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Sorry, Pokémon Journeys: Ash And Team Rocket Got The Perfect Ending 24 Years Ago

After more than 25 years and 1,200+ episodes, Ash Ketchum's journey is coming to an end. Ever since The Pokémon Company announced its intentions to sunset the beloved protagonist, that seems to be the only thing "Pokémon" fans can talk about. How can the franchise continue? What will happen to other beloved characters like Pikachu, Misty, or Team Rocket? Will we ever find out who the heck Ash's dad is (and no, it's not Mr. Mime)? 

Truth be told, we received many those answers ages ago. We still may never know who Ash's father is (it can't be Mr. Mime!), but one comic offered a final chapter to Ash's story that will be incredibly difficult for the anime to top.

"Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu," which ran from 1997 to 1999, was a manga series that followed a retelling of Ash's adventures through Kanto's Pokémon League and the Orange Islands championship. For those keeping score at home, that only covers a little over 100 episodes of the sprawling epic that is the "Pokémon" anime series. However, in the space of just four volumes, "The Electric Tale of Pikachu" was able to give Ash's journey a distinct beginning, middle, and end. With Ash's final episode rapidly approaching, it's worth remembering why this original finale worked so well, not to mention how the series might have missed the ideal time to bring his story to a close.

This manga called a truce with Team Rocket

"The Electric Tale of Pikachu" starts roughly the same as the anime (Ash chooses Pikachu, the pair destroy Misty's bike, Team Rocket gives chase, etc.), but the manga takes a few wild detours as it goes along. For instance, the manga features a great deal more adult content than the anime, to the point where the North American releases of the comic had to be censored for its youthful audience. Beyond that, "The Electric Tale of Pikachu" differs greatly in the way Ash's final days in the Orange Islands play out.

The manga's final volume, released as "Surf's Up, Pikachu!" in North America, climaxes with Ash doing battle against Drake, the Orange Crew Supreme Gym Leader. The night before the battle, however, Ash does something that TV viewers might have never expected: He shows Team Rocket some compassion. The trio are in a bad spot; they've just blown up their own vehicle, they're hungry, and their funds have run out after repeatedly failing to capture Pikachu. Seeing this, Ash invites Jessie, James, and Meowth in for a meal and a place to sleep. He seems to realize that they're much more than just cartoonish enemies to be "blasted off" every single week — they're people like him, just trying to get by in the world. 

This one gesture changes everything between the two camps, and when Ash makes his way to the Orange League arena, Team Rocket is in the stands. They've gotten cleaned up, ditched their Rocket uniforms, and can be seen excitedly cheering as Ash defeats Drake. 

This Pokémon manga gave everyone a happy ending

It's not often that long-running characters like Ash Ketchum get to change in huge, meaningful ways. Even Goku from "Dragon Ball," a character who has died multiple times and changes his hair color every other day, has essentially remained the same lovable lunkhead for decades at this point.

In "The Electric Tale of Pikachu," however, Ash seems to take his latest victory as a sign that it's time for a change. He sets off on a new trek with his former rival, Gary, who has agreed to put the past behind them. The two decide to join forces and discover new Pokémon across the world, even finding an elusive Lugia in some far-off mountains. Knowledge, rather than power, seems to guide Ash's life now.

And how does the reader learn this information? Team Rocket heads to Ash's hometown to deliver a letter to his mother. In one of the most touching moments of the entire series, Ash's letter refers to Team Rocket as his friends, and we see that James apparently confessed his feelings for his longtime partner in front of Ash and Misty. Jessie and James (and Meowth) are seen driving off together to a happier future, and it's heavily implied that Jessie is expecting her first child with James. 

Everyone has grown up.

Ash's secret power (and why the anime should have ended sooner)

Though Ash has definitely had his darker moments, the manga's ending seems to be perfectly in line with his ethos as a trainer. Kindness is the greatest power of all to a trainer like Ash Ketchum, and by extending just a bit of humanity to Team Rocket, he's able to completely turn their lives around. In the aftermath of his fierce battle against Drake, Ash is also able to move on from fighting being the biggest thrill of his career. The joy of discovery becomes his guiding light, and his newfound maturity is enough to even change Gary's perception of him. Ash can't be a kid forever, and this manga illustrates that more clearly than any of the big reunion episodes "Pokémon Ultimate Journeys" has shown to audiences thus far.

The final episodes of Ash's tenure as the lead character in "Pokémon" may offer some exciting shakeups (Team Rocket seemingly broke up in a recent episode, after all), but it's hard to imagine the anime approaching this same level of emotional catharsis. There's an argument to be made – and believe us, older fans have certainly made it – that "Pokémon" should have left Ash behind a long time ago. When the franchise has gotten to the point where it's reimagining the first few episodes in movie form and fans are still iffy on the results, it feels like it's past time for the story to move on. 

If anything, Ash's latest championship victory felt like it retread ground that the manga perfectly covered over two decades ago. It makes sense that The Pokémon Company wants to give our hero a grand send-off, but the perfect moment to do so may have already passed.