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‘Pokémon Horizons’ Team Talks Netflix Debut, First Female Protagonist and Saying Farewell to Ash Ketchum

The world of “Pokémon” is evolving with “Pokémon Horizons: The Series,” a show with two brand new protagonists after Ash Ketchum finally caught ’em all and became the very best, like no one ever was.

After 26 years with Ash as the face of its anime series, “Pokémon” introduced Liko and Roy in “Horizons,” which began airing in Japan last year and is now available on Netflix in the U.S. “Pokémon” said goodbye to Ash (for now) in the final episode of “Ultimate Journeys,” the previous season. The 10-year-old boy went out on a high note and accomplished his goal of being the best Pokémon trainer in the world before he left.

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Now, the “Pokémon” anime revolves around Liko and Roy. They’re a pair of newcomers with partner Pokémon Sprigatito, an adorable grass kitten, and Fuecoco, a fiery little crocodile, who travel across the Paldea region, which was introduced in the 2022 video games “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Violet.” They meet up with a group of adventuring trainers called the Rising Volt Tacklers, who fly around the world in an airship while catching Pokémon, solving mysteries and helping others. And it wouldn’t be a “Pokémon” show without a Pikachu, so the gang is joined by the brave, hat-wearing Captain Pikachu.

The Pokémon Company International executives Andy Gose, senior director of media production, and Taito Okiura, vice president of marketing, spoke to Variety ahead of the “Horizons” launch on Netflix to discuss the new show, creating “Pokémon’s” first female protagonist and saying goodbye to Ash.

The first “Pokémon” game came out in 1996 and the anime began in 1997, so why was now the right time to introduce a brand new series and new protagonists?

Andy Gose: Ash and Pikachu have had such a fantastic run, they’re so iconic and they’ve been the entry point for so many folks into the brand over the years. We’ve gotten that multi-generational effect where folks have grown up with them, and they’re sharing it with their kids, nephews and nieces. We’ve grown with them, and it feels like there’s more world and more characters to explore. So 28 years in, it feels like why not meet some new folks in the world and experience the adventure of the “Pokémon” world through a different lens?

Taito Okiura: “Pokémon” kind of has a mandate: We evolve. I’m personally passionate about Ash and Pikachu; but that being said, over 28 years Pokémon has been evolving in multiple forms, including in a video game, a trading card game and other exciting new games. Now there will be a possible opportunity for the animation field to evolve. We’re very excited to have this introduction with new protagonists, especially the female protagonist.

The anime has had supporting female characters like Misty, May and Dawn, but Liko is the first protagonist. How did you create her after deciding to move away from Ash?

Gose: Ash is such an iconic character, very singularly focused on becoming a Pokémon master, and here we get to start with new characters facing their own personal, internal challenges. We get to understand where they’re coming internally and watch them grow through the series. That’s one of the most compelling parts to me, that character opportunity. Also having dual protagonists and our first female protagonist is really exciting.

Okiura: There are so many voices from passionate Pokémon fans, boys but also girls. You see in the initial episodes, Liko is kind of an introvert, but she bonds with Sprigatito.

Gose: She’s paired with Sprigatito, who is very capricious and ready to take action. You start to immediately see that dynamic and that growth starting to take place from the very beginning. Similarly we have Roy, who is quite energetic and comes from a part of the world where Pokémon trainers don’t exist but he’s learned about them and yearns for this adventure. His dynamic with Liko is also an interesting relationship that we see evolve as the story progresses.

What does the “Horizons” title mean for the show, and how many seasons do you see it running?

Gose: It touches on this sweeping sort of adventure of the show. It’s a really grand adventure, and it tells a story with an arc. They’re on an airship in the show, and it connects to that as well. That sense of adventure and growth, “Horizons” kind of bundles all that up neatly. We are committed to this show for now, and as viewers see that the story follows kind of an arc, I think that we’ll likely tell the story until the story is complete. That can be any number of seasons.

In the games, many Pokémon have three forms in their evolution as they grow. As a company, what step in the evolution do you see “Pokémon” at now?

Gose: I think “Pokémon,” like all of us, is always evolving. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where you are in that arc, but it’s exciting that “Pokémon,” across all pillars but in particular in animation, has sustained itself for this long. We’re excited that this next evolution of “Pokémon” as an animation. I’m not sure exactly where it falls, but we’re really proud of the show.

Okiura: In terms of an ongoing “Pokémon” brand, it’s only the beginning of the long “Pokémon” saga. We are very passionate about having “Pokémon” longevity over 100 years. In that regard, it’s only the beginning.

So, is this really the end of Ash? Will we see him reappear at some point?

Gose: We’ve said farewell. Ash is still in the world. Anything is possible, I suppose. In the world of Pokémon, there’s so many possibilities.

Okiura: We hope Ash and Pikachu continue in their journey. Their journey is ongoing somewhere in the Pokémon world. It’s totally up to our fans’ imagination. For the time being, we would love to focus on the new story of the Liko and Roy. “Horizons” invites a new beginning.

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