Pokemon retired Ash and Pikachu at the perfect moment

Pokemon retired Ash and Pikachu at the perfect moment

Ash Ketchum has been quite busy these past few weeks. First, he became World Champion, an impressive feat that was soon made an appetizer for the main course announcement: that the Pokémon anime would end his main story altogether. In a series that has often been panned by fans for its relative lack of narrative or emotional thrust, it seemed like a straightforward overhaul while also culminating the goals Ash set out to achieve when he was just the loudest kid in his hometown. And considering how much Ash has come to represent Pokémon itself and the 25-plus year goals of the franchise, its importance has only increased.

Ash has been the central figure in Pokemon anime since there has been a Pokemon anime. He was born Satoshi, named after the creator of Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri, in April 1997. When the series was localized for American audiences and released in the US in the fall of 1998, Ash Ketchum was born, his name now an obvious pun on the series’ previous catchphrase, ” gotta catch ’em all!” Since then, he’s been a globe-trotting, unchanging 10-year-old, who gets a soft reboot every time a new anime arc loosely based on the latest video game installment is set to begin.

Depending on who you are, this either makes Ash anime comfort food or one of the most frustrating heroes. “Shouldn’t his Pikachu be at, like, level 1,000,000 by now?” became a well-known criticism. From a franchise perspective, though, it makes sense: Every couple of years, a new “generation” of games is released, acting as a Pikachu-filled outreach program for a new generation of fans. Keeping Ash forever young and forever struggling, he deals with each new round of Pokémon trainers in, um, training.

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But then, in 2019, things changed. He had a very well-publicized victory in the Alola League, giving him his first canon-friendly championship. (He had previously entered the Orange League Hall of Fame thanks to a victory at the Orange Islands, a largely anime-specific location from a story built to buy time for video game development.) It was the culmination of the Sun & Moon segment. of anime, a particularly good arc, and the media reaction to it was akin to discovering that a friend from your childhood had actually made good on their dreams. Sure, you hadn’t spoken to him in years, but look at him!

A picture of Ash holding the Pokemon World Coronation Series trophy.  He smiles with his team: Pikachu, Dracovish, Gengar, Sirfetch'd, Lucario and Dragonite.

Photo: OLM/The Pokémon Company

Fast forward to now, and he’s a world champion, finally becoming “the very best that no one ever was.” In retrospect, a victory like this seemed almost assured. The latest anime series, dubbed Pokemon journeys, is not a region-specific romp, but rather a nostalgia-filled world tour. Ash’s collection of monsters was no longer devoted to introducing excited children to cute potential friends (that duty would be shifted primarily to his new traveling companion Goh, a synergistic reference to the mega-popular Pokémon Go mobile games). Instead, his team would consist of classic heavy-hitters (Dragonite! Gengar! Lucario!) and new blood (Dracovish and Sirfetch’d). With such a team and an ending-inducing history of visiting many famous places, Ash was playing for preservation.

Winning something so significant almost seemed to go against Ash’s basic nature. He had spent so long as an anime avatar for new fans of the franchise, a reliable newbie whose insatiable passion for Pokémon and penchant for learning lessons about its world and growing up in general could be reflected in each growing crop of Pokémon followers . Winning so many games only to narrowly lose the big one provided just another one of those lessons, related to everything from going to a new, unfamiliar school to experiencing defeat in a sport. Ash would get up, dust himself off, drop his old team off at Professor Oak’s and head to the next location with his best friend Pikachu, his love for Pokemon remaining intact.

Winning provided the culmination of an arc in a franchise that isn’t usually known for them, especially when it comes to Ash and anime. Even in the games, eventually winning the regional championship usually places you right back in your childhood bedroom, your journey stretching endlessly as you desperately search for postgame content. Age is turned into a fairly pointless qualifier when the quest is both cyclical and perpetual, and this is perhaps one of the reasons older fans have been able to stay so deeply connected to the franchise even as it pushes for constant renewal of the audience. . Ash never gets too old for Pokemon, so why should you?

That said, having Ash become the best trainer in the known Pokémon world invited questions that many weren’t sure the anime’s comfort zone bearer would be able to answer. Would Ash revert to his nascent ineptitude as he had done a few times before? Would Pikachu lose his god-like status and be reduced to fighting new threats again? After being labeled as the ultimate conqueror of the Pokémon species, it would be a little embarrassing, right?

Ash and Pikachu are in bed together.

Photo: OLM/The Pokémon Company

Two Pokémon Trainers ride Koraidon and Miraidon, with Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly between them, in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet artwork

Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo

Giving a final curtain to Ash and Pikachu as co-leads in the series alleviates these issues, a revelation that coincides with the massive popularity of Scarlett and Violet, the latest pair of Pokemon games. With an open world the likes of which the franchise has never seen before (and a flood of bugs and glitches that come with it), its launch made them the fastest-selling console-exclusive game of all time. If there’s ever going to be a time to embrace the new and let the old guard ride off into the sunset, it’s now.

How long this planning has been going on is unknown. And while each previous ranking in the requisite end-of-season anime tournaments took Ash closer and closer to first place, it’s a jarring occasion. Ash was for a long time built as a character who specifically didn’t win. His function in the overall franchise was driven by the demands for consistent new rounds of games and merchandise, the antithesis of most definitions of storytelling. In another story, Ash’s goals would likely be a little more defined, his inevitable endgame tied to his own personality. These goals would be slowly chipped away at, and at the end of each region he would find definitive progress towards them rather than being at the mercy of the franchise’s longevity. In that regard, his championship win also becomes a bit cynical – development by forced means by companies seeking a brand refresh rather than the conclusion of a satisfying and coherent emotional arc.

Ultimately, however, this dueling process is the backbone of Pokémon itself. It’s a thematic franchise built on beautiful idealism, a world where humanity and nature are able to connect in ultimate harmony, and its army of wide-eyed fourth-grade protagonists ready to deliver any messages about growing up and getting against. But as a top-grossing entertainment giant, it’s also about the perpetual pitch — the new games, the new anime, the new cards, the new toys. There are always sales, each pillar advertising another in a structure that many companies can only dream of.

Ash Ketchum has been both salesman and best friend, marketing emblem and motivational speaker. He may be on his way out, but his spirit is too intertwined with the franchise to be removed. New monsters to collect, new places to explore, new lessons to learn, new fans to make, and coinciding with everything at a fast pace, new products to buy and series to watch. Ash Ketchum’s adventure continues forever.

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