Last month, long-time Pokémon anime protagonist Ash Ketchum finally became the top trainer in the world after defeating Galar Champion Leon in the Masters Eight Tournament. It was the culmination of a 25-year arc for the anime, with Ash and his partner Pokémon Pikachu finally being crowned the champion after years of crushing defeats. Now that Ash has accomplished what he set out to do in that first episode back in 1997, what’s next for him and Pikachu? It sounds like a walk into the sunset, as it’s just been announced the next season of the Pokémon anime will introduce two brand new central protagonists in his stead.
Ash’s story will conclude with 11 special episodes next year, that will also cap off the current Pokémon Journeys: The Series. These episodes will start rolling out on January 13 in Japan, and will feature returning friends and familiar faces like Brock and Misty, the original buddies who accompanied Ash in the early seasons of the show. All of this will make way for the next season, starring new protagonists, called Liko and Roy in the Japanese version. Not much is known about these new characters, but they’ll be accompanied by Pokémon Scarlet and Violet starters Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly.
Following the news, long-time Ash voice actors Rica Matsumoto and Sarah Natochenny posted their own tributes to the character online, with Natochenny saying, “No matter what lies beyond his final chapter, he’ll live forever in the hearts of many generations to come.”
While it is probably a good thing for the Pokémon anime to shake things up after over two decades of following Ash and Pikachu around the world, man, this hurts. Having these two characters be a long-time fixture in Pokémon has made them a touchstone for every fan, young and old. We even saw how much people cared about Ash’s rise to champion when it happened, as fans who had long stopped watching the anime were posting congratulatory statements about how proud they were of the never-aging 10-year-old. But now that he’s a Pokémon master, there’s not much left to do with his story. So maybe now the Pokémon anime can set its sights on new stories that help it explore the world in a new context.
That seems to be an overarching theme of Pokémon right now, as even the games have shifted their stories to aspects of the universe that go beyond competitive sport. Both Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet had stories that weren’t so fixated on being a Pokémon League champion, and they were much more compelling for it. So as sad as it is to say goodbye, maybe Ash needed to accomplish his goals so the anime could find new ones.