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Did Ash Ketchum just get his first kiss?

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An emotional moment from the anime has Pokémon shippers going wild

The current season of the Pokémon cartoon is wrapping up in Japan, which means that Ash Ketchum has been spending the last few weeks saying goodbye to the friends he’s traveled the Kalos region with for the past three years. Today’s episode of Pokémon XY&Z featured Ash’s final parting words to Serena, his fellow trainer and closest friend throughout it all — and their very last moment together, above, stands to be one of the biggest in Ash’s life.

Although the camera cuts down to their feet — y’know, to shield the eyes of the impressionable young children watching — it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Take a look at the red-faced remaining party members Clemont and Bonnie behind Ash after Serena descends the escalator. That’s not even to mention Pikachu, who’s similarly scandalized by the physical affection.

Ash just looks dumbfounded, which is in keeping with his naivete. The 10-year-old has been 10 years old for the past 19 years, proving time and wisdom are but constructs. He’s never had an experience like this before, although he’s certainly come close — but any kisses on the cheek he or other characters have received haven’t been "censored" in this same way, making this moment all the more suggestive.

It’s an especially big deal because of Serena and Ash’s history, both with each other and as crafted by fans. The childhood best friends have been through a lot over the course of three seasons set in the world of Pokémon X and Y. Serena watched Ash nearly topple the Pokémon League for the first time, and the pair have caught a ton of new Pokémon between them, including one that looks a lot like Ash himself. It makes sense that the scene above would be so important to both of them, and to the fans that have long thought that the young trainers shared something special.

Those fans call themselves "Amourshippers," and they’ve taken to places like Reddit and YouTube to rejoice at what sure does look like Ash’s very first kiss. The name comes from the French word for love, a nod to the Kalos region’s French inspiration. Pokémon community sites like Bulbapedia collect the various reasons why fans have theorized that Ash and Serena would end up together, and it’s a lengthy list. In brief: Serena really cares about the single-minded Pokémon trainer, who seems to remain oblivious to her advances.

Even though Ash has rarely taken a vested interest in the lovely ladies that accompany him, Pokémon fans have long dreamed up relationships for him. From Misty to May, each of Ash’s female friends have been assessed as possible romantic partners for him. With Serena, though, it was different — because for once, the show seemed to suggest that she liked him, liked him.

Ash is moving onto the Alola region soon; the Pokémon Sun and Moon anime begins next month, just in time for the games to launch on Nintendo 3DS. It features a new area to explore, a new art style for our hero and, of course, a new set of friends for him to build relationships with. We have a feeling that Ash will always remember Serena, though, even if the cartoon leaves her behind.

Update: In an interview with the Japanese magazine AnimeStyle010, according to a translation on Twitter, the staff of Pokémon XY&Z confirmed that Ash and Serena were meant to have kissed in Serena's goodbye scene.

"[Serena] is meant to be kissing [Ash] in that scene," storyboard director Tetsuo Yajima said, based on a translation by members of the Pokémon fansite Serebii.net's forums. "But since I couldn't just have them kissing on screen, I had Serena's feet 'float' upwards instead."

The full translated highlights are below, with Yajima and an unnamed producer clarifying that the ambiguous scene came right up to the edge of what was deemed age-appropriate for the average Pokémon viewer.

While things were left up in the air for Ash and Serena, it sounds like there's something special there. The hope is that they'll get together some day in the future — assuming the perpetual pre-teen Ash Ketchum ever grows up.