Pokémon Horizons Finally Realizes The Original Writer’s True Vision For The Anime

Pokémon Horizons finally gives the anime a chance to do something new.

Pokemon Horizons key art with Pikachu, Roy, and Liko

Image Via The Pokemon Company

It’s currently an exciting time to be a Pokémon fan, as Ash Ketchum has finally accomplished his goals and is no longer the protagonist of the Pokémon anime. Iit has been confirmed that he will still be part of the franchise, but in a different form, most likely in the movies. There is now a new Pokémon anime series called Pokémon Horizons: The Series, with a whole new cast of characters, including new leads, in the form of Liko and Roy.

This shift was actually desired by the original head writer of the Pokémon anime, Takeshi Shudo, who wanted to conclude the series before it grew stale. Unfortunately for Shudo, the franchise’s popularity ensured that Ash would stay in the driver’s seat much longer than he should have. But now, one of his ideas has finally come to pass in this new era of the Pokémon anime.

Why Ash Remained The Protagonist Of The Pokémon Anime For So Long

Image via Bulbagarden

The success of the Pokémon video games led to the development of the anime, but no one could have predicted that the franchise would become as big as it did, especially internationally. The Pokémania boom led to a handful of Game Boy RPGs becoming the prominent media franchise of all time, and the anime was a big reason for this, as it debuted ahead of the games outside of Japan.

Ash’s tenure as the protagonist was likely only considered to last until the end of Kanto, but multiple real-life incidents extended his time on the show. For one thing, the December 1997 episode “Electric Soldier Porygon” led to a four-month hiatus for the anime, as it showed a scene with rapid flashing lights that caused the infamous “Pokémon Shock” incident, causing over 650 children in Japan to experience seizures associated with epilepsy.

The other significant incident around this time was the delay of Pokémon Gold & Silver, originally slated to come out in 1997. Pokémon Gold & Silver had notoriously troubled developments, leading to the game being almost totally overhauled, with the release date pushed back to 1999 in Japan. This is notable, as the Orange Islands season of the anime was created as a filler arc during the wait, with Gen 2 information trickling into the anime and movies around this time, as Ash’s adventures continued.

If the Porygon incident hadn’t happened, if Pokémania hadn’t blown up around the world in the way that it did, and if Pokémon Gold & Silver had hit their release date, then Ash might have been written out of the show a lot earlier than he was, as his storyline could have concluded in the Indigo League, setting up a new protagonist for Johto. As it stands, his presence in the anime was artificially extended by real-life factors, and he became as closely associated with the show as the Pokémon themselves.

It wasn’t until the Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire era that Pokémon switched to a cyclical format, with Ash starting over from scratch in each region and essentially doing the same thing each time. The format involved Ash traveling somewhere with Pikachu, capturing new Pokémon, fighting Team Rocket, befriending a new companion, beating the Gym Leaders, and losing during the Pokémon League. This format remained the same until the Pokémon Sun & Moon era, which slowly led to Ash’s last run as the anime’s protagonist.

Takeshi Shudo’s Vision For The Anime

Ash and his Dragonite in Pokemon Journeys
Image Via. The Pokemon Company

The original head writer of the Pokémon anime had different ideas for Ash in the series that he was never allowed to put into practice. He discussed these ideas on his blog, which was translated into English at Lava Cut Content. These ideas included Ash becoming an old man and being reborn to live his life over as a child and Pokémon rebelling against humanity, with Pikachu as their leader.

What’s interesting about Shudo’s ideas for the anime is that he wanted new characters to take over every couple of years and for the show to better match the themes and interests of the kids who watched the show. Ultimately, he never got to put these ideas into practice, and he departed from the Pokémon anime in 2002.

“Everything I’m writing here now, they’re just my own simple thoughts.” Shudo wrote on his blog, “After 3 or 4 years, a new Pokémon adventure with a new main hero should begin. With its own topics — this new Pokémon should adapt to its times.” This was written after Shudo’s departure from the show, yet it’s clear that the show was important to him, especially as it was the project he was best known for.

“Ten years ago, there was some kid watching Pokémon. That kid’s tastes will change as he gets older, and someday he’ll be an adult bringing his own children to the cinema. Hopefully he’ll watch Pokémon and consider it a movie fit for adults — that would make me very happy.” Shudo wanted Pokémon to evolve with the times rather than remain stagnant. “However, if Pokémon stays the same year-after-year, it’s hard to imagine it touching on topics that are relevant with the times. Still, the games and the merchandise have steadily taken root in our everyday lives.”

How Liko From Pokémon Horizons Compares To Ash

Liko from Pokemon Horizons with Roy
Image Via The Pokemon Company

The protagonist of Pokémon Horizons is a girl named Liko, though there is also a secondary main character named Roy, who has only briefly appeared in the first few episodes. Liko is a very different character from Ash, as the first episode of Pokémon Horizons is all about how she struggles to talk with people. The first few episodes show her trying to overcome her communication issues as she is hunted by Pokémon trainers trying to steal her pendant.

Ash Ketchum was bold and forthright throughout the entire show, sometimes to an annoying degree. Ash never lacked confidence, even if it was misplaced at times, and he was quick to make friends and rivals with the people around him. And while Ash was a novice to Pokémon battling at the beginning, he gradually learned over time and became one of the most accomplished trainers in the world, even if it did take him over twenty years.

Liko’s personality contrasts with Ash’s from the start of the series, which was likely intentional. We’re also in a situation where Liko’s goals still haven’t been made clear, unlike Ash, who wanted to be a Pokémon Master from the beginning. This will change throughout the series, as Liko grows as a character, she meets more Pokémon, and her ambitions are made clear.

What Horizons Means For The Future Of The Series

Roy and Liko side by side in Pokemon Horizons
Image Via. The Pokemon Company

It can’t have been an easy decision for The Pokémon Company to scrap Ash as the protagonist of the anime after all of this time, but at least they gave him a decent send-off, even if the show didn’t answer all of the questions raised by the series over the years, such as the identity of Ash’s father, or whatever was in the GS Ball.

The shift to Pokémon Horizons and the new cast does mean that there is room for the series to tell whole new stories outside of the framework of one kid’s journey to become a Pokémon Master. Shudo wanted Pokémon to change over time so that its characters could better reflect the times. This can happen now that Ash has stepped aside, and Liko can become a different kind of protagonist whose story isn’t locked into a formulaic cycle of selling a new mainline Pokémon game before moving on to the next region.

A lot of Pokémon fans love Ash Ketchum, and his quest to be the best, like no one ever was, will always be their entry point to the series. This was true of many kids back in 1998, and it’s still true today. With the Pokémon Horizons series, modern kids can have a Pokémon protagonist to call their own and who they can see themselves in. If the protagonist of Pokémon Horizons was just an Ash clone, then there would be no point in changing characters, which means the field is clear for a new kind of character arc in the series. 

Plus, if Pokémon Horizons bombs, they can always bring Ash back. It’s not like he’s busy at all. After all, the kid doesn’t age.