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SPOILERS: Masters Eight Discussion/Speculation Thread

Finally finished watching the Masters Eight and wanted to leave a review of the entire tournament. It was quite a long tournament with a lot of ups and downs, but waiting and being able to binge it instead of having to put up with the clip shows and breaks made the pacing a lot better for me than it was for others. I really enjoyed some of the M8 prep episodes more than the actual M8 itself (Alola Champ Ep & Paul Ep), but overall the Masters Eight was entertaining. The sheer number of references and cameos really made it a fun adventure, even if some of the content had issues here and there.

Starting at the beginning I found it interesting that there were a lot of Kalos League parallels with a random trainer (Hop in this case so slightly less random) battling Ash before he enters the stadium and then a uber overpowered Charizard destroying another overpowered Charizard in the first match. I actually really enjoyed the Hop battle, rarely do we get to see Ash thoroughly crush someone, and with as good as he has become that honestly should happen more often. The Leon Alain battle was pretty annoying, I get setting up Leon as the primary threat, but it wasn't that long ago they were doing the same with Alain and I think they could have made it a little less lopsided. The one thing I will say is that the Kalos League was more of an "amateur" level tournament and this is certainly a pro level tournament, so showing Alain as outclassed can make some level of sense, but if that were the case then he shouldn't have made the M8 in the first place.

Diantha vs Lance took a big step up, I just loved Diantha's strategies up against Lance's pure power approach and I was very happy to see Diantha get a win! The highlight of that battle though was Jessie's huge love for Gourgeist - that was very fun to watch. Trio as league fans has always been fun, and they certainly brought some fun moments throughout this league! They overdid Morpeko eating, but my goodness was it cute in the Darumaka box after it was full!

What I did absolutely ADORE about the start of the league was how Iris and Ash race into the room together and thought the episode even though Ash knows everyone in that room it is VERY clear that Iris is by far his best friend there and the person he is most comfortable with (and vise versa). Take that all you Iris haters! They clearly are very close, many close friends tease each other! Iris was definitely the highlight of the first round to me. The selfie request was very cute and I really enjoyed her battle commentary. I loved that Hop was in awe of Iris as well (as well as his awe that Ash knew everybody). Iris' battle with Cynthia was really great. I would have preferred they didn't use the horn drill luck and instead had Dragonite get a win (poor Dragonite in JN - well Ash's too), but in general Iris proved that she was a huge competition for Cynthia, and as someone generally considered one of the best in the world, who couldn't have a serious match with Iris the first time (a match that got a flashback and mentioned by Steven - pretty awesome), that was excellent progress. Really cool to see Axew all grown up and doing excellent, matching up super well with a mega evolved Pokemon. All in all I was very happy to get to see Iris be so involved in Journeys and a top notch showing against Cynthia was a perfect way to show her progress! Iris even got the best of Cynthia a little in the strategy of the final battle, Garchomp was simply just stronger, especially mega evolved, but that really did make Iris and Haxorus look very good in defeat (something they could have done a bit more for others in this tournament). Thinking back at how nervous was when Iris first met Cynthia to now her confidently being a significant challenge to Cynthia shows a lot of great progress. At the end Ash really should have given her a hug or at least patted her on the back, that scene was awkward, but she bounced back well and then offered some great commentary in the next episode. I wish she would have stayed the whole time!

Speaking of Iris, I have joked about it happening again ever since the Unova League, but never thought it would really happen, but they really did do Lost at the League Part 2!!! Obviously it wasn't as absurd as the first iteration, but in some ways it was even more ridiculous because it was a completely random Cotd that got lost. That said I did enjoy the little flashbacks to Cynthia's early days (OMG she was soooooo cute!) even if they were a bit lacking. I wouldn't have wanted to watch what they did to Diantha anyway, just way over the top, we all get Leon is the best best best, but they didn't need to make the Kalos pair look as bad as they did.

Ash vs Cynthia was definitely the highlight for me. This should have been the battle Dawn was at, that would have made a lot more sense. I just love Cynthia's strategy, she is so different in a serious battle, such a commanding a precise. What I liked here though is that even though Cynthia was running the show and showing off her amazing skill Ash was still getting in some very good moves as well. It wasn't as much the ever so common Ash gets crazy far behind and makes an annoying unbelievable comeback as much as it was Cynthia is crazy good, but Ash is pretty darn good too. That was very satisfying. Excellent to have the counter shield going right back to its roots, defending against hypnosis (and bonus points that Cynthia remembered watching it against Paul). I just love that they were able to include some strategies, training, and lessons from the past during the entire M8. I didn't really need the retirement subplot, but of course she took it back as Ash inspired her...that was obvious. The destiny bond trick was pretty cool, and even more fun in light of the shocking reference that Katie got earlier! All in all this was the best battle of the tournament and one of the better battles of all time. It would have felt more cool if the JN team got the same level of on screen training/investment as past teams, but as a battle in and of itself it was excellent! Reversal was a good way to finish it because it actually was the perfect fit for the situation and Cynthia's Garchomp going down (for the first time ever?) didn't come across as a poor showing, it actually made it look very strong because of what it was able to do.

I guess I kind of skipped Ash vs Steven, this was more of a classic anime battle in that it had the annoying fall way behind, Pokemon a specific Pokemon seems unbeatable, and then just loses with a single hit aspects. I did really love Paul's training paying off and some of the moments, but this battle seems a bit like they just needed to get it over with, wanted to make Steven look great while still losing, and kind of forgot to make Ash look good and actually feel like the winner. It's not like its a new complaint, often times throughout history I just waited to see who got behind big in a big battle because they almost always won. Comebacks and underdog wins can be fun, but man did this series overdo them over the past 25 years.

Staying on the more negative topics the main piece about the entire tournament I didn't like was Leon. So many things about Leon. It didn't ruin it for me, but my goodness is he annoying. It doesn't help that I'm one of the people that subscribes to the Leon being undefeated is rigged in the games theory (with some legit evidence on the Mustard rare card), but in this series that of course isn't the case. What generally annoys me is that the "new" always has to be the biggest and best. So much so that Leon absolutely crushes both Alain and Diantha. There is nothing about him that should make him so overwhelmingly better than everyone else and it shows disrespect to the past to just make this new trainer not just the best ever, but the best ever by an absurd margin. Then to top it off he is a total douche to Diantha (and has quite a few very arrogant, rude comments during the Ash match). Then you see some just generally annoying OPness in some situations that just got a little old, considering he is facing the best of the best he shouldn't be overpowering them so much, but more on that below. I actually liked his day with Ash episode, he seemed more fun, relatable, and of course they made him act similar to Ash. Then he just unloads a huge amount of rude, douchy comments throughout the M8 and I lose all the positive feelings I had about him. He does get a lot better once Ash catches up in the battle and in the final showing they generally are both really fun, they really should have just had him act that way the whole time.

On the topic of the final what generally bothered me was how often Ash just took a hit before making a decision. Typically Leon always had a counter or dodge to at least lessen the damage, but Ash frequently just sat there. Some of Leon's dodges or deflections were just too much, like he was battling a total beginner, so I was honestly getting pretty annoyed with the "is this Ash move going to do anything at all" the entire time. The first three episodes of the final were honestly not that great to me. Don't get me wrong there were some excellent moments, but nothing like the Ash/Cynthia that was wall to wall exciting. Going without gimmick limits was a bit annoying, but I think it generally worked because it gave Gengar and Lucario some moments. Of course Ash using more gimmicks than Leon and the battle being so close can give the idea that Leon "should have" won, but honestly I'm just so glad the douche got beat I'm not going to dwell on that fact. I think Ash using a dream-team would have been more fun, but with six choices people would have been upset no matter who was chosen, so I guess this was something they felt they had to do. Dracovish being essentially the third most successful in the tournament after Pikachu and Lucario is a bit off-putting considering it had the least training and bonded more with Bonnie in one day than it seemed to with Ash after the initial episode (I guess biting his head is enough to create a great connection). Also just learning Dracovish's weird trapping spikes never get explained and have no basis as a move or ability is bizarre (I see Bulbapedia trying to connect to Grotle/Mamoswine - that doesn't seem apparent to me), not to mention the fact that it uses the move water gun in the ultimate final filled with powerful moves is pretty lame. Dragonite got a bit of success in that final, but was always coming up a bit shorter than would have been preferred. Funny to think that the first time Ash won a big full battle he had to use the majority of his team to take down a single Dragonite, the M8 had three Dragonites and none were given very good showings. Leon's Pokemon all tank a ton of hits, except Cinderace who gets knocked out in one hit, they could have easily rectified that by just allowing one of the many attacks at Cinderace to hit instead of the countless annoying dodges, while still having the battles go the same way. On top of all of Leon's overpoweredness he had to get a lucky 10% paralyze in order to take out Lucario (yes the anime is different from the games, but we've seen Pikachu use thunderbolt thousands of times and it almost never paralyzes). Leon gigantamazing Cinderace was such a dumb move because he lost the ground typing, but I guess Leon is more about power than strategy (another reason he shouldn't be so much better than everyone else - Cynthia has a mix of both). I could take or leave the Eternatus scene, but I guess it was cool in that it set up Eternatus as a positive Pokemon moving forward and allowed it to be free. Luckily it didn't pull a Tapu Koko and battle with Leon. Go having to leave was kind of weird, but it did set up Dawn being there, which felt like a better outcome because she feels more important to Ash than Go. I actually liked how Chloe basically didn't get what was going on, while Dawn totally did, as that is a good representation of the two of them.

The final episode had some super excellent moments. They definitely went next level on the animation of normal form Charizard v Pikachu. That quick attack was epic! The Ancient Power climb (Kalos reference) was awesome! Pikachu climbing the stadium in order to have an aerial battle with Charizard was awesome! The flashes to all travel companions (even short terms like Alexa and Korrina) was awesome. I'm assuming the May/KAORI issue is why they didn't all go to the stadium, but even if they were in the stadium it couldn't have been any different since it would have been impossible to have commentary from that many spectators. Great to see May, although being at a contest hall was a weird way to show her. I always wanted an "everyone" episode, but honestly this worked out fine considering an everyone episode would have not had enough lines to go around. The scene with Pikachu getting encouragement from literally every Pokemon (very surprised to see Larvitar, Ambipom) is one of my favorite scenes of all time! It was just really special to show so many people Ash met throughout his journey in the entire M8 and then be sure to show all the companions and Pokemon in this final moment, showing how much they all meant to Ash and Pikachu and how they wouldn't have made it here without contributions from all of them! Then to top it off I was honestly thinking in my head time for Ash to turn the hat backwards and he did - so glad they didn't forget that! Back in the day I used to get really pumped when the hat went backwards, it was used so rarely for the last ~20 years, but what a wonderful way to cap that battle off!

All in all I would say I'm happy with how the M8 went considering JN as a whole. All the leagues had some serious issues, and this one was no stranger to that, but it was a fun set of episodes. Not sure how I feel about Ash being best in the world, but really it is just one tournament and he'll continue battling and will win some and lose some as time goes on. Hopefully that will allow him and others such as Iris and Cynthia to appear at lest in some capacity in the future as the champions they are.

Just for fun...if I had my choice and there was no time or budget restraints I would have had the matches as follows:

Iris over Lance (gives Iris a first round win over a Dragon user)
Cynthia over Diantha (I really liked Diantha getting a win, but someone has to lose and I think she could have a nice showing vs Cynthia because they both are generally strategic)

Leon over Steven (Closer than the Alain match, but you can make Leon look as good as necessary)
Ash over Alain (Still the only rival Ash hasn't beaten, close match would be nice)

Cynthia over Iris (Getting to see Iris in a 6v6 would be amazing plus getting that battle with Cynthia would be all sorts of awesome. I would love to see Iris use nuzzle volt-switch as a tactic, and just see her entire team - there would be no reason for her not to have 6 at this point. Of course Cynthia wins because its Cynthia, but allow Iris to look really good, the final match up can be exactly the same as before)

Ash over Leon (This battle can be essentially the same as it was originally, but in the semis. Ash vs Paul didn't lose any steam because it wasn't the finals, it could have been seen as Ash's climax and would have left some very real intrigue to if he would win the entire tournament or not - since they were setting up him beating Leon from the start of the series it felt obvious he would win in the actual series and it was the final so it took intrigue out of Ash v Cynthia and also even the final)

Ash over Cynthia (Ash has way way way more history with Cynthia so this final would have felt more rewarding to me. Instead of the arrogant douche unbeatable champion you get the actual strongest trainer in the Pokemon world who utilizing both strength and strategy. This could have been an incredible event that a lot of older characters showed up to. Cynthia was a very integral part of the series during DP, BW, and JN, as well as being widely considered the best in-game champ, so this would have been all kinds of exciting!)
 
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