Did one ever know the reason why the pacing and story development changed after Ash was hit by lightning in the beginning episodes? How Ash and his world were relatively normal until after the incident? I have a theory. The accident with the bike put Ash in a coma. Days later he was found and was hurried to the hospital and treated with heavy medications. This is why Team Rocket became less menacing. The medication took effect and stabilized his coma dreams; instead of being terrifying, they became idyllic, and he's able to live out his Pokémon master fantasies.
If one had noticed, the early episodes of Pokémon were of amazing quality. The rest of the series is just the results of his subconscious mind fulfilling his desires, as well as attempting to escape them. Should Ash realize he's in a coma, he would wake up, but suffer brain damage. So he has to take down all his mental barriers one by one until he can come to grips with what he is and escape his coma.
This explains why he doesn't change much physically. Also, the worldwide socialism can be explained if you once again realize that this is a dream world; he thought up a safe system of government that would run smoothly and keeps the world going allowing his adventures to work like they do. It also explains a few other things, such as how a child can go off on his own in a world full of dangerous untamed animals, and why every Pokémon Center has the same exact nurse. Joy and Jenny he knew from his hometown, and they act as a safety net or anchor, allowing him to feel safe no matter where he goes. The professors, like the Joys and Jennys, represent stability, and Ash's ideals. This is why Gary became a professor. It's also the reason that every time he enters a new region, virtually no one has heard of him, despite his conquests, and why Giovanni leads Team Rocket. How could Paul, the rival of the Sinnoh area, not know of someone who has placed in at least the top 16 of all three Leagues and has destroyed the Orange League and Battle Frontier?
Ash’s traveling partners are actually aspects of himself he can enjoy, but doesn't like to associate with himself. Team Rocket are his qualities that he deems "negative," but is coming to terms with. Jessie and James want to appease Giovanni, Ash's father. Meowth especially wants to appease him because he remembers the good times with Giovanni. This places Meowth in a category known as Ash's (corrupted) innocence, and another fragment of Ash's humanity. If you note that Meowth can speak, this quickly becomes apparent. In fact the whole reason for Meowth's speech is so he can help Ash accept Team Rocket as part of himself eventually.
Brock is Ash's repressed sexuality. He fell into the coma a virgin and needed an outlet for his growing sexual frustrations. Since he can never experience sex, Brock must never succeed. Brock is a projection of his sexuality, and is constantly shot down because Ash could never “know” sex. Brock isn't just Ash's latent sexuality, he's also his fatherly instincts, neither of which Ash can come to terms with. Brock leaves his siblings to "journey" with Ash, because Ash can't cope with having that much responsibility, much as his foray with a real relationship ends on mysterious terms. Ash just cannot handle commitment at his mental level. Brock's stay with professor Ivy was an attempt to outright suppress his sexuality. You'll notice that James got much more dialogue in this part of the series, as well as getting more touchy feely with his Pokémon and getting most of his backstory. Ash didn't enjoy this much, hence the reasons Brock comes back all horrified, and refuses to speak about it. (Ash's subconscious was repressing him at the time, so other than a general feeling of dread he has no idea of what went on then.) This is also why Brock keeps coming back to the series... Usually AFTER Ash meets a new girl aspect of himself. Misty is an image that Ash had of a girl. This is why she plays so prevalently in the series but is ultimately unattainable because he never really knew her before the coma. Likely the one that helped get him to a hospital. I have a theory in line with this: since Misty was his initial love interest (if only subconsciously), he needed her to reach a level of womanhood. He felt that people could only have relationships when they've matured. But in practice, it turned out he couldn't cope with it and just wanted the normal, pushy, arrogant Misty he knew, and wouldn't let her keep Togepi anymore.
Misty is Ash's first attempt at a girl he could love, however, being a girl from the real world, all he really he knew of her was her anger, as a result she ended up quite hot-headed in his mind. Constantly berating his sexuality, but eventually mellowing out until she had faded into the background. This was also traumatizing to him, being attached to it. Since then, the thought of anyone around him maturing to adulthood has been blocked, and anyone who shows signs of it will quickly end up leaving for another, more naïve fill-in.
Max came with May, she played the Id with great aspirations, and he played the sensible Ego that "session." They worked for a little while, but Ash, being a teenager; eventually his sexuality had to come back into play. He kept reinventing himself and eventually wrote new aspects, but his mind slowly brought back the old ones as a crutch to make the transition easier.
Dawn is Ash giving himself a chance to love. since he already established Misty as someone he's not likely to go anywhere with, he created a new super female, one that was more like him, and less violent all the time. (One will note that both May and Misty had no tolerance for Brock whatsoever whereas Dawn seems to try and shrug it off).
Tracey, the Breeder, was a possible future for Ash that he discarded. It was one that he sent off to work with the Professor (the professors being Ash's ultimate ideal of a father figure) when he disrupted the dynamic Ash had with his other possibilities. Ash's mind is fighting the coma and since Ash viewed this one as a companion he was quickly replaced with a more threatening rival.
Pikachu obviously represents Ash's humanity, hence the episodes where they get separated, and Ash wants desperately to find him, even to the point of working with the Rockets (aspects of himself he would never normally associate with) but for some reason cannot. They want to steal Pikachu (Ash’s humanity) and hand it over to his father, Giovanni. Jessie and James will always oppose Ash because Ash is terrified of the thought of his humanity lying in the hands of his father. However this is the same reason that he will work with those aspects of himself in order to save his humanity from just becoming flat out LOST. He couldn't evolve his Pikachu without challenging his concept of who he was, something he wasn't comfortable with while he was still working through his original issues.
Another thing is the narrator. The narrator is Ash's higher mind, recapping and explaining the progress he's made and the tribulations he will face allowing itself insight into how best to awaken him.
Ash has issues with his father; so he put him atop the evil corporation, and demonized him. There may be an actual Team Rocket, and I'm positive they're quite dastardly, but I doubt that Ash's father is their leader, in fact the head of the Rockets wasn't really identified as anyone until later on in the series. The split between Ash's parents was likely over Ash's homosexuality and some sort of incident as a catalyst, forcing his father to disown him and his mother to move out of the city and down to Pallet Town. This is why Giovanni runs the faceless vile corporation, and why he berates Jessie, James, and Meowth as much as he does, and why they keep trying to please him. Another thing to notice is the difference in uniform, the Rockets wear black and red, where Team Rocket wears white... a symbol of their purity and naïveté. They're willing to please Father despite his utter hatred of those parts of Ash.
Team Rocket are aspects of Ash's personality that he has deemed "bad." James implied homosexuality, and Jessie is vanity. You'll remember that Meowth has the potential for rehabilitation, and doesn't want to be evil, so yet again this fits in with the conflicting personalities and demonized self theory. Team Rocket started cross-dressing because Ash had to come to terms with that part of himself. It was something he was able to allow his gay/vain side to experiment with (and by virtue of that himself). When he found that it wasn't something for him, his "free" side stopped playing with it. Further, their methods of capture become more and more ludicrous (and physically impossible) because Ash is just a kid dreaming these things up. This is the reason Team Rocket's disguises are always believed. He knows it's them (on some level), but chooses to ignore it, so he can better himself, in a sense the Ash who wants to escape is sabotaging the Ash who wants to stay lost in his mind. So that there can be more conflict, and hopefully an eventual escape. The filler episodes that don't focus on Ash and the gang are his mind working through, and humanizing the parts of himself that he demonized. It's a way for him to deal with issues that Ash and crew wouldn't touch, because it involves treading ground he himself had sworn not to go near. As I said, Team Rocket and the episodes they occupy are Ash dealing with ground he feels uncomfortable with tackling on his own. Jessie is Ash's vanity and gullibility, she will trick Ash's submissive homosexuality into doing her bidding so she can please Father. James' troubled childhood is his way of justifying his latent homosexuality. Now James is Ash's latent homosexuality, hence why he is constantly punished by Pokémon and attacked by random attractive girls. I believe the split between Ash's parents was caused by this part of Ash, maybe an incident at school, bringing shame on the family and forcing them to move to the small, country town of Pallet. Ash's motivations for his journey were to escape mounting pressure at home.
So in a way, Ash IS Team Rocket. The rest of the whole organization including Butch and Cassidy is symbolic of his inability to escape his father's machinations.
Mr. Mime is actually a stand in for Ash's father, one that can't emotionally abuse him or his mom. He is a Pokémon, a peace-loving creature that's oddly humanoid, but that can never hurt a human. Ash's was never really hurt by a Pokémon, so he sees them all as harmless; whereas, in the real world they may be quite feral or vicious (as seen in the early episodes). Again falling back to the theory that the only real Pokémon are the ones from the first season, and everything else is just further speculation coming from his mind on what new species would look like.
The new teams (Magma, Aqua, and Galactic) are Ash attempting to work out the problems he has with his father. To do that he first needs a new "bad guy" to feel good about beating, and if Giovanni isn't leading a criminal organization he can more easily relate to him.
If one recalls, there were real animals early in the show and references to animals in the game and show. For example, a clear case to point out is the aquarium of fish in the Cerulean City Gym or that according to the Pokédex, Pikachu is a "rat-like" Pokémon. But they don't matter to Ash's psyche so they don't come into play much. If Ash had loved puppies, everything would be about different breeds of dogs, and a dog fighting circuit. But, as the series goes on longer, we've been seeing less realistic animals and more Pokémon. This could be a sign of Ash’s mind deteriorating. As he's in this coma, he's losing concepts of some animals and machinery and replacing them with Pokémon. It could explain things like electric Pokémon working as power generators. A sign that his memory of the old world is slipping more and more as time goes by. The Pokémon realm will be idealized continuously the longer he has no stimulus from the real world. He may or may not be mentally deteriorating , but he is becoming more accustomed to his fake world's rules. The wild Pokémon are his rationalizations of the functioning of the world. It’s the "A wizard did it" syndrome. If he doesn't know how it works, his mind says Pokémon. He justifies anything he can't explain with Pokémon, and real animals fall into the background because he has no real interest in them.
The Pokémon in Ash's team are his issues, for example Charmander represents his sex drive (not his sexuality like Brock); at first it's a cute, easy-to-control thing, but eventually it becomes a raging inferno of disobedience. Acquiring his team means getting at his issues, but as he trains them, he works said issues out. Other trainers are more direct forms of his issues, ones that he must either come to terms with or outright suppress. Gym leaders are more primary aspects of his personality with each Pokémon being stronger than the last, to display a level of skill he could be capable of if only he gave into it. In effect, he is doing battle with a part of him that he would rather not have in control. Bulbasaur was Ash's unwillingness to change, this is reflected when it declines to evolve and how it almost decided to stay behind unless he battled it. Squirtle was his willingness to follow the lead of others, as evidenced by the gang it ran with, even though he ran the gang, they were viewed as one group, and Ash's subconscious just gave him the strongest one. Butterfree was his crushing loneliness, which he dealt with when he released it to join a flock. His bird types are his recklessness, always willing to sacrifice something at a moment's notice for the win. When Ash is trading Pokémon, it's an attempt to push his own problems away on someone else; however, he realizes this and usually trades back fairly quickly. Originally Ash had the battles, which evolved into team battles and contests. The explanation for this is that his issues became more and more complicated, and the means of dealing with them needed to become more complex. The fact that he uses issues that he has already dominated to win - these are signs that he's growing stronger.
Not only are Ash’s Pokémon a manifestation of different parts of himself, so are Pokémon of other trainers as well. Koffing and Ekans were symbolic of Team Rocket's willingness to change; hence, their evolutions. Once his mind beat that roadblock down and allowed them to change once, it gives him the chance to truly change. Pupitar is a rationalization, a Pokémon that a rival caught before he met him. Even Ash would become suspicious if everyone he met had no carry-over from previous places he had been to.
Ash releases his Pokémon because his mind is forcing him to let go of them. The second he raises an overpowered team, a tournament comes up, and after fighting his way through it he has to go to a new land for new challenges, but with an overpowered team, there won't be any challenges, and no way to motivate him further, part of Ash wants to stay in the coma, and keep journeying.
Ash's traveling also never really nets him any fame, no matter what he does, or where he goes, and the answer for that is simple. Ash just can't picture himself as famous, so he essentially adopts a new identity every few months.
The reason he never truly becomes a master is because that would mean he'd have nothing left to dream, and would wake up from his coma. Ash’s dual personality is one that wants to maintain his fantasy world and slowly sort his thoughts out carefully. The other part wants freedom, and to return to his real life, to finally become a real Pokémon master. However if he's allowed to keep his powerful team there's no reason to meet and tame new Pokémon (issues), he'll lose interest, and the chance of becoming self-aware comes around again. So it's not that he gives them up, it's that he loses them, and unless he's desperate (such as with Charizard) he can't get them back. It’s basically his mind forcing him to deal with his issues. It would also be a good reason why Paul has shown up at this point, and Ash has been forced to work with him on at least one occasion: it's his mind's last ditch efforts to snap him out of this, to force Ash to actually come to terms that this perfect world is not the best option and he needs to wake up. Paul is Ash's dark side, one that wants to push on even harder and harder, and the part of him that will stop at nothing to escape this coma world.
Ash’s rivals and the Elite Four are ultimately the strongest part of this cycle. Having Pokémon that are essentially godlike, they represent both what can be attained and what is unattainable. Gary Oak is what Ash wants to be. He is wish fulfillment. He succeeded, and settled down to a normal life. Ash needs someone to succeed in his world or he won't be able to validate it and will start questioning why he's where he is. It’s a subconscious trap to keep him from becoming too aware of his situation. His mind must have figured out that awareness of the coma would snap him out of it, but it would cause major brain damage, so it took something the boy already loved and built a way out for him with it. However, Ash is too complacent to finally fight his way out of it, and cannot escape. This is why he keeps encountering Legendary Pokémon; they're his mind's way of showing him he can do great things if he tries, and it's a way to encourage him to push forwards. The Legendary Pokémon are Ash's mind telling him that he has greatness in him and thus, can escape his happy–go–lucky reality.
Ash's rivals are all possible futures he envisions for himself (note that they are all older than him). This originated with Gary Oak, someone Ash knew from real life, and built up into a sort of god within his mind. Gary, however, progressed and changed to suit Ash's vision of himself and ultimate desire, eventually settling down into a professor after beating the Elite Four. With Gary in retirement his mind needed a new rival for him, thus the births of Richie (the good aspect of his rivalry) and Paul (as the darker aspect, a cut-throat Ash, willing to do anything to escape the coma world).
Richie and his Pikachu were another success story for Ash, but he wanted one he could be closer with. One nearly identical to him. One that even used a similar roster to him. Paul and his Chimchar are the polar opposite of Richie, Paul wants nothing to do with any kind of weakness, and is almost aware of his situation. He's always pushing for something more.
The reason he discarded his original hat and the elements of Japanese culture so prevalent in the first season is simple. He wanted to travel and broaden his horizons; every time he reinvented himself to do so, he lost touch with his original self. If he ever does escape the coma he'll likely have achieved a sort of Zen state. Considering the amount of personal issues he deals with inside his head, it's entirely likely that he was the next Buddha of the Pokémon world, and that the lightning strike and subsequent coma are a way for him to realize his true self, and destiny.
Mewtwo was a new form of treatment, done with electric impulses and a machine to knock Ash out of it, taking down every last one of his mental guards (the original Pokémon in the movie). In Ash's mind, Mewtwo and his clones were the treatment for the mental safe guards that were protecting Ash and keeping him comatose; the Pokémon of his world. The clones were counters to Ash's mental safeties, and so each appeared to Ash as the exact copy of his defense, intended to take it down by force. The clones didn't play by the rules of Ash's world, they didn't use any special Pokémon attacks or moves – they just beat down their counterpart by brute strength. The treatment was working, but there were side effects. The electric jolts were beginning to affect Ash's nervous system, and if the treatment continued, he would be paralyzed. His mind realized this and manifested it to Ash by petrifying him in his dream. Were it not for the end of the treatment by Ash's mother (knowing her son would never want to live in a world he couldn’t explore) Ash would have remained as stone in his dream. After this, Ash needed to recover from the damage of the electric therapy. Obviously it was greatly dangerous to him, and in order to reduce the danger Ash's consciousness felt from it, Ash's subconscious began downplaying the effects of electricity in Ash's world, which is why Pikachu’s electric attacks - once noted for their strength by Team Rocket – no longer have any effect on Ash, other than comic relief.
Even the world Ash lives in evidences this. The sprawling forests and eco-friendly cities are all his childish innocence. He never travels on a bike despite the distance due to the accident having given him a phobia of them.
As one could see, it is very likely that Ash is trapped in his world. But like every dream, everything, there is a beginning and an end. What would happen if Ash could fully recover? What would happen if he never does? There are infinite branches of possibilities that spiral upwards and intertwine towards the top at a single point, both in his “world” and the real world. In his hospital room, we see Delia, obviously distraught talking to a doctor with a grim look in his eye. He's saying that their insurance is up, and the boy has had no change in brain activity for seven years. That a shock like this may awaken him. She tearfully agrees.
Professor Oak is there to comfort her as they take Ash off life-support.
In Ash’s “world”...
Ash has finally defeated the Elite Four, and one by one the people around him start disappearing. Eventually everything is black. Pikachu comes dashing towards him glowing brighter and brighter in the darkness. Eventually Pikachu reaches Ash and the two embrace one last time.
Back in his room, as his life signs fade, Ash mutters his genuine, final words.
I... Want... To... Be...
The... Very... Best.
The image of his gaunt, tube-fed, ten-some-year bedridden body on the bed. His head appears bulbous from atrophy. As he utters his last words, he barely opens his eyes, seeing a silhouette of the figure at the center of his turbulent emotions, his mother, her face obstructed by her hands wiping away tears. He makes contact with her eyes and lets out one last tear before losing all strength. She breaks down in hysterics.
The worst part of all this is that Ash will die, never having experienced actual love; imagine if you will, having lived in a world like his, completely shut off from all things but yourself, and your perception of yourself, with nothing to do but better yourself. No other people to interact with, and issues to solve with no guiding hand.
The boy will die, never having known his dream, except as naught but a dream. The second he gets out into reality for that last moment, part of him knows it was all a lie... his faithful Pikachu? His friends? All his imagination, and maybe, he could have fought and clung to life, maybe even made a full recovery. But knowing that his efforts and ambitions had all been for naught, he just gave up and let the motion carry him away, just so he could be with Pikachu, in a place where his friends were waiting.
I would like to think that he'll realize that his mother loved him and was holding out hope that he'd recover all that time. On the flip side, though, when he sees her he knows that the hope she had is totally broken and she'd come to the crushing realization that the worst thing that can befall a parent has happened to her: outliving her only child. At once he knows he is loved and that it means that the one closest to him is utterly crushed.
Still, there are other possibilities. The fountain of time flows in mysterious ways. One could not go back, against the current such as Gatsby; but, one could never see what is waiting for him downstream. Ash finally defeats Lance, only to be confronted by not Gary Oak, but a mute, mirror image of himself.
The voice of the narrator speaks to him, telling him that now he can finally escape the prison of his own mind. One by one, his friends appear and melt away into more copies of him, all cheering him on. After a long tough battle against himself with the assistance of all of his Pokémon he had ever befriended, he jolts awake.
In his hospital room he sees his parents asleep; he finds himself unable to speak.
Ash pushes forward towards his recovery. Going through physical therapy, training harder and harder with rehabilitative Pokémon, until he can walk on his own again. This time, an older and wiser Ash sets out on a journey. Just like last time, he's late getting to Professor Oak's laboratory. And when there's only one Pokémon left... He suddenly recalls all his memories of his "life" and realizes that all his friends are gone forever.
As he sets out with his new companion, he finds the world is darker than he imagined. More "real;" Pokémon and people die; he too has aged.
He vows to become the Master he dreamed he was. He vows to himself.
He vows to "them."
I WILL be the very best!