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As Pokémon champ Ash faces his 'final chapter,' is it goodbye for him and Pikachu?

Pikachu and Ash Ketchum, pictured in <em>Pokémon: The First Movie</em>, have been traveling the world as part of Ash's journey to be the top Pokémon master.
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Pikachu and Ash Ketchum, pictured in Pokémon: The First Movie, have been traveling the world as part of Ash's journey to be the top Pokémon master.

Updated December 16, 2022 at 3:46 PM ET

After 25 years, is this farewell for Ash Ketchum and Pikachu? As the famous anime duo are being celebrated for their Pokémon world championship victory, a new series debuting next year will star all-new heroes and it's unclear if Ash and Pikachu will ever return.

In 1997, Ash set off on a journey from his humble beginnings in Pallet Town to become the very best like no one ever was. Over two decades later, he's now a Pokémon world champion.

Ash emerged victorious in the Pokémon World Coronation Series in an episode of Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series that aired last month in Japan. The first 12 episodes of the season premiered Oct. 21 in the U.S. on Netflix, but the release date of the episode showing Ash's ultimate win has not yet been announced.

Fans anticipate that the second part of the series will come out in the U.S. early 2023 based on the timeline of previous series releases.

"Ash Ketchum's determination and perseverance to achieve his goal of becoming the world's top Pokémon Trainer over the course of 25 seasons represents the very best of what it means to be a Trainer," Taito Okiura, vice president of marketing for The Pokémon Company International, said in a statement on Nov. 11.

Pokémon will run a collection of 11 special episodes after Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series, featuring fan-favorite characters like Misty and Brock who were among Ash's first friends. The company called it "the final chapter for Ash and his Pikachu."

"The forthcoming special episodes not only celebrate Ash's monumental achievement, but they also act as an expression of gratitude from Pokémon to all the fans who have joined him and his partner Pokémon Pikachu along the way," according to a Dec. 16 news release.

Sarah Natochenny, the English voice actor for Ash, took to Twitter Friday to reflect on nearly two decades of voicing the character.

"It's been an extraordinary privilege to have been the English voice of Ash Ketchum for what will be 17 years," Natochenny wrote. "No matter what lies beyond his final chapter, he'll live forever in the hearts of many generations to come."

The special collection will begin airing in Japan on Jan. 13.

The next Pokémon chapter will feature new heroes

While it is not clear if Ash and his Pikachu will cameo in the future, the company announced Friday it would roll out a new series with new protagonists that will premiere next year.

That series "will follow a never-before-seen storyline and characters — including dual protagonists named Liko and Roy in the Japanese version of the series — as they set off on action-packed adventures across the Pokémon world," according to the press release.

When the series first began in 1997, Ash had just turned 10 years old and was eligible for a Pokémon trainer's license.

"I will journey to gain the wisdom of Pokémon training, and I hereby declare to the Pokémon of the world, I will be a Pokémon master!" he declared.

Twenty-five years later, he did.

The series follows Ash and his Pikachu across numerous regions as they make friends, meet new Pokémon and battle other trainers. Ash frequently came shy of tournament victories until the recently established Manalo Conference, where he became the first Pokémon league champion in the Alola region.

But to be a Pokémon world champion, the trainer must be the strongest in the world — not just in a league.

The final episode of Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series is titled, "Pokémon! I'm Glad I got to Meet You!" The premiere — and the start of Ash's journey — was called, "Pokémon - I Choose You!"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.