Now this! This
is how you do it! I don't know a lick of Japanese and I was hear for and hooked through every last moment of it!
This is probably going to become one of my absolute favorite episodes in the entire Pokemon Anime Franchise! It was just that perfect, as far as I am concerned!
Everything was done well. This was a shining example of how an episode like this can
be only a single episode and still be magnificent! We even gave a little time for Goh to get a couple of Unova Mons (there are still so many he still needs to catch!) and it was brilliantly used to setup the callback of Ash trying to capture Iris when the two first met! Well done! Even Iris's carefree spirit was emphasized here, because she was lounging in the forested trees and had almost forgot her meeting with Ash, had Goh's intervention not reminded her. One of the big reasons I loved this episode was because so much thought, care, and love was used in every second, including with Goh and especially with re-showcasing who Iris is as a character/person.
We got to see Drayden again, which was indeed a pleasant surprise. Drayden was sexy and boss as he always is, and I appreciate his calm and non-judgmental aura. We always need more people like this of any age!
I loved the fakeout with the Axew! That was a clever little misdirection put there for longtime viewers watching this for the first time, because it would have been so easy to think that Axew hadn't evolved. (Granted, the lead-up marketing heavily implied it did, but not everyone follows that, and many who did were still convinced that Axew hadn't or even couldn't possibly have evolved.)
Iris's proper introduction was just as brilliant as her initial tease at the start! I loved how simultaneously cool and cute she they portrayed her as being. It was peak Iris, totally genuine to who she's always been! (Seriously, her bouncing around at the beginning was straight adorbs!) The interactions were all that I wanted and completely on-point, and I was alive for ever microsecond of it!
As I mentioned, the "Such a little kid!" and Ash clapping back and Iris and Ash clapping at each other in the most self-referentially childish way they could was more than I could have ever dreamed! Once again, the creative team outdoes themselves with showcasing the complex extents of who Iris is and who Iris and Ash are as companions and close friends. (Drayden breaking the little kindergarten kids up was also perfectly executed and supremely funny.)
When Ash sent out Hugs!Dragonite and Hugs glomped Iris only for Iris to glomp Hugs back?
I came alive again
! Seriously, where my gif at, people!?
But I also loved how Iris showcased her growth and experience and maturity by showcasing her powers of connecting to the hearts of Dragon Pokemon. Even though the two only just met, the audience could just feel as if they've known each other forever. Also, I loved how Hugs reacted to Iris's Grumpy!Dragonite with abject hesitation. That was hilarious!
And the battle was brilliant! I'd be here all day, but I'll try to keep this as concise as I can. (Once-over edit prior to hitting post: Nope. I failed there.)
If Iris was going to lose, this was the way they should have done it. She lost in a completely fair battle that showcased that she truly was worthy of being Unova's Champion. It was two-on-two, but felt as dynamic and story-heavy as any full-battle this series has given us in the past. More so, even, then some of the fandom's frequent fave takes, I'd argue, because they really took the time to showcase who Iris is and what she has grown to become to the utmost, while simultaneously fleshing Hugs!Dragonite out in way that Hugs hasn't been since after joining Ash's team. The battle also wasn't afraid to blend seriousness and heartfelt moments in with laughs! There's the aforementioned Grumpy VS Hugs intro, but there was also Dracovish. Grumpy getting unnerved by Dracovish (right before getting rekt in a pretty funny manner) and Iris gushing at the anomalous Pokemon were perfect points of levity. It makes for a good example of how and why levity works, I'd say.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the glorious return of Iris's Axew, now a fully-grown Haxorus! Just like the little guy had once dreamed! I don't understand Japanese, so I do wonder if this dream was ever noted. Regardless, it was brilliant seeing Iris and Haxorus just go hard! And in truth, it was completely cathartic. Practical limitations combined with the sheer marketability of cute little Axew meant that it evolving while still part of the main cast was just not feasible to happen. And of course, in the fandom's ever-ongoing sense of rage and long-standing grudges, poor little Axew had to take flak for that. So it feels like righteous justice to see Iris and the fully-evolved Haxorus battling high-end, as it was meant to be!
And just like the rest of this episode, Iris and Haxorus did not disappoint! Dracovish got knocked right out, leading straight into a main event I didn't know was needed: Haxorus VS Hugs. And man! My goodness! What can I say? What else, that the battle itself didn't already say? Not only did Haxorus prove itself and solidify its growth, but we got Iris encouraging Ash's Dragonite in such a way to allow Hugs to self-actualize Hugs' own growth. This culminated in the hard-fought back-and-forth that we got that climaxed with some good on-brand Ash-style ingenuity. The Draco Meteor finish by Hugs was the pinnacle cheery on top.
Ash won this one. I know Iris lost and I know I was rooting for Iris here. But she lost with hard-fought grace and Ash won with hard-fought dignity. And most keenly as an Iris fan and as someone who's favorite Pokemon Anime series has been Black and White, I can rest easy knowing and seeing with my own two eyes that Iris lost while never once wavering in how awesome she truly is. A hard-fought battle on both sides, with both coming out looking strong.
And the mutual handshake at the very end? The cherry to top all cherries. I couldn't have asked for a better ending.
I would not have dared to dream of a better love letter to Iris and Black and White! <3