The New Pokémon Anime Proves Leaving Ash Was The Right Decision

The New Pokémon Anime Proves Leaving Ash Was The Right Decision

It’s been over a year since The Pokémon Company announced that Ash Ketchum, the long-time protagonist of the anime series, would be leaving the show and making room for new heroes. After a few final tribute episodes to Ash, who had led the show for a quarter century, Pokémon Horizons took over as the series’ primary syndicated cartoon and introduced its new characters to the world. That series has been airing in Japan for almost an entire year, and Americans have been waiting for far too long to be able to watch along. But the US finally has the first 12 episodes on Netflix, and folks, the Pokémon anime is gonna be alright.

To some, this probably doesn’t come as a shock. Ash has been a franchise figurehead for nearly three decades, but his one-track mind has also kept the show in a meandering limbo. While individual seasons had their own riffs on the franchise’s ideas of competitive sport, the Pokémon anime chiefly focused on Ash’s nebulous pursuit of Pokémon mastery, sometimes at the expense of engaging character development or actual stakes. Pokémon Horizons’ first 12 episodes have already bucked this trend with clear conflicts, arcs, and a whole lot of heart in the center.

Horizons follows Liko, a young student at Indigo Academy who travels from her home in Scarlet and Violet’s Paldea region to the original Kanto region from Red and Blue to begin her school life alongside her first Pokémon, the sassy, grass-type cat Sprigatito. Don’t worry, though. This isn’t a Generation I nostalgia trip with Scarlet and Violet dressings. Liko’s school life is quickly interrupted by a group of shady individuals who want a mysterious pendant her grandmother gave her. The search for answers takes her and a group of adventurers called the Rising Volt Tacklers around the Pokémon world.

Image: The Pokémon Company

I was immediately smitten with this cast. Unlike Ash, Liko isn’t confident. She struggles with social anxiety and is trying to find her place in the world as she travels far from everything she’s known. She doesn’t know for sure that she wants to be a Pokémon master like Ash, so she spends a lot of these early episodes feeling unsure of herself. Some of this is the usual stuff you expect a kid to deal with in a new environment. She overthinks every interaction or non-interaction and worries she might come off as weird or unlikable, and all those fears are reinforced when she and Sprigatito meet and don’t immediately hit it off.

The ways in which Liko is so diametrically opposed to Ash have already sold me on the idea that sunsetting the character was the right decision. Liko’s anxiety feels more relatable to me than Ash’s unending optimism, and her journey already seems more compelling than the pseudo-sports anime our retired hero facilitated. Not only is it endearing to see someone so new to this world trying to find her place in it rather than barreling toward a destination, but those questions and conflicts give Horizons more momentum than much of Ash’s run ever had. I’ve always said Pokémon is best when it’s not beholden to being about a Pokémon Champion, and removing that framing is already making for memorable storylines and relationships.

Image: The Pokémon Company

Rather than generating episodes that feel like a tour of a place the characters are passing through as some arcs of Ash’s series did, the Rising Volt Tacklers travel throughout the Pokémon world with an overarching narrative purpose. As the group searches for answers about Liko’s pendant and the shady organization that wants it, they feel like a rag-tag group of swashbucklers who are each lovable in their own way. Some standouts include Friede, the group’s Commander who juxtaposes Liko’s timidness with an unabashed audaciousness, leading the group with his captain-hat-wearing Captain Pikachu, who carries his trainer’s smugness. But there’s also Roy, who I was surprised didn’t show up until the third episode, given he has been so heavily marketed as the co-headliner of the new series.

Roy, much like Liko, is tied to some mysterious history in the Pokémon universe, having been given an ancient but sealed Poké Ball by his grandfather which he keeps without knowing what monster rests inside. As the history behind the artifact becomes clear, Roy, in all his childlike gusto, is compelled to join the group, and quickly comes to feel like a character with a clear sense of purpose. All of this is so well tied to the Pokémon universe without being a direct retread of anything that’s come before, so each episode of Horizons introduces new threads that are interesting to pull at and watch unravel.

While I still would love to see Pokémon one day return to the biting wit of its earliest seasons (Horizons has some funny moments but largely retains the anime’s sanded edges), what sticks out to me most is that the first 12 episodes of the series give me something to theory-craft around. There’s a forward momentum to this series that it feels like Pokémon has been missing, largely because it stuck with one protagonist for 25 years. Wiping the slate clean, writing around specific mysteries, and giving its new heroes something concrete to seek out rather than a nebulous idea, feels like the pivot Pokémon has needed for years. I don’t know if Liko and Roy will be the face of the franchise for the next 25 years, but it’s encouraging to see that their arcs aren’t future-proofed in the way Ash’s was. A child who doesn’t age but can travel across the world capturing Pokémon, winning battles, and trying to be a master doesn’t have to grow up. But I can already imagine who Liko and Roy will turn out to be. That’s a future worth watching play out rather than checking in on for the highlights.

The Cheapest NBN 1000 Plans

Looking to bump up your internet connection and save a few bucks? Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


One response to “The New Pokémon Anime Proves Leaving Ash Was The Right Decision”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *