One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
This is the first of what will, in principle, be a monthly
“series” of investigations into topics chosen by the unfathomable whims of my
shadowy advisors, the Dark Council. The
Council is made up of everyone donating at least $12/month to me on Patreon – at
the moment that’s one person, the newly appointed Lord President of the
Council, Verb, who therefore gets THE SUPREME POWER to dictate the direction of
these studies. However, if you value
what I do, think I deserve something in return for my work, and would like me
to maybe someday be able to do more of it, YOU TOO could be inducted into the
Council’s hallowed ranks, nominate topics for future months, and vote on them
(listen, bribing your way to power and prestige is totally on theme with the
whole “cult” thing I’m going for here).
Here is the prompt I was given this month:
“I’ve often thought about the episode of Indigo League in
which Ash’s Butterfree is released in order to join the migration, and it’s
caused me to wonder the effects that similar migrations might have on Trainer
culture, with their inherent desire to remain with their chosen partner Pokemon
potentially conflicting with the Pokemon’s own desires.”
So let’s talk about Pokémon migration and what happens when
Pokémon leave their trainers!
They shoulda made Ash win the Sinnoh League! Ash was at his peak, his rivalry with Paul was such a huge part of that series and they had a 3-episode climactic battle and everything. They literally had to bring out a troll character with multiple legendaries out of nowhere just to stop him! They coulda made Ash win and retired him as the protagonist, and started anew for the Unova series (which woulda worked perfectly because the fifth gen was the reboot gen anyways). Do you agree?
Sinnoh is actually the series that I’ve seen the least of, so I don’t know if I can comment on the appropriateness of that moment specifically. In general, though… I don’t know, people always bring up getting rid of Ash as something that would be great for the anime and revitalise it, but I don’t think I’m convinced. For one thing, Ash is pretty iconic by this point and I think the fanbase would inevitably be deeply split on any possible replacement. For another, Ash’s ingrained cluelessness is actually a useful character trait for the lead in a story about exploration and discovery, because the audience can learn with him, so any replacement would need to resemble him in some important ways anyway. I don’t think Ash is played out; I think the whole premise of the Pokémon anime and its “Pokémon journey” format is played out – so arguably the better solution is to do exactly what Alola is doing and try to abandon that premise.
In the episode Extreme Pokémon, the day care man gave ash a (teal? blue?) egg in a glass case and he said “when the pokémon hatches, use the pokéball on top of the case to hatch it with.” So… is that what’s happening when you receive eggs that already have a pokéball from the day care man? (incidentally, was that the larvitar egg, or is it another pokémon?)
(I don’t know the dialogue from that episode offhand, but I think you mean to say “use the Pokéball to catch it with,” not “hatch it with,” because if Pokémon actually cannot hatch without a Pokéball then we have some serious problems here)
I suppose it must work something like that? I mean, we can hatch eggs even if we have no Pokéballs in our inventory, and the baby Pokémon have Pokéballs automatically, so unless we envision Pokémon somehow hatching with Pokéballs, someone must be supplying free ones with every egg. You can probably read into this, if you choose, all kinds of sinister things about being born into slavery (which could certainly be a very interesting way to take it), but I don’t think you have to for it to make sense. If you think of the main functions of Pokéballs being protection and transport… well, no one wants the most vulnerable Pokémon on their team to be forced to walk everywhere and have nowhere to retreat to in case of danger or injury. And the alternative – just releasing an infant Pokémon into a potentially hostile environment with no caregiver because you happened not to have any Pokéballs at the time – is clearly lunacy. I mean, in practice we do that in the games all the time and in astonishing numbers, but you sort of have to give them points for trying…
(also I believe the egg you’re referring to is the one that eventually hatches into Ash’s Phanpy)
Now safely back in Pallet Town, Ash has to start preparing for the Pokémon League tournament – and in order to do that, he has to visit Professor Oak to find out when and where the tournament actually takes place (evidently, the answer is: in exactly two months, at exactly the same place as every year – the Indigo Plateau). It apparently never occurred to him before now to look this stuff up. When he arrives at the lab with Misty and Brock, Oak is apparently more excited to see Togepi than to see him, but nonetheless welcomes the gang into his sitting room, where they find out that – as always – Gary is two steps ahead of Ash. They are almost immediately at each other’s throats, but Professor Oak protests that it would be a shame for there to be a feud between Pallet Town’s two “top trainers” – to the indignant disbelief of both. Ash and Gary snipe each other for a while as the Professor examines their Pokédexes, and then it’s time for a tour of his facilities.
Wishful Thinking: The anime is getting rid of Ash, and is going to start the next generation’s anime with a totally new protagonist. And YOU have the opportunity to design them~ What sort of character do you design?
Hard to say… a lot of Ash’s existing personality traits are actually kind of useful ones for a main character to have, like it’s actually good for your main character in a fantasy world to be a little bit clueless, because the audience can learn about the world as they learn, and Ash’s enthusiasm for battling and capturing Pokémon are important for getting people to buy into the main premises of the franchise. So it’s probably good to keep those things… to an extent, anyway. But what might be different? Well, it would be nice to have the protagonist be a girl, for a change… and we could contrast Ash, who is if anything overly friendly with Pokémon he’s just met, with a character who has a bit more difficulty bonding with Pokémon, and has an initially more standoffish relationship with them, more like Gary… add a very curious, analytical bent, sort of like Red from Origins, to play into the Pokédex quest and the theme of exploration… something like that, I think.
I thought they made the switch from clefairy because they wanted a more gender neutral pokemon and clefairy was too pink and girly? Or is that just a rumor that’s never had evidence?
Dunno. It would kind of make sense? I can’t find anything reputable online that discusses it in any detail. Most people who talk about the decision are pretty clearly extrapolating from Bulbapedia’s rather bare-bones account.
I can’t remember ever actually seeing this episode as a kid. I was missing out; I really like this one. It makes for a great opportunity to get back into one of my old favourite subjects, the ethics of Pokémon training, and to start asking new questions about whether the series considers Pokémon to be ethical agents in themselves, or merely instruments of their trainers. Seriously, if I had my way this is what the whole series would be about.
Ash and company are innocently strolling through the woods when they hear the cry of “stop, thief!” and see a suspicious-looking man carrying a bag of loot fleeing pursuit. Ash, not one to take this sort of thing lying down, commands Pikachu to stop him, but the more observant Pikachu has noticed that the man is carrying a handgun and, to Ash’s annoyance, refuses to attack… until a Growlithe bursts from the undergrowth and tackles the thief, causing him to drop his gun. Pikachu merrily begins blasting away and brings him down, but the nine other Growlithe who arrive immediately afterward, led by Officer Jenny #40, don’t seem particularly happy. It turns out that Ash and Pikachu have just interrupted a training exercise and assaulted a plainclothes police officer. Whoops. Jenny quickly gets over it once she realises it was an honest mistake, and invites Ash, Misty and Brock back to the police station for a hot meal. This particular Jenny runs the academy that trains Kanto’s police dogs, specially drilled Pokémon capable of taking on humans with firearms at relatively low risk to themselves. Jenny and Misty both admonish Ash for ordering Pikachu, who has no such special training, to attack an armed man, which annoys and offends him. He asks for Jenny’s permission to enrol Pikachu in her training program so he can become stronger. Jenny warns him that the training is difficult, but gladly allows it. The next morning, she wakes Ash and Pikachu at 4am for a race against one of her Growlithe – and Ash and Jenny will be running too, because a trainer should never expect more of his Pokémon than of himself. Ash and Pikachu are faster than Jenny and Growlithe, but are defeated by their obstacle course (which Jenny completes in her high heels). While Ash and Pikachu recover, Brock tries to remind Ash that Pikachu is great even without special training. Ash responds that he wants Pikachu to keep getting even better, though Pikachu himself doesn’t seem so sure anymore.
Then Team Rocket crash through the wall of the academy in the Mutt Cuts van from Dumb and Dumber, pull on some gas masks, and start blasting away at everyone with canisters of Gloom spores.
I really feel sorry for other anime shows that have to trudge through the bleak desolation of existence without Jessie and James to brighten their lives.
This week, Jessie, James and Meowth have gotten it into their heads that it would be a good idea to steal all of Jenny’s Growlithe and use them to commit crimes, because the irony is just too delicious to pass up. Jenny insists that her Growlithe would never be party to Team Rocket’s criminal schemes, but Jessie and James seem unconcerned, and pull out more gas canisters – this time to dose everyone with helium. Between the overpowering stench of the Gloom spores and the helium raising the pitch of her voice, the Growlithe can’t recognise Jenny’s scent or the sound of her voice, and stop responding to her commands. Jessie and James then change into police uniforms, produce voice synthesisers and use Jenny’s own voice to command the Growlithe to arrest her, which they do, taking ropes in their mouths and tying her up. Meanwhile, Ash, Brock and Misty have stupidly left their Pokéballs back in the station’s dormitory, so Pikachu is all they’ve got. Jessie tries to command him too, using Ash’s voice, but Pikachu is not impressed; Brock claims that Pikachu knows Ash by what’s in his heart, and can’t be fooled by a cloud of foul-smelling gas and a voice synthesiser. Pikachu unloads a Thunderbolt on the Growlithe, but there are just too many for him to handle on his own and he quickly runs out of power. Jigglypuff appears, tries her song, finds that the helium renders her enchanting voice powerless, and wanders off again. Finally, Jessie orders one of the Growlithe to attack Jenny, but as it bites down on her wrist, she looks into its eyes and invokes the Power of Friendship to remind it who she is. Team Rocket try to command the others to deal with her, but their synthesisers choose this moment to malfunction, and the Growlithe turn on them and chase them away. The episode ends with Jenny commending Ash and Pikachu on the strength of their partnership: “you two recognise what’s in each others’ hearts, and that’s what count. I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Also Brock uses one of the discarded voice synthesisers to deliver an incredibly creepy ode to himself in Jenny’s voice. Because he is Brock.
Let’s talk about these Growlithe. Jessie, James and Meowth have – for once – actually come up with a pretty damn solid plan for their daily mischief. To a human, it seems ludicrous that a Growlithe could have trouble telling Jessie in a police uniform apart from Jenny – who is, after all, their trainer – but humans rely on sight a lot more than most animals do and consequently have unusually good vision compared to other mammals. Most mammals – like dogs – compensate with their keener hearing and sense of smell, and this episode suggests that many Pokémon are much the same. Once Team Rocket have deprived the Growlithe of their usual means of identifying their masters, they have only their sub-par vision to fall back on, and they are left following orders given in the voice they were trained to obey. Then Pikachu comes in. Pikachu isn’t fooled; although Ash sounds and smells nothing like himself, Pikachu can recognise his trainer anyway – not immediately, he has to think about it for a few seconds, but he gets there. I suppose the obvious explanation is that Pikachu is simply much more intelligent than the Growlithe (an attribute that is sorely neglected in the games’ portrayal of many Pokémon). He’s been paying attention to what’s going on, and although he doesn’t exactly understand what Team Rocket have been doing to confuse him, he knows they’re an underhanded lot and is on his guard for tricks. As a result, he’s able to decide to ignore what his trainer’s voice is telling him and do what he figures makes sense, whereas the Growlithe latch onto a voice they know and follow its orders, even though Jenny has been standing right there the whole time and they should know who she is even if they can’t hear or smell her clearly. What’s interesting is that the Growlithe eventually figure it out too – or, at least, one of them does – by staring into Jenny’s eyes and having a touching flashback montage of all their happy times together. The obvious explanation – the Growlithe aren’t as intelligent as Pikachu – doesn’t quite seem to make sense anymore; the tone of the scene doesn’t fit with Growlithe suddenly putting together the information and figuring out that Jenny’s voice is being faked. It’s a lot more consistent with Growlithe knowing who she is the whole time and only now wondering why he’s being ordered to attack her.
Pokémon follow orders; this we know. The Growlithe, in particular, are probably being trained to follow orders from any police officer (or perhaps simply from any Jenny; there are non-Jenny police officers in this episode, but I get the impression that the Jennies are the ones who most often work with Pokémon), so they aren’t necessarily supposed to have the same deep personal relationship with their handlers as Pikachu does with Ash. There’s a further point to this, though. Jessie and James are both quite convinced that they will be able to order the Growlithe to commit robberies, and Jenny is equally convinced that the Growlithe would never do such a thing. The story is structured so as to suggest to us that Jenny is actually wrong – her comment is immediately followed by Team Rocket successfully taking control of her Pokémon and ordering them to restrain her. The difference between their views is that Jenny regards the Growlithe as moral agents in and of themselves, capable of understanding that certain actions are ‘wrong’ and refusing to take part in them, while Jessie and James think that they’ll be able to order the Growlithe to do just about anything once they establish themselves as authority figures (and I feel I should emphasise again that the structure of the episode immediately shoots Jenny down). I’m reminded of Ekans’ dialogue in Island of the Giant Pokémon – “Pokémon not bad; Pokémon do bad things because Master bad” – which suggests that, although Ekans and Koffing are totally aware that they are aiding their trainers in committing morally repugnant acts and would never do such things on their own, this is trumped by the principle of loyalty to their masters. The Growlithe – who have been taught to view anyone who knows how to command them as ‘master’ – would find themselves in just the same position if they were taken by Team Rocket. When you think about it, this has to be the case in order for Team Rocket even to exist as an organisation: their modus operandi is to steal Pokémon for use in other crimes with more direct rewards. This could hardly be practical if a significant number of stolen Pokémon were likely to rebel against trainers who committed crimes. As Pikachu and Growlithe remind us, though, Pokémon are in fact capable of understanding that an action is ‘wrong.’ It’s much easier for Pikachu – probably because Ash places an unusual amount of emphasis on treating his Pokémon as friends and individuals – though even Growlithe, raised specifically to be part of a squad, can do it when ordered by a new ‘authority figure’ to attack an old one.
In short, Pokémon do understand human morality – it’s just that most of them are used to thinking that it doesn’t apply to them. They simply don’t see themselves as moral agents – thinking about that stuff is their trainers’ job – unless they’re been strongly encouraged to, one way or another. I think this is what Brock and Jenny are talking about when they say that Ash and Pikachu “understand what’s in each other’s hearts;” Pikachu recognises Ash not merely as his trainer, but as an objectively good person, and would continue to emulate Ash’s moral character even if they were somehow torn apart. As she acknowledges at the end of the episode, Jenny and her Growlithe could stand to learn a lot here.
Oh, no. Not this episode. Please, not this episode. I still tear up just from remembering this one. You’re meant to be together, Ash, don’t you see that!?
Ladies and gentlemen, Pikachu’s Goodbye.
Ash and his friends, travelling through deep woodland, encounter a large group of Pikachu, whom Ash’s Pikachu tries to befriend. Except for one very young Pikachu, they all flee, but when the little one comes to talk to him, the rest begin to gather around as well… until Ash decides to stick his ugly mug in and scares them all off again. Pikachu is depressed for a while, but when the group sets up camp later on, he gets his chance to be a hero. The little Pikachu he met before falls into a fast-flowing river, and he jumps in to save her… and… fails miserably, getting swept along with her in the current. Luckily, the rest of the Pikachu colony manage to snag them by grabbing onto each other’s tails and forming a chain, anchored in a tree by the side of the river. Pikachu is once again accepted into their culture, and joins in as they sing Pikachu songs under the light of the moon. Brock makes a remark about how wonderful it is for Pikachu to be with his own kind, which… is kind of a douchebag thing to say, actually, because it gives Ash the idea of leaving Pikachu behind and presents him with a horrible dilemma that keeps him from getting any sleep, and really Brock would have to be pretty much the most insensitive person on Earth not to realise that would happen, but hey, whatevs. While Ash is staring glumly into the campfire, he hears a Pikachu screaming, and runs back to where he left them. Team Rocket, of course, have shown up and trapped all the Pikachu in a shockproof net, declaring “everything in this forest is public property!” “And we’re members of the public!” As they fly away in their balloon, Ash gets Pikachu to chew a hole in the net, then uses the net Jessie and James had thrown at him, Misty and Brock as a trampoline so all the Pikachu can jump out safely. Pikachu finishes off the balloon, and another half-assed plot is foiled by our plucky heroes. The Pikachu all start celebrating, and Ash smiles sadly before going back to the campsite to pack everything up. Pikachu follows him, but Ash tearfully tells him not to make this any harder than it already is, and runs away.
No, Ash, no! What are you doing? This is your best friend! Pikachu’s your soulmate! Screw Brock and Misty; they’re douchebags and they’re only going to leave you anyway! You’re going to cry yourself to sleep and then wake up in the morning and Pikachu won’t be there, every night and every morning for the rest of your life, and you’ll regret it forever! No other Pokémon is ever going to understand you like Pikachu does; heck, no human is ever going to understand you like Pikachu does! You’ll never truly be happy again without him, DON’T YOU SEE THAT?!
Where’s my handkerchief…?
Anyway. Just when Ash thinks he’s run far enough, the whole Pikachu community run up over the crest of the hill, with Ash’s Pikachu at their head, and cheer as he runs back to his trainer. The world is set to rights, and that, I can guarantee you, is the very last time Ash gives even a second’s thought to what life would be like without Pikachu.
The second of today’s episodes, Snow Way Out, has always aired as episode sixty-something, but that’s clearly a lie since Togepi still hasn’t joined the team and Charmander hasn’t evolved yet; it’s probably meant to have happened shortly after Pikachu’s Goodbye. At a fork in the road, Ash decides to lead the group over a mountain, despite Brock’s objections, and gets them all lost in a blizzard. Meanwhile, Jessie is singing to James and Meowth about how much she loves snow, because during her ridiculously impoverished childhood her mother used to make food for her out of snow and-
Anyway, they fire up the balloon, say their motto, and realise that the balloon is floating away with all their food. Jessie declares that she will make snow rolls with soy sauce, and they build an igloo and attempt to stay warm through the night with the power of imagination. That is pretty much their contribution to this episode. Back to the kids. To Ash’s annoyance, Brock wants to build a snow cave and bunker down for the night because, really, trying to get off the mountain at night in a blizzard is not Ash’s best plan ever. Unfortunately a blast of wind blows Pikachu down a slope, and Ash chases after him. Brock tells Misty not to follow, because… because he’s sure Ash will be just fine on his own, and knows that splitting the party never has any negative consequences, I guess? Wow, Brock is being a real douchebag in these episodes. Ash finds Pikachu dangling off a cliff and has Bulbasaur save him, but realises they can’t climb the slope to get back up to Brock and Misty. They decide to dig their own cave. Charmander blowtorches his way into a snowdrift, Ash calls out Bulbasaur and Squirtle, and they all seal up the entrance with packed snow before gathering around Charmander’s tail to stay warm. After a couple of hours, Charmander’s flame begins to fail. He insists he’s fine, but Ash recalls him, Bulbasaur and Squirtle, despite their protests, and… takes off his jacket and wraps their Pokéballs in it to keep them warm… because… okay, yes, whatever. Ash and Pikachu argue for a while, until the wind blows a hole in the cave mouth. Ash chooses to block it with his body rather than with more snow, and orders Pikachu to get in his ball. Pikachu refuses point blank, while Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and Pidgeotto rebel and burst out of their Pokéballs. Ash gives in, and they all huddle together for the rest of the night. In the morning, they find Brock and Misty, and learn that they had a warm, comfortable night after Onix tunnelled into some hot springs. Apparently they never tried to find Ash. They have, however, found Team Rocket’s balloon. Brock has his Vulpix fire the thing up, and the kids drift safely down from the mountain on the wind.
Okay, I could whine for a bit about how there are no Pichu in the community of wild Pikachu and that makes absolutely no sense, but I think we all know that’s a cheap shot since Pichu didn’t exist when this episode was made, and anyway these episodes are about Ash’s relationship with his Pokémon in general and Pikachu in particular, so let’s talk about that.
Pikachu’s Goodbye and Snow Way Out prominently display Ash’s sense of responsibility, which seems to be a significant part of what being a trainer means for him. He is supposed to keep his Pokémon happy, healthy and strong, and faced with a potential life-or-death situation his top priority is to protect them (I’m not convinced that wrapping his Pokéballs in his jacket actually affords his Pokémon any additional protection from the cold, but clearly Ash believes it does, and cares more about that than about keeping warm himself). Way back in I Choose You, Ash related to Pikachu as a master to an underling, and Pikachu very nearly died; the traumatic events of Ash’s first day as a trainer have almost certainly stayed with him, and I suspect those memories may be a factor in his overwhelming instinct that he has a duty to keep his Pokémon safe, especially Pikachu (nearly losing Metapod in Challenge of the Samuraimight well be weighing on him too). This doesn’t apply so much to battles; any reasonable trainer will pull a Pokémon out of a fight if it’s taking too severe a beating, and Ash is no exception, but he’s generally fine with having his Pokémon stay in and tough it out until things get truly dire. This is presumably because Ash, like most humans in the Pokémon universe, regards battles as being beneficial for Pokémon on some level; it’s how they grow stronger and learn about their own powers. The moment he begins to feel that one of his Pokémon is in genuine danger, though, Ash will act quickly and often recklessly to deal with the threat.
An important point for these episodes is that this relationship I’m describing, as sweet and loving as it generally is, is still a relationship where Ash sees himself as the superior – almost like his Pokémon are his children. In Snow Way Out, this is obvious; he takes it upon himself to shut his Pokémon up in their Pokéballs to protect them, even when they make it clear that they would rather stay outside and endure the cold with him. Honestly, I can’t help but wonder whether this gently, quietly patronising attitude is part of what sticks in Charmander’s craw so badly after he evolves into Charmeleon. In Pikachu’s Goodbye too, Ash agonises over what’s best for Pikachu, watching him immerse himself in community life and weighing up the obvious benefits Pikachu would enjoy if he stayed against the friendship they share and their experiences on the road together. However, he never takes what would seem to be the obvious course of action by asking Pikachu about it. He listens to what Brock has to say on the subject, he spends hours making up his mind, and he eventually decides to leave Pikachu behind because he genuinely believes that Pikachu will be better off without him, but throughout the episode he seems to consider it entirely his decision. He also seems to feel that the downsides of releasing Pikachu are entirely on his side; he’ll lose his best friend and most powerful ally, but is prepared to endure that so Pikachu can reap the obvious benefits. Again, you could make a parent-child comparison out of this; once they’ve taught their children everything they can, most parents want their children to leave and make their own lives, because it isn’t right for them to be under their parents’ thumbs forever. I suspect Ash’s logic here, while obviously different, is nonetheless parallel.
Pikachu himself never seems to have considered leaving Ash even for a moment. He clearly enjoys his time spent with the wild Pikachu, but more as a nice break and a good way to spend some down time than anything he’d actually want to do long term. Near the end of the episode, when Ash is packing up to leave, Pikachu bounces out of the bushes ready to leave with him, giving not the slightest hint that he suspects anything is wrong, and won’t hear anything Ash has to say on the subject of parting ways. Likewise, in Snow Way Out, Pikachu refuses Ash’s direct order to get into his Pokéball, and all the other Pokémon burst out of their Pokéballs soon after, reminding Ash that they don’t actually have to do anything he says. They follow his orders because they trust him, but if he’s clearly doing something stupid, they are quite capable of ignoring him, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re not his children; they’re his friends. This, I think, is the lesson Ash is supposed to take out of these episodes. Although his heart’s in the right place, his ideals are often rather simplistic. In this case, while few trainers understand better than Ash the need to care for Pokémon and raise them with kindness, Ash doesn’t quite realise yet how independent a Pokémon’s mind can be and how important it is to consider each individual’s distinct values and desires. Luckily, Pikachu loves him enough to be patient while he learns.
Ash has been messing around with only five Pokémon for three episodes now, and it’s time for him to get a new one to refill his party (what, use Krabby? Don’t be ridiculous!). Unfortunately, the Pokémon he winds up catching to fill his sixth slot… presents certain methodological issues for Ash’s training style; put it that way.
So, on the way out of Saffron City, Ash stops at a payphone to check in with Professor Oak and show off his Marsh Badge. Oak gives him a kindly old man smile and a “well done,” but explains that Gary already has five badges, a few dozen Pokémon, and a Krabby about five times as big as Ash’s. Ash isn’t really that far behind in terms of badges, but clearly his efforts at capturing new Pokémon aren’t even on the same scale as Gary’s, and the Professor is noticeably disappointed. I’ve argued this before, but it bears repeating: I believe Gary’s training style (catching and regularly using dozens of Pokémon) represents what’s normal and expected, at least for a full-time trainer, while Ash is something of an oddball. Misty and Brock are broadly supportive of Ash’s more idiosyncratic style, but hearing about how many Pokémon Gary has caught gets Ash in the mood to capture something – and, wonder of wonders, a wild Mankey chooses this moment to appear before the group. Mankey seems like a far less volatile Pokémon than the games make him out to be, more mischievous than irritable, and Brock shares a rice ball (which the English translation charmingly refers to as a “donut”) with him. Of course, while Mankey is eating, Ash – because he is Ash – decides to lob a Pokéball at him. Mankey blocks the Pokéball with the rice ball and furiously prepares for battle. I can’t help but think he’s insulted – not only did Ash attack Mankey while he was eating, he apparently didn’t think battling Mankey was worth the effort and figured a Pokéball right off the bat would be all he needed. Mankey’s subsequent behaviour reinforces my belief; he isn’t happy with just beating Ash up, but also steals his hat and imitates him in a mocking dance. This doesn’t ring of self-defence to me; this is a deliberate response to a personal insult. Now, I’ll repeat part of that in case you missed it: Mankey steals Ash’s hat.
He steals Ash’s hat.
Ash won his hat in a competition by sending in an ungodly number of postcards. It is a piece of exclusive Pokémon League merchandise, emblazoned with their official insignia and probably worth more than all of Ash’s other worldly goods put together, and gives him limitless street cred (or so he would have us believe). He can deal with not catching Mankey but he will not abandon his hat. Damn right, too. Behind each and every one of history’s great men and women is a nice hat. Unfortunately Mankey is simply far too acrobatic for Ash to catch him, and he doesn’t try to use any of his Pokémon to help (Mankey stole his hat; this is a matter of honour). At this point Jessie and James show up for their daily attempt to steal Pikachu, and Jessie gives Mankey a good solid kick when he gets in the way. This… turns out to be a mistake. See, as we’ve seen already, although Pokémon in the anime do need to gain battle experience to evolve, the actual moment of evolution is often triggered by strong emotion. Mankey hasn’t actually defeated a single Pokémon yet, so he hasn’t ‘gained experience’ in this episode… but being kicked aside by Jessie makes him furious enough to push him over the edge and evolve him into Primeape. The situation quickly deteriorates and soon everyone’s mind is focused on that timeless adage, “I don’t have to outrun the Primeape; I just have to outrun you!” Eventually Ash decides that, damnit, he’s a Pokémon trainer, and trainers don’t run from Pokémon – they battle their asses and catch them! Primeape is remarkably unconcerned by Bulbasaur and Squirtle’s attacks, but Charmander’s Rage allows him to grow stronger and stronger as Primeape pummels him, and he eventually strikes back with a devastating Flamethrower (with Ash’s hat still sitting on Primeape’s head – luckily, Pikachu dives in to rescue it at the last minute). Now that Primeape is weakened, Ash manages to catch him in a Pokéball… but soon learns that controlling him is something of a tricky proposition.
Ash thinks about using Primeape a couple of times during the next few episodes. However, he never actually pulls him out because it’s not worth the risk and, frankly, Primeape Goes Bananas has left some pretty heavy mental scars on the poor kid. A few days after leaving Celadon City, however, Ash and company run into what they assume is a wild Hitmonchan jogging down the road, occasionally stopping to practice a flurry of jabs. Ash wants to catch the Hitmonchan – and fair enough, too – but instead of just having Pikachu fill his face with lightning like he usually does, he decides to have Pikachu engage Hitmonchan in a boxing match. This goes about as well as you might expect. I could tie this in with one of my pet theories by saying that Hitmonchan would never acknowledge Ash as a worthy trainer and submit to capture unless he was beaten at his own game, since there are no other skills he respects, but at some point my ideas get too far-fetched even for me, so this time I’m just going to go with the good old standby, “Ash is a moron.” During the battle, a man named Anthony – who turns out to be Hitmonchan’s trainer – arrives to berate him for letting his guard down and finishes up the battle. His daughter, a young woman named Rebecca, appears soon after to beg Anthony to come home, but he ignores her and returns to his ‘gym’ (the “Fighting Spirit Gym”, which is more like a real-world gym – and a pretty dingy one at that – than a Pokémon training facility). Rebecca explains that Anthony is obsessed with winning an upcoming tournament for Fighting Pokémon, the P-1 Grand Prix, and has basically ditched his family so he can train with Hitmonchan (y’know… kinda like how Ash leaves his mother all alone for months at a time). Because he hopes someday to go on a date with her, Brock declares that their group will help Rebecca. His hare-brained scheme is for him and Ash to enter the tournament themselves and defeat Hitmonchan… using his Geodude (a Pokémon weak to Fighting-type attacks) and Ash’s notoriously insane Primeape. I’m honestly not sure how they imagine this would help, assuming it even worked, but hey, at least they’ll be doing something.
Meanwhile, Jessie and James also want to get in on the tournament so they can win the fabulously expensive championship belt, so they beat up another contestant, leave him trussed up and gagged in the men’s room, and steal his Hitmonlee. The tournament begins, and Ash’s Primeape is matched up against a Machop, who beats him up for a while and then lobs him straight out of the ring with Seismic Toss. Ash runs to break Primeape’s fall, and thus manages to earn his trust; Primeape then leaps back into the fray and becomes pretty much unbeatable for the remainder of the tournament. Jessie’s Hitmonlee wallops Brock’s Geodude in the first round, predictably enough, and goes on to win all of his matches as well, as does Hitmonchan. When Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee fight in the semi-final, Meowth slips under the floor of the ring and uses some glue to slow Hitmonchan’s steps and give Hitmonlee the edge. Then… Rebecca inexplicably leaps in front of Hitmonchan to block a Mega Kick, and Anthony has to leap in front of her to keep Hitmonlee from pulverising every bone in her body. I think this is supposed to be the moment when he learns his lesson and becomes a good family man again. I don’t know; the whole moral of this one is pretty screwy. Anthony surrenders, and Jessie faces Ash in the finals. Meowth tries to cheat again, this time by electrifying the floor at a prearranged moment when Hitmonlee leaps into the air, but Pikachu spots him mucking around beneath the ring and sabotages his plan, levelling the playing field. Primeape does his thing and beats Hitmonlee to a pulp, winning the P-1 Grand Prix and the bejewelled championship belt.
Then… then Anthony compliments Ash on his Primeape’s awesomeness and suggests “hey, why don’t you let me train it for a while? I’ll turn it into a true P-1 Champion!”
Quite aside from the fact that Primeape already is a P-1 Champion… he and Ash have finally started making some progress towards a healthy relationship, the whole point of the exercise was to get Anthony to cut down on training to spend time with his family, and Primeape would, without a doubt, be Ash’s strongest Pokémon by a significant margin once they trusted each other enough for Ash’s superior tactical expertise to be a factor (yes, I just credited Ash Ketchum with “superior tactical expertise” but I’m comparing him to an insane man-ape-pig). The truly boneheaded thing about all this is that Ash says yes. Before I saw this episode again, I had planned to tie this back to the argument I made when I looked at Bye Bye, Butterfree, and point to this as a natural and healthy example of a trainer and Pokémon parting ways once they’ve each learned something from one another to allow the Pokémon to get on with its own life, but when I watched it I realised that, actually, no, this conclusion pretty much undoes everything positive Ash and his friends have just achieved. We can’t even really say anymore that getting rid of the insane Primeape is a plus because Primeape actually likes Ash by the end of the episode, enough that his eyes water when he waves goodbye. So instead I’m going to take this episode as showing the effects of addiction to Pokémon training on a person’s family. Honestly, Rebecca is getting off fairly lightly compared to Brock and his siblings, Ash’s mother, and Sabrina’s parents (oh, Sabrina’s parents…) but it’s clear that her family is suffering from all the hours Anthony spends with his Hitmonchan rather than looking after them. Now that the tournament is over, he’s happy to make promises to be a better father in the future, but what will happen when the next big event is coming up? Especially now that he’s managed to sweet-talk Ash into feeding his addiction by handing over a proven Fighting Pokémon champion?
This ending just annoys me. I hope you’re happy, Ash.