Media Essays: Ash vs. Cynthia: How Good Was It?


The title card to my essay

The Pokémon Journeys anime has been a roller-coaster of quality. There are some good episodes with some awesome battles to remember like Ash vs. Visquez, Ash vs. Bea (Round 3), Ash vs. Korrina, Iris vs. Cynthia and Lance vs. Diantha. But then there's all the annoying stuff that prevents this show from reaching its full potential like the over-abundance of filler, Goh being obnoxious and taking up way too much screentime, Goh and Chloe's plots taking too long to get going (and not even having satisfying conclusions) and some lacklustre battles like Leon vs. Alain, Leon vs. Diantha and most of Ash's one-on-one World Coronation Battles. But I think the one thing everyone will take away from this series is the three-part epic that made this series almost worth putting up with all its flaws just to see. And that battle...is Ash vs. Cynthia.


This was a long time coming with Ash and Cynthia being familiar with each other as far back as the Diamond and Pearl season and meeting each other again in the Black and White era and even seeing each other in a few episodes throughout Journeys. This was a match made in heaven for us Pokémon fans. Cynthia is a MASSIVE fan-favourite and Ash is the main protagonist of the anime. How can we NOT want these two to fight each other?! Having Pokémon's main protagonist against the most popular Champion in the franchise is like the ultimate fan-service and something that everyone is going to be up for. You better believe I was excited for it when Ash and Cynthia were announced to be battling each other in the semi-finals of the Master's 8. Hell, I think people are like "Screw Ash vs. Leon, THIS is the main event of Pokémon Journeys!" If this had been the conclusion to Journeys, I know I would've been happy.


So now the hype has died down and all three episodes are up for all to see, let's ask ourselves...how good was this battle? Was it as good as we'd hoped or did we get over-excited and overlook its flaws? Was it even underwhelming and didn't live up to what we hoped for? Let's dive in as we go over Ash vs. Cynthia and conclude how good it really was...


Part 1: Cynthia's Early Lead

Part 1 begins with Ash sending out Dragonite while Cynthia sends out Spiritomb. And to my surprise, and I'm sure everyone else's too for that matter, Spiritomb ends up being the MVP of this part as it goes on to wreck half of Ash's team single-handedly, thus providing Cynthia's early lead.


The fight starts with Dragonite using Draco Meteor but Spiritomb gets the first hit with Sucker Punch. Dragonite continues its assault only for Spiritomb to take it with little trouble and even laughs about it. Then Spiritomb uses Hypnosis to put Dragonite to sleep and spams Dream Eater until Dragonite falls unconscious. This to me is the first misstep of the battle as YET AGAIN, Ash's Dragonite takes an early fall and fails to score a single win. It's like Ash's Torterra all over again: a strong Pokémon that carried him to some early victories but now it just loses all the time just to show how amazingly strong Ash's opponent is. On the other hand, this was also a strong start for Cynthia as having Ash's Dragonite, one of his powerhouses, take an early fall immediately sets Cynthia up as a powerful threat that Ash can't take lightly. I just wish they got that across without making his Dragonite look weak again.


Next, Cynthia recalls Spiritomb and brings out Roserade while Ash sends out Gengar next. Ash's Gengar had a rough start in Journeys where it would often lose a lot but has since taken several levels in badass and was even able to help Ash beat Raihan and also played a part in Ash's win over Steven Stone in the first round of the tournament. The fight is mostly even with Gengar finishing off by using Will-O-Wisp on Roserade to burn it, which prompts Cynthia to swap it out for Spiritomb again. Now remember, this is the modern era so Spiritomb has a weakness to Fairy attacks, which is handy for Ash as Gengar knows Dazzling Gleam. He uses it...and then immediately gets conked out by a single Sucker Punch afterwards. This was another misstep for me as Gengar's defeat was way too rushed. You're telling me this is the same Gengar that took out two of Raihan's Pokémon before going down, held its own against Marnie's Grimmsnarl even when Gigantamaxed, defeated Paul's Metagross and defeated Steven Stone's Aggron...and it goes down in one hit from Spiritomb? Yes Sucker Punch is super-effective against it because it's a Dark-type move but Ash's Gengar has survived super-effective hits before and it's not like Roserade would've done that much damage due to Grass attacks being uneffective against Gengar due to its half Poison-typing! I don't mind Gengar losing, I just hate how rushed its defeat was much like how rushed Ash's Dracovish's defeat at the claws of Steven's Aggron was. If Gengar had survived the Sucker Punch and landed a couple more hits before going down, THEN I would've been fine with it.


Nevertheless, Ash is down TWO Pokémon, and both of them two of his biggest powerhouses for this team, while Cynthia hasn't lost any. Not a good start for Ash. So naturally, he sends in Pikachu. Cynthia returns Spiritomb for Togekiss (bad idea as its weak to Electric attacks) but given this is Cynthia we're talking about, type advantage means diddly squat as Togekiss proceeds to just knock Pikachu around with Zen Headbutt and Air Slash while gleefully exploiting its Serene Grace ability to make it flinch, all while Pikachu fails to land a single blow on it. Cynthia then returns Togekiss and sends out Gastrodon, a solid match-up as its half-Ground typing gives it an immunity to Electric attacks. But again, type-advantage means sod-all in the anime and Pikachu proceeds to somehow beat Gastrodon by Iron-Tailing a bunch of rocks back towards it and then knocking it out with a single Quick Attack. This...is codswallop, plain and simple. Like come on guys, QUICK ATTACK?! That's how Pikachu beats Gastrodon? With a single QUICK ATTACK?! Surely having him clobber Gastrodon with Iron Tail would've made more sense? Also Cynthia should release that stupid Gastrodon, it's nothing but a let down. It couldn't beat Iris's Excadrill despite a type-advantage and it couldn't beat Pikachu! This wouldn't happen if she'd brought a Lucario of her own like in the games instead of Gastrodon...


Anyway, Cynthia brings back out Spiritomb and Diamond and Pearl fans get some glorious fan-service as Pikachu, for the first time in YEARS, uses his counter shield manoeuvre to stop Spritomb's Hypnosis. As someone who recently watched the DP season during COVID lockdown, I too enjoyed getting to see Pikachu do that again. They even call back to it with Cynthia acknowledging that Ash developed the strategy whilst he was in Sinnoh. The battle continues with Pikachu landing a few Thunderbolts and even trapping Spiritomb with Electroweb to land a finishing blow. But Cynthia was a step ahead once again as Spiritomb uses Destiny Bond to knock out Pikachu and...


Yeah, it wasn't pretty. The fact Cynthia even planned to take out Pikachu as quickly as possible only made things worse for Ash.


Part 1 ends with Ash having lost three of his biggest powerhouses while Cynthia has only lost Gastrodon and Spiritomb and has a burnt Roserade, an unharmed Togekiss and her Milotic and Garchomp haven't even been used yet. Ash is left with his Mega-Evolving Lucario which is his last remaining ace and his Sirfetch'd and Dracovish whom don't exactly have a stellar track record and have been lesser used compared to the other four on his team so yeah, it's not a good start for Ash while Cynthia looks to be unstoppable.


Part 1 is a mixed bag overall with some rushed defeats ruining what is otherwise a solid battle. I like how this episode accurately captures the feel of battling Cynthia in the games with her switching out Pokémon at times and proving to be troublesome to handle with Sprititomb alone due to how bulky it is. Having Ash lose three of his strongest Pokémon with one of them being Pikachu, his true ace in the hole, in just the first part raises the tension beautifully and has you wondering how Ash will come back from this one. If they didn't have Dragonite have such an undignified and limp defeat and didn't rush Gastrodon and Gengar's losses then it could've been even better. As is, it's a decent if flawed start to the battle.


Part 2: Ash's Powerful Comeback

With the way Part 1 ended, Ash looked to be on the road to defeat...but Part 2 shows us why we should never doubt Ash.


The battle continues with Ash sending out Dracovish while Cynthia brings out Garchomp. Ash is naturally on edge because he knows Cynthia can Mega Evolve her Garchomp as we watched her do when battling Iris. Cynthia doesn't Mega Evolve it though and has Garchomp smack Dravovish with Dragon Claw while avoiding an Ice Fang from it. Then Garchomp sets up a Stealth Rock and Cynthia withdraws Garchomp to send out Roserade in its place. We then learn Cynthia's Roserade has the Natural Cure ability so it's no longer burned by Gengar's Will-O-Wisp. Great, so Gengar's one big contribution to the battle amounted to nothing. Thanks Cynthia. :/


Dracovish and Roserade battle together and it looks rough for Dracovish as its gets poisoned by Poison Jab but then it pushes through Roserade's Leaf Storm with an almighty Dragon Rush in order to take it down, giving Ash his third knockout win over Cynthia in the tournament. Now if Cynthia had taught that Roserade Dazzling Gleam or something, it would've been a VERY different story. Now if I'd been Cynthia, my next option would've been to send out Togekiss and use a Fairy move to stop Dracovish but she sends out Milotic instead, which is fine because Milotic also knows a Fairy move. It proceeds to use said Fairy Move, Disarming Voice, on Dracovish as it tries to Dragon Rush the Water Pokémon. This keeps it at bay long enough for Milotic to then coil around it and attempt to use Iron Head to clobber it into submission, a neat call-back to how Cynthia defeated Iris's Dragonite back in Round 1. But Dracovish breaks free and we get a collision of Iron Head and Fisheous Rend that sees Milotic damaged and Dracovish defeated. Dracovish may not be Ash's best Pokémon but damn it all if it didn't do its best out there and was quite a trooper!


But then Ash sends out the star of this episode, Sirfetch'd. Sirfetch'd gets hit by Stealth Rock upon entry and Ash gets the brilliant idea to HAVE IT USE BRUTAL SWING TO DESTROY ALL THE STEALTH ROCKS!!! Trust Ash to think outside the box to pull off something like that! Watching Sirfetch'd throw its shield like that and destroy all the rocks is nothing short of awesome to watch and even Cynthia has to applaud Ash on his quick-thinking on the battlefield. Sirfetch'd and Milotic do battle in which Milotic gives a few hits but its clear that Sirfetch'd is the stronger Pokémon here and in the end, it takes down Milotic with a powerful Meteor Assault. Cynthia is now down to two Pokémon.


She sends out Garchomp next and with the worry of it Mega Evolving once again looming over him, Ash keeps Sirfetch'd out to take on the land shark dragon. It looks as if Garchomp is on top, as expected from Cynthia's ace, but a clash with Meteor Assault ends up making it seem as if Garchomp will go down. Ultimately it staggers a bit but remains standing while Sirfetch'd is unable to battle, wiped out by Garchomp's Draco Meteor. It's such a hardened warrior that it FAINTS WHILE REMAINING STANDING!!!

I have no idea how that's possible but here we are! Such a trooper to the end that he refused to even go down. I love the brilliant use of subversion where it looks as if Sirfetch'd might have won the fight only for it to turn out it's fainted and Garchomp merely staggers in pain.


So Cynthia has an injured Garchomp that hasn't Mega Evolved yet and an unharmed Togekiss left while Ash is down to his Lucario who hasn't seen battle yet and can also Mega Evolve. Ash sends out Lucario while Cynthia sends out Togekiss. This is a bad match-up as Togekiss is weak to Steel types but Togekiss is also bulky as hell and can take a hit so it's not as one-sided as it looks. Indeed Togekiss uses Air Slash but Lucario doesn't flinch because it clearly has the Inner Focus ability and strikes back with Bullet Punch. After some more blows are exchanged, Cynthia returns Togekiss...

...and then proceeds...

...to Dynamax...

...her Togekiss.


Well...I would say I didn't see that coming, but some jerks online somehow managed to leak this out so they spoilt the outcome for us. I thought it was fake and thought "The final battle's obviously going to be Mega Lucario vs. Mega Garchomp! The opportunity just writes itself!" But no, it was real and Cynthia screwed over expectations by Dynamaxing her Togekiss instead. A part of me hates this as a Mega Showdown would've been the perfect way to conclude this fight but I also like how it fits into Cynthia's battle style, which is to be unpredictable. This is how she's kept Ash on his toes for so much of the fight after all.


Part 2 was a big improvement over Part 1 thanks to the battles being better paced and no rushed defeats. Dracovish and Sirfetch'd actually got their time to shine for a change which is great as they haven't been used much and Ash gets to show Cynthia why he's not the same boy she met when he first came to Sinnoh all those years ago. The one downside I have here is that Cynthia doesn't really battle strategically compared to Part 1 and her tactics feel more brute force aside from the surprise Togekiss Dynamax moment throwing everyone off. Even her Garchomp's Stealth Rock meant sod-all in the end as Ash got rid of it as quickly as Cynthia set it up. Still, Part 2 was the peak of the battle for me and a great comeback for Ash to even the odds after a rocky start in Part 1. Now let's see how we finish off...


Part 3: The Titanic Conclusion

With a Dynamaxed Togekiss looming above him like this happy angel of death, Ash has no choice but to use his last remaining trump card. He Mega Evolves Lucario and sics it on Togekiss. This portion of the battle is admittedly pretty dull as its just Cynthia spamming Max Airstream repeatedly on Mega Lucario to boost up Togekiss's speed while Mega Lucario fights back with Aura Sphere and Bullet Punch. And all of it was meaningless in the end because Togekiss becomes super fast...and then proceeds to do very little to Mega Lucario in spite of that and gets knocked out by Bullet Punch. Admittedly it was cool to watch Mega Lucario use Double Team to throw Togekiss off but still, this part of the battle has Cynthia come across as really, really stupid here. Like she has a Togekiss and didn't think to teach it Flamethrower or something? STEEL-TYPES ARE WEAK AGAINST FIRE ATTACKS!!! Who has a Togekiss that can't cover its weakness to Steel types?! How is Cynthia smart enough to plan for Pikachu's early exit to give her an advantage yet dumb enough NOT to teach her Togekiss a Fire attack for opponents like Lucario? The battle would've been way more intense if it was Mega Lucario trying to survive against Togekiss as it spammed Max Flare or something.


Nevertheless, Togekiss is down because Cynthia had to be dumb enough not to teach it Fire moves so Mega Lucario can win and it all comes down to this: Garchomp vs. Mega Lucario. They make this fight feel intense and brutal as strategy goes out the window for both players and it's just a total slug fest. Like no joke, they make these punches look like they HURT! Once again though, Cynthia ends up looking really dumb here as she has a Garchomp, a half-Ground type Pokemon. Ground types are super-effective against Lucario...AND SHE DOESN'T THINK TO TELL IT TO USE ANY GROUND ATTACKS!!! Before anyone says anything, yes, Cynthia's Garchomp at the very least knows Dig! It used it against Paul's Chimchar in Cynthia's debut episode back in the Diamond and Pearl anime and as of recent, it used Dig again in The Arceus Chronicles miniseries so as of Pokémon Journeys, it CLEARLY STILL KNOWS DIG! So why doesn't Cynthia tell it to use Dig at any point in the battle? I'm aware that for completely understandable reasons, the anime can't have Garchomp use Earthquake or Fissure but the anime is allowed to have Pokémon use Earth Power at least and we see this in Part 1 when Gastrodon uses it on Pikachu so why not make it so Garchomp can also use Earth Power too? And in the movie Arceus and the Jewel of Life, we see it at least knows Flamethrower too so why doesn't she tell Garchomp to use that either? HER GARCHOMP HAS TWO MOVES THAT ARE SUPER-EFFECTIVE AGAINST MEGA LUCARIO AND SHE DOESN'T USE EITHER OF THEM!!!! How does this battle simultaneously make Cynthia look really smart and really stupid at the same time?!


Now granted, Cynthia's Garchomp has used four moves in this fight already. It's used Dragon Claw, Draco Meteor, Scale Shot and Stealth Rock so it couldn't use Dig or Flamethrower as well. That's fair enough but my critique is still accurate because this just makes Cynthia look even dumber for not changing her Garchomp's moveset to accommodate Ash's team. And what idiot runs a Garchomp that only knows Dragon-type attacks plus Stealth Rock anyway? You'd think a Champion like Cynthia would be smart enough to know a diverse moveset is how you win battles. Why is Leon's Charizard such an unstoppable juggernaut for example? Because he changes his Charizard's moveset to accommodate his foes! So if he's smart enough to do that...why isn't Cynthia too?


Anyway, after beating each other up with Bullet Punch and Dragon Claw for a bit, Garchomp goes in for the kill but Ash has Lucario use Reversal to finish off. Reversal does more damage the lower Lucario's health is so that was a clever last move for Ash to call out. After the moves hit, the two combatants faint on the arena floor...

It appears this is it. All that hard work, all the tough battling and all the crazy strategies ultimately bring Cynthia and Ash to a draw. But then...

...Mega Lucario stands back up. Garchomp remains down. The battle is over and Ash stands victorious against the Sinnoh Champion, making this the first time in the anime that Cynthia has ever been defeated onscreen. Ash has made anime history and has also achieved his biggest win yet...


And we all saw it coming. I mean be realistic here, why would Ash have lost against Cynthia? It wouldn't make sense to make battling Leon his end-goal and then NOT have Ash against Leon to finish off Pokémon Journeys, am I right? So yeah, this win barely warrants a "called it". And also this win doesn't deserve the praise it gets because as I pointed out, Ash only wins because Cynthia was too stupid to give her Garchomp a more varied moveset. It feels like they nerfed Garchomp just so Ash could win as realistically, Garchomp would've walked all over Mega Lucario and Cynthia could've won this if she'd battled smarter here. But no, Ash has to win so he can face Leon and they do it at the expense of dumbing Cynthia down and not using her Garchomp the way she should've done.


So yeah, Part 3 was an underwhelming conclusion really. The outcome was predictable as all hell, Togekiss and Garchomp only lost because they conveniently didn't have any attacks that would've given them the advantage over Mega Lucario and overall, Ash's win over Cynthia feels very hollow because he didn't win because he was the smarter, stronger trainer. He won because Cynthia became a victim of Plot-Induced Stupidity. That to me is NOT how you have Ash beat Cynthia.


Overall:

Ash vs. Cynthia is a battle for the ages, but man did it have some teething issues. With the rushed defeats of Dragonite, Gengar and Gastrodon and Cynthia getting dumber over the course of the battle which ultimately lead to Ash winning because the plot demanded it, it was a battle that started off strong but fizzled out to an underwhelming conclusion that could've been so much greater if the writers had put more effort into making the battle as epic and as close they could've done. The battle is easily worth remembering and is one of the Pokémon anime history books, it's just it could've been even better. Still, I'd say I liked more of the battle than disliked and the good stuff at least keeps it from being terrible. Regardless, this battle will stand as Ash's biggest battle in history and possibly his biggest win of all time. He truly is a step closer to becoming a Pokémon master...


So that's it for this essay on Ash vs. Cynthia. I hope you found it an enjoyable read and I invite you all to share your thoughts on it down below. Did you enjoy it? Do you think the fight is lacklustre or do you think it's epic? I'd love to hear. Join me on Friday later this week for another Pokémon related post as I count down my Top 10 Favourite Hisuian Pokémon. See you then media fans!

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