The Pokémon Company announced Friday that the Pokémon anime, a beloved 25-season show that began in 1997, is moving on from its iconic main character duo of Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. The series going forward will feature two new protagonists, whose Japanese names (which may change in the English versions) are Liko and Roy, and who will sport the Paldea region’s starters from “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Pokémon Violet” — Sprigatito, Fuecoco and Quaxly.
The change is set to occur for Japanese viewers in 2023 following an 11-episode arc chronicling the “final chapter in Ash and Pikachu’s story,” according to the trailer. These episodes will feature the return of fan-favorite characters from throughout the series, including Gary Oak, Misty and Brock.
This passing of the torch comes after Ash, perplexingly still a 10-year-old in the show despite its 25-year run, finally won his first Pokémon championship, becoming the Pokémon World Champ after defeating the Galar region’s champion Leon from “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield.”
Ash’s journey throughout the anime has been to try to become a world champion — to be the best like no one ever was, if you will — and now that he’s finally achieved it, it makes sense for the series to try to move on to other characters and other stories … or does it? Below are our burning questions for the new season, and the Pokémon IP as a whole, following this groundbreaking announcement.
Is this an attempt to get more viewership, 25 seasons later?
There’s no obvious answer to this question, particularly because the show’s decades-long run across both cable and a bevy of streaming services make it difficult to accurately gauge viewership on a season-by-season basis. People simply consumed television content differently in the ’90s than they do nowadays. But we can look at fan ratings to determine overall enjoyment of the series, and draw some simple conclusions from there.
Ratingraph is a website where fans rate their favorite movies and television episodes on a scale of one to 10. Using this, we can determine which seasons resonated most with fans of the show.
Two things immediately jump out when looking at these results. One: The first few seasons of the show were easily its most critically acclaimed. Two: Fans really enjoyed Season 18-20, where there was a noticeable spike in ratings.
Why is this? Well, during those seasons, which took place in “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y’s” Kalos region, Ash was winning. A lot. In fact, Ash came the closest he’s ever come to winning a Pokémon championship up to that point, coming in second place to Alain despite having the BAMF team that included two fully evolved Dragon types and a Greninja with an Ash-specific mega-evolution.
It’s safe to say that fans enjoy watching the little underdog win. It is important to note, though, that the latest season, Season 25, has some of the lowest-rated episodes of the entire series, according to Ratingraph. So while a shake-up to the formula in response to these low ratings is conceivable, the fact is that fans resonate most with watching Ash win, meaning there’s no way to tell if that was truly the reason for the main character shake-up.
Moving away from any IP’s main character, much less that of a cartoon, is bold, but is it wise?
During the Dragonball franchise’s incredible run, the show has frequently toyed with the idea of moving on from its main character Goku. Since 1993, when Gohan, Goku’s son, achieved Super Saiyan 2 form before Goku to defeat Cell during the Cell Games Saga, Toei Animation tried to set up a passing-of-the-torch moment, even killing off Goku and presenting a scene that seemed to indicate Gohan was Earth’s new main protector.
However, Toei Animation recognized how popular Goku was among fans, so they pulled the old series trick of reviving dead characters on Goku once more to have him star in the leading role again for the series going forward. Fans’ desires and expectations, especially for shows catered to younger audiences, is extremely important to a company’s bottom line. Look at the incredible run of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which by the way, is still creating episodes for Nickelodeon, two decades later. While a Patrick Star spinoff is simultaneously being created, nothing seems to be slowing down the titular sponge.
For the Pokémon Company to consider moving on from Ash must be big. Is it simply because his storyline is complete? Will they backtrack similarly to how Toei Animation did? Only time will tell.
Is Team Rocket blasting off for good?
Jesse, James and Meowth are just as iconic characters as Ash and Pikachu. The blabbering villainous trio and their schemes never did succeed in catching Pikachu, and they sometimes even helped the protagonists and received fully realized character arcs of their own. More importantly, they are the only characters besides Ash and Pikachu to return season after season, constantly being a driving force for several episodes’s plots.
The Pokémon Company’s announcement makes no mention of the trio and their fates going forward, but their motivation is entirely linked to trying to capture Ash’s Pikachu after witnessing its raw power in the very first episode of the series. Without that motivation, is there any reason for them to return, other than how incredibly iconic and fun they are to watch?
Does the Pokémon Company feel they don’t need a ‘mascot Pokémon’ anymore?
While several fans might feel slighted by Ash’s exclusion in the series going forward, the far more revealing exclusion lies in Pikachu. Pikachu is easily the most iconic Pokémon of all time, and Nintendo and the Pokémon Company have heavily leaned into it as their mascot through several avenues. In fact, the Pokémon Company at one point felt that having a dedicated mascot for the franchise was so important that they needed it to become a duopoly. This is most evident by their push to make Eevee a co-mascot via the “Let’s Go Pikachu” and “Let’s Go Eevee” games. Some fans believe the thought process was that Eevee might be a counterpart that young girls could connect with more, as Pikachu represented more traits that young boys would connect with.
But the decision to exclude Pikachu the next season of Pokémon seems like a backpedal on this philosophy. If Pikachu’s not there, who’s going to take the mantle as the recognizable Pokémon fans will connect with? The designs of the starting three Pokémon of the Paldea region are among the better qualities of “Scarlet” and “Violet,” but are they really good enough to fill the Pikachu-sized mantle?
Will lazy Pokémon trainer designs continue?
One trend I absolutely despise with the Pokémon series is how lazy it’s gotten with the trainer designs. This is a trend that started since “Sun” and “Moon” introduced Ultra Beasts that look eerily similar to their trainer counterparts.
“Scarlet” and “Violet” continues this trend. One of the main characters, Arven, has a Mabosstiff that plays a central role in his quests. He also shares a color scheme, clothing and physical traits that make him look like the human equivalent of the Pokémon.
Now, with the released promo image of the Ash-and-Pikachu-less season, it seems like this trend is continuing. The female trainer retains the color scheme and looks of Quaxly, right down to the hair flip on the left side of both their heads matching. The male trainer is obviously the Fuecoco equivalent, sporting Fuecoco’s color scheme and emulated tuft of hair.
Pokémon trainers are most interesting when their designs aren’t one-to-one clones of the Pokémon they use. The more nuance a character can show in their designs, the better. Look no further than Ash and Pikachu as inspiration. Is Ash the human equivalent of Pikachu? Absolutely not. And that’s a key factor to what makes their relationship so dynamic.
Should we have seen this coming?
Pokémon has never been shy about saying goodbye to beloved characters, even all the way back to Season 1’s “Bye Bye Butterfree,” where Ash let go of the first Pokémon he ever caught. The episode ranks as one of the series’s most beloved, and it’s a frequent contender for best episode of all time due to the emotionally resonant storyline found within an anime primarily geared toward children.
Also, season by season, the show cycles out Ash’s travel companions for new ones. The final episodes of seasons are usually tearful goodbyes as Ash moves on from the people who made his journey in the region special to find new experiences in the next region. If the Pokémon Company has been comfortable with letting all these characters go over the years, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s time to let Ash and Pikachu go too.