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An ongoing inside joke of the Pokémon community is that the protagonist of the anime, Ash Ketchum, never ages. Indeed, although his appearance has gone through quite a few animation styles following his first television appearance in 1999, his age seems to have remained fixed at ten ever since.
For the past twenty-one years, Ash has traveled all over the globe. During that period, he’s made new friends and lost old ones, but every time another season rolled around, audiences always found him the way they left him: a naive, driven, and optimistic kid whose only goal in life is to become a Pokemon master, and who seems to be stuck in some kind of existential limbo until that goal is finally achieved.
Practically, Ash’s agelessness was most likely a product of economic necessity. Creating a new character model every season is hard work, and if you give one person a makeover, you pretty much gotta give the same treatment to everyone, or else your story loses its sense of continuity. A change in character design can also negatively impact ratings, especially if your audience is young. For all these reasons and more, it’s not uncommon for animated characters to appear as though they’re stuck in time. Truth be told, it’s kind of the norm.
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Interestingly enough, however, this wasn’t the fate which the anime’s creator, Takeshi Shudo, originally had in store for Ash. Fearing the predictability and lack of creativity that could result from such a formulaic approach – one where each season is merely a repetition, rather than a continuation, of the past – he actually planned for Ash to grow and develop as a person over the course of his adventures.
“…I want Ash to show some development as a character. I want him to one day look back on these past ‘days of Pokémon’ with nostalgia,” Shudo wrote in a blog shortly before his passing in 2010. “That’s the entire reason I made Team Rocket, all the Pokémon, Ash, and all his friends interact with each other. I was even planning out the last episode, where they would finally arrive at some kind of a conclusion.”
As disturbing as it sounds, the Pokémon writer even toyed with the idea of depicting Ash’s death. While we’re happy he ultimately didn’t get his way completely, an air of unpredictability would have surely made for a welcome addition to what has arguably become the stalest series in existence.