Satoshi Tajiri first introduced the world to Pokémon 21 years ago. What began as a fondness for catching insects and tadpoles in Tokyo evolved—much like the first 151 creatures of the Kanto region—into a best-selling video game franchise for Game Freak and Nintendo, which spawned several generations of trading card games, TV shows, movies, comic books, and toys.
Back in 1996, few would've predicted that the 8-bit themes of Japanese composers Junichi Masuda and Koji Kondo could become the nostalgic overtures they are today. Now, an orchestra performing the music of Pokémon doesn't seem so Farfetch'd—at least not to Portland producer Jeron Moore and Los Angeles-based composer Chad Seiter. With credits between the two including Lost, Up, Star Trek, Jurassic World, and more, the duo conceived Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions in 2014, a project that sees the series' iconic soundtracks performed on piano, synths, woodwinds, and other instruments.
During a recent Toronto stop at the 3,191-capacity Sony Centre, Ryan Shore (nephew of award-winning Hollywood composer Howard Shore) lead an orchestra of recruited musicians through an hour-and-a-half performance. Synced to a massive video screen showing gameplay footage, the setlist featured fan favourites like a battle medley, "Gotta Catch 'Em All," and the Pallet Town theme.
We spoke to producer Moore beforehand about the impetus for Pokémon: Symphonic Evolution, what it was like working closely with Masuda, and why he always, always picks Charmander.
THUMP: How did this project get started and why the Pokémon franchise?
Jeron Moore: We incubated the idea for a while, assembled our ideas, put the pitch together, and brought it to the Pokémon Company. It turned out they were very interested in collaborating with us to create this show. We had the pleasure and privilege of working with Junichi Masuda, game director and game composer of Game Freak. One of the guys responsible for making a lot of what Pokémon is, we got to work really closely with him on all the music. He was really happy with what we did. And now here we are, multitudes of dates later. We've been touring since 2014 and this is our second time in Toronto.
How faithful do you stay to the original themes and the original melodies?
Absolutely faithful. We don't get abstract with it. We feel like it's important to stay central to what made it what it is. We do take some creative liberties in terms of how we present it, or how we interpret the atmosphere that we put the melody in. There's an overarching story for Pokémon games, but they're also filled to the brim with their own little stories. When we take a route or a battle, we try to focus on what the context of those things were. The visuals complement it.
What's in the visual component?
We've worked with the Pokémon Company to capture footage from every generation up through X and Y. The show's divided by generation, so we start with Red and Blue, and work all the way through X and Y. It's accompanied, timed carefully to the music, hitting emotional cues, and framed beautifully with animated backgrounds that suit the environments that that particular moment that game took place in.
In your opinion, which Pokémon game has the best soundtrack?
I feel like Red, Blue, and Yellow are the quintessential home base. That's really where Masuda established the sound we identify with Pokémon. It's just grown from there, but I'd have to say, I have a deep fondness for Ruby and Sapphire. That soundtrack, you can go buy that one, and it's really fantastic.
Which of the performed themes is your favourite?
One of my all-time favourites is "Falling Ashes," it's Route 113 from Ruby and Sapphire. It's very sombre. The original piece is not quite like that.
That's near Mt. Chimney—it had a ruffian spirit about it.
That sense of adventure is there, but what Chad did is add a layer of mystery to the piece. About halfway through, it really kicks into high adventure mode, while still maintaining this air of mystery. Without a doubt, I don't think a lot of people knew they liked Route 113, as much as they do walking away from hearing it in Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions. It was kind of an unusual choice for the setlists, but that was one of the tasks they set for us. What works for the orchestra, what are the pleasant surprises we can bring to audiences, how can we present this much in a way that will delight you.
What sort of crowds comes out to the shows?
You know, it changes from city to city. Sometimes we get more of the nostalgic crowd that grew up with Red, Yellow, Blue. We get the older kids like us in their late 20s, late 30s, sometimes in their early 40s. It's fun to see children and young adults come in with their parents or their grandparents, who are there for their children and grandchildren, and there's a preconception of what video game music is. We kind of just throw that to the wind, and they walk out with an entirely new appreciation for what we're bringing to the audience.
Besides the Nintendo composers, were there any other composers that influenced the show?
Absolutely. Chad and I are huge film music geeks. One of our big, big influences is Jerry Goldsmith. When we were developing the arrangements—you'll hear it right off the bat with the overture—there's a lot of influence from James Horner. This was right before he passed away in his plane crash. It was an interesting lens to put some of that through. It carried a different weight.
On a closing note, what's your favourite Pokémon and why?
I always gravitate towards Mudkip or Chespin. Chad always goes with Pikachu. I have a soft spot in my heart for Charmander and Squirtle. I just find those two guys are cute and endearing to me.
Check out upcoming Pokémon: Symphonic Evolution show dates and get tickets here.
Corinne Przybyslawski is on Twitter.