of ash Pikachu has avoided development in its entirety Pokémonlasted for decades, leaving many fans wondering why. The anime aired its first episode in Japan on April 1, 1997 and focuses primarily on Ash Ketchum’s journey to becoming a Pokémon master. Throughout this mission, his Pikachu resisted evolution despite having several opportunities to make changes.
Ash’s first Pokémon to evolve was his Caterpie in the episode “Ash Catches a Pokémon”. Caterpie decided to evolve into Metapod after a battle with Team Rocket and was inspired by a Butterfree he spotted flying above one night. Ash and the team welcomed this decision with open arms. Although the dangers of evolving too quickly are mentioned in the anime, the process is not considered negative. So why didn’t Ash’s Pikachu eventually follow suit?
Pikachu doesn’t want to evolve because it doesn’t want to change
The official reason why Pikachu never evolved is simple: Ash’s first Pokémon didn’t want to evolve. This decision was first made explicit in season 1, episode 14, “Electric Shock Match.” In this episode, Pikachu was initially attacked by Lt. Raichu. Surge was beaten and had to be hospitalized. After this defeat, Ash is given a Thunder Stone that can be used to evolve Pikachu. However, instead of letting his desire to win cloud his judgment, Ash asked Pikachu what he wanted to do. Pikachu, so determined to win, rejected the stone.
Pikachu’s refusal to evolve and its role in the story were presented more clearly in Pokémon Journeys. In the episode “Gotta Catch a What?!” Ash explains to his fellow trainer Goh that Pikachu wants to become stronger by becoming Pikachu. While evolving into Raichu would increase Pikachu’s power significantly, it wouldn’t be true to his true self. Ash’s Pikachu, in every iteration, wants to prove itself. Pikachu’s choice not to evolve fits with the story that simply changing who he is is enough. The message that someone can be great while remaining true to who they are is an important one for the show and a lesson that stands out to young viewers.
Pikachu can now never evolve into a Pokémon for more cynical reasons
While that’s a heartwarming explanation for why Pikachu never evolved, the other important reason is more skeptical: his role as an icon of the franchise for decades. Ash’s Pikachu evolving into Raichu will in many ways lose an icon. Pikachu is one of the most consistently marketable characters in the world alongside Pokémon League Champion Trainer, Ash. Even those unfamiliar with the series have had some experience or interaction with the character. Developing Ash’s Pikachu meant changing the franchise’s mascot and lost marketing potential as a result. Keeping Pikachu being Pikachu has allowed the franchise to maintain its iconic brand.
For many reasons, it’s a good thing that Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu never wanted to evolve into a Pokémon. But now that he’s lived as a Pikachu for so long, he might have to stay that way forever. Pikachu’s decision to evolve into Raichu at some point in the future could be seen as a moment of effective character development, but since this Pokémon is as determined to progress as he is, this will likely gives a feeling of inauthenticity. On a completely different note, a sudden evolution would also cost the Pokémon franchise its most iconic character. Now, Pikachu has been committed to becoming what he is for so long that his chances of evolving are slim.
Can Pikachu get stronger when he becomes Raichu?
For Pokémon, evolution almost always results in a significant and immediate increase in power. Ash’s Pikachu will probably be a bit stronger as Raichu, at least initially. However, there are many new abilities that Pikachu has gained in the series that Raichu does not have. For example, Raichu will not be able to perform Pikachu’s Z-move, the 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt, nor will he be able to transform into the Gigantamax form that Pikachu has. Ash’s Pikachu has already proven himself to be exceptionally powerful to Pikachu, so the extra boost from evolving into Raichu might not make much of a difference in the end.
Pikachu’s continued commitment to his classic form has allowed the Pokémon franchise to keep him as its face. It also allows the character to give a moral lesson to many viewers. Although Ash’s Pikachu may not have evolved yet, in Pokémon Journeys, Goh finally developed Pikachu – bringing it to viewers who might want to see the original Pikachu developed some form of cleaning.