PokeRecap - Charmander - The Stray Pokemon

To celebrate the Pokemon anime's 20th anniversary, we're recapping an episode of the series every Saturday!

Episode Title: Charmander - The Stray Pokemon

Original Air Date: June 10, 1997 (Japan); September 22, 1998 (US)

Episode Synopsis: As Ash, Brock, and Misty continue their slow trek to Vermillion City, they come across a Charmander sitting on top of a large rock. The Charmander is clearly malnourished and in need of medical attention, so Ash decides to catch it to get it some help. However, the Charmander refuses to be caught and tells Pikachu it already has an owner. Ash and his friends reluctantly continue on their way.

Soon, they find a Pokemon Center and overhear a trainer named Damian bragging to his friends about how he abandoned his weak Charmander out in the woods. Realizing that it must be the same Charmander, Brock confronts Damian and tells him to go back for his Pokemon. When Damian refuses, he and Brock almost get into a physical confrontation until Nurse Joy breaks it up.

Ash, Brock, and Misty decide to go back for Charmander. On the way there, a storm starts, which could cause Charmander's tail flame to go out and cause it to die. When they get to Charmander's rock, Charmander is using a leaf as a makeshift umbrella and is also under attack by a flock of Spearow. Ash's Pikachu takes care of the Spearow, while Ash and Brock grab Charmander and rush him to the Pokemon Center. Nurse Joy performs an emergency procedure on Charmander and says she'll be fine by the morning.

Charmander sneaks out of the Pokemon Center the next morning, much to Brock's disappointment. Ash tells Brock that Charmander is still loyal to Damian and that nothing they can do will change that. When Ash and his friends leave the Pokemon Center, they fall into a Team Rocket dug pit trap. Team Rocket's actually prepared this time and have rubber suits to deflect Pikachu's electricity and capture him in a specially prepared ball.

As Team Rocket drags Pikachu away, Charmander appears and demands that Team Rocket return Pikachu to Ash. When he refuses, Charmander uses his flamethrower attack to roast Team Rocket. Team Rocket abandons Pikachu and runs away, while Ash, Brock, and Misty arrive, having escaped from the pit. Ash asks Charmander to come with them, but Damian shows up (having witnessed Charmander's battle with Team Rocket) and says that Charmander is strong enough to join him. Charmander refuses Damian's offer and then roasts him with a Flamethrower attack. Pikachu backs Charmander up by shocking Damian, and Damian runs away.

Afterwards, Charmander agrees to join Ash and become his fifth Pokemon.

Ash's Episodic Moment of Idiocy: Ash is pretty well-behaved this episode and is actually the voice of reason to Brock's more impulsive actions.

Characters Introduced: Ash's Charmander, Damian

Locations: Route 24

Besides Pikachu, Charmander and its eventual evolved form Charizard is probably the Pokemon Ash is most associated with. Ash and Charmander's relationship is the focus of many episodes, especially when it enters its more rebellious phase. Ironically, the anime eventually explains that much of Charmeleon and Charizard's hostility towards Ash is because of lingering resentment and hurt feelings because of Damian's abandonment.

This is also the first episode that explicitly says that a Pokemon can die. Death is a weird thing in both the Pokemon anime, probably because it's made for small children. We see cemeteries and Ghost-Type Pokemon, but we don't often hear that Pokemon can be injured enough that they can actually die. Of course, just a few episodes ago, Pikachu battled a Pokemon that wore its mother's skull as a helmet, so I guess the implications were there already.

Interestingly, this episode also establishes that Pokemon Centers are an important neutral zone for trainers where they can't battle each other. This could be a Kanto-only rule, as Ash travels to other regions where Pokemon Centers have official Pokemon Battle fields.

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