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Why Ash Ketchum Will Never Win the Pokémon League

Written by Mark Russell

Well, well, it wasn’t really much of a surprise but it happened anyway. For the sixth time, Ash Ketchum has lost the championship in the Pokémon League. And like a lot of long-time fans of the anime, I was angry and disappointed. The franchise was injected with new life three years ago, introducing beautiful animation, exciting battles, and actual character arcs. It took me back to the golden age of Pokémon.

It’s been a pretty good year for Pokémon, celebrating its 20th anniversary and returning to the mainstream with Pokémon Go. Ash Ketchum as a character did improve, growing more mature and strategically-minded when it came to battle. And yet, over the past three years, I have had a firm belief that he would lose the League again. But why?

So, what happened? Well, Ash actually made it to the final for the first time and battled against Alan, not the most interesting of characters. Alan was a Mega Evolution expert and did have a pretty cool line-up. The fight culminated in Ash’s Greninja vs. Alan’s Charizard. Water vs. fire should’ve been no contest, but Charizard uses a Blast Burn to rip up the battlefield, causing Greninja’s giant water shuriken to explode and take him out of the fight. I could fly into a rant about the lack of logic there but the stiff rules of the games were never consistent in the anime. The big disappointment doesn’t necessarily come from Ash losing again since the audience saw it coming a mile off.

As both a screenwriter and a long-time fan, it annoys me that the writers decided to deliberately make Ash lose again despite his obvious advantage (water beats fire!). But we also know why it had to happen. The anime follows the games, and thus must go along with it.

Way back in 1997, Pokémon was actually going to end after Pokémon: The First Movie was released, but Nintendo realised the goldmine they had created and kept it going. And when Ash, back then a loudmouthed, thick-headed amateur, lost the League when his Charizard refused to fight a Pikachu, it was heartbreaking. You rooted for the underdog and it was sad to see him lose. But then it happened again and again.

The core concept of Pokémon is to “catch ‘em all”, and twenty years ago, that dream seemed possible. But now there are nearly nine-hundred critters. While it is possible to catch ’em all in the games, there is no chance in the anime. The story has always repeated the same basic steps as the games – Ash goes to a new region, catches new Pokémon, beats the gyms, enters the League, loses, and starts it all over again. This pattern kneecaps any potential to do something different with the story and characters. Now, don’t get me wrong, the past three years, focused on Pokémon X and Y, have been fantastic. Definitely a step up from the god-awful Black and White arc.

Speaking of which, that season was when the series really hit rock bottom and my interest in Pokémon was waning. Not only did the budget drop but so did the writing. Ash became even more of an idiot, forgetting the basics of Pokémon training. This culminated in a facepalm-inducing gym match where Ash forgot he had to bring three Pokémon with him and runs out to get them. Then runs out again to switch them. They should have just given up trying to write his character then and there. Thankfully, when the Kalos arc rolled around, the show writers decided to actually care about what they were writing.

So, yes, Ash lost the Pokémon League once again as expected. The battle itself was pretty exciting, even if the conclusion was inevitable. As long as the anime goes on, the odds of Ash actually winning are minimal. But, looking at the bigger picture, I think Ash’s quest to become a Pokémon Master has taken a backseat. He enjoys the journey rather than the prize, befriending new Pokémon, and spending time with his companions. The League is just the endgame, the gyms are the highlights of the series, and the training often acts as a way to build character. They scrapped the whole gotta catch ‘em all slogan years ago. Maybe Ash realised catching isn’t everything too. Afterall, he only nabbing five Pokémon during his time in the Kalos region.

Pokémon has greatly improved in quality and writing (more or less), and when Ash sets sails for the Aloha region, I’ll be following him; not just out of nostalgia, but because I love the character. Honestly, Ash Ketchum was a big role model in my life and I still hope, as unlikely as it seems, that some day he will beat the League and become a Pokémon Master.

Are you a fan of Ash? Do you want to him to win the Pokémon League, or should the anime introduce a new protagonist and explore different stories? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell