Fans bid farewell to Ash Ketchum after 25 years as Pokemon hero
The final episodes of Ash Ketchum’s journey will be available on Netflix
His journey to become the best, like no one ever was, inspired millions. But after 25 years as the main protagonist of the Pokemon anime series, Ash Ketchum and his beloved Pikachu are saying goodbye.
"It's a sad day to see it end. But ultimately, I guess it does have to end at some point," said Pokemon fan Mark Cliffe, who lives just outside London, Ont.
While the series will carry on through new characters, Ash Ketchum's final episode in Pokemon Ultimate Journeys: The Series hits Netflix in the U.S. on Feb. 24 after already airing in Japan. The Canadian air date has not been announced yet.
The episodes promise to include the return of fan favourites, such as Misty and Brock. It will also book-end a story that many people, who now may have kids of their own, grew up watching.
That show first aired in 1997 in Japan. It came to North America shortly after, and children across the globe quickly became captivated by the adventure, spawning a business of trading cards, video games and countless toys.
It's not hard to see why. Ash Ketchum represented the dreams many kids have of action, adventure and friendship, and the show delivered through a fantasy world full of creatures called Pokemon.
A generational story
Since its inception, Ash and Pikachu have starred in 25 seasons of the animated show and 27 movies.
And while it could be easy for those who grew up with Ash to feel old when they hear the story is almost over, Cliffe said he actually feels the opposite. Cliffe runs a YouTube channel, The Millennial Collector, dedicated to collecting Pokemon cards.
He says Pokemon actually keeps him feeling young.
"It gives me an opportunity to interact with people that are older than me or younger than me," said Cliffe, who estimates he has tens of thousands of Pokemon cards.
"[Pokemon] built something generational … I think it allows me to still kind of act a little bit like a kid and act a little younger than I am."
Cliffe has been rewatching the early seasons with his seven-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, and has gotten to see the show through a new perspective.
He says he still gets emotional seeing some of the more poignant moments of the show, like when Ash rescues the ever-popular Charmander, or says goodbye to one of his first Pokemon, Butterfree.
"Seeing my daughter, I would say, have some emotional reactions and attachments to certain characters and storylines, I think it's just been really fun to see them explore that world that I had when I was a kid," said Cliffe.
Learning from Ash Ketchum
Ash Ketchum first came to Canadian television sets in September of 1998.
The story began with Ash sleeping in on the day he was supposed to receive his first Pokemon. By the time he showed up, all the other Pokemon were spoken for, leaving him stuck with Pikachu. But over the course of those 22 minutes — and the series — the two forged a powerful bond.
For Veronica Taylor, who voiced the 10-year-old for eight seasons, that first episode is still her favourite.
"I think we were all drawn to the energy of it, the colour of it; the commitment that Ash makes in that first episode to Pikachu, I think — in some ways — we all made to this series," said Taylor.
When Taylor jumped into the role, Pokemon was still in its infancy, and she didn't have any expectations of what it would be.
But soon she'd be seeing kids play with Pokemon cards on the subway, debating who their favourite monster was. The first film, Pokemon: The First Movie, grossed $172 million US at box offices worldwide.
Throughout the show — despite being the hero — Ash fails, sometimes more often than he succeeds. It took more than two decades for Ash to complete his goal of finally becoming a Pokemon champion. But he didn't actually end up catching them all, like his name or the show's original theme would suggest.
And that's why Taylor believes he's resonated with people for so long.
"People have asked me, 'Oh, you know, did you feel bad that he lost so much, you know, so many battles?' And I honestly didn't remember that he lost. I just remembered the friendships he made and the achievements …. So I think that teaches us something, too," said Taylor.
"I think the fact that it's not a given that Ash will win, nor will his friends win, but how they work together to accomplish something, and sometimes that's winning, I think that's the magic of it all for sure."
Taylor, who lives in Los Angeles, will watch the final episodes soon. But, she admits, it's going to be tough.
"I think I will watch them and share in the sadness and the great joy of accomplishment," said Taylor.
"It's like when you have a great piece of chocolate, you kind of don't want to eat it because you don't want it to end. So I probably will take a giant bite and just sit on the couch and enjoy."
Pokemon's real test will be what it does with its new adventure. The series will continue through two new protagonists, Liko and Roy, which will premiere later in 2023. And those new characters have big shoes to fill.
But Cliffe and other fans speculate Ash Ketchum will return in some fashion, potentially as a mentor to the new characters.
"I really like to believe that they won't just end the story where it is, but I think it is still satisfying to see that, through the hard work and dedication, he achieved his goal," said Cliffe.