Ash Ketchum is the iconic hero of the Pokémon anime series, but he’s not always as squeaky clean and innocent as you’d expect. In his seemingly never-ending quest to become a Pokémon master, he’s not afraid to bend the rules and use illegal tactics to win his battles. Even in the much-loved first season of the anime, he barely won any of his gym badges using conventional means.
Ash’s cheating takes a lot of different forms, from severly breaking the rules to more subtle ways of achieving unfair advantages. If the Pokémon authorities had been a bit harsher on Ash, his journey might’ve ended up looking very quite different. For one thing, he would’ve had to work a lot harder and not rely on any of his usual dodgy methods.
This can be infuriating for the fans who slaved away for hours on their Game Boys to win battles, defeat gym leaders, and earn badges. There’s often one rule for people playing the RPG and a completely different one – or no rule at all – for Ash in the anime. He wants to be the very best like no one ever was and he’s willing to flout the rules regularly in order to make that happen-- at least he's determined.
If you don’t believe that this loveable protagonist was actually a downright cheater, read on, and discover the 15 Times Ash Cheated To Win Pokémon Battles...
15 Using Friendship And Luck Instead Of Actual Tactics
One of the most annoying things about the Pokémon anime is that Ash doesn’t really do anything to win his battles. On a lot of occasions, rather than getting defeated, training up, learning some lessons and trying again – which is what you have to do in the handheld games – Ash just leans on his friendship with his Pokémon, as well as his abundant supply of luck, and just magically pulls a win out every bag.
One particularly frustrating example of this came in Ash’s second battle against Korrina. Although Korrina’s Mega Lucario was more than a match for Ash’s Pikachu-- and was resoundingly thrashing it-- Ash gave Pikachu a bit of encouragement and suddenly the electric mouse managed to overcome its seemingly impossible adversary.
It’s arguably poor writing more than it is Ash deliberately cheating, but battles like this are still very annoying and frustrating to fans.
14 Mega-Evolving Greninja Without The Proper Stone
When the concept of Mega Evolution was first introduced, it was made explicitly clear that a special stone is needed to transform a Pokémon into its temporary Mega-Evolved state. As is often the case, though, it’s one rule for everyone else and one rule – or lack thereof – for Ash Ketchum.
Without using any sort of stone, Ash can call upon his Greninja to transform into a bigger, faster, and more powerful version of itself. This change isn’t strictly the same as Mega-Evolution because Ash and Greninja bond in the process and start sharing each other’s pain. The technique, which so far only Ash can use in the anime, has been named "Bond Phenomenon." Ash has used it to win battles numerous times.
This provides another example of Ash’s friendship with his Pokémon providing him with a huge boost that no one else gets to have. It’s not explicitly described as a cheat, but it doesn’t seem particularly fair either. Does no one else befriend their Pokémon?
13 Teaching Bulbasaur Whirlwind And Dig
One way in which Ash Ketchum is big ol’ cheater is his tendency to teach Pokémon impossible moves. For players of the handheld games, there was no option to teach Bulbasaur to use Dig or Whirlwind, but Ash had no trouble doing so in the anime.
Ash’s Bulbasaur learned Whirlwind first, using the move to deflect an attack from a Venonat in a battle against a trainer named Aya. This was later revealed to be a dubbing error: in the original Japanese version, Ash simply told Bulbasaur to "blow it away." However, this was lost in translation and Ash was left looking like a cheater with an unfair advantage to teach his Pokémon impossible moves.
There was no such behind-the-scenes gaff with the Dig fiasco, though. Bulbusaur legitimately used the move in a later episode in order to dig up some barren land and create a lake.
12 Breaking In And Putting Out A Fire To Win The Celadon Gym
Ash’s visit to the Celadon City Gym marked one of the many times that this cap-wearing protagonist walked away with a badge despite not actually defeating a gym leader. Players of the games, as well as the other trainers in the anime, got no such special treatment, so these dodgy badge acquisitions can definitely be considered cheats.
In one particular instance, Ash was denied entry to a gym, having insulted the perfume produced on-site. He snuck in disguised as a girl, before a confused Pikachu revealed Ash’s true identity. A brief battle with the leader, Erika, ensued. However, before long, Team Rocket broke in and set off some explosions. Ash helped extinguish the resultant flames and was given the Rainbow Badge as a thank you.
This is one of many examples of Ash doing a nice thing, and cheating his way to a badge – intentionally or not – without actually winning a battle.
11 Inventing the “Ice Aqua Jet” Hybrid Move
Ash also likes to combine moves and create special hybrid attacks that most other trainers, as well as anyone who has ever played the games, are not able or allowed to do. One particularly interesting example of this is when Ash utilized the "Ice Aqua Jet" move in a Gym Leader battle against Crasher Wake.
This move involves one Pokémon (in this case Ash’s Buizel) using the normal move Aqua Jet. Another Pokémon would then get involved, using Ice Beam to freeze the war and enclose the first Pokémon in "Ice Armor," protecting them from certain attacks and damage.
Given that Ash deliberately deployed this attack, which none of the Game Boy games allow fans to use, this is one of the more overt examples of Ash flouting the rules in order to win.
10 Using Haunter’s Comedy Skills In Saffron Gym
Here’s another story about Ash getting a Gym badge without achieving a proper victory. During Ash's first battle against Saffron Gym Leader Sabrina, Sabrina's Kadabra overwhelms his team and Ash is forced to forfeit the battle. Sabrina’s father advises Ash to go and catch a Ghost type Pokémon, which Ash goes and does. (At least he put some effort in this time.)
Ash returns two episodes later with a Haunter. This new Pokémon proves to have a quirky personality – it disappeares during the battle and Ash forfeits once again. On Ash’s third attempt, Haunter refuses to battle properly. It disappears for a second time before reappearing and pulling funny faces.
Haunter’s comedy routine has Sabrina and – thanks to a psychic link – Kadabra both in stitches. While the Leader and her prize Pokémon chuckle, Sabrina’s father declares Ash the winner. That’s not the way that battles work, but Ash accepts his badge and left.
9 Unfairly Using Overpowered Pokemon Versus Casey
Some fans have claimed that Ash cheated in his first battle with Casey. The female trainer put out a low-level Chikorita, which Ash defeated in a matter of seconds using his massive Charizard. Ash certainly wasn’t offering Casey a fair fight by putting out a third-stage, highly powerful Pokémon against a cutesy starter option. A nicer trainer would’ve sent out an equivalent Pokémon to make the battle more even.
However, players of the handheld games will surely recognize Ash’s tactics here. When you come up against a trainer with a very weak Pokémon, you don’t take your most powerful fighter out of contention just to be nice. Defeating an opposing Pokémon in one unfair hit is part of the fun of the games.
Still, this offers further proof that Ash isn’t always as caring as he seems.
8 Teaching Pikachu Impossible Moves
Let’s jump back to Ash’s tendency to teach his Pokémon impossible moves that no other trainers – in the games or the anime – are able to do. It wasn’t just Bulbasaur that Ash furnished with moves that it shouldn’t have been able to learn. Pikachu, the beloved mascot of the franchise, has also been given the wrong abilities.
In one of his many battles against Team Rocket, Ash instructs Pikachu to use Tackle. Pikachu obliged and the battle is won, despite the fact that Pikachu has never been able to learn this move in the games. Again, you could say that this is more of a continuity error than Ash actively attempting to break the rules, but it’s still not fair.
In a later episode, Ash’s Pikachu uses Leer against a Houndour, with Ash and the writers again ignoring the fact that this combination of Pokémon and move should technically be impossible.
7 Somehow Using Electrical Moves To Beat Ground Types
Ash often wins battles without learning anything or using any proper tactics. Instead of adapting to the opposition he’s facing, like you have to do in the games, sometimes Ash just uses one of Pikachu’s electrical moves and hopes for the best. It’s particularly frustrating when this works: like in Pokémon: The First Movie, when Pikachu’s Thunderbolt wipes out Raymond’s Golem.
This isn’t really cheating on Ash’s part-- it’s more like stupidity. The cheating, in this case, comes from the anime’s writers, who lazily let Ash use these silly tactics and yet inexplicably win battles.
This is particularly annoying for the fans who have struggled through the more difficult games, having to catch and train up specific types of Pokémon in order to win various battles. There’s no such struggle for Ash, however, who can just bash out a Thunderbolt and progress to the next part of the story without any damage.
6 Using Another Trainer’s Pokemon
In the Pokémon gaming world, you needed multiple handheld consoles and more than one copy of the game if you wanted to collect all three original starter Pokémon. However, in the anime, Ash manages to catch them all fairly easily. This is an unfair advantage in and of itself, but the way in which Ash procures his Charmander is particularly controversial.
In a memorable episode, Ash comes across a Charmander that has been abandoned in a rocky outcrop by a trainer named Damian. Ash takes pity on the cute fire Pokémon, and heals it up at a Pokémon Center. Damian later returns, claiming he had left Charmander alone in a bit to toughen it up, and now attempts to reclaim his Pokémon.
Charmander refuses Damian and decides to join Ash instead. Ash goes along with this, despite the fact that "you can’t catch other people’s Pokémon" is one of the fundamental rules of the series.
Perhaps Ash isn’t aware of this rule, or maybe he deliberately ignores it, but, either way, Ash uses his ill-gotten Charmander to win many battles (although at least it become disobedient as a Charmeleon and Charizard).
5 ‘Aim For The Horn’
Here’s another example of sloppy writing that makes Ash’s battle techniques seem very odd. In his battle against the Gym Leader Blaine, Ash sends out his Pikachu to battle a Rhydon. As any fan of the Pokémon franchise could tell you, Pikachu’s electric attacks should have zero effect on a ground/rock type like Rhydon.
Once again, the writers invent a way to win that no other trainer – in the anime or in the games – has ever been able to use. The cheat they make up for Ash and Pikachu is simple: aim for the horn. To our great surprise, this nonsensical move works, with Rhydon’s horn acting like a lightning rod, allowing Pikachu to dispense a knockout blow.
In the Japanese version of the show, Ash doesn't tell Pikachu to aim for the horn -- this instruction is only added in the English dub. Either way, though, this tactic shouldn’t work. The writers cheated/bent the rules purely so Ash could win.
4 Beating Jesse And James Instead Of Giovanni At The Viridian Gym
At the Viridian City Gym, Ash once again gets off lightly. Before Ash tackles the gym, fans see Gary’s entire party dispatched by Gym Leader Giovanni’s immensely powerful Mewtwo. Giovanni even lets Gary use two Pokémon at once, but his party is still no match for Mewtwo. So how on Earth is Ash going to beat this guy?
The answer, of course, is that he wouldn’t have to. Giovanni leaves to attend to some other business, taking Mewtwo with him, and leaving Ash with a comparatively easy battle against Giovanni’s Team Rocket lackeys James and Jesse.
Again, this isn’t exactly Ash’s fault, but it’s becoming painfully obvious that the writers have to bend situations around Ash so the hero of the story can have more wins. Although Ash didn’t actively cheat, Gary must have felt cheated and it's easy to see why.
3 Attacking Some Clouds To Give Swellow ‘Thunder Armour'
This is another one of Ash’s unfair hybrid moves-- those improvised team-up tactics that no else gets to use. In this instance, Pikachu and Swellow are caught in a particularly tough two-on-two battle when Ash comes up with the insane idea to have Pikachu attack some clouds that were gathering overhead.
Pikachu does as instructed, and the clouds soon send back lightning bolts aimed directly at Pikachu and Swellow. This inexplicably gives Ash’s two Pokémon "Thunder Armor," a golden glow that makes them impervious to attacks. It was a huge deus ex machina moment, with Ash suddenly inventing a bogus tactic and discovering a way to supercharge his Pokémon beyond the point of a fair fight.
Again, this move is so illegal that there is literally no way to use it in the games. No other trainer in the anime would try this, let alone get away with it, but Ash’s plot armor means he can do what he wants.
2 Not Finishing The Cerulean Gym Battle
Ash has another weird experience at the Cerulean Gym. He arrives and discovers that his pal Misty is one of four Gym Leaders, and that her three fellow Leaders/sisters had converted the battlefield into a water acrobatics display area. Misty’s sisters are about to give Ash a badge because they aren't able to battle him, but Misty intervenes and volunteers to do it.
However, once again, Ash doesn't actually have to win the fight in order to leave with a badge. Team Rocket attack the gym (can you see a pattern forming here?) and Ash saves the day. Rather than having to finish his battle with Misty, Ash is given the Cascade Badge as a reward for saving the gym.
No one else seems to get out of Gym battles by doing good deeds, and there’s certainly no way of doing this in the games, so it’s easy to see this as another cheat from Mr Ketchum. At the very least, he gets an unfairly easy ride.
1 Activating The Sprinklers Versus Brock
The most notorious cheat of Ash’s Pokémon career came in the very first gym he had to face: Brock’s rock-based Pewter City Gym. The battle wasn’t going well for Ash, and Pickachu was about to pass out. However, then one of Pikachu’s Electric attacks set off the gym’s fire-safety sprinkler system. Onyx is drenched, which weakens the powerful rock Pokémon and makes him vulnerable to attack.
Ash leaps at this opportunity, and orders Pikachu to attack. The hit is a critical one, turning the battle in Ash’s favour. Ash is a clear cheater in this moment, taking advantage of the sprinklers to unfairly turn the tide of the battle. He then has a crisis of conscience, and backs out of the battle instead of finishing Onyx off.
Brock comes running out the gym after Ash in order to give the young trainer the Boulder Badge. Ash hadn’t won the battle, but Brock was impressed by his kindness to Pokémon. This was the first of many battles in which Ash would use dodgy tactics and manipulation, and the first of many Gym Badges that he’d be given despite not actually defeating the Gym Leader. Are we really sure that he is a hero?
What do you think? Is Ash really a hero? Can you think of any other times where he cheated in Pokémon? Let us know in the comments!