10 Times The Pokémon Anime Broke Our Hearts

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Cynics often dismiss the Pokémon TV series as being nothing but shallow advertisements for the games and cards. Those who truly know the show, appreciate it for the masterful anime that it is. It’s a series that has delivered over one thousand episodes of dazzling imagination, excitement, and storytelling which has riveted people around the world.

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The show has also proven itself capable of breaking hearts. In fact, it’s super effective! From episodes that deal with failure, to ones that explore rejection, losing friends, near-death experiences, and actual death. There’s more than enough to make all viewers (from fans to naysayers) reach for the tissues.

“Pikachu’s Goodbye”

Ash without Pikachu!? It almost happened in this episode. The gang stumbles upon a herd of wild Pikachu and Ash starts to feel that his own Pikachu would be happier with them. Just as Ash prepares to go on without it, Pikachu happily runs back into Ash’s arms, and they reunite. The rest is history, decades of it!

This was only the 39th episode of the series but in that time, Ash and Pikachu had established themselves as an extremely sweet and iconic duo. So much so, the thought of them parting was devastating. It was such a momentously sad scenario, it even received its own original song with lyrics entitled “The Time Has Come (Pikachu’s Goodbye)” which played over the Ash/Pikachu montage. It was all a thunderbolt right in the feels.

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“Friend and Foe Alike”

Ash makes his first appearance at the Pokémon League! Things get interesting in the fifth round when he is forced to face off against his new friend Ritchie. Despite a strong start, Ash’s dreams are crushed when his own Charizard stops obeying him. Ash’s cheeky Charizard refuses to continue battling and instead takes a nap, disqualifying Ash from the match.

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It took Ash many years to become a Pokémon League champion, and each of his losses along the way was heartbreaking. But this one was especially brutal: watching Ash desperately beg his uninterested Charizard to listen to him, we can feel both his heart and his Pokémon League aspirations disintegrate before our eyes. Although things do lift when Ash is able to quickly wipe his tears away and enthusiastically congratulate his victorious friend. We see that Ash has the spirit of a champion, although he wouldn’t get the trophies for a while.


“Go West Young Meowth”

This episode explores Meowth’s past and what led him to become a walking, talking member of the villainous Team Rocket. It turns out that Meowth’s story is a miserable one: he was a hungry and unloved street Pokémon who learns to walk and talk in order to impress a high-class Meowth that he’s in love with. She rejects him and this fills him with the anger necessary to join the bad guys.

Watching this episode makes one forget about every act of villainy that Meowth had committed up to this point. It is utterly heartbreaking to see him suffer and be mistreated in those flashbacks. His anguished “meows” alone are enough to bring a tear to the eye. But it’s his rejection by the female Meowth that stings the mist. All of us have been Meowth at some point, doing our best to be accepted by someone important to us, only to be disregarded instead. As Meowth would say… it hoits!


“Charmander – The Stray Pokémon”

Ash’s disrespectful Charizard started life as a sweet little Charmander. Ash and his friends first discover it sitting on a rock, patiently waiting for its trainer to come back for it. Little does Charmander know, its trainer is an uncaring jerk who abandoned it. It’s up to Ash and his friends to save Charmander and give it a loving home, before the rain fatally extinguishes its tail.

There are few things sadder than watching a creature lovingly wait for an owner that isn’t coming. Charmander doing that here is comparable to when Fry’s dog does it in the Futurama episode “Jurassic Bark” (seriously, don’t watch that without a box of tissues). Our hearts break seeing Charmander endure hunger, rain, and bird attacks during its pointless wait. But our hearts are glued back together again when we see Charmander finally find a caring and attentive trainer in Ash. Pokémon always has a silver lining for a depressing cloud.


“A Poached Ego”

Jessie, James, and Meowth take off their villain hats in this episode to help free a group of Ekans and Koffing who have been captured by a cruel poacher. It’s personal for them as Jessie and James are loving owners of an Arbok and Weezing, the evolved form of Ekans and Koffing. Ultimately, the two of them are forced to let their Arbok and Weezing go to protect them from being captured, and so they can lead the groups of Ekans and Koffing to safety.

It would take a very hard-boiled heart not to be moved by “A Poached Ego”. Seeing the tearful Pokémon trapped inside cages is bad enough, but it’s truly shattering to see Jessie and James part with their beloved Arbok and Weezing. These two Pokémon had been a mainstay for both their trainers and fans of the show for many years, as James even says: “Weezing and I are like brothers.” This episode deservedly ranks as one of Team Rocket’s most redeeming moments in the whole anime. It just shows that no matter how mean and unethical they appear, Team Rocket do love Pokémon and can’t bear to see them harmed.


“One Journey Ends, Another Begins…”

We first met the elderly Pokémon Stoutland and his little friend Litten in the episode “That’s Why the Litten is a Scamp!” In this episode, Stoutland’s health worsens, and he eventually passes away. Litten struggles to accept this news at first but then decides to move on and join Ash on his adventures.

The big one… death, it doesn’t get much sadder than that. While Pokémon had died in the anime before, it was usually in epic or fantastical contexts. We had never seen something as crushingly relatable as a Pokéon gradually succumbing to old age. Even more heartbreaking is Litten’s reaction to the death of its dear friend. Litten’s devastated cries alone are enough to leave a Stoutland-sized wound in the heart of every viewer. Hopefully Pikachu has many more years left!


“The Little Big Horn”

Brock decides to care for a lost and injured Stantler that the trio come across. He forms a genuine connection with the cute critter until it’s time to release him back to the wild. Things get complicated when the Stantler doesn’t want to leave, and Team Rocket shows up to try and steal it!

When Brock tries to free Stantler and Stantler is hesitant, Brock starts angrily yelling at it to go. He even tells the poor little guy “we don’t want you around anymore.” While this is done for Stantler’s own good, seeing such uncharacteristic rage directed at a cute and helpless Pokémon is crushing to witness. It brings to mind equally heartbreaking scenes in the films Air Bud and Harry and the Hendersons. After watching it, all the viewer wants to do is hold their Stantler/dog/Sasquatch close and never let it go.


“Bye, Bye Butterfree”

Although Ash stays the same age throughout the series, the Pokémon do grow and (literally) evolve. This means that, at certain points, Ash has had to say “goodbye” to them. The first time this happens is when Ash’s beloved Butterfree finds a mate and departs with her to start a family.

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It’s very sad to see Ash part with the first Pokémon that he ever caught. The two had forged such a special bond throughout their time together. It was Ash’s care and faith in Caterpie that enabled it to grow into such a formidable Butterfree in the first place. It doesn’t help that their farewell scene is tinged with string music, dramatic lighting, and even includes a montage of their journey together. The trifecta of heartbreak.


“Time-Warp Heals All Wounds”

In this episode, we meet a sweet elderly woman named Edna who is waiting at a train station for her husband, Jonathan, to return. Ash’s friend May finds out that Edna’s husband died many years ago, he took a train to the big city to become a doctor and died while over there. Edna never had a chance to say her goodbyes, or to tell him that she was pregnant at the time. It’s up to May and some Pokémon to go back in time and alter history to give Edna and Jonathan the happy ending they deserve.

It’s rare for an episode to have such a human-focused storyline, Pokémon are almost peripheral to the tale of Jonathan and Edna. But this human element just makes it all the more relatable and heartbreaking for viewers. It taps into themes that almost all of us have felt personally: losing a loved one and wishing you could turn back the clock and do things differently. Sadly, us in the real world are unable to go back in time and make things better (like May successfully does for them in this episode). This is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing of all!


“Gotta Catch Ya Later!”

It’s the end of an era: Ash, Brock, and Misty part ways following their adventures in the Johto region. Both Brock and Misty return to their respective homes while Ash continues forward to exciting new horizons with his trusty Pikachu, and a cool new wardrobe.

Although it wasn’t the last time Ash saw Brock or Misty, it was still a gut-wrenching moment to see them go their separate ways. This was a trio that had been a bedrock of so many peoples’ childhoods but it, like childhood, had to end. While this episode avoids descending too far into outright melodrama, the subtle and resonant emotion manages to hit just as hard. All of us feel Ash when he’s sitting in a tree and musing: “everyone’s gone, Pikachu. Not sure I like being alone…”

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