II. I Wanna Be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was
III. The Long and Winding Road
IV. His Name was Tobias
V. You're Such a Little Kid!
VI. You Really Are an Amazing Person
VII. “Kalos League Victory! Satoshi's Greatest Decisive Battle”
VIII. To Be Continued: The Cycle of Failure
IX. A Jobber in Alola
X. Closing Remarks
As this is a subforum for discussion of the Pokémon anime, I feel this is an appropriate place to make this thread, for discussion purposes. The following below is an incredibly long rant about the state of the Pokémon anime. I make no attempt to hide any salt and I have no intention of trolling anyone, only to narrate and tell from my heart my deepest feelings about the anime. Although it's quite long, the message of this work is very simple. The essay was originally posted in unedited form at Serebii Forums on December 31, 2016. So have some popcorn, sit back, and relax.
My first foray into Pokémon was back in 1998, when I got the Game Boy Camera that summer (might've been my birthday, can't really remember). I had a ton of fun with that little thing—the games, the DJ, the photos, among other things. What was particularly cool was being able to place silly stamps on the photos. There were eyes, mouths, accessories, various Mario characters, and some creatures that my older brother referred to as generic “dinosaurs” or “monsters”, can't exactly remember which word he said. But I used them on my photos anyway, cause why not. Little did I know that wasn't going to be the last time I saw those critters, oh no.
Come Autumn later that year, my brother tells me all the neat things about a new craze going on in school called Pokémon. He introduced me to the TV show, where we watched it together. I, being but a young boy at the time, was hooked and completely loved every minute of it, and just wanted to watch more and more of it. I made sure to watch every new episode premiere to the best of my ability and was happy to watch the reruns. Around the same time, I saw the commercial to the games, and wanted to play them badly. Soon enough, I got the game, and was completely hooked to it, and became a young Pokémon fan.
Every Pokémon fan has likely heard of and watched the anime at some point in their lives. When we saw the anime for the first time, plenty of us found it exciting to see Ash and others traveling, battling with their critters and getting stronger, strengthening the bonds and friendships with each other and their Pokémon, helping out others, earning badges, fighting evil, and so forth. Many today still have nostalgia for those days. But today, the Pokémon anime is scorned by both Pokémon and anime fans, something that gives both the franchise and the medium a bad name. What went wrong? Let us review Ash's journey throughout the years.
II. I Wanna Be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was
According to Wikipedia, the premise or synopsis of the entire anime is this: “After he turns 10 years old, Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in Japan) is allowed to start his journey in the world of Pokémon and dreams of becoming a Pokémon master.” Remember this carefully.
So our boy Ash, despite getting up late, manages to begin a brand new journey in a new region, with Pikachu by his side, in hopes of becoming a Pokémon Master. The Pikachu, given to him by Professor Oak, at first does not get along very well with the newbie trainer; but not long after they get along very well and become a strong team. They later get joined by Brock and Misty, two people who are in charge of Pokémon Gyms, a place where trainers are tested by battling such leaders in hopes of defeating them to obtain a Gym Badge, of which eight are required to enter the Pokémon League. As Ash desires to win the league he tries hard to get these badges, all while going through some extra battling, capturing more Pokémon, visiting places, helping out strangers, and stopping Team Rocket, a trio consisting of Jessie, James and Meowth, who hope to capture his Pikachu due to their impression of how strong he is. In addition, he hopes to win his rivalry against the snobby Gary, the grandson of Professor Oak. Misty herself desires to become a Water Pokémon Master, and Brock desires to become a Pokémon Breeder.
Ash manages to get all of the Gym Badges at Kanto, though sometimes by unconventional means (he was simply going to get the Cascade Badge without a battle, he got another by making its Gym Leader laugh, and yet another by not fighting the actual Gym Leader). Nonetheless he was happy with his badges, and went off to enter the Pokémon League. Ash had a bit of struggles with his opponents, among them a long green-haired weirdo and a woman in traditional Japanese clothing with an overpowered Bellsprout. But despite those, Ash manages to win four 3v3 Pokémon matches. Ash is now in the Sweet Sixteen!
So he faces off against a trainer that isn't so different from him—he is similar in personality and fights with similar Pokémon. His name is Ritchie. Like our boy Ash, Ritchie resembled and was loosely based on Red, the protagonist of the first Pokémon games. He marked his Poké Balls with stars and gave nicknames to each of his Pokémon. He similarly had a Pikachu that was always with him by his side. He too wanted to become a good trainer. Unsurprisingly, Ash and Ritchie became good pals and always want to see each other succeed. However, the time came where the two trainers had to face each other in the tournament. The two felt conflicted, and yet were ready to engage in a battle. The two fought valiantly, but thanks to some poor refereeing and the stupidity of Ash's Charizard, Ash loses the match. He is eliminated from the tournament. Unlike his game, manga, and Pokémon Origins counterparts, Ash does not become the Pokémon Champion. Ash does not obtain his dream of becoming a Pokémon Master.
While many of us were disappointed with the outcome, plenty of us also thought, “Well, losses happen. It's okay to lose.” 255 trainers had to lose the tournament, and Ash (and Ritchie) ended up becoming one of them. Losing is part of life. Time to move on.
Little did plenty of us know that this was just the beginning of would later be an awful predicament.
III. The Long and Winding Road
After the league ended, Ash decided to continue traveling. He and his companions enter a region called the Orange Islands. Brock was replaced by an artist named Tracey, while Misty continues traveling with our protagonist. We continue to see much of the same—battles, catching Pokémon, helping strangers, Team Rocket blasting off again, and so forth. Ash gains four more badges by doing non-battle challenges, which qualifies him to enter the Orange League.
The battle was Ash against Drake in a full 6v6 battle. It was quite exciting to watch, and the great highlight was seeing Ash's Pikachu take down a mighty Dragonite, giving Ash the victory. It was not a true league however, so Ash's journey is not quite over. But hey, it's something, right? Well, not really.
So off he goes to Johto. Brock returns and replaces Tracey, who didn't really get anywhere with his goal; we're back to the original team. Meanwhile, Team Rocket continues to attempt getting Pikachu but never succeeds. The Johto saga was notorious for its heavy amount of filler, yet despite that Ash manages to get eight more badges, qualifying him to enter into the Johto League. Misty also decided to do something with her goal as she and Ash enter the Whirl Cup, a tournament where trainers are only allowed to use water-type Pokémon. Despite Misty's apparent expertise at that kind of thing, she is defeated, and thus does not really fulfill her goal in becoming a Water Pokémon Master, whatever that is. Brock continues to tag along, flirting with women along with other activities.
Eventually Ash arrives to the Johto League. He defeats a good number of opponents, among those were a girl who was heavily infatuated with him and his biggest rival Gary. But despite this great accomplishment, he gets defeated by Harrison at the quarterfinals, in a match that unlike against Ritchie, turned out to be a good loss for our hero. He got further than he did before, and was finally able to overcome Gary, who reconciled with Ash and then quit becoming as a Pokémon Trainer, joining his grandfather in his research. But Ash's adventure is far from over.
So next he arrives to Hoenn. It wasn't without a bit of controversy—Misty fans were enraged as the tomboyish mermaid was getting written out and replaced by May, who was the female protagonist of the then new Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire games. With an emotional goodbye to Misty, Ash continues his adventure, catching all sorts of new Pokémon, meeting various people, engaging in many battles, fending off Team Rocket (who continues but fails to capture Ash's Pikachu), and winning another eight badges to enter the Hoenn League. Meanwhile, May finds her own goal—become a Master Coordinator. In her attempt to reach her dream, she entered so-called Pokémon Contests, which are more or less Pokémon pet shows plus some battling, in hopes of winning some ribbons. She manages to get the five ribbons required to enter the Grand Festival, where the winner will be donned Master Coordinator.
Despite her hard work however May is defeated in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Ash himself is yet again beaten, this time by eventual Champion Tyson and his Meowth at the Hoenn League quarterfinals, yet he was able to make it that far using only his Hoenn team. But that wasn't enough for our boy. He travels on, as the journey continues!
IV. His Name was Tobias
By this point, Ash had become an experienced player. He, Brock and May return to Kanto and do stuff; May tries again with her goal but fails a second time, this time being defeated at the semifinals of the Kanto Grand Festival. Ash himself enters and wins the Battle Frontier, which seems to be the Pokémon equivalent of an All-Star Game or the International Champions Cup, which although impressive, was not an important competition like the regional Pokémon League. So Ash heads off to Sinnoh.
May (and her forgettable brother) get written out without getting their goals accomplished and Dawn, the female protagonist of the Gen IV Pokémon games, now takes the spotlight. Brock tarries on longer, practically getting relegated to a shadow of what he used to be. Team Rocket still stalks Ash in hopes of getting that Pikachu of his, yet again they do not succeed. More of the usual happens—Ash captures Pokémon, Ash does more battling, Ash wins some badges, etc. Dawn, like May before her, desires to become a Master Coordinator. She too enters contests and despite some struggles gets the ribbons necessary to reach the Grand Festival. Unfortunately she only gets so far just to lose to rival Zoey at the finals, thus being unable to fulfill her goal. Too bad.
As for Ash, he enters a Pokémon League for the fourth time. This time he goes really far, and manages to defeat rival Paul in an epic battle that lasted three episodes, sending him to the semifinals for the first time in his history as a Pokémon Trainer. Having momentum by overcoming a fierce rival, Ash looked on his way to the long awaited victory after 13 years worth of episodes. But not so fast.
In comes a man in a cloak, named Tobias. He had swept all of his previous opponents, using a single Darkrai. Yes, Darkrai, the legendary Mythical Pokémon. This same Darkrai ended up taking about half of Ash's entire team. But Ash wasn't just going to roll over and die. With great effort, the Darkrai was finally taken down by Sceptile, yet those efforts came in vain, as Tobias sends out a second legendary Pokémon, Latios, who managed to wipe out the rest of Ash's team, though it was not without Latios himself fainting together with Pikachu.
Just when Ash looked to be on a possible road to victory, he gets crushed by this guy who has a team of multiple legendary Pokémon with him. For the fourth time in a fourth region, Ash again does not fulfill his dream. Tough luck.
Let us review the premise of the anime again: “After he turns 10 years old, Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in Japan) is allowed to start his journey in the world of Pokémon and dreams of becoming a Pokémon master.” For some reason, the writers felt that they didn't really want to have Ash make any further progress towards that goal, and as a way to do that, we get a God-mode trainer that stands in his way, one I would like to call a pastiche of players who enter Pokémon Leagues using legendary Pokémon in the games. So Tobias just comes into the anime as a plot device who only exists to do just that, halting the fulfillment of the premise of the anime by defeating Ash with overpowered legendary Pokémon. It is quite disastrous. But hey, to those who looked on the bright side, Ash proved himself to be the second strongest Pokémon Trainer by performing best against the eventual Champion Tobias. Surely, this could mean that Ash could make progress towards his dream and win the next league at Unova, right?
Nope, instead it would only get worse. Much, much worse.
V. You're Such a Little Kid!
Brock more or less outstayed his welcome, having been relegated to a mere background character and did almost nothing towards fulfilling his goal of becoming a Pokémon Breeder. So he changes his goal to become a Pokémon Doctor instead, and then is subsequently axed from the show without really seeing him become one. As for Dawn, she was going to go with Ash but suddenly gets written out thanks to some unforeseen circumstance. So despite her popularity Dawn too gets axed, and she becomes the third Poké Girl who doesn't reach her goal—Ash must be some kind of bad luck charm.
So Ash heads alone to Unova, where a new adventure awaits him. You figure that with all those strong Pokémon he's collected over the years he could finally create the team necessary to get the badges required to enter the Unova League and eventually give him the Championship win he deserves.
Oh wait, over the years is very misleading. Because at the very first episode of Best Wishes, we Ash's age retconned back to 10 by the narrator even though an anniversary scene existed in the original series. Worse, we witness a battle where his Pikachu, who just battled Latios a couple of episodes prior, faced a brand new Snivy... and lost.
Though Pikachu was partially handicapped this was still an embarrassment for our veteran trainer. It was just the beginning of the problems the Unova saga had; that one match symbolized the horrible things that were to come, resulting in many anime viewers panning it. Pikachu was made weak and Ash regressed as a trainer. Far from the guy that took on Tobias, we see Ash make some ridiculous noob mistakes like not knowing how to catch a Pokémon, not knowing about type weaknesses, scanning a Koffing as if he never knew the Pokémon. Those are not things a veteran trainer like Ash should've done; those kind of mistakes allowed Iris, a girl with insane hair with an affinity for dragon-type Pokémon, to belittle him with destructive criticism, constantly calling him a kid. She aspired to become a so-called Dragon Master but does not achieve it, making her a real hypocrite. They are accompanied by Cilan, a Pokémon Connoisseur, one that although skilled does not achieve the top rank. All while getting pursued yet again by Team Rocket, who actually changed up a bit for a short time before going back to the comedic trio that unsuccessfully attempts to get Pikachu.
The Unova League was the pinnacle of how bad the Pokémon anime had gotten. Despite the incompetence of Ash, he again manages to get eight more badges, along with other accomplishments, like being able to face Team Rocket boss Giovanni for the first time (though he got creamed hard), and witnessing the return of his powerful Charizard. So he comes into the league, takes down a few opponents, and proceeds to fight a trainer in the quarterfinals named Cameron. This should've been an automatic win for Ash, as Cameron didn't even get the required amount of badges to enter the league, and thought he could only enter five Pokémon in the match. Yet thanks to rubbish nonsense, Ash loses that match as Cameron's Riolu evolves to Lucario. Cameron proceeds to get smacked 3-6 in the semifinal match. This was followed by an arc made entirely of filler in the Decolore Islands.
It seems that all of that development Ash had prior to Best Wishes was deliberately thrown out by the writers, showing a gigantic middle finger at the premise of the anime. To those who wanted to see the anime's premise fulfilled, Best Wishes went the opposite route. In terms of fulfilling the premise of seeing Ash become a Pokémon Master, the writers have failed tremendously. It was mainly thanks to this series that the anime got the notoriety it is known for. Furthermore, the TV ratings had decreased from good to bad, where the effect had carried over to XY and now Sun and Moon.
Allow me to quote from a user in a Pokémon forum at how bad the anime had gotten:
They took everything Ash worked for (and almost won) in Sinnoh, then smacked him on a trip to Unova, where stupidity ensued. Then when Ash managed to earn eight badges with enough time left for a full conference arc, the doo-head writers wasted all of it up until the next plane ride over to Kalos.
Within Unova, Ash had lost:
-His right to age
-His Pikachu's experience
-His ability to call out those who insult him (Such as Iris. He at least snapped at Misty a few times).
-The Club Battle
-The Wishing Bell Festival
-Any mutual respect Dawn had for him to Iris.
-The Meloetta that followed him for a few episodes.
-The Vertress Conference, along with his top 4 record, and chance to fight his intended league rival, Virgil.
Another user from the same thread said, “I’m sure it was the intention of both series that Satoshi would grow from where he started out, but whereas DP was able to show this competently, BW failed to show he went through any growth at all. And as far as I'm concerned, failing to show that growth in the main character of the show severely hurt the quality of Best Wishes and is one of the biggest reasons - though there are several outside of that - why I personally rate it the worst [series].”
At the end of the series, Iris and Cilan get written out by taking a train. But we're not finished with Ash. Oh no.
VI. You Really Are an Amazing Person
After the disaster in Unova, five-time loser Ash is back home in Pallet. Ash again has not fulfilled his dream. There goes a moment where he is pondering about his adventure, thinking about many folks in he's known in his journey—Gary, Misty, Brock, Tracey, May, Dawn, Iris, and Cilan. He also reunites with the Pokémon he's collected over plenty of time. As his dream remains as strong as ever, he heads off to Kalos in a brand new outfit along with his trusty pal Pikachu. Team Rocket continues to pursue the duo.
So when he arrives there, much to the pleasant surprise of people, and in contrast to how bad he had gotten in BW, Ash is made a strong trainer again, almost as if he picked up straight from the end of Sinnoh. By the second episode we see an epic story that involves Pikachu nearly losing his life and Ash jumping off Prism Tower to save him. He and Pikachu are accompanied by three others—Clemont, the Lumiose Gym Leader, whose goal is to gain more confidence (a noble albeit subjective goal), Bonnie, his younger sister, who desires to become a trainer in the future, and Serena, a girl whom Ash met in their childhood, who at first did not have a goal but eventually decided to become a Pokémon Performer by participating in Pokémon Showcases (which you can say are basically beauty pageants with Pokémon), in hopes of ultimately becoming Kalos Queen. In deep contrast to the treatment Ash received from Iris, everyone seemed to admire him and his qualities, both his traveling companions and his rivals (detractors call them a fan club), and for once, Ash was no longer reliant on an older guy for advice or something; he felt like he was a true leader in his group.
In the meanwhile we are introduced to a young man named Alain. He was the protagonist of the Mega Evolution specials, and desired to become the strongest trainer. He sure had power indeed; his Mega Charizard X was able to take down ten other Mega Evolved Pokémon in a row. He was accompanied by a young girl named Mairin, a beginner trainer who was in many ways the opposite of Alain, being both bubbly and clumsy at the same time.
Throughout the Kalos saga, Ash seemed like he was taking his goal very seriously; he is seen training his Pokémon often, and with great effort wins another eight badges, along with the usual affairs of fillers, catching more Pokémon, helping more strangers out, fending off Team Rocket yet again, and other activities. Serena on the other hand, gets the three Princess Keys needed to enter the Master Class, where the winner would receive the title of Kalos Queen. Yet despite her great efforts, she is defeated by reigning Kalos Queen Aria. Like all of Ash's female companions before her Serena fails to achieve her dream, this time of being Kalos Queen (all this despite a closing credits dedicated to it). She was so close yet so far. Poor girl.
Plenty of viewers saw that coming, however. But Ash on the other hand had become a really strong trainer. As a matter of fact, Ash was perhaps at the strongest he has ever been, surpassing the level he was at the end of Sinnoh. He had a solid team with him of fully evolved Pokémon (except for his trusty Pikachu of course), a team of Pokémon that had amazing accomplishments by taking on Mega Evolutions and/or Legendaries. In particular, his Greninja, whom Ash had found as a Froakie, created an enormous bond with him, to the point where he would transform into a more powerful form known as Ash-Greninja. The bond is considered so strong that Ash himself would share whatever pain Greninja received while on this form. This was prophesied by one of the Kalos Gym Leaders, Olympia, who stated that Ash and the then Frogadier that they would reach levels never seen before. The strength of Ash-Greninja gave Pokémon Champion Diantha and her Mega Gardevoir a run for their money before abruptly ending as Ash was unable to handle Ash-Greninja's power, causing him to faint and thus be unable to battle. However, after several losses and then some subsequent words from Serena, Ash and Greninja received important development that allowed them to master the transformation, which proved to be crucial for winning that last badge.
VII. “Kalos League Victory! Ash's Greatest Decisive Battle”
With the eight badges Ash got at Kalos, he was ready to enter the Lumiose Conference. The number of entrants were quite low, only 64 I believe. Ash easily wins the first four rounds with his Pokémon, but before he was able to begin his match against his friend and rival Sawyer, he was stopped by a punk who wanted to battle him. After Ash took care of him, the punk confessed that he was saddened that he did not get the badges necessary to enter the league, and begs Ash to win for him. In front of a crowd, Ash vowed that he would win for all of those trainers who couldn't enter the league.
The semifinal against Sawyer was a hard fought battle, where it came down to Ash-Greninja vs Mega Sceptile, but Ash came down victorious despite the type disadvantage. The other semifinal on the other hand was seeing Alain destroy Louis 6-1 in embarrassing fashion. The final was going to be tough.
Ash had never made it this far in a tournament, making this the biggest match he's ever had in all his tenure as a Pokémon Trainer. Alain on the other hand didn't really care for the title or the tournament itself and only wanted to become the strongest and battle Ash and collect some energy for his boss, Lysandre of Team Flare, who was misguiding him that the energy would be used for righteous purposes. Both characters had a very strong team with them. The previews made sure to hype up this huge match, making emphasis that Ash had never beaten Alain before since they met, having lost to him twice previously although Ash was close in one of those matches. Team Rocket themselves commented in the anime that Ash could finally win one of these leagues. Would this be the time where Ash finally overcomes his rival? Will this be the time where Ash wins his first ever Pokémon League title? Watch the match to find out!
So after an intermission, the Kalos League Final commences. Although Pokémon never really had good animation, the battle scenes were beautiful to the eye and the action was epic. Ash was doing very well as a trainer, and I personally believe that the matches against Tyranitar and Metagross was undoubtedly one of Pikachu's finest moments in the entire anime. His efforts helped Ash be put into a 3v2 advantage by end of the first episode, with only Alain's Bisharp and Charizard remaining. Pikachu would continue to battle, putting on some hits on Charizard including a powerful and supereffective Thunderbolt.
Alain later withdrew Charizard after taking down Pikachu, and eventually the match came down to Ash-Greninja vs. Mega Charizard X. Having previously taken down a Mega Sceptile, Greninja was primed to take on Charizard, and was gifted with a type advantage. With his powerful bond with Ash they achieved a power that was never previously before seen, a bond far more impressive than by comparison a mere Mega Evolution. And for most of the match, it showed. Ash-Greninja was doing more of the damage against Mega Charizard X while keeping damage against him at a minimum. Stacked with the damage Pikachu had dealt against Mega Charizard X, Ash-Greninja appeared to be winning. We soon see Ash-Greninja perform a wild gigantic orange Water Shuriken which he is soon to throw at Mega Charizard X.
Let's pause here. Look at that beautiful thing. Look at it. Amazing. Unto many viewers, it looked to be the finishing move. It looked like victory was coming. The premise of the entire anime boiled down to this. Ash had his highs and his lows. Of all the stupid mistakes, errors and shortcomings Ash had made in the past, of all the failure he had to endure, they don't matter anymore. He was going to win that Championship. He was going to accomplish that dream of his. That Water Shuriken looked to symbolize the victory Ash deserves after 900+ episodes of experience, trials, happiness, sorrow, and accomplishments as a Pokémon Trainer. It looked to give the positive message that all of Ash's hard work, time, effort, training, teamwork, discipline, strength, endurance, speed, determination, patience, diligence, passion, desire, heart and love was finally, finally going to pay off. On we go! Kalos League Victory!
VIII. To Be Continued: The Cycle of Failure
Alain, perhaps in panic, causes Mega Charizard X to counter with a Blast Burn. A great explosion results. After the explosion, both Pokémon are seen standing. Mega Charizard X shakes a bit. But Ash-Greninja falls down. Ash-Greninja reverts to his original form. Ash-Greninja fainted. Ash is out of usable Pokémon. Ash has lost the Kalos League Championship final.
Alain is awarded the Championship trophy. His Charizard is standing right there, appearing unfazed, showing that despite the improved bond Greninja actually performed worse than before. Ash is seen smiling like the good boy he is.
There are so many things wrong with what happened at that scene. This is Best Wishes level writing here. Ash had just lost the biggest match of his life, and yet he is smiling.
In contrast, let us look at three real life athletes, all who lost earlier that same year in the finals of a major sporting competition. Look at Cam Newton at Super Bowl 50. Look at Stephen Curry at the 2016 NBA Finals. Look at Lionel Messi at the Copa América Centenario. Did all three of them just move on and smile after losing those huge games? No! They all took their losses hard. Newton was so bitter that he walked out in the middle of a press conference. Curry was seen crying in the locker room. Messi temporarily quit the Argentina national soccer team. These are human responses. I can't really blame them for their actions there. I likely would've done the same thing if I were in their spots.
Ash on the other hand, seems perfectly content with his loss. To quote one guy from Reddit: “He takes it instantly. Not a single second of disappointment or frustration, even after having come so close. No human acts like that. Everyone would at least need to breath deep for a second there. But not Ash, because the narrative bends him into getting over it immediately. Poor kid.”
It is almost as he is fine with a lower standard and not fulfilling his dream of becoming a Pokémon Master. This is a massive contradiction to the premise of the anime! It makes no sense. How can people relate to this? If the writers are trying to teach that it's okay to lose, then they've failed this badly with such execution. While I agree it's okay to lose, it's also okay to feel disappointed. The anime didn't do this (and arguably didn't even do the first part either).
Let us use an altered quote of the late Roger Ebert, because it perfectly sums up my thoughts on what happened at those very moments:
I hated this scene. Hated hated hated hated hated this scene. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
To me, this was the absolute worst moment in all of Pokémon, and that really says something.
The league was soon interrupted by a crazy invasion by Team Flare, yet the excellent Team Flare arc and succeeding episodes could not save the disastrous conclusion of the ending: That after about 940 episodes and 20 years of anime production, Ash Ketchum is back at Pallet, still beginning a brand new journey in a new region, with Pikachu by his side, in hopes of becoming a Pokémon Master.
* * *
The reason the writers had Ash lose was clearly because they wanted to continue this anime. I can't think of anything else. The status quo was in full power in that scene. The status quo of the Pokémon anime runs a cycle like this:
1. Ash enters a new region with Pikachu by his side in hopes of becoming a Pokémon Master.
2. Ash meets the professor of the region and gets a starter Pokémon from that region.
3. Ash also meets some people who'll end up being his companions in the region. Some of those companions have goals of their own that they want to achieve.
4. Team Rocket follows Ash and his crew in hopes of obtaining Pikachu.
5. Throughout the region, Ash and his companions do some Pokémon battles, enter some unimportant competitions, win some Badges or equivalent, catch some regional Pokémon, fend off Team Rocket over and over, help random strangers, etc., etc., etc.
6. After doing all that, Ash enters the region's Pokémon League, but despite his valiant effort, he is defeated. His companions likewise fail to win in their respective competitions.
7. At the end of the region, Ash's Pokémon and companions (except Pikachu) are all written out, and Ash returns to Pallet.
8. Ash enters a new region with Pikachu by his side in hopes of becoming a Pokémon Master... and proceeds to lose that region's League.
The consequences of the status quo results in these:
1. Ash does not obtain his dreams of becoming a Pokémon Master.
2. His companions also do not obtain their respective dreams, and will likely never do so thanks to getting written out of the anime.
3. Ash's Pokémon except for Pikachu also get written out despite their hard work and achievements throughout his adventure.
4. TRio, despite failing over and over again to obtain Pikachu or some other goal, nonetheless continue to stalk him.
5. Thus, any existing bonds or relationships between Ash and his Pokémon and peers are gone, because the latter groups are no longer in the anime.
6. Finally, the entire region becomes filler, as Ash remains in the initial state he was at the beginning of the saga—ready to start a new adventure with Pikachu by his side.
Plenty of us love to bash Ash for the repeated failings he's had and point out his mediocrity as a Pokémon Trainer. For a long time, Ash's incompetence was a pretty valid argument on why he kept losing. But this is no longer the case. It's just no longer Ash's stupidity or mediocrity, but vile and rubbish codswallop that caused him to lose. The message is really no longer “It's okay to lose” (though as far as I know the anime has never actually taught this), but rather “No matter how hard you try, you will always fail.” This is downright insulting, even for a kids' show.
The status quo has caused this Reddit post to happen after Ash's loss:
Ash lost. He lost with a smile on his face. I understand this is to show kids not to be a sore loser. It's a good lesson and I appreciate Pokemon doing it. But my feelings for the conclusion are separate from that.
I had fallen out of the anime after Diamond and Pearl. It wasn't that I didn't like it, I just wasn't really watching it. I had other shows I was watching and Pokemon just wasn't satisfying. XYZ changed that. They developed Ash's character, expanded on the world in an interesting way, upped the animation to a grand scale to make everything feel important and hyped the Kalos League like something important was going to happen. It was enthralling. It was intoxicating. It helped unite 20 years of Pokemon fans. But ultimately, this season was no different from the others. And that is when it hit me.
He is doomed to fail. Always. He will never win anything that has any importance and will never have any meaningful character development. No matter how the Pokemon anime presents itself, we will never see Ash win a meaningful event until the series is over. And that will never happen as long as it is marketable. This made me sad, more than angry. This is a kid I grew up with who I am to watch fail over and over again. This is a kid who is, by all definition, a good kid and we will never see it pay off. But he will always have a smile on his face. He takes it. He takes it like a champ. Like the champ he is destined to never be because it is marketable.
This series is somehow optimistic and sadistic at the same time. It teaches us it is okay to lose, but at the expense of this poor character who is doomed to never reach his goals or achieve his dreams until the show he is in dies.
I will likely not be continuing with the series after XYZ. Not because I doubt the next arcs will be poorly written. But because there is no longer a reason to stay invested. Thank you Pokemon anime.
Ash is not the only person who has failed to reach his dream. In the 20 years the Pokémon anime has run, his companions also all have failed to achieve their respective dreams. These are the results:
-Misty has failed to become a water Pokémon Master
-Brock has failed to become a Pokémon Breeder and has not become a Pokémon Doctor
-May has failed to become a Master Coordinator
-Dawn has also failed to become a Master Coordinator
-Cilan did not become a Class S Connoisseur
-Iris failed to become a Dragon Master
-Serena has failed to become Kalos Queen
Failure and defeatism is the recurring theme of the anime. Failure for just about every major character. No one ever seems to win anything. For Ash's traveling companions, they get a goal, they fail at reaching the goal, and then they all get written out, never to be seen again, never ever fulfilling their goal. For the Permanent 5 (Ash, Pikachu and Team Rocket), they get a goal, they fail at reaching the goal, then they fail again, and again, and again, and again, ad infinitum. All in a show full of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. I am sick of it all.
This crap normally comes from politicians for crying out loud. I have never seen such a lack of respect for the protagonist or any of its characters like this. I ask you: How on earth is this a good thing? How is this good? I honestly want to know. I want answers.
What I have shared is nothing new. This is not some kind of grand revelation. It is a problem that has existed for a while. I have repeatedly said in the past how much the status quo damages the quality and reputation of the anime. The status quo is something that has bothered me and other people for years, and plenty of us wanted it gone. XYZ looked like it could finally destroy the status quo after so long. And yet the writers completely blew it. Those kids that watched the anime back in the late 1990's are adults now. Deep inside we all wanted to see Ash win. It is a long time. The anger that resulted in the Kalos League loss is justified. One person from a forum said this:
The salt is understandable thought. It's been twenty years of loss for Ash. His goal to become a Pokemon Master is not yet fulfilled. Fans think Ash is losing his edge and he might have run past his prime without him achieving any of his goals. Thus the salt.
It's not about the sportsmanship right now. We've had five leagues for that kind of show. We need[ed] him to win badly right now.
IX. A Jobber in Alola
We now know that the anime staff (writers, directors, producers and executives) had no intention of actually making a meaningful and lasting impact on the show and instead continue to make Ash a jobber at every place he goes, bringing about all of his companions down with him. Ash and Pikachu are running around in circles now. I cannot help but believe that the writers do not really care for their audiences, both kids and older viewers; the older viewers for repeatedly angering them with bullcrap like the Kalos League loss, and the younger audiences for assuming that they're stupid and don't know any better, to the point where they can rehash the same plots from previous episodes. I honestly think they intend to please no one but themselves.
Three times has these people deliberately gone against the premise of the show for the sake of keeping the show to continue for who knows how long now. First with the existence of Tobias, second with the entire Unova saga, and third with Ash's Kalos League defeat. That's three strikes now. The fact that they could pull garbage decisions like those can very well indicate that they can continue the anime for another 20, 30, 50, or even 100 years, with Ash never fulfilling his goal. I hate this show now. Hate it. It breaks my heart to see my childhood show come to this. I never thought that after watching XYZ it would come down to me hating this show. Believe me, I truly detest this anime.
If they continue this approach, then there is no point to speculating what will happen in the Sun and Moon anime, no point in what character will get what Pokémon, no point in what character development will come, no point in discussing how a battle will turn out. What's the point of discussing what'll happen to Rowlet and Lillie (just to give two examples) if they're only going to get written out in the end? If they just get thrown out just like every other character and Pokémon (except of course for the Permanent 5), then there is no point to their existence in the anime; hence, no reason to talk about them. Nothing matters. I was modded for posting about this in some threads at Serebii, where the moderator said to me that I was “forcing [a] nihilist mindset onto others”, but it seems that the “nihilist mindset” is truly the case for this anime.
Whatever merits the Sun and Moon anime may have, it is not worth seeing a show where the premise seems to take a backseat to comedy (never mind that comedy was never the main focus of the anime). It is not worth seeing Ash run and around in circles and lose again. I will go and make a prediction: Ash will not become a Pokémon Master in this saga.
I feel that as Pokémon fans we deserve better than this embarrassment. We as a fandom deserve a better anime than this. We really should be watching a good show instead of one that has debased itself so badly it may go down as one of the biggest wastes in animation history.
To use a quote from a Yahoo user (misspellings corrected):
Unfortunately, the Pokémon [anime] has ended up in [a] repeated cycle that has irked many fans. What could have been a great coming of age story has devolved into bad writing and characters that has now earned Pokémon in the cesspool of other anime that would have [been] great like Sword Art Online or Guilty Crown. Mars of Destruction only wishes it could be this bad.
Plenty of these essays typically come with a solution to the problem. Time would fail to tell me the many, many ways they could've improved this. After all, wouldn't the show be so much better and more interesting had Ash actually won that Kalos League final? I wish I could translate this essay into Japanese and send this straight to TV Tokyo so they could know about how I and thousands of others feel about the anime. Sadly, I feel powerless right now and have no choice but to acknowledge the existence of the continued anime: an endless and ultimately worthless adventure of an allegedly eternal 10-year-old boy.
The worst thing about all this is the fact that people are willing to go to far lengths to defend this tripe. I'll briefly counter a few common arguments:
1. It's a kids' show. Being a kids' show is no excuse for bad writing.
2. It's a 20-minute advertisement. Being an advertisement for the games is no excuse for a bad show. Pokémon Adventures alone disproves these first two excuses.
3. The anime is teaching kids it's okay to lose. Except I don't believe it ever actually did this. Even then, with a goal like Ash's, you're supposed to win after by learning from the losses. Losing once for a protagonist is okay; losing twice is pushing it; losing six times is unacceptable.
4. The term “Pokémon Master” was never defined. While it's true that the anime hasn't exactly explained what a Pokémon Master really is, the fact that Ash is trying to win these leagues should give us a good idea, at least by the anime's definition. At the very least, winning a league is a step, and thus required, in his path to becoming a Pokémon Master. If you're telling me that's not the way to go and that the whole thing is a big red herring instead, then that makes this show even worse than it already is.
5. If Ash won that finals match, then the anime would have to end. Have this quote:
Yeah I'm sure everyone would have loved the ****ing Rocky movies if Rocky lost his rematch to Apollo, lost to Clubber Lang, and then lost to Drago. Winning is not the end. Winning is a new beginning. You guys think Alain is gonna stop trying to get stronger now that he won? Nope. When you get invested in a character whose sole goal is winning, eventually they need to ****ing WIN.
If there ever was a time, this would be the ideal time to make Ash win the Pokemon league.
And even if we granted this argument, is that really a problem? The status quo problem should've never existed in the first place, and should've been eliminated a long time ago. Ash, Pikachu and Team Rocket have all outstayed their welcome and should've been written out by now. Why does the anime still need them? Since the writers are willing to boot everyone else out, they may as do the same with Ash by replacing him with a new protagonist, give that person his/her own Pikachu or some other Pokémon, and replace Team Rocket with another comedic team. Plenty of other animes do something like that; no reason why Pokémon can't do the same.
6. It's all about the journey, not the destination. This one gets two quotes. Here's the first:
I'm still trying to understand this 'true message of the anime' without remembering that Ash fought on so many leagues before with the sole intention of winning them, even the most recent one.
I don't see any problem in focusing on the 'journey', but...slapping your audience with wrong expectations is not the right way to do it, I don't blame the salty fans for this (the name of the episode, all the foreshadowing, character development, even the moves...).
And the second:
The journey IS the destination, though. If they wanted to focus on the journey, they shouldn't have even BOTHERED giving Ash a goal in the first place. In fact, just have him say he doesn't care about winning or even having a goal, just having an adventure, like Sonic does, or even that old adage about how it doesn't matter if you win or lose, but just getting out there to play the game. Instead, Ash has an explicitly stated goal, and the entire point of even HAVING a goal is to achieve it. And in order to achieve it, one needs to actually REACH the destination.
If the journey was truly the true message of the anime, they should NEVER have given Ash a goal in the first place. I know if I were writing the series and that was the intended message of the anime, I'd make SURE Ash and the others NEVER give a goal other than 'hey, this sounds like fun' specifically to REINFORCE how it was never about the destination (no goal = no destination). Heck, even Dragon Ball doesn't have Goku having an explicit goal of becoming the absolute greatest Martial Arts Master, just the best he can be. Heck, considering that he constantly resets at the end of each region and doesn't seem to retain much of what he learned, we can't even say it follows through the intended theme anyways (if it did, Ash would have actually RETAINED what he had learned and not have his Pikachu especially undergo level resets), since even under the argument that it was the journey that matters, not the destination, he needs to actually RETAIN that knowledge he gained on the journey for the journey to truly matter.
Even ignoring all of that, however, it's not like if Ash actually beats Alain, he's finished. Remember, DP revealed that even if he won the Sinnoh League, he'd still need to challenge the Elite 4 and Champion before he can truly become Champion. They could have had him beat Alain, yet lose against an Elite 4 member, so that he technically beats a league, yet still has work to do before Ash truly manages to succeed in his goal.
Instead, we most likely have to wait until Generation VIII before he even HAS a chance to accomplish his goal.
X. Closing Remarks
Long ago I felt very underwhelmed about Pokémon Sun and Moon after seeing some early footage of it. Since then, I went from being underwhelmed to being on the fence when it came to getting the game. I determined that I would get the game if one of two conditions were fulfilled. One of them was to see Ash win the Kalos League. It would've been my way to thank the writers for giving my childhood hero the victory he finally deserves. But because that didn't happen, I will not get the game. (This may actually become a blessing in disguise if the Pokémon Stars rumor for the Nintendo Switch ends up being true; I'll just get that instead.) Unfortunate, but I want to stay true to my word.
I cannot in good conscience watch a show where there exists a premise of Ash desiring to reach his dream of becoming a Pokémon Master, yet instead we see him and Pikachu running around in circles, forever chased by Team Rocket, and where everyone else—from Gary, Butterfree and Duplica to Jessebelle, Greninja and Serena—all get axed out of the anime without making even a hint of a permanent dent. Seeing Ash lose over and over again is the opposite of what I and many others wanted from this anime. I hate it.
So if the anime tries to lure you with a premise about a kid hoping to reach his dreams of becoming a Pokémon Master, with little critters and legendary creatures, along with flashy battles, humorous scenes, worthy goals and cute girls, I implore you:
Now that is one quality cartoon.
Now what was the other condition? I will confess it: It was to see Ash and Serena together in a romantic relationship. I am a so-called Amourshipper; however I concede that thanks to Serena getting axed out of the anime, where it continues Ash's adventure with Sun and Moon, Amourshipping is dead. You win, critics. But know that it came at a heavy, heavy cost.
However, allow me to close my post with this dialogue between Ash and Serena from the 40th episode of Pokémon XY. Regardless of what you may think of Serena and Amourshipping, please put your love or hatred for them aside and read the passage below:
Ash: I hope the PokéVision turns out good.
Ash: You see, I have a feeling that what I do at this camp might help me in my battles.
Serena: Yesterday's fishing tournament and today's PokéVision, too?
Ash: Of course! I don't think anything is pointless. Everything on our journey will lead up to victory at the Kalos League. That's why I need to work a lot harder.
Serena: You're already working hard, Satoshi. You do plenty enough.
Ash: Nah. I still have a long way to go. My dream won't come true like this.
Serena: Your dream is...
Ash: ...to become a Pokémon Master.
Serena: I see. You really are amazing, Satoshi.
I admit it, I thought all this really meant something when it was first aired. I really did. I sure was deceived.
TL;DR – Although the Pokémon anime's premise is to see Ash become a Pokémon Master, the writers have repeatedly failed to fulfill or make any progress towards it when there was ample opportunity to do so, instead making huge, lasting decisions in the story to ensure that premise doesn't happen. Ash's repeated failures and subsequent move to a new region renders everything he does pointless. None of Ash's actions ever amount to anything in the end.
Well, time for some eggnog. That's all, folks!