It’s kind of perfect that Pokemon Journeys is ending with the Project Mew storyline. The follow-up to Ash’s victory in the World Coronation Series – his most monumental achievement in Pokemon history – is a three-part story that doesn’t matter, about a character everyone hates. Nothing better represents the Sword & Shield era of the anime than an attempt to cap off the series with one more shot to make us care about Goh.
Goh doesn’t bother me, if I’m being honest. He’s obnoxious, overly eager, and a bit egotistical, but you could say all the same things about Ash in the first few seasons. It took more than 20 years for Ash to become a mature, well-respected Pokemon trainer. They might technically be the same age, but they’re on opposite ends of their Pokemon journey. Goh still has a lot to learn, and even after 123 episodes, we can’t be expected to love him the way we love Ash.
Though I tolerate Goh, the fan base largely detests him. He’s seen as a usurper, one who doesn’t deserve to share the spotlight with Ash, and whose presence makes the show worse. Goh is so universally hated, you’d think he tried to strangle Pikachu or something. Instead, he just ‘catches Pokemon too easily’ and ‘doesn’t use enough strategy.’ The criticisms against him are numbered, but for the most part, unwarranted.
The most common complaint about Goh is that he doesn’t earn the Pokemon he catches. It often seems like every ball he has is a Master Ball because he hardly ever fails. He’s already caught over 100 Pokemon, including Suicune, which really pisses people off. Many think Goh doesn’t deserve to catch a Legendary before Ash, especially when he didn’t really have to try that hard to catch it.
The truth is, Ash probably could catch Legendary Pokemon too, if he ever tried. Ash has encountered countless Legendaries over the years – usually in the movies – and almost never tries to catch them. Sometimes this is because the Pokemon is too important to a culture or society to be caught. Sometimes, in the case of Lugia in Pokemon 2000 or Latias in Pokemon Heroes, it would cause devastating ecological harm if he caught them. But sometimes he just doesn’t bother. When he encounters Ho-Oh in I Choose You! or the Zapdos he comes across in the XY series, he battles them but doesn’t capture them. When Nebby the Cosmog evolves into Solgaleo, he could have easily caught it, but he just lets it go. We shouldn’t be mad at Goh for catching a Legendary, we should be mad at Ash for not catching them.
Some dislike Goh because of his chaotic approach to catching Pokemon. At first he had a plan to catch all the bug Pokemon in the Galar region before moving on to another type, but eventually he just started catching everything he could. Sometimes he would catch evolved Pokemon before collecting its basic counterpart, or catch every Pokemon in an evolution chain instead of putting in the work to evolve them.
One of the best things about Pokemon is that you can play it however you like. If you want to systematically check off Pokedex entries you can, but if you just want to fling balls around and catch whatever happens to walk, fly, or slither by, that’s fine too. If you’re mad that Goh catches as many Pokemon as he can, I think that says more about you than it does about him.
There’s a lot of anxiety around Goh and what he means for the future of the show, and I get that. Goh is more like a co-protagonist than a sidekick, and all of his early success can feel like a ham-fisted way of convincing us he’s special – perhaps even special enough to replace Ash. That would be a scary change, and one that historically doesn’t bode well for any show.
You know a show is on its last leg when the hero gets swapped out for a more annoying copycat. It didn’t work when Josh Meyers replaced Ashton Kutcher on That 70s Show, or when Ashton Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men, or when Charlie Sheen replaced Michael J. Fox on Spin City, or when Michael J. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future – okay, that one did work, but you get the point. Seeing Goh replace Ash wouldn’t just mean saying goodbye to our favorite hero, it would also signal the beginning of the end of the entire show.
That’s almost certainly not going to happen though, and I think history will be kinder to Goh once we find out Ash isn’t going anywhere. Goh simply represents a different side of the Pokemon fandom from Ash. Where Ash represents the dedicated competitive player, Goh represents the more casual one. There’s room for both sweaty VGC min-maxers and people that casually toss Great Balls at Legendaries in Pokemon Go. Goh will never be Ash, and that’s okay.
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