All About Japan

Say 'Aloha' to the Alola League Champion: Ash!

Anime Pokémon

In many ways, the Pokémon anime follows the standard coming-of-age sports story formula. Main character Ash is a small-town kid with big dreams. When he first set off on his Pokémon-catching odyssey in 1997, most viewers assumed that he’d inevitably be the winner when it came time to enter a big tournament.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

Up until last week, Ash (or Satoshi, as he’s called in Japan) had spent the last two decades-plus failing to win a total of six tournaments. He lost in the "group of 16" stage of his first tournament and fell in the quarterfinals of the Johto and Hoenn Leagues. He showed improvement by making it to the semifinals of the Sinnoh League, slipped back to a quarterfinal loss for the Vertress League, and came agonizingly close in the 2016 Kalos League tournament, where he was defeated in the finals.

But on Sunday, in the 139th episode of the current Pokémon Sun and Moon anime arc, Ash finally won a Pokémon tournament, being crowned as the first-ever champion of the Alola League!

"I…won?" says a stammered Ash, who can’t believe it himself.

Ash achieved his long-awaited victory with wins over rival Pokémon Trainers Hau and Guzma along the way to an Alola League finals showdown against Glazio, in which Ash’s three-Pokémon team of Melmetal, Dusk-Form Lycanroc, and, naturally, Pikachu defeated Glazio’s Silvally, Zoroark, and Midnight-Form Lycanroc.

By this point in the franchise, fans had sort of come to assume that Ash would just go on losing tournaments forever, and the stunning upset brought out heartfelt messages of congratulations and commemorative fan art online.

Perhaps there’s no one to whom Ash’s/Satoshi’s win means more than Rika Matsumoto, the voice actress who’s been portraying the character since 1997. Asked for her thoughts on the Alola finals, Matsumoto said:

“I think it’s very meaningful that Satoshi was able to win his first championship. I think there was a part of him that was feeling discouraged that he and his friends have been working so hard up until now, but weren’t able to win a championship and that he felt like his efforts would never be rewarded. Since he’d never won in more than 20 years, when the Alola tournament started there must have been people who assumed ‘Well, he’s not going to win this time either, right?’ Being able to win under those conditions is proof of what Satoshi has achieved through his hard work, and I’m happy for him.”

Granted, Ash had already done some pretty incredible things without having championship credentials, such as helping to save the world (or at least sizable parts of it) several times in the Pokémon anime movies. Still, it’s deeply moving to see

Related stories:

After 19 years, Ash Ketchum keeps streak alive with an as-expected performance in Pokémon League
Old-school Pokémon Champions Red and Blue return in latest new Pokémon Sun & Moon trailer 【Video】
Pokémon anime proves Ash and Pikachu are two of the buffest beings in the world【Videos】
New Pokémon anime series promises to include all eight regions, has throwback title