Saturday, August 20, 2016

After Nearly Two Decades, 'Pokémon' Still Refuses to Let Ash Win

I had long stopped watching Pokémon.  I had grown out of it when I was a teen – though I was able to watch some episodes and movies that my younger sister was watching then.  But when she also grew herself out of her Pokémon fandom (she’s now a teen), there were no longer any opportunities that piqued my interest to check it out.

Until the latest episodes of Pokémon XYZ series that is.  It drew my curiosity when I got wind of the buzz that Ash could finally win a Pokemon League at last.  It seems that Ash has finally upped his game, becoming a more proficient trainer than he was in years past, and he makes it into the finals for the first time (the furthest he had reached prior to this was in the Final Four), versus Alain.
For the first time in years, I watched the anime.  Many of us old-time Pokémon fans – who loved the series when younger, but grew older and eventually stopped watching it due to being frustrated of Ash’s poor character development and the show’s unchanging unsophisticated storytelling – got back to watching it in order to see Ash win.  Even though we have developed and held the general idea that Ash sucks (and Red is way better), we nonetheless rooted for him to win it.  Everybody just wants to see him win.  Heck, even Team Rocket was cheering for him.

The title for the deciding episode is “Kalos League Champion! Ash’s Decisive Big Battle!”, and what its trailer seemed to hype was that Ash would win.  In it, the battle came down to this:
  • Into the stretch, Ash had a three vs. two Pokemon advantage.
  • Then, Ash was left with two fresh Pokemon, while Alain had two Pokemon that had already battled.  Ash had the health advantage.
  • Then, Ash was left with a Greninja – water-type – and Alain with a Charizard – fire-type.  Ash had the type advantage.  Sure, Charizard evolved to Mega Charizard X, but Ash-Greninja had beaten a Mega Sceptile – a Pokemon he’s in a disadvantage with – in the semi-finals.
  • Prior to the start of the Greninja-Charizard duel, Ash had summoned a rainstorm via Goodra.  This boosts Greninja’s attacks.
  • Ash simply had an overall advantage.
So everything – narrative-wise, hype, Pokemon logic – was pointing towards Ash winning.  But guess what?  He still friggin’ lost!
What complete BS is this!
I understand that the show is primarily catered for children.  And it’s important that they learn that no one always wins (except Batman and Bugs Bunny), and when experiencing a loss, it’s important to overcome the pain, show class and sportsmanship, and aim to do much better next time.  But that’s a message that kids had the opportunity of learning from five previous instances, during Ash’s five previous losses.  On the other hand, Ash getting the win is long overdue.  This time around, it would have been much preferable to show the kids that never giving up despite failing several times (in the case of Ash, five times), continually working hard for it, could eventually be rewarded with the victory (though not always the case, but it would have been a newer, better message).
This anime’s stubbornness to let Ash grow both in age (in real time, he should be around 29 now; ten remains his status quo age) and as a character is a big reason why I think Digimon had been a better anime series than Pokémon.   Ash starting off as an inept loser is fine.  The problem is Ash’s character arc, or lack thereof, keeps him that that way for nearly two decades!  The remarkable struggles and development he undergoes in each season or movie are seemingly regularly discarded – or have no effect on him – as he reverts back to an “inept loser” state once a new season starts.  And thus there has never been a satisfying payoff for this character, which a Pokemon League win could bring.

To finally give Ash the win in this latest Pokemon League was very important because it would have been an indication that the show was finally willing to push his character arc forward.

But the anime’s showrunners still refuse to do such thing.  After all these freaking years.  Worse, after unfairly implying that it’s finally going to happen this time around.  I know there’s nothing technically wrong with what they did.  That’s simply how advertising works.  Still, there’s something horrible by the way they draw us old-time fans back to the show, letting us expect for something we’ve longed to see for years, and then not delivering it.
"I'm Ash Ketchum.  I love to lose."
I just hope that when the showrunners decide to finally let Ash win it all in the Pokemon League (is this even still possible?  There’s this rumor going around that there’ll be a new character replacing Ash in the anime), it would be sufficiently gratifying to make up for all of this crap.

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