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Pokémon Master Journeys Has a Major Team Rocket Problem

Pokémon Journeys has been a game-changer for the franchise, but the changes to Team Rocket might not be for the best.

Team Rocket has come a long way during the vast history of the Pokémon anime. Far from the one-dimensional criminals they once were, they have developed emotional bonds with their Pokémon, and Jessie has even discovered a passion for Pokémon Contests. Unfortunately, after the soft reboot of Pokémon Journeys, all this character development has been undone and the nefarious trio has become a real problem for the series.

Pokémon Journeys has seen Team Rocket regress tremendously in terms of their relevancy to the plot. Starting in Hoenn and continuing all the way through Kalos, Team Rocket finally had something to do other than bother Ash when Jessie started competing in Pokémon Contests. Finally caring about something other than a life of crime, her moderate success in these Contests, with wholehearted support from James and Meowth, was a great way to keep their quest to steal Pikachu from getting too stale.

James’ and Meowth’s sincere support for Jessie made it clear that these crooks had become a makeshift family. This new dynamic made them sympathetic enough that it became believable that they would occasionally seek out Ash’s help — and that he would actually give it to them. Ash’s habit of lending Team Rocket a hand is especially noteworthy considering he once tried to push them into the ocean when he thought they were dead.

Throughout the years, Pokémon dedicated entire episodes to Jessie’s and James’ relationships with the Pokémon they captured on their journey — and just like Ash, they would tearfully release or give away their Pokémon when they felt it was in their Pokémon’s best interest. How trainers behave with their Pokémon can be the most humanizing or dehumanizing character trait in the series, and Team Rocket unquestionably loves their Pokémon.

However, these days in Pokémon Journeys, all these storytelling tools to make Team Rocket sympathetic characters have been stripped away. Jessie, James and Meowth have reverted to their Season 1 characters, meaning they exist solely to cause trouble for Ash. They don’t even have their own Pokémon anymore; instead, in each episode, a Pelipper descends from the sky and drops off a couple of Team Rocket Poké Balls with random Pokémon in them for Jessie and James to battle with before returning them to HQ after they get sent blasting off again.

Gone are the days where Team Rocket faces off against a rival criminal organization or lands themselves in such trouble that they need Ash’s help. They aren’t even as competent as criminals as they were during Ash’s Unova campaign when they had Meowth join Ash and the gang as part of a long con. Pokémon Journeys has relegated the trio to contextless antagonism and the occasional comic relief, and even though some of it is genuinely funny, it only goes so far in helping them feel relevant to the franchise.

Without their own Pokémon or anything else to do themselves, Team Rocket has become nothing more than a plot device, and an annoying one at that. Their antics have reached the point that their appearances come off as little more than an effort to pad the episodes’ runtime. With no indication of potential character arcs for the criminal trio, their 25-years-long quest to steal Pikachu is getting a little exhausting. It’s almost as if the anime itself has had enough of Team Rocket but getting rid of them altogether would be too bold for a series that famously avoids taking any narrative risks.

Pokémon Journeys doesn’t appear to know what to do with Team Rocket and possibly doesn’t really care. It’s not a good look for the series, and it actively harms the episodes in which Team Rocket appears. Hopefully, the day will come when Jessie, James and Meowth can be relevant and sympathetic characters once again because as they are now, the series would be better off without them.

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