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After twenty-five seasons and over one thousand episodes, Ash Ketchum, hero of the Pokémon anime, has finally become the very best, like no one ever was. In an episode that recently aired in Japan, Ash defeats Leon in battle, earning him the title of Pokémon World Champion. The news has resulted in an outpouring of love for Ash from the wider Pokémon fandom, even those who have not followed the series since childhood.
It’s been a long road for Ash, and his recent victory has some fans reflecting on just how far the character has come. In celebration of his success – and the equally exciting news that Ash’s original English dub voice, Veronica Taylor, is set to visit fans at Supanova Gold Coast (15-16 April) and Melbourne (22-23 April) – we take a look back at some of Ash’s best battles from the early seasons of the anime.
Ash Vs Lt. Surge
When Ash realises that he received both his Boulder and Cascade Badges by default, he resolves to earn his third badge, the Thunder Badge, through a traditional battle victory. Unfortunately, his first battle against the Vermilion City Gym Leader, Lt. Surge, using his Pikachu against Surge’s fully evolved Raichu, ends in disaster, with Pikachu so badly injured by Raichu’s powerful electric attacks that he needs an extended stay in the Pokémon Centre.
Ash briefly considers evolving Pikachu to compete with Raichu, but Pikachu refuses. Instead, the pair form a new strategy, capitalising on Pikachu’s speed and learning Agility to dodge Raichu’s attacks. The new technique gives Pikachu the advantage when Ash challenges Surge a second time, as Surge had evolved his Raichu before it learned any speed-based attacks. Ash and Pikachu ultimately win the match, and with it Ash’s first truly earned badge. In this match, Ash proved his ability to think strategically when needed.
Ash Vs Blaine
Ash loses his first challenge against Cinnabar Island Gym Leader Blaine when his Charizard refuses to battle, and Ash forfeits the match to keep Pikachu from being too badly burned by Blaine’s Magmar. However, Charizard gains respect for Magmar while helping it divert the lava flow from a volcano eruption, and agrees to participate in Ash’s rematch against Blaine, this time battling atop the Cinnabar Island volcano. When Magmar and Charizard’s fire attacks prove evenly matched, Blaine attempts to turn things in his favour by having Magmar drag Charizard into the volcano. Ash, devastated at the apparent loss of his Pokémon, is overjoyed when Charizard emerges unscathed. Ash has Charizard fly Magmar high above the volcano, before using a Seismic Toss attack, which knocks out Magmar and wins the match for Ash.
The battle is fondly remembered as one of the first times Charizard obeys Ash, giving fans a taste of the powerhouse he will have on his team when he finally wins it over.
Ash Vs Mandi
After learning that his first-round Indigo League match against the Astounding Mandi will take place on a Water field, Ash chooses Krabby as one of his three team members. Brock and Misty attempt to dissuade him from this choice by reminding him that Krabby hadn’t battled before, but Ash stands firm. Krabby faces a type disadvantage when he faces Mandi’s grass-type Exeggutor. Ash attempts to recall it, but is unable to due to Exeggutor trapping Krabby in a whirlpool with a Psychic attack. Krabby escapes, avoiding Exeggutor’s attempt to put it to sleep with Hypnosis by latching on to one of its heads with Vice Grip, eventually defeating it. In an exciting twist, the massive amount of experience Krabby gained allowed it to evolve into Kingler. Kingler goes on to easily defeat Mandi’s Seadra and Golbat, earning Ash his first victory of the League.
While dismissed by many as beginner’s luck, Ash’s victory over Mandi boosted his confidence as he moved forward in the Indigo League. Plus, to this day, Kingler still holds the distinction of being the only one of Ash’s Pokémon to win a multi-mon League match solo.
Ash Vs Drake
After gaining four Orange League badges, Ash travels to Pummelo Island, having earned the right to challenge Drake, the leader of the Orange Crew, to a full six-on-six battle for a place in the Orange League hall of fame. Taking place over two episodes, Ash’s battle against Drake is one of the longest in the series’ early history. At first, it seems Ash has the upperhand, defeating five of Drake’s six Pokémon, bringing the standings to three against one, in Ash’s favour. Unfortunately, Drake’s final Pokemon is the powerful pseudo-legendary, Dragonite. Charizard and Tauros put in valiant efforts, but soon Ash is left with Pikachu as his final remaining Pokémon. Both Pikachu and Dragonite are exhausted from earlier in the bout, so Drake attempts to end the match quickly by having Dragonite use Hyper Beam, but his strategy fails when Pikachu dodges the attack with Agility, making its way up onto Dragonite’s head and hitting it with a direct Thunder attack. Both Pokémon faint in the aftermath, but Dragonite falls first, giving Ash the victory.
Ash’s defeat of Drake earns him his first League victory, a feat he wouldn’t repeat until the Alola League.
Ash and Charizard Vs Entei
In the third Pokémon film, Spell Of The Unown, Ash and co must venture into a crystal palace created by the psychic Unown in response to the dreams and wishes of Molly Hale, a young girl struggling with the disappearance of her parents, to rescue Ash’s Mother, Delia, kidnapped to serve as a surrogate Mother to Molly. To reach his Mother, Ash must battle the Legendary Entei created by the Unown to represent Molly’s Father, but faces certain defeat until the arrival of Charizard, who makes a mercy dash from the Charicific Valley in order to rescue his trainer. Ash directs most of the ensuing battle between Charizard and Entei while mounted on Charizard’s back, keeping him in the thick of the danger. Despite battling at a disadvantage due to Molly and the Unown’s reality-warping powers hampering Charizard’s progress, they manage to land a few good attacks. The battle only ends when Molly chooses to put a stop to it, realising the damage that is being caused.
Spell Of The Unown underperformed at the box office in some countries, leading to a limited international release for many Pokémon films released after it. However, Ash and Charizard’s battle with Entei remains a memorable moment in one of the more underrated films in the franchise.
Ash Vs Gary
While Ash has had many rivals over the history of the Pokémon anime, his original rivalry with Professor Oak’s grandson, Gary Oak, is the most well-known and remembered. In the early days of Pokémon, Gary always seemed to be a few steps ahead of Ash both in his journey, and Pokémon training talent. After losing to Gary in their first battle when visiting their hometown after the Indigo League, Ash vows to improve so that he can eventually beat Gary in a rematch. He finally gets his chance after the two are matched in the very first round of the Johto League Silver Conference.
Both Ash and his Pokémon have grown and learned over their time in Johto, resulting in a much more equal match than their previous bout. The real battle begins when each trainer is down to their final Pokémon, Ash’s Charizard, and Gary’s Blastoise, confirmed in the episode to have been his starter Pokémon. While Charizard faces a clear type disadvantage, Ash overcomes it with a clever strategy, using Charizard’s flamethrower to heat the field to lava-like temperatures, diverting Blastoise’s attention as he tries to cool it and avoid being burned. Ash also makes use of Charizard’s non-fire moves, including an epic Seismic Toss that knocks out Blastoise and wins Ash the match, and, finally, the respect of his rival.
Whenever Gary has appeared since, he and Ash meet as friends, although the simmering tension has never entirely disappeared. While Ash has had other memorable rivals since, none can claim quite the same place in pop culture, meme culture, or the hearts of the Pokémon fandom as Gary Oak.
Hey Gary, it takes one to know one.
— Veronica Taylor (@TheVeronicaT) May 21, 2020