The first ever episode of Pokemon aired two months before my third birthday. I lived with my gran at the time, who regularly minded two brothers that were slightly older than me. They were completely engrossed in the new craze, often waxing poetic about colossal turtles with cannons embedded in their shells, or fire-breathing dragons who stood upright on tree-trunk-sized hind legs. The phenomenon took root: every day after playschool (or kindergarten, for readers in the US) I would sit in front of the television and marvel at Ash Ketchum, my childhood hero. As it turns out, Ash is a bit of a prick.
I dressed up as Ash as a kid. Not just on Halloween either — I wore a red hat everywhere. I used to dig for Digletts out my back garden with a plastic bucket and spade, and was convinced one day the crows out the front would piss off so a great big Pidgeot could come down and become best mates with me. Obviously that didn’t happen, because Pokemon don’t live in the real world. But the point is I genuinely thought it would.
The memories I have of watching Pokemon as a kid are unanimously fond. I don’t watch it anymore, but I still play to this day — I even took on the self-induced challenge of trying out Ash’s Pokemon League winning team in competitive battles a couple of weeks ago. The result? Something we all knew already — that Ash is a piss-poor trainer.
It was a fun experiment, but I can’t say I expected what came next. After realizing that Ash, even after 22 long and arduous years, is still a million miles away from being good at Pokemon, I decided to do some digging. I watched some episodes of the original anime; I dove into a deluge of clips on YouTube; and I read more Bulbapedia articles than I thought existed (honestly, the Pokemon-specific wiki is a remarkable resource). Ultimately, the end of all my research came to the irrefutable and deeply terrible conclusion that Ash Ketchum is just awful.
Let’s board the nostalgia train and head straight back to Ash’s first appearance in the series’ inaugural episode, Pokemon — I Choose You! I’m sure you remember he woke up late. That doesn’t make him a bad person. We all need a lie-on sometimes, and who hasn’t shown up late to work, or missed an important bus, or completely forgotten that they were supposed to get their first ever Pokemon this morning and will likely never have an opportunity this fortunate ever again. It happens.
So Ash meets Pikachu, and Pikachu is a little shit. He’s a spoiled brat who refuses to play nice, and he reckons he’s the mouse’s blouse around Pallet Town. Listen, Pikachu is a bit grumpy, but he’s also the last Pokemon in the laboratory and Ash doesn’t even really want him. Obviously he’s a bit annoyed.
Do you remember the next part? Reader, I hope you don’t. Ash puts on some rubber gloves, like what you’d wear when you’re cleaning the dishes, and ties an industrial rope around Pikachu’s waist. He proceeds to literally pull his bound Pokemon up a hill while repeatedly scolding it for not being “nice.” Eventually he unties Pikachu, because he thinks he sees a Pidgey off in the distance. Pikachu, obviously upset about being hog-tied, refuses to fight. So, Ash picks up a huge rock — as you do — says he doesn’t need any help, and launches it at the bird’s head.
As it so happens, Pidgey is not a Pidgey — it’s a Spearow, and it immediately summons all of its furious Spearow mates. Ash and Pikachu do a runner and Pikachu lets out an almighty Thunderbolt, but he hasn’t had much training yet and ends up injuring both himself and Ash. Ash, feeling something that is almost sympathy, goes to Viridian Forest and steals a bike. Turns out it’s Misty’s, and she’s not having it. After explaining the severity of his situation, Misty decides to help Pikachu — not Ash, he’s a git. Somewhere along the way Ash tries to show off and forces his newly-caught Caterpie to fight a Pidgeotto. On one hand, pitting a weak Pokemon against a far stronger one is not ideal. On the other, he puts a literal caterpillar in the ring with an eagle. Pokemon type-effectiveness is largely based on the real world — Flying beats Grass, because birds eat bugs.
For what it’s worth, Ash bumps into this Spearow — now a Fearow — again later on in the series. This time he has a Pidgeotto of his own, who evolves into Pidgeot during the subsequent fight. Do you know how Ash rewards it? He says, “Stay here for a bit and make sure the Fearow are gone for good — I’ll be back to get you before you know it.” It’s been 22 years and Ash hasn’t so much as thought of going back. Pidgeot is just perched there on a tree branch, perpetually wracking its brain over what it did wrong. Pidgeot, mate. You’re a hero. Ash is a twat.
Pidgeot isn’t the only one, though. Ash is notorious for just ditching his Pokemon whenever it suits him. According to an article we published a few years ago, these are all of the Pokemon Ash has caught and eventually told to get lost, sending them to live with Professor Oak who is constantly trying to cover for his carelessness:
- 30 Tauros.
That’s 69 Pokemon, and there’s been three years of the anime since. Obviously you can’t knock about Galar with 80 Pokemon on your person, and we’ve all confined some of our favourites to Bill’s PC on occasion. But at least we take them back out — Ash hasn’t visited his old mates once. For all they know he never will (and let’s be real — he probably never will).
Some of these Pokemon have had it worse than others. Butterfree — the final form of the Caterpie mentioned above, who Ash made battle in a fight it had no chance of winning — was traded for a Raticate as nonchalantly as handing money over for a beer. Ash eventually asked for Butterfree back, but that’s got to hurt your confidence. Eventually Butterfree decided Ash wasn’t worth the hassle and fell in love with a wild, pink Butterfree, and has probably spent every day since feeling immensely grateful.
To go through that list in chronological order — Ash ditches Primeape. He trades Raticate back. He ignores Krabby until he needs it to evolve. He continuously acts rude toward Muk, who always tries to give him big, slimy hugs. He tells Bayleef to piss off for being affectionate. He is genuinely scabby to all of them — of the 30 Tauros he owns, he ignores 29. I’m not even thinking about how sad they are for not being chosen — imagine how mean they are to the one Tauros who actually got a bit of attention 22 years ago. Honestly, Ash. Even the ones you’re nice too end up getting hurt.
It’s frankly absurd how mean Ash is. To hearken back to our earlier example, where Pikachu gets hurt and Misty comes to the rescue — as soon as Pikachu starts to feel better, Ash pits him against Onix. A tiny electric mouse against a gigantic rock snake, who happens to be a) immune to Pikachu’s attacks, and b) completely super-effective against it.
I’m not even going to get started on Ash’s Charizard. Charizard knows that Ash is an idiot and ignores him for ages, but the second he finally fights for him, Ash is like, “We’re in the money now.” He uses him to stomp rookie trainers and youngsters, and even has him burn a Tauros to a crisp. The two of them together are a genuinely nightmarish duo.
I still love Pokemon, and I’ll always be fond of Ash Ketchum because nostalgia speaks louder than lying to Pidgeot. But seriously — this guy is the literal worst. Ash Ketchum is a total wanker and we all just let him away with it.
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Cian Maher is an Associate Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. His favourite game of all time is and always will be The Witcher 3, but he also loves The Last Guardian, NieR: Automata, Dishonored, and pretty much every Pokemon game ever released. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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