Ash Has Won a Pokemon League?
Ash the very best like no-one ever was!? Craig talks about the new Alola League Champion and the anime's future...
HOLY **** HE DID IT!!!
Sorry, let’s try this again…
September 15th, 2019 will now live on as a momentous date in history for fans of Pokémon as the day that Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town can finally be called ‘Champion’. In Episode 139 Birth! The Alola Champion!! he defeated Gladion in a tense Lycanroc vs. Lycanroc showdown to become the winner of the region’s first-ever Pokémon League, and therefore its first Champion.
The fan base has been absolutely ecstatic with this news after feeling robbed in 2016 when Ash failed to win the Kalos League. The death of old memes, the birth of new ones, fan reaction videos, cheering from large groups of people (I assume), you name the type of reaction and the fandom has had it!
What I want to discuss is a number of things:
1) The battle itself and if it lives up to the hype
2) Whether it makes sense that Ash has finally won a Pokémon League Championship
3) Where does the Anime go from here?
So I encourage you, dear reader, to sit back, relax, and enjoy this breakdown of the Alola League Final match by Fresh Take’s very own Pokémon Master (Cineworld awarded title).
The Final Match: Ash vs. Gladion
It’s hard to watch this match without making comparisons to Ash’s last outing in a Pokémon League Final in Kalos. The scope of this battle feels a lot smaller. Going from a high-tech stadium filled with flashing lights, raised platform battlefields, and thousands of spectators, to a fairly humble tropical setting, does have some psychological impact in terms of ‘does this battle actually matter?’
Not to mention that there is still the ongoing debate of the controversial art-style of Sun and Moon, making Ash, in particular, look more childlike and foolish. As much as this style allows more fluid animation, it does lose some of the grandiose qualities that X&Y’s heavier reliance on computer-generated content could provide in terms of camera angles and shots. Sun and Moon was always meant to be a slice of life anime, and it works. But this does have a trade-off in terms of the battles.
Where this battle does succeed, is the narrative. Lycanroc vs. Lycanroc as the final match is one that makes sense and is also fairly epic. The two have had a rivalry depicted throughout the show, and the episode even reflects that in the well-placed montages with the trainer’s narrations. The battle strategies involved are constantly evolving (also a good trick to save on the animation budget, using certain moves over and over), and even the last attack is perfectly symbolic of this series overall.
Throughout the battle, Gladion has been using the move Counter over and over (both as a strong damage dealer and as a psychological hurdle for Ash to overcome). To finish the match, Gladion uses one last Counter which gets countered by, you guessed it, Counter. This shows the idea of Ash learning from his opponents and using their strengths to his advantage (a constant theme with his battling) and also depicts really well his experience in this region as he was in the region attending a school with a strong focus on learning from all sources you can.
With this move, he wins the match and the emotion is strong! I felt genuine shivers listening to the crowd cheer for Ash, for his mother and Professor Oak discussing their pride, and seeing the bewildered look on Ash’s face. His time with the League isn’t quite over yet as the prize for victory is an exhibition match against the Masked Royal so we will see how that pans out!
Does this victory make sense?
Ash has been losing Leagues for 20 years now. What suddenly changed? Did anything change? Every single time the Regional League takes place, arguments begin over if Ash will or ever win. Obviously this has now changed, which starts a new debate: should he have won?
My answer is- I am genuinely surprised that he won, but yes it makes sense that he did.
First of all, let’s look at the cast of characters entered into the league.
Of the Top 16 who survived the Battle Royale, five of them are Ash’s classmates. Of those five, only one of them is seriously into battling: Kiawe. Also, Jessie and James of Team Rocket were competing. They have NEVER been known to be competitively capable. Then we have additional characters such as Samson Oak (who we have never seen battle), Mina (who we have never seen), and Faba (who should never have existed), so the potential for serious competition is growing thin…
So who could actually be considered a threat in this League? We have part-time rival Hau (of the main series game), Ilima (who was noted to have competed in other regions such as the Kalos League), Acerola (a trial Captain), Gladion (rival and eventual finalist), and Yaboi Guzma of Team Skull.
That’s five people (six if we’re generous and include Kiawe).
It became increasingly obvious to me throughout the series by seeing more and more episodes where characters introduced had less and less of a focus on battling that this was going to be the situation at the end. Either Ash was going to steamroll everyone or someone who I felt shouldn’t win was going to (harking back to the dark days of the B&W series where Ash lost incredibly disrespectfully to Cameron).
When they announced an Alola League was going to occur, I asked myself constantly: who is going to enter? This wasn’t helped by the fact they let ANYONE participate (seriously why not make Trial completion a factor at least?) Honestly I’m impressed with how they actually handled his rival matches. Guzma and Gladion, in particular, were presented and written in ways that made them much stronger than anticipated.
Where does the Anime go from here?
Honestly, the reason I’m surprised that Ash won is simply because I didn’t think the writers had the guts to go through with it.
A large part of the Anime’s driving force is Ash’s desire to get stronger and eventually become a Pokémon Master. The problem is that the show has established that getting the title of Champion is basically another name for Master. Also, once you win a regional tournament in Anime, you then go on to face the Champion League consisting of the Elite 4 and Champion. But that doesn’t exist in Alola. So is that it? Will Ash stay in Alola and face challengers for a while?
There is literally no way that the Anime will end Ash’s story with this victory. Ash’s character is one that thrives on exploration and fun. Even though Sun and Moon made him the most static he will ever be, it didn’t ever change the explorer aspect of him as he was constantly excited by visiting the various islands of the Alola region.
He has already technically won a League in the Orange Islands (including being the first person to beat their Champion, but that wasn't enough to stop his journey). Let’s not forget that Ash was offered something very similar to this possibility before and he turned it down. He won the Battle Frontier and was asked by Scott to become a Frontier Brain. These guys were tough trainers who battled him with legendaries! And he turned it down! Yeah, the Champion life is one that is not suited for Mr. Ketchum (apparently).
Ash’s future is one that won’t be determined for a few weeks. The prize for winning the Alola League was not only the title of Champion (and a really sweet trophy that makes my magpie senses kick into overdrive), but the chance to face the Masked Royal, a famous battle trainer in the region who happens to also be Professor Kukui (the first Champion battle you face in the Sun and Moon games). Even the dialogue from some characters after Ash wins is more focused on the upcoming battle. My prediction: Ash will lose that match and see that as his drive to continue to grow. I’m sorry if you hate me for saying it, but let’s be serious here.
The other sad reality (which people will actually hate me for saying) is that winning a Pokémon League means nothing.
We have seen 6 Championships play out in the past and how many of them have actually affected the wider story? None. No new Champions were crowned, they never really surface again. It was only from the Hoenn League onwards that we even knew the characters who won!
Do you know who John Dickson is? (I do but I’m obsessed). Do you know which League he won? (Yes a character called John Dickson is a League Champion). We even see an episode following the life of Unova League Champion Virgil after the Unova League, and he goes back to his old life as if nothing ever happened! Where is the consequence of this tournament?
Ash, I am a big fan. I have watched you and loved you for 22 years. I have seen every victory and every defeat. I am overjoyed that you have your first game origin League Victory (Orange League was a great win but was basically a glorified gym battle). The fact you have the title ‘Champion’ is amazing, but it’s one that won’t affect you greatly.
I’m glad about that! I don’t want this dynamic to change. So go to Galar, catch new Pokémon, battle new people, and keep going. Just know that to me, whatever happens, you’ll always be the very best. Like no one ever was...
Or will be…
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