Sort of skipping one review to come to this episode, but I'm going to refer to that episode when writing this review as I definitely think that to fully appreciate this episode, you need to watch the last episode in the same sitting.
Both episodes are similar in that they are told from a point of view that is a little different than what we are normally used to. Last episode, Chimchar's thoughts were shown, and this episode is predominately from James's perspective, with a little of Gardenia's thought process thrown in during the double battle. I was sort of thinking of this pt when I was watching today's Sinnoh League episode b/c you can apply this there as well, but if you did not know that the show's main character was Ash, this would be a misleading episode for your first one. Yet, I think Ash is the one who gives this episode the ability to really touch the heart, just by his facial expressions. One of the pts I'm trying to show when doing these reviews is that many times the writers don't allow us to see Sinnoh Ash's thoughts, which for me highlights his maturity (I do realize I'm stretching things here, since the writers really only want us to see James's thoughts in this episode-please bear with me). So remember how last episode ends, with Ash having a satisfied, confident smile as he succeeds in helping Chimchar overcome its fears of the Zangoose (I call it Ash's "Goku" smile).
I'm not sure if this is dubbing thing or not, but it's funny how this episode starts. Brock talks about destiny in his flirting scene with Gardenia, and Jessie talks about how never giving up is a virtue during her wisecrack talking to Dawn. Really, these issues are what this episode focuses on. James does not want to give Cacnea to Gardenia, but he feels this might be what is best for the pokemon. So he basically gives himself this challenge: if he can teach Cacnea to master Drain Punch, then he is a worthy trainer for Cacnea. Gardenia plants this idea in James's mind during the double battle, and again I find it scary the way she does so. She stops paying attention to her Turtwig during the double battle, preferring to gauge Cacnea's abilities. Then after the battle she requests Cacnea from James, but does not allow him to give a response as she jumps at the opportunity the children give her to leave (acting like everything is peachy in doing so). Jessie is right, Gardenia does have an ego, and as I said before, people like that who are not what they appear to be scare me. The gym leader really plays on James's nature here.
So James accepts the challenge of teaching Cacnea drain punch, and Ash, with a smile,volunteers to do some special training with him. Again, keep in mind with what Ash has been able to do with Chimchar last episode.
Well, the training does not go so well, as James cannot get down the timing for Drain Punch. It's sunset now, and a very sad James is sitting with Cacnea off to the side while the rest of the group watches him. This is where the never giving up vs. destiny part comes him. James can feel it, that he has failed and he is going to have to give Cacnea to Gardenia for its own good. And yet, one more time, one more chance....He does not give up just yet. In a sudden burst of optimism, he calls to Ash for help, and Ash, again with a smile, agrees. Gardenia arrives to watch, to James's annoyance (and watching this, you can feel "destiny" approaching), but he consents to let her watch. So we end this episode with the battle we started it with: Cacnea vs Aipom.
Maybe Drain Punch hasn't worked that well for James, but it's obvious that his training hasn't been for nothing: Needle Arm is much stronger than it was before. And yet, that's not it. Needle Arm wasn't the pt; it has to be Drain Punch, or nothing. You can feel it; this is like Paul's problem with Chimchar. Flamethrower may have become stronger, but it must be Blaze. Nothing else will suffice. But while that conflict made you happy when Paul finally released Chimchar since you felt the right thing was going to happen, here I was tearing up. Cacnea is not going to master Drain Punch, and James is going to have to release it. This is destiny, as Cynthia later says about Chimchar and its relation to Ash and Paul, but...it's so different, isn't it? And James and Cacnea still try to run away from it, try to never give up. But Focus punch after focus punch lands on Cacnea, and it's heartbreaking. Ash has gone from smiling to clenching his teeth (maybe even close to crying himself).
James finally grabs Cacnea and tells it to stop. He gives Cacnea to Gardenia, acknowledging that he knows she will take care of it (which is what this whole episode was about, right?). And off he runs, with Gardenia turning her face to Cacnea's pokeball as Jessie and Meowth follow. Ash and company watch as well, in silence with serious, sympathetic looks on their faces. It's an amazing scene, and definitely when you compare it was the look on Ash's face at the end of last episode, it really just hits you what has happened in this episode. Sometimes life has feel good stories like last episode, and sometimes it's stories are touching and sad like this one.
This episode is amazing. Everyone has a funny moment in it.