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Pokémon episode skips US air for the first time in 16 years

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A Pokémon anime episode appears to have been held back from the English dub

Ash dressed as Passimian in the Pokémon anime The Pokémon Company

Disney XD, the kids cable network and home to the Pokémon cartoons, won’t be airing an upcoming episode of the Sun and Moon anime, according to its programming schedule for July 16. Instead, the channel will skip ahead to the following one in the season — leaving a Pokémon episode unaired stateside for the first time since 2002.

The Pokémon Company seemingly choosing to hold back an episode from the West is a surprising, but not unprecedented, move. Yet with this particular episode, which ran in Japan on March 1, the decision not to show it to American audiences makes sense. Episode 64 of Sun and Moon is called “Touchdown of Friendship!!” in Japanese, and involves Ash Ketchum developing serious sympathy for a tribe of the lemur-like Pokémon Passimian. His desire to protect and support the Pokémon runs so deep that he begins acting like them; he even walks on all fours, just like Passimian do.

The storyline of this episode sounds weird, but that’s nothing new for Pokémon. What’s most troubling is where Ash’s Passimian passion leads him: He ends up wearing a costume that resembles the Pokémon, which includes painting his entire face black.

That kind of gag definitely doesn’t fly in America, no matter how it fits into the context of the episode. It’s also an issue Pokémon has faced and handled before; the last episode outright excluded from the dubbed version of the anime dealt with a character in seeming blackface as well. The series’ 250th episode starred the Pokémon Jynx, whose original design saw her with an entirely black-colored face and appearance reminiscent of offensive African-American caricatures. She’s since been updated to have a purple face instead, but the original episode remains unchanged. As such, it’s not only one of the few episodes to never leave Asia, but also part of a small group of Pokémon cartoons that have been banned from re-airing.

Some fans have been quick to assume that Sun and Moon’s Passimian episode has suffered the same fate, and will never be seen outside of Japan. Neither Disney XD nor The Pokémon Company have said that’s the case — it’s possible that the episode has just been shifted to a much, much later date — but we’ve reached out to both for clarification. We’ll update when we learn more.