It's an already familiar scene. Ash and his friends are lost. So lost, in fact, that they've lost the plot. Literally. They've lost the video game plot. Never you mind, at least they're on the way to Vermillion City after all. A sigh of relief, Gentlemen and Ladies.
Only a sigh though. Not a gasp, or a yawn, merely a sigh.
"With two Pokémon badges pinned to his jacket, our hero Ash marches boldly along the path to... to...?"
Filler isn't a joke, stop encouraging them, Narrator!
All this bragging is commented upon by Brock and Misty.
"But his brain's still the same size."
If he's so bad to be around why are you still following him? Oh yeah, a "bike". Of course that's what it is.
AJ is our character of the day. He runs his own Pokémon Gym, not officially sanctioned by the Pokémon League of course. 98 Wins, 0 Losses. Sounds like a guy I knew once who won 100 rounds of Tekken. Or maybe that was on a TV show... That was on a TV show. Anyway...
"Are you my next victim?"
I despise AJ already. I can guess what kind of 'victims' someone with such a creepy-ass voice would have. He sounds like Merle from AMC's The Walking Dead, so immediately I want him and his entire good-for-nothing life erased from existence. Can we do that?
With Photoshop, we can. But then Ash would be talking to nobody. So let's continue-- and if I get yet another email notification blip while trying to write this article I will choke something. Notifications sounds OFF, thank you.
AJ has taught his Pokémon to do his manual labor for him. AJ is so sure he's going to win that he's goading Ash on with comments such as "which Pokémon are you going to pick for my 99th win". Jerk. I like to think if you're someone talented, nay, powerful, you should always be kind and respectful of others. AJ doesn't come across like that, his skills and experience have turned him into a horrible person. I have Gary Oak levels of hatred for this guy and we're only 3:53 into the episode. Gosh.
Ash and AJ prepare to battle.
Ash attempts a little bit of his famous bragging. "98 Wins and no badges? I have 10 wins and I've won two Pokémon badges."
But that's a lie, he didn't win those.
AJ responds saying that Ash had either stole the badges, bought them, or competed in weak incompetent Gyms run by poor trainers. This results in riling up Misty and Brock, whose stance change and demand Ash 'pulverize' AJ. Are you ready, Ash Ketchum? Are you ready to die?
AJ releases Sandshrew and Ash releases Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto should have the type advantage, but Sandshrew is able to launch itself into the air and attack Pidgeotto directly, even though Pidgeotto is using a flying move. Show logic.
As Ash lays defeated at AJ's hands, a certain trio of meddling idiots watch from afar. It's our pointless friends, Team Rocket.
They are tempted by AJ's Sandshrew, which to them looks incredibly powerful and a must-have to get in good favor with their boss. Jessie, James and Meowth discuss the importance of having a decent modern costume as opposed to looking centuries old, and some slapstick where James punches Meowth is always appreciated.
AJ's stadium banner now reads 99 Wins 0 Losses. Ash accuses AJ of rigging the match, which just shows him up as a huge crybaby. Face it kid, how many people did you trounce on the way here? How did they feel about it? I bet they were sad too. No, wait, the person we see Ash defeat at the start of the episode took their loss well, congratulated Ash and was happy to have gained valuable battling experience. Ash is no better than the who-knows-what stuck on the bottom of your shoe.
So what is AJ's secret then? EV Training, perhaps. Though this didn't exist in any real form until the 3rd Generation of games, the concept of Pokémon being almost unnaturally strong can be set around this logic.
Since the very first game, Pokémon are born with IVs (Individual Values) which cannot be changed. These statistics identify at what rate the Pokémon's skills will grow. Since around Generation 3, Pokémon also earn EVs (Effort Values), which allow certain stats to be boosted.
Ash and the gang enter AJ's tent after hearing him yell. Inside they see Pokémon training to become stronger, boosting their Effort Values in terms of the game logic. The sign in the background is an obvious edit.
Ash pushes AJ into the water, disgusted at the way he treats his Pokémon. Forcing Sandshrew to jump into a swimming pool, how terrible! Also, Sandshrew is being forced to wear the Macho Brace, I mean Strength Intensifier, an item that eventually made its way into the games! Also, here's an untranslatable language joke.
"Sandshrew pick up your pacing!"
"Hey wait, I thought you said pacing, not passing!"
"...I said padding!"
Originally, it was a joke where Ash confused Sandshrew's Japanese name, Sand, for Sandbag. Which Pikachu then confused for the Japanese word for pillow. The joke doesn't really work in either context.
AJ reveals that his Sandshrew is happy to be trained hard, and that he and Sandshrew vowed to become the strongest trainer and Pokémon of all time. It's getting quite late, are we going to hit the half-way point or what?
When Ash aks Brock to back him up, Brock instead asks AJ what kind of food he feeds his Pokémon. As far as Brock is concerned, AJ is a powerful trainer with a lot of skill, who has raised his Pokémon very well. AJ reveals that he feeds the Pokémon his own especially created recipes to achieve the very best out of his Pokémon.
On these labels I see Ditto, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, Staryu... Pokémon we don't actually see in this episode. Meanwhile, Pikachu and Sanshrew train together.
Outside, Team Rocket are planning to capture Pikachu. Even though a moment ago they were interested in Sandshrew. Do you think the writers fell asleep on the job, woke up and forgot what they were writing? Yeah, I think so too.
They try out a new motto:
"Team Rocket will do what it has to do..."
"To snatch that little Pikachu."
A small scene then happens where they discuss whether or not to come up with a theme song, while Meowth walks across on top of a red ball. AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS MERCY, WHEN IS THE HALF-WAY TRANSITION GOING TO COME?
Finally. You should be able to get this one. If you can't, I'd be worried.