After announcing in December that it was coming, the Pokémon anime finally aired its last Ash and Pikachu episode in Japan. The episode won’t be airing in English for some time as the anime is tied to a Netflix deal that releases batches of episodes periodically, so if you’re curious to see how their journey concludes after all these years, read on.
Spoilers for the final episode of the Pokémon Journeys anime follow:
As it turns out, much of Ash and Pikachu’s final episode, “Rainbow and the Pokémon Master!” doesn’t feel particularly conclusive as far as wrapping up their story. Rather, it’s more a confirmation that the two will continue on their own path, but it’s one we can’t follow.
The episode begins with Ash saying goodbye to Misty and Brock, who accompanied him throughout the special farewell episodes Pokémon used to send off the character. While Ash has had many traveling companions over the years, it felt right having him spend those final episodes with the original cast. Because this last episode is all about him, however, he parts ways with them as they head back to Pewter City and Cerulean City.
When Ash arrives back in Pallet Town, he spends some time at home with his mother before heading out into the town to see Professor Oak, with the episode giving us another cameo on the way: Tracey Sketchit. While his stint in the show was brief, Tracey was also a fan favorite in the early days, so it was nice to see him again, even briefly.
Once at Professor Oak’s lab, Ash visits some of his old Pokémon and then meets up with Gary, as we knew he would based on the original synopsis. When Ash and his old rival talk, he asks if his championship win has brought him closer to becoming a Pokémon master, and that question is the crux of the episode. For a lot of people in the Pokémon community, there are different things people come to the series for, and what makes for success in this world is up to the eye of the beholder. But for a long time, Ash has been vaguely gesturing at some idea of being a Pokémon master, so the episode asks: what does that mean to him? He doesn’t have an answer just yet.
We also circle back around to Jesse, James, and Meowth, who broke fans’ hearts earlier this month after seemingly disbanding. However, they’re still together and doing Team Rocket’s dirty work because they’re working in the kitchen for the group, instead of trying to steal Ash’s Pikachu. But because old habits die hard, they do make one final attempt at catching Pikachu before blasting off one last time, though they seem to have a bit more resolve that this is what they’re passionate about.
The last big cameo of the episode is one of Ash’s earliest Pokémon: Pidgeot. It’s been a while since the two parted ways; 24 years, in fact. The fucked up thing is that Ash promised to come back for it when it was released to protect a group of wild Pidgey in 1999, and that just never happened. But in this final episode, the two reunited and Pidgeot rejoined Ash’s team.
Then Ash thinks about what Gary asked. What does it mean to be a Pokémon master? Ultimately, the conclusion he reaches is that it’s to be friends with all Pokémon. It doesn’t matter how many championships you win, how many badges you earn, or how much you fill up your Pokédex. The true making of a Pokémon master is being someone who cares about all 1000+ of these critters. Honestly, I know the “power of friendship” trope might feel tired to some at this point, but that’s always been the underlying theme of the Pokémon series, right? Ash lost a lot of battles to get to this point, but it was worth it because he met so many new friends and Pokémon along the way. It’s a nice acknowledgment that despite being a champion now, the real win was meeting all the people and Pokémon he’s met in his journeys, and while we might not be following him in the future, it looks like that journey will continue.
The episode ends with Ash and several Pokémon taking shelter from a storm under a tree. Then, once the clouds part and the sun is shining, he and Pikachu walk along a new path, with Team Rocket floating in their hot air balloon right on their tail.
So in this final episode, nothing’s really ended as far as Ash’s story is concerned. He and Pikachu will still keep traveling the Pokémon world and meeting new friends, but we won’t be following him down whatever path calls. Instead, we’ll be hanging out with Liko and Roy, new characters with new stories to tell. The next season, which will be called Pokémon Horizons, got a new trailer ahead of its premiere on April 14 in Japan.
For more on the end of Ash and Pikachu’s story, check out Kotaku’s interview with English voice actor Sarah Natochenny.