With every new Pokemon season, a certain crowd of people always emerge from their beds to decry the season’s lack of story and lack of their favorite Pokemon. They criticize the plotholes and fillers; why does Ash Ketchum never age? At this point he should be a full-fledged adult being epic and sexy. And why does his lvl. 576 Pikachu lose any battle at all (much less to some unevolved scrub just starting out their journey)?
Those people actually have a point. Pokemon lacks serious continuity; its characters seem stuck in a never-ending journey and each goal — once attained — gets replaced by another goal and is followed by a seemingly-unnecessary reset in the status quo. Sure, Ash can just keep his previous season’s Pokemon and bulldoze the competition, but he insists on dropping his powerful team and traveling the new realm only with his lv. 731 Pikachu.
What happens to all that talk of friendship? Ash’s Pokemon grow to love him only for him to hand them over to his professors — as if he were a working parent making his mom and dad take care of his kids.
Tragic, yes, but we’re forgetting something important: the Pokemon anime doesn’t need a clean plot. It doesn’t need to have Ash grow up. It doesn’t need to please us longtime fans. The anime is a part of the Pokemon machine, a cog in a vast and powerful franchise whose intelligent producers work day and night to bounce fans between its shows, games, and merchandise. Everything that we consume in Pokemon advertises to us other aspects of the franchise.
Let’s look at the top-tier example: the anime itself. The most recent season, Journeys, sees our intrepid hero Ash Ketchup ditch all his well-trained Pokemon in Alola. Like a dad going out to buy cigarettes, Ash doesn’t even bother to say goodbye to his recently-evolved Incineroar, his rare as f–k mythical Melmetal, and his unevolved owl (among others) — only giving farewells when his dear children have to fly up next to his departing plane and yell at the plane’s windows.
Naturally, Ash keeps his favorite child, his lv. 1281 Pikachu.
“What a bozo!” some fans might say. “Ungrateful brat! And right after they won him his only mainline tourney too (the Orange Islands don’t count).” Once again, we see a reset in the plot and status quo; Ash starts all over again, and all his previous travels might as well not exist.
And yet, for all this “bad” writing, Pokemon thrives. The anime draws in a large viewership. Its games meet with success (Sword and Shield sold 19.02 million copies as of this article’s writing and Pokemon Go reached 1.8 billion US dollars in revenue in 2018). And to say nothing of the widespread appeal of Pokemon plushies, clothing, and wet tissues.
How can this be?? The abovementioned wet tissues sell well because Ash keeps his Pikachu throughout the seasons. The Pokemon Company knows that Pikachu is the poster child of the franchise and thus will never stop pushing Pikachu’s adorable face into our noses.
And as for Ash’s other Pokemon, sadly they have to make way for different mons; The Company can’t keep Big Boi Incineroar around if that means sacrificing the chance to bring publicity to Sword and Shield’s Galarian Farfetch’d and Sirfetch’d. Even though Ash’s team in Journeys isn’t filled with exclusively new-generation mons, the roster brings good publicity to the arguably underrated ones that do show up in the newest games. Incineroar and Rowlet don’t show up (not without transfers from previous games), so they get replaced by the likes of Dragonite and Riolu.
While Journeys may have a lot of fillers, every episode seems to clearly advertise a Pokemon or a game feature. Journey‘s Episode 4 sets up Scorbunny, one of Sword and Shield‘s starters. Episode 6 highlights Pokemon Go‘s catching mechanics, with Goh even performing different throwing styles (like the curveball, which increases catch rates in Go) and gaining differently-ranked throws (like “Nice” and “Great”). Even the absolutely zany Episode 26 gives a bit of attention to Magikarp shiny and size variations, fishing, and the concept of grinding for stats.
In addition, co-protag and FirstFriendShipping character Goh functions as a great walking advertisement — as is obvious due to his name alone. At first, his desire to catch rather than battle might come across as petty. But, Goh shows that it’s okay to play a creature collecting game just for its collection aspect. His existence legitimizes Pokemon Go. At the same time, he dips his feet into battling and training, which can encourage Go players to follow suit and try out Go‘s battling modes or even migrate to Sword and Shield.
So, though one can argue that the Pokemon anime has been getting lazy with its writing and direction, everything that the show has been doing may be more deliberate than expected. And if this doesn’t mesh well with your love for the franchise and desire for nostalgia, remember that most of us are slowly outgrowing Pokemon and leaving our happy Saturday-morning childhoods behind. Being a business, The Pokemon Company must look to those younger than us to continue its economic domination of the world.
Or, you can continue arguing on Twitter that Pokemon‘s dying. It’s a free market after all.