Japanese Title: The Road to the Pokémon League
Original Airdate: May 20, 1997
US Airdate: September 17, 1998
Ash runs across a Pokémon Trainer named AJ, who is said to have 98 straight wins. Ash is beaten easily and finds out this is mostly because AJ works his Pokemon extraordinarily hard. Ash is very upset and argues with AJ about the proper way to train Pokémon, until Team Rocket kidnaps AJ's Sandshrew... when Sandshrew comes back Ash is moved by AJ's relief and Sandshrews apparent affection for AJ. AJ then fights Team Rocket and gets his 100th win, ending the match with a Fissure move that destroys the arena completely.
- Badass Adorable: AJ's Sandshrew is a very capable little battler. Despite being an adorably roly-poly rodent, it not only crushes Ash's team with minimal effort, but also puts up a hell of a fight against Team Rocket and can even use Fissure, a One Hit KO move to boot. Needless to say, AJ's training has definitely been doing the little guy wonders.
- Berserk Button: Another episode where Misty goes from apathetic to quite angry when the honor of her gym is insulted. Brock also joins in when AJ proceeds to insult his gym as well, and both of them demand that Ash must crush him in battle.
- Break the Haughty: At the very beginning of the episode Ash has just won his 10th Pokémon battle and when he hears about AJ, the toughest trainer in the area, he is confident he can beat him. He boasts about his gym badges and insults AJ for not having any, but in the fight immediately afterwards AJ beats Ash easily. Ash is shaken and insists that AJ must have cheated, then becomes fixated on AJ and what he must be doing wrong for the rest of the episode.
- Bullying a Dragon: Ash does this by arrogantly challenging AJ and losing hard to him...this is after the trainer Ash beat told him that AJ never lost a single match.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: AJ is the Pokémon version of this. This does not mean that he doesn't care about them, as shown when Team Rocket kidnap Sandshrew.
- Elemental RockPaperScissors: Another episode that mentions typing, mostly to show off how strong Sandshrew via Scissors Cuts Rock rather than to explain new information.
- Eye Catch: The featured Who's That Pokémon? is Sandshrew.
- Filler: This is the first episode not to have any direct bearing on the story, and the first without any Pokémon debuts.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- Insufferable as he is, AJ smugly tells Ash to grow up.
- Ash was uncharacteristically smug and arrogant this episode, but he was right to call AJ out on making Sandshrew jump in water when Sandshrew in general are weak to water.
- Lost in Translation: The bit about "pacing/passing/padding" and Pikachu holding a pillow was not exactly easy to translate into English.
- Lucky Translation: The sight gag of Ash's nose growing may have been this—in Japanese, this was likely a nod to the Japanese phrase "becoming a Tengu", which basically means that you're getting a swelled head. However, he also happens to be lying in that scene...and in that case, western audiences will almost certainly take it as a Pinocchio reference.
- Never My Fault: Ash blames everyone but himself for being arrogant and losing.
- One-Shot Character: AJ, a trainer who has not yet begun his badge collecting and whose method of raising Pokémon involves putting them through rigorous training.
- Out-of-Character Moment: Everyone in this episode. Ash becomes a spoiled brat that somehow manages to contradict his entire character a few episodes prior; Misty, a notable Pokémon activist in most episodes, and Brock, an aspiring Pokémon breeder don't see anything wrong with AJ's methods and even tell Ash to quit complaining when he points out how messed up it is... And that's only within the first half of the episode.
- Scissors Cuts Rock:
- Ash makes a remark about how Flying Pokémon always have the advantage against Ground, but Sandshrew beats his Butterfree anyways, showing just how strong it is.
- Sandshrew is also shown to be able to withstand water after intense training.
- For some reason, Meowth is about the only Pokémon shown to genuine harm Sandshrew by biting it. When he tries it again however, he only hurts his teeth.
- Sore Loser: After losing to AJ, Ash cries and accuses AJ of cheating.
- Smug Snake: Ash of all people acts like this for a fair amount of the episode. Case in point: After AJ defeats Ash the first time, Ash concludes that AJ must have cheated. Yes, because clearly that's the only way he would have won.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Ash's several levels of jerkass aside, does have a valid point that AJ's training methods are WAY too extreme and downright borderline abusive. Unfortunately, Misty and Brock just side with AJ and tell Ash he needs to respect his training methods.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: All three of the main characters in the episode. Ash becomes a lot cockier and egotistic for the sake of portraying AJ in the right, Brock and Misty become a lot less sympathetic despite calling Ash out on his sudden shift because they're indirectly advocating Pokemon abuse... And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
- Training from Hell: AJ puts all his Pokémon through some painfully difficult training, having them wear resistance devises, practice fighting until exhausted, jump through flaming hoops, and in Sandshrew's case dive in a pool despite having a weakness to water.