PokeManiac Monday – Rewatching the Pokemon Anime (Episode 1: Pokemon – I Choose You!)

Everybody Hates Ash.

Pikachu does not like Ash Ketchum in Pokemon anime
Image Source: OLM via Netflix

It may be hard to believe, but 2023 will mark 25 years since the Pokemon anime first premiered in the west. That’s a quarter century of battles, exploration, and boneheaded decisions by Ash Ketchum.

To commemorate this momentous landmark, we’re taking a look back by rewatching the earliest days of Pallet Town and beyond. Join us on this most marvellous trip down memory lane, and remember to stock up on Super Potions for the journey ahead!

Pokemon Episode 1: Pokemon – I Choose You!

First Aired: April 1, 1997 (Japan), September 8, 1998 (US)

The very first episode opens, quite fittingly, with a recreation of the original Game Boy intro animation. It pits Nidorino against Gengar, proving once and for all that Pokemon Blue is not canon. Bad luck, Jigglypuff.

Evidently, this fated duel is taking place as part of an official Pokemon League match, with a sold-out crowd witnessing the proceedings. The attendees are all thrilled, aside from one lone spectator who looks more like an isekai protagonist who has just woken up in another world — a cruel world, where adolescent pink rhinoceros monsters are made to fight against literal ghosts.

Crowd shot in Pokemon anime, with suspicious gentleman circled for emphasis
Seriously, why is he so perturbed? | Image Source: OLM via Netflix

Gengar easily dodges Nidorino’s horn attacks (because Ghost is immune to Normal, you utter noob) before responding with Hypnosis. Assuming these are gen 1 sleep mechanics, the battle is as good as over.

It is now we meet our hero, Ash Ketchum, who is enthusiastically watching the tournament take place on TV. He is a dim-witted 10-year-old who is due to receive his first Pokemon tomorrow, despite lacking any apparent skills or relevant education on basic Pokemon fundamentals. As a denizen of Pallet Town, his options are to choose Bulbasaur, to choose Squirtle, or to choose wrong (Charmander).

Too excited to sleep, Ash delivers a rousing speech to nobody in particular about his intentions to become a Pokemon master. This goal is somewhat vague, as it is never explicitly defined how or when someone can be anointed a ‘master’ of Pokemon. To some, it entails defeating the Elite Four and becoming the regional Champion. Others consider themselves a master only once they have filled the entirety of the PokeDex. I myself felt like a Pokemon master the day my Aggron won the Master Rank Beauty Contest, because the idea of a 7-foot-tall metallic abomination being awarded a ribbon for its beauty is deeply amusing to me.

Whatever Pokemon mastery means to Ash, his quest gets off on the wrong foot as he spends the whole night pondering which starter he should select, destroying his alarm clock and oversleeping. His mother seems to have dropped the ball on this one, completely absent on the biggest day of her child’s young life. Did she have to go to work? Did she also oversleep? Or does she just hate her little punkass son so much she wants him to fail miserably? We can’t say for sure, but it’s worth pegging Delia Ketchum as an early candidate for eventual series antagonist.

Delia Ketchum holds a fragile alarm clock in Pokemon anime
“Go to bed, Ash — then go to hell!!” | Image Source: OLM via Netflix

Ash makes a beeline for Professor Oak’s laboratory, praying that there is a Pokemon left for him. Upon his arrival, he bumps into the resident asshole Gary Oak. He is the good professor’s grandson, and he is all too happy to tell Ash what a loser he is before waving to his adoring fans and getting into the back of a car to begin his adventure in earnest. Having someone drive you on your Pokemon journey sorta seems like cheating, but what do I know.

It’s worth noting that though Gary mocks Ash by gloating about how spectacular his Pokemon is, it isn’t revealed which one he had chosen. It’s a nice narrative touch that creates an air of mystery around this rival character, and one that would take almost 300 episodes to pay off (spoiler alert: it was Squirtle, saved you a click).

Ash finally enters the laboratory, mustering up all of his courage to make this critical decision. Unfortunately, all of the starters have been scooped up like Pokemon cards from McDonald’s, and Professor Oak watches on in amusement as Ash opens the empty Poke Balls one by one. What a sicko.

The boy is distraught, however there is one last monster remaining; the electric mouse Pikachu. Oak warns him that this particular Pokemon has a bit of a temper, which it immediately showcases by attempting to murder Ash with 100,000 volts. Not the best start, but at least he didn’t suffer the indignity of getting stuck with a Chikorita.

With his first Pokemon in-hand, Ash leaves the lab to find his mother waiting out the front. She has assembled a small contingency to cheer him on, which she evidently decided was more important than ensuring he actually got there on time. Pikachu targets the next member of the Ketchum bloodline, assaulting Delia and the bystanders.

Pikachu is about to bring pain and suffering in Pokemon anime, Ash is disconcerted
The face my cats make when I try to hug them. | Image Source: OLM via Netflix

Stepping back for a moment, one ponders how these iconic scenes would have played out if Game Freak had gone down a different route for series mascot, like Poliwhirl or Clefairy. What would Clefairy have done in this situation? Perhaps we’d have ended up with an animated equivalent to the Pocket Monsters manga, where it would do something vulgar like urinate aggressively. It almost sounds like a missed opportunity when you think about it, though they probably dodged a bullet in the long run.

Ash and Pikachu aren’t exactly fast friends, with the latter refusing to go into its Poke Ball and treating its new trainer with the animosity of an angsty teenager. When a nearby Pidgey surfaces, it opts to clamber up a tree instead of assisting.

But our lad isn’t going to be brought down. He’ll just catch it without any help, proving to his vermin detractor that he’s destined to be the greatest trainer of all time.

“Enjoy your last moments of freedom, Pidgey, ‘cuz you’re mine!” he snarls, grasping a Poke Ball in his palm. It’s actually kind of messed up how blatant he is with his intentions of animal slavery, and the Pidgey isn’t having any of it. It breaks loose from the ball and scurries off into the long grass, much to Pikachu’s malicious delight.

Ash’s next attempt at capture involves smothering it with his pyjama top, which also ends in catastrophic failure. While this is going on, a Rattata rifles through Ash’s backpack, leading to the Pokedex implying that he’s downright stupid.

If you’re keeping score, the vast majority of this episode is just Ash getting negged into oblivion. I never noticed this as a kid, and even with my aversion to the character in general, it’s somewhat disconcerting to see him dragged so ruthlessly from start to finish.

Pikachu shows off its teeth to Ash in Pokemon anime
This one image fills me with such joy for some reason. | Image Source: OLM via Netflix

His final gambit is to fling stones at his target, a barbaric act that is at the very least, true to the source material. Don’t pretend you didn’t pelt those godforsaken Safari Zone Exeggcutes with fifty rocks back in the day.

Alas, instead of hitting the mild-mannered Pidgey, Ash clonks a Spearow on the noggin by mistake. Considering its glaring weakness to Rock-type attacks, it does not appreciate this affront and swoops at the hapless trainer. It then sets its sights on Pikachu, and I must confess that I feel no sympathy whatsoever as the yellow fuzzball gets pecked at. Talk shit get hit, you little jerk.

Pikachu fells the airborne foe with an electric attack, and in retaliation it summons its brethren to join the fray. Etymologically speaking, the term for a group of birds varies from species to species and I have no baseline upon which to decide what category Spearows would fall under. The one for ducks — twack — is the most fun, so I’ll go with that. Thereafter, Pikachu and Ash flee in terror from the twack of Spearows.

The wee mouse takes a pounding, causing Ash to scoop it up to protect it from further harm (read: protecting his investment) as he leaps from a ledge into a stream down below. The current carries them a ways off into a nearby lake, where they are found by the water-type specialist, Misty. Like everyone else in this episode, the first thing she does is admonish Ash for being such an abject failure of a Pokemon trainer.

Desperate to escape his pursuers, Ash makes off with Misty’s bike and tears off in the direction of the nearest Pokemon Center. There was a strong likelihood they might have then focused their attacks on her instead, but that’s a risk he was willing to take.

Ash is no better a cyclist than he is a Pokemon trainer, quickly crashing into the dirt. He begs Pikachu to return to the safety of its Poke Ball while he fends off the oncoming twack, standing courageously against the Spearows and declaring how fabulous he is. It’s not quite a foolproof plan, and I would have been keen to see the grim results had Pikachu not intervened.

Pikachu defending Ash from twack of Spearows in Pokemon anime
Ash thinking “oh thank god, I was about to try punching a bird.” | Image Source: OLM via Netflix

Finally seeing how much its trainer really cares — and ignoring the fact that it was his gross negligence that got them into this mess in the first place — the aureate rodent fills the sky with a fearsome electric attack. Its sheer power knocks Ash off his feet, completely fries Misty’s bike, and causes the Spearows to disappear entirely.

I’m not even exaggerating, they are nowhere to be seen afterwards, ceasing to exist and potentially being the earliest example of mass homicide in this anime. Pokemon master indeed, Ketchum, you’ve got some serious explaining to do.

The skies begin to clear, and as Ash and Pikachu stare adoringly into each other’s eyes, a mysterious avian Pokemon soars majestically overhead. We would later learn that this is the legendary phoenix of the Tin Tower, Ho-Oh. It appears to be the only character in this episode who didn’t hate Ash (though perhaps it is implied).

The battered child continues on-foot toward the Pokemon Center, and the episode reaches its conclusion. To close out the proceedings, we are regaled with the first two verses of the Pokerap, introducing us to 32 different species of monster. It’s really more of a vigorously spoken Pokelist than a rap, but now we’re arguing semantics.

With that, we have completed our reflection upon the first episode of the Pokemon anime. Congrats, champ in the making! You’ve earned yourself the Reading Badge, which makes Pokemon up to level 5 obey you. Yeah, that’s not a great reward, but there’s plenty of episodes left to make up for it.

We’ll see you next time when we encounter a formidable pair of foes in episode 2. Smell ya later!

About the author

Tony Cocking

A miserable little pile of secrets. Unabashed Nintendo stan, Resident Evil fancier and obscure anime enthusiast who insists everything is funnier when the rule of three is applied. Oh, and once I saw a blimp!