Since Ash’s Alola League victory in the Pokémon Sun and Moon series, many have wondered whether Ash’s twenty-year journey has come to an end. Recently, major news publications such as CNN, BBC, and USA Today reported on Ash’s historic win, all referring to him as a Pokémon Master, the title that he’s aimed for since the series’ first episode. However, what exactly is a Pokémon Master? Has Ash truly achieved his lifelong goal? Pokémon Master is a term that has popped in time and time again. The anime, games, manga, etc. all feature this term. Even so, each medium has its definition of what makes a trainer a “Pokémon Master”. What is a Pokémon Master? How can trainers achieve this title? Figuring out the origin of the term and identifying the many references to it may lead to long-awaited answers.
Pokémon Master – Origins
The term Pokémon Master first appears in the original Japanese anime’s opening theme, Aim to be a Pokémon Master (1997). The lyrics do not directly state what the process of becoming one is, but they do heavily repeat, “Pokémon getto da ze!”, meaning “Get Pokémon!”, the anime’s tagline in Japan. This has led some to theorize that capturing all Pokémon is what it takes to be a Pokémon Master.
Even though the term made its first appearance in the anime, it did not take long to arrive in the games. A year later, the term would make its way into the English versions of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, appearing in the game’s manual and Lance’s defeat dialogue. To note, the phrase only appears in the English translation of the game. The Japanese versions of Pokémon Red and Blue do not include “Pokémon Master” in the dialogue. Nonetheless, “Pokémon Master” made its first appearance in Japan in its versions of Pokémon Gold and Silver where Lance explains the difficulty of becoming one while in Team Rocket’s Mahogany town hideout.
How to Become a Pokémon Master
The process of earning the title, Pokémon Master, contains many contradictions in official sources. For example, the instruction manual for Pokémon Red states that in order to become a Pokémon Master, the player must catch one of every Pokémon. This contradicts the Official Pokémon Handbook where it suggests that defeating Mewtwo makes a trainer a Pokémon Master. The games even contradict themselves as Pokémon Yellow Version’s box art states that defeating the eight gym leaders constitutes one as a Pokémon Master. With many different conflicting statements, it is no surprise to realize why many find the definition confusing.
Pokémon Master – A New Definition
The term has changed in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee and in the English release of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Pokémon Master has been changed to “first-class Pokémon Trainer” and “Pokémon Champion”, respectively. Since the release of the Japanese versions of Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver, the games have made little to no reference to the title. The closest reference being the “Master Trainers” introduced in Pokmon Let’s Go Pikachu, where trainers specialize in one particular Pokémon. Some have speculated that the mobile game Pokémon Masters has reflected this change as it also features trainers that specialize in specific Pokémon species.
Similarly, the anime has also opted to change its stance on the word. In 2017’s Pokémon movie, I Choose You, Ash’s companion, Verity questions Ash on whether he wants to become the world’s best Pokémon trainer. Ash responds with “Oh, no way. It’s much more than that.”, without further clarification. For most of the anime, it seems as if achieving the title of Pokémon Master has always been Ash’s goal. However, the recent announcement seems to have changed Ash’s dream. According to the official synopsis, the new series follows Ash, “…[W]ho aims to be the strongest “Pokémon trainer…”. clearly contradicting Ash’s response in the previously mentioned movie.
After all that, it seems as if the answer is still unclear. Earn eight gym badges? Catch all Pokémon? Become a Pokémon Champion? Defeat Mewtwo? Does the title even exist anymore? The definition of a Pokémon Master may never be answered and maybe there is no answer. Perhaps the definition of a Pokémon Master is up to everyone’s own interpretation.
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