Despite the fact that this is Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary, Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town is still 10 years old. However, he is not the same 10-year-old as he was in the first season of the Pokémon television series. Ash, like all of us who have played the video games, has been slowly growing up as a trainer all these years. Unlike us, though, Ash has never beaten the Pokémon League. He has never even been close, actually. Until now.
On, August 11, the 130th episode of the 19th series of the Pokémon anime aired. In this episode, Ash was finally battling in the finals of the Kalos Pokémon League, farthest he’s ever been before. We’ve seen Ash vs Gary, Paul, Cameron, and all his other rivals, but this battle is shaping up to be more epic than any of them before. And Ash might actually have a shot at winning on August 18, when the next episode airs in Japan.
First, let’s introduce Ash’s team and his opponent, Alain, for those who might have not watched the current series.
Well, you didn’t think Pikachu would disappear, would you? Pikachu has been Ash’s partner from the very first episode, and even if the two didn’t start off as best friends, they are certainly inseparable now. Over the course of 20 years Pikachu has built quite the resume, with a few powerful Pokémon defeated at its paws. These Pokémon include legendaries Regice and Latios, as well as dozens of evolved Pokémon, even multiple Raichu.
The second Pokémon that Ash caught in the Kalos region. Talonflame is already pretty fast and can increase its Speed by using Flame Charge and can strike back with a powerful Brave Bird. This Fire- and Flying-type Pokémon was brave enough to face off against a wild Moltres, even if it did not come out on top.
When Ash first met the Fighting- and Flying-type Hawlucha, it was called “The Forest Champion,” as it protected weaker Pokémon in its homeland from stronger bullies. Ash didn’t actually beat him in their first battle, but Hawlucha decided to join the young trainer anyway. It knows an interesting move, Flying Press, which deals both Flying- and Fighting-type damage.
This is another Pokémon that acts as a protector in its homeland. Ash actually released Goodra to protect its friends in the wetlands, but asked it to rejoin his party for the Kalos League. Goodra is an incredibly strong Dragon-type Pokémon that was only knocked out once in all the battles it has been in so far–and that ended in a draw, and it was in the Kalos League semifinals.
Noivern is another Dragon-type Pokémon on Ash’s team, and the second this season to face up against a Legendary Pokémon. It may have defeated Zapdos, too, if Team Rocket hadn’t interfered. Noivern was also able to face a Salamence and tie.
You might have heard of Ash’s Greninja recently if you have been reading up on some Pokémon theories lately. Greninja is the first Pokémon Ash caught in Kalos, and the two share a special bond, one that might even approach Ash’s connection with Pikachu. It was discovered during this season that Ash and Greninja can actually fuse their energies together and cause Greninja to take on another shape that has been called “Ash-Greninja.” While this change has been shown many times in the anime, what hasn’t been shown is an explanation as to why Greninja and Ash can do this.
Do you notice something about Ash’s team? I do! For once, all of his Pokémon, except for Pikachu (as the franchise’s mascot Pokémon, it will almost certainly never change) are fully evolved. While Ash has many evolved Pokémon total, there are usually a few on his team that don’t grow past their initial stage: Bulbasaur, Bayleef, Totodile, Gible, Buizel, Snivy, and Scraggy are a few.
Ash-Greninja–the key to victory?
In previous seasons, Pikachu was Ash’s sole ace. For example, in the fourth generation series, Pikachu was able to take out a Latios on its own where five of Ash’s other Pokémon fell to another legendary, Darkrai. While Pikachu seemed to have experienced a serious power drop in the beginning of the Best Wishes series, where it lost to a Snivy owned by a new trainer, Pikachu’s power is near maximum in this season. In the latest episode, Pikachu took care of two psuedo-legendary Pokémon, Tyranitar and Metagross, in the same battle. Ash now has two very powerful aces in addition to his four other Pokémon that have proven themselves to be quite competent themselves.
This is great and all, but why can Greninja take this form? We’ve been given some hints throughout the series that emphasize how important Greninja’s and Ash’s bond is and how this might be a part of something greater. We were first told of another form when this Pokémon was a Frogadier and hadn’t evolved yet. Kalos’s seventh gym leader, a psychic named Olympia, said to Ash that “Greninja [then a Frogadier] will reach new heights that no one has ever seen before, and the two of you will reach those new heights together.” This sounds a lot like Mega Evolution, right? This is what Professor Sycamore thought as well, though Ash and company didn’t think too much of it.
The transformation into Ash-Greninja is very similar to Mega Evolution when we look at it. It is temporary, only occurs during battles, the Pokémon changes shape, it requires a bond between a Pokémon and a trainer… But there are differences as well. Ash does not have a Mega Stone, though it is important to note that one other Mega Evolution, Mega Rayquaza, does not require a Mega Stone as well. Additionally, Ash also mimics the movements of Greninja while it takes this form, and when Greninja takes damage, Ash seems to feel pain as well. This goes way beyond the bond described in Mega Evolution–it seems as if the Pokémon and trainer actually become one.
Before we continue, you should also know something about Ash’s opponent, Alain. He is not some random trainer. Alain was the star of the Mega Evolution specials that aired alongside the anime. He has a Charizard that is capable of Mega Evolving into Mega Charizard X. This Pokémon is equivalent to Ash’s Pikachu in terms of strength-maybe even stronger. Alain was able to make it to the final round while mostly only using his Charizard, and in one of the specials Charizard was able to defeat 10 Mega Evolutions in a row, one of which was an Elite Four member’s Pokémon.
Alain, of course, has five other Pokémon, or else he wouldn’t be able to compete in the Kalos League, but the real star of his team is Charizard. Greninja and Charizard have battled already, only to be interrupted, but it’s very clear that the finals will come down to these two, even though both trainers still have more than one Pokémon left.
The finals is not just a battle between two trainers, but between three individuals with goals of their own. Alain wishes to become the strongest Mega Evolution user, and overcoming formes such as Ash-Greninja is what he strives to do. Ash, like we all know, wants to become a Pokémon master.
And finally, Greninja has a goal of its own as well. As a Froakie, it learned that it could only become stronger when it was guided by a trainer in battle. This caused it to become extremely picky of its trainer, even leaving a few, giving it the title of “the Pokémon that came back” to the research lab. Froakie chose Ash because they both want to reach the top; this is a bit different in Pikachu’s bond with Ash, as Pikachu wants to help Ash become the best Pokémon master. It is possible that the Ash-Greninja is a result of the bond between the two, but there is still a lot more to be explained about this form. Ash and Greninja have more to lose, giving them more drive to win this battle than Ash had in the past.
Even if he doesn’t win, you should definitely tune in on August 18. The Pokémon anime has evolved so much since the beginning. Usually good animation is reserved for movies, but almost every episode of the XY&Z anime has movie-equivalent animation. While this change has been noticeable ever so slowly, it is most apparent when compared to the beginning episodes. Check out these comparisons from earlier seasons and XY&Z:
In addition to the quality of animation, the battle style has changed. Trainers now use the field to their advantage, not just to the extent of knocking into rocks or swimming into water, like how it was in the original series. For example, Pokémon now skate on ice, knock trees into their opponents, and use the forest to their advantage.
Battles are also more coordinated and more advanced than trainers taking turns calling out attacks. Different Pokémon have different flaws, strengths, and abilities that are all touched upon in battle. Believe it or not, Ash has needed some real strategy to defeat some of his opponents in this season. He has also learned from his losses and thought before charging back in, something I have been guilty of when playing Pokémon.
Even if we are wrong and Ash ends up losing, and the next arc is a filler instead of Ash taking on the Elite Four before the Sun & Moon anime, there are still reasons to tune in this Thursday. You don’t want to miss out on “Ash’s Ultimate Match!!” which airs at 7 PM on August 18 in Japan!
Edited by bobandbill and Sylphiel.
Images courtesy of The Pokémon Company.