As a children's show, Pokémon is known for being light-hearted and goofy as the audience follows Ash on his journey and watches him grow and interact with friends. Occasionally, however, creepy elements sneak their way through, such as the Beedrill swarm and the legend of Maiden's Peak. “Abra and the Psychic Showdown” is notable for being an episode full of creepiness if not downright nightmare fuel. It is the debut episode of Sabrina
the teenage witch of Saffron City Gym, and from the very first minute of the episode, she is introduced as a mysterious, shadowy character with a young girl on her lap accompanied by a mysterious song composing of a dark piano melody and what sounds like cries in the background.
Yeah, not creepy at all. Excuse me for a minute while I change my underwear.
For those of us who didn't know how the games went, needless to say we had no idea what was going to happen. We didn't know who Sabrina was, or what she did, and thus her role was more-or-less a mystery—as it should be. For those who did know about Sabrina, they probably wondered why the girl was there and why she scared them so much. I do not blame you, the girl creeped me out, too. But luckily, mood whiplash exists to make us laugh by having Ash and the others get confused at the sudden celebration of them walking into the city—right after Ash falls off a cliff because of said-girl. (Too bad this episode didn't air on Halloween, albeit it was still in October.)
I have to say that Team Rocket's disguise is probably one of their weirdest, yet better ones thus far as they were not recognizable except for Jessie's voice, though a normal person would probably question why Hawaiians are handing out leis in the middle of a city at night. (But then again, Team Rocket hasn't really been in a lot of disguises right now, this is their... I want to say third disguise.) It's funnier when James speaks normally while in-disguise after grabbing Pikachu even though his falsetto is even more of a falsetto than it was as a valley girl. But the humor peaks when Ash freaks out over the realization they kissed him on the cheek.
Then it immediately stops being funny when the girl shows up and paralyzes Jessie and James, but then she rescues Pikachu and the others. Odd how she has a bit of ambiguity to her. I mean, she leads Ash over a cliff, but then she saves them. Adds to the mystery and creepiness, anyway. Now I love how Sabrina's gym is also an institute for psychics, but it's only glanced over, sadly. And I'm sorry to say this, but the guy who approaches them reminds me of a brunette Wizardmon complete with a strange, gruff accent. I don't know, must be the hair. The best humor in this episode has to be when Ash bends the spoon forcibly and laughs about “muscle over mind”.
And it stops being funny when the girl appears to mind-screw the guy. Does she torture the people there like that all the time? Despite that, Sabrina remains one of my favorite gym leaders. Thing is she doesn't become my favorite until a little bit later, but she proves herself unique here. For one thing, outside of Brock and Misty, Sabrina has a story behind her character. Lt. Surge had a personality, sure, but we didn't get much out of him. With Sabrina, the mystery is set up for us immediately that is eventually revealed over time. But until then, all we know about her is she's emotionless and ruthless. That's not something you usually see in Pokémon, but one trait out of many the Indigo League saga is well-known for are the personalities given to its gym leaders along with their gym battles. Not that other seasons don't do this, but as it was possible they still believed the show was going to be only one season at this point, the writers felt they had to give the gym leaders some characterization outside of their games. And it works really well in terms of being memorable. Sabrina happens to be one of the better successes because of her uniqueness.
Another is this is our first encounter with a (pure) Psychic-type Pokémon, and the anime doesn't pull any punches to show off just how powerful they can be. We don't notice it with Abra, but once it evolves (very quickly, might I add, which isn't exactly realistic due to being sudden), almost at a glance we can tell Ash is screwed. What happens is the manipulation of lightning bolts that chase down Pikachu, then followed by a silly little pantomime as Kadabra controls Pikachu's body before it suddenly becomes brutal with it slamming him up and down without hesitation.
Damn. They really wanted to show off Psychics even if it's only a tiny sample of what they can do. And this is about a year before we get to see Mewtwo, a more powerful Psychic, in action. (And considering there are few Psychic Pokémon at this point, the chances of seeing another one is few, but the next Psychic we do meet has a different power to show how versatile Psychic types are.)
The reveal of the dollhouse is quite possibly one of the creepiest things in the anime by far. Already you should know something is amiss by the bright colors and stillness of the outside world. When they walk into a house, the fact no one's around should tip you off if the cake being a lie—I mean fake doesn't. But the reveal of a doll in the bathtub and how it's looking at him through the mirror just right before the roof is taken off. Then Ash and the others are chased down a long path as the little girl walks behind them with her ball. Seriously, whoever played the voice of the young girl (probably Liza Ortiz) did her job really well. Her laugh and monotone voice is freaking creepy, and it manifests itself in this scene.
Luckily for them, a Chekhov's gun shows up: the man they met earlier who warned them to avoid Sabrina. Turns out he's a psychic, and he tries to get Ash to give up on challenging Sabrina through such means as... controlling him and making his pants fall down. Okay then. Funny, but odd. (Also funny is how before he ran to punch Mewtwo, he went up against a man with telekinesis who kept shooting him back. So in the movie, would that be a case of a nice callback, or something?) Once he's impressed enough by him, he tells him to go to Lavender Town and get himself a Ghost Pokémon.
And as we all know, only three Ghost Pokémon existed at this time, and they are unfortunately half-Poison and that Ghost-type moves didn't affect Psychics, and thus the balance was still broken. But games do not equal the anime, so no matter what, a Ghost was going to do the trick. Right?
Well... they do tricks, all right. I'll have on a fresh pair of underwear by then.
(Love the stinger of Team Rocket still being paralyzed, by the way. Always is a nice touch to have a brick joke at the end, Indigo League was good at that.)