Now, I’ve mentioned my love of Digimon on this site multiple times. I absolutely love the franchise, and judging by the comments on the internet, I’m not the only one. That being said, one of the things that really confuses online, is that there seems to be this weird culture whereby if you like Digimon, then you must absolutely hate Pokémon. The opposite is of course true for Pokémon fans.
What gets me with this, is that it seems to be a really short-sighted viewpoint. Personally, I grew up with both franchises. I watched Digimon on TV and played Digimon World on my PlayStation, and at the same time (not literally, obviously), I watched Pokémon on TV and tore my way through Pokémon Red on my Gameboy with my faithful Charizard by my side.
So, being a believer that you can totally enjoy both Digimon AND Pokémon, I thought that I’d write a little about one of my favourite parts of Pokémon: Ash’s rivalries.
Ash Ketchum, the permanently ten-years-old protagonist of the anime, is a Pokémon Trainer, journeying around the world as he attempts to fulfil his dream of becoming a Pokémon Master. During his various journeys, he develops a slew of strong friendships with other trainers and travelling companions. Of course, not everyone that he encounters on travels his friendly, and this is to me where the show can really shine.
The build up to Ash’s inevitable clash with his bitter foe usually spans multiple seasons, and the battles themselves rarely disappoint. While not anything that you can replicate in the games, Ash’s tactics in these duels can, and often do, border on ingenious (or if not, at least fall into the category of being highly entertaining). But which of these rivalries piqued my interest the most? Let’s have a look at my top three:
NUMBER THREE: Team Rocket
This probably seems like an odd one, but of all the fellow trainers that Ash has come across in the series, Team Rocket are his most enduring nemeses. After initially coming across as a big bad, Team Rocket soon drifted into becoming a group of comic relief villains whose appearances primarily served the purpose of building up to them being ‘blasted off’ in defeat. Then, during the Best Wishes series, they seemed to get all serious again and built up a far bigger scheme than their previous episodic attempts at capturing Pikachu. The thing is, while never really a serious threat to Ash and whatever gang he’s running with at the time, Team Rocket remain hugely popular within the fan base. Can they really be called rivals? Not in the traditional sense, no. Think about this though: the simple fact is that they continue to push and push and push, constantly pushing forward with their goal despite falling time after time though. This is the same attitude that Ash displays with every single one of his rivals. What does this mean? To a degree, while Ash may not see Team Rocket as rivals, they certainly treat him like one. Anyway, how can I demonstrate what Team Rocket amounts to in this regard? How about with over two hours of their various defeat?
NUMBER TWO: Gary Oak
The original rival cometh. Throughout the first few seasons of Pokémon, Gary Oak and Ash were at loggerheads. See, Gary had a low opinion of Ash, and felt rather superior to him. This, we learn, stems from a childhood argument that pretty much cut down their initial friendship. By the came it came to the Indio League tournament, the general thinking was that Ash and Gary would clash in one of the later rounds and put their rivalry to rest … but this didn’t happen. Gary found himself eliminated early on while Ash forced his way through, only to crash down shortly after. The two trainers then went their separate ways, not meeting again until after Ash had won the Orange League. Gary uncharacteristically congratulated Ash on his success, and the two had their first official battle. The result of this melee was that Gary walked out the victor. With something to prove once again, Ash set about training hard for his next big competition, the Johto League. It was here that Ash and Gary finally fought head-to-head in a major contest, providing one the best battles of the franchise. To this point, this was by far Ash’s biggest challenge, and one of the most defining moments in his early competition runs. As I said, Ash’s tactics here are hardly the sort of stuff that you can do in the games, but they really were entertaining.
NUMBER ONE: Paul
With the beginning of the Diamond and Pearl series, Ash gained a new rival in the form of Paul, a trainer so set on raising strong Pokémon that he would release any that did not meet his standards. For the most part, the rivalry started when Paul defeated Ash and then insulted his Turtwig by calling it pathetic. Shortly thereafter, Ash witnessed Paul’s method of capture and release, and subsequently vowed never to lose to him again. Despite the good intentions behind this trainer-philosophy themed conflict, this turned out not to be so easy a pledge to keep. Ash and Paul clashed multiple times throughout the run, always on a small scale, always with Ash coming out on the bottom. When they finally had their first full battle though, it rumbled on long enough to span two episodes. Here, we began to see a glimpse of the determination that had seen Ash come through against Gary, and it began to look like he actually had a shot against his foe … but it was not to be. Despite his best efforts, Ash came up with a hard fought loss. Paul did gain a little respect for Ash here though, which was surprising, but well deserved. After that, the two did not meet in battle again until drawing each other in the quarter finals of the Sinnoh League. Again, this battle was a long one, this time spanning three episodes. While I’m torn between whether I preferred this or their first full battle, this one does remain one of my favourite league matches in the franchise (along with the aforementioned Ash vs Gary, and another Sinnoh League standout, Ash vs Tobias). With Ash finally vanquishing his foe, this rivalry came to a close. The clash in training philosophy, the slowly earned respect, and the epic battles. All of these things combine to make Paul my favourite of Ash’s rivalries.
So there we have it, my top three Ash rivalries from the awesome and ever nostalgic Pokémon anime. I hope you enjoyed tis brief foray into the world battling pocket monsters and non-aging protagonists!