The Pokémon anime has been going for 22 years and counting, with over 1000 episodes under its belt. Every region in which Ash has travelled has had a League Conference which he has challenged to varying degrees of success (or not). There have been some spectacular battles over the course of Ash’s various League campaigns, but equally there have been some pretty bad ones. While I have been discussing the best battles per region this year on the blog, this time I am going to take a step back from complimenting Pokémon battles which have happened on screen and, with the upcoming Alola League beginning to air in Japan next week, look at the worst battles in the League Conferences so far.
5. Ash vs. Tobias (Sinnoh League)
Where the animation is concerned, this battle was outstanding, particularly the aerial battle between Tobias’s Latios and Ash’s Swellow, plus to see Ash’s Sceptile defeat a Darkrai which had swept in every Gym and League battle that it had partaken in was great, as was the explosive tie between Ash’s Pikachu and Tobias’s Latios. However, after the spectacular full battle between Ash and Paul, what a cop-out ending for the Sinnoh League. To see Ash’s team of six get swept by a Darkrai and Latios just felt like such an anticlimactic way to round off what had been a genuinely fantastic regional League. Plus, Ash knew that Tobias had at least one Legendary Pokémon on his team, so why he did not bring powerhouse Pokémon such as Charizard, Snorlax or Infernape to his own team is anyone’s guess.
4. Ash vs. Trip (Unova League)
Okay, this is probably the most controversial pick on this list as it was the battle in which Ash defeated his long-term Unova rival for the first time. However, after all of the focus on their rivalry, after all of the times Trip defeated Ash and subsequently belittled him, we expected them to face each other in a full battle, similar to those which Ash had faced previous rivals Gary and Paul in. Instead it was a one-on-one match between Ash’s Pikachu and Trip’s Serperior. While it had an explosive ending, Serperior had dealt a lot of damage to Pikachu, before the Electric-type turned the tables with apparent ease. This felt like a huge cop-out, especially after Serperior had been built up as this absolute tank during the World Tournament Junior Cup arc only a few months earlier, and was a very disappointing way to end Ash and Trip’s rivalry.
3. Rounds Two and Three (Kanto League)
Nothing reflects the fact that the writers were unsure what they were doing with the Kanto League more than these two battles, which were crammed into the first few and final few minutes of a single episode respectively, so much so that we never even learn the name of Ash’s opponent in Round Two. While Ash won both of these battles (and it was nice to see Squirtle, Kingler and Pikachu in action), with the anime having built up to the Kanto League since day one, and with it being Ash’s first regional League, it felt ridiculous to see two battles being crammed into barely half an episode. Given that the writers had no true certainty as to whether they would create another regional League Conference, it seems crazy that they did not put more effort into the Kanto League, speaking of which…
2. Ash vs. Ritchie (Kanto League)
Ash’s fifth battle in the Kanto League would determine whether he made it to the quarter-finals, and he battled Ritchie, a friendly rival whom he had made. This was it, this was what both the League and the entire anime to date had been building to…so, what a let down. Ash only just made it to the match (very late!) as he had been kidnapped by Team Rocket, so by the time he got there both Pikachu and Pidgeotto were exhausted. Very soon, Ash’s only option was his disobedient Charizard…who cost Ash the match by choosing to nap rather than battle Ritchie’s Pikachu. What. A. Joke! Over 80 episodes and over 18 months…for this? What if the anime had never got as far as the Johto League? This would be Ash’s best effort at a regional League (bar the Orange Islands), and what a sour note for the series that would have been (it still kind of is one).
1. Ash vs. Cameron (Unova League)
While Ash’s defeat at Ritchie’s hands was probably his most humiliating, he was at least motivated to push himself further and developed a more approach to losing as a result. His defeat at Cameron’s hands, however, was just as much of a joke, but served no purpose character development wise. Despite Cameron having been built up as a trainer to take seriously, he was just goofy in this match, sending Ferrothorn and Swanna out against Ash’s Pignite and Pikachu respectively in spite of 4 x type-disadvantages. Plus, Cameron thought that a full battle meant five Pokémon instead of six, so when he defeated Ash, he did so with only five Pokémon. For Ash’s Unova League campaign to end with him losing to a goof who did not even make it a full six-on-six battle in many ways encapsulates everything wrong with the Unova saga, leaving us fans seething in a way which even Ash’s loss to Ritchie did not manage.