Ash Ketchum set social media alight recently as he finally became a Pokémon Master, but there could be more to his victory than 22 years of hard work. The Pokémon anime series first aired in 1997 and, mirroring the game releases, starred Ash as a budding trainer intent on catching and raising a team capable of toppling the Pokémon League and earning him the title of Pokémon Master. Strangely, for an anime series aimed at a younger audience at least, Ash failed in his quest and only made it to the last 16 of the tournament. Ash's first loss perhaps made sense at the time - the character was still a relative rookie, after all, and the release of Pokémon Gold & Silver set up a whole new region to explore.
Fast forward to 2019, however, and Ash's losing streak at the Pokémon League makes for a grim read. Despite showing immense growth as a trainer and picking up victories in several smaller tournaments, Ash failed to win a further 5 Pokémon League efforts, and it took until 2016 for him to even reach a final, finishing runner-up in the Kalos league. This uncanny ability to choke has surprised not only casual Pokémon fans who dropped out of the anime after the Kanto/Johto regions, but also dedicated viewers, who were particularly upset by Ash's controversial loss in the Kalos final.
The current incarnation of the Pokémon anime series, Pokémon Sun & Moon, sees Ash pick up his long-awaited first Pokémon League victory and become the inaugural Champion of the Alola region. The news spread like wildfire in the real-world, as mainstream news outlets covered the completion of Ash's story arc, over two decades in the making. Unfortunately, therein lies the troubling likely motivation for Ash's victory - the completion of his story.
Earlier this month, before Ash's big win aired, the next iteration of the Pokémon anime series was announced but, in an unexpected twist, the show didn't take the Sword & Shield name from the upcoming game releases, and was instead confirmed simply as "Pokémon." This led fans to speculate that the new series could be a complete reboot - a suggestion bolstered by an official synopsis, which revealed that episodes would take place across all regions of the Pokémon landscape. Since the Pokémon franchise has already rebooted Ash in the movie chronology, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the same happened on the small screen, and fans quickly began worrying whether the Ash of their childhood was heading for the exit.
Since that announcement, Ash Ketchum has finally become a Pokémon Master, but as Twitter celebrates with the eternal pre-teen, the victory is bittersweet. The primary reason Ash has never previously won a Pokémon League tournament is to keep the character's underdog status intact and to propel him on to the next adventure. As painful as it may be to watch Ash constantly lose his biggest matches, Pokémon works better when its central character is an enthusiastic young protagonist that has something to prove, rather than a super-strong Champion whose name is known across the land.
By finally cementing Ash's status as an elite trainer and fulfilling his 22-year goal to become a Pokémon Master, the anime series is not only bringing his story to a natural close, but moving the character into a position where he can no longer be that plucky, tenacious trainer from Pallet Town. Combine this with the TV reboot rumors that had already begun circulating, and it truly does seem like the writing is on the wall for Ash Ketchum.
Fortunately, there is still one way Ash can maintain a presence in the Pokémon TV series. With the latest version of the show slated to span various regions, from Kanto to Galar, the emphasis will likely be on several different characters, rather than a single lead and their companions. In this format, Ash could act as an elusive champion type of figure that the new generation of trainers is striving to reach, similar to Red in the Pokémon Gold & Silver games. This setup would offer the best of both worlds - the anime gets a fresh angle, Ash isn't written out completely and there's no need to revert the protagonist to an underdog once again.
Pokémon is currently without a release date. More news will arrive on September 29th.