After seven major story arcs and more than 1,050 episodes of the Pokemon anime, the impossible has finally happened: Ash Ketchum won a Pokemon League tournament. After several heartbreaks along the way, getting increasingly close but coming up short, he did it. It was big enough news that even media outlets like CNN picked up on it. These are strange times indeed.
This website has somehow become one of the internet’s forefront places for Ash sucking over the years. Our original article, Ash Ketchum is the Worst Pokemon Trainer Ever, has something like 200,000 views — an absurd amount on a site of our size. The follow-up, Ash Ketchum is Still the Worst Pokemon Trainer Ever, is just outside our top 10 all-time despite being more recent. I’ve read dozens of comments from people who agree or disagree, most of which take the same approach as me: It wasn’t Ash’s fault that he sucked, but the poor kid was stuck in a terrible situation.
Now, ignoring side victories like the Orange League and the Battle Frontier, the writers gave Ash one tally mark in the win column 22 years after the anime began. That’s almost unfathomable to think about, but here we are.
So let’s break it down. In the past, the show gave Ash all sorts of reasons to fail, like making friends with people who would eventually eliminate him or having him run into a trainer with multiple legendary Pokemon on his team. All of that left fans with a hugely dissatisfying feeling in defeat after defeat — when would Ash make it to the winner’s circle? Well, we got our answer and the truth is, our favorite perpetual 10-year-old kid did pretty well this time.
Pokemon seemingly couldn’t help itself and hopped on the battle royale craze by having 151 trainers battle for 16 spots after the Pokemon League preliminaries. This is actually kinda cool in concept and execution — if anything, I find the tournament bracket after the dust settles more ridiculous. For example, Jessie and James are both here, both in disguises and using fake names, and wouldn’t you know it? They get paired against each other in the first round. Super mega best friends Lillie and Gladion? First round. Islanders Hau and Samson Oak? First round. But I suppose this also helps clear the stage and get rid of some characters to give Ash time to shine.
Ash, to his credit, has to go through a murderer’s row to become the champion. He’s matched up against Faba of the Aether Corporation in the first round, everyone’s favorite friend/rival/spaz Hau in the second, undefeated YA BOI GUZMA in the semifinals, and teenage emo heartthrob Gladion and his powerhouse Pokemon in the finals.
That’s not to Ash wasn’t up to some of his old tricks. His level 43,059 Pikachu puts in some serious work in the battle royale stage, but his first-round match (a 1v1 encounter) involves his opponent cheating and sending out a Pokemon that Ash wasn’t expecting, followed by said Pokemon defeating a Hypno only because it ate its signature pendant. He’s back to using unevolved Pokemon in his second round fight when he sends out the adorable Rowlet while shunning a potential fire advantage and admitting he has NO PLAN WHATSOEVER, but that works out okay. Yet that’s it for the nonsense — Ash’s battles against Guzma and Gladion are hard-hitting slugfests without any huge gaffes, and he emerges victorious in both.
We could quibble with some of this, like the fact that it happened long after Pokemon’s peak in popularity or during a season that might have the worst animation at any point during the series (yes, even compared to season 1), but that would be ruining a time for celebration.
I’ve maintained for years, since writing the original column, that it’s not that Ash has sucked for all these years — it’s been the writers and producers and showrunners who were to blame for taking a young boy’s dream and crushing them, over and over again. But maybe now that Ash has finally succeeded, we can look back on all of that as a growing experience, even though he never grew an inch or aged a day in the process. Maybe he was never a loser, just a kid trying his best.
…Nah, he was the fucking worst. But not any more — now he’s a champion.