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The Most Shocking Moments In The Pokemon Anime

In 1996, the first two games in the "Pokémon" series were released in Japan. The franchise quickly grew, becoming a worldwide phenomenon thanks to action figures, trading cards, spin-off video games, and, of course, a hit anime series. The animated television series debuted in Japan in 1997 and would soon be localized for other regions, including the United States. The series focuses on the adventures of Ash Ketchum, a 10-year-old boy who travels the Pokémon world with his partner, Pikachu, and his fellow trainer companions.

Pokémon became a tentpole of late-90s/early-00s pop culture, with the likes of Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Charizard becoming remarkably popular thanks to their appearances in the animated series. The show's most recent seasons usually tie in to new "Pokémon" game releases every few years, with Ash coming across a new region and newly-discovered Pokémon each time. It's an easy and wholesome watch, which is one of the reasons fans have stuck with "Pokémon" for over two and a half decades. However, there have also been times over the years where audiences were surprised by the turns the "Pokémon" anime has taken.

While some shocking moments in the show resulted in real-life emergency room visits, most simply took the franchise's most popular characters in surprising new directions. Here are the most shocking moments in the "Pokémon" anime.

The Island of Giant Pokémon

The early episodes of the "Pokémon" anime take plenty of cues from the original games. As part of this journey, Ash, Misty, and Brock end up boarding the luxury cruise known as the St. Anne (in the games, it's called the S.S. Anne). Unbeknownst to them, their free tickets are provided by the villainous Team Rocket, who plan to steal the group's Pokémon while on board. The plan goes south, with Ash and his companions eventually joining forces with Team Rocket as the St. Anne sinks.

This would normally be a shocking turn of events by itself, but it gets much weirder. Ash, Brock, Misty, Jessie, and James end up stranded on a mysterious island, separated from their partner Pokémon. To make matters worse, both parties soon discover the existence of ginormous Pokémon on the island, from Rhydon to Pikachu and even Legendary Pokémon like Moltres.

After the trainers find their way through the island and back to their Pokémon, they make the most shocking discovery of all: The island is actually a Jurassic Park-style tourist attraction known as Pokémon Land. All the giant Pokémon are animatronics that end up destroyed by the heroes in their attempt to escape, to the chagrin of the park's owner, Team Rocket boss Giovanni.

Ash releases Butterfree

One of the most heartbreaking and memorable moments in the "Pokémon" anime's first season — if not its entire history — occurs not long after Ash and his friends' adventures in Pokémon Land. The episode "Bye Bye Butterfree" finds the group en route to Saffron City, where they stumble across a flock of Butterfree. As it turns out, it's Butterfree mating season, prompting Ash to let his own Butterfree out of its Poké Ball to join the others. After a thwarted and predictable attempt to capture the Butterfree from Team Rocket, Ash's Butterfree finds its mate in a pink Butterfree.

In the end, Ash doesn't collect his Butterfree back, instead deciding to release Butterfree into the wild to be with its own kind. This is the first time that Ash parts ways with one of his Pokémon, and it remains one of the biggest tear-jerking moments in his Pokémon journey. It's especially sentimental because Butterfree is one of the few Pokémon that Ash fully evolved after catching it as a Caterpie.

The "Pokémon" games aren't able to capture the emotion behind this moment. It's possible to release Pokémon into the wild, but it requires no more than the cold click of a single button. The Butterfree moment does a great job of displaying the connection Ash shares with the Pokémon he befriends.

A Psychic-type gym battle goes awry

After the events of "Bye Bye Butterfree," Ash and his friends arrive in Saffron City expecting to challenge the next Pokémon gym. The episode "Abra and the Psychic Showdown" contains the group's introduction to the city's Gym Leader Sabrina, and it's way creepier than anticipated. The battle has an extra challenge to it — if Ash loses, he must be Sabrina's friend. That doesn't seem too bad, right? Well, being Sabrina's "friend" is more like being a prisoner.

Ash loses the battle against Sabrina's unstoppable Pokémon, Abra. Before Ash, Misty, and Brock know it, they are transported to a doll house, where a giant Sabrina appears over them and forces them to play with her. They quickly realize that they've been shrunk by Sabrina's Abra and make futile attempts to escape her torture. Eventually, the group gets rescued by a mysterious man, who informs Ash that the only way to beat Sabrina's Pokémon is with a Ghost-type Pokémon (which happens to correctly follow the type advantages and disadvantages of the mainline "Pokémon" games).

In subsequent episodes, Ash and his friends travel to Lavender Town, where Ash befriends a Haunter to rechallenge Sabrina in the episode "Haunter versus Kadabra." During the fight, Misty and Brock are once again turned into dolls. Fortunately, Ash's Haunter is able to entertain Sabrina enough to warrant a victory for Ash, earning him another badge. This creepy three-episode arc marks one of the most disturbing moments in the Pokémon anime.

Ash parts ways with Misty and Brock

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and that's especially true when it comes to the original "Pokémon" series. After nearly 300 episodes together, Ash parts ways with Misty and Brock after their adventures in the Johto region. The episode "Gotta Catch Ya Later!" wraps up a lot of story arcs that began in the series' very first episode, where Ash first partners with Pikachu and meets Misty. Ash infamously steals Misty's bike during their first encounter, and it's finally returned to her prior to their sad goodbye.

The three friends all head back to their respective hometowns. Misty is invited to be the Cerulean City Gym Leader. Brock returns to Pewter City to find that his mother has come back after a long absence. As soon as Ash returns to Pallet Town, he prepares to set out on a journey to the Hoenn region, coinciding with the "Pokémon" franchise's then-newest games, "Pokémon Ruby" and "Pokémon Sapphire."

Next to Butterfree's goodbye, Ash's initial goodbye with his friends proved to be a lot for longtime viewers of the series. Fortunately, this wouldn't be the last time these popular characters would appear in the anime alongside Ash, but fans weren't to know that at the time and the split was shocking to behold.

The original group reunites in Hoenn

Ash and Brock wouldn't stay separated for long. Brock reunited with Ash in the Hoenn region, joining Ash's new companion May and her little brother Max. They reunite with their old traveling companion Misty in "The Princess and the Togepi," attending a Togepi Festival that turns out to be another ruse by Team Rocket — unsurprisingly, they want to steal Misty's Togepi. This leads to a Togepi-centric adventure for Ash and his companions (Misty's Pokémon gets lost and ends up in the possession of Princess Sara of the Mirage Kingdom).

Misty is reunited with her Togepi in the following episode, "A Togepi Mirage," in which it evolves into a Togetic. Ash also gets to see Misty boast one of her strongest new Pokémon: She now has a Gyarados, proving her power as the new Cerulean City Gym Leader. Misty once again departs from Ash's travels after this episode, leaving the aspiring trainer to continue his journey with Brock, May, and Max.

Misty's return was highly-anticipated, as she had become one of the most popular "Pokémon" characters and had remained so after her departure. Brock would continue to be Ash's companion throughout the Hoenn and Sinnoh regions. The two have also made subsequent returns in future seasons, like during the "Sun & Moon" saga, but none have been quite as surprising as their first reunion.

Ash is possessed by a ghost

Some episodes of the "Pokémon" anime are shocking for reasons that don't have anything to do with significant characters departing or returning. Oftentimes, the adventures that Ash and his companions find themselves on are riveting enough to play with the audience's expectations. One example of this is "Battling the Enemy Within," an episode of "Pokémon the Series: Ruby & Sapphire" that finds Ash and his friends encountering the Frontier Brain Brandon at the Battle Pyramid.

Unfortunately, Ash's curiosity while investigating the Battle Pyramid gets the best of him. Brandon tries to protect the group with his Regirock, warning them that the ruins they find themselves in are the remnants of Pokélantis which collapsed when its king tried to capture the legendary fire/flying type Ho-Oh. While searching for the Pokémon himself, Ash ends up possessed by the spirit of the King of Pokélantis. In this dramatic twist of fate, Ash becomes the antagonist in a sideways adventure. It's not until Brandon's Regirock bests Ash's Sceptile in battle that Ash is freed from the king's possession. The king's spirit is trapped inside an orb as Ash learns his lesson about irresponsibility.

Serena changes her look

Ash's adventures in Kalos make up the majority of "Pokémon the Series: XY," based on the sixth generation of mainline "Pokémon" games. Early on, he begins traveling with Serena, an aspiring Pokémon Coordinator. She's much different from Ash's other companions, as Serena and Ash once attended summer camp together in Kanto, way before Ash began his journey in the original series.

Serena's journey to becoming a Pokémon Coordinator has a rocky start in the episode "A Showcase Debut" Serena and her Fennekin are eliminated from the contest after Fennekin trips on its own costume, resulting in a humiliating loss for Serena to her rival, Shauna. Serena is devastated by her loss, despite the attempts by her Pokémon to cheer her up. Clemont and Bonnie — Ash and Serena's traveling companions — worry for her, but Ash remains optimistic about Serena's recovery.

In a shocking and memorable moment, Serena pulls a pair of scissors from her backpack and chops her hair short. When she reunites with Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie, they're surprised by her change of look, which is a first for any of Ash's companions in the show. It marks a significant moment in "Pokémon the Series: XY," with Serena going from a kid with a dream to a Pokémon Coordinator-in-the-making.

Ash's Greninja unlocks a new power

Ash has always had a special bond with Pikachu. However, in "Pokémon the Series: XY," he forms a particularly special connection with Greninja, one of the three starter Pokémon in the Kalos region games. Ash first acquires Greninja in its pre-evolved form, Froakie, after it hatches from an egg. Froakie fully evolves into Greninja in the episode "A Festival of Decisions!"

Although it starts the episode's battle as a Frogadier, it evolves into Greninja while protecting Pikachu from a devastating attack. While using its signature move Water Shuriken, however, Greninja unlocks a new form, one that in later episodes is called "Ash-Greninja." Due to the connection between Ash and Greninja, Ash-Greninja is a powered-up form of Greninja with some aspects of Ash's color scheme. Nothing like this had ever been introduced in the anime or the mainline games prior to this point, as this special form is different from typical Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves.

This moment is also significant since Ash-Greninja has since transitioned into the games. Through a special Mystery Gift event, players of "Pokémon Sun & Moon" could receive a Greninja with the ability Battle Bond, which allowed it to transform into Ash-Greninja after KO-ing an opponent. The alternate form also appears as part of Greninja's Final Smash in "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate." The special bond between Ash and his Greninja ended up having consequences for the whole "Pokémon" franchise.

Serena kisses Ash

When "Pokémon the Series: XY" came to a close, marking the end of Ash's journey in Kalos, the main character had to say goodbye to his traveling companions for that season, including Serena. However, this wasn't like his goodbye with Iris in "Pokémon the Series: Black & White," or even Misty in the original series. That's due to Ash and Serena's backstory and the fact that Serena developed an innocent crush on Ash during their time together.

In the episode "Till We Compete Again!," Serena sets off to Hoenn to continue her career as a Pokémon Coordinator. Before that, however, she shares one last moment with Ash, telling him that she hopes they meet again someday. Just before she catches her flight, she leans in towards Ash off-screen, before the escalator she's standing on pulls her away. Ash looks stunned, as Clemont and Bonnie are red-faced with shock. Based on the blush Serena displays as she leaves, it's clear that she kissed Ash, which was a shocking moment for many fans of the anime at this point.

Fortunately, this significant moment wouldn't be the last time the two characters saw each other. Serena shows up in "Pokémon Journeys," where she and Ash briefly cross paths and support each other's separate journeys. It's a lovely moment that went down well with longtime fans. "Serena's return was a treat," one Redditor said following the episode.

Ash finally wins a Pokémon League

One of the most shocking and highly-anticipated moments in the history of the "Pokémon" anime finally occurs in "Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon." Ash travels to the tropical region of Alola, the setting of the seventh generation of games. There, he joins a school for Pokémon trainers and acquires Pokémon like Incineroar and Lycanroc. Like any season of the "Pokémon" anime, it culminates in a regional conference testing Ash's abilities as a trainer against the various rivals he's encountered along the way.

While the Manalo Conference officially begins much earlier in the season, Ash's climactic battle with Professor Kukui doesn't occur until the episode "From Z To Shining Z!" The two face off with their respective Electric-type Pokémon, Kukui with Tapu Koko and Ash with his trusty Pikachu. This time, however, things turn out differently for Ash. He defeats Kukui and wins the tournament, making this series the first time Ash has ever won a Pokémon League in over two decades of the anime.

Many longtime "Pokémon" fans were happy to see Ash prove himself as a Pokémon League victor, especially when his growth has been brought into question in previous seasons. "Sun & Moon" proved in this moment that it was quite a fresh start for the Pallet Town native, who has now come a long way from his roots.

Ash gets a Mega Lucario

Following Ash's victory in the Alola region, he sets out on a different kind of adventure in "Pokémon Journeys." Rather than spend the entire season traveling a region associated with the newest generation of video game (in this case, the Galar region of "Pokémon Sword & Shield"), Ash spends "Pokémon Journeys" traveling throughout the Pokémon world, revisiting many regions and reuniting with many former rivals and companions along the way. He's not alone, as he travels with Goh, a trainer with the goal of catching every Pokémon.

"Pokémon Journeys" represents the franchise at its most expansive. During his return to the Sinnoh region, Ash acquires a Pokémon egg that hatches into a Riolu, which later evolves into Lucario. After a reunion with Kalos region Gym Leader Korrina and her Lucario, Ash decides to acquire a Mega Stone in order to Mega Evolve his Pokémon. Even after "Pokémon the Series: XY," this is the first Mega Evolution Ash has had on his team.

Lucario initially refuses to Mega Evolve for Ash, even in times of great distress. He finally pulls it off in the episode "A Battle of Mega Versus Max!" during a rematch against Galarian Gym Leader Bea. Hopefully, unlike some of his other powerful Pokémon, Ash keeps Lucario around for a long time.

Pokémon enters the multiverse

The scope of "Pokémon Journeys" ended up being the perfect way to cross-promote the Gen 4 remakes "Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl," which were released on Nintendo Switch in fall 2021. Alongside their release, an hour-long special of "Pokémon Journeys" that incorporated story elements of those games aired in Japan, concentrating on a war between Dialga and Palkia. This conflict has some disastrous consequences for the anime's characters.

Audiences are reunited with Dawn, Ash's companion from his travels in the Sinnoh region, who encounters a version of herself from an alternate dimension. She later runs into Ash and Goh, and the three soon discover that Dialga and Palkia's war is creating gates to other universes. To make matters worse, Ash and Goh's Pokémon are stolen by alternate variants of Team Rocket and are even devolved due to the influence of Dialga and Palkia, who can manipulate time and space.

With the help of their alternate selves, as well as Sinnoh region Champion Cynthia, Ash, Dawn, and Goh reunite with their Pokémon and are able to calm Dialga and Palkia down enough to cease their fight, saving the multiverse. The "Pokémon" anime is going down a similar route to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four, but when a franchise has been going for over 25 years, it must take a lot to continue surprising your audience.