The Saffron Con (Japanese: ポケモンコンテスト・ヤマブキ大会！（前編）Pokémon Contest - Yamabuki Conference! (Part One)) is the 143rd episode of the Advanced Generation series, and the 417th episode of the Pokémon anime. It was first broadcast in Japan on September 15, 2005 and in the United States on June 17, 2006.
May and friends arrive in Saffron City, where May is so excited about the upcoming Pokémon Contest that she heads straight for the Contest Hall. She sees people going in to check out the hall, so she goes inside too. On stage is a woman who looks suspiciously like Vivian from the Hoenn region, practicing with an Espeon. May's Squirtle gets so excited that it runs on stage. It turns out that the woman is actually Lillian, Vivian's younger sister.
May takes her Pokémon to the Pokémon Center for a check-up, and is surprised to meet Nurse Joy's new assistant—Harley! Harley is overwhelmingly nice to May, and even tells her that she can switch Pokémon during the contest, which turns out to be true. Harley also tells her that she can register with her Hoenn Contest Pass until 11 the next day—which isn't true. But May believes him since he was telling the truth before.
Meanwhile, a disguised Jessie registers for the Pokémon Contest, and asks James if she can borrow Cacnea. But when Jessie tries to form a bond with Cacnea, it ends up getting stuck in her hair and James and Meowth rush her to the Pokémon Center. At the PC, they get the idea to steal everyone else's Pokémon so Jessie can win by default.
May and Ash begin to battle outside when James and Meowth fly over in their balloon and start snatching Pokémon. May ends up teaming up with Harley to free the Pokémon, and even more unexpected help comes from Squirtle, who uses a newly-learned Ice Beam to send the thieves blasting off.
When May finally goes to register, she turns out to be too late. Luckily, Lillian happens to be walking by, and after hearing mention of May's heroics, the attendant lets her register for the contest.
May sends out her three Pokémon and begins her speech about the KantoPokémon Contest circuit. Though Munchlax and Squirtle seem to not be interested, to which Brock admits that it will be their first Contest experience. The group notices that there are already people entering the Saffron CityContest Hall, which a guy with his Mankey tells them that it is open so that people can check out the stage. Inside the Contest Hall, preparations are being made just as May steps in. The group notices the announcer in the middle of the stage and are unsure whether she is Vivian Meridian or not. As part of a rehearsal, the announcer steps into the stadium centre and calls out her Espeon, whose magnificent coat shimmers under the stadium lights. She tells Espeon to use Swift, followed by a Psychic which causes the stars to form several rings. Espeon leaps and somersaults several times through the rings and gracefully lands on the stage. May's Squirtle becomes excited and rushes down to the center of the ring, whereupon it performs Bubbles. The announcer picks Squirtle up, admitting it was a cute act, and hands it back to May, who apologizes. While in May's arms, Squirtle begins to cry. The announcer thinks that Squirtle wants to be on stage, which is confirmed by its sudden joy. May greets her familiarly as Vivian, but the announcer says that they have not met before. The woman clarifies that her name is Lilian, Vivian's younger sister and the master of ceremonies for Kanto Pokémon Contests.
At the nearby Pokémon Center, everyone is enjoying cold drinks as May considers using Squirtle in the Saffron Contest, which she ultimately decides to do so. Nurse Joy announces that the Pokémon belonging to contestant #45 are fully recovered and are being brought out. May rushes over, but is completely shocked to see Harley pushing the cart containing her Pokémon. May asks fearfully why he is here, but Harley appears pleasantly surprised to see her.
Dressed in a gown-like costume and going under the pseudonym "Jessabella", Jessie steps into the Contest registration room and presents her Contest Pass to a lady at the counter. The lady informs her that her Contest Pass is invalid because it is for Hoenn Contests, whereas Kanto Contests require a Kanto Pass. Jessie explains how famous she is and demands a Kanto Pass as Meowth and James appear as Jessabella's assistants Meowthison and Jamison. Outside, Jessie is confident that she will win the Saffron Contest and eventually become a Top Coordinator, but Meowth notes that she didn't win a single Ribbon in Hoenn. Jessie plants her foot in Meowth's face and then asks James to lend her Cacnea. Meowth says that the plan is crazy enough to work and convinces James to go with it. When he calls Cacnea out, though, it greets James with the usual prickly hug, which Jessie is not enthused about.
When May asks Harley why he is here, he explains that he became Nurse Joy's volunteer orderly as thanks after she nursed his Cacturne back to health. He says that he came here for the Contest, of course, and that the rules in Kanto are a little different: Coordinators may switch their Pokémon between the first and second rounds. Max accuses him of playing more dirty tricks, and Harley begs them to believe that he's a different person now, but their doubt remain. Joy then appears in the doorway to Brock's delight. Harley rushes over too and begs her to tell the group that the rules are indeed different, which she confirms. May and her friends are surprised to hear that Harley is telling the truth and has been a big help in the Pokémon Center. May decides to use Squirtle and Combusken in the Contest, and the two respond by athletically jumping off of the gurney and landing with a pose. As Nurse Joy leaves, Harley tells May that her Hoenn Pass will also work in Kanto and that registration is until 11 AM the next day. They agree to go eat lunch, but Harley grows a smirk on his face and chuckles.
Jessie then calls out Cacnea in an attempt to bond with it, but it is immediately frightened of her and jumps onto James. James desperately tries to break its embrace, but it submits and reluctantly jumps at Jessie. Jessie's cry rings out from the forest. Harley, May and her friends are discussing the Contest as Jessie runs through the Pokémon Center doors with Cacnea tangled up in her hair, causing her pain and distress. A Chansey puts them onto a gurney and Nurse Joy sends them to the operating room—to Jessie's surprise—and calls Harley to come help her. Inside the Pokémon Center operating room, Jessie's hair is twisted around Cacnea's body. Nurse Joy calls for Jessie's hair to be cut, which she protests. A Scizor appears and demonstrates its sharp claws, making Jessie faint on the operating table. Joy tells Harley to get Jessie's friends so that they offer her some moral support.
The group heads outside so that May can train her Pokémon. Ash offers to battle her, but just after she sends out Squirtle, mechanical arms snatch it and Pikachu away and drop them into a cage suspended by Team Rocket's Meowth Hot Air Balloon. James and Meowth perform the motto themselves, with the group noticing Jessie's absence. Seeing Squirtle inside the cage alongside Pikachu, Ash cannot order any Electric attacks. Team Rocket acquire more Pokémon at a high rate. James and Meowth begin to float away, but Harley runs outside and has his Ariados use Spider Web to prevent their escape. Harley urges May to follow up, and she calls out Combusken to use Sky Uppercut on the bottom of the cage, breaking it and releasing the Pokémon into their Trainers' arms. James is still determined to make their getaway, so Meowth readies his claws to cut the web with Fury Swipes. Squirtle suddenly fires an Ice Beam at the balloon, exploding it and sending a frozen James and Meowth blasting off. Everyone is surprised at Squirtle's spontaneous new move. The group acknowledges May and Squirtle for saving the Pokémon, but she extends the honor to Harley. She and Harley shake hands and wish each other luck in the Contest. That night, James and Meowth, still bruised, report to Jessie that they attempted to capture the other Contest Pokémon so she could win. Jessie is touched by the gesture, though admits that she and Cacnea will win tomorrow. James and Meowth are glad to see Jessie is confident despite her signature locks being severely cut, much to Jessie’s embarrassment.
The next morning, May goes to register for the Contest, but the concierge woman not only tells her that her Pass is invalid, but the deadline to register was 10 AM. May is distraught from the news, and her friends realize that Harley had tricked them once again. Around a dark corner, Harley observes the scene and considers this to be revenge. However, Lilian comes to her rescue, informing the concierge that May saved the contestants' Pokémon the previous day, and that without her, there wouldn't be a Contest. The woman slyly says that she did in fact get May's registration and Pass, but had forgotten. She then gives May her Contest Pass and a Ribbon case, and May thanks Lilian. Harley is annoyed his plan failed, though he remains determined to keep May from winning the Saffron Ribbon.