it doesn’t abide by any rhythm or timeline. Litten will likely feel the ebbing and flowing feelings of depression for a long time, but life has a nice way of serving up reminders that there’s reason to keep going.
It’s a pretty astounding piece of animation, based on the recap and the impact the episode had on Twitter-using viewers:
Pokémon has rarely broached the subject of death before. Instead, monsters that are defeated in battle are sent to the Pokémon Center for a quick recovery. The games have always alluded to the fact that aging Pokémon can pass away, but this episode is the series’ most devastating, powerful look at what losing someone important to you is like.