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

Updated: Nov 20


Last time I talked about Pokémon Journeys was when I analysed the battled between Ash and Cynthia. Here I am again to talk about the current season of the anime but this time, I'm going to be reviewing another battle. This one was the battle that the entire series was building up to since Episode 1 and now I'll be going over how good it actually was.


For those that require context, Ash had no set goal in mind at the beginning of Pokémon Journeys. That all changes in Episode 12 Flash of the Titans when Ash and Goh watch Leon's exhibition match against Lance that sees Lance's Gyarados up against Leon's Charizard. After this, Ash would try to battle Leon himself in the next episode.

It didn't end well.


So Ash enters the World Coronation Series in order to get another shot at battling Leon. What follows is three seasons worth of decent episodes boggled down by extraneous amounts of filler and a waste of a subplot involving Chloe that had no actual conclusion and come the third season, Pokémon Ultimate Journeys, Ash makes it into the Masters 8 Tournament and after defeating Steven Stone and Cynthia, Ash has finally made it to the top. He's against Leon at last. The whole conflict the series has been building towards is here and with FOUR episodes to carry it out, we're in for something big here.


So how good was Ash vs. Leon? Let's dive in and begin our analysis...


Part 1: A Surprisingly Even Start

Going into this four-parter...I honestly had VERY low expectations. Considering Leon prior to this episode has been written as this invincible juggernaut that even made Alain's Mega Charizard look as powerful as a Sunkern with an Attack-lowering nature, I was expecting Leon would just curbstomp Ash with ease and Ash would lose yet another major tournament, thus ruining his repaired reputation after the Sun and Moon anime FINALLY let him win a league. This episode completely shattered my expectations and suddenly had me changing my tune towards this fight as I ended up being more interested than before.


The battle starts off crazy right off the bat when Leon makes a request that will ultimately bite him in the bum later. He requests that Ash gets to use all three of his power-ups so in this battle, he gets to use Z-Moves, Mega Evolution and Dynamaxing all at once. I don't think any of us expected that and it's just wonderful fan-service for fans of all generations as now they get to see Ash use all three power-ups agianst Leon. Now imagine if this came out after Pokémon Scarlet and Violet's release and we could throw in Terastylizing into the mix...


So with that in mind, the battle starts off with Pikachu vs. Cinderace. Pikachu uses Thunderbolt while Cinderace uses Scorching Sands. Scorching Sands hits Pikachu for super-effective damage but Thunderbolt hits Cinderace and does nothing to it. This is because Leon has a Cinderace with its hidden ability, Libero. Libero changes its type to the type of attack it uses so with Cinderace now a Ground-type because it used Scorching Sands, Pikachu's electric types are useless and half its moveset is ineffective. So Ash, VERY wisely, switches Pikachu out and sends out Gengar instead. This to me was a very strong way to start the battle. Fans like myself have criticized Leon's previous battles for being just Leon curbstomp showcases with very little actual strategy from Leon, which again just makes him seem like this borderline invincible trainer who just wins because he's powerful. Here though, we see Leon actually battling strategically and throwing Ash off his game with Cinderace's powerful ability. Also Pikachu taking damage early on like this does make us wonder how he'll fare up later in the battle while Cinderace taking no damage makes us dread when it'll come back because it'll no doubt have the advantage because of it.

Anyway, Gengar is sent out but Leon switches Cinderace for Inteleon. Unlike Goh's Inteleon, we can see Leon's Inteleon is in a class of its own as it's slick on the battlefield, is a sharp shooter, it knows Dark Pulse so it has a super-effective attack to use on Gengar and Leon even teaches it to use Ash's Counter Shield strategy he watched Pikachu use when Ash battled Cynthia. What follows is Inteleon using Aqua Jet and spinning on the spot so Gengar gets swamped by water numerous times when it comes up out the ground. It was clever of Leon to use one of Ash's tactics against him like this and it shows a side to him we haven't seen in any of his other battles: his adaptability to his opponents. This is only Part 1 and I'm constantly asking "Where was THIS Leon in his previous matches? This is way cooler to watch than Leon just brute-forcing everyone and winning easily!".

Eventually, Gengar is able to get past the spinning Aqua Jet attack and Ash Gigantamaxes it into Gigantamax Gengar. The fact Ash Gigantamaxes his Gengar this early on in the battle also adds tension to the fight because this is Ash already using a powerup just to deal with Leon's first Pokémon. It's good, organic story-telling that sells how powerful Leon is while showing Ash making use of his resources and battling strategically himself. The power of Gigantamax Gengar eventually overpowers Inteleon despite its best efforts and although Gengar is taken down to its normal size again after a Dark Pulse to the throat from Inteleon, Gengar remains standing while Inteleon takes the fall. To everyone's surprise, ASH is the one that scores the first win! This moment for me is what turned me from disinterested to interested because this moment shows it's NOT going to be a Leon curbstomp fest and that Ash is actually going to give him a good fight. Having him score the first knockout was a wise decision from the writers and a neat subversion of expectations.


So with Inteleon down, Leon sends out...groan...Mr. Rime next. Like come on guys, of all Pokémon he could've used, you have him MR. RIME?!?! That thing is one of the worst Pokémon in terms of designs ever to be created and it's not even particularly good with its mediocre speed and poor physical defence stats! Anyway, Mr. Rime takes on Gengar and much to my annoyance, it wins. If any other Pokémon had scored that win, I wouldn't have minded. What annoys me about the battle is that Mr. Rime uses Freeze Dry to freeze Gengar into place but then suddenly can't use it a second time because Gengar's Cursed Body ability has stopped it from doing so. This...is complete and utter nonsense. Ash's Gengar has not ONCE ever shown any signs of knowing or having this ability throughout the entire series so it just feels like the writers pulled it out of their hats just to have an excuse to handicap Mr. Rime later on. If they wanted this to make sense, Gengar's Cursed Body ability should've been used in previous episodes before this one so it doesn't feel so out of left field. As is, it's a blatant deus ex machina that doesn't even really help in the end as Gengar still loses. Mr. Rime also sets up Psychic Terrain and it knows Expanding Force, a move that powers up when Psychic Terrain is in effect. So...yeah, that's not good for Ash. So far both trainers have lost one Pokémon while Leon has a Cinderace that hasn't taken any damage, a Mr. Rime in play with a handy power up and four other Pokémon he hasn't used yet while Ash has a Pikachu that has already taken damage, has already used up his Gigantamax for the battle and has four remaining Pokémon with one of them having a type-disadvantage to Mr. Rime so it looks pretty rough for him going forward.


This episode was a fantastic start to the battle. Having it end with both trainers scoring one knock out each was a great way to raise the tension as now we're in an evenly-matched battle and we have no idea what will happen next as now it looks like anyone's game for this one. Leon comes off as more impressive than before thanks to using ACTUAL strategy and proving he's earned his place at the top of the World Coronation Series rankings and that Ash is against a true Champion here. It does have that annoying thing with Gengar out-of-nowhere having the Cursed Body ability but that doesn't really matter much. Solid opener to the battle and one that really got my hyped for more.


Part 2: Ash Takes The Lead...But Will It Last?

The second part begins with Sirfetch'd against Mr. Rime. Now on paper, this is a terrible match-up but Ash's Sirfetch'd has type-coverage with Fury Cutter AND Brutal Swing so it's not too much of a mismatch (luckily for him).


The battle starts with Sirfetch'd and Mr. Rime sword-fighting each other until Sirfetch'd scores the first hit with Fury Cutter and then when it tries to use Brutal Swing, Mr. Rime catches it with its bare hands (somehow) and then hits it point blank with Expanding Force. Because Sirfetch'd is such a badass, it doesn't go down despite the Psychic Terrain making Expanding Force even stronger and after a few more hits between the two Pokémon, Ash catches Leon off guard by having Sirfetch'd use Fury Cutter on the frozen battlefield. That...somehow gets rid of the Psychic Terrain? I'm not entirely sure how that worked but nevertheless, Mr. Rime hasn't got a power boost from Psychic Terrain anymore.


Now that's done, Ash switches Srifetch'd for Lucario and Mega Evolves it so he can taken down Mr. Rime once and for all. I notice he doesn't tell Lucario to break the frozen battlefield for some reason so Mr. Rime can keep skating across the ice and given Lucario trouble as a result. This part of the fight annoys me because somehow, Mr. Rime of all Pokémon gives Mega Lucario a bad time. I remind you guys this is the same Mega Lucario that took a Chi-Max Strike from Bea's Gigantamax Machamp without issue and was able to handle Cynthia's Dynamaxed Togekiss and her Garchomp back-to-back and yet THIS thing is where he struggles? A non-super powered Mr. Rime? This comes off as the anime trying too hard to make Mr. Rime seem cool when a Pokémon with a design that crappy is NEVER going to look cool no matter how badass you try to make it look. Ah well, Mega Lucario eventually scores the win by LITERALLY BLASTING MR. RIME IN THE ASS WITH AURA SPHERE! No joke, he LITERALLY blasts him in the ass with it!

Needless to say that had me laughing. XD


So with Mr. Rime down, Leon brings out his next Pokémon, Dragapult. This is a solid choice on Leon's part as Dragapult is part Ghost-type, meaning Mega Lucario's fighting attacks are useless against it and Dragapult is a fast, powerful attacker. Lucario scores the first hit but Dragapult hits back with Flamethrower. This already shows Leon is smarter than Cynthia because he actually bothered to teach his Pokémon a move that's super effective against Lucario to exploit its weaknesses. During the attack, Ash returns Lucario and sends out Dracovish yet, thus making this a battle between dragons for the two trainers. We get a funny moment where Dragapult uses Dragon Darts and while one Dreepy hits Dracovish, Dracovish catches the second one in its mouth so Dragapult has to hit it with the first Dreepy to make it let go.

Then for some reason, Dracovish's spikes start glowing and its suspected to be some kind of power awakening inside of Dracovish as it battles. This is a bizarre plot-point to me as it's so vaguely explained and it comes so out-of-nowhere that I'm not even sure what's going on and what this is about. Some fans like myself suspected it had learned a new move, possibly Psychic Fangs, but no. This is not a new attack or anything, it's just some new power it has now and it's never properly explained. It's just...there and I don't get what the reason for it is.


Anyway, Dracovish makes handy use of this ability it mysteriously gained by grabbing hold of Dragapult with its spikes and then biting on its head with Fisheous Rend. But Dragapult has a surprise for Ash as Leon orders it to use Dragon Tail to force it back into Ash's Pokéball and bring out another, which is Dragonite in this case. Dragonite then takes the centre stage as it battles Dragapult for a while but then it uses Dragon Tail again and Dragonite is exchanged for Mega Lucario. Mega Lucario puts up a good fight but in the end, Dragapult emerges victorious with Mega Lucario falling to a second Flamethrower attack. Ash has now lost another heavy hitter and another power-up of his bites the dust. His Mega-Evolving Lucario was one of his aces in the hole and it's now the second Pokémon of Ash's to be defeated, leaving Ash with four Pokémon and one power-up left to use.


Ash sends out Dragonite again and despite a tough battle, Dragonite is the one that emerges victorious after pulling off a move that no doubt reminded many people of Ash's Charizard using Seismic Toss. This is HEAVY catharsis for us fans as Ash's Dragonite has finally won another battle after an embarrassing losing streak it fell victim to these past few battles it's been in. However, Ash can't celebrate yet. Leon has lost half his team, that is true, but Ash's Pokémon have all taken damage while the remaining three Pokémon in Leon's arsenal are all fighting fit and haven't taken any damage or even been used yet so the match is still very much even. Leon ends the episode by sending out his Rillaboom. And when you consider this Rillaboom swept through over half of Diantha's team by itself...yeah, Ash is screwed big time.


Part 2 keeps the momentum going by giving us some intense action and some cool strategies in play. It's fitting this part should be titled "Toy Around" for it does feel like Leon is just toying with Ash here and despite him losing half his team already, he's clearly in control of the battle and Ash's best efforts are only doing so much for him. It's another solid episode and more great action from both Ash and Leon in this battle.


Part 3: Leon's Comeback

This episode starts off with Rillaboom against Dragonite and what occurs is the beginning of Leon's comeback as he goes from being on the backfoot to being the one on top. Dragonite tries to blow away Rillaboom with a super-effective Hurricane but Rillaboom's Drum Beating cushions the blow so it doesn't take as much damage and eventually, it's able to start laying the smackdown on Dragonite with the giant vines of Drum Beating. Dragonite then tries to land a hit on Rillaboom with Draco Meteor but Rillaboom's Drum Beating creates a third vine that catches it before the attack can hit and thus Dragonite is swung into the ground. Then eventually, Rillaboom takes out Dragonite with its mighty Acrobatics. As expected, Rillaboom takes the win here. We've seen in previous episodes that Leon's Rillaboom is a beast in battle and might even be Leon's second strongest Pokémon in his arsenal. What annoys me about this win though is that Rillaboom only won because Ash conveniently forgot that his Dragonite knows Dragon Dance and never thought to use it to boost Dragonite's Attack and Speed. If he'd used Dragon Dance at any point in this match, Dragonite could've won the battle and Rillaboom would've been out. Also Dragonite should've used its Draco Meteor at a distance instead of flying along with it so Rillaboom wouldn't have been able to catch it like that but as if Ash would've predicted that so I won't hold that too much against him. He still should've used Dragon Dance though.


Sirfetch'd is up next and this might work in Ash's favour as Sirfetch'd knows a Bug-type attack and Rillaboom's weak to those. The two start off with a clash of High Horsepower and Meteor Assault and despite the powerful attacks, Sirfetch'd ultimately wins the struggle...but at a price. Meteor Assault leaves Sirfetch'd immobile for the moment so Rillaboom slams into it with High Horsepower to take advantage of its immobilization.

But then Ash surprises everyone by ordering Sirfetch'd to ride his shield. And it works too! It's really cool watching him ride his shield like that as if it's his own personal hoverboard. It dodges Rillaboom's Drum Beating but as it's about to use Fury Cutter, Rillaboom catches Sirfetch'd's shield, throws it back at it to stun it and then finish it off with another Acrobatics attack. This leaves Sirfetch'd as so far the only Pokémon Ash has used that's failed to score a single knockout in the entire battle. This battle once again only ends in victory for Rillaboom because Ash conveniently forgets his Sirfetch'd knows Detect. He never once tells it to use it despite telling it to use it in the previous episode and as a result, Sirfetch'd gets clobbered and takes the fall when it potentially could've won if it had used Detect to dodge any of Rillaboom's moves. I don't mind Rillaboom winning as I LOVE that Pokémon but I do wish it didn't come at the expense of Ash losing several IQ points because he keeps forgetting his Pokémon have moves that could've helped him out in these battles! It doesn't make Rillaboom look badass, it makes Ash look dumb just so Rillaboom can win and that's not how you should write a Pokémon battle.

Leon's Rillaboom looks pretty unbeatable for the moment but that finally comes to an end when Ash sends out Dracovish and is able to make use of its new spike powers to stop Rillaboom's Drum Beating and eventually take it down with Dragon Rush. It makes sense for Rillaboom to lose at this stage as it's been worn down from its battles with Dragonite and Sirfetch'd while Dracovish has had time to rest so it'll be in a more fighting condition by comparison. So with Rillaboom down, Cinderace makes its big return and we see more of its Libero ability in action as Leon uses moves like High Jump Kick, Pyro Ball and Iron Head which sees the fiery soccer bunny go from Fire to Fighting and even Steel type over the course of one match. Dracovish is completely outmatched here as Cinderace takes it out without taking a single hit, thus making it so that Cinderace is still completely unharmed despite going up against Pikachu and Dracovish in this battle.

So now we reach the end of the battle. Ash is truly with his back against the wall here as he only has a Pikachu that's already taken damage left while Leon has two Pokémon left that haven't taken damage or seen battle respectively. Leon proceeds to use his last Pokémon, his Charizard while saving Cinderace for later. He makes it VERY clear that he wants to end this with Charizard vs. Pikachu and he's not messing around for this conclusion. He immediately Gigantamaxes Charizard and keeps Pikachu on his toes with a Max Rockfall and Max Wyrmwind attack back-to-back while Pikachu fights back the best it can. Then Ash uses his final power-up, his Z-Ring so he can use Pikachu's all-powerful Z-Move that helped him defeat Steven's Mega Metagross earlier in the tournament, the 10,000,00 Volt Thunderbolt.


Pikachu does that while Charizard uses G-max Wildfire and the resulting clash of super powerful attacks creates a surge of energy that suddenly catches Eternatus's attention so it breaks free of its prison and flies over to Wyndon Stadium where it circles the air menacingly. Ash and Leon can only wonder what'll happen next...


This part was decent but a bit of step-down from the previous two parts. As detailed, Leon's Rillaboom wins due to stupidity on Ash's part and not because it was actually stronger than Dragonite and Sirfetch'd and having Leon save Cinderace for later ultimately doesn't matter in the end as I'll go into in the next part. Still, this match truly brought Ash to his limits and showed that Leon is a force of nature who's really earned his position and the Eternatus cliffhanger was definitely unexpected. So how does this battle conclude? Let's find out...


Part 4: Ash's Ultimate Victory

And here we are, the climax of Ash and Leon's epic showdown. Does this battle end on a high note or does it end on a low note like Ash vs. Cynthia did?


The episode opens up with Eternatus clearing up the energy output from Pikachu and Charizard last time, showing that it truly has reformed and is no longer a threat to Galar like it was before. Also Eternatus's presence recharges Ash and Leon's Dynamax bands so they resume the battle with another battle of Gigantamax with Leon using Gigantamax Cinderace and Ash using Gigantamax Pikachu. This is a big deal because Pikachu hasn't Gigantamaxed since the episode where Ash and Leon battled for the first time, which was 119 episodes ago. So we have Pikachu and Cinderace together in an epic battle of Gigantamaxing as they use G-max Fireball and G-max Volt Crash respectively and...

...Cinderace goes down in a single hit.


(sighs in exasperation)


What. Was. The Point. In saving Cinderace for later. If it was JUST GOING TO LOSE THAT EASILY?! You mean to tell me this Cinderace which was absolutely untouchable throughout the entire match just goes down the moment it eventually gets hit?! Leon should release that thing if it's so easily beaten! Also Leon loses several points for a serious misplay here. He should've told Cinderace to use Max Quake so its Libero ability would change it into a Ground type and then Pikachu would take super-effective damage while being unable to use G-max Volt Crash because Cinderace would be a Ground-type and thus immune to its Electric attacks. This is such a blatant case of the plot dictating what happens that it hurts. Had I written this battle, I would've made it so Cinderace and Dracovish fight each other to a draw so more time could be spent on Pikachu vs. Charizard instead of wasting time with this rushed match-up.


Ah well, this is the one misstep in what is otherwise a solid conclusion to the match. With both trainers down to one Pokémon each, it's Pikachu vs. Charizard, the battle of the starters for Ash and Leon. Partner vs. partner. The ultimate conclusion to this hard-fought battle. And not only does this battle get really cool and intense to watch, but it is GORGEOUSLY animated on top of that! Seriously, screen-caps cannot do it justice, you have to watch it yourself! As for the match, Pikachu has a type-advantage and has taken down Legendries in its time but Charizard is a fully-evolved Pokémon that's strong enough to handle its kind's Mega Evolution so the battle's more even than you may think. We get some powerful moves launched at each other with a flurry of Thunderbolts, Fire Blasts, Air Slashes, Iron Tails and more and we even get a cool moment where Pikachu runs across the support beam of the stadium as Charizard chases after it! There is one moment that kinda amuses me where Charizard blasts Pikachu in the face with Dragon Pulse and somehow Pikachu tanks it and keeps going. I remind you all this was the same Charizard that took Alain's Mega Charizard X down with a single Dragon Pulse and yet Pikachu takes it and keeps going! Granted Pikachu isn't weak to Dragon attacks but still, this just kinda suggests Alain's Charizard really isn't as powerful as the X & Y anime wants us to think it is. XD

At one point, Pikachu collapses and it seems he's out of the match. But we get this sweet moment where all of Ash's Pokémon gather in his consciousness and give him the strength and motivation to carry on going. We even get some sweet cameos from Pokémon Ash has released like Butterfree, Pidgeot and Lapras. As sweet as this moment is, I would totally laugh if by the time Pikachu got back up again, it's too late as he's been declared unable to battle and Leon won the match. It'd be sad, yes, but funny too. XD

With Pikachu back on his feet, he practically goes Super Sayian and both he and Charizard charge into each other in a flurry of electric and fire attacks. Both sides collide and the screen fades to white, leaving it ambiguous as to what the outcome was. We get another clever fake out in where Pikachu wakes up in the Pokémon Centre and it seems he might've lost. However, we then learn through a flashback what happened.

Both combatants finish their attacks and stand there shaken, exhausted and stunned. Charizard lets out a final roar and burst of flames...

...and takes the final fall. Charizard is down. Pikachu remains standing. Leon is defeated and Ash now stands as the new reigning monarch of the Pokémon World Coronation Series. Ash has done it. He has defeated Leon at last and has achieved the biggest victory of his entire career. He has become the very best like no one ever was. Ash Ketchum: World Champion of the Pokémon World! He is no longer the dumb, clueless kid from Pallet Town he started out as. He is a Pokémon Master at last and has achieved the highest honour he could ever claim. Well done Ash, your long years of perseverance have paid off big time. He is now the Orange League winner, the Battle Frontier winner, the Alolan Champion and now the World Champion! I doubt anyone will ever mock him again for his failures with a win like this under his belt!


I could easily undermine Ash's victory by pointing out he only won because of Plot Armour, Leon could've won if he had his Charizard use Dig instead of running its move set it used against Alain's Charizard and that it's ridiculous that Leon's Charizard can defeat a Mega Evolved Charizard but loses to a mere Pikachu but that would just be mean and petty of me. Aside from Cinderace's rushed defeat, this was an epic conclusion to the match and not what I expected given I was so certain that Ash would lose and yet here he is defying all expectations and winning against all odds! This is easily a conclusion worthy of how epic the rest of the fight was and I really enjoyed it. A great ending to a great battle.


Conclusion

Ash vs. Leon is one of the best Pokémon battles ever written and animated in the history of the anime. It was the right mix of strategy and power on display, it gets intense and exciting while also getting emotional in terms of personal stakes and it has very few problems to complain about overall. It feels like Ash really did earn this victory and that he gave us the battle of his life with this tussle. Leon pushed him to his limits and Ash did the same for Leon and both made use of their Pokémon's abilities and strengths to deliver a truly titanic tussle that gave us the most satisfying outcome possible. This is a battle for the ages and honestly, I think the anime should just end right there. This will LITERALLY be the perfect place to conclude it! Now Ash is World Champion. where else can he go from here? It'll be tough to top this win, that's for sure. Regardless, this battle defied all expectations and truly became one of the best battles in the entire Pokémon anime. Well done to the writers and animators for delivering one heck of a solid battle that had us all cheering in unison at Ash's victory...


And that's it for this one. This was a fun essay to write and I hope you all had fun reading it. Feel free to share your thoughts down below. Do you like Ash vs. leon? Do you not like it? Feel free to let me know. Join me next week as we celebrate Tails's 30th Anniversary with a history essay about the character. See you then media fans!

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