The Canonical Credentials of Detective Pikachu
The Canonical Credentials of Detective Pikachu
(Spoiler alert: In stating my case, I must, by necessity, spoil the film for those who have not seen it. Some might say that the film is its own spoiler because it is dreadful, to which I would respond: “Sucks to be you, misery-guts”)
It has been said that the 2019 movie Pokémon Detective Pikachu is not a Sherlock Holmes film. The naysayers would have us believe that the only link between Sherlock Holmes and Detective Pikachu is the deerstalker hat, which through erroneous association with Sherlock Holmes has come to be visual shorthand for “this character is a detective”.
It is my contention, however, that Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the most canonical film ever produced. My argument is based upon Monsignor Ronald A. Knox’s 1911 paper: Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes. For many, this paper constitutes the foundation of Holmesian Studies. Apart from the canon itself, there can be no greater source material to work from. I am principally interested in the passage in which Knox describes the structure of canonical stories:
“The actual scheme of each should consist… of eleven distinct parts; the order of them may in some cases be changed about, and more or less of them may appear as the story is closer to or further from the ideal type.”
He goes on to describe the eleven parts as follows:
1. The Proömion, a homely Baker Street scene, with invaluable personal touches, and sometimes a demonstration by the detective.
2. Exegesis kata ton diokonta, that is, the client’s statement of the case.
3. The Ichneusis, or personal investigation, often including the famous floor-walk on hands and knees.
4. The Anaskeue, or refutation on its own merits of the official theory of Scotland Yard.
5. The first Promenusis (exoterike) which gives a few stray hints to the police, which they never adopt.
6. The second Promenusis (esoterike), which adumbrates the true course of the investigation to Watson alone. This is sometimes wrong, as in the ‘Yellow Face’.
7. The Exetasis, or further following up of the trial, including the cross-questioning of relatives, dependents, etc., of the corpse (if there is one), visits to the Record Office, and various investigations in an assumed character.
8. The Anagnorisis, in which the criminal is caught or exposed.
9. The second Exegesis (kata ton pheugonta), that is to say the criminal’s confession.
10. The Metamenusis, in which Holmes describes what his clues were and how he followed them.
11. The Epilogos, sometimes comprised in a single sentence. This conclusion often contains a gnome or quotation from some standard author.
He also explains that No. 1 and No. 11 are invariable, Nos. 2 and 3 are almost always present and Nos. 4, 5 and 6 are less necessary. He makes no comment on the necessity of Nos. 7 through 10.
I suggest that eponymous deerstalkered Pikachu represents Sherlock Holmes, Tim Goodman is our Dr John H. Watson and Ryme City is our London. With this in mind, it is easy to see that Pokémon Detective Pikachu meets the canonical criteria laid out by Knox.
1. The Proömion
While the film does open on a homely Leaventown scene in which Tim Goodman and his friend Jack are out for one last Pokémon hunting jaunt together, it is not really what Knox required of a Proömion. While Knox claims that a Proömion is an “invariable” component, it’s apparent absence is not necessarily a problem. Knox states the stories which provide evidence for his eleven parts. Among them is A Study in Scarlet, which also lacks the “invariable” Proömion. Why? Because Holmes and Watson had not met yet. Similarly, in Pokémon Detective Pikachu Pikachu and Tim have not met yet.
Like Watson in A Study in Scarlet, this story starts with Tim sad and lonely. Tim’s own Murray-the-orderly (Jack) tries to save him (from stagnation rather than enemy bullets) before they part company. Tim is then told that his father, Harry Goodman, has died in the course of his duty as a Ryme City police officer. This is his life changing moment tallying with Watson being injured out of the military – both events are unexpected game-changers. Soon after, he arrives in Ryme City with “neither kith nor kin [nor Pokémon]”. Like Watson arriving in London, Tim is traumatised and devoid of purpose and direction at this point. It is in his subsequent meeting with Pikachu that his life takes a turn for the better. Thus, Pokémon Detective Pikachu starts with a perfectly canonical Study in Scarlet style Proömion.
2. Exegesis kata ton diokonta
There are two contenders for the “statement of the case”. The first is in Tim’s encounter with Lucy Stevens at Harry Goodman’s apartment (13 minutes in). Here she intimates that Harry was murdered because he was working on something important. However, this is not so much a statement of a case as it is a suggestion of a case.
A more obvious statement comes when Tim and Pikachu first meet at 18 minutes in. Pikachu categorically states that something is amiss, that he is investigating and that Tim should assist him. This is our proper Exegesis kata ton diokonta.
3. The Ichneusis
At 18 minutes in, Tim discovers Pikachu creeping around on the floor investigating Harry’s apartment. The palpable Ichneusis is, then, Tim and Pikachu’s very first meeting, although there are arguably others to be found in the film, such as the investigation at the PCL Facility.
4. The Anaskeue
At 24 minutes in Pikachu is attempting to convince Tim that they need to find Harry. Tim believes this is impossible, because the police say Harry died. Pikachu denies this. He points out that just because the police believe something it does not mean it is true. He refutes the official theory thus:
“Did they find a body? No, I didn’t think so. And by the way, did that report also say that I’m dead?”
The Anaskeue, then, is clearly present.
5. The first Promenusis
This comes at 43 minutes in. It is out of sequence, but Knox is clear that “the order of [the parts] may in some cases be changed about”.
After being arrested at The Roundhouse, Tim tells Lieutenant Hide Yoshida about the experimental Pokémon drug “R” and that Harry may still be alive. Yoshida does not believe him. True to the first Promenusis structure, Tim and Pikachu have given the police some valuable hints which they ignore.
6. The second Promenusis
There are several example of second Promenusis in Pokémon Detective Pikachu and this is for an important plot reason. Pikachu represents a Sherlock Holmes who has temporarily gone wrong. While he is put right at the end of the film, throughout the main story he is battling to recover his deductive abilities. For this reason his theories develop and change as he gains more clues and evidence. I can identify at least three “second” Promenusis. There may be more. This does not invalidate the canonical structure of the film, it merely plays with the parts.
At 28 minutes, Pikachu shares his clues and thoughts with Tim for the first time.
At 48 minutes, after meeting Howard Clifford, Tim and Pikachu revise their theory and are somewhat misdirected (representing a lazy mistake comparable to the one in The Yellow Face).
At 59 minutes, as they investigate the PCL Facility, Pikachu shares his theories with Tim as he forms them.
7. The Exetasis
This Exetasis of this film is very similar to one of the longer canonical stories e.g. A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four or The Valley of Fear. In those stories (at least in the Holmes and Watson sections) a lot of the story represents the Exetasis. That is, the investigation itself. Detective Pikachu is no different and the majority of the film is comprised of the Exetasis.
At 32 minutes they follow up the “R” clue with Lucy Stevens who provides them with further information.
At 35 minutes they interrogate Mr Mime.
At 55 minutes they investigate the PCL Facility. It is worth noting that they do this by illegally breaking into the premises – a typically Holmesian technique as seen when he breaks into the home of Charles Augustus Milverton or Watson deceives his way into the home of Baron Gruner.
At 70 minutes an Exetasis leads to a second Promenusis when Mewtwo tries to tell Tim and Pikachu the real facts of the case, but is interrupted. The limited information leads them to draw incorrect conclusions.
At 76 minutes Pikachu discovers his vital clue at the scene of Harry’s crash.
At 80 minutes Pikachu discovers the last details by talking to Psyduck-Lucy.
8. The Anagnorisis
Here we see the narrative structure of the movie, by necessity, forcing the order of the parts to alter slightly. The Exegesis occurs before the Anagnorisis. Nevertheless, they are both present. Indeed both versions of the Anagnorisis are here; exposure and capture. First there is exposure when Clifford makes a public announcement of his plans at 79 minutes. Then he is captured by Pikachu, Tim and Psyduck-Lucy at 87 minutes.
While it could be said that the public announcement at 79 minutes is a form of Exegesis, the private confession of Mewtwo-Clifford to Tim at 77 minutes is a far more canonical one.
The place of the Metamenusis is somewhat distorted by the way Pikachu is updating Tim throughout the movie. As discussed earlier, this is due to the plot being about a “broken-Sherlock” trying to fix himself. However, a robust Metamenusis does exist at around 76 minutes. It is in the form of a soliloquy but it nevertheless sees Pikachu tying up loose ends to present a coherent solution to the mystery.
While it could be argued that the whole scene starting at 90 minutes (in which Harry and Pikachu meet with Tim and essentially agree to team up) could be taken as a long Epilogos, for my money Pikachu’s final line really offers the kind of quotable conclusion Knox had in mind: “Pika, pika!”
As Knox suggests that “more or less [parts] may appear as the story is closer to or further from the ideal type”, it is worthy of note that Detective Pikachu contains all 11 parts. Certainly Pokémon Detective Pikachu meets Knox’s expectations to such a degree that it is a very canonical movie. However, there are further points to consider which I believe raise the film beyond merely being highly canonical. I believe Knox missed several other factors which make a story canonical.
There are many problems in the canon which Holmesians like to consider and which are highly characteristic. There is Watson’s wandering wound, the incompatible dates of the Great Hiatus and Wisteria Lodge, John’s wife calling him James and many others. Pokémon Detective Pikachu canonically comes with its own problematica. For example: Tim manages to go the whole film without recognising his dad’s voice and at one point Pikachu on foot (and tiny legs) manages to walk from the PCL Facility back to Ryme City almost as quickly as Tim and Lucy drive there. As in the canon, these are subtle, inconsequential errors which do nothing to ruin the story but provide material for potential further rumination.
The canon is often seen presenting the author’s own opinions of the need for divorce reform through the way many of Holmes’ female clients are treated poorly but legally.
Detective Pikachu offers similar messages in its subtext. Throughout there is a message about the dubious morality of forcing Pokémon to fight (see the scenes at The Roundhouse for the most explicit example) and at 64 minutes we see an environmental concern raised when Pikachu asks “At this point, how can you not believe in climate change?”
In his list, Knox fails to identify the sense of adventure present in the Holmes canon. The boat chase in The Sign of the Four, the capture of John Clay in The Red-Headed League or the serpentine vigil in The Speckled Band, for example. It is difficult to name a canonical story without moments of adventure (even if the adventure is not enjoyed by Holmes or Watson).
Similarly, Detective Pikachu has many such moments. Major ones would include the flight from the PCL Facility at 60 minutes or the big fight at 84 minutes.
As early as A Study in Scarlet Holmes is identified as “an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman”. In The Empty House, we learn he has “some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling”. And there is no shortage of moments he puts these skills to use. He engages in street brawls in The Final Problem and The Illustrious Client, he sees off Woodley in The Solitary Cyclist and he reveals how he baritsued Moriarty to death in The Empty House.
It is no surprise to see that Pikachu is an equally skilled fighter. He is a master of his electric-type fighting skills as demonstrated in an impressive battle from 80 minutes to 87 minutes.
Far from just being a “pikachu in a hat”, this film meets all the Holmesian criteria demanded by Knox and a further four of my own. In conclusion, I restate that Detective Pikachu is the most canonical movie currently available and is a boon to any Holmesian’s DVD collection.