After twenty-five years as the leading man of the Pokemon anime, Ash Ketchum is set to retire, with a final eleven episode mini-series airing in January 2023 to wrap up his story. There are, of course, questions to be answered before Ash leaves our screens. Will he achieve his dream of becoming a Pokemon Master? Will he fulfill his promise to return for his Pidgeot? And, in one of the series biggest unanswered questions, who is Ash's Father?
Ash (Satoshi in the Japanese version), was inspired by the player character in the original Pokemon Red and Blue games, who seems to be being raised by a single Mother. At the beginning of the anime, Ash lives with his Mother, Delia, who appears to be raising him alone, although Ash's Father, though unseen, is mentioned occasionally in the series early episodes, said to be a Trainer away on his own Pokemon journey. It was once rumoured that Ash's Father would appear in season five of the anime, but this never came to pass. A recent Pokemon Journeys special, 'The Distant Blue Sky', set in an alternate continuity to the main anime universe, teased a meeting between Ash and his Father. However, due to a bittersweet adventure with a character named Haruto, Ash is delayed, missing his Father by a few minutes.
A few theories have popped up over the years as to who Ash's Father might be. Let's look at a few of those theories.
As mentioned earlier, Ash was originally intended to be based upon the player avatar of the Pokemon Red and Blue games. One of the most popular default names provided for this character is Red. Due to his status as the original Pokemon protagonist, Red has attained a near legendary status in both Pokemon world lore and fandom, for his defeat of the criminal syndicate Team Rocket. He appears as the true Final Boss for players to defeat at the end of Pokemon Gold and Silver and their remakes, as a challengable character in the Black and White games, and as a contestant in the Champions Tournament in Sun and Moon. He is also a playable character, under the name of 'Pokemon Trainer', in the Super Smash Bros franchise. In 2016, Red starred as the protagonist of Pokemon Origins, an anime mini-series that acted as a more direct adaptation of the original pair of games.
While Ash's design may have been originally inspired by Red, it has become apparent by Red's later appearances that Ash is not an exact copy. This has since given rise to a theory that the Pokemon anime takes place years after the Gen I games, and that Ash could actually be the son of Red. Some extend this theory to suggest that Ash's Pikachu is the same as the powerful one that belonged to Red in the later games, and that Red left Pikachu with Professor Oak with the intention that he be given to Ash. While the latter part of the theory has apparently been debunked by Pokemon Journeys, the idea of Red as Ash's Father is still plausible.
2. Professor Oak
In both the Generation I games and the anime, Professor Oak is the one to present beginner Trainers in Kanto with their Pokedex and first Pokemon. His Grandson, Gary Oak (Blue in the games) is Ash's greatest rival in the show's early years. In the anime, Professor Oak is seen to have a close friendship with Ash's Mother, Delia Ketchum, with some fans percieving the relationship to be almost romantic. The pair often spend time together when Ash is away, and in one episode, little seen because it was banned in English, Oak and Delia appear on vacation together, while in an episode of Pokemon Chronicles, Oak frets over what gift to get for Delia. Professor Oak also takes a significant amount of interest and pride in Ash's achievements. For these reasons, many speculate that Oak might actually be Ash's Father.
Of course, there are a few potential holes in this theory. Professor Oak is quite a lot older than Delia.. Old enough to have both a child of his own, and a ten-year old Grandson. More recent episodes, and some of the films, imply that Oak had known Delia when she was young, and befriended her when her own Father left home to go on a journal, which would suggest that he is a replacement Father figure/mentor to Delia, and his interest in Ash is simply as a surrogate Grandfather. Of course, the increasing unlikeliness of the theory hasn't stopped Shippers hoping for a big reveal regarding Oak and Delia's relationship, or Ash's paternity, before Ash leaves the show.
In both the Generation I games and Pokemon anime, Giovanni is the head of the crime organisation Team Rocket. He is also the Gym Leader of the Viridian City Gym, and the final Gym Leader the player challenges in the original games. He disappears for some time after disbanding Team Rocket, before eventually resurfacing in Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 as a participant in the Pokemon World Tournament. An alternate universe Giovanni appears as the leader of Team Rainbow Rocket, the main antagonists of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon's post-game story. After years of speculation among fans, an event in Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver confirmed that Silver, the distinctive red-haired rival character of Gen II, is Giovanni's son.
In the anime, Team Rocket never disbands, so Giovanni has remained a recurring villain throughout, usually appearing via phone calls delivering orders to Jessie, James, and Meowth. A long running theory proposes that Ash is actually Giovanni's son, and Ash's frequent run-ins with Jessie and James are due to their being ordered to watch over him on his journey. The battles they engage in during their attempts to 'steal' Pikachu are really just intended to improve Ash's strength, and Giovanni's absence from Viridian Gym when Ash arrives there is because he doesn't want to battle his son.
This theory originally stemmed from a subplot in the Pokemon Live! musical, which revealed that Delia Ketchum had a dalliance with Giovanni during a rebellious phase in her youth, as well as some rumours that in early scripts for the Gen I games Giovanni would have been revealed as the player character's Father. While this remains a popular theory, it seems mostly debunked, as Ash has since directly confronted Giovanni in both the anime and the Mewtwo Returns TV special without either reacting as if they knew the other.
Silver (not to be confused with Giovanni's son), is an experienced Trainer who appears in the Pokemon Chronicles episode 'Search For A Legend', befriending Ash's friend, Richie. Silver's dream is to battle the Legendary fire Pokemon, Moltres, and has joined a pair of Researchers travelling to the volcanic One Island, where Moltres is regularly spotted. Richie, suspecting something off about the Researchers, talks Silver into letting him tag along. The 'Researchers' turn out to be Team Rocket members Butch and Cassidy, who have hatched a plan to capture Moltres in a weak moment, as it only visits One Island to recharge in the volcano's lava. Silver and Richie work together to save Moltres, but Silver is forced to abandon his chance for a battle with it, fleeing with Richie when the volcano erupts.
Fans have noted a few similarities between Silver and Ash, including that both of their Pokemon journeys began with seeing a Legendary bird Pokemon, and Silver's Chikorita rides on his shoulder, similar to Ash's Pikachu. Silver also visibly reacts to Ash's name when Richie mentions him, which has lead some fans to believe that Silver is Ash's Father. However, as Silver and Ash have never met on screen, and Silver has not appeared since this single Chronicles episode in 2006, this might not seem a big enough reveal if it were to happen.
One joke 'theory' that often does the rounds is that Ash's Father is 'Mimey', a Mr. Mime that lives with Delia Ketchum in Pallet Town, sharing a close bond with her, and only listening to her instructions despite technically belonging to Ash.
While this theory is clearly intended as a joke, a more recent theory proposing Ash may have spawned from a Pokemon may actually have some merit. Arceus, introduced during Generation IV, is a mythical Pokemon who created the Sinnoh Region, the creation trio Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina, and potentially the whole Pokemon world. It is, more or less, Pokemon's answer to God.
Some fans speculate that Arceus may also have 'created' Ash, perhaps posing as a human to woo Delia Ketchum. If this were the case, it would explain why Ash's Father is not in his life. But it might also explain why, particularly in the films, Ash has a habit of regularly encountering and befriending Legendary or Mythical Pokemon and helping them avert disaster. He may even exist for exactly this purpose.
With Ash's journey due to wrap up for good very soon, it's possible that the identity of Ash Ketchum's Father may remain one of popculture's great unanswered questions.. but that will never stop fans hoping for answers.