This marks the conclusion of an era. Although the reality has long since set in, these episodes actually broadcast in Japan about a year ago. However, I still get emotional watching Ash’s final episodes in English, which airs precisely 25 years after the first official U.S. episode aired in America. When it comes to this last batch of episodes, I can never be objective. I’ll get into some of the topics I still have complaints about later. This review is only intended for Pokémon lovers, same like Pokémon: To Be a Pokémon Master is only meant for fans of the game. We should all be asking ourselves what precise note this whole thing concludes on now that we know this day will arrive.
First, though, there’s the peculiar Netflix distribution of the series.
To Be A Pokemon Master debuted on Netflix as a twelve-episode season, however only the first eleven of those episodes were epilogue spinoffs that concluded Ash’s adventure. Episode 12 is a one-shot OVA that debuted earlier in the season in Japan. It centers on Ash from the previous two Ash-related Pokémon films, albeit in a different timeframe. Combining them seems a little strange. The reasoning behind this, I suppose, was that Netflix wouldn’t release a single standalone episode on their service. Just remember that episode 12 should be seen independently of episode 11 since it is not a continuation of that episode. If you liked how Ash was written in the last few films, you’ll get the most out of this one. Episode 12 centers on a part of Ash’s life—his relationship with his father—that isn’t even mentioned in the main series. Though it’s a whole other bucket of worms, I would have preferred that narrative to have been incorporated into the primary continuity. Remember this the next time you watch this season.
The eleven episodes, the most contemplative the show has ever been, close things out on a fairly strong and unexpectedly thoughtful note. To Be A Pokémon Master offers us a unique view into Ash’s life during the few days when he isn’t actively working toward a specific objective. He explores the woods, gives assistance to Pokémon in need, and engages in all kinds of wild antics. When he gets in touch with old acquaintances from his past, a series of flashbacks ensue that will make even the most jaded old Pokémon lover smile. We experience a small amount of the “you could’ve gone farther with the callbacks” problem that the majority of Journeys encountered. However, it would be impossible to wrap up every unresolved character thread and plot point in the short amount of episode real estate.
As viewers, that’s just a pill we have to take. However, what we have here is cartoony, fun, and generally well-animated. It works, but there aren’t any incredibly engaging high points. This season more than makes up for its lack of eye-catching battle animations with amusing facial expressions. There is still significance to this even though it is very much “a day in the life of Ash Ketchum.”
Although Ash is undoubtedly at the top, does that mean he has accomplished his aim of becoming a Pokémon Master? What does possessing Pokémon Mastery entail? It may not always become clear to us until the very end, when it is explained, but that doesn’t mean the show didn’t make it quite apparent from the start. Part of the answer is being there for your friends and Pokémon, embarking on adventures, and learning new things every day. In many other stories, this would seem like a copout, but Pokémon gets this one since it fits Ash’s persona throughout the previous 25 years. If anything, it brings back memories to watch a young person establish high goals for himself that he may never be able to achieve in this life, but the act of dreaming and working toward realizing the goal itself results in a happy existence. It doesn’t feel like the end as the final leitmotif of the beloved Pokémon theme plays at the end. I was still waiting for the “to be continued” sign to appear at the end of the episode. It’s just another journey to Ash, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day, so there’s no big bang or spectacular display. The only thing that has changed is that we can’t see what happens next.
Nevertheless, no trip is flawless, and this season was not either. It becomes clear at the very end that the story could have been told in roughly half the duration of the show if you understand the narrative’s purpose. The callbacks are good, but some of them seemed a little more cheesy than others. A single episode is a direct copy of a comparable episode from a previous season. Additionally, there’s a completely unrelated narrative point that is established at the conclusion of the show when Team Rocket breaks up just to reunite in a later episode. This is definitely one of the most wildly dramatic and abruptly dropped conflicts I have ever seen in the show. Considering that Team Rocket is just as essential to the plot as Ash, there could have been a better method for them to end the series.
It would be a mistake for me to discuss Team Rocket without mentioning James Carter Cathcart, who just announced his retirement from voice acting due to health concerns. His vocal delivery has changed somewhat, which is to be anticipated considering his current physical condition and the variety of characters he plays. I applaud him for persevering and completing his portrayals of some of the franchise’s most well-known characters. Some of my favorite readings of his that I’ve ever done come from the concerts. Gary asks Ash whether he’s getting any closer to become a Pokémon Maste in one of his final lines in the entire series. I think this is quite lovely poetically. The voice performers were excellent. Even the most straightforward and understated line deliveries take on a whole new emotional context when you consider that this is likely the final time any of these actors will ever play these characters again. Not that there were any particularly dramatic or heartbreaking scenes to act on their own.
Sadly, though, this marks the conclusion of the trip. I’ve been a Pokémon fan my entire life, and I most likely will be till I’m on my deathbed. I’m unable to release the hold this franchise has on my soul anytime soon. Instead of feeling like I was working on a review, viewing these episodes made me feel like a child watching the newest episode of a pleasant adventure on Saturday morning television. This conclusion wasn’t the most extravagant or spectacular, like many of those episodes, but I believe that was always the intent. Similar to the last lesson Ash discovers in To Be A Pokémon Master, things never really end. Even in the event that we are not able to see the journey, it will not end.