In celebration of Pokémon: Let’s Go! (as well as my oft-hidden enjoyment of the Christmas/Holiday period) I decided to do something that until now hasn’t been as easy as turning to a virtual assistant and simply asking: “Hey Google, play “Pokémon Christmas Bash”.
If you aren’t familiar with “Pokemon Christmas Bash” allow me to briefly bring you up to speed - Way back around the 3rd Season of the Pokémon TV show a decision was made by 4Kids Entertainment to create an album starring the main cast of Ash, Brock, Misty, Team Rocket and even Professor Oak as they sing both original and adapted Christmas songs for young fans to enjoy. It released in October of 2001 (which makes it a tad younger than June’s “Shrek”, by the way) and is arguably one of the best albums ever created in the world ever forever shut up okay.
I listened to the album in its entirety once through as I prepared to pick up my copy of Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee! from my local retailer. Usually I’ll listen to title track “Pokémon Christmas Bash” and “I’m Giving Santa a Pikachu This Christmas” before turning it off, unable to stomach the agonising transformation back into my 8 year-old, Pokémon obsessed self. What followed this time however was a joyous listening experience that didn’t fail to amplify my excitement in Let’s Go and the upcoming Holiday period itself, as well as shatter the preconceptions that I held for a Pokémon Christmas album.
Perhaps most shockingly from the onset was the characterisation and storytelling that unfolds within each track with every member of the cast interacting with the others in their revelry, celebrating yuletide cheer in sing-song perfectly-in-character glee, with the occasional interruption from our favourite villainous trio of Pokémon thieves. It also raised questions; Was Misty always so romantically interested in Ash? Did James always sound so joyfully and mystifyingly camp? Will I ever be that fabulous? Do I still have the same boyish crush on Jessie that I first held back in my twilight years? (Yes). Is Brock really as disconcerting in his pursuit of women as my now grown and wiser adult-self now understands his actions to be?
That last point is perhaps the most worth delving into, because in 2018 Brock’s unashamed pursuit of women whilst not being physically harmful, is certainly a product of the time; days where equal treatment and representation of women was still steeped in troublesome trope, and a lot of work still needed to be done. A good deal of Brock’s involvement in this album hinges on his infatuation with women, especially the characters of Officer Jenny and Nurse Joy. In 2001 this worked to great effect in adding a humourous spin to the content, and the fact that Brock is still a deeply loveable character in 2018 despite these shortcomings is a strong testament to his complex characterisation, as well as Eric Stuart’s nuance and charisma in portraying the Pewter City gym leader’s emotional depth.
Given that last point however, this is an album that is as important in its in-world storytelling as it is as a Pokémon Christmas merchandising tie-in. You gain a sense of personality through this medium in a way that the TV show was unwilling or perhaps even unable to do so. Sure, the show would touch on the subject of missing distant loved ones on a surface level, but the narrative needs to remain driven and linear to its depiction of Ash’s journey to become a Pokémon master. This isn’t a limitation for the album, and tracks such as “I Keep My Home In My Heart” allow us a peek behind the curtain; a glance into the dressing room. If the TV show is the party in full swing, Pokémon Christmas Bash is the sobering talk with tired strangers (and new friends) on the balcony at 1am. The revelry calmed. Our strife bared.
As a festive celebration of Pokémon’s continued success, we also get to see Professor Oak giving gifts in the Oak-iest way possible in “I’m Giving Santa a Pikachu This Christmas”, graduating Ash from being the only one to receive a special Pikachu from Oak himself. Ash also lends his voice to this duet offering many explanations for how Santa could benefit from having his own electric rodent, and it only becomes much more evident that this is an album that could have only come from the early 00’s. I don’t really see Activision funding production for a track titled “I’m Giving Santa a Gjallarhorn This Christmas”.
However that isn’t all that Oak has been up to for his own holiday celebration - During “The Night Before Christmas” near the end of my listening foray came a single throwaway allusion to a widespread (and at this point surely canonical) fan theory regarding the intimate relations of two supporting characters that I could only laugh aloud to:
“And my mom in her kerchief and Mr. Mime in my cap
(And I think Professor Oak was there too)
Had just settled their brains for a long Winter’s nap”
The incredulity in Ash’s voice as he says this is mind-bending. Of course the relationship between Professor Oak and the Ketchum family has long been a topic of interest with Professor Oak being pictured alongside Delia a great deal of the time. This has caused many people to theorise the possibility of an off-screen relationship, or potentially even that Professor Oak may even be the father of Ash. To my knowledge there hasn’t been any direct reference to a relationship between them within the series, but this song on a spin-off album made specifically to celebrate the worlds of Pokémon and Christmas combining? It drops the megaton bomb of Professor Oak and Delia Ketchum settling down for Christmas together, with Mr. Mime completing the family by fulfilling the currently open “son” slot, going as far as putting Mr. Mime in Ash’s iconic baseball cap.
Of course following Season 3 and throughout the rest of the series we continue to see Oak and Delia together right up until the Sun & Moon episodes released last year. Professor Oak… What are you to this family? And are you happy in this situation? Are you simply helping Deliah to cope? Do you know more than you ever let on, especially regarding your patriarchal role within Ash’s life?
Altogether, drama and probing aside, this album is a wonderful little piece of Pokémon world-building that gives us just a few tidbits of extra insight into the characters that we grew up knowing and learning from. It answers the smaller things that we don’t really see on screen - How do our friends celebrate Christmas? How does Christmas differ in a universe centred entirely around intelligent animal-esque companions? It might not be entirely steeped in “reality” and I don’t see Team Rocket actually stopping their pursuit of rare Pokémon in order to celebrate with our show’s heroes… But having them crash a Pokémon themed rendition of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” that Misty “downloaded from the internet” (spoken exactly how you might imagine someone from 2001 would say it) only for James to join right in when the cast is “off the clock” is SO on brand.
Throw in “Christmas Medley”, some ditties about the wonders of winter and Christmas such as Misty’s “Winter is the Coolest Time of Year” and Team Rocket’s “The Christmas Song” as well as some incredibly well-voiced character skits throughout the whole album and you have one of the most wonderfully crafted and faithful homages to a popular media franchise that I’ve ever experienced. And it all feels so wholesome. Even Meowth’s “Nobody Don’t Like Christmas”, a song in which he sings about how nobody dislikes Christmas except for himself, manages to feel like a small treasure of extra characterisation that makes perfect sense if you only gave it some extra thought in your own time.
I must confess that my personal nostalgia towards this album is perhaps more of a projection than the hearkening of a legitimate memory, for I only heard “I’m Giving Santa a Pikachu This Christmas” for the first time in 2016, having serendipitously merged the searches of both “Pokémon” and “Christmas” in curiosity of where the twain shall meet. I came away not only amazed, but enlightened as a human being. And isn’t that what Pokémon has always been about - The learning of oneself through the medium of connections and friendship with those around us?
Truly, “Pokémon Christmas Bash” is a gem kept long hidden deep within our collective conscience, and I think it’s time we maybe brought it a little closer to the surface again… Even if it’s only for a day or two this year.