Why Does Ash Ketchum Catch So Much Grief?

Longtime readers know that there are certain fandoms that I don’t know or belong to, so I don’t write about them. But, I occasionally enlist a friend who is into them to write a guest post. Evan Minton, for instance, has already written about Bleach and Pokemon. It’s been almost a year since we’ve heard from him, so I asked him if he had anything anime/manga-like on his mind. He did. This time, Evan has a few thoughts to share regarding various complaints he has heard about Pokemon’s Ash Ketchum character. Whether or not you have observed a similar trend, you might find his analysis of interest. (Btw, if any of those Pokemon names are misspelled, it’s all on Evan, ‘cuz I ain’t got a clue!) 🙂


Why I Think Most Of The Ash Ketchum Hate Is Unjustified

by Evan Minton

thumbnail_assshhhhhhAsh Ketchum is the 10 year old protagonist of the long running Pokemon anime series. On the morning that Ash was to see Professor Oak to get his starter Pokemon, he overslept and frantically ran to Oak’s lab, not even changing out of his pajamas, to see if there were any Pokemon left. Alas, Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle were all given to new trainers prior to Ash’s arrival. There was one left, but Professor Oak was reluctant to give it to him because it was unruly. This Pokemon was Pikachu. Ash finally gained Pikachu’s trust after protecting him from a flock of angry Spearow, and they’ve been best friends ever since. Ash has traveled 6 regions, collecting the 8 badges from each of them to get into the region’s league.

Ever since generation 5, I’ve seen Ash receive a lot of hate from Pokemon fans. People simply don’t like him. When you ask them why they hate Ash so much, these are usually the reasons they’ll give you:

“Ash Never Improves”

One reason Ash haters give to justify their hate is that Ash never gets better. He’s still at the same skill level that he was back in the first season. Given how long he’s been traveling and battling, you would have expected him to have improved by now, but he hasn’t. Or at least that’s what the Ash haters say. The fact is, this just simply isn’t true. Since February of 2016, I’ve been re-watching the entire anime series in commemoration of Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary. So far, I’m in the Black and White series. I was astonished to find just how many mistakes Ash was making throughout his Kanto journey. When he first started, it seemed like he was making a mistake every 5 seconds. From not waking up on time to get his starter Pokemon to trying to capture Pidgeotto without battling it first, Ash was making all sorts of errors. I was surprised by this, because Ash doesn’t make that many mistakes like those in more recent seasons. Often times, he’ll help new trainers accompanying him like May or Dawn with things like their first Pokemon capture or their first trainer battle.

Moreover, if you look at all of Ash’s League losses, you can see how much he’s improved. Ash made it into the top 16 of the Kanto League, the top 8 of the Johto League, the top 8 in the Hoenn League, the top 4 in the Sinnoh League, top 8 in Unova, and the runner up in the Kalos League. Ash went from being in the top 16 to the top 8 to the top 4 to being the runner up! Does that not sound like improvement to you? Now, the reason why he was farther from the championship in Unova than he was in Sinnoh is probably due to the fact that he scarcely evolved his Pokemon during that arc, whereas he fully evolved the majority of his Pokemon in the Sinnoh arc. This is a nice segue to my next point….

“Ash Never Evolves His Pokemon”

Unlike the last complaint, this objection isn’t completely unjustified. A lot of Ash’s Pokemon should have evolved but haven’t (e.g., Squirtle, Totodile, Gible, Buisel, etc.) and several of them evolved once but didn’t evolve to their final form (e.g., Bayleef, Quilava, Pignite, Boldore). However, two things need to be considered: for one, some of Ash’s Pokemon explicitly objected to evolving (e.g., Pikachu and Bulbasaur) and Ash simply respected their wishes. He would be a jerk if he forced Pikachu to become a Raichu or Bulbasaur to become an Ivysaur, then a Venusaur, against their will. Secondly: one could argue that the Pokemon Ash has evolved and evolved fully outnumber the ones he didn’t evolve.

1: Caterpie -> Metapod -> Butterfree
2: Charmander -> Charmeleon -> Charizard
3: Krabby -> Kingler
4: Mankey -> Primeape
5: Pidgeotto -> Pidgeot
6: Treecko -> Grovyle -> Sceptile
7: Tailow -> Swellow
8: Snorunt -> Glalie
9: Phanpy -> Donphan
10: Turtwig -> Grotle -> Torterra
11: Chimchar -> Monferno -> Infernape
12: Starly -> Staravia -> Staraptor
13: Gligar -> Gliscor
14: Sandile -> Krokorok -> Krookodile
15: Pidove -> Tranquill -> Unfezant
16: Sewaddle -> Swadloon -> Leavanny
17: Froakie -> Frogadier -> Greninja
18: Fletchling -> Flechinder -> Talonflame
19: Noibat -> Noivern
20: Goomy -> Sliggoo -> Goodra

That’s a lot of evolved Pokemon! Ash certainly evolves many of his Pokemon, many of them have evolved all the way, some of them have evolved only partially. But, the ones who have evolved far outnumber the ones that haven’t.

league-losses“Ash Was Stupid For Leaving His Charizard At Charicific Valley”

So, back in the Johto arc, Ash came across a valley full of Charizard run by a woman named Liza. Ash’s Charizard challenged one of the (much larger) Charizards there and got its butt kicked. Ash left his Charizard there to train because of how much his Charizard enjoyed spending time there, and because it was one of the weakest ones there. Ash decided to leave it in the valley so it could train. Fans of Pokemon still rake him over the coals about this. But what exactly is the big deal? It’s not like Ash released Charizard or anything. Ash called upon Charizard several times since then to use in battles such as when he battled in the Johto League or when he took on Noland at the Battle Factory (during the Battle Frontier arc). Whenever Ash wanted to battle with Charizard, Liza would send him over. By the end of Ash’s Unova journey, Charizard was done with his training and came back to Ash for good.

Since Ash didn’t release or abandon Charizard, I don’t see why this is such a big deal. What Ash did in the anime isn’t much different than what some players do in the games. Players can leave one of their Pokemon at The Day Care to level up while they travel around the region. Once it levels up sufficiently, they go back and get it. That’s very similar to what Ash did with his Charizard.

“Ash Never Stopped Team Rocket For Good”

When people bash Ash (Hey! That rhymes!), they will often compare him to Red and say that Red is so much better than Ash. Who is Red? Red is the protagonist character that the players of the original Kanto games play as. Ash was actually based on Red. You could say Ash is Red’s anime counterpart. However, Ash and Red lead slightly different lives within their respective canons. Red won the Pokemon League on his first try, dismantled Team Rocket’s organization, and completed the Pokedex for Professor Oak. Ash has done none of that. Team Rocket is still around in Ash’s universe, and he keeps having to deal with the same two grunts (Jessie and James) over and over and over again.

However, although Ash never shut down the Team Rocket organization, Ash did stop Team Magma and Aqua from destroying the world through Groudon and Kyogre’s powers. He did stop Team Galactic from using Dialga and Palkia to destroy the universe and make another one ruled by Cyrus (the Team Galactic leader). He also made Team Plasma split up for good. And while I haven’t seen the XYZ season yet, I’ll bet he stopped Team Flare as well. So, when it comes to dismantling evil organizations, Ash beats Red 5 to 1!

“Ash Releases His Best Pokemon”

Okay, I’ll give the haters this one. I do loathe the fact that Ash has released several of his Pokemon into the wild. Although in his defense, there’s usually a morally sufficient reason behind it. In Butterfree’s case, Ash wanted his Butterfree to be happy starting a family with a female Butterfree after they crossed the sea. It was the mating season for the Butterfree and a lot of other trainers were releasing their Butterfree to do the same thing. Ash would have been selfish if he had refused to let Butterfree go. In Lapras’ case, Ash had already decided to release it as soon as they located its family. The only reason he had Lapras with him during his Orange Islands journey was so he could reunite his Lapras with its family, though Lapras was certainly a big help to him during his Orange League gym battles. At the time of writing this, I have sadly found out that Ash released his Greninja as well. It was a spoiler because again, as I said, I’m a whole season behind due to the fact that I’ve been rewatching the entire series from season 1, episode 1, to the present (I’m even watching the movies). I don’t know why Ash released his Greninja, but he has a track record of not letting his Pokemon go for no good reason. I’m very sad to find out that he released his Greninja because he was indeed one of Ash’s best Pokemon. Moreover, they had a strong bond, not nearly as strong as the one he shares with Pikachu, but it was every bit as strong as the bond he has with his Charizard and Infernape. That’s why they were able to use Greninja’s Battle Bond ability.

ash-and-all-his-pokemonConclusion

I could go on, but I’ll stop here for the sake of brevity. I do think some of the criticism lodged towards Ash is justified, but the vast majority of it is just nonsense. Truth be told, I think the real reason people hate Ash is just because he keeps losing Pokemon League battles. I’ll admit, I’m annoyed at that as well. It’s been 20 seasons since he vowed to become “The greatest Pokemon Master of all time!” and the farthest he’s ever gotten to achieving that goal is becoming the runner up of the Kalos League. However, that isn’t enough reason for me to hate him.

I wish the anime writers would replace Ash just like the haters do, but this isn’t because I hate Ash, but because I like him. I like Ash. I want to see him succeed in becoming League Champion. If that means having to replace him as protagonist in the season that proceeds, so be it! If the anime writers think people won’t watch the show if it doesn’t have Ash and Pikachu in it, they are sorely mistaken! Many people loved Pokemon Origins and the fans were more excited about Pokemon Generation (a mini series of short animated clips recapping moments from the video game series) than they were the upcoming Sun and Moon series. If they made a full time anime like origins, the ratings wouldn’t suffer one bit. On the other hand, I would be a little sad to see Ash and Pikachu go, since they’ve been the main characters for so long, but I’d be more thrilled at seeing him FINALLY achieve his dream.

Final conclusion: Ash may not be “the very best like no one ever was” yet, but it’s unwarranted to say that “he sucks”. Let’s just say you don’t become runner up of a major Pokemon League tournament by sucking.

Yeah! Give poor Ash a break, guys!

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One comment on “Why Does Ash Ketchum Catch So Much Grief?

  1. Here’s the biggest faux pas that the anime created for itself. In its zeal to never change its main character, it has simultaneously damaged that character by sacrificing his character development. That’s fine for characters intended to stay stagnant, like Charlie Brown who stayed young for decades. But for a serialized show like Pokemon? Where the main premise is the development and growth of not only the people, but the pokemon, it introduces huge issues of continuity.

    The anime writers want a fresh start in each new generation so they can introduce new characters and pokemon. But this is at the cost of straining credulity by having Ash leave his strongest pokemon behind and then act like he forgot everything he ever learned about being a pokemon trainer. It also means, as Evan pointed out, that he’s never allowed to win a tournament. Because if he does, he’s suddenly a pokemon master and has achieved his goal!

    Here’s what the anime should have done: Ash’s character arc peaked during the Johto league IMO. He should have WON that league, and then the next generation of the show should have shifted focus to the new game protagonists. That way you get a new character and a fresh start without having to fudge things and only half-way remain committed to your continuity. You eliminate the lack of character development, because you’re developing a new character every few seasons. You also gain the ability to bring back characters like Ash as older experienced veterans who can help the new generation. Character development!

    Another perk: you avoid the silly shipping wars that tear the fandom apart.

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