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Weird things about Ash and Pikachu's relationship

At heart, the Pokemon franchise is all about friendship between a trainer and their pocket monsters. Sure, you might develop that close bond by sending your pets out to battle each other until they faint from being struck by lightning, poisoned, or literally possessed by the unquiet spirits of the dead, but still, it's all about friendship, just like the one embodied by the franchise's ubiquitous mascots, Ash Ketchum and his best pal Pikachu.

Except, of course, for the fact that their relationship is pretty weird, even by the standards of the Pokemon universe. Over the real-time decades that they've been traveling together, there's been bitterness, public humiliation, attempted murder, and even a literal resurrection from the dead, all in the name of this highly dubious "friendship." Pay attention, and you'll spot 'em all, but until then, we've got some of the weirdest things about Ash and Pikachu's relationship.

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Pikachu: the pity Pokemon

There are a lot of ways to tank a friendship right from the start, but one of the easiest is for one party to make it clear that they're just slumming it with the other because no one else is available. Bare minimum, someone's going to feel unappreciated, and at worst, that gives the relationship a foundation built on the idea that someone's just not good enough. It's pretty rough, then, that in the canon of the Pokemon anime, Pikachu wasn't Ash's first choice for a Pokemon partner. Or his second. Or even his third.

You can see it happen for yourself in the first episode of the anime. In a testament to how lousy Ash actually is at being a Pokemon trainer, he overslept on the day he was supposed to begin his journey as an itinerant animal brawler. As a result, he didn't get to choose one of the standard starter Pokemon, and instead was given a suspiciously powerful Pikachu by Professor Oak. In other words, Pikachu was actually a Pity-chu.

To make matters worse, some of the first Pokemon that Ash actually caught once he was out on the road were Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander — the same three Pokemon that Ash would've chosen from if he hadn't slept in. It's bad enough to know that you weren't someone's first choice of companionship, but being constantly surrounded by the people who actually were has to hurt pretty hard. No wonder Pikachu spends most of the first season trying to electrocute Ash whenever he has the opportunity.

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Of Pokemon bondage

The early days of a good friendship are usually marked by a period when two people get to know each other, usually by having a conversation about each person's likes and dislikes, and maybe even their hopes and dreams. If, however, things start off by one "friend" tying the other one up and then dragging them down the road, it's safe to say that things aren't going so well.

That's what happens in the very first episode of Pokemon. Ash starts things off by trying to force Pikachu into a Pokeball against his will, and when he refuses, Ash ties him up and literally drags him down an unpaved road while berating him about how he's "just like all Pokemon, and should act like one." Even weirder? He does this while talking about how much he likes Pikachu. That's not how you should treat a pet, let alone something that the theme song claims is your "best friend." Admittedly, their relationship improves pretty dramatically over the course of the next few episodes, but for most people, there's a pretty long and contentious period between "tied up against their will" and "best pals."

There is, of course, one exception to this little friendship rule. Tying up your friends and hauling them around is perfectly fine if you have a conversation about informed consent and limits beforehand. Sadly — and thankfully — Ash and Pikachu never have that conversation.

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Catch 'em all?

If you've ever seen anything even tangentially related to the Pokemon franchise, you've definitely seen the phrase "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" For Ash, that's not just a marketing slogan — it's his personal motto, the singular drive that has inspired him to set out on his journey of bicycle destruction. That's all well and good in the concept of the franchise, but in terms of friendship, it doesn't bode well for actually forming a bond with someone.

Right now, there are over 800 Pokemon. Assuming Ash does in fact catch 'em all, that leaves us with two scenarios for how his relationship with his battling pets plays out. First: his relationship with Pikachu, who has been his constant companion since 1997, actually is the tight-knit friendship that we've been told it is, meaning that there are 800 other neglected Pokemon who never get to experience that kind of bond and have to live knowing that they're not the favorite. Second: Pikachu is just another entry in Ash's Pokedex, no more important to him than any of his other captures. Neither one of those is particularly pleasant.

The only mitigating factor here is that canonically speaking, Ash is actually really bad at catching Pokemon. Even after 20 years of adventuring throughout the Pokemon world, he's only captured 80 or so Pokemon. Still, that's an awful lot of pets to be able to determine a clear favorite without hurting someone's feelings, especially when most of them wind up back at Professor Oak's place.

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Evolution pressure

If your friends are pressuring you into changing literally everything about yourself, including your body and your name, then maybe they're not really your friends. If their reasoning for all this pressure is to win a fight? That's a red flag that's visible from space.

That's the entire premise of "Electric Shock Showdown," the episode where Ash and Pikachu take on Lieutenant Surge, the electric-type leader of the Vermilion City gym. That episode is pretty disturbing for a lot of reasons, including the implication that Lt. Surge used Pokemon during a war and all the horrors that go along with that mental image, but the most upsetting by far come from Ash himself. In a scene where Pikachu is hospitalized and bandaged after a brutal defeat, Ash yells that they can win next time "if Pikachu tries harder," and then offers him a Thunder Stone in the hopes that he'll evolve into Raichu and get stronger.

Thankfully, Pikachu stands up for himself, and literally slaps the Thunder Stone out of Ash's hand before launching into what we can only assume was a profanity-laden speech in Pokemon language about how he was going to win on his own terms, and Ash learned a lesson about being yourself and not changing to suit others. Still, the fact that Ash had to learn that lesson, and that he decided to spring this literally life-altering decision on Pikachu while he was bedridden with a head injury, does not speak well of their relationship.

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High-level humiliation

While the Pokemon anime has been on the air since August of 1997, Ash and Pikachu have never actually aged. That's not unusual for cartoon characters, but it does raise a question that's pretty unique to the Pokemon universe.

If you've played the games, you know that the more your Pokemon battle, the more experience they get, and the higher level they become as a result. Higher levels translate into stronger attacks, better defense, and an overall stronger Pokemon, so with 21 years of pretty constant battling under his belt — including competing in multiple Pokemon Leagues in different regions and taking on godlike Legendaries — it stands to reason that Ash's Pikachu would be one of the highest level Pokemon ever.

On the one hand, that explains why he's able to occasionally beat Pokemon that he absolutely shouldn't have a chance against, since "super effective" attacks don't really matter if you're going up against a grizzled immortal. On the other hand, one of the more interesting things about the Pokemon anime is that Ash loses pretty frequently. If Pikachu's as powerful as he should be, then the only explanation is that he's been throwing battles in order to publicly humiliate Ash. If that seems unlikely, consider that Charizard canonically did that same thing. Maybe Pikachu's just more subtle about it.

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Abandonment issues

Everyone has a different concept of friendship, but one thing most of us agree on is that friends stick by each other, even through the hard times. It's how you can tell who really cares about you enough to stand by you, and not, say, abandon you in the woods while claiming it's for your own good.

In "Pikachu's Goodbye," Ash encounters a bunch of wild Pikachu in Viridian Forest, and manages to convince himself that Pikachu would be better off staying there with them. The worst part, though? While he has done this with a few other Pokemon — including Butterfree in an episode that seemed like it was designed to harvest the tears of children across the world — it's not something that he's done with the other starters. Both Squirtle and Bulbasaur were featured in episodes about encountering other Pokemon of their type, and in those situations, Ash did his best to keep them. With Pikachu, however, he seemed pretty eager to get rid of him, which can't be good for Pikachu's confidence. In other words, Ash used gaslighting, and it was super effective.

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Blasting off again… and again… and again

Not all of the weird things about Ash and Pikachu's relationship have to do with how they treat each other. Sometimes, it's more about how they seem to be united by one of their few common interests: constant attempted murders.

Specifically, they've blasted Team Rocket into the stratosphere somewhere around 800 times over the course of the anime, usually sending them flying with a jolt from Pikachu's thunderbolt. It's easy to write that off as self-defense — Jessie and James have a long history of trying to kidnap and/or murder Pikachu, Ash, and their friends themselves — but eventually, it starts to seem a little excessive. If you have your doubts on that, consider this: Pikachu's Thunderbolt has a canonical power of 10,000 volts. An electric chair, which is used in executions, has a voltage of 2,000. Team Rocket's bad, but it's hard to imagine that they deserve to be shocked five times stronger than an electric chair 800 times.

And that's before you get to the uncounted injuries from plunging back into the ground after blasting off every week. With a long enough timeline, it's easy to understand why Jessie and James might want a little revenge, but either way, it's pretty concerning that a ten year-old not only has that much power, but is willing to use it against other human beings.

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If you're not cheating, you're not trying

For a pair of Pokemon battlers with a pretty middling track record, Ash and Pikachu don't always play by the rules — or at least, the rules that the rest of us have to abide by. While we've come a long way from the days when the video game sprites would just sort of wiggle at each other to represent attacks while the anime would show off epic, world-shattering battles, the show still tries to stick to established rules. Unless, of course, Ash and Pikachu decide to cheat their way to a victory. A mutual love of ignoring the rules seems to be one of the few things that unites them.

It's first pretty evident when Ash takes on Brock in Pewter City, triumphing over a type disadvantage by shocking the gym's sprinkler system and causing an indoor downpour and getting a sudden win. That's not strictly how Pokemon battles are supposed to work, but at least it's understandable. It does not, however, stop there.

Bulbapedia has an entire section on Pikachu's "improvised moves," also known as complete nonsense that covers everything from weird combinations of existing moves that you could never pull off in the game to full on making stuff up. There's an episode where Pikachu puts on boxing gloves so that he can have a literal fistfight with a Hitmonchan — already a pretty weird setup — and then somehow uses electricity to shoot them off as a "rocket punch" like a Pacific Rim jaeger. That's not only setting a bad example for kids, it's also infuriating that you can't do that in the game.

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The existential horror of Ashachu

A great way to quickly improve a relationship is to metaphorically put yourself in the other person's shoes, and try to get a better idea of how they think and feel about things. That said, it's not usually considered a good idea to literally put yourself into their shoes, or, in the absence of shoes, to use dark magic to reshape your body into a twisted mockery of theirs in defiance of God and man.

In "Hocus Pokemon," a full-on witch named Lily casts a spell that's meant to give Ash some insight into how Pikachu thinks, and winds up turning him into a Pikachu himself. It is, to say the least, a pretty odd experience for everyone involved, but it's especially concerning that Ash's first reaction to this polymorphic sorcery is to freak out at the very prospect of being a Pikachu forever. He does this right in front of his actual Pikachu, which has to be more than a little insulting, right?

Eventually, Ash reverts back to his normal human form — or as normal as you can be when you've spent two decades as a ten-year-old with the information retention of a goldfish — and all is more-or-less well. Still, it has to make the relationship a little weirder when one person has actually been the other, or at least worn their shape like a horrifying doppelgänger.

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The Resurrection of Ash Ketchum

Forget about all the problems with their friendship, forget all the weird stuff that they've done together over the years. If you want to know what's really the single weirdest thing about their relationship, you need to go all the way back to Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back.

It's worth noting that while they tend to tell bigger stories about legendary Pokemon, the movies are canon, and this one comes pretty early in the franchise, only about a year into it. It's a pretty memorable cinematic experience, too, largely because at one point, Ash is straight up murdered by Mewtwo. That's not even the weird part, either — that comes when Ash is resurrected from the dead by Pikachu's tears.

The implications of this are staggering. At the bare minimum, Ash Ketchum has been a resurrected corpse for literally 95% of his Pokemon journey, with an entire generation of Pokemon fans who have never known an Ash who had not seen beyond the veil that separates life and death. Take that to its logical extreme, and it provides a pretty compelling explanation for why Ash never seems to age, and why he can't learn any new information. Everything about him just stopped at the moment of his death, before he became a twisted puppet that Pikachu wept into existence. They could do nothing but exchange friendly compliments and have tea parties, and with that as their foundation, they would still have the weirdest friendship of all time.