Last year, in the halcyon days of 2019, Ash Ketchum, after having spent a good twenty years spinning his wheels and throwing his balls with little to show for it, finally won his first Pokemon league tournament. (Here's an article about it from CNN of all places.) I've had opinions on that victory, but I've kept them to myself for a good ten months, partly because I wanted to let fans enjoy their moment, mostly because I didn't want fellow columnist and Pokemon fanatic, Daniel Dockery to kick my ass. But with enough time having passed and Dockery hopefully distracted with the latest season of the Pokemon anime, I think it's finally safe to say that Ash's victory in the Alola league was bullshit.
Sorry. I know this was a moment of great healing for many a fan, so much so that even CNN had to report on a cartoon, but Ash's championship needs an asterisk put next to it like a shortened NFL season or a Baseball player caught taking steroids. I mean he doesn't even have a full battle. The Alola league finals call for you to only use three Pokemon when the standard amount is six. But my complaint goes well beyond the soft battle format. Take a look at his championship-winning battle.
Ash's Lycanroc is getting quite literally rocked the entire match by Gladion's Lycanroc. Gladion's Lycanroc is delivering counters like a service worker at IKEA up until Ash has the brilliant idea to counter Gladion's counter with a counter. It begs the question of why Gladion didn't just counter Ash's counter of a counter with another counter, but perhaps he was too stunned to speak by the sheer stupidity of the concept. Ash wins the match, but even that doesn't fully explain why this victory feels so hollow.
Ash's Alolan competition is a bunch of patsies when compared to the heavyweights he faced in leagues prior. Take, for example, Tobias, who Ash faces off in the Sinnoh Semifinals. Tobias has a freaking Darkrai, a legendary Pokemon who, up until that point, wiped out the opposing teams of everyone he faced. Ash, however, battles ferociously with his Sceptile and manages to take Darkrai down.
Then Tobias brings out another legendary and wipes the stadium gutters with Ash, but we're still proud of Ash because the level of difficulty was so high and he rose to the occasion. Now compare that with Ash's semi-final opponent in Alola (another 3v3 battle instead of 6v6), Guzma, who's signature Pokemon, Golisopod, is characterized by cowardice. Ash kicks his ass, but you can see why Ash using 6 Pokemon to beat one Darkrai is more meaningful than using 3 Pokemon to get by this guy. I mean, the other semi-final contestant is essentially Ash's sidekick, Kiawe. We know he's not going to win shit because Ash has been using him as a practice dummy throughout the entire season. He also mainly uses one type of Pokemon, which is flouting about the most basic rule there is in Pokemon battling.
In fact, Ash's past teams were much stronger than his Alola squad. In what world does it make sense that Ash's Greninja isn't a champion, but Melmetal, having just evolved in the final battle, is one?
I guess this world. The lesson of Pokemon isn't "train hard and be the very best" so much as it's "move to a weaker division and dominate." But maybe, with the latest Pokemon series being a soft reboot, that gives them a chance to give us something better.
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Top Image: The Pokemon Company