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.
- 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 won 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.
- 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 who's method of raising Pokémon involves putting them through rigorous training.
- Scissors Cuts Rock:
- Ash makes a remark about how flying Pokémon always has the advantage against ground, but Shandshrew 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 Pokemon 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.
- 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.