Last time: Pity reigned supreme once more!
It amuses me to no end that Ash, having won both of his badges by not actually defeating the Gym Leaders, has let his success go to his head because he can beat shorts lover Youngster Joey over and over again. Of course the mildest amount of success would inflate his ego. I do like how Brock and Misty puncture his enthusiasm musing about how they regret ever giving Ash those badges. Ash can’t be trusted with anything.
Ash, full of bravado and false confidence, comes up against an actual trainer with a 98-0 record here. Ash is predictably battered, bruised and humiliated by AJ and his Sandshrew. Like any reasonable idiot with the emotional intelligence of a rock, Ash responds to this defeat not by learning an important lesson about over-confidence but rather cries conspiracy and claims the match was somehow rigged against him. That rings all too familiar these days…
I’ve cracked jokes about Pokémon being about humans using Pokémon as their own personal fighters mostly for their own amusement but this episode actually tackles that head on. AJ is basically a slave driver who whips and abuses his Pokémon under the guise of making them better but in truth is just abusing them.
This is actually a useful episode in terms of putting the core relationship between people and Pokémon and what the show strives to be rather than what it can seem like on the surface. People and Pokémon working together to learn from and better each other rather than Pokémon simply being tools of destruction. It’s actually important that the show addresses that and drives home that distinction. It also helps that AJ sounds like an aggressive Bobby Hill so you inherently root against him. That boy ain’t right.
The show does kind of cop out by ending on the note that AJ’s Pokémon actually like him despite the obvious abuse they go through. It’s Stockholm Syndrome I guess.
– Who’s that Pokémon? It’s Sandshrew! I wonder is this one abuse and forced to drown too?
– AJ claims to be undefeated 98-0 at the start of the episode (and 100-0 at the end) but his Sandshrew still hasn’t evolved. Sandshrew evolves at level 22. I call shenanigans.
– The narrator says Ash will “never forget that place with the great Gym again” at the end of the episode which made me chuckle because of how little this episode has an effect on the overall Pokémon narrative. At least the show is self-aware!