Pokemon Horizons: The Series review: "The anime has plenty of life left in a post-Ash world"

Pokemon Horizons: The Series
(Image: © The Pokemon Company)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Pokemon kicks off a new era with a charming adventure, though new hero Liko proves to be an inconsistent replacement for Ash

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Earlier this year, Pokemon said goodbye to Ash Ketchum. After becoming a Pokemon Master and the best there ever was, the hit anime series chose to head for new horizons and, well, here they are. Pokemon Horizons: The Series boldly starts afresh and, even if it’s not super effective in all areas, the first four episodes are proof of concept that there’s plenty of life left in a post-Ash world.

Meet Liko (ably voiced in the English dub by Alejandra Reynoso), a resident of Paldea making the long journey to the Kanto region to study at the Indigo Academy, a school for wannabe Pokemon trainers.

Replacing Ash was always going to be a thankless task. Instead, the creative team opts to go in a different direction to Pallet Town’s favorite son. Part-wallflower, part-worrywart, Liko is an introverted hero who can’t quite express how she’s feeling. 

The trouble is, having that sort of muted personality doesn’t always translate well to the wildly expressive medium of anime, with the new protagonist occasionally fading into the background in episodes. While she lacks the moral anchoring and can-do attitude of previous heroes, Liko is undeniably someone audiences will root for in the same way they stuck by Ash for over a quarter of a century.

Liko, though, is a character who oscillates wildly from endearing to oddly irritating, especially when doing some meta fretting and inner monologuing about making a good impression. Still, she remains a bubbly presence throughout and Horizons leaves plenty of room for genuine character development, which is more than can be said for the sporadic wheel-spinning of seasons’ past.

New Horizons

Pokemon Horizons: The Series

(Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

Much like Pokemon’s iconic 'I Choose You!' opener, the Horizons premiere focuses on Liko getting acquainted with her ‘Pokemon Partner’, the sprightly grass cat Sprigatito – and the pair’s trouble connecting.

What starts as a languid fish-out-of-water story that acts as a perfect jumping-on point for newcomers (heaps of exposition on everything from Pokemon typing to battling is cleverly dished out via the streamer 'Nidothing' at intervals), soon transforms into something altogether more exciting as the villainous Explorers track down Liko. She then falls under the care of the Rising Volt Tacklers aboard the airship The Brave Olivine, who help her to protect the mysterious glowing pendant handed down from her grandmother. 

It’s here where the series truly kicks into gear, with The Explorers’ ringleader Amethio providing a cold, calculating foil to the team. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s going to be a far more menacing, complex threat than Team Rocket – who descended into high camp long before Ash embarked for the Orange Islands.

The Rising Volt Tacklers are undoubtedly the series’ biggest strength so far, gifting Horizons with a One Piece-style jolt of energy as ultra-cool professor Friede, medic Mollie, chef Murdoch, and Orla the mechanic coalesce to create a core unit that has an elasticity that allows it to thrive in both adventure-of-the-week episodes and more story-heavy entries. The cherry on top? The head of the outfit: the cutesy Captain Pikachu. Where did he get that hat? And how was he promoted? Those are questions Horizons never answers, but is evidence enough of the OLM animation studio delighting – as it does throughout these four episodes – in wringing laughs aplenty out of putting Pokemon in hilarious everyday situations.

Pokemon Horizons: The Series

(Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

Horizons is not without its flaws, however. The OP, 'Becoming Me' is oddly flat and fleeting, far from the quality of the decades-spanning earworm that is the first season’s iconic Pokemon Theme. It’s also a show that can’t quite escape the long, long shadow of Ash – and, no, there’s no hint he will return 2 B A Mentor.

Liko tries her best, but her anxious attitude spreads to the early storytelling, which seems quite conservative and by-the-numbers in both its overarching plot and which Pokemon it deploys. Like the ninth-generation Scarlet and Violet, it’s willing to shake up the formula but frequently sticks a little too close to its traditional boundaries to offer up anything truly novel.

The show, admittedly, is racing towards Paldea, but it might not enrapture those looking for a real reboot, even if it is a genuine breath of fresh air after a combined near-50 movies and seasons with Ash, Misty, Brock, and chums. 

The series also introduces another protagonist – Roy, a budding trainer from a remote island – a few episodes after the core group has formed. An afterthought? Not quite, but it interrupts the momentum slightly of a show that certainly hits its stride as it sets course for Paldea.

There are, though, breadcrumbs to suggest sprinklings of long-form storytelling – Roy’s Ancient Poke Ball feels right out of the same territory as Misty’s egg-turned-Togepi, for example – that will likely keep older and lapsed viewers engaged throughout its upcoming run.

Yet, it can’t be overstated just how momentous Horizons feels: for the first time in the 21st Century, this is a fully-fledged Pokemon series for a new generation. Thankfully, the Rising Volt Tacklers’ infectious personalities help steer Horizons through uncharted waters. Liko might take a while for viewers to warm to, but the new show is an Onix-pected treat for those who might have been all doom and gloom about the series’ on-screen future – this is a warm, fuzzy step into the unknown that will make you feel like a kid again.

The first six episodes of Pokemon Horizons: The Series are now available on BBC iPlayer and on Netflix in the US on February 23. For more, check out the new TV shows you have to look forward to in 2024 and then discover some of the best Pokemon games around.

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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.