Media Essays: The Ash Ketchum Retrospective Part 3
Continued from Part 2.
So after an awesome run in Sinnoh that saw him lose in the most forced way possible, an embarrassing run in Unova that saw his worst defeat ever and an impressive Kalos run that chickened out of an Ash win at the last minute, what's next for our hero? Quite possibly the best chapters of his life. For it's here where Ash goes from his constant failures to win anything major after the Battle Frontier to his biggest wins that saw him depart on the best note possible. Let's cover them...
Ash FINALLY Wins A League! The Alola League
Ah yes, the very win where people acted like it was Ash's first time he ever won anything and like totally didn't win the Orange Islands League or the Battle Frontier before then. Oh no, THIS was his first legitimate win guys! (sarcasm) I'm not trying to undermine this or anything but man do people overhype this victory and overlook Ash's other achievements. As is, this season was Ash's first time winning a league that's actually from the games (The Battle Frontier isn't a league, it's a facility you can challenge in the post-game so that doesn't count as a league win) so it's still a big deal regardless.
The Sun and Moon anime is an interesting one to explore. It has a lot of backlash due to the more cartoony art-style and the Denser & Wackier approach to the stories, and yet it still has some darker moments to it like Mallow's backstory with her mother and there's even a whole episode where a Stoutland passes away of old age! Mood Whiplash doesn't even begin to sum up this series! Also it made some weird changes to the story from the games, the main one being that Lusamine isn't evil here. Why was that necessary to change? Did they think people wouldn't enjoy the show if Lusamine was evil or something? Or did they think she was too dark as a villain to work for the show so they decided to not make her evil in general? I have no idea and it's a pity they changed this because they left out arguably the best and most intriguing aspect of Lillie's character development from the games. On the plus side, she gets to interact with Ash here the way she'd interact with the player character and Ash helps her to grow more comfortable around Pokémon to the point she even befriends her own in the form of Snowy the Alolan Vulpix. You have to admit, that's pretty wholesome. ^^
For Ash's portrayal here, he does get a little dumbed down to fit the more wacky nature of the series and is even a victim of more slapstick than usual. His design especially is so different to the point he hardly even looks like Ash anymore. HOWEVER, they don't nerf his skills as a trainer. In fact, Ash remains competent in this series to show that they're still following the lessons they learned from the backlash to Black and White. However, some fans aren't keen on the school aspect that Ash found himself in this series. Yes the Sun and Moon games has a school and it's an established part of the region but that didn't mean they had to adapt it. Ash is not the kind of character who should be sitting in a classroom doing schoolwork. He's supposed to be wandering the earth and exploring the region. Thankfully that is done away with in the later half of the series so it's not there the whole time.
For his Pokémon this season, he catches a Rowlet, a Litten, a Rockruff, a Meltan and a Poiple. This proved to be one of his most interesting teams he's ever constructed for he not only got an Ultra Beast, but he got a Mythical Pokémon as well, making this the first time in the anime's history that Ash has officially obtained a Legendary Pokémon of some kind. Rowlet and Pikachu remain the only ones that aren't fully evolved while the rest are and Ash gets some big wins with this team throughout his trials and battles. I mean this IS the team that won him the league you know so that goes without saying. His Litten has an interesting and also sad backstory as a Pokémon that was mentored by this Stoutland that sadly passed away from old age. It was clearly attached to it and its grief at Stoutland's passing is just heart-wrenching. Seeing it go with Ash and make new friends along the way was just what it needed and a nice way to teach the viewer that it's sad when someone you love passes, but you can still move on in life and maybe make new friends and loved ones. His Rockruff also developed a rivalry with Gladion's Lycanroc over the course of the series but I'll get into the conclusion when I cover the league. His Rowlet is a narcoleptic and yet it proves to be a surprisingly capable battler throughout the series. Just a pity Ash never evolved it as seeing him use a Decidueye would've been epic.
For his companions here, Ash has the largest group of friends he's travelled with over the course of the series. There are FIVE companions in total with Mallow, Sophocles, Kiawe, Lillie and Lana and as you can imagine, the cast got way too big to juggle and some companions got overshadowed as a result. Lillie gets the lion's share of development given she's got such a big role in the games and all while the rest only have a few times to shine and that's it. Mallow is considered the worst offender of the bunch as she takes the longest to get her Z-crystal and gets the least amount of focus. You'd think with her having such a tragic backstory where she lost her mother at a very young age and the last thing she said to her was "I hate you!" as resentment for her being in the hospital so much that she'd have a bigger role to play but no. Aside from the episode focusing on her backstory, she doesn't get much else.
For the rivals, Kiawe was kind of one to Ash as well as his friend but Gladion was the true rival for Ash this season. But unlike past rivalries, Ash and Gladion were more friendly rivals than fierce rivals overall. This isn't like Ash and Gary or Ash and Paul in the past. Gladion started off as wanting to defeat the Ultra Beasts for the trauma they caused his sister and he gets inspired to get stronger after watching Ash use Pikachu's Z-Move to save his mother from Nihilego. He even gets the chance to train his Silvally in a battle with Ash and thanks him for the opportunity. He also shows to really care for his sister and his Pokémon which shows that Gladion had a good heart and wasn't just a "total edgelord" as people often joke about. Gladion's drive to get stronger lead him to winning much of the Alola League and even meeting Ash in the finals. Speaking of...
...it's time to talk about that moment. The Alola League was a big deal both in-universe and out for being one of the biggest league arcs in the entire anime. It was Alola's first ever Pokémon league and for this arc, practically every important or named character got to compete in it from Ash to Lillie to Gladion to Mallow to Lana and even Team Rocket got to participate! Ash defeats Faba in the first round and then has a controversial win against Hau in the quarter-finals. I say controversial because there was one moment where it looked like Ash's Rowlet lost the fight...only for it to turn out it had fallen asleep (again) so thus was allowed to keep going. This felt so unnecessary and just felt like the writers were teasing another League loss to troll the audience. Also, I notice that suddenly sleep doesn't equal a knockout anymore. Imagine if this had been the Indigo League? Ash would've lost right there! XD Anyway, Ash's Rowlet defeats Hau's Decidueye and he goes on to face Guzma in the semi-finals. This was a meaningful confrontation for Ash and Guzma have battled each other a few times beforehand and despite a tough battle with Guzma's Golisopod and Scizor, Ash is able to take the win and thus he's in the finals against Gladion. The rivals are up against each other for one last battle to show who's the best of the best. It's a good all-out-brawl too with Gladion's Silvally taking down Ash's Melmetal, then Pikachu beats Silvally, then Zoroark and Pikachu fight each other to a draw and the final battle is between their Lycanrocs. It's so appropriate that the final battle is between those two given their Lycanrocs had a growing rivalry over the series. It's one heck of a tough match too with Gladion's Lycanroc seemingly too strong for Ash's Lycanroc. Its Counter strategy proves to be very problematic for it. But then things come to a close when Ash tries something crazy: counter Gladion's Lycanroc's Counter with his own Lycanroc's Counter! it's bonkers yes...but it works. His Lycanroc takes the win and Ash is the winner of the Alola League, marking his first ever victory in a league from the games.
To say people were hyped about this is an understatement. Social media EXPLODED when Ash scored his big win here and it goes to the point that Veronica Taylor had to comment on the win...in her Ash voice of course. ;) This momentous occasion is so big and iconic that a whole new annual celebration, National Ash Ketchum Day, was invented to celebrate this win and it's a day you can celebrate with other Pokémon fans every September the 15th! Just how do you go from a humiliating loss in the Indigo League to a win so big you get your own celebration day named after you?! I doubt any of us fans from 20 years ago could've ever imagined this happening, but it did! And thankfully, they DIDN'T undermine Ash's big win by having him lose to Gary for once! Nope, they instead had Ash go up against Professor Kukui in a full six-on-six exhibition match that is not only celebrated as one of the anime's best Pokémon battles, but Ash WINS the match so he gets to end this season on a high note with his big win still a big win! It took way too long but the writers finally broke old habits and just let Ash be a winner for a change!
The Sun and Moon series was truly Ash's biggest season yet. True it wasn't the best for him due to being more slapstick prone than usual, his unappealing new design and the school setting being unfitting for him but he was still a capable trainer, he had an endearing friendship with his classmates, a well-developed rivalry with Gladion and he achieved his biggest wins yet with nothing undermining his achievements for once. How could the anime top that? Well...
Ash's Biggest Win EVER! The World Coronation League
...now's the time to cover Pokémon Journeys.
This season was quite different from the rest of the anime. Rather than being a straight-up adaptation of the games like other seasons are, Pokémon Journeys tells its own plot with some elements of Pokémon Sword and Shield sprinkled in there. I do like the whole globe-trotting idea this series presented but as someone who labels Sword and Shield as his favourite Pokémon games, it's a shame we didn't get a proper adaptation of the games and the most we got was just a 4-part arc adapting the Darkest Day storyline and a few Galar centric characters appearing like Leon, Sonia, Marnie, Piers, Raihan and Bea. For a Sword and Shield fan like me, I felt like we were being left out a lot. Also the globe-trotting aspect isn't utilized well as most of the time it's used for cheap nostalgia pandering and meaningless filler episodes. It's what made this anime such a frustrating watch for me because every time it threatened to get interesting, it throws in pointless filler to ruin whatever potential it had.
Ash is given a new design that makes him look closer to his original appearance while still having a bit of that Sun and Moon style to make him more expressive and easier to animate. To be honest, it's one of my favourite Ash designs alongside his Kanto, Sinnoh and Kalos appearances. His outfit design feels familair yet new at the same time and gives him a more adventurous edge, particularly with the shorts. Weirdly enough, Ash is the Alola Champion and yet for most of the series, the anime kinda acts like he...isn't. They only bring it up a couple of times and when Goh expresses surprise over that fact, Ash is like "Oh, I won the league. I guess I kinda forgot about that." Tauros crap. You don't just "forget" a moment like that Ash! I'm glad he's not boasting about it and acting like some arrogant big head of course as that would've betrayed all his development over the years, but you'd think Ash would acknowledge he's a Champion at least a few times and not have some fans of his have to be responsible for Goh finding that out! Also despite Ash being a Champion now, he's still prone to being an idiot at times and even gets some embarrassing losses, namely that humiliating time where after losing to Bea he went on a losing streak and needed Goh to snap him out of it. This is the same Ash who goes on to beat Cynthia and Leon in this very same season I remind you. You can't have him be competent and incompetent at the same time writers.
Anyway, let's look over his Pokémon. Ash got some damn good catches this season with HUGE fan-favourites like Dragonite, Gengar and Lucario and he also gets a Sirfetch'd and...a Dracovish. Come on guys, Dracovish? One of the worst Pokémon designs of all time? You could've given him something way better than that monstrosity like Obstagoon or Drednaw or Toxtricity or Corviknight or Coalossal. Just ANYTHING would've been better than Dracovish! But I digress. This is Ash's first fully evolved team (minus Pikachu of course) since the Kalos League and they all score some big wins amongst themselves be it Dragonite defeating Iris's Haxorus (and scoring Ash's first victory against a Champion), Sirfetch'd and Dracovish together taking down Drasna's Mega Altaria and Noivern (marking the first time Ash ever beats a member of the Elite Four), Lucario winning against Cynthia's Garchomp and Gengar winning against Marnie's Grimmsnarl. This team truly feels like Ash's strongest team he's ever constructed due to the fact he's able to beat Champions and members of the Elite Four with it, a feat his previous selves could NEVER achieve so that has to count for something. They all pull their weight here and get some cool showings all round, even if they gave too much of the spotlight to Lucario and Gengar in my opinion so Dragonite, Sirfetch'd and Dracovish felt underused.
His companions for this series are Goh and Chloe. Goh is essentially there to represent Pokémon GO players...and I hate him. OK, hate's too strong a word here I'll admit. But the point stands. Goh is my least favourite Ash companion ever. His voice in the English dub is annoying, he's CONSTANTLY shouting obnoxiously when he doesn't need to and he's just taking time that should've been spent on Ash's World Coronation Series journey. I really didn't care for his plot on trying to find Mew (and the way he goes about it is asinine as it is. How is "catching every single Pokémon" possibly going to get you to Mew?) and most of the Pokémon he gets are ones I wish Ash got instead. They should've kicked Goh out of the plot entirely and replaced him with a different companion like say...Hop or Marnie? They would've been better companions and way more interesting than Goh wishes he could be. Or heck, all of Goh's screen-time could've gone to Chloe instead! She was more interesting than he was and I kept wishing the show was more about her instead. In fact, Goh and Chloe stand as the worst handled of Ash's companions for both of them take too long to have their goals established and their plots don't have satisfying endings. Chloe just...decides not to evolve Eevee and Goh has Mew sit on his hand for five seconds and decides that's enough for him. Why even devote so much time to these companions if you're not going to do anything with them?! Again, Hop and Marnie should've been the Companions instead!
But enough about companions. How about rivals? Did Ash get an awesome new rival to challenge him one last time before he leaves the anime? Eh...no. He didn't really have a rival this season. And no, Bea doesn't count here. They only meet each other three times over the course of the series and it feels less like a rivalry and more Bea's just a tough contestant for Ash to defeat. Once Ash beats Bea, she completely vanishes from the series altogether bar a few cameos so what was even the point of devoting all that time to her if she was just nothing in the end? Talk about a wasteful way to handle Galar's coolest Gym Leader. All the screen time that was wasted on Goh and Chloe should've been spent on making these two more like rivals. Or heck, Marnie should've been the rival here. Given her role in the games, she'd have been PERFECT as the rival for Ash!
Nevertheless, Pokémon Journeys had a lot of big annoying flaws that ruined much of its potential, and yet I was more than willing to forgive all that come the Masters 8 Tournament. The tournament itself is a huge mixed bag with some naff battles and ridiculous wins (I mean come on, Alain's invincible Mega Charizard X gets defeated by a single Dragon Pulse from Leon's Charizard without being Gigantamaxed?! Sod off, that's terrible writing!) but then we get the semi-finals and the final where Ash has his epic showdowns with Cynthia and Leon respectively. Ash vs. Cynthia was hyped to the max as Cynthia is the most popular Champion in the games and so Ash fighting her was going to be a big attention grabber. To nobody's surprise, he won as it would've made zero sense for him to lose since the point of Journeys was for Ash to challenge Leon for the title of World Monarch so why have him lose without that battle? And come Ash vs. Leon, the hype was real with this match. Everyone was like "Is Ash gonna win?!" or "I bet he's gonna lose again!" and considering the anime pulled these big surprises like Ash winning the Alola League last time, there was a genuine possibility he might actually win. I'll never forget how I was convinced he was going to lose but then the fight started and I was like "on second thoughts..." and became interested. The final showdown was Pikachu vs. Charizard. THIS was the perfect final showdown for Ash. His original partner against Leon's original partner. Pokémon's mascot against the most popular Pokémon of all time. I cannot applaud the writers enough for giving us such a fitting finale with these two Pokémon being the ones to duke it out for the win. And in the end...
...well, you know already. ;)
Against all odds, Ash won the World Coronation Series. This is by far the biggest achievement of his life. He's now the WORLD Champion! After 20+ years of battling and failing to achieve his goals, he's finally done it. Ash is officially a Pokémon Master. This was the news that broke the internet and it was so enormous and monumental that even MAINSTREAM MEDIA was covering it! Seriously, it was so bizarre seeing big news companies like BBC News talking about this as if this was the equivalent of a big sports win or something! XD
And to me, I'm glad Ash is leaving the anime. After this big achievement, where can he go from here? He's reached the top and the only way the anime can keep him around now is by rebooting the series and having him start over from scratch, and nobody wants that. So he can at least depart on a high note with the titles of Orange League Champion, Battle Frontier Champion, Alolan Champion and World Coronation Champion under his belt. Ash Ketchum, you've more than earned your titles mate. Congratulations to you indeed...
And thus we reach the end of Ash's epic 20+ year long journey. It's been a wild ride and a long journey full of trials and errors, but at least when he leaves the series this March, we can say he left on a high note. Ash has grown so much over the years from a reckless, stubborn, clueless ditz who had no idea what he was doing to a more experienced, smarter, less stubborn and inspiring trainer who leaves an impact on everyone he meets and always scores some big achievements no matter the odds that he's up against. If there's anything to take away from this, it's that Ash can be used as an inspiring figure for us all. Things don't always work out if you try hard enough, but as Ash has taught us, failure is NOT the end of the journey. Failures can lead to success in the future and the only way to achieve that success is to never give up and to just keep on going even if the odds seem impossible. Ash has achieved his goal after so many years of trying. Maybe for us, we can do the same if we just follow that same kind of determination that has kept Ash going for all this time. The anime may not be the same without him, but we'll never forgot the lessons that he has taught us and the memories we've forged with his adventures in the Pokémon World...
And that's the end of this retrospective. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to share below your favourite Ash Ketchum moments. What were the best moments of his tenure for you and what's your favourite Ash Ketchum win? Feel free to let me know.
Next week, I'll be covering Injustice Superman...and why he sucks as a villain. I'm sure you guys will find that an interesting read. See you then!