Part 52: League and ChampionsElite 4, Champions & The Champions League
The Elite 4 in the anime are rarely used & ill defined up to this point. It took until Battle Frontier to see all of the gen 1 E4, Will & Karen never showed up at all, & Drake was the only Hoenn member to show his face.
But with Diamond & Pearl, they decided to pull on just about every important member and finally, finally give some context to what the hell an Elite 4 even is & how youd ever face them beyond vaguely strong trainer.
Which starts with Lucian, so I will too. We meet Lucian pretty early on, the 35th episode, and of all people its Dawn who faces him in an attempt to bond with and understand her new Buizel. In the games hes uhhh what you see. A generally nice bookworm. Character trait: books. In the anime they lessen on the books and lean more on his experience and recognizing issues/spunk in others (like Buizel) to help people out. He actually turns down Ashs request so they can fight once he wins the Sinnoh League which is...always funny .
The way the whole battle plays out is kind of ridiculous. He completely trounces Buizel in 3 moves, puts Buizel into a depression and then lets Buizel get so mad at Team Rocket kidnapping it to force a decision on if itll give up battling or not. Then HE commands Buizel to take care of TR to show Dawn how to read the Buizels battle rhythm. The final lesson being hey maybe realize your Pokemon likes to be more offensive and head on. And you know sometimes you gotta put someone into a depressive fugue state to do it!
But the big thing is that were introduced to The Champions League. Every region has their own Champions League that you only get access to once youve beaten that regions respective Pokemon League. At that point you get to challenge the elite 4 and then the Champion, just like in the games. Which makes sense but also they literally never mention this before, so it was an exciting bit of world building.
As you can imagine, bringing this up so early on in a season that would wind up being the most competent Ashs ever been...people had some high hopes that this was going to lead to Ash finally win the League and then move on. And then presumably lose but hey the context would be different!
We do get to see snippets of the Champions League after this introduction but, spoiler, Ash doesnt make it. And the only times it gets referenced in other seasons is in a few Unova episodes. And considering the trajectory that Alola is going I think its going to just be silently ignored .
Bug boy is next, kind of treated like an idol. Hes training in a public venue, he works out constantly, he plays to his fans and all the magazines are talking about it and theres long lines and the whole nine yards. The E4 are always held in high regard (Ash & Brock freak out over Bruno, Lorelei has tons of people fawning over hr) but this one really played into the starstruck aspect.
Plot twist, though: he was a total shit when he was a kid. His first pokemon was a Wurmple and after his first loss he threw a tantrum and the Wurmple ran away. Unlike other assholes he learned from this and is a genuinely nice guy but it is, as you imagine, a sore spot. Dont worry though, the Wurmple (now a Beautifly) reunites at the end and together they decide to fight Cynthia.
Oh right thats the other thing about the Elite 4 in this setting, they can continually challenge the champion in a bid to get the championship of their own. We dont get a lot of context about it, like if they have to fight the other E4 members before hand. Do you think the Pokemon League Champions get put on an E4 list for future replacements? Give me the lore, Pokemon!
Also he loses, the next episode they have the match on TV and we see the aftermath. Thats what you get for bringing a butterfly to a shark match!
Look out everyone cool grandma coming through! Shes in town to help train a cousins son, but doesnt like being called an Elite 4 in public. I guess its meant to be the opposite of how Aaron plays into the superstar aspect. The kids Magby gets kidnapped by Team Rocket through an instant evolution day care scheme and the episode is crusiing around the cool SUV to take them down. They get it back, Bertha imparts some stern lessons in not taking shortcuts and taking responsibility for your pokemon.
But the big even is Brock does a faux pas and lets it slip shes an E4 and kind of begrudgingly fights Ash. Hippowdon vs Torterra, battle of the big boys is a pretty nice battle considering its 2 lumbering slow pokes. Bertha does her stern lessons thing about being more observant in battle which...he actually is pretty observant in battle. Its a plot point even, Im pretty sure? This is kind of their go-to thing for imparting lessons to Ash if it isnt about being suddenly-for-this-episode overconfident.
Flint had the most to build off of for the anime, so they stuck to it pretty closely and expanded on it. Flint has known Volkner since they were kids, when Volkner would battle street alley gangs and poachers in his hometime, and became E4/Gym Leader at about the same time after several years.
When Volkner became gym leader he started pushing technological advancements but also became way less interested in battling to the point that he just gives away badges. Flint had been continuing to come visit in an attempt to relight the fire in Volkner and after hitting it off with Ash the two have a battle (Flint wins (Spoilers)) that despite Ashs loss the performance gets him interested again to actually open up the gym.
He sticks around to provide color commentary and help out the town when Team Rocket steals the giant lighthouse/gym/power silo/rocket. Its all very silly, but hes a cool guy and they had fun with him. He makes one last appearance after the league where Ash is in a funk, but then seees Flint & Cynthia battling to reignite his passion (Flint loses).
Also they added a bartender (the Proprietor) who used to be a poacher after being defeated by Volkner & Flint as children. Now theyre besties and a way to have bar scenes with the gang. No alcohol though. Dont ask whats in the bottles.
And hey heres a fun filler character, a fangirl who never actually meets Flint but tries her beest to mimic him. The fillers weird its got like 3 things going on between the Flint copycat, her having ditto with all the ditto shenanigans, an inexplicable Zapdos cameo in a flashback that won her the battle through fear alone...wouldnt be too out of place in Kantos seasons.
Cynthia is the most involved champion in the series. She shows up frequently, she brushes against the evil team several times, she helps Ash out several times, and she gets to be heavily involved in the cliamx. Shes super competent, stays calm and collected, her Garchomp is bullshit and shes super interested in Sinnohs Space-Time myth. And also a little aloof at times. Probably the most 1:1 with her game counterpart, although she is much more actively involved with the Mt. Coronet climax basically acting in place of Barry.
Surprisingly in her first appearance its not Ash rushing to challenge her to a battle, its Paul (to a full battle, even). Did you guess: A Garchomp no-sells almost everything and completes a full cleansweep? Congrats, its the most owned Pauls ever gotten. The closest he gets to doing anything is tricking Garchomp into a Giga Impact so he can get some hits in.
She also shows up in Best Wishes Season 2 which is a whole thing to talk about on its own, but she sticks around as a recurring character for a brief arc in Undella Town which is neat. Shes about the same as she was in DP, but we get to see her play off of Caitlin and Alder and have some adventures with Meloetta. I thought thered be more to say about her, but she really is about on par with the game so its just retreading ground in some aspects. Oh well!
What...can you say? Shes the Champion...
But since were at the Pokemon League, I would be remiss not to talk about .
Ive mentioned a fair few times by now that Sinnoh is probably the most competent Ash has been. Hes doing strategies, he knows what hes doing, he has an actual distinct Rival to bounce off of, his team has grown significantly with the only unevolved Pokemon being Pikachu and Buizel and at the League hes even calling in his reserves. AND we had the whole Champions League set up! This is it! Ash is going to win!
Ash did not win.
Tobias is first brought up in passing, as a mysterious trainer who is sweeping his way through the league with a Legendary pokemon thats eventually revealed to be a Darkrai. Its very powerful, it sends you to sleep with Dark Void and then just destroys you no questions asked. No ones even seen his second pokemon, much less the rest of his team.
This Darkrai isnt even explained. Is it the same one that was shown earlier in the series when they did a Darkrai vs Cresselia episode? Some other Darkrai? How did he get a Darkrai? None of these questions are brought up or explored. So as you can a imagine this got people in a tizzy. Ash was too good, they didnt want him to win and so they brought in a ringer with no backstory (the only one in the League like this, see my Rivals post) with a ridiculous Pokemon to destroy Ash after he had his big climactic showdown with Paul. Easy to see why people would be upset.
But .I...really like the battle? Its me. Im the Tobias apologist.
They did try to do the whole they were outmatched, BUT-- thing and I think it worked fine. Even they knew Ash just losing to a clean sweep wouldve sucked. So first off, while Ash had to bring in his C Squad since all his other Pokemon were still recovering from prior battles he did make a point to bring Heracross to counter Darkrai. It had Megahorn, its bug/fighting, and most importantly it had Sleep Talk. It actually got a solid hit in before dying. They pay some lip service to Gibles Draco Meteor such that, although it missed (dumb), Tobias admits Darkrai wouldve been knocked out if it did hit. Then theres Sceptile, who was probabyl one of Ashs Big 3 at the time and had a pretty great back and forth, broke out of Dark Void and got the KO. I really liked the back and forth, what can I say. Torkoal was also in the battle but just knocked out by a flamethrower vs dark pulse explosion so
Sceptile getting the KO was the clear bargaining with this. Literally no one lasted this long against Tobias and Ash is the only one to ever see Tobias second Pokemon. Too bad that second Pokemon was
Latios. A Latios! Of all things! I still like the resolution to this battle but cmon writers! At least make it his starter or something. Latios quickly cleans up the now-tired Sceptile and Swellow after a neat air chase leading to the final Pokemon of .Pikachu. But this is the final part that I Think makes it work because its not just Pikachu does its best before it faints (spoilers) but it wins. You got it all: Ash turning his hat backwards, their ~*strong bond*~ keeping Pikachu going, Volt Tackle cutting through a giant beam and then a giant suicide run of discharging on Latios back to come crashing down together. Latios actually does get knocked out, even.
Tobias still won, of course, since he had another 4 Pokemon (ALL LEGENDS, I ASSUME) left, but I maintain that the battle itself is good and if Ash had to be done dirty than at least this was an interesting way to go out. I mean could you imagine Ash losing to some nobody again, perhaps someone that hypothetically didnt bring 6 pokemon to a full Battle match. I mean that would just be ridiculous... Comically, we dont even see the final match (Ash vs Tobias was the semifinals) and just learn that he cleansweeped with Darkrai again; Ash can at least say he beat 2 layers of bullshit when no one can even lay a scratch on Darkrai. We sadly dont get to see anything of his fight against Cynthia either and its not even mentioned when she cameos in Best Wishes; maybe he got beat so bad it wasnt even worth mentioning. Thatd be fun.
One last thing to mention is that before we knew about Tobias & Darkrai, we knew from things like corocoro and arc summaries that there was going to be a trainer with a legendary Pokemon so for a time we thought it was some rando with a Heatran because that was inexplicably just...there. In a background shot at the start of the league, mentioned by no one and never seen after.