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Netflix’s adorable new Pokémon show will warm your heart

No matter how old and cynical I get, there’s one constant in my life: I’m always delighted by Pokémon. Even in the franchise’s weakest moments, it rarely fails to make me smile. I’ve spent more time than I can count checking in with Pokémon Sleep this year, and even the middling Detective Pikachu Returns got some “Awws” from me. It’s the one piece of media that never ceases to take the tired adult in me and briefly turn him into a kid again.

Pokémon Concierge, a new four-part animated series available now on Netflix, understands that feeling more than any Pokémon game I’ve played in years. The gentle show takes place at a resort that exclusively caters to Pokémon in need of a break. Rather than focusing on flashy battles or lore-heavy stories about monsters that control space and time, the slice-of-life series simply understands the inherent joy of momentarily tuning out the real world with some adorable critters. It’s a sweet slice of stress-free escapism – one that the wider video game series could stand to take a few notes from.

The White Lotad

Pokémon Concierge is the latest project from Dwarf Studio, the animation studio behind Netflix’s positively precious Rilakkuma and Kaoru. Like that show, it features a stop-motion animation style that lends its good-natured world a level of hand-crafted, humanistic charm. Monsters like Hopip and Diglett appear as bright puppets lined with soft felt. They are stuffed animals come to life, and I couldn’t help wishing that I could squeeze them.

That aesthetic choice doesn’t just reinforce its warm tone, which drapes over its low-stakes story like a security blanket. The models used here are the closest the Pokémon series has come to matching Ken Sugimori’s original monster illustrations. The texture of the felt matches those pictures’ iconic brush patterns, making it feel like a truer visual adaptation than the current game series’ ultra smooth monster designs.

Eevee sits on a tree stump in Pokemon Concierge.

The more I admired the miniseries’ handiwork, the more I felt like director Ogawa Iku was tapping into the real heart of the long-running franchise. Its story begins when Haru, a high-strung adult, comes to work at the resort. The first episode acts as a quick setup, as Haru sheds her anxious work ethic and learns to embrace the calming vibes of the Pokémon paradise around her. From there, each episode has her tending to a different creature. Its third episode has her caring for a handicapped Magikarp who loses its assistive life raft. Its adorable finale revolves around a shy Pikachu, as Haru and her Psyduck companion try to help the little guy find his voice.

It’s all light children’s fare that ends just as soon as it finds its earnest groove, but even those 70 short minutes capture what makes Pokémon an enduring institution. For young audiences, it’s a playful cartoon world filled with lovable sidekicks that can match any personality type. For adults, it’s about catching a breath. Anytime I return to the Pokémon series in any form, it’s like I’m temporarily evolving backward into the carefree kid I once was. It’s part of the reason that I’ve been using Pokémon Sleep every day since it launched, despite it being a somewhat dull idle game; starting my day by waking up to some Pokémon sets me on the right foot every morning.

Haru’s succinct character arc mirrors that. In the opening episode, she’s tasked with spending a day simply living with her Pokémon pals. To her boss ‘ disappointment, she turns her delightful experience into graphs and data. By the end, she’s so unplugged from that adult mindset that she’s forgotten to charge her all-important phone overnight. Instead, she spends the last moments of the show sledding down a hill on a tube with her Psyduck. It’s an idyllic image; a busybody taking a moment of her busy day to play.

Haru stands next to Pansage in Pokemon Concierge.

It’s a simple takeaway that The Pokémon Company itself sometimes forgets in its machine-like media churn. The mainline RPG series tends to blur the lines between gentle play and genre busywork as it struggles to appeal to both kids and adults who want a complex, competitive game. This year’s Detective Pikachu Returns hits a similar disconnect as it tries to combine an at times mature visual novel with an overly simplified deduction game that would only stump a five-year-old. The most successful Pokémon media doesn’t need to compromise on either end; it puts kids and adults on the same level.

In that sense, Pokémon Concierge is a success, even if it’s a slight miniseries that leaves much room for evolution. Though I was initially slow to give in to it, it warmed my heart by its midway point and reminded me why I’ve kept coming back to Pokémon for nearly three decades now. I don’t care all that much about crafting the perfect team or proving I’m a master. Heck, if The Pokémon Company decided to axe the RPG series entirely and replace it with a cozy resort management simulator in Concierge’s art style, I think I’d be just as willing to play.

All that really matters is that the franchise never stops acting as a spa; a series of restorative trips back to my childhood that reminds me of the simple joys in life.

Pokémon Concierge is streaming now on Netflix.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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