Well, if you’ve been watching the Pokemon XY anime series then you’re well aware that it has, sadly, come to an end (pending some final special episodes). The XY series premiered on October 17, 2013 and ran strong for just a hair over three years, wrapping up on October 27, 2016. The sixth generation of the Pokemon anime not only redeemed itself after the disgrace that was Black & White, but it ranks up there as one of the best in the 20 year long series. So let’s take a trip down memory lane here and look back at what was, in my opinion, the best the Pokemon anime has offered since the Battle Frontier series.
It’s certainly not the majority opinion, but I am of the mindset that Black & White was a failed reboot generation. The prior four generations of Pokemon were effectively scrapped from the series, Ash was rebooted to square one, Pikachu was downgraded to level nothing, Brock was kicked to the curb and we got the putrid group of Iris and Cilan. Ash couldn’t beat his rival, used his Pokedex on everything, didn’t have a clue about anything, only brought one damn Pokemon to a gym battle, Cilan was obnoxious, Iris was annoyingly irritating and on and on it goes. One of the few things I liked about Black & White was Dragonite being prominently featured in the anime, which had the life sucked out of it because it belonged to Iris. Ash’s team wasn’t even that good and God help me if I ever have to see that Oshawott again in my life. They even took Volt Tackle away from Pikachu and replaced it with Electro Ball for no real reason at all. I could probably count how many good things the Black & White anime did on one hand.
Keep in mind that this all came immediately after Ash had the Sinnoh League ripped from his hands in the Diamond & Pearl series. Tobias, who had a Darkrai and a Latios (and God knows what else), existed for the sole purpose of being a reason for Ash to lose. Fast forward to Black & White where Ash, who was effectively reset from level 100 to level 1, then went on to lose the Unova League to a stupid kid who only had five Pokemon and was essentially a comic relief character throughout the series. Everything about Black & White was bad, so what did they do? They accelerated the series, flooded it with old Pokemon, loaded up on flashback sequences to the early anime, rebooted the Bye Bye Butterfree episode and ultimately remixed the original opening for the English Dub at the start of XY. They got back to the basics and it worked.
XY Ash, more or less, picked up where Diamond & Pearl Ash left off. He was experienced, he knew what the hell he was doing, he didn’t forget everything he’s ever encountered and Pikachu wasn’t reset back to level one. It was pretty clear right from the start that this was going to be a different kind of series. After the past two Pokemon Leagues, it was going to take a lot for the anime to convince me that Ash could finally be capable of winning and the eighth episode of the series, Pokemon Trimmer and Trimmien!, did just that.
If you’ll remember, this was the Furfrou episode where Pikachu was blinded by Inkay in a battle with Team Rocket (who was mildly capable throughout XY). Clemont attempts to intervene and Ash tells him not to, that he can Pikachu could go on with the battle. Then, with a crippled Pikachu, he went on to win the battle with relative ease. This battle showed off Ash’s leadership, confidence and experience; all but convincing me he was going to win the Kalos League. At the very least, it was a sign of what kind of Ash we were getting in XY, which was a good one.
Ash’s traveling companions certainly weren’t universally hated like they were in Black & White but they weren’t completely loved by everyone. Personally, I liked them. Clemont’s invention gags were your general comic relief that you get in these kinds of shows which don’t bother me all that much. I liked how Clemont learned from Ash throughout the series and ultimately became a better gym leader for it.
Bonnie was definitely an attempt to try the Max role from Advanced again and I thought it was fairly successful. Max was kind of annoying where as Bonnie was a cute little aspect to the show. Although, giving her Brock’s shtick and having her ask female characters to marry Clemont was kind of annoying. Her receiving both Dedenne for the entire series and Squishy in the XY&Z series ended up being great ideas. It made her feel less tacked onto the group and more like she belonged with them. She wasn’t just along for the ride like Max was.
Serena was an excellent female companion and either my second or third favorite. I really liked May and Misty was obviously great, but Serena’s development through XY was terrific. I’m not into the whole “shipping” thing that a lot of people can really get into, but I liked that her crush on Ash had a pay off at the end. If she just crushed on Ash for the whole series and it stopped there, then it’s really only a gag. The pay off was a huge part of her development because when you look at where she started and where she ended, her character grew a lot. The appearance change was a little strange at first but it grew on me and it did a great job portraying her growth as well. The only thing I didn’t like about her character was the goal of Pokemon Showcases. I wish they brought back contests for Serena because they were so much better and the showcases were a total drag.
There’s really not much to say about the rivals in XY. Shauna was fine as one of Serena’s showcase rivals but the showcases really made it hard for that to feel like anything more than friendly competition. Tierno and Trevor were effectively meaningless as neither even battled Ash in the Kalos League. Tierno had some real potential to at least be a good secondary rival to Ash (more on that later).
Sawyer’s character really brought a unique kind of character into the series. Typically, Ash has always been trying to catch up to his rival but with Sawyer, his rival was trying to catch him. Ash was the one who relentlessly beat the bag out of him over and over again. We got to see Sawyer develop from a relatively weak trainer into a capable semi-finalist in the Kalos League and that was pretty cool.
I have a love/hate relationship with Alain. As a character, I think he was perfectly fine and I wish he got a little more screen time outside of the Mega Evolution specials as Ash’s primary rival. Alain was obviously an incredibly strong trainer but, outside of a battle between his Metang and Ash’s Noivern, we didn’t know much else about him other than his overpowered Mega Charizard X. It also felt a little awkward how, at the very end of the series, he steamrolled his way through all of the gyms and ended up in the Kalos League out of nowhere. I wish his storyline could have been spaced out just a little bit more.
At the same time, he carries this gigantic Tobias feel to him. He dismissed the Kalos League for most of the series but everyone knew he was going to be Ash’s final battle. He was basically an overpowered trainer with a stupid strong Pokemon that obliterates everybody and you couldn’t help but think “here we go again.”
Shocking to nobody, the regional bird played a prominent role on Ash’s team. I cannot say enough about how much I loved Fletchling’s evolution. It was the first evolution in XY and it was badass as hell, the way that the music kicked in alongside the animation inside the Fire Blast from Talonflame was outstanding. Fletchinder evolving in a battle against Moltres was pretty great too because sometimes, losing a battle after an evolution is okay; particularly when it’s against a (properly portrayed) legendary Pokemon. Talonflame received fair usage/screen time throughout the series and was a quality member of the team.
Hawlucha was a Pokemon that definitely surprised me in XY. I was not a huge fan of Hawlucha came out and I was disappointed that it ended up on Ash’s team but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The way that Hawlucha was portrayed like an actual wrestler was a brilliant idea. Incorporating generic fighting tactics into its battle style alongside a signature move in Flying Press, Hawlucha’s battles were always fun to watch. And let’s not forget that awesome battle theme too. Hawlucha emerged as a leader on Ash’s team as well, teaching his Noibat how to fly and looking after it while it was freshly hatched. Hawlucha was a huge surprise for me in XY.
Oh poor Noivern, someone had to be the sacrificial lamb. I wish Ash could have found Noibat earlier in the series and they could have fleshed out Noivern a little more because it’s a cool Pokemon. The relationship it had with Hawlucha helped make it feel like a prominent member of the team in such a short time period. Noibat’s evolution in defense of Hawlucha and the ensuing battle with Zapdos were awesome. At the end of the day, it was introduced too late in the series to have a real impact in the later battles, which is a shame. At the very least, its battle with Sawyer’s Salamence was pretty great.
Goodra’s development was pretty quick and was completed in a brief 15 episode span that resulted in its (temporary) release, but that didn’t mean it sucked. The evolution from a scared Goomy into a confident Goodra was really well done and became an easy character to root for. Goodra took center stage in the outstanding gym battle against Clemont’s Luxray, which was easily the best battle in XY to that point. While Goodra did return for the Kalos League, it really didn’t do much other than get sliced with a Guillotine before its return to the wetlands.
Greninja was the runaway star of the show and dominated the entire XYZ series. While I was initially skeptical of the entire “Ash-Greninja” concept, it was exceptionally well done. Ash-Greninja’s raw power was capable of obliterating just about anything, but it wasn’t just a straight up win condition. Ash and Greninja needed to “become one” and refine Ash-Greninja’s power in one of the best episodes of the series after a landslide loss to Wulfric exposed its flaws. Ash-Greninja took the role of Ash’s mega evolution and was arguably the strongest mega evolution in the series. So of course, they had to go ahead and make Ash part ways with Greninja. Greninja’s importance to the tentacle things was really just a vehicle for its release, and that sucks.
While there is certainly a healthy debate between those who like and dislike mega evolution, there’s no debating how great it was for the anime. The mega evolution specials were all really good because they were basically just Pokemon battles on steroids while Ash’s gym battles with Korrina’s Mega Lucario and with Wulfric’s Mega Abomasnow were insane. With the improved animation and removal of static backgrounds, mega evolution cranked the battles in XY up to 11.
I would argue that the Kalos League was top two with the Sinnoh League, primarily because there was a legitimate expectation that Ash was finally going to win the damn thing. I didn’t mind the fact that a lot of the earlier battles were skipped because we all knew where it was going to end up and that’s all anyone wanted to see; Ash in the finals. The only complaint I had is that I wish Ash battled Tierno instead of Sawyer battling him in the top 8, which would have given us an additional Ash battle as well as saved the reveal of Sawyer’s Mega Sceptile. Sawyer beating Tierno and Trevor being obliterated by Alain in the first round are a big reason why that group of “rivals” kind of sucked. Not to mention Mega Charizard Y got totally shafted, thanks Trevor. But the good stuff delivered.
Ash vs. Sawyer had a few great battles. The battle between Noivern and Salamence was really well done and evenly matched while the battle between Pikachu and Aegislash featured some great old school strategies with some outstanding animation. But the star of the show was Ash-Greninja vs. Mega Sceptile, which was the best battle in XY, in my opinion. Seeing Ash finally pop up on the big screen as the winner and making it to the League Finals was damn awesome. Then Alain happened.
Look, regardless of the outcome, Ash vs. Alain was great from start to finish. Pikachu beating not one, but two pseudo legendaries and bringing Charizard to its knees gave Pikachu some major (and much deserved) spotlight before Greninja took the stage. The other really good battles were Hawlucha vs. Weavile which was a little bit of an unconventional battle while Talonflame vs. Unfezant was a really intense air battle. But then there was the battle everyone was waiting for.
Ash-Greninja vs. Mega Charizard X lived up to all of the hype. It was an intense battle and was the first time I was ever legitimately on the edge of my seat watching a Pokemon battle. The look of complete shock from all of the characters when the battle concluded was an accurate portrayal of what everyone watching the episode looked and felt like. But Ash losing shattered my heart to pieces. This time he was supposed to win (again). Coming up short with the most overpowered mega evolution in the series, to a trainer that didn’t even initially want to compete in the Kalos League, when I had convinced myself for several years that he was going to win this time, has shattered my confidence (again). The anime needed to win me over to convince me there would ever be a shot of him winning after Diamond and Pearl and Black and White, which it did, and it’ll need to do it for me again after XY. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt the greatness of XY all that much. It’s just disappointing.
Team Flare Arc
You know what wasn’t disappointing? The Team Flare arc. I would argue that the Team Flare arc was better than any movie that’s been done with the exception of Pokemon: The First Movie. The plot was terrific, Lysandre was a great villain, all of the major characters throughout the series were included, there were mega evolutions all over the place, the battles were great, the focus on Zygarde was really cool and on and on. The Team Flare arc was much more mature than anything the anime has ever really done and it ended up being really good. Bonnie singing to convert Squishy back was adorable, Ash and Alain vs. Lysandre was a long and drawn out battle that featured a much more mature Ash trying to send an important message, Ash and Alain flying in to save the day was a cool little moment, the Kalos gym leaders showing up was badass as hell and Zygarde Complete Form stopping Lysandre was awesome. Honestly, you just have to sit down and watch the full five part arc to really appreciate how great it was.
Japanese/Subbed vs. Dubbed
I feel like this is important enough to make a small note of, you really should watch the regular version of the anime (which is what all my links have been to, if you haven’t noticed). The difference between the original version and the dub is so damn significant, particularly with the music. I had to stop watching the dub about halfway through the series because it’s almost unwatchable after watching the Japanese version. Go find any of the major battles in the dub and then compare them to the original version, the difference is absurd.
And at the very end, XY received a proper conclusion that showed us where the different characters ended up as well as giving us a little bit of a flashback sequence highlighting all the major moments in the series. If you haven’t watched XY yet then you should, because it was great. I could go on for days about how much I loved XY and I’m sad to see it end but a new generation is plenty exciting.
While the drastic change in art style of Pokemon Sun and Moon is a bit jarring, the animation looks good and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. There are a lot of things to be excited about with Sun and Moon so it’s worth giving the anime a chance before ripping it too badly. Just please don’t reboot Ash again.