For 23 years, Ash Ketchum has been synonymous with Pokémon. The 10-year-old boy from Pallet Town, accompanied by his partner, Pikachu, has journeyed through every Pokémon region, starring in over 1100 episodes and 23 movies.
After the Pokémon Sun and Moon: The Series concluded, many suspected Ash's story could come to an end. However, Ash continued on to the Galar Region in Pokémon Journeys: The Series, alongside his new travelling companion, Goh, aiming to take part in the World Coronation Series.
Pokémon Journeys, which some fans see as a soft reboot of the anime, has diverted from the traditional format of the show. For the first time, Ash no longer has any female travelling companions, and this is the first season to be set across multiple regions. It is also, as of August 9, the first season to feature an episode that doesn't star Ash or Pikachu. Could Pokémon Journeys be set to make the greatest change of all, and leave Ash Ketchum behind?
READ MORE: When is the next Nintendo Direct?
He's Caught 'Em All - Is it time for Ash to go?
In the past year, two of the longest-running droughts have come to an end. Liverpool finally won the Premier League, and Ash Ketchum finally became a Pokémon Master. Following 22 seasons spanning seven generations of Pokémon games, Ash Ketchum claimed the title of the Alola League Champion after beating his rival, Gladion, in September 2019.
This victory came after the trainer narrowly missed out on winning the Kalos League, losing in the final against Alain and his Charizard X. Ash had previously participated in six different Pokémon Leagues, losing in the knockout stages each time.
However, after his Alolan League victory, Ash fulfilled his goal of becoming a Pokémon Master, bringing his story arc to what many would view as a satisfying end some twenty-three years later.
Then the trailer for Pokémon Journeys dropped. Ash would remain the titular character. Many fans sighed in relief, fearing the anime would decline in quality if Ash departed. While it's certainly a safe choice, Ash's presence may eventually erode the anime, damaging its sustainability.
While long-time fans make up a significant portion of the show's audience, the core focus is on Pokemon's younger audience. This audience, who perhaps may have only been interested in Pokemon for a short time, will have less of a connection to Ash's story, having not developed this over some twenty-three years.
To ensure this audience doesn't drop off, and remains interested, 'resetting' the show with a new, modern protagonist may be the way forward. But who can fill Ash's shoes?
It's time to 'Go'
As with every new series of the Pokémon anime, Ash was joined by a new companion for Pokemon Journeys - Goh. Goh is another 10-year-old boy from Kanto, who dreams of catching Mew. Goh's partner Pokemon is currently a Raboot, the evolved form of Scorbunny.
Shifting the focus away from Ash to Goh is not a decision TPCi would take lightly. His inclusion in Pokémon Journeys alongside Ash is likely a trial run from producers to see if the fans would approve of Goh taking over.
Compared to Ash, Goh is much less experienced, with Ash almost taking on the role of an older brother, helping Goh improve and become a Pokémon Trainer rather than just a collector, possibly setting up Goh's own run to become a Pokémon Master.
There's just one problem.
READ MORE: Nintendo Switch Pro news
I Choose You, Pikachu!
Prior to the creation of the anime, Pikachu was not Pokémon's mascot. Indeed, Clefairy was originally intended to be the star, only for executives to change their minds at the last minute, fearing a pink Pokemon would not be popular among the male demographic.
Since Ash was given a Pikachu in the first episode of the anime, however, Pikachu has risen to the top of Pokémon, and the top of gaming. The electric mouse is widely regarded as the most recognisable video game character in history alongside Mario. Pikachu takes a leading role in multiple Pokémon games, including Detective Pikachu, Hey You, Pikachu!, Pokémon Yellow and Pokémon Lets GO! Pikachu. Pikachu is now synonymous with Pokémon. The absence of the yellow creature from the Pokémon anime would arguably be more damning than if Ash left the show.
As of now, Goh has not captured a Pikachu. However, this could be about to change.
While much of the discussion surrounding the next episode of Pokémon Journeys focused on Ash's Pikachu allegedly evolving, this red herring masks the real scoop. After detailing how Ash's Pikachu will 'evolve', the summary also says how "Go attempts to get a Pikachu and ends up meeting a very obliging one!"
Not only will this allow for a Pikachu to remain in the anime if Goh takes over, but if Goh catches a female Pikachu, known for having a distinct heart-shaped tail, viewers will be able to distinguish Goh's Pikachu from the original Pikachu.
There's no way to know for sure what the plans are for the Pokémon anime, but as we approach Pokémon's 25th anniversary, we wouldn't be surprised if TPCi dropped this bombshell on us next year.