I never expected that this day would come: Ash Ketchum and Pikachu are retiring. In an episode of Pokémon set to air in Japan early next year, the iconic duo will conclude their decades-long quest to become the very best Pokémon team in history. (There’s no word yet on when it will air in the U.S.) Two new young heroes will take their place—the first time that Pokémon has changed hands in the entire history of the original series.
For the last 25 years, the perpetual 10-year-old has traveled across the land with a single mission: to become a Pokémon master. To catch them was his real test; to train them was his cause. Joined by his trusty Pikachu, Ash made friends human and creature alike, in every region known to man and Pokémon. Indeed, friendship was his priority—which is why it took 25 years for Ash to complete his initial quest.
But complete it, he finally has. Before this week’s shocking revelation that Ash would be retiring, the news broke earlier this year that the Pokémon anime would air the episode we’ve waited decades for. Ash Ketchum would accomplish his goal of earning the title of best Pokémon trainer in the world. He would defeat the reigning World Champion in a tough battle. No one was stronger than him; the Pokémon training powers-that-be said so.
Where does one go from there? The average Pokémon fan would point out that Ash is far from completing his Pokédex—catching every single Pokémon in existence—but the boy never prioritized that anyway. Researchers have now discovered 1,008 unique Pokémon. Ash, in his 25-year journey, has never cracked 100 Pokémon. But when you have an extremely overpowered Pikachu in your stable, you don’t really need other options.
Even if Ash does deserve to hang up his hat and take a good, long nap after all this time, I’m still shocked by the news that he is doing that for good. For both fans of the series and the greater public, Ash and Pikachu practically are Pokémon. There is nothing special about Pikachu as a creature outside of being very cute and Ash’s partner Pokémon, a decision made in the first episode of the show. (Pikachu, you may recall, is not a standard choice of first Pokémon, but Ash was never a standard trainer.)
But Pikachu’s little mug adorns every kind of merch ever made and has helped boost the franchise into one of the biggest in history. More than 1,200 episodes of TV and 10-dozen games will do that. That’s what legendary looks like.
While it’s nice to see that one of the budding trainers leading the next Pokémon anime is a young girl, it’s impossible not to feel a little heartbroken. I’m loath to whine about how my childhood is dead, because being an adult is way better than being a kid. (No homework! Oreos for dinner! I can lie on the couch in pajamas and watch anime all day long!)
But Ash and Pikachu were defining figures of my childhood—and indeed, much of my life. I spent every Saturday morning from ages 4 to 12 watching Pokémon. I have played nearly every Pokémon game ever released. I have an obscene amount of Pokémon items in my very adult apartment. I once waited in line in the cold for six hours outside of Nintendo New York—a store I’ve been going to since it was the Pokémon Center, back in 2001—to buy a special shirt for the franchise’s 20th anniversary.
I love Pokémon as much as I love my family. They know this. It’s okay. They understand.
Ash and Pikachu meant so much to me growing up, as they were the avatars of the thing I came to love: the idea of having a single-minded quest that encouraged me, a literal child, to go out on my own and catch tons of cute monsters. Even as an adult, I am eager to assume that childish role and relive that dream over and over again.
That dream is not dead; I’m happy for the little girl who gets to embark upon her own journey, for a new generation of kids to follow along and get excited about. But with Ash and Pikachu quitting the game while they’re ahead, should I do that too?
Of course not! Those video games are too fun, and those creatures are too cute. But I’ll miss my favorite trainer and partner nonetheless.