Pokémon, at its core, was one of the most radical series ever created. Here’s the best episode.
Pokémon captured the imagination of so many not just for the cool creatures, but because the heart of the story was all about friendship. There were messages throughout about love and respect (although, in retrospect, watching the pokémon do battle is oddly sinister to boost the egos of their master, admittedly). The series also was a testament to embracing the merits of confidence. So often children, and especially girls, are told to remain quiet and humble. Ash and, in more pragmatic ways, his companions have all been confident and celebrated their own achievements. It was a story delivered without toxicity, and none showed this better than Charmander – The Stray Pokémon.
Season one was where the show established itself as radically different from all others. It’s imagination captured the excitement of 90s kids everywhere. Every follow up series and film just hasn’t hit that initial awe that season one caused. The original pokémon will always be the best for their gentle simplicity. When Charmander was introduced, the show was already hinting at how relationships in life could be better and more equal. Nothing showed that more than this episode.
Charmander’s abandonment at the hands of an abusive, arrogant and neglectful owner is a horrifying lesson into the realities of pet ownership today. However, the episode captured the need in life for kids too to celebrate relationships which are equal. Damian was a dick to Charmander, but Ash, as annoying as he often was, accepted Charmander and didn’t want to train him into a tool to battle with. The relationship between Ash and Charmander showed what friendships should really be – accepting each other for how we are and supporting and cherishing each other for that.
“The relationship between Ash and Charmander showed what friendships should really be – accepting each other for how we are and supporting and cherishing each other for that”
Damian represented the worst of toxic traits. He only cared about other people of pokémon when they could bolster him.
The lessons in children’s stories matter. It’s why governments try to control the literature that children are taught in schools. It’s why a study claimed that those who read Harry Potter were more likely to be accepting of queer people. Charmander’s introduction set the series up as truly radical. It didn’t rely so much on Ash’s success as a trainer, but his success as a friend and how he and his companions worked together.
Given some of the more dark tones in animation about the fight of good vs evil, from DC’s animated series to Simba’s solo fight with Scar, it was brilliant to see the power of true respect and mutual affection. Charmander deserved better, but more than that he was willing to give himself better by cutting out Damian and travelling with friends who cared about his wellbeing. That’s a lesson that all kids need.