- Mar 14, 2021
- Reaction score
Hot take: Ash’s Butterfree character arc is better and more satisfying than Ash Greninja’sRight after I watched JN136, I decided to begin a rewatch of the Indigo League. I just finished rewatching Bye Bye Butterfree, and unfortunately, it made me realize how weak Butterfree's character arc is.
The best moment for Butterfree by far, in my opinion, happens after Ash catches Caterpie in Ash Catches a Pokémon. We see an amazing scene where Caterpie and Pikachu bond, and how Caterpie both wants to evolve into Butterfree, as well as become friends with Misty. After that, it evolves into Metapod in the same episode, and is already a Butterfree in the very next episode. Butterfree then battles Misty in a gym battle, with no sign that Misty likes it at all. After that, we don't really see it again until the St. Anne episode, where Ash offers to trade his Butterfree for a Raticate. We see that Ash heavily regrets the trade, worrying if Butterfree will be treated well, and makes an effort to get it back despite the ship sinking. This was a great moment for Ash, because it shows us viewers that his Pokémon are really important to him, especially his very first one. Unfortunately, this is the last major appearance of Butterfree before its release episode. So far, we know that Butterfree wanted to evolve all the way, that it wanted to become friends with Misty, and that Ash cares about the Pokémon he caught a lot. It would appear here and there, like against AJ's Sandshrew and the giant Tentacruel, but overall it was not very prevalent. It wasn't even in Island of the Giant Pokémon, would could have given it a great showcase of its personality.
Bye Bye Butterfree introduces quite a few problems to Butterfree's character. First of all, Misty suddenly likes Butterfree and is comfortable around it. There was absolutely no indication that Misty was ever working on getting over her fear of bugs for Ash's Butterfree in previous episodes, so it was very jarring that she is suddenly okay and supportive of it in this episode, and she continues to keep her fear of bugs afterwards. There's also the fact that, if Ash never found the Butterfree mating season, he would have never released it. After Ash gave serious thought with the Raticate trade and did anything he could to get Butterfree back, why is he suddenly okay with the idea of Butterfree finding a soulmate? There's also the fact that Ash's Butterfree wanting to find love was never established at any point before this episode. For Ash's Butterfree to win the pink Butterfree over, it had to defeat Team Rocket. That's fine and ultimately harmless, but it doesn't give much depth to Ash's Butterfree's love either. The pink Butterfree likes Ash's Butterfree because it saved it's life, and while that's a good excuse for it to fall in love, it's ultimately a very simple story. There just isn't much weight to Bye Bye Butterfree in my opinion. Butterfree evolved too fast, Misty suddenly likes it with no explanation, Ash had a hard time letting it go before but is suddenly okay with it now, and the idea of Butterfree wanting to pursue love was never established before this episode. Not to mention that only Ash and Pikachu cry when Butterfree get released, Misty and Brock don't show much sad emotion at all.
I hate saying this about an iconic childhood episode, but when you take the nostalgia googles off, Ash's Butterfree was not that well written of a character. It will always have a history for being Ash's first capture, and for being the first ever goodbye for a main character. I just wish Ash's Butterfree had more weight to its character, because the reasons people love it have moreso to do with Ash's growth of a character than anything. Ash catching his first Pokémon and releasing his first Pokémon are global concepts that could have happened with any Pokemon, and Butterfree is a good choice for that, because Caterpie is one of the earliest Pokémon you can find in Red and Blue. However, Butterfree just has a lack of individuality to it that didn't really shine in most of the episodes it was in. Moments like its conversation with Pikachu in Ash Catches a Pokémon were amazing, but other moments like Ash wanting Butterfree back made Butterfree more about Ash than itself. In my opinion, that's a good thing for Ash, but not exactly the best thing for Butterfree, mostly because we don't get to see Butterfree's opinion of the gentlemen he was given to. Ash just assumes that the Butterfree will continue to be traded by that gentlemen, instead of trying to see if it would actually be happier with him.
There honestly aren't that many reasons for me to feel sad about Ash's Butterfree getting released in Bye Bye Butterfree. It stings when Misty says "have lots of healthy babies", because when Ash's Butterfree miraculously reappears in Journeys, we don't see any offspring at all. It's still just Ash's Butterfree and the Pink Butterfree. Brock also says "Hope your relationship goes well" when Ash's Butterfree leaves, which gives the implication that there's a chance a breakup could happen between the two Butterfree. Considering Ash's Butterfree and the pink Butterfree didn't actually know each other that well when they first met, what if they had a breakup off-screen? Would Ash's Butterfree be left stranded? Ash's Butterfree was released with the assumption that it would get along and be happy with the pink Butterfree, and it's good that Journeys confirms that they are still together after all this time. However, the fact that Butterfree's entire character is determined by the fact that Ash caught it as his first Pokémon, and it being his first release, makes his overall character feel shallow to me. I'm glad that there are many fans all around the world that love Ash's Butterfree, but even as a kid, I was never terribly saddened by it. It teaches us an important lesson that nothing lasts forever and we need to learn to let things go, which is great, but I just wish it was written much better than it was.