Thousand Roads

A Pokémon fansite dedicated to the creative side of the Pokémon fandom, especially fanfiction.

On the Origin of Ash Betrayal Fics

Last Updated July 23 2016

If you've visited FFN recently, you've probably run across at least a couple of Ash betrayal fanfics. They're very popular right now, and all follow the same basic formula: Ash is betrayed by his friends and traveling companions, goes off by himself to do some solo training, then busts back on the tournament scene as a much more powerful trainer, usually with some new love interests in tow, all this to show that those losers had only been holding him back all along.

Ash betrayal fanfic was particularly interesting to me because I had no idea where it came from. It felt like I just logged on to FFN one day to find these stories all over the place, having completely missed whatever set off the trend. It's also unusual in having a very regimented story structure: there's the betrayal, the retreat into training, the tournament that catalyzes Ash's return. There are other elements that are common in Ash betrayal stories, including aura and/or psychic powers, legendary pokémon, and a wide variety of shippings, but the plots all follow a very similar arc. This suggests that there was a single story, what you might call "fanfic zero," that was the prototypical Ash betrayal 'fic and which ended up spawning a ton of imitators. That in mind, I decided to try and track it down to see if I could find out how the genre started and why it remains popular several years later.

Betrayal 'fic in general has been a staple of the fandom since the very beginning. Having Ash's friends turn against him creates an immediate source of conflict, allows the author to take Ash's character in new directions, and clears the way for him to establish relationships with characters the author likes better. The very first "Ash betrayal" story--in that it's a story about Ash having one of his friends turns on him--that I can find is Loyalties, posted January 1st, 2001. Aside from the idea of one of Ash's friends turning on him, though, it bears no resemblance to the Ash betrayal 'fics of today. Early stories in this mold usually feature either Ash's friends or Ash himself joining Team Rocket and focus more on the possibility of reconciliation, whereas the typical "Ash betrayal" story is focused on Ash taking a few dozen levels in badass and getting revenge.

I figured that if there was one story that kicked off the Ash betrayal trend, it would have to be a popular one that had attracted a lot of people interested in writing similar stories. That in mind, I pulled out the FFN data I'd scraped for my now-defunct recommendation algorithm and took a look at all stories with "ash" and "betray" in their summaries, sorted by publication date and number of reviews. The Betrayed Champion comes up as the most popular Ash betrayal 'fic in the dataset, but it was published in 2011, and I knew there were Ash betrayal stories floating around at least a couple years before that. (My data are badly out of date, too. That doesn't matter much for looking at old stuff, but does mean that the current all-time most popular Ash betrayal 'fic doesn't appear.)

After examining the top hits more closely, I ran across a story published on August 22nd, 2010, Ashura Satoshi Ketchum Atlantrome's Ace by Werewolf2300. Unfortunately, the story was recently deleted (as recently as early 2016, I believe), so I couldn't actually take a look at it to get a sense of how it played out. I did have the summary, though, which I think is pretty compelling:

Ash is betrayed by most of his friends after Wining the sinnoh leauge but lost to cynthina . Given a offer to start over in a new region, ash leaves his home town and region with his mother after being betrayed by most of his friends. AU Ash/Harem

It's pretty clear that this is a betrayal 'fic (the word's in there twice, after all), but hard to tell how much of the usual formula it includes. Is there a tournament where Ash is reunited with his former friends? I'd be willing to bet yes, but since the story is lost to the internet, there's no way to say for sure. There were a handful of similar betrayal 'fics posted shortly thereafter, which I thought might be the first wave of copycat stories. All in all Atlantrome's Ace seemed like a pretty solid candidate for the start of the subgenre.

Indeed, that's where it would have ended if I hadn't gotten curious about the origin of "Atlantrome." It certainly wasn't any place in the Pokémon world I was familiar with, but there are plenty of anime-specific locations I've never heard of. A quick Google confirmed that it isn't a canon location, but it did turn up something else interesting: namely that Werewolf2300 wasn't the only author to feature Atlantrome in their story. In fact, there were a couple of Ash-centric stories by fujin of shadows that made mention of the kingdom. And one of them, The Fallen Master, definitely debuted before Atlantrome's Ace.

I'd missed The Fallen Master during my initial search because it doesn't actually mention anything about "betrayal" directly in the summary. A quick look at the story itself, however, finds all the elements there: Ash Ketchum is betrayed by his friends, disappears from society to train, returns for a big tournament, and picks up a large number of love interests on the way. And it turns out that in addition to his association with Atlantrome, he sometimes goes by Ashura as well. Even better, the author mentions a couple of the fanfics that influenced the story: Pokemon: The Final Journey by PaulXion and SSJ04Mewtwo's Elemental Battles. These are both AshxHarem 'fics, but don't feature betrayal at all. This suggests that The Fallen Master was actually the first Ash betrayal 'fic, building on the foundation of the AshxHarem genre but introducing the conventions that would go on to define Ash betrayal 'fics thereafter. And, funnily enough, The Elementals may have inspired The Fallen Master's Ashura Satoshi Ketchum, as it uses that name for Ash. That one's been around for ages, though, at least as long as Ace Sanchez's Pokémon MASTER, so perhaps it was just a convention absorbed after reading a lot of different stories, rather than a tribute to any particular one.

Of course, given how easily I missed The Fallen Master in my initial search, it's entirely possible that there's another fanfic out there that represents the true origin of Ash betrayal 'fics. It's especially difficult to catch the-defining story with a keyword search, because the author themselves wouldn't necessarily know that "betrayal" would be a key element to convey in the summary. If such a 'fic exists, though, it can't have come much before The Fallen Master. Even in 2010, there were only six fanfics with both "Ash" and "betray" somewhere in the summary; assuming that the expansion of Ash betrayal 'fics began shortly after the first of its kind was published, it can't have shown up long before that.

Wherever they began, Ash betrayal 'fics look as though they'll be sticking around for a while--the genre didn't really start taking off until around 2011-2012 and is now well-represented among the most popular 'fics of all time on FFN. This makes it surprisingly long-lived for a fanfic trend; there have been other genres spawned off popular 'fics, like the "reborn" stories that were popular for a time after srgeman published A Little Night Music, but none of them have been as enduringly popular. The fact that Ash betrayal 'fic probably arose directly from the AshxHarem tradition offers a hint about its longevity: it combines a lot of individually-popular elements in one tropey package bound to have a broad appeal. Aside from the aforementioned shipping, betrayal 'fics often feature a stronger/smarter/darker Ash, aura powers, and ample opportunity to bash characters unpopular in the fandom, any one of which is often enough to garner a story a reasonable audience. As time goes on, no doubt there will be all manner of innovations and subversions of the genre, and perhaps in time some other trend-setting 'fic that redefines its conventions entirely, but I think we can expect Ash betrayal 'fics to stick around in one form or another for a while yet.

dedenne

Butterfree

Website: The Cave of Dragonflies

Great find - The Fallen Master does seem a likely originator, since it mentions its inspirations but those don't have the crucial betrayal element.

Ashura Satoshi Ketchum is definitely an oldie that I remember from way back in the day, though, and it turns out yup, it's in Ace Sanchez' Pokémon MASTER (search "Ashura"). I'm betting that's where it originated, then, given that tends to be cited as one of the earliest trendsetter for darker and edgier Pokéfics.

rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

Bah, didn't get a comment notification for this. Don't tell me I managed to break that feature somehow...

Anyway, dang, yes, I had somehow completely forgotten about that! Or idk, I didn't actually make it that far into Pokémon MASTER, maybe I never saw it. :P Thanks for that, tweaked the text a little. And doing a quick search (turns out "Ashura" is still really popular, I just don't read the right kind of fics to see it) even turns up at least one recent story where it's "Ashura Red Satoshi Ketchum." Ash just keeps getting more names.

swellow

Butterfree

Website: The Cave of Dragonflies

By the way, I've been getting an application error upon submitting both of my previous comments and probably this one as well - still shows up, but may have something to do with you not getting notifications.

rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

Ugh, thanks for letting me know. Turns out there was a problem with the e-mail encoding that I wasn't seeing since I turned off e-mails on my local instance to protect my sanity during testing. The e-mail only gets sent if the comment was successfully saved to the db, so that's why you didn't actually lose any content, fortunately.

I don't think I even made it through the first chapter when I read it, but at the time I was just SO OFFENDED that anybody could think this story was actually good, ugh. As a somewhat more mature fan I just think it's kind of hilarious. A good candidate for dramatic reading at the next get-together, methinks.

suicune

Melissa

He is transforming more and more into a Mary Sue the more names they give him! Quick, head for the hills! Soon he will be Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way*, he just needs one more name!

  • First time I typed this, I looked it up to make sure and I didn't know there was a ' on Darkness.
rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

Oh no, but the apostrophe is critical! Dark'ness is just SO much more goth than Darkness, of course.

Kind of interesting that, as far as I'm aware, there hasn't been a Pokéfic equivalent of My Immortal yet. I mean, obviously nothing could live up to the brilliance of the original, but there are loads of imitators and homages in other fandoms.

lickitung

Viola Buddy

This formula actually doesn't seem familiar to me at all, even though Pokémon fanfiction was what got me into fanfiction and fandoms in the first place - I was much more enamored with original trainer fics (and still am! Ash and co. are fun and all to watch on the TV show but for some reason often feel either really boring or really out-of-character when written about). I've since mostly moved onto other fandoms (with Pokémon fanfic cravings satisfied usually by Pokémon Conquest fanfics), but I might check out at least one of these "Ash betrayal" fics sometime, at least to see what these are like if they're so common (though if I'm being honest, also for nostalgia for when I used to read a fair amount of Pokémon darkfic, and to indulge in guilty pleasures such as the reasons you list for this genre's popularity). Though, with your new rec page, I may alternatively check the fics on there, too.

rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

Haha, yeah, I'm also approaching this from the standpoint of someone who reads/writes OT's. If you're interested in that genre, you might like OC Ash 'fics more than Ash betrayal 'fics; they're also super hot right now, and they have some of the same elements (generally darker tone, more powerful Ash character) but with more focus on the journey than on the character interactions. I think The Sun Soul was one of the original big-time ones, and Traveler is among the most popular ongoing right now. (And if you haven't read Pokémon MASTER, like Butterfree mentioned above, it's a fandom classic! Worth at least glancing at to see if you enjoy it.) Of course I also fully endorse the stuff on my recs list. XD

Conquest 'fic, huh? I think I've only ever read, like, one of those. I never see them! Are there any you think are particularly worth checking out?

basculin

Viola Buddy

Actually, looking over the first chapters of a few of these, it seems that I have mostly lost my taste for darkfic. Apparently, violence and gore was OK for me when I was a child but became less bearable as I aged? On the other hand, the nostalgia factor may push me to read through one anyway - I definitely remember reading Pokémon MASTER (or at least I remember the title and author), though I can't remember a single thing about it; I might just read through that again. Or I might need to read these fics in the correct setting: I did almost all of my fanfic reading as a child in the dark after waking up before the sunrise. In any case, thanks for these suggestions!

As for Conquest fics, there aren't too many out there but enough to form a fanfiction.net community (three of them, in fact). I've written a few myself, though it's been a while; apparently the last one I wrote was a Fire Emblem Awakening/Pokémon Conquest crossover in 2014. My favorite Conquest fic so far is Future Sight by CinderHawk, but unfortunately it was abandoned almost immediately after it started and has been dead since 2012. The most active Conquest writer today on fanfiction.net is Imperator Justinian; his more recent works are quite good, though the older ones may be slightly lacking (though he's taken down his really old ones). Finally, it's not a fanfic exactly, but I'll also give a shoutout to Bloom: a Pokémon Conquest Comic, for being a fairly regularly updated webcomic about Pokémon Conquest.

rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

No problem. Hope you find something to enjoy, although if you have lost your taste for violence and gore darker/more powerful Ash may not be the genre for you. ^^;

And thanks for all the Conquest recs! I'll definitely be checking those out. And man, you like your crossovers, huh? I'm partial to the Colosseum/XD ones, myself, since I love all things Orre. They feel like they kind of want to be longer stories, to me--there's a lot of cool stuff to explore there!

poliwhirl

Lun

The betrayal trope is also popular in Percy Jackson fanfictions (popular enough for an OC who usually plays a part in the betrayal to have a commonly used name, which is Mark). The fanfictions follow a similar pattern of betrayal, training, ass-kicking upon the return, and a buildup to the great reveal of the identity. I'm not sure how long it's been going on for, but the betrayal trope may have originated there.

rayquaza-mega

Negrek Admin

Website: Thousand Roads

Ha, I'm super tickled by the fact that this trope is so common that there's a fanonized name for the betrayer, and that name... is Mark. Mark the Betrayer. That's super interesting!

As for whether Percy Jackson stories along those lines might have influenced the trend in Pokémon fandom... maybe? The Lightning Thief was published in 2005, and the first betrayal story I identified was published in 2009, so there's potentially time for the trend to arise and migrate. But the general "betrayal" plotline is pretty prevalent in media at large, I think, so it also wouldn't be unthinkable that it arose independently in both fandoms. It would depend on similarities in the satellite tropes, I think; like, if there are specific things that happen to the betraying companions or a consistent pattern to their betrayal, or perhaps particular characteristics that the main character acquires as a result of their training. That might suggest a common origin, instead of people working with the same general idea but different fandoms.

In general I wonder how popular this kind of story is outside the Pokémon fandom. I hadn't heard about it popping up elsewhere before, so that's pretty cool.

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