Yesterday, we took a look at the so-called Pokémon killer, The Weekenders, so today we’re going to look at Pokémon itself. The Weekenders earned that nickname because it was the first to knock Pokémon off the top of the ratings charts for Saturday morning television after it had reigned for a year. The victory was short-lived, and it would seem Pokémon has fared far better in the long run than that forgotten Disney cartoon.
“Holiday Hi-Jynx,” also known as “Rougela’s Christmas” in Japan, is one of the more controversial episodes of the long-running series (which has surpassed the 1,000 episode milestone) due to its focus on the character Jynx. Jynx, as you can see from the image above, seems to resemble a character in blackface. Now, in Japan this isn’t a thing, but in the US where an entire race of people were once enslaved, we have a few hang-ups about this sort of thing. And post slavery, people of color rather famously weren’t afforded the same opportunities as whites, some would say they still aren’t, which included depictions on stage or eventually on film. White actors would be cast to portray black individuals and utilize blackface. And then there were also minstrel shows which were also pretty damn racist, but also pretty common during the era.
In television, characters like Jynx were once waved off. Similar characters have been showing up in animation since it started and some made it to television, and some did not. A contemporary to Pokémon in the late 90s (as far as American audiences are concerned) is Dragon Ball which also featured its own blackface character in Mr. Popo. Mr. Popo largely went unchallenged and was featured in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with no alterations or cuts for years. Only when the series returned to television as Dragon Ball Z Kai in 2010 was a change made. And in that case, it was only done for the episodes airing on broadcast television and not cable. For them, Mr. Popo was re-colored with an electric blue skin tone that did little to hide the racism, but I guess it allowed the network to say, “We tried.”
For Jynx, the solution was far simpler. Unlike Mr. Popo, Jynx is not often featured in the series. When Pokémon first aired, the character went unnoticed and the episode was allowed to air. Eventually, the character garnered some negative press and the episode was pulled sometime in 2000. And ever since, it’s essentially been banned. When Netflix and Amazon Prime eventually acquired Pokémon for streaming, this episode was not included. The only way to see it is to purchase a physical copy of the show on DVD, and not just any DVD, as you need to get the specific version that includes it. Future releases would omit the episode.
Is all of this necessary? It’s hard for me to say. I’m a white guy, so I’m naturally not as sensitive to the subject as others would be. Someone apparently didn’t see the value in giving Jynx the Mr. Popo treatment to get it back on air or into a streaming catalog, which is unfortunate since this is a Christmas episode! Poor little Pokémon fans are being deprived a Christmas special because of the stupid, racist, Pokémon it features. I suppose now with the show totaling over a thousand episodes no one sees a need to make sure this one, specific, episode makes it onto Netflix or wherever. Plus, the show has other Christmas episodes. What’s worse, is the episode did get recolored, but for Japan only. A “fixed” episode exists, it just needs to be dubbed. Did they lose the dub track or something? It seems like something that would be easy, and cheap, to correct. It’s also annoying because Jynx is terrible, she is one of the worst of the original 151 Pokémon. As a human shape, she lacks the cuteness or the charm of someone like Squirtle or Cubone. She’s rather curvy too, which is just weird for a Pokémon.
Anyways, that’s Jynx for you. She’s the reason this episode has been placed into purgatory which gives me a desire to take a look at it. Also, for me 2019 may very well be remembered as the year my son was properly introduced to Pokémon. Since getting him Let’s Go! Pikachu for his birthday, he’s been a walking, talking, Pokédex. Time will tell if this obsession will stick, but it’s been rather amusing for me to see him get into something so completely like he has Pokémon which has only further made me want to include the show in this year’s version of The Christmas Spot.
Let’s get to it then. This episode is from the first iteration of the show taking place in Kanto. It’s episode 65 of the English dub, though it was supposed to air sometime around episode 39 or so and there’s a continuity error as a result which I’ll note when we get there. And naturally, this is a Christmas episode and it’s going to go all in on that sentiment.
The episode opens and narrator Rodger Parsons brings us into a darkened bedroom with a girl asleep in bed. It’s Jessie (Rachael Lillis) of Team Rocket, so something must be up. A shadowy figure enters the room from the chimney, could it be Santa? As the figure approaches the bed, a trap is sprung and the old elf is caught in a large net. Jessie rejoices at the capture of Santa, as does their sometimes loyal sidekick Meowth (Madeleine Blaustein). After the title card is displayed, we discover that this is not Santa, but James (Eric Stuart) dressed-up as the Christmas icon in a dry run for a true Santa trap. Jessie has apparently been obsessed with capturing Santa dating back to her childhood when she made an important discovery. While asleep one Christmas Eve, she woke to find Santa in her room, only it wasn’t Santa it was a Jynx! The Santa Jynx picked up Jessie’s favorite doll and departed up the chimney with it infuriating the young girl. Ever since then, Santa has failed to pay her a visit and now it’s time for her revenge!
Elsewhere, Ash (Veronica Taylor), Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) have just made a discovery. They’ve spotted a lone Jynx on a beach and she’s holding what appears to be a boot. Jynx, being a rare Pokémon, immediately captures Ash’s attention and he decides he needs to catch this Pokémon. He deploys Pikachu who’s thundershock attack does little to bother the Jynx. She gets Pikachu in her arms and uses her signature maneuver, a kiss, to paralyze the electric rodent. Ash then deploys Charmander and commands him to flamethrower the Jynx. This is the continuity error I mentioned earlier as Ash’s Charmander had already evolved in a previously aired episode.
Charmander’s flames subdue the rather docile Jynx, and Ash attempts to capture it with a Pokéball but it fails. Ash is confused, which is about when the group decides to diagnose this situation further such as why is Jynx holding a black boot? Misty takes a look at the boot Jynx is holding and finds it belongs to Santa Claus. How can she tell? He has a picture of himself in his boot, which is a pretty weird way to declare ownership over something (that’s because in the Japanese version, Santa’s name can fit on a postage stamp-sized image where as his English name would not, so he gets a portrait). Jynx then tries to tell them what happened, but like most Pokémon, she’s only capable of saying “Jynx.” Brock guesses she belongs to Santa, and Jynx gets all horny and tries to kiss him which he does not respond well to.
Jynx then does something she should have done from the start. She glows and shimmers with rainbow colors as her hair stretches out and touches everyone around her, including Charmander and Pikachu whom Charmander is adorably carrying on his back. It seems Jynx has the ability to psychically communicate with others. They see the Jynx in an arctic setting polishing Santa’s boot when suddenly a piece of the ice she’s standing on breaks apart from the mainland and drifts away. This Jynx is lost and needs to get back to Santa, and Ash vows to help her out which nearly earns him one of those undesirable kisses.
From atop a peek nearby, Team Rocket is watching and scheming. Since Jessie knows the “secret” about Santa, she’s naturally inclined to follow this Jynx. They intend to follow Ash and the others to Santa’s workshop to steal all of the toys – the horror!
Ash’s grand plan is to board a raft and sail to Santa’s workshop using Misty’s water Pokémon to pull the raft. As they do so, Team Rocket boards a Gyarados submarine to give chase. Eventually, the water Pokémon get tired and Ash decides he can take over pulling the raft. He strips down to his boxers and dives in. He doesn’t appear to get very far before fatigue sets in as well. He starts to think about turning back, but hears a feminine voice in his head urging him on. When he asks Misty and Brock if they heard it they say they did not. Ash keeps going and the voice informs him he has a ways to go. Suddenly, a wave rises up and crashes into Ash. It severs the rope around his waist and pulls him underwater. He opens his eyes and sees a black void approaching him.
We’re interrupted with a “Whose that Pokémon?” (it’s Pidgeotto) bumper before returning to the show. The black void before Ash turns out to be a Lapras, a dinosaur-like Pokémon of the sea. It takes him to the surface with Ash upon its shell and Misty is able to get a Pokédex reading on the gentle beast. Turns out, Lapras is capable of telepathy and that’s the voice Ash had been hearing. Lapras (Jayne Grand) explains to everyone that Santa had asked it to find a missing Jynx. Lapras has been watching this trio for some time, and can take them to Santa’s work shop.
Lapras pulls the raft ever faster, forcing Team Rocket to speed up. Their submarine is pedal-operated, so they have their work cut out for them. As Lapras pulls the raft along it starts to rain. Ash enjoys it, but Lapras cautions him that it will soon get really cold. Ash says he can handle it and we cut to later to find all three huddled for warmth amongst Jynx’s hair. Lapras informs them they’re almost there and we soon see what looks like a giant iceberg up ahead. Lapras informs the others this is the location of Santa’s workshop, but before they can get too excited the visage of Gyarados rises from the water’s surface.
Team Rocket exits the submarine and breathlessly goes into their usual introductory routine. Eventually, Jesse and James are forced to embrace each other for warmth as Meowth makes his entrance. He quickly decides it’s way too cold and returns to the warm confines of the submarine. Jesse then demands that Ash hand over Santa Claus. When they express confusion, she clarifies she means Jynx. The others have a good laugh at her expense, while Jessie insists that Jynx is actually Santa Claus. Fed up with their laughter, Jessie orders Meowth to fire a missile from the submarine. It arcs into the sky, and as Ash and the others panic, Jessie and James make off with the Jynx. The missile explodes and a huge cargo net is draped over the good guys while Team Rocket heads to the workshop.
Once there, we see a frozen Christmas tree and Team Rocket peering through the windows of the fabled shop. Inside they see numerous Jynx (which Jessie insists on referring to as Santas) doing the work we would normally associate with elves. They soon spy the real Santa, causing Jessie to question everything she’s thought up until now. Santa is seen fretting about his missing left boot to one of the Jynx, and Jessie pops in with the boot and presents it to him. He’s delighted and asks if she also found a Jynx with it, but before she can answer Ash and the others storm in. Ash informs Santa that these people are on his naughty list, and before he can inquire further James and Meowth tie him up. Jessie then tells them if they want to have a happy new year they better do as they command.
With Ash and the others all tied and bound there’s nothing preventing Team Rocket from loading all of the Christmas presents onto their submarine. Santa tries reasoning with Jessie and he seems to be onto something. Jynx comes over and uses her psychic powers to show Jessie what really happened that night. When she woke from her slumber she knocked her favorite toy on the floor causing it to break. Jynx, who was assisting Santa that night, saw the broken toy and took it to have Santa fix it back at his workshop. She now returns it to Jessie good as new. When Jessie asks what took so long, Santa explains that after that Christmas Jessie sealed off her heart to Santa, and once a child stops believing he can no longer enter their home. Jessie’s eyes well up with tears, and James appears affected by this display of emotion. Jessie is thankful, but then informs Santa she’s still taking all of the toys anyways because she’s still Jessie.
As Team Rocket flees in its sub, Lapras emerges. Lapras tells them Christmas is for everyone, and can’t be stolen, before unleashing its ice breath attack on the submarine. It becomes frozen solid, and Ash uses the opportunity to summon Charmander once again. He instructs the Pokémon to free them first before turning its fire breath on Team Rocket. Charmander ends up thawing the ice, inadvertently freeing Team Rocket allowing it to call upon Weezing to take out Charmander and resume its escape.
Ash apologizes to Santa for letting Team Rocket get away, but he’s not too concerned. He instructs the Jynx, dressed in little Santa suits of their own, to use their psywave technique. They do as instructed and telekinetically lift the submarine from the water and dump out the presents on the shore. The submarine is then destroyed, and Team Rocket “blasts off” as it always does.
Santa is then shown in a one-Rapidash open sleigh piled high with presents. He thanks them for their help and instructs Lapras to take them home. As he flies away, Ash realizes he never told Santa what he wanted for Christmas. Lapras informs him that Santa knows as Jynx brings out presents for all of them, even Pikachu. Lapras wishes them a merry Christmas to finish things off here.
We’re then taken back to the castle-like structure on a cliffside that opened the episode. Team Rocket is shown all sharing a bed. They look a bit worse for ware. They’ve hung stockings, but Meowth doesn’t think they’ll be getting filled with presents. Just then, Jynx shows up outside the window. She winks and blows them a kiss, which puts all three to sleep. Santa is then shown flying past the moon, because all Christmas specials featuring Santa are required to include such a shot, and he too wishes us all a merry Christmas.
That was a rather interesting approach to a Christmas episode. It turned an unpopular Pokémon into Santa’s elves and gave Team Rocket a Grinch-like plot. I suppose I should have foreseen a Grinch turn for Team Rocket, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. It’s always interesting to see how Santa is incorporated into a fictional world’s lore, and in this case his existence is unquestioned. It’s perhaps a touch light on Christmas sentiment, but it’s also nice when a special doesn’t beat the audience over the head with the same. I like the fake-out with Jessie who appeared to be having a happy Christmas moment, only to continue on with her plans of thievery. It genuinely fooled me and I thought the episode was going to take the sappy way out, but I’m happy it did not.
The decision to make Jynx essentially Santa’s elves was perplexing to me, then I remembered Black Pete. Yes, one final bit on the inherent racism of Jynx seems to come from Sweden. There, Santa has a servant named Black Pete who functions similarly to Krampus. He’s often depicted by a white actor in blackface, not unlike Jynx. Black Pete punishes bad kids, which is something Jynx apparently does not do (unless you view her putting Team Rocket to sleep at the episode’s conclusion a form of punishment or trickery), but the Jynx certainly are servants of Santa. The main Jynx was scrubbing his boots when she got lost, for goodness sake!
As for the future of Jynx, she’d return without the Santa plot. Nintendo and Gamefreak also apparently took the issue of her appearance with western audiences to heart and her skin tone has been altered from black to purple. This change has carried over to the games and it’s definitely an improvement. She’s still an awful Pokémon, but at least her racism is less blatant.
Because of its controversial nature, “Holiday Hi-Jynx” isn’t the easiest Christmas special to view legally. It’s not streaming, and it obviously won’t be shown on television this year. You can either go out and buy the old DVD, or turn to the internet. It’s not particularly hard to find if that’s the route you take. As for me, I’d like to show this one to my Pokémon obsessed son. I don’t think the imagery will have a negative impact on him, and he’d probably like to see Ash and company interact with Santa this Christmas. Hopefully he’s not expecting a Jynx to visit him on Christmas Eve because there’s no way I’m letting one of them into my house. I have my limits.