Pokémon Concierge is concentrated delight and whimsy cutting through Netflix’s rancid vibes. While the streaming service has been more than willing to cut jobs within its animation branch and has opted to use AI to fill in the gaps it’s created while raising its subscription price, Concierge is such an entertaining take on the world of Pokémon, painstakingly made in stop-motion, that I find it hard to believe Netflix had anything to do with it. In some ways, I’m surprised The Pokémon Company did either, given its propensity toward producing slop and stamping Pikachu’s face on it as of late. But the four-episode series is so lovely that it reminds me why people love this series so much, even after its recent falters.
Pokémon Concierge stars Haru, an incredibly anxious workaholic who’s been having a rough go of it lately. Her long-term boyfriend has broken up with her, she’s lost out on her big professional break, and she can’t seem to watch where she’s walking and avoid stepping in gum while wearing her favorite heels. With her entire life upended, she decides to take a job at a Pokémon resort in which trainers and Pokémon stay, get pampered, and bond with each other as a break from battling. Like Detective Pikachu, Pokémon Concierge thrives because it focuses on different kinds of connections between people and Pokémon beyond competitive sport, but it’s also so low-stakes that it feels like one of the purest distillations of the series’ core themes of cooperation and camaraderie.
But Pokémon Concierge isn’t all Haru hanging out with her Pokémon clientele. Haru is as high-strung as any career-driven millennial who has been conditioned to think she has to be productive to have value. When she first arrives at the resort, she’s given one task: be a guest for the day. That doesn’t sound like work? Is this a test? Is she contributing to her place of work just by being pampered and hanging out with the visiting pocket monsters? In retrospect, a resort might not have been the best fit for a workaholic, but Haru’s journey from an overworking professional focused on charts and graphs to someone capable of taking a load off is therapeutic to see, if at times unsubtle.
Haru cares for several Pokémon throughout Concierge’s too-short run, and they all mirror her own insecurities which have been spurred on by her fixation with work. Can she hone in on what she’s good at, like a Psyduck learning to control and hone its psychic abilities? Is it possible for her to evolve into a better version of herself, like a creature that goes from being a Magikarp splashing on the island’s lake to a Gyarados masterfully swimming up a waterfall? Is she capable of overcoming her insecurities like a shy Pikachu who is too scared to be part of a group? Concierge centers Haru’s interactions with Pokémon, but it’s all in service of her essentially unlearning workplace trauma and realizing that she’s free to grow at her own pace, in her own way, and in her own time.
But while Haru is the heart and soul of Concierge, its lovingly crafted stop-motion animation brings the Pokémon to life. There are a few mainstays, like the Psyduck Haru meets and befriends at the resort, but each of the show’s four episodes has a rotating cast of new Pokémon clients. Seeing the mannerisms of characters like Pikachu so wonderfully captured in stop-motion warms my heart, even when Concierge’s main little yellow guy was more shy than Ash’s adventurous partner or the confident Captain Pikachu. Dozens of Pokémon appear in Concierge, and Dwarf Studios does a stellar job of capturing each of their quirks with their puppets and style. Regardless of how good elements like the script and voice acting might be, Concierge wouldn’t be able to sell any of its best moments without nailing the Pokémon, and I keep seeing new little details in how it chose to portray each of them with each rewatch.
With over 1000 Pokémon across nine generations, it’s pretty easy for Pokémon media to lose sight of the personalities that make them more than just the stats and attacks you use. Pokémon Concierge is a special kind of Pokémon story that nails how people and Pokémon relate to each other in an original, relatable context. The series’ four-episode season is short, and its episodes may feel a little disjointed beyond Haru’s arc, but it’s such a lovely realization of the Pokémon it features and how their stories can mirror ours, and it tenderly explores inner struggles long-time fans are likely feeling as the franchise nears its 27th anniversary.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve had a scene in the final episode on loop in a separate window. It features the aforementioned shy Pikachu saying goodbye to Haru and her Psyduck as he departs the resort. It wraps up his story with a fulfilling conclusion; Haru learns a lesson in how she can continue to help Pokémon thrive at the resort, and the stop-motion style captures so many little nuances in Pikachu’s demeanor that it beautifully communicates his feelings, even as he’s only saying “Pikachu.” Why am I watching this scene over and over? Because I’m trying to wring out every little moment of joy this show brings me since the series is so short. I understand stop-motion animation is an extremely complex beast, but four episodes just feels like a tiny taste of what this team can do with this world.
Pokémon Concierge is sweet, heartwarming, and an incredibly fresh take on the series that I hope The Pokémon Company chooses to continue, even if I don’t trust Netflix within ten feet of it. The transient nature of a resort is the perfect opportunity to tell more stories, teach more lessons, and host more Pokémon in an environment where they’re not battling it out, but getting some much-deserved downtime. Plus, that theme song by Mariya Takeuchi is too good to only use in one season.