By Natalie Paterson
As a kid who grew up playing Pokémon, it was always my silent dream to be the very best, like no one ever before. The games were an incredible adventure, and brought a challenge to me whenever I picked it up again, at any age in life. So I was understandably excited when I heard about Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions making a stop at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. The show has been touring the United States and Canada since 2014, and is continuing on with a European tour following the North American run.
When I got arrived at the venue, I wasn’t prepared for the range of age among show goers. People young and old had come out for the event, and I completely understand why. With the 20th Anniversary of Pokémon’s release upcoming next year, an experience like this shows how this franchise has come to branch a generational gap, and now parents are introducing the games to their children, and even their grandchildren.
As the lights dimmed, the excitement intensified as the conductor, Susie Benchasil Seiter, walked on stage and gave the audience a mile wide smile. She lifted her baton to conduct the orchestra, composed of Toronto-based musicians, which added to the show a very special, home-based touch. The show commenced with the Overture to the games, and the crowd went wild. The scrolling of titles, beginning with the oldest, Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow, and forward to the most recent games in the series, Pokémon X and Y, made it feel as though we, as the audience, were repeating our journey. Seiter then picked up a beach ball made to look like a Master Ball, and tossed it to an audience member, saying “Toronto, I choose you!”
The entirety of the show was accompanied by game play footage from the corresponding games to the music, and it brought an extra layer to the performance. Hearing the crowd cheer at sections of battle scenes, and little things like the non-player character (NPC) who likes wearing shorts (Why? Because they’re comfy and easy to wear! Duh), and cringe when we lost parts of our team; added something truly special, and the show wouldn’t have been the same without it.
There was a large selection of pieces played from across the generations of the games, but I’ll only touch on a few here. The first personal highlight was “Pallet Town”. Hearing it in full orchestral fashion gave me chills. It made me feel as though I was hearing it for the first time, though the 8-bit tune has been ingrained in my memory since I first heard it years ago. It was incredibly calming and set the tone for the beginning of the show.
My next highlight was “…”, (no, that is not a typo). This iconic song appeared in the second generation games, Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal. During the performance, it was accompanied by game play footage of our first steps into Dragon’s Den, and following this we ascended the summit of Mt Silver to face the final battle – our character versus Red. The arrangement was highly anticipated because it was such a memorable part of the game, and the orchestra really did it justice.
My final highlight was one from the 5th generation of games, Pokémon Black and White. This one was called “Farewell”, and it is heard after the final battle with the main antagonist of the game, N. The theme was a more somber one, but it was also uplifting given that it imparted resolution to the conflict and we were able to see that played out in the game footage as well. It brought a tear to my eye hearing it played live, much as it did when hearing it for the first time while playing the game.
There were two encores to this show, and both blew my mind. The first was an orchestral arrangement of the Pokémon theme song, “Gotta Catch ‘em All”. Honestly, you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in the audience was that wasn’t loudly and proudly singing along. It was amazing to feel such a level of energy and excitement in the room.
The second encore was arranged by the composer of the music for the entire Pokémon franchise, Junichi Masuda, and the song was also the end song for the most recent games in the series, Pokémon X and Y, called “Kiseki”. While accompanying the end game footage on screen, the lyrics for the English version of the song appeared karaoke-style, inviting the audience to sing along once more. Following this, there was a full two-minute standing ovation for the orchestra and the conductor.
This experience was incredible, and I would highly recommend it to Pokémon fans of all ages. Luckily, this show is still touring across Canada and the United States, and you can check the website for further information on those dates! Their next stop is in Seattle, Washington at Benaroya Hall on September 15th. Check it out if you can!