There are a lot of Pokemon webcomics out there. Rare Candy Treatment examines the odd quirks of the Pokemon universe. Super Effective is a slapstick reimagining of the manga, complete with black and white tones. Nuzlocke's Hard Mode brings an alternate rule set--namely when a Pokemon faints, it's actually dead and you must release it from your collection--to life with a lot of unexpected feelings. Everything from Cyanide and Happiness to Penny Arcade has done at least a one-off Pokemon comic. Yet one short form webcomic still stands above the rest in concept and execution. Originally released in 2011, Letters to an Absent Father reimagines Ash's journey from Pallet Town to Pokemon Champion as a series of letters to his father. Ash's father is only ever referenced once in the manga and anime as a trainer who went on his own journey. Ash does not get to benefit from his years of experience as other 10 year old trainers do on their first journeys.
Artist Maré Odomo employs a simplistic art style for the comic. She relies on the reader recognizing basic attributes of major Pokemon characters--Ash has spiky hair and a red cap, Misty has a bright orange pony tail, Pikachu is a yellow and black mouse, etc.--to establish the context of the series. Then she flips the script and turns it into a brand new experience.
Ash's only desire in the Pokemon series is to become the Pokemon Champion. He has to collect all the different species for the Professor's research and evolve his team to beat gym leaders, but everything is done for the singular goal of being the best. His inner desires are left unspoken as he will sacrifice anything to achieve his lifelong goal.
Odomo wisely starts Letters to an Absent Father with the first emotional chapter in Pokemon history. The first wild Pokemon ash catches is a Caterpie. He raises his Caterpie from a small insecure little bug into a beautiful and powerful Butterfree. While traveling by the coast, his Butterfree falls in love with a wild female Butterfree. All the Butterfrees are partnering up and Ash knows the best thing for his Butterfree is freedom. Ash gives up the first Pokemon he ever caught so that it can be happier than it ever imagined. Odomo stacks that emotional story with a knock-out final line in the first comic, "Do you ever miss Mom? Love, Ash."
From there, Letters to an Absent Father covers everything from first love to loneliness to self-actualization. It's a whirlwind of emotional comics that never betrays the basic concept of Pokemon. Ash is expressing his feelings in private as they relate to his very public life as a Pokemon trainer. It's a beautiful meditation on a popular series and an excellent piece of art.
The only slight downside is the need to know the basics of Pokemon to understand all the references. Even removed from that, it would still be a strong project. The story is universal enough that the fantastic elements you don't recognize do not overshadow the heart and goal of the project.
You can read the complete Letters to an Absent Father at Maré Odomo's website.
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