In a moment that has come as a surprise to many fans, it has recently been revealed that after twenty-five years of adventures across eight regions in his quest to become a Pokemon Master, Ash Ketchum and his beloved Pikachu are being retired as the protagonists of the long-running Pokemon anime. Eleven special episodes will air in January 2023 to complete Ash's story, before he and Pikachu pass the rains to new protagonists Liko and Roy, accompanied by the Paldea region's trio of starter Pokemon, Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly.
Ash has captured a great many special Pokemon over the course of his journey, with Greninja, Lycanroc, and Lucario becoming favourites from the last few regions. However, for anyone who watched the Pokemon anime back when it first began in the late nineties, Ash's original team of six Pokemon likely hold a special place in their hearts, and their childhoods.
As Ash's journey comes to an end, let's revisit the beginning. Who were Ash Ketchum's original six Pokemon, and where have they ended up?
After oversleeping on what is supposed to be the first day of his Pokemon Journey, Ash Ketchum arrives late at Professor Oak's lab, to the unpleasant news that Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle, the three Pokemon usually made available to beginners in the Kanto region, have already been claimed by other Trainers. At Ash's insistence, Professor Oak reluctantly offers him an alternate starter: A very temperamental Pikachu. While Ash and Pikachu's relationship is rocky at first, he eventually earns Pikachu's trust when he protects it from a flock of attacking Spearow.
Pikachu has been Ash's best friend and constant companion ever since, becoming the only one of Ash's Pokemon to accompany him to every region over the course of his journey. Together, they have fended off Team Rocket's countless attempts to steal Pikachu, as well as overcoming many hurdles in their quest to be the best.
In Ash's recent World Championship match against Leon, Pikachu ends up as his last Pokemon standing. It defeats Leon's Charizard to win Ash the battle, and the title of Pokemon World Champion. After winning the World Championship, there is little else for Ash and Pikachu to accomplish, which has contributed to the decision to retire them as the series leads. But wherever Ash does go next, Pikachu is sure to remain at his side.
After a few failed attempts to catch a wild Pokemon across the anime's first few episodes, Ash finally succeeds in capturing a Caterpie while travelling through Viridian forest. It becomes both the first and fastest of Ash's Pokemon to fully evolve, reaching it's final form, Butterfree, just two episodes after it's debut. With status altering attacks such as Sleep Powder and Stun Spore, Butterfree was an important member of Ash's team in the early days of the series. While travelling aboard the S.S Anne, Ash once traded Butterfree in exchange for a Raticate, only to immediately regret the choice when he realised just how much he loved Butterfree. His desperation to get Butterfree back before leaving the boat leaves Ash and co trapped aboard the S.S Anne as it is sinking. Thankfully, Ash successfully reclaims Butterfree, and everyone survives the Shipwreck.
In the episode 'Bye Bye, Butterfree!', Ash discovers that the Butterfree mating season has arrived. Ash's Butterfree, through it's bravery in rescuing the rest of the Butterfree from an attempt from Team Rocket to capture them, earns the affections of a rare pink Butterfree. In one of the most emotionally-charged moments in Pokemon's early history, Ash farewells Butterfree as he and his new mate embark on a migration across the sea to the Butterfree's breeding grounds.
While Butterfree was occasionally seen in flashbacks, and sometimes included in the intro of later seasons, it was not seen in person after it's departure, leading to an unfortunate fan theory that Butterfree, like many real life insects, may have died after mating. While denied by series creators, this theory was not officially debunked until the epilogue sequence of Pokemon: Journeys episode 137, where Butterfree is briefly seen reuniting with Ash and Pikachu. This cameo, 1,200 episodes after it's departure, marks the longest gap between physical appearances of a main character's Pokemon in the entire series. Some fans see Butterfree's return as a symbol of Ash's journey coming to an end.
Ash's third Pokemon was Pidgeotto, also caught in Viridian forest. While it wasn't given the same vibrant personality or character development as Ash's other Pokemon, Pidgeotto was unfailingly loyal. Pidgeotto was perhaps the biggest work-horse of Ash's original team, regularly used to scout ahead, conduct aerial searches, or blow away Smokescreen attacks from Team Rocket's Koffing/Weezing. In this capacity, it's importance grew after the departure of Butterfree, becoming Ash's only Flying type.
Returning home after his defeat in the Indigo League, Ash and his friends are confronted by a Fearow, evolved from the leader of the Spearow flock who attacked Ash and Pikachu at the beginning of their journey. Fearow and the Spearow have since been terrorising the local Pidgey and Pidgeotto. Ash has his Pidgeotto attempt to lead the others away to a safer location, but it is attacked and injured by Fearow. Desperate to protect the rest of it's kind, Pidgeotto evolves into it's final form, Pidgeot, and with a small assist from Pikachu and the wild Pidgey and Pidgeotto, battles and defeats Fearow. Ash leaves Pidgeot in Viridian Forest to protect it's pre-evolutions in case Fearow seeks revenge, but promises to come back for it when he returns from the Orange Islands.
Despite being in the vicinity of Viridian Forest on numerous occasions in the following years, Ash never collects, or even visits Pidgeot, with his failure to do so becoming a meme in the Pokemon fan community. In more recent years, it has been clarified that Ash's promise to return is only in the English dub of the series. Despite this, some fans are hoping for a Pidgeot return in Ash's final episodes.
Ash's Bulbasaur first appears in 'Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village', when it protects an Oddish from Misty's attempts to capture it. It is the self-appointed guardian of a small Hidden Village where a young woman named Melanie cares for sick, injured, or abandoned Pokemon. Bulbasaur dislikes Trainers, hinting that it may have been abandoned itself. However, when Ash saves the Pokemon of the Hidden Village from being taken by Team Rocket, he gains Bulbasaur's respect, and after a brief battle, allows him to capture it. It becomes the first of the original Kanto starters to join Ash's team.
Over time, Bulbasaur builds a strong bond with Ash, becoming one of his chief battlers. It travels with him throughout his adventures in the Orange Islands, and joins him during the early part of his travels in the Johto region. However, in the episode 'Bulbasaur, The Ambassador!' Professor Oak requests a visit from Bulbasaur in the hope that it's diplomatic skills can quell a series of conflicts that have arisen among the Pokemon living at his Lab. Seeing how good it is at keeping the peace, Ash allowed Bulbasaur to remain at the lab indefinitely.
Ash has recalled Bulbasaur to his team a number of times since, including during the Johto League Silver Conference, and his match against Pyramid King Brandon for the Kanto Battle Frontier. At one point, Ash's Bulbasaur befriends and mentors the young female Bulbasaur belonging to Ash's travel companion, May. It was most recently seen reuniting and celebrating with Ash and Pikachu after their World Championship victory.
Ash first encounters his Charizard as a Charmander. He and his travelling companions rescue it during a storm after discovering it's previous Trainer, Damian, had abandoned it. They take it to a Pokemon Centre, keeping vigil as it is nursed back to health. Damian attempts to reclaim Charmander after witnessing it defeat Team Rocket to rescue Pikachu, but it refuses, instead opting to join Ash's team. Charmander quickly becomes one of Ash's primary battlers. It gains enough experience to evolve into Charmeleon, and then Charizard, being the only one of Ash's three Kanto starters to fully evolve. Unfortunately, Charizard develops a bad attitude, ignoring Ash's commands except for the rare occasions that it deems an opponent worthy of it's time.
Fortunately, Ash never gives up on his old friend. When Charizard falls dangerously ill after taking a direct hit from an Ice Beam attack during a battle in the Orange Islands, Ash stays up all night to ensure Charizard stays warm. Ash's devotion regains him Charizard's respect and loyalty, and it has remained one of his most reliable Pokemon ever since. After accompanying Ash to Johto, it was eventually left for specialized training in the Charicific Valley, but memorably returned to save Ash in Pokemon 3: Spell of The Unown, and later to battle for him in the Silver Conference, helping Ash finally defeat his longtime rival, Gary Oak.
At some point, Charizard completed it's special training, departing the Charicific Valley to join the rest of Ash's out of rotation Pokemon at Professor Oak's lab. It rejoined Ash's team for a while during the Pokemon: Black and White series, developing a rivalry with Iris's Dragonite.
Like Bulbasaur, it was most recently seen congratulating Ash after his Championship win.
Ash's Squirtle originally appears as the leader of the Squirtle Squad, a gang of rogue Squirtle abandoned by their Trainers, wreaking havoc in a small town Ash and co pass through. Though the Squad are initially manipulated into allying with Team Rocket, they are inevitably betrayed, and caught up in Team Rocket’s attempt to bomb the town. Ash wins the Squad’s leader over when he rescues it from the bombing. The Squirtle Squad are redeemed when they put out the fire caused by Team Rocket’s Bombs. Officer Jenny recruits them as the official town firefighters, but the leader chooses to travel with Ash.
In the Kanto era, Ash most often called upon Squirtle for battles in which it possessed a type advantage. It was given a more prominent role in the Orange Islands arc, due to the group more commonly facing watery surroundings. It continued to travel with Ash through Johto, until reuniting with Officer Jenny and the Squirtle Squad. They are in the region to compete in a Fire Fighting contest, but are suffering without strong leadership. Squirtle rejoins the Squad, leading them to victory in the contest, and Ash allows it to return to Kanto with them to complete more specialised training.
After Ash's Kingler is injured, Squirtle makes an emergency return to Ash's team for the Silver Conference, where it is vital in his defeat of Fire-Type trainer Macy. It also returns in the Battle Frontier season for Ash's match against Pyramid King Brandon. All of Squirtle's appearances since have been brief cameos. It was last seen in a vision by Pikachu while battling Leon's Charizard.
It's been a long journey for Ash, but the above six Pokemon are where it began for him. Long term fans of the series will be hoping to see the membersof Ash's original team at least one more time before his journey ends for good.