The new Pokémon movie, Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle, came Stateside via Netflix on Oct. 8. While it has plenty of the fixings for a cute family flick, like Pikachu making funny faces, and it fulfills longtime fans’ curiosity with some powerful legendary Pokémon, the movie deviates from the traditional Pokémon formula in one way. It sheds light on a long-running question in the Pokémon television show and movies: Whatever happened with Ash’s absent dad?
Secrets of the Jungle is a Tarzan-meets-Pokémon mashup. It introduces Koko, a young boy the same age as longtime Pokémon protagonist Ash. Koko was raised in the jungle by an ape Pokémon, Zarude. A lot of the movie centers on exploring themes around what it means to be a family. When Koko learns he’s human, and that his Pokémon dad is not his biological dad, he gets upset, but Ash comforts him by telling him that Koko and his adoptive father remind him of his own dad.
Gasp! Wait what!?
Ash’s dad has never been an active presence in the Pokémon anime TV series or the accompanying movies. While he’s mentioned a few times early in the anime, he’s mostly a mystery — fans have never gotten to learn much about who or where he is, or why he’s absent from Ash’s life. By contrast, Ash’s mom, Delia Ketchum, is front and center throughout Pokémon animated continuity. She’s seen whenever Ash goes back to his hometown, and frequently featured via video chats with Ash — but she doesn’t talk about his father.
Ash’s long-delayed revelation about his dad comes in the form of a story he tells Koko and Zarude. Once, he says, when he was a child, other kids made fun of him because he had a dream of becoming the best Pokémon trainer in the world. Ash tells Koko that after his peers mocked him, his dad told him, “The map to your goal is inside yourself. If you give up, your dream is never gonna come true.” After all this time, he says, that message has stuck with him and helped guide him.
That still doesn’t explain where his dad is, or what happened to him. Still, while Secrets of the Jungle follows an alternate Pokémon movie canon, it’s worth noting that showrunners are at least willing to breach the subject. Before now, longtime Pokémon viewers weren’t even sure if Ash ever met his father, or had any kind of meaningful connection to him. Now, we know his dad was at least present in his childhood at some point, and that he considers him a key inspiration in his dreams of becoming the world’s best Pokémon trainer. That’s a start, at least, and a thread for future Pokémon stories to start pulling on.