“Pokémon” fans have a new dream vacation spot: the tropical island resort in Netflix’s “Pokémon Concierge.”
The stop-motion animation series could be the most adorable show Netflix has ever made. Each Pokémon is meticulously crafted with fuzzy fur, smooth scales and friendly features that make you want to scoop them up and give them a hug. Twenty-nine different Pokémon pop up across four short episodes of “Concierge,” and it’s enough to make any fan of the video games, anime or trading cards instantly fall in love with the new setting.
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The only downside to “Concierge” is that the four episodes are about 15 minutes each, but there’s enough Poké magic and vacation vibes to make you want to book a ticket to the Pokémon Resort immediately. New character Haru (voiced in English by Karen Fukuhara) is down on her luck and takes a last-minute trip to the resort for a relaxing getaway. There, she gets a job as a concierge and meets a menagerie of colorful critters, including her new bestie Psyduck, a yellow duck Pokémon that fans of the anime are surely familiar with. During her new job, she meets other many other Pokémon, like fan-favorites Charmander, Bulbasaur and Mudkip; the monkey trio Pansage, Pansear and Panpour; massive beasts like Dragonite, Metagross and Gyrados; and, of course, a posse of Pikachus.
“Concierge” director Iku Ogawa and The Pokémon Company’s Hidenaga Katakami (“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu”) spoke to Variety, via interpreter, about bringing the creatures to life on Netflix. The streamer is already home to many of the series’ anime shows and movies, and “Concierge” marks its first original “Pokémon” show. In 2021, Variety exclusively reported that Netflix was in early development on a live-action “Pokémon” series with “Lucifer” showrunner Joe Henderson, so the Poké team-up may not be quite over.
Katakami revealed that the “Concierge” discussions with Netflix began in 2019 when The Pokémon Company was working on “Detective Pikachu.” Later, animation experts Dwarf Studios came on to create “Concierge.” The stop-motion process was painstaking; each animator can make four to five seconds of footage per day, and there were about 86,000 images created for the four episodes.
The stop-motion animation is so cute, but it’s time-consuming to create. Why did you decide to make it that way?
Hidenaga Katakami: The first proposal that we received was 2D animation, but then we were thinking that if we were to do another 2D animation, then we have to create a new team. We already have a worldwide animation series that’s well loved around the world. We were thinking, “Is it really necessary for us to make another 2D animation series? Who would the target audience be? Would it be really appreciated as much as our already existing series is?” We were exploring other ideas and then it was the person in charge of animation at Netflix Japan who proposed stop-motion animation because Netflix had already worked with Dwarf Studios. They told us they should be able to make something in two to three years.
Iku Ogawa: I find stop-motion animation very interesting, but there are inconveniences attached to it. Compared to 2D animation and 3D CG animation, I believe that they’re freer. Compared to those formats, stop-motion animation is more difficult as a format itself. What makes it even more difficult is that you have to have numerous people with you at the same time in one place. So the hurdle is going to be set high. This is also a good thing because you’re able to meet up with the animators in person and have conversations on set and work to create the piece together. I believe that’s the beauty of stop-motion animation.
Were there any plans to set “Concierge’s” resort in an existing “Pokémon” land? The Hawaiian shirts and beaches reminded me of the Alola region.
Katakami: When we were developing the series and in production, we didn’t have any plans to have this “Pokémon Concierge” or the resort be part of an existing region of the “Pokémon” universe. Our key focus was on what kind of place would be the best for us to tell the protagonist’s story and her journey and make sure that it’ll be compelling for the audience. We made sure that it’s a place that could possibly exist in the “Pokémon” world. So maybe in the future, who knows, maybe the Pokémon Resort would appear in another platform — or not, we don’t know. There’s no guarantee, we can’t really say at the moment, but maybe there is that possibility. Maybe it will happen, it may not.
There are over 1,000 Pokémon across nine generations at this point. How did you decide which ones to include in the show?
Katakami: First of all, we decided that the protagonist would be a female in her 20s, and we picked her journey. The other thing was that Pokémon battles would not be the central part of the series. We wanted to depict the daily life in the Pokémon world and what life would be like when you have Pokémon around you and you live with them. We started deciding on Haru, the kind of challenges and the issues she’s facing and we started thinking maybe Psyduck would be a good match for her. After that, we started thinking of what kind of other Pokémon she would meet at the resort. It’s very rare for us to have a series where we’re not focusing on Pokémon battles, so it was a new challenge for us. We looked at people who grew up with and played “Pokémon” when they were younger. They’re now in their 20s and 30s, well familiar with Pokémon, and we got their insights. We weren’t planning to be biased toward a specific generation of Pokémon, but maybe because we got these insights that’s the reason why we have a lot more earlier generation Pokémon.
How many different Pokémon were made for the show, and which was the most difficult to create?
Ogawa: There are 29 Pokémon and four main human characters. There’s also background characters and mock characters. I made so many of them. I can’t remember how many mock characters I created. The very first one I created was Psyduck, and the most difficult was Pikachu. There’s lots of merch out there, lots of illustrations, shows, animations, you name it. That means there’s a myriad of references. Everybody knows the shape of Pikachu very well. If it’s even slightly different, then people will be like, “No, this is not the Pikachu that I know.” I needed to have the structure that enabled me to create the animation but at the same time stays true to the Pikachu that everybody knows.
Pikachu is normally happy and brave, but the main one in “Concierge” is sad and anxious. How did you animate the distinct personality of this Pikachu?
Ogawa: When you look at dogs, cats and other animals, they all have different personalities. That goes the same for Pokémon as well and Pikachu. Sometimes some of them would like to hide behind their companion. I wanted to bring that to life in my stop-motion animation and we drew out our idea from that. Pikachu’s face looks really happy and if you keep the facial features as they are, they will just stay smiley. So what we decided to do was change the shape of the eyes and mouth, so it could show different facets of Pikachu.
Were there any Pokémon you couldn’t fit into “Concierge” that you’d like to see at some point?
Katakami: We have a lot of Pokémon that are not animal-based but could exist in the real world. We also have some, like Metagross, that would not exist in the real world. We’re really happy that we were able to introduce that type, like Metagross and Gyrados, but we didn’t have enough time to introduce more interesting Pokémon that might be fun to have around you. Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to introduce different types. Because it’s on an island and we are near water, there are a lot of water-type Pokémon that appeared. In the future, maybe we’ll have some more water-type Pokemon, but at the same time, maybe it’ll be interesting if you do the opposite. For example, electric-type Pokemon are not really good near water, but maybe it’s interesting if you bring them to a water-rich environment and see how they react.
What has the reaction been like from longtime “Pokémon” fans?
Ogawa: I oftentimes hear that they want to visit this resort and that they were able to really feel how it may be like to have Pokémon in their everyday lives. It was great that I was able to express that and convey that. That was one of my goals when I started this project. I wanted to bring to life this world with Pokemon by using stop-motion animation and the fact that I was able to convey that, I find that extremely satisfying.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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