Pokemon: ‘Ash Ketchum failing for 22 years taught me being a loser is OK’

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Ash wins the Alola Pokemon LeagueImage copyright
The Pokemon Company International

We’re told to never give up on our dreams – but grafting for 22 years? That might be pushing things for most of us.

Not for Ash Ketchum though, who this weekend became a Pokemon Master in a new episode of the Pokemon anime.

Yes, obviously Ash is a cartoon character and Pokemon aren’t real, but for many fans of the franchise it’s a big moment.

He’s been plugging away at being the very best (“like no one ever was”) since 1997.

In the latest episode, he won the Alola Pokemon league, despite the fact that throughout much of his adventures, he’s been quite bad at training Pokemon – losing every other championship he’s ever entered.

‘The lesson is to pick yourself back up’

But that – and Pikachu, obviously – was always part of the appeal.

“Pokemon was great escapism for me but it also taught me that not necessarily being the best, that was OK too,” 27-year-old Jake Saunders from Bromborough tells BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“Putting it bluntly, it was like being a loser is OK. The important lesson is to pick yourself back up, roll with the punches and keep going.”

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Jake Saunders

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“It’s taken Ash 22 years and obviously that’s a lot of people’s youth,” says Jake

And Laura Kate Dale, who’s 28 and from Surrey, says Ash proved to her that you could be “still worthy of praise” even if you failed every single time.

“He was always the underdog, half the times he won gym badges it was because he did something nice, not because he was the best at fighting,” she tells Newsbeat.

“There was something really beautiful about seeing that growing up – that it’s OK if you’re not the strongest, the most qualified, as long as you keep trying to be the best person you can be, the nicest you can be to people around you.”

Pokemon told ‘relatable stories in digestible ways’

While it’s easy to dismiss the franchise as just the game that had us all rummaging around in the park for a stray Nidoqueen or rogue Vulpix in 2016 when Pokemon Go was released, the cartoon helped people like Kate and Jake deal with serious issues in real life.

Kate says an episode in which Ash met a Charmander (small, red, dragon-ish, tail on fire – you know the one) which had been abandoned by its original trainer has stuck with her to this day.

“At the time, I was a child dealing with the fact that my biological dad had left and didn’t seem to care the way he was supposed to,” she says.

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Laura Kate Dale

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“If you keep trying at the things you want to do, they’re attainable,” says Laura, about Ash’s Pokemon journey

“The episode’s story was about learning to move on and be OK after someone who was supposed to look after you just vanishes – it was really tasteful in dealing with something that as a child was really difficult to comprehend.

“That’s what the show was really good at. It told stories about relatable themes in digestible ways for children.”

‘A wonderful piece of closure’

But those children are now adults and Jake (a self-confessed “man-child” but in the process of buying a house and “juggling things quite successfully”) says seeing Ash achieve his dreams reminds him of what’s happening for him.

“I think I was around eight or nine-years-old when I started watching it and it’s almost in parallel to where I am in my own life now,” he says.

“I think a lot of young people will be able to relate to that.

“Looking at the show, it’s a wonderful piece of closure for his character arc. It’s brought everything full circle with all these people who have been watching the show since it began.”

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