Ash Ketchum made his onscreen debut way back in 1997 when the first season of the Pokemon anime originally aired on Japanese television. 24 years later, it’s starting to seem as if we’re just around the corner from the end of an era – still being ten after 25 years of training Pokemon just seems a bit unrealistic.
No, but seriously – Ash is probably on his last season. He’s spent the last 14 months assembling a dream team to take on Leon, Galar’s official champion, and he’s finally added his sixth and final Pokemon to the squad: Dracovish. This does not bode well for Mr. Ketchum’s television career.
Obviously Pikachu is on Ash’s new team, but it’s worth remembering that it has a Gigantamax form, which transforms it from lovable electric mouse to thunder chonk. Ash has also managed to catch a Dragonite, a Gengar, a Galarian Farfetch’d, and a Riolu, which is probably going to evolve into Lucario before he takes on Leon. With an immensely powerful Pokemon like Dracovish taking up the last spot on Ash’s roster, it’s actually looking pretty likely that he’s going to become the Galar champ. If that happens, it will probably be the end of the line for the world’s most famous Pokemon trainer.
Now, Ash has technically beaten the Pokemon League already. I actually copied his League-winning team to see how it fared in competitive Pokemon, and was pleasantly surprised by how decent it was – although it’s very obvious that Ash is not, in fact, a very good trainer or team-builder. That’s what makes this new dream team seem as if it’s going to be his last one – it’s actually good! Ash has been on a quest to become a Pokemon master since 1997, and while he’s still a long way from completing the National Dex – as in, a very long way – he’s built a genuinely strong squad for his Galar challenge.
That’s why I don’t know what could possibly come next for Ash anymore. Are we just going to watch him go back to using worse Pokemon? Or just swap out perfectly powerful ones for other arbitrarily decent ‘mons? I doubt it. Fortunately, Pokemon Twilight Wings is a beacon of hope for the future primarily because its protagonist is already more fascinating than Ash ever was.
That’s a big statement, I know. But realistically, Ash is just a stubborn, likeable git who’s only made it as far as he has because he’s got good mates. There are some scenes that stand out to me as incredible – I’ll never forget him courageously taking a hit from Mewtwo in the first film – but you’ve also got to remember that he could be a right dickhead when he wanted to be. Pidgeot has been waiting for him to come back from the shop with a bottle of milk for 24 years.
Meanwhile, Twilight Wings focuses on John, a Pokemon lover who can’t live out his dreams because he’s stuck in a hospital ward. Admittedly, he doesn’t seem like much at face value. He’s quiet, and shy, and incredibly naive. But his growth throughout the series is genuinely believable, and his actions during the lead up to its denouement are packed with emotional resonance. The whole run of Twilight Wings is only about an hour long, but by the end of it all I wanted to see was what came next for John, because he’s not the heroic protagonist in pursuit of becoming the very best. Instead, he’s an ordinary person with normal feelings who just wants to learn as much as he can about the world of Pokemon – a world that seemed locked off before, but is now open for exploration.
It doesn’t need to be John, necessarily. I personally reckon Pokemon’s next protagonist should be a girl instead of a boy – Ash has had 24 years in the spotlight, while infinitely better characters like Misty and Dawn have just had to flit in and out of the series. What I mean here is that we don’t need a loud and stubborn main character who only cares about winning battles and trading his Butterfree for a Raticate like a big, heartless bastard. I would much prefer a story about someone more shy, and more reserved, who gradually begins to discover the inherent wonder of this magnificent world as they grow throughout the series. It doesn’t need to be about winning the Pokemon League or catching every single ‘mon out there. While the battles are thrilling to watch, my favourite thing about the series has always been when it focuses on the interactions between people and Pokemon – Detective Pikachu’s Rime City nailed this, for what it’s worth.
But yeah. It’s sad to see that Ash is probably on his way out, but Pokemon Twilight Wings gives us a reason to be excited for whatever comes next. If it’s anything like that series – which I truly hope it will be – losing Ash will be bittersweet instead of downright sad.
Next: The Nuzlocke Challenge Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Classic Pokemon
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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