Now Ash Ketchum Is Finally Leaving, We All Want Him To Stay

Ash Ketchum has become Pokemon Champion, and will be leaving the anime behind for good after ascending to the rank of Master in 2023. Less than a dozen episodes remain in his tenure as the final season of Ultimate Journeys comes to an end. He, Pikachu, Brock, Misty, and 25 seasons worth of characters and storylines are set to reach their conclusion.

We almost never thought this day would come, often theorising exactly who should take Ash’s place and how his departure would allow for a new beginning. But now he’s actually leaving us, saying goodbye has never felt so difficult. Even those who haven’t watched the show for years or aren’t actively into the games are still feeling the sting of this news, because deep down, whether we realise it or not, Ash means so damn much to us all.

Millennials grew up with Pokemon, perhaps more than any other generation that came before or after. While the franchise has remained a constant in the zeitgeist with its games, films, and endless piles of merchandise – it was those raised during its defining era that came to fall in love with it most. I remember when the original anime started airing in the West, and how the first film became a cultural phenomenon as I begged my parents to pick up a copy on VHS. This continued with Pokemon 2000, an equally stunning movie that relished in the golden years of pocket monsters. Digimon, Beyblade, Dragon Ball, and countless others captured our generation thanks to Pokemon, and came to define us.

Ash was a young kid with the world at his feet, and took us on each adventure in deep, relatable ways. He could have been anyone, but had the confidence and fortitude to leave Pallet Town behind and become Pokemon Champion. It only took him two decades and change, but watching him finally achieve that goal felt like an impossibility come to life. It made headlines in mainstream news outlets, penetrating the echochamber and informing the wider world that this youthful icon had taken his first step towards retirement. From that point on we were treading water, waiting for a certain development to take place that would see Ash hang up his PokeBalls for good. That time has come, and the tears are already flowing.

The preview is definitive in its intention, and how all these episodes will usher in a new set of characters and Pokemon while bidding farewell to those we’ve come to know so well. It’s a risky move, but a necessarily tragic one. Ash has to retire eventually or risk stagnation, and the same can be said for his supporting cast and even the iconic Pikachu. We have lived and breathed their presence for longer than I can remember. I know friends across games, animation, film, whose entire impetus to pursue a creative career was because of Pokemon, and how the original anime inspired them to conjure up their own adventures to embark upon, taking influence from a style that has only furthered in its majesty over the years. You really can’t overstate how significant its place was in the current world we all live in.

Everyone knows Pokemon. Everyone knows Ash. Everyone knows Pikachu. So the very suggestion that their time on this planet is finite is difficult to comprehend, and now it’s been presented to us in such black and white terms, the idea of leaving it behind is almost painful.

Looking on the bright side of things, I can’t wait to see how Pokemon intends to wrap up 25 years of history in such a few episodes, and whether it plans to entertain some manner of time skip, alternate universe, or whatever else to usher in a new generation.

Part of me thinks Pokemon will be stronger for leaving Ash behind completely, giving him little to no recourse when it comes to future cameos or references. Let this new generation shine on its own terms, even if it makes mistakes on the way, otherwise we’ll never be able to say goodbye in a way that matters. It will be hard at times, but farewells are meant to be, especially those that at times felt near incomprehensible. The torch has been lit, and now we must accept the finality that comes with it being passed onto someone new.

I’m not ready to see it unfold, but that only goes to show how much Ash Ketchum and Pikachu did right, and how they will go down in history as two of the finest characters ever conceived. He became the very best, like no one ever was, and now his time has come to move on.

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