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

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Cripes, I haven't done an essay analysing a Pokémon battle since November 2022?! Well I think it's time I did something about that!

For this essay, I'll be analyzing and recapping one of the most beloved battles in the entire Pokémon anime. Ask ANY viewer what they think is the best battle in the anime and chances are, this one will be brought up. Hell, even Ash's second voice actor, Sarah Natochenny, has said this is her favourite battle in the series! That Ash vs. Paul in the Sinnoh League.

I've covered the entirety of Ash and Paul's rivalry already, so I won't go over it again. All you need to know is that this battle had A LOT of stakes behind it and much weight to what was about to go down. Ash has failed to win a single battle against Paul and has had his beliefs and values on what makes a good Pokémon trainer tested by him time and time again. Paul was someone who tested him physically AND psychologically, which is why their rivalry and all the battles they had together were so big and personal for Ash. And now here they are, both in the Sinnoh League and ready to face off for a chance to win the league itself. Of course, we know that Ash wins the battle but then loses to Tobias, the guy with the Legendary team, but it doesn't take away how this was probably Ash's biggest and most personal victory in the series at this point. And as time goes on, it's STILL celebrated as one of Ash's best battles and biggest wins alongside his Orange Island win, his Alola Championship victory and his wins over Cynthia and Leon in the World Coronation Series.

So upon reflection, how good was this battle actually? Is it as epic as we remember, or is it not so good? Let's dive in...

Part 1: Ash Starts Strong, But Paul's Two Steps Ahead...

Ash vs. Paul

The quarter-finals begin and Ash and Paul start off with Pikachu and Aggron respectively. As a MAJOR Aggron fan, naturally I'm excited to see Paul use one here. It's interesting to note that Paul previously used a Lairon when he battled against Brandon back in A Pyramiding Rage!, so it was a neat little continuity nod to show he not only still owns his Lairon, but he's evolved it too.

The battle starts off fiercely with Pikachu and Aggron using Iron Tail and Metal Claw against each other and then after they cancel each other out, Aggron uses Metal Sound to lower Pikachu's Special Defence. Pikachu retaliates with Thunderbolt and then attempts to use Volt Tackle, only for Aggron to intercept with Flash Cannon. This was a smart move since Aggron just used Metal Sound to lower Pikachu's Special Defence, so why not follow up with a Special Attack? I must ask why the hell Paul taught his Aggron Flash Cannon though. Aggron's a Physical Attacker, NOT a Special Attacker, so it seems daft to me to teach it that move. And no, I don't care if this is the anime and not the games, the Physical/Special split clearly exists in the anime too since there are moves that lower Defence and Special Defence, so it's still dumb to teach an Aggron Flash Cannon when its speciality is Physical Attacks, not Special Attacks! Also, really Paul? Your Aggron knows METAL CLAW and not something way stronger like Iron Head or Iron Tail? I thought you were supposed to be a smart trainer who seeks true power from his Pokémon! =P I guarantee his Aggron would be much stronger if it knew either Iron Head of Iron Tail instead. Also, I must remind you that in Pokémon, Electric-type Pokémon are resistant to Steel-type attacks, so Paul only ends up looking really stupid here. He's using a Steel-type to fight against Ash's Pikachu? You'd think he'd use a Pokémon with a type that's much stronger against Electric-types. Hell, his Torterra would've been the perfect opponent since its Ground-typing would make it immune to Pikachu's Electric attacks! But as we'll see, he never uses his Torterra here, and this'll be something I'll address later on...

Anyway, Aggron does prove to be too tough for Pikachu to handle at this early stage, so Ash switches him out for Infernape, a VERY wise choice since Aggron has a double weakness to Fighting-types. Infernape's also the Pokémon that Paul abandoned back as a Chimchar, dismissing it as "weak" and Ash went on to take it into his care, so this as much Infernape's chance to prove itself to Paul as it is for Ash now. Paul (foolishly) keeps Aggron on the field and both opponents use Double-Edge and Flare Blitz respectively. Both attacks do damage and Infernape suffers recoil damage from Flare Blitz while Aggron takes no damage since it has the Rock Head ability (it prevents recoil damage). Just imagine if Paul's Aggron knew Head Smash. With that ability nullifying its recoil damage, it'd be a BEAST... Not that it matters anyway since Aggron gets burned by Flare Blitz. Funny enough, this wouldn't be the last time Ash would defeat an Aggron with the help of burn damage as he would do the same thing against Steven Stone's Aggron in Pokémon Journeys. Weird, innit? XD The battle comes to a close when Infernape clobbers Aggron with Mach Punch, stopping it from firing another Flash Cannon. Surprisingly enough, Ash takes the first win of the match. Granted, he only won because Paul was a moron and kept Aggron in play despite it having a double Fighting weakness, but as we'll soon learn later down the line, it was all part of Paul's plan. More on that later...

Paul sends in Gastrodon next and Ash goes with Staratpor. This causes Paul to realize that Ash is using the same team he used against him during their battle at Lake Acuity and even Reggie (Paul's brother) realizes it too. Anyway, Staraptor is a good match-up since its Flying-typing makes it immune to Gastrodon's Ground-typing, but Paul's Gastrodon doesn't even know any Ground-type moves anyway so it doesn't matter. Staraptor gets an early hit with Quick Attack, but Gastrodon then uses Muddy Water, and in a VERY familiar fashion too. Even Ash realizes it as he sees Paul has adapted his Counter Shield strategy for himself, which was pretty crafty of him. It's also another neat callback since Paul saw Ash use the Counter Shield in the Lake Acuity battle, so no wonder Paul ended up adapting it for himself. Ash tries an Aerial Ace attack on Gastrodon's belly, but Gastrodon is able to dodge and pin Staraptor down with Body Slam. We then get a cool and intense moment where Gastrodon aims a Water Pulse straight up and keeps Staraptor pinned until just the right moment so it can jump away and let Staraptor take the hit. Incredibly, it's able to escape with a Close Combat, but Gastrodon still gets the last hit in by using Ice Beam. Ash wisely swaps Staraptor out after that and sends in Buizel to finish the job. An Ice Aqua Jet (long story) and Ice Punch later and Gastrodon is down for the count, giving Ash the lead with no Pokémon down while Paul has already lost two. However, Ash can't afford to relax yet since he's pretty much exhausted over half of his team just taking down those two Pokémon. Reggie also cryptically remarks that Aggron and Gastrodon losing was part of the plan...


So now Paul's done playing around, his trump card comes to the field. It's a mighty Drapion and it proves to be a tricky opponent right off the bat with a skewering Pin Missile attack and its extendable tail that it uses to block Buizel's Sonic Boom and then grab Buizel. The episode ends there with Buizel in Drapion's grasp as it squirms furiously to get free.

Despite my nitpicks here and there, Part 1 was a great start to the battle. Right off the bat, we have some intense action and neither side letting up for a minute and the tension is already high with how Ash has had a tough time taking down just two of Paul's Pokémon and Paul's got four left that are still ready and waiting to come out. It was also neat how Paul uses Pokémon we've never seen him use before like Gastrodon and Drapion as it gives Ash something unexpected to face. He's never battled those Pokémon before so he has no idea what to expect, while Paul HAS faced Ash's entire team already so it gives him the advantage in that aspect. I still think it was dumb of Paul to use Aggron against Pikachu and Infernape but hey, Drapion's about to turn this around for Paul in Part 2 so his plan still paid off in a way.

Part 2: Paul Evens The Odds

Paul's comeback

You know how I said Drapion was Paul's trump card? This part showcases why that is.

Buizel is able to get out of Drapion's grip by inflating his flotation sack and using Water Gun to launch away, but that doesn't do Ash any favours as Drapion merely uses Toxic Spikes to set up an arena hazard that gives Ash a heck of a lot of grief throughout this part. Buizel gets poisoned by the Toxic Spikes and that weakens it enough for Drapion to obliterate it with Pin Missile. Now Ash is down a Pokémon. But it doesn't stop there for Ash sends out Staraptor next...and Drapion defeats it too, and in a pretty brutal way too! It LITERALLY grabs Staraptor with its tail, uses Cross Poison at close range to lay the hurt on it and then SLAMS IT DOWN ON THE GROUND TO POISON IT WITH TOXIC SPIKES! Geez, taking no prisoners, are you Paul?! After that, Ash sends out Torterra and...well, it shouldn't surprise you that it loses too. Ash's Torterra does nothing but lose to anyone who's name isn't Team Rocket ever since becoming a Torterra. I like to imagine Paul looks at Ash's Torterra and thinks "How pathetic. His Torterra's a joke compared to mine!" It's so funny how Paul's Torterra is really overpowered while Ash's is really weak. XD If only Ash's Torterra knew actual good moves instead of something lame like Rock Climb. Speaking of, Rock Climb ends up screwing Torterra over YET AGAIN in this match. Seriously, have you ever noticed that every time Ash uses Torterra's Rock Climb, it nearly always backfires on him? I can't recall if it was ever successful or not, but it just goes to show why Ash should teach his Torterra something better than Rock Climb.

Anyway, Drapion has wiped out half of Ash's team back-to-back, putting Ash on the back foot while Paul has three Pokémon left that haven't been used and a barely wounded Drapion. Not good for Ash at all. Paul then reveals that the reason he's been kicking Ash's ass right now was because, as mentioned before, Aggron and Gastrodon's earlier defeats were part of his plan. The two were essentially sacrificial Wooloos so he could determine Ash's strategy and what Pokémon he was using. This...was really dumb in hindsight. First of all, he says he "purposefully" let Aggron and Gastrodon lose despite the fact they were giving Ash's Pikachu, Infernape and Staraptor a tough time in the previous episode so they clearly weren't losing on purpose. Also this plan is what bites Paul in the arse in the end. Using two Pokémon as sacrificial lambs just meant he had two less Pokémon to use later in the fight and it gave Ash that early lead that gave him the slight edge he needed to win later on. If Paul really wanted to be smart, he should've started with Drapion immediately and set up Toxic Spikes so Ash would've been handicapped right from the start. Aggron and Gastrodon shouldn't have been sacrificial Wooloos, they should've been part of the team and reserved for later. If Paul had played his cards right instead of foolishly wasting Aggron and Gastrodon like this, he would've won plain and simple. Paul pretty much handicapped himself with this stupid plan just so Ash could more believably win the battle.

Speaking of, this brings me to a point that some who criticize this battle bring up: Paul's team. It was a MASSIVE missed opportunity for this battle to have Ash avenge his Lake Acuity loss by having him go up against the team Paul used to defeat him at Lake Acuity (Torterra, Electivire, Magmortar, Honchkrow, Ursaring and Weavile). Some feel like Paul was given a different team instead of using all his aces just so it was more believable that Ash would win and that had he used the Lake Acuity team, Paul would've won. I'm inclined to agree that it was a missed opportunity. Imagine how cool it would've been to see Ash beat Paul's best team and avenge his Lake Acuity loss by beating the team that beat him then and we could've gotten some closure for things like the rivalry with Ash's Torterra and Paul's Honchkrow by having the former finally beat the latter? Had Ash gone up against that team and won, it would've felt more impressive. As is, Paul is not the kind of guy to use the same team more than once so it might've been out of character for him to do that. Also using a different team kept Ash on his toes and put him at a disadvantage so the fact that Ash beats a team Paul uses that he's had no experience against does still make Ash look impressive here, so I wouldn't say that this was done just so Ash could realistically win. Keep in mind, Paul's Drapion very quickly turned the tides of the battle so it was clear that this team was still a strong team to battle.

But enough rambling, back to the battle. Paul returns Drapion and sends out Ninjask next (which is another neat continuity nod because we saw him catch one in a flashback that showed how he met Chimchar) while Ash sends out Gliscor. It's a one-sided battle with Ninjask's great speed being too much for Gliscor and it knocks Gliscor down into the Toxic Spikes, getting it poisoned. Ash switches up for Infernape (a wise choice as Ninjask is weak to Fire attacks) and Infernape gets poisoned too. But then Ash gets an idea so crazy that it somehow works. Infernape digs underground and then uses Flare Blitz to destroy the Toxic Spikes. And as I said, IT WORKS TOO!!! As expected from Ash, he's always one with an unorthodox battle strategy! So with Toxic Spikes gone, Ash won't have to worry about Pikachu getting poisoned should he send him in again. Ninjask tries to confuse Infernape with Giga Drain and some speedy flying but Infernape is able to win with a powerful Mach Punch. I'd have used Flamethrower myself, but I'm not Ash. =P

With Ninjask down, Paul sends out Froslass next. This...I find to be a surprising choice here. It's not that I think Froslass is a bad Pokémon or anything, on the contrary. She's one of my favourite Ice-types out there. It's just...Froslass doesn't exactly come off as the kind of Pokémon you could imagine Paul using, you know what I mean? And yet here he is using one and she gives Pikachu a tricky time thanks to her Hail and Snow Cloak combo. I imagine actual competitive Pokémon players have done something like this. Hail makes it hail and Froslass's Snow Cloak ability raises her evasion when its hailing, so she's really hard to hit. As is, Pikachu is able to take her down with an Iron Tail and a Volt Tackle. This is a momentous moment for, I kid you not, this is THE FIRST AND ONLY TIME in the entire Diamond and Pearl saga where Pikachu has successfully defeated ANY of Paul's Pokémon. No seriously, Ash's Pikachu had a TERRIBLE track record against Paul! He fought Elekid to a draw, struggled against his Magmortar and got clobbered against his Ursaring! Paul's Froslass remains the first and only time Pikachu ever beats any of Paul's Pokémon! Maybe Paul should've used his Electivire next instead of Froslass. Imagine the domino effect that could've started if he did: Electivire would've beaten Pikachu, Infernape likely would've beaten Electivire but then Drapion or Froslass would've finished Infernape off and with only a poisoned Gliscor next, Ash would've been wiped out with ease. Hindsight, am I right? XD

Drapion vs. Gliscor

The episode ends with Drapion vs. Gliscor and unlike with Ninjask, Gliscor gets to show what it can really do thanks to training from the Air Battle Master, particularly an impressive moment where it uses Giga Impact and hits Drapion, then bounces up into the air out of harm's way to avoid the side effect of Giga Impact. It then charges in with X-Scissor while Drapion uses Pin Missile. I would say that Paul should've set up Toxic Spikes again but hey, Ash would've just had Infernape Flare Blitz them again so it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

This was a solid follow-up from last time, but as I said Paul's idiotic plan is what sours the battle somewhat. If he wasn't a complete moron and sacrificed Aggron and Gastrodon just to figure out Ash's team and strategy, he would've had this in the bag. It really wasn't necessary for him to do that and it feels like the writers made him do that just so it was easier for Ash to win, which isn't really very organic story-telling. Now whenever I look back on this battle, it feels like Ash won because of Paul suffering from Plot-Induced Stupidity, not because he was better than him. Had I done this battle, I wouldn't have had the whole sacrificial lamb strategy and made it so Ash just beat them on his own merits and not because Aggron and Gastrodon were "meant to lose".

As is, this part does have its merits. I like how it's still a pretty even match even with Paul catching up quickly, Ash's unorthodox strategies are always a treat to see, it still feels like an even contest even with Paul's comeback and Ash having more Pokémon left and it was once again neat to see Paul using Pokémon we haven't seen him use before. Also this episode convinced me that Drapion is an absolute beast and I was all too eager to use one in the games as a result. I even ended up using one in my Pokémon Shield Nuzlocke back in 2020 and named it Scorponok...where unfortunately he was taken out by Piers's Obstagoon. Damn Counter attacks...

RIP Scorponok the Drapion. :(

Anyway, onto the last part:

Part 3: The Final Showdown

Electivire vs. Infernape

And here we are, the conclusion to Ash and Paul's most intense battle ever.

Gliscor continues its dive towards Drapion, only for Pin Missile to eventually snag it and bring it down. Only in the anime could Pin Missile EVER look like a powerful and dangerous move, eh? XD Despite that minor setback, Gliscor gets back up and retaliates with Fire Fang. This adds an additional burn to Drapion and finally, FINALLY takes it down. Gliscor may not have won many battles for Ash, but it pulled through with this one. Well done that Gliscor! :D However, this isn't any cause for celebration for Ash by a long shot. He may have half a team left, but they've all taken a beating while Paul's last remaining Pokémon hasn't been used yet. And to nobody's surprise, his last Pokémon is Electivire, his ace and probably the strongest Pokémon in his arsenal other than Torterra. It's Paul's ace against three exhausted Pokémon. Ash is in for one tough finish and it's made clear right off the bat as Electivire disposes of Gliscor and Pikachu in back-to-back battles. They DO give it their all at least, but it's not enough. One moment that really puzzles me is when Ash has Pikachu use Volt Tackle on Electivire, triggering its Motor Drive ability. Like...why did Ash do that? I know he's an idiot a lot of the time, but this doesn't feel like Ash being the usual idiot he is, more like Ash being more of an idiot than usual. It's like the writers forced that to happen just for a flimsy excuse to have Electivire's Motor Drive ability activate. Geez, and I thought Pokémon Horizons pulling that "you don't have to win the battle in order to pass the test" malarkey as a flimsy excuse to have Liko lose to Katy but still pass was bad enough...

Anyway, Ash's weakened team is very quickly brought down to just one with Infernape as his only remaining Pokémon. This was unquestionably the PERFECT finisher. If Ash vs. Paul was going to end in any way at all, this was the ONLY way to conclude it. Electivire is Paul's signature Pokémon and strongest fighter and Infernape is the Pokémon Paul abandoned and discarded as "weak". This isn't just a battle to win a tournament anymore, this is a battle for Ash to prove his methods do work and that Infernape is strong after all. This is his chance to show Paul what Infernape could really do. Appropriately, they make the battle quite tense and Brock even comments on how personal this is for both sides. It's even-sided at first, but then Electivire grabs Infernape with its tails and electric shocks it with Thunder. This brings Infernape down and it's seemingly out. However, Electivire stops the referee from declaring a winner and in that moment, Infernape is able to get back up again. Electivire rather smugly taunts it to get back up while Paul comments on how Infernape's still pathetic. Yeah Paul, pathetic, which is why Infernape was able to take down Aggron and Ninjask and also get rid of your Toxic Spikes trap. Not sure how you can still call it pathetic after all that. =P And then THIS happens...

Infernape's Blaze

Insert Dragonball joke about going Super Sayian here. XD

Yep, Infernape's Blaze ability has activated. Back when he was with Paul, Paul was never able to utilize the ability well and get it to work for him but here's Ash, with a fully evolved Infernape, using it against him now in one final clash for victory. Infernape and Electivire go for each other with a Flare Blitz and Thunder Punch clash. After the huge tussle, both combatants look as if they're still able to keep on going. There's a silence so tense that in that moment, we hear a heartbeat as if even the episode itself was holding its breath. And then...

Electivire falls

...Electivire takes the fall. It is down and out while Infernape remains standing. The battle is over and Ash stands triumphant, finally winning a battle against his rival. At long last, Ash has defeated Paul and he wins his quarter-final match of the tournament. Now he's in the semi-finals where he'll no doubt have an easy climb to victory and...


Oh right, he existed. The writers just couldn't help themselves back then, could they? Making up some random guy with a team of Legendries just to stop Ash from winning, how much of a hack job could you do? X(

While the next match does undermine this somewhat, this was still a monumental win for Ash. Paul was his toughest rival by this point in the series and Ash had failed to win a single battle against him. So for him to not only BEAT Paul at last, but with the same Pokémon Paul abandoned because he felt it was weak? That was PERFECT. It was a perfect conclusion to their greatest battle ever and there was no other way this could've ended that would've been more satisfying than what we got. I can nitpick this conclusion easily, but it doesn't take away that this was an absolute perfect way to wrap up their battle and conclude their rivalry...

I must add some rather amusing trivia here though. In the Lake Acuity battle, only two of Ash's Pokémon managed to knock any of Paul's out with Staraptor and Chimchar being the only ones to do so while in this battle, only two of Paul's Pokémon managed to knock out any of Ash's with Drapion and Electivire doing all the knocking out. Weird, innit? XD


Ash and Paul's departure

Ash vs. Paul is deserving of its reputation as one of the best battles in the anime, but MAN was it easy to nitpick the living crap out of it as this essay has demonstrated!

I am not here to say this battle sucks or anything because I just wrote a paragraph calling it a perfect conclusion to their rivalry earlier. It's just when you watch it again, a lot of things don't add up or kinda nag at the back of your mind that makes the battle seem less cool in hindsight whether it was Paul idiotically using two Pokémon as sacrificial lambs when he didn't need to or how it was a missed opportunity for Ash to challenge Paul at his strongest by facing his Lake Acuity team instead of this new team he cobbled together or especially a few plays that could've happened in order for Paul to win. It does feel like they had to handicap Paul a bit by giving him a team that's not got his aces in it and also making him rely on a dumb plan that backfired on him in the long run just so Ash could win, and that does sour the experience somewhat when you realize that.

Had I written this battle, what I would've done is had Paul use his Lake Acuity team but replace Weavile with Drapion so he gets at least one new Pokémon to use and therefore Ash would've fought Paul at his strongest and it would've been more impressive when he won as a result. I would've also used the fight as a chance for Ash's Torterra to have closure with Paul's Honchkrow by finally getting to defeat it and have Pikachu get to take down Ursaring to make up for losing against it last time. Paul wouldn't have any sacrificial Wooloo and he'd just fight the way he did at Lake Acuity with his strategic and observant battle-style. had it been done that way, it would've been an even more perfect final battle for them.

So yeah, it could've been better. But does that stop the battle from being awesome and entertaining? Of course not! I still love it even now and I think it's one of the anime's best battles! In terms of spectacle, it's thrilling to watch and intense as hell and in terms of story and character development, it's the perfect way to cap off Ash and Paul's rivalry. Narratively it worked and it managed to entertain, ergo it did its jobs very well. Just try not to think too hard about it like I've done, OK? XD

Maybe someday, I'll cover their Lake Acuity battle. But for now, my work here is done...

And that's all I have for this essay. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to leave your comments down below. Do you like this battle? What was your favourite moment? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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While in hindsight there are a few things that don't add up, nothing's perfect after all, it is indeed one of the best battles in the anime. And the last one I probably enjoyed as I soon dropped the anime with Black and White coming out.

Paul's team but swapping Weavile for Drapion is right. Weavile's a good mon, but it is frail and Paul's has an awful track record.

It was nice to see this battle reviewed like this.

Also, my fav moment was the one where Drapion slammed Staraptor int he ground. It shows that game physics don't work in real life as even birds have to land. Drapion be like 'no levitating over that s***, you'll all…

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