Ash Ketchum
The Pokemon Company | Nintendo

Ash and Pikachu are Finally Retiring After 25 Years

Ash and Pikachu are done. They won the Galar Pokemon League, and Ash became a Champion after 25 long years. What's next for the Pokemon anime?
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It’s been 25 long years since Ash and Pikachu started their journey in the iconic Pokemon anime. They’ve been through a lot together, challenging no fewer than eight Pokemon leagues and routinely failing to ever quite reach the rank of Champion. Ash has always wanted to be the very best–like no one ever was, as the theme song goes.

The iconic, ageless ten-year-old has been doing this for a long time. So, suffice it to say, when he and Pikachu finally managed to defeat the Galar region’s champion, Leon, in a recent arc of the anime, fans went absolutely ballistic. After 25 long years, he’d done it–Ash became a Pokemon Champion. His lifelong dream became reality. So, what’s next for the anime’s long-running main character and his faithful electric mouse companion?

Well, in short, they’re done. Ash accomplished his goal and he’s putting the adventuring life behind him. In a recent announcement, the Pokemon Company confirmed that after a short farewell series, Ash and Pikachu will be gone from the anime series. The next arc, which will take place in the Paldea region, will have two brand-new protagonists. Fans are calling this moment bittersweet, and it seems to have reignited popular interest in the long-running anime series.

Ash Finally Did It

Across the Pokemon anime series, Ash and Pikachu took on eight Pokemon leagues across the eight regions they visited. Some fans might point out that Ash technically became the Champion of the Orange Islands league over 20 years ago in an early anime arc, but it’s important to note that this was a non-canon “filler” arc that had no actual bearing on the storyline. As funny as it was that Ash was basically the top trainer of a string of laid-back vacation destinations, it was never “real” in the storyline.

Each time Ash and Pikachu challenged the local Pokemon League, they would make it pretty far. They regularly made it to the quarterfinals in the League, and they even made it to the semifinals and championship rounds on a few occasions. But, no matter how hard they trained, Ash and his partner Pokemon seemed to always be just short of greatness.

Fans once joked this was so the show would have a reason to keep releasing alongside each new entry in the video game franchise. This gave Ash the opportunity to visit new regions at the same time as people playing through Pokemon titles, making the show something of a companion piece to the ongoing game series. With Ash finally winning in the finals during the Galar arc, though, many fans started to wonder why he would even continue adventuring in another arc. 

Hanging It Up

Ash, content after finally finishing his quest to become a regional champion, isn’t going to be the star of the next Pokemon arc. He’s going to get a limited-series send-off in the ongoing Pokémon Journeys side series. This will see the return of some fan-favorite characters from the show’s earliest days, including Brock and Misty.

This is something of a treat for longtime fans of the show, as the long-running series stopped focusing on some of these side characters over two decades ago. It’s easy to picture long-lapsed Pokemon fans getting back into the series after picking up the recently-release Pokemon Scarlet and Violet to see off the main character who started it all. After all, the show has now fully lived through the average 20-year nostalgia cycle, meaning that fans who might have watched the show as children could become invested again as adults.

Ash’s departure also frees up room for a pair of new protagonists to take the spotlight. These characters, Liko and Roy, will adventure through the Paldea region alongside new Pokemon like Quaxley, Feucoco, and Sprigatito. It sounds like they’ll be enrolled in the Naranja Academy, which serves as the central location of Scarlet and Violet, and they might be more interested in pursuing their studies than training to become Pokemon Champions like Ash.

More than a Championship

While Ash and the average person playing a Pokemon video game are quite preoccupied with the notion of training and battling Pokemon, the anime has made it clear that this is a very peculiar profession. Sure, it’s popular in-universe too, but mainly as a spectator sport. Training Pokemon is depicted as being time-consuming, complicated, and even a bit dangerous. 

It’s comparable to becoming a real-life professional football player. Sure, there could be fame and fortune in it for you, but there could also be serious injuries. It’s also a cutthroat field–as the games themselves even point out, the vast majority of trainers in the Pokemon universe aren’t able to earn more than four gym badges, even if they have the guts to set out on a League Challenge.

Perhaps the next generation of protagonists in the Pokemon anime can show off some diverse interests. Maybe one of them will be more interested in cataloging and capturing all the Pokemon in the Paldea region than in competitive battling. Or, maybe they’ll simply focus more on their studies, and part of their journey might involve some interactions with the Pokemon League. 

Should Ash Have Stayed Young?

Many fans have pointed out how strange it is that Ash’s story has progressed with each arc of the anime, but the character has never aged. He’s traveled around the world, battled in eight Pokemon Leagues, and now has become a world champion. And yet, bizarrely, he’s still a pre-teen. He’s a ten-year-old with 25 years of experience–the perfect candidate for a modern-day job.

Would things not have been more narratively satisfying if Ash had actually aged? One complaint many fans have with the franchise as a whole is that it centers very young children as the main characters in every anime arc and in every mainline game. Even though many players and viewers are adults, the protagonists continue to hover in an age range between ten and 16 years old.

How wonderful would it be to see Ash as an adult, weathered and wizened from a long Pokemon training career, finally take home that trophy? That would be quite meaningful to the fans who’ve followed his journey for the past 25 years, as they could feel like they grew up with the hero they see on screen. As it stands, it’s a bit harder to square that the Ash we see in these final few arcs is the same kid who we saw set out from Palette Town back in 1997–if only because he’s seemingly impervious to the passage of time. 

Pokemon Renaissance

The Pokemon franchise has never been unpopular by any means. However, it’s become much more popular in recent years than ever before. It’s likely managed to do this by simultaneously appealing to young fans and also bringing back lapsed fans who might have first engaged with the content back in the late 90s. This could be part of the reason the franchise is so attached to its perpetually-youthful protagonists, young characters that children who are encountering the series for the first time can relate to more readily.

The Pokemon Company and Nintendo have gone out of their way to make the series as approachable as possible these days, too. Numerous spin-off games, like Pokemon Unite and Pokemon Go, have brought the massive series to mobile phones in recent years. These have greatly expanded Pokemon’s reach, as now more people than ever can freely access games that utilize the rich well of popular characters in the series.

The trading card game is as fun and easy to learn as ever, offering players a unique way into the series. Scarlet and Violet are easily the best entries in the main series yet. And now, with new characters taking the reins in the next anime arc, now is the best time yet to jump into the franchise as a whole.

The Future Is Bright

Pokemon really has nowhere to go but up from here. If the Pokemon Company and developer Game Freak continue to build on the recent successes of games like Scarlet and Violet, the franchise will continue to bring in new players and delight old fans. Pokemon is far and away the highest-grossing media franchise in human history, and it’s easy to see why when you step back and look at it.

The series appeals to the best aspects of video games, anime, trading card games, and nearly every other medium it shows up in. The live-action film Detective Pikachu even brought the series into movie theaters with aplomb, sparking a sudden increase in interest in video game movies. Just look at Sega’s recent Sonic the Hedgehog series or Nintendo’s own upcoming Super Mario Bros. Movie for evidence that Detective Pikachu’s box office dominance signaled a shift in the industry.

So, while Ash and his Pikachu might not be the face of the franchise anymore, the future is still bright for Pokemon. There are millions of fans around the world eager to see where the next journey will take them. Let’s see if Liko and Roy are up to the challenge.