Ash Ketchum is a legend. That goes without saying - the young trainer has been the face of Pokemon for several decades, travelling the world with Pikachu as they keep on encountering new and exciting challenges to conquer, all while refusing to age even a day. He’s been in countless iterations of the anime, several films, and is associated with the franchise in a way that is almost inseperable. However, recent months indicate that his departure could be on the way.
Back in 2019, as part of the Pokemon Sun & Moon anime, Ash finally won the Pokemon League and accomplished his lifelong goal of becoming Pokemon Master. It took literal decades, but he had now fulfilled a destiny that millions thought impossible, like it was little more than a benchmark to encourage endless adventures than an actual endpoint for his character arc. But it happened, and the event led many to theorise exactly what this could mean for the young trainer, or if he would soon be written out of the show’s world entirely.
It feels like a natural thing to happen given the storyline’s progression, and how Ash has done literally everything there is to do in the world of Pokemon without retreading old ground or risk undermining his own personality. Obviously, he is a self-insert for viewers wishing to have their own adventures in the world of pocket monsters, but even that perspective requires new blood every once and a while, even if it means Pikachu departs alongside him. It’s a tough choice to make, but I believe it to be a necessary one.
Pokemon Journeys: The Series saw the introduction of Goh, another young character who was eager to learn more about the world of Pokemon. He and Ash quickly became fast friends, embarking on myriad journeys together across their constantly evolving world. They both dream of catching every creature there is and becoming the very best, with Goh having a particular fascination with Mew. Much like Ash, he is eager to see the world and carve out his own place within it, and since his debut has embarked on a number of epic adventures that are now a fundamental part of the established canon. He’s important, and on an equal level to Ash, so could the character be his inevitable replacement? That’s a distinct possibility for so many reasons.
My generation grew up with the original anime. When I think Pokemon I think Ash, Brock, Misty, Nurse Joy, and Officer Jenny. The Pokemon Movie and Pokemon 2000 were cinematic events when I was a child, so much so that they were forever ingrained in my cultural consciousness. Pokemon was a big deal back then, and it remains a big deal today, but the context in which the series is absorbed has changed so much. It isn’t just the trading cards, anime, and the games. Pokemon has films, mobile apps, merchandise, anime, strategy games, photography games, fighting games, MOBA games, puzzle games, and so, so much more. It’s bigger than ever before, which means that a major evolution is almost inevitable. If this means the departure of Ash to help shape Pokemon for a new generation, it’s a bittersweet but necessary step forward.
Upon his debut, much attention was drawn to Goh’s androgynous appearance. While the character uses male pronouns, his appearance is decidedly less boyish than Ash. As a result, he can be a figurehead for a series that is no longer geared towards a specific gender, and can be universally appealing outside of archaic demographics. Pokemon is for everyone, and Goh proves that, and will continue to do so as his character grows and develops in the years to come. He’s friends with a number of new and existing characters, which means becoming the hero of the anime wouldn’t mean leaving behind the likes of Team Rocket and other personalities that have become so iconic over the years.
Above everything else, I feel Ash Ketchum’s departure would be a sign of growth for his character, and for Pokemon as a whole. Despite his young age, Ash has saved the world countless times and proven himself to be a friend to these unusual creatures like nobody else can. While he arguably cannot be replaced, and I don’t see Goh acting as a generic replacement for our existing hero - he’s a meaningful step forward of everything Ash stands for and so much more.
Goh has proven he can carry Ash’s legacy on his shoulders, and can pass that reputation onto his successor when that time inevitably comes around. The passing of the torch will be painful, and I have no doubt that the anime will have Ash go out on a spectacular high as he literally waltzes off into the sunset alone or with all of the friends he’s made along the way. Goh could be the future of Pokemon, but will always be looking back at the past that helped define him, and the present he continues to shape in his own image.
War. War sometimes changes.