Welcome to Pokemon Catch-Up and our special post where we look back at season 1. Pokemon Catch-Up is a post series where we look back at only the most important Pokemon episodes and follow Ash along in his journey per the Pokemon Fast Track Viewing List. Today, instead of covering an episode, we’ll jump into covering the entire season and discuss how Ash progressed, pick out the more interesting parts of the season, and what we have to look forward to.
A lot of Pokemon fans hold season 1 with a certain sense of nostalgia. Many revere it and honestly, it’s for a good reason that I’ll get into later on in the article.
One thing I’ll mention before moving forward will be that I’ll cover one more season 1 episode after this article, mainly because the episode is listed as season 2 in some lists and as season 1 in others. To me, this last episode is a great teaser for season 2 and a wonderful “bonus” episode for season 1 so that’s how we’ll treat it.
Without further ado, let’s talk about the season 1
What did Ash do?
Without listing off each episode, let’s jump into what happened in the season as a whole:
Ash received his first-ever Pokemon, a feisty little Pikachu. With this companion, he traveled the Kanto region. Along his journey, Ash met MANY friends, two of whom followed him through most of the journey: Misty and Brock.
Ash also met many new Pokemon, a few of which he caught. Among his closest companions are the three Kanto starters: Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle. Only Charmander evolved along the way.
Upon learning about the Pokemon League, Ash started battling gym leaders. He didn’t win each match the first time but he did beat the eight Kanto gym leaders, granting him the access to the Indigo Plateau Conference. There, Ash battled his best before losing his sixth match.
Every so often, our hero ran into his rival, a trainer by the name of Gary Oak. Gary was a fantastic trainer with a lot of ego but strength to back it up.
And in just about every episode, Ash also ran into the notorious Team Rocket who tried to steal Pokemon for their own evil purposes; however, Ash’s Pikachu blasted them into the next episode almost every single time.
“Exciting” is probably the best word I’d use to describe season 1 to everyone.
Note: we should also mention that the plot of MewTwo Strikes Back took place in season 1.
Ash started out with a Pikachu, a Pikachu that hated the trainer and would not go into the ball. Spoiler alert: Pikachu never makes it into the ball. But Pikachu is not the only Pokemon Ash catches.
One thing to really point out here is that Ash has a “pattern” he follows that usually ends with Pokemon trusting him. He often screws something up, endangering the Pokemon along the way, and then he fixes it by sacrificing himself in some way. Let’s sound off real quick on all the Pokemon Ash caught.
Caterpie. Caterpie has the most heart-breaking story in season 1. It’s Ash’s first true catch. Caterpie shares its dream of becoming Butterfree with Pikachu by the moonlight on its first night with the boy. Ash helps Caterpie achieve its dreams by helping it evolve into Metapod and finally, Butterfree. It battles with heart.
However, during the episode “Bye Bye Butterfree“, Ash made the difficult choice of letting Butterfree go. I know that I, as a fan, cried during this scene and waited for Butterfree to return for several seasons before giving up. It was a heart-breaking moment and it demonstrated the deep connections with trainer and Pokemon. It also displayed Caterpie’s desire to be caught and trained.
Pidgeotto. Ash caught Pidgeotto just the next episode. The relationship between the two isn’t fully explored and so I’d say that Pidgeotto was very much a utility Pokemon for Ash. It fought hard, it got Ash out of a few jams, and it put out countless fires.
Bulbasaur. Whilst observing the Hidden Village, Ash befriended Bulbasaur who hated the trainer at first. In fact, the boy had to gain the Pokemon’s trust and even when Bulbasaur desired to accompany the hero, it requested a fair match first. Ash had to prove himself to Bulbasaur and that he would train it well. Bulbasaur was the first of the three Kanto starters that Ash caught.
Charmander. Charmander’s story is a heart-breaking one. Its original trainer abandoned it to die by telling it he’ll come back and making it stay in one place. And yes, to die! Charmander’s story is the first time we confront the idea of Pokemon death in the series. Ash and his friends obviously save it but even then, Charmander is reluctant to join Ash’s party. Again, Ash has to prove that it will take care of this abused Pokemon. The boy does so selflessly, caring less about his own team make-up and more about the Pokemon’s safety.
Charmander is the only Kanto starter that Ash evolves and it evolves all the way into a Charizard. Charizard’s own storyline is a fascinating one. In its case, Ash did not prove himself to be a worthy trainer in season 1. Charizard never follows orders or connects with Ash, even to its own detriment. It doesn’t actively want to leave, it just disrespects Ash.
Charmander wasn’t enough for its trainer, and now, Ash is not enough for Charizard. The boy has to train himself harder and become a better trainer in order to gain Charizard’s respect but when will that happen?
Squirtle. Squirtle is a “bad boy” at first but through getting to know Ash, he chooses to follow Ash. In “Here Comes Squirtle Squad“, we learn more about the trainers that abandon their Pokemon. They are not “released” into the wild (in my mind) but they are simply left alone. The boy hero befriends their leader and earns Squirtle’s trust. Squirtle then joins Ash without a fight.We get a small glimpse into the dark side of the Pokemon world again. Charmander’s trainer was cruel, he told Charmander he’ll be back and never came back while Squirtle’s trainer is an unknown individual that left it outright. Ash and Squirtle develop a very close bond.
Krabby. Krabby is Ash’s seventh Pokemon and so it gets automatically transported to Oak’s lab. I think Krabby is a comic relief to some extent as it often shows up unexpectedly when Ash calls the Professor. Oak is very happy to have Krabby as a companion. It eventually evolves into the powerful Kingler during the Indigo League Conference. We don’t see much of it otherwise.
Muk. Muk joins the team somewhat reluctantly but becomes very affectionate quickly. Known for its hugs, Muk plays very well with everyone else and shows its true power during the Indigo League Conference.
A few honorable mentions. Ash had several Pokemon that temporarily joined him on his journey that he let go. I mentioned Butterfree exclusively because of its importance to Ash’s personal journey but its slot never gets permanently filled. Along the way, Ash gets to battle with Haunter and Primeape.
He also catches MANY Tauros.
Ash was off to a rough start at the beginning of the show but throughout, he became friends with many people. He gained respect of the Gym leaders, and he proved himself to not only Pokemon but to humans as well. All in all, Ash’s friendships always helped him move forward.
Misty. In the first couple of episodes, he quickly left a negative impression on Misty in particular, destroying her bike very early on. But she stuck with him and together, they became close friends. They traveled together through the entire season and they battled only once when Misty represented the Cerulean City Gym in the Water Flowers of Cerulean City.
If I recall correctly, Ash pretty much beat her before Team Rocket interrupted. And since then, she became more of a coach to Ash, advising him and guiding him through his battles. Misty had her own journey; however, we did not see much of it through the fast track viewing list. There was definitely some chemistry between the two characters but again, nothing really came of it.
Brock. Brock is still around, almost twenty seasons later. Ash and Brock first met when Ash challenged him to a battle at the Pewter City Gym where he lost at first and then Ash had to power through and win against Brock…through a technicality.
Brock’s own journey is an interesting one, too. He went from being a hardcore Gym leader to becoming a Pokemon Breeder. He cooks for the group, their Pokemon and he he heals the Pokemon, too. Just like Misty, he becomes Ash’s coach and helps him get better over time.
The trio became iconic and set up a standard for the rest of the show where Ash is usually flanked by two friends that focus on the Pokemon world without conflicting with Ash’s own journey to becoming a Pokemon master.
And while we rarely ever met other characters that Ash befriended in the Fast Track list, we did one more very important character.
Ritchie. Ritchie showed up for a handful of episodes all the way at the end but he exemplified a more refined version of Ash. A true friendly rival that could push Ash toward becoming a better trainer. Ritchie had his own Pikachu and even a Charmander. He was the perfect counterpart and when they battled, it showed where Ash excelled and where Ritchie did.
You see, Ash had powerful Pokemon including his Charizard but Ritchie had better control over his Pokemon which lead to Ritchie’s victory. Ash used cunning strategy and that’s where the trainers matched evenly.
I already mentioned Ritchie and I think Ritchie is Ash’s true rival. Looking at later gens, the dual protagonist setup makes much more sense and shows up in Indigo League with Ritchie being the friendly rival whilst Gary being the unfriendly rival
Gary. Gary Oak shows up in the first episode and then pops in and out every so often. While he is very arrogant, he is also strong. I’d say he’s actually a bully but his poking and prodding of Ash gets the boy riled up enough to keep getting better.
Ash and Gary never end up having an all out epic battle you’d expect from other anime. In fact, they rarely ever clash. But Gary is always several steps ahead. When Ash is getting his eight badge, Gary already has ten. While Ash caught less than ten Pokemon, Gary had already caught dozens.
Eventually, we get some semblance of how they measure up against each other when Gary drops out a round prior to Ash at the Indigo League Conference.
Where to next?
We don’t yet know where Ash will head but he’s done with Kanto, there’s nothing left for him to do with the Indigo League Conference being over. But we should see pretty soon!