Celebrating 20 Years of the Pokémon Anime
Pokémon is without a doubt the prime form of entertainment that gave me many things as a child. The prospect of the adventure, exploring new places, meeting people both kind and bad, and growing along the journey are the elements founded upon both the video games and the anime based on them. Last year was the celebration of the franchise’s 20th anniversary and this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the anime. If it’s not the games, it’s the anime fans talk about when mentioning Pokémon. And I would like to share my personal thoughts on the show itself.
I find the Pokémon anime series a bit unique as a long running animated series compared to others like say, The Simpsons or Spongebob Squarepants, because it’s still a chronological story despite what others may say. And the 20th anniversary specials were proof of it. Since its inception, the anime keeps consistency of the past pokémon Ash Ketchum has caught, regardless whether his experience as a trainer had improved or not. That alone shows that no matter how long this show has been running, it is still a narrative that insists on chronicling Ash’s journey despite his remaining ten years old throughout all his traveling. This has alienated some fans, especially the earliest generation, for refusing to have Ash grow up and develop properly. Reasonably so, as it’s hard to believe that everything he’s experienced thus far, and will continue to experience, is all contained within a single year. But the focus has always been to target towards the next generation of children who will be exposed to the next installments of each new video games to accompany the anime. And this got me thinking why that is.
Apparently, the people involved working on the show both past and present have stated their personal belief that keeping Ash ten years old is meant to signify the innocence of childhood no matter how old you get. Which I can appreciate. A lot of fans aren’t convinced however, due to the timeline consistency issue evident by the people and pokemon he’s encountered as I stated previously. There are two arguments because of this. Leaving the protagonist ageless even though the show treats itself with events that demand a time chart for the sake of marketing and nostalgic purposes will frustrate old fans but invite newer, younger fans to relate to this child closer to their age. And demanding growth and development from an icon who should age with the following that grew up watching this from the beginning would better relate to it’s first and more dedicated fans. The anime is at a constant tug of war with this mindset on both ends for years. And honestly, that’s what impresses me the most for how long this show has continued.
The anime is no exception for being repetitive like other long running forms of entertainment, but one striking difference that sets it apart are the journeys Ash and his partner Pikachu go through. Pokémon as a whole is all about the road trip theme incorporated in the games and the world building that fans love to explore. Ash himself is a catalyst to travel and seeing new regions, new people and of course, new pokémon to catch. The structure may be stagnant to some, but it is always a fresh take with different characters.
This is where I bring up Ash’s first two close friends Misty and Brock. It’s been a very long time since the three went their separate ways. And because of that, it’s incredibly refreshing to see the most recent two episodes focusing on their reunion. I’ll admit, never did I ever imagine both of Ash Ketchum’s first traveling companions would return all together after all these years… But when it did, not only did the old generation of fans explode with ecstasy online, there was a strong sense of nostalgia that blossomed within me that made me think, “Wow, have we really come this far?”
Coinciding with Ash’s friends from the Alola region, we get a blend of characterization from the past and present. But this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Previous traveling companions like May and Dawn returned for a couple of episodes to the generation ahead of them after they parted ways with Ash, which were highlighted as some of the memorable episodes by fans. It’s this aspect of reuniting with old friends and introducing them to new friends that appeals to the audience because this never-ending journey doesn’t want to forget what it left behind. As I’ve stated repeatedly, that’s impressive and charming for an animated children’s show that lasted this long.
But the other biggest appeal this show presents to me is its boundless positive atmosphere. For a fictional universe focusing on cartoony monsters with superpowers caught and contained in red and white balls, despite the premise centered on battling, including some of the grim undertones mentioned in their original game counterpart, the anime is very lighthearted and child friendly, regardless of what some adults may say. Whenever there’s a problem presented, the characters usually tackle it head on with zeal. Even when they fail, they usually take it in stride with a smile and convince themselves to do better next time. This is consistently presented throughout the show and it’s very encouraging for younger viewers in my opinion. It doesn’t mean there’s never any conflict. The characters just continue to push forward. And that’s the key here. Pushing forward.
Following Ash and Pikachu in their stories of new challenges with an uplifting attitude, followed by the new friends they make, and exploring an increasingly building world are the things why I still love the series to this day. So where am I going with this?
Pokémon may be a never-ending franchise that will insist on keeping the status quo for the anime, but you know what? That’s fine with me. As long as new fans get to meet Ash and Pikachu and follow him on the journey he’s currently on and appreciate the time they spend with them. Will Ash’s journey ever conclude? I cannot say for certain. But I feel it’s important for fans both new and old to keep in mind that regardless, it’s always about the adventure. That’s something I find remarkable to find in an animated children’s show that continues to thrive strong. Happy 20th anniversary Ash Ketchum!