NOTE: For an update to this post after the Kalos League, click here.
“I wanna be the very best,” the song says. Unfortunately, for more than 15 years now, Ash Ketchum has been doing everything in his power to prove that’s not true.
Maybe that’s unnecessarily harsh. Ash is only a 10-year-old, after all, and he can’t control the awful hand that the writers of the show have dealt him. But after his most recent failing in the Unova Pokemon League, it’s time to document the journey of one Ash Ketchum and where it all went wrong.
Ash stumbles through his first season as a rookie trainer with an out-of-control Pikachu, a cute friend who won’t leave him alone about her destroyed bike, a friend with no eyes who hits on everything that moves, and a trio that constantly follows him and tricks the group with cheap disguises. This is all well and good. Unfortunately, the gym leaders of the region hand Ash badges like they’re candy, so he learns nothing along the way. For example:
- Against Brock, he uses Pikachu against a ground type. This goes so poorly that he has to forfeit his first encounter, and he only wins the second time around because he accidentally destroys a sprinkler system and douses Onix in water, just as Brock was showing him mercy.
- Against Misty, Pikachu refuses to battle, so Ash is stuck without his electric type. But that’s okay, because Misty’s sisters want to give him the badge anyway without a fight.
- Against Lt. Surge, Ash gets his ass kicked so badly by Raichu that he considers forcing Pikachu to evolve just to have a chance. But they figure something out (in what admittedly was a pretty cool battle) by using Pikachu’s speed, and actually win a fight for the first time.
- Against Sabrina…god, where do I start. Sabrina starts the first fight with an Abra. That’s right. Unfortunately for Ash, it immediately evolves, meaning he can no longer win by default when Abra only knows Teleport. Instead, Kadabra kicks his Pikachu’s ass. So he goes to get a ghost type. In the process, his soul leaves his body and his friends are sad because they think he’s dead, but Ash doesn’t care — he just trolls Misty instead. In Round 2, Haunter refuses to battle, so Brock and Misty get turned into dolls because I don’t know why just go with it okay geez. In Round 3, Ash is getting dominated again when Haunter appears to make Sabrina laugh. Good enough for a badge!
- Against Erika, Ash wins the first part of the fight with his Charmander (good so far), then tries to use Pikachu against a grass type (going downhill) before the gym lights on fire from Team Rocket’s meddling (no surprise there) and Erika gives Ash a badge for helping to put out the fire (don’t coddle him!).
- Against Koga, Ash actually almost earns a badge by using Charmander to defeat Koga’s Golbat. Sure, Koga doesn’t use more than one Pokemon or try any of the poison tactics he’s known for in the games, but that’s okay. Badge get!
- Against Blaine, the quiz master is up to his usual tricks, and so is Ash. His Squirtle is destroyed by Ninetales, his Charizard refuses to battle Rhydon, and then he sends in Pikachu. Against a ground type. Again. But wait! He kills Rhydon by targeting its horn or something! Yeah! But then Magmar ruins his day and Ash forfeits. He manages to win the rematch because Charizard decides to care and annihilates Magmar with the biggest Seismic Toss you’ve ever seen.
- Against…well, not against Giovanni. Before Ash can get to the eighth gym leader, Gary tries his luck, and his reward is fighting a Mewtwo. Thanks for playing, Gary. Ash doesn’t have to fight Mewtwo, though, or even Giovanni — he gets Team Rocket, or as we like to call it, “here, just take this badge because they suck.”
Eight badges, and Ash won, what, two fights? Maybe three if we’re generous? Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of losses mixed in there. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that he loses in the top 16 at the Pokemon League that year, although he does manage to beat Gary before coming up short against a new “friend” who also has a Pikachu. So basically, the Kanto gym leaders set Ash up for failure by handing him a bunch of badges for no reason. Thanks a lot, guys.
But we’re just getting started.
Ash actually manages to win something — he goes to the Orange Islands, does a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with battling to win four “badges,” then takes on Drake for the championship in the coolest two episodes the show has ever seen. No, seriously, if you’ve haven’t watched the six-on-six battle that spanned two episodes, watch it right now.
He then heads to Johto with the same crew and an awesome new theme song, but the same problems. He barely wins the first badge despite having two very experienced Pokemon in Pikachu and Charizard. Blah blah blah he gets all eight badges. He meets Gary in the Pokemon League tournament again and manages to win despite not including Pikachu on his team because he’s an idiot. Unfortunately, he loses in the top 8 in a pretty good battle against Harrison that comes down to the wire. But hey, at least he improved on his finish!
I stopped paying as much attention at this point because the show creators decided “hey, the hell with Misty, let’s get rid of her.” But Ash goes through his usual shenanigans, picking bad type matchups and making up rules as he goes.
With eight badges in hand, he heads to this version of the Pokemon League and runs into another rival, Tyson. The 6-on-6 battle comes down to each character’s staple Pokemon — Ash’s level 120 Pikachu and Tyson’s Meowth. Meowth manages to beat Pikachu because he’s wearing a hat and Pikachu is not. But hey, at least Ash improved on his fini–wait, he only got to the top 8 again. Well, it’s not like Ash has been working on this for 200+ episodes by this point. He’s going to be a Pokemon master!
Eight badges, etc. Having replaced Misty’s replacement with another replacement, Ash, Brock and Dawn head to the Sinnoh championship. Ash finally makes a good decision — he doesn’t befriend anyone right before the tournament starts, meaning that he shouldn’t have to lose to them when “luck” makes them face each other. And he battles all the way to the top 4, meaning he’s just two wins away from finally fulfilling his dream. There’s nothing that can stop him now, right?
For once, it’s not even one of Ash’s mistakes that costs him. The only mistake he made was daring to dream.
His opponent in the semifinals starts the match by sending out Darkrai.
A F***ING DARKRAI.
Yes, kids, legendaries are now approved at the Pokemon League and other gym battles, so Tobias has marched through everything to this point with just his Darkrai. Why is he taking a Darkrai to fight level 10 Pokemon at an early gym? Why is he even bothering with the tournament in the first place? We’ll never know. All we know is that the creators seemingly ran out of ways to justify an experienced trainer like Ash losing, so they just said the hell with it and put him in an impossible battle.
It should be noted that Ash actually managed to knock out Darkrai in this 6-on-6 fight after losing half his team in the process, and his reward for being the first person to beat Darkrai is that Tobias sends out a FREAKING LATIOS. That’s right, kids, he’s packing multiple legendaries but still wasting his time with paltry tournaments! Ash takes that out, too, but only at the expense of his final Pokemon, as Pikachu (who’s probably crying at this point) and Latios are knocked out at the same time. But hey, at least Ash improved on his finish!
And here we have the impetus for this post. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I have some beef with how the Pokemon series has developed. But as the newest version of the Pokemon League unfolded in Japan, I thought this might be the time for Ash to shine. Maybe he’ll actually win the tournament. Maybe he’ll at least make it to the finals before coming up short in agonizing fashion. Maybe he’ll use all of his heavy hitters that he’s assembled over the years, like Snorlax, Charizard, Sceptile, Infernape, Torterra, Heracross, and that level 356 Pikachu.
In last Thursday’s episode, Ash bowed out in the top 8 again. That’s right, he actually managed to get worse this time around in his fifth attempt to become a Pokemon Master. How does this happen? Well, the writers decided to saddle Ash with a new trick — he only uses Pokemon from his current team, meaning that all those powerful, dependable members of his team are nowhere to be found.
He faces a trainer in the top 8 who starts out with a Riolu. Ash brings out a Snivy — yes, the unevolved version of the grass starter who is affectionately known as Smugleaf. And what happens in this sixth-round battle? The Riolu evolves into a Lucario! Yes! It just so happens that at the start of the current battle (not the end of the last one where it, you know, got all that experience), Ash has run into another unexpected evolution, and one that gives him a type disadvantage to boot!
It’s not really his fault, but he’s had SEVEN HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE EPISODES to fulfill his dream from day one, and he hasn’t even come close. Now, at best, he’s going to have to wait for the anime to move on to the sixth generation, assuming the show carries on as X and Y release in October.
And before you go off on me, I get it — it’s a kids’ show, and if Ash actually won a tournament, they’d probably have to find a new main character. But would that be so bad at this point? Most of the series’ staple characters are long gone (including almost the entire voice acting crew) and the only mainstay is Ash, his stupid hat, and his level 914 Pikachu. Maybe it’s time to throw Ash a bone, and let this eternally 10-year-old kid get a win for once?
Nah. We’d rather watch him suffer.