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Feature [September 6, 2019] Ashes to Ashes [Bowser’s Family Vacation]

Ashes to Ashes is a delightfully unique Yellow storylocke told through a collection of documents from various narrators as they reflect on the “Kanto Catastrophe” -- a devastating crisis that swept through the region, affecting humans and Pokemon alike. But it's not just the format that makes this story unique; Ashes to Ashes also embraces the anime influence of Pokemon Yellow, drawing inspiration from the show we loved as kids to create a nostalgic yet fresh tale. This isn't a typical light-hearted romp through Kanto -- Ash and Pikachu have gone missing, and there's darkness lurking around every corner as our protagonist sets out to find them. Bowser’s Family Vacation strikes a perfect balance in this story: weaving enough anime references into the run to delight any fan of Ash’s adventures, while still creating lots of wonderful original content that even anime haters can enjoy (seriously, don’t click away in disgust at the mention of the anime, hear me out)! Ashes to Ashes has multiple POVs that are handled skillfully, an exciting plot that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, a delightfully eccentric cast of Pokemon, and plenty of excellent disability representation, just to name a few of this run’s strengths.

Said representation begins (but far from ends!) with our protagonist Ashley Ketchum, a young girl with cerebral palsy trying to navigate a world that wasn’t designed with people like her in mind. Oh, and she also happens to be the adopted daughter of the famous Ash.

It wasn't like I hadn't known I was different from Papa and Nana. They have brown hair; I have black hair. They have pale skin; I have dark skin. They can walk; I can not. And it wasn't like they hadn't been open about it. I knew what adoption was. It meant they had picked me.

What I hadn't realized was that for them to pick me, someone had to not pick me. My real parents. The ones who made me, who look like me, with black hair and dark skin and hey, maybe I'm not the only one who can't walk, who knows how annoying it is to have to strap yourself in every morning and to have your butt get numb from sitting so long and wanting, no, needing to stretch-

And how terrible you feel when you have to ask someone you love to feed you. And clothe you. And clean you. And how hard those things are, even if you're able to learn how, and how easy it is for everyone else that you know they don't even think about it.

Maybe that's why they didn't pick me.
Bowser’s Family Vacation doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of living with a disability, but at the same time, Ashley is far more than just “girl with cerebral palsy”. While she’s very much her own character, she also takes after her papa: kind and courageous, a bit naive, and always unable to resist helping anyone in need. But unfortunately, going out of her way to try and fix other people’s problems doesn’t always have the happiest of endings, as she learns all too soon...

Also like Ash, Ashley has an inseparable bond with a partner Pokemon. However, Buddy isn’t the stereotypical cute and cuddly Pikachu we know and love -- rather, he’s a cynical, distrustful, stubborn ball of anger who still manages to be lovable in his own way. It might be hard to imagine that Ashley and Buddy would get along at all, but somehow, these two were made for each other. Despite his flaws, Buddy is Ashley’s loyal companion, and he’d do absolutely anything to protect her, even some… very questionable things. He has his reasons, though, and it all adds up to make him one of the most fascinatingly complex Pokemon characters I’ve ever seen in a Nuzlocke. And Ashley, in all her unfaltering kindness, sees the good in Buddy even when no one else can. I think Bowser's Family Vacation herself said it best:

The bond between Ashley and Buddy is always a joy to write. It's funny how two so differently shaped pieces come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.
The characters are what make Ashes to Ashes really shine -- not just our immediately likeable protagonist and her grumpy Pikachu, but also the anime characters we know and love, and a colorful new cast of Pokemon to boot. Bowser's Family Vacation is a master of characterization, and she proves it by skillfully weaving together a tapestry of perspectives to create the aforementioned documents. Ashley and Buddy are our main duo, but sometimes we’re treated to other narrators, most notably Gary Oak and his grandfather, who are busy being depressed dorks and making me feel too many feels trying to figure out the science behind the corruption. We also get to hear from Ash’s mother, the iconic trio formerly known as Team Rocket (they’ve given up on a life of crime, but remain their lovable selves) and even our missing heroes themselves. And while they don’t get a chance to narrate, the rest of Ashley’s team is always an absolute delight to read. This run has everything from a haughty Charmander and an anxious Spearow to a mad scientist Oddish and an Abra who only speaks in cryptic haiku. But to reduce them to such simple descriptions is a disservice, because every character is complex and alive and real. Ashley’s team, for all their strengths, isn’t exactly the best at teamwork (mostly thanks to a certain Pikachu), but their interactions are one of the best things about this story, and whenever they do get along, it feels all the more rewarding.

And what about the plot? Well, Ashley’s journey begins like that of any other 10-year old in the Pokemon world -- she sets out to find her missing father with the help of her trusted Pokemon partner; accidentally runs over a Pidgey with her wheelchair; ends up in the hospital; meets Ho-Oh in a dream and learns that, like Ash before her, she’s been chosen as the rainbow god’s emissary; then wakes up to find that she’s developed the ability to understand Pokemon speech. You know, the usual deal.

I jolted up in bed. Ho-Oh! It had to be Ho-Oh! It had red like Moltres, but it was huge, and it glittered like morning dew, and it said it had knew Papa, and Papa met Ho-Oh on the first day of his journey and- I remembered what Ho-Oh had said.

"Where's my gift?"

"Its presence. There are Pokemon that think that qualifies as a gift."

I should have been shocked, but I had been dreaming with Buddy pressed up against my cheek for five years. What was surprising was that he sounded exactly like I thought he would.

A little grump.

I smiled at as I reclined against my shaking arms at Buddy, who tried to snuggle back under the blankets. "Oh, really? Pokemon that consider their presence a gift? Who does that sound like?"

"Oshawott," he muttered instinctively. Then, he shot out of his blanket cocoon. "You couldn't have figured that out through context." His ears drooped. "Oh, Mew," he breathed. "Where could we have met a human psychic that messed with your head?" He pressed his nose against mine. Giggling at the ticklishness, I collapsed back onto my pillow. "You smell fine." He stood up on his hind legs as he scanned me. "You look fine." When he saw where my face was positioned in relation to his body, he curled over his scar protectively. "Do you feel fine?"

"Buddy, I'm fine! Do you not remember what just happened?"

His eyes widened in realization. "A god." He raised a paw to cover his mouth as he breathed, "Even worse."
(See what I mean about these two being great together?) Buddy’s right -- being Ho-Oh’s emissary isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as Ashley’s already learned by the time she’s recounting this to us.

Papa told me that on the first day of his journey, he met the Rainbow Pokemon. He didn't tell me, though, that it was rainbow because it absorbed the colors from everything else.
What does Ho-Oh have planned for Ashley? Well, I’m not quite sure yet, but she’s certainly got enough to keep her busy. As if trying to find her father in a wheelchair-unfriendly region wasn’t hard enough, Ashley has to deal with unexpected hostility everywhere. A strange corruption is sweeping through Kanto, causing Pokemon to lose their abilities, end up with mutated body parts after evolving, and even act feral. Humans are starting to behave erratically, too -- including the gym leaders and other people she thought would be able to help her along the way.

How had I not seen him? There he was! I felt a pang of guilt. Papa would have seen him immediately. They travelled through four regions together. "Brock!" I hollered. "I heard about something-" He rose. "-in Viridian Forest-" Slowly. "-that you need to know-" Stiltedly. He turned. His eyes were open wide.

I'd never seen Brock's eyes before. I never expected them to look so scared. He lurched forward. His arm made a sweeping motion.

I didn't need Brock's help. He needed mine. "Stay there, Brock! I'm coming over there to help!"

But he slammed himself against the back wall.
You know something’s seriously wrong when Brock’s eyes are open, and he’s just the tip of the iceberg. If this corruption makes her friends dangerous, what do you think it does to her enemies?

The shadows curled around the body of a man, dressed in a black suit, emblazoned with a crimson R, like a morbid corsage. He stepped forward into what should have been the light, but the shadows still lapped at his face like loyal dogs.
Spoiler alert: It does some very, very bad things.

Despite the harsh challenges that the region and our protagonists are facing, this isn’t an overly depressing run, but it’s not a happy anime-esque adventure, either. I said before that Bowser’s Family Vacation strikes a perfect balance in this story, and that applies to the tone, too -- Kanto may be going through dark times, but there’s always a light, and it comes in the form of Ashley and her determination to help everyone and bring them together. Ho-Oh chose their emissary well.

At its core, this is a story about what it means to be a family, and what we do for the ones we love. Because a family can be an anime protagonist, his electric rodent, his mom, their adopted daughter and her own (very grumpy) electric rodent, his childhood rival, the rival’s grandfather and son, a trio of bumbling ex-criminals, and a whole lot of Pokemon.

And it’s beautiful.

The story is only about halfway finished, so now’s the perfect time to go give Ashes to Ashes a read! Don't let that table of contents overwhelm you; most updates are pretty short, so it wouldn't take you long to binge the entire thing! Bowser’s Family Vacation even gives you the convenient option of reading chronologically if the traditional upload order isn't quite your cup of tea.

Is there a run you'd like to see featured? Don't hesitate to send a message to any of our featurers; we'd love to hear your suggestions! Or, if you'd rather try your hand at doing the featuring yourself, head on over to the Feature a Fan Run thread!
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