Pokemon is retiring Ash and Pikachu, and I'm a little heartbroken

(Image credit: TPC)

I've often said that my first tattoo, if I were ever to actually get it done, would be Pokemon-themed. Other potential inspirations - bands, games, films, words - have all been important at some point in my life, but eventually their significance waned. Pokemon was the one exception, something I loved when I was six years old, and still enjoy now, 22 years later.

That enduring fondness likely wouldn't exist without Ash and Pikachu. For more than a thousand episodes across more than two and a half decades, the pair have been the functional face of the entire franchise, a constant as the series evolved across different games, different regions, different consoles. And now, they're handing on the baton to a new pair of protagonists.

On Friday, The Pokemon Company announced that a new miniseries, airing in Japan from January, would mark the "final chapter" in Ash and Pikachu's decades-long adventure. Ash is the Champion now, and with his 25-year arc to becoming a Pokemon Master having finally been resolved, the community has been wondering how much further the character can go. How can a character who is finally, literally, the 'very best' start over in a new region where even basic training skills evade them?

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The answer is simple; he won't. Next year, a new pair of protagonists will take over the anime, accompanying Scarlet and Violet starters Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxley on a new journey through Paldea. In many ways, it's an obvious move. The entire franchise is at a fascinating precipice: a new open-world approach defining the games; a main character at the end of an arc; a new region to explore. Pokemon is bigger than it's ever been, and Ash's apparent perpetuity has always been a slightly awkward stumbling block for a series that seems keen to keep evolving.

But for all that, I'm surprisingly upset by the change. It's a sensible change, but it's also an emotional body-blow, pulling right at the heartstrings of everyone who grew up with Ash and Pikachu as the faces of Pokemon. It's the end of an era that has spanned more than 1,200 episodes, making the duo's tenure key to one of the longest-running anime series ever. Depending on your definition, Ash and Pikachu are, perhaps, responsible for the single most successful video game adaptation there will ever be. Whatever the Pokemon series does next, I'm not sure it will ever be able to recapture the importance that this ten-year-old and his feisty yellow mouse have meant for generations of fans.

When I was little - years before my parents finally bought me my first Game Boy Advance and a copy of Pokemon Sapphire - it wasn't the games that sucked me into Pokemon. At that age, I don't think I would have known what to make of the unforgiving nature of Gen 1 and 2. Instead, it was the anime and the merch - emblazoned with Ash's face just as much as Pikachu's - that got their hooks into me. And those hooks were in deep; I cried in the cinema when Mew and Mewtwo inadvertently petrified Ash in The First Movie; I wrote to a potato chip manufacturer asking for extra merch from one of their giveaways; somewhere in my parent's attic, there might still be a recording of my screechingly ad-libbed take on the Pokerap.

The Very Best

I don't get quite so emotional about it all anymore, but the fact remains that the anime has been my throughline for every twist and turn that the Pokemon franchise has made over more than twenty years. I skipped a few generations in my teenage years when I didn't have a Nintendo DS. I check out each new game now, but I don't play competitively, or hunt shinies, or try and breed the perfect 'mon. I don't collect cards or buy the massive novelty furniture or huge plushies. I find it difficult to keep up with the changing mechanics, from Mega Evolutions to Dynamaxing to Tarreastilizing. But for all that, I know that anytime I wanted, I could find an episode of the anime and settle in, knowing that it would feel pretty much the game as ever. New Pokemon might grace my screen, but Ash and Pikachu would be an unchanging presence, anchoring not only the show, but the entire franchise. It won't matter in a big way, but I'm quietly devastated that now, they won't be there anymore.

Need a refresher on the new region? Here's what you need to know about Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

Ali Jones
News Editor

I'm GamesRadar's news editor, working with the team to deliver breaking news from across the industry. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.