The School of Hard Knocks (Japanese: ポケモンひっしょうマニュアルPokémon Victory Manual) is the ninth episode of the Pokémon anime. It was first broadcast in Japan on May 27, 1997 and in the United States on September 18, 1998.
While searching for firewood in the foggy woods, Ash and Pikachu discover a bunch of prep-school kids bullying a classmate named Joe. They're all students at Pokémon Technical Institute, which offers classes that allow trainers to enter the Pokémon League without getting badges.
But Joe says the rough treatment is necessary so he'll be strong enough to graduate. Still, Ash doesn't like the idea, and demands to meet the person responsible for this "tutoring" program.
We soon meet this leader, a conceited girl named Giselle. Brock and Ash are smitten by her looks, but Misty wants to battle. To Misty's surprise, Giselle's Rock-type Graveler defeats her Water-type Starmie, proving that matching up types is only one of several factors that determine victory. As Giselle gloats, Ash challengers her, and Pikachu faces her Cubone.
But Cubone is unaffected by Electric-type attacks—how can Pikachu win? What's the real deal with this school? And why does the school seem so familiar to Jessie and James?
When Misty and Ash fight about the former's broken bike again, Brockpulls a table and some chairs out of his backpack, with all of the necessities to set it for a nice afternoon cup of tea. Brock sends Ash to collect firewood to make tea and crepes. As Ash and Pikachu wander around the forest, they encounter a group of boys in suits. One of them is running on a treadmill, while the rest are gathered around, quizzing him about various Pokémon. He misses a question and is rejected by the other boys, and Ash jumps in to defend him. The boys reveal that they are students of Pokémon Technical Institute, a boarding school which educates Pokémon Trainers. They leave, stating they don't want to fight. As Brock reads from the school's brochure, Pikachu started the treadmill and tries to keep up. The school trains its students without sending them to collect Badges, and guarantees entry into the Pokémon League upon graduation. Brock leans on the treadmill, speeding it up, which sends Pikachu flying. The school is expensive, and therefore populated with rich kids.
The student who was being bullied, Joe, defends his so-called friends, who were trying to help him. He explains that he sometimes pretends to know less than he really does because the questions get so much harder. Ash is very upset at this brutal "tutoring" system, and demands to meet the student in charge, with plans to stop it. The head student of the beginner class is a girl; Brock and Ash drool over her photo, which makes Misty angry. Ash insults Misty's looks, which makes her even angrier. Team Rocket reveals that they both flunked out of Pokémon Tech entry exam, achieving the worst score in its history. Being led there by Ash has brought back some bad memories for Jessie and James, but Meowth cheers them up.
Joe leads Ash and his friends to the head student Giselle's study area. He says it's overall skill as a Trainer, not any one battle, that determines success at Pokémon Tech. He says that even though he is the weakest student in his class, he is still better than someone with two Badges. Misty takes offense, and Joe reveals that he is familiar with her Gym; he usually beats her preferred Water Pokémon on the simulator. Misty demands a real battle, but Joe is doubtful of her ability to beat him. Misty calls her Starmie, though Joe calls on Weepinbell, a Grass-type Pokémon, and has the type advantage. Nevertheless, Starmie beats Weepinbell. Giselle walks in and chastises Joe for not realizing that Starmie's real battle experience would give it an advantage. She calls him an embarrassment to the school. Giselle continues to upbraid Joe, and threatens to withdraw the help of the other students.
Misty challenges Giselle, saying that a true friend would not walk away from a friend in need of help, and that Giselle's beauty is only skin-deep. After accusing Misty of being jealous, Giselle summons a Graveler to challenge Misty's Starmie despite the double disadvantage that Rock- and Ground-type Pokémon have against Water Pokémon. Graveler's attack sends Starmie flying through a window and into the school's pool, defeating it, much to Misty's humiliation. Everyone makes their way down to the pool. Giselle then points out that weak Pokémon can still win if they are better trained. Ash jumps in, saying that there is more to training Pokémon than levels. He brags that he has two Badges, and Giselle insults him. When Ash reveals that he has been on his quest for two months, she is shocked that he has not yet trained his Pikachu to go into a Poké Ball, and snidely remarks his Pokémon may be training him instead.
Ash protests that his three Pokémon are his friends. Giselle notes most beginners have six Pokémon, and she attributes his two Badges to luck. She is also surprised that he chose Pikachu as his starting Pokémon, as they are known to be hard to handle. Her mockery and laughter angers Pikachu, and Ash demands a battle. In response, Giselle summons Cubone. Ash calls for a Thunder Shock attack, but Cubone deflects it, much to his dismay. Giselle orders Cubone to use a Leer attack, but Pikachu responds by making funny faces at Cubone. The two Pokémon get into a close-range staring contest, until Giselle calls for a Bone Club attack; the bonk on the head staggers Pikachu. She then calls for a Bonemerang, which knocks Pikachu out cold. The next time the Bonemerang is launched, Pikachu jumps over it, and twists the skull on Cubone's head backwards, so it can no longer see. Pikachu bites and scratches Cubone before its own Bonemerang comes back and knocks it out. Giselle is taken aback by the loss and returns her crying Pokémon. She is amazed that Pikachu won without using electricity, as noted in textbooks. Misty reassures Joe, who is admiring the incredible battle, that the victory was a fluke.
Team Rocket takes advantage of everyone's distraction to appear with their motto. The Tech students, recognizing them as the ones who flunked the entrance exam, attack Team Rocket together. Team Rocket is outnumbered and decides to flee, though they are hit by the Poké Balls in the process. Giselle reflects on the day's events, noting that school cannot teach everything. Joe decides to leave Pokémon Tech and return home to start afresh like Ash did. Joe asks if he can keep Giselle's picture; she replies that she has one of him, because they are now friends and hope to meet again in the Pokémon League. Ash then demands to know why he and Misty are not friends like Joe and Giselle are, and she responds that it is because Joe doesn't owe Giselle a bike.
This is the first episode in the anime where the fourth wall is broken. At the beginning of the episode, Brock breaks up an argument between Ash and Misty by commenting that they're running late and have to start the show.
This is one of the few episodes that mention a real-life place; in this episode, Brock talks about French crepes in a French accent, causing Misty go into a romantic daydream of her sitting in France.
When Giselle is telling Ash how Pikachu should be kept in a Poké Ball, there is a close up of Pikachu; during this, Pikachu says his name, but his mouth does not move.
When Giselle is laughing after telling Ash about Pikachu, Pikachu jumps between Ash and Misty and Starmie's leg from the star on its back is missing.
When battling Cubone, Ash calls out "Shock Attack" when he means Thunder Shock.
In the Italian redub, Cubone is called by his beta name, Orphon.
In the Russian dub, after Brock asks Ash to find firewood, there is the moment where Pikachu's dialogue is translated as "Where you can find firewood?" with Ash's voice being used for Pikachu's line. It is possible this error ocurried because the Russian dub had a Polish script as the main source for the translation at the time.
In the original Brock says about a photo of a preteen girl "I'll look forward to her in eight years" while in the dub he says "She can violate my rights any time".
Right before the title card appears, Misty hits Brock in the head with a log. This was cut from the dub because of the direct violence controversy that started with EP001.
Also in that same scene, Brock mistakenly said "To be continued" instead of saying to see the episode. This is the reason why Misty hit Brock with a log later.
This episode contains many paint edits:
When talking about tea, Brock pulls out a wooden cup that has some Pokémon names written (Lizardon, Hakuryu, Kentauros and Dodo). In the dub, it is a can with pictograms. Ash is later seen drinking from the cup unedited.
Similar to the above edit, Brock's bottle of "Mt. Moon Spring Water" had a picture of a mountain painted over the Japanese text.
Misty's note about the Pokémon Seminar was originally full of Japanese text. In the dub, it has a black-and-white picture of the school at the top of the paper and some blurred-out French text on the bottom.
Joe's picture of Giselle had a note from her in the upper-right hand corner. This was erased in the dub.
The sign at the top of the door after the commercial break says "Training Room". The dub replaces the text with five Poké Balls which light up.
In the Japanese version, the simulation states the move used on the lower-left hand corner. In this case it was Razor Leaf. The dub adds another health bar over it.
However, the kanji on one student's book is left unedited.
Computer effects were added in the dubbed version, specifically into the scene where Joe was showing them the virtual training center.
Brock saying "She can violate my rights any time!" was cut out of the Kids' WB! airing.