'Pokemon' Anime Leaves The Door Wide Open For Ash Ketchum, And That's Probably A Good Thing
The Journey continues..
Ash Ketchum's two-decade reign as the main protagonist of the Pokemon anime has come to an end, with the final episode of Pokemon: Aim To Be A Pokemon Master! airing in Japan, paving the way for Pokemon Horizons, starring new protagonists Liko and Roy, to begin airing in April.
Ash's final episode saw him return home to Pallet Town, where he spent time with his Mother, and the large menagerie of Pokemon he keeps at Professor Oak's lab. However, a visit from his former arch rival, Gary, prompts Ash to consider exactly what he wants for the future, when Gary questions how close Ash is to his original goal of becoming a Pokemon Master. While taking a walk in Viridian Forest to consider his options, Ash and Pikachu share one last dramatic encounter with Team Rocket, before being rescued by Ash's Pidgeot in it's long-awaited return to the series. Following this, Ash shares with Pikachu his desire to befriend every Pokemon in the world, which he believes to be the true meaning of becoming a Pokemon Master. And so, the pair set off on a brand new adventure into the world of Pokemon.
Aim To Be A Pokemon Master has been, for the most part, a celebration of Ash's character, and the kind of Pokemon Trainer he is. Many fans expected a more action packed, definitive conclusion for Ash, and have expressed disappointment at the series open ending, possibly because it shatters a few popular fan theories, including a time jump potentially depicting Ash as an adult. However, leaving the door ajar for Ash to return is probably a better decision for the franchise.
Here are a few reasons why.
Ash has been around for Generations
To be clear, we are not referring to the nine Generations of the Pokemon franchise, but the generations of young fans who have grown up with it. The Pokemon anime began in 1997, and Ash has been the series leading from then until now, in 2023. In this over twenty year period, more than one generation of children have grown up watching Pokemon.
Ash and his beloved Pikachu are the bridge between these generations of fans. The regions have changed, and the Pokemon on Ash's team have changed, but whether you are an OG Pokemon fan who watched the series on debut in 1997, or a youngster who discovered it in 2010, everyone who has watched the series knows Ash. He is simply too important and recognisable for the franchise to give him up entirely.
Any future appearances from Ash will likely be Event TV for 'Pokemon' Fans
The news of Ash's imminent departure from Pokemon understandably resulted in a boost in interest in the series from fans of all ages. While some questioned the slice of life nature that made up the bulk of Ash's final series, most fans would agree that the best elements of Aim To Be A Pokemon Master were the constant rotation of Ash's Pokemon team over the eleven episodes, and the decision to have him travel with his two original companions, Misty and Brock.
Apart from Ash himself, and Jessie and James of Team Rocket, Misty and Brock are probably the most recognisable human characters in the history of the Pokemon anime. Their prominence in the final stretch of episodes was probably nostalgic for early Pokemon fans, enough to draw those who may not otherwise have watched Aim To Be A Pokemon Master.
The same line of thought is probably in play in the decision to give Ash an open ending, and thus keep him as a piece on the chessboard for the future. Any guest appearances from Ash in future Pokemon episodes or, as some have guessed, movies, will likely draw more viewers. As an added bonus, Ash's newly attained status as the Pokemon World Champion would make his return as much of an event in-universe as it is outside of it.
However, of all the reasons for giving Ash an open ending, there is one obvious, and most likely scenario..
Ash's open ending gives 'Pokemon' a back-up plan
Pokemon Horizons, the new incarnation of the anime soon to begin airing, will almost certainly have high ratings for it's initial episodes, with older fans likely curious to see how things will go. It may even hang on to any of those extra viewers who happen to find themselves intrigued by the mysteries surrounding Liko's necklace, or Roy's strange Pokeball. However, there's no guarantee that Horizons will be able to hold its audience long term.
The Pokemon anime has always been hit and miss in regard to actually solving any mysteries it poses, and some fans might get frustrated if Horizons takes too long to deliver any answers. Others may drift away once the novelty of the new protagonists and Pokemon wears off. Younger viewers may not understand or accept the change, and will wonder where Ash is. While Horizons is being given every chance, there's a possibility that it could fail. Would this be the end of the Pokemon anime for good?
Thanks to Aim To Be A Pokemon Master's open ending, Ash Ketchum is still travelling the Pokemon world. If Horizons flops, future seasons could simply rejoin Ash's journey. Sure, the franchise may have to weather a little bad press over the backtracking on Ash's retirement, but the current generation of children forming the anime's core audience probably wouldn't care.
Either way, the open ending makes one thing certain: This is not the last we have seen of Ash Ketchum.
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