Dawn and Piplup's Pokémon journey is off to a bumpy start! She needs to catch Pokémon so she can become a great Pokémon Coordinator like her mom, but both her and Piplup are having trouble getting the hang of things. After a Buneary and Burmy get away, Dawn spots a Pikachu and tries to catch it before realizing it belongs to another Trainer. When Team Rocket shows up to claim Pikachu as their own, Dawn realizes they're up to no good. A powerful attack from Piplup sends the Pokémon thieves packing!
Dawn brings the exhausted Pikachu to a Pokémon Center and calls Professor Rowan to give him an update. Elsewhere, Ash's search for Pikachu takes him to Professor Rowan's lab, where he learns that Dawn has rescued Pikachu—except she's already left the Pokémon Center to find Pikachu's Trainer. And when Dawn calls Professor Rowan again, Ash has already left the lab to find her!
As for Team Rocket, they're now resting and relaxing at a vacation house belonging to James' family. They've also picked up a new member, James's old Carnivine. Sadly, once James hears his fiancée is headed his way, Team Rocket must hit the road again. Meanwhile, still looking for Dawn, Ash meets up with his good friend Brock and catches a Starly. But none of them notice the surly stranger who's spying on Ash—a stranger whose identity will soon be revealed...
While cycling on Route 202, Dawn decides to take a break in a grassy field, calling Piplup out to join her. As they sit and watch the clouds, Dawn decides to catch her first Pokémon. A wild Buneary pops out of the grass and she scrambles to check it with her Pokédex. She knows that weakening it in battle will make it easier to catch, so she sends Piplup into battle, opening with Bubble Beam. She is psyched at calling her first attack, but Buneary jumps up to dodge. Piplup follows up with Peck, but Buneary jumps aside and uses Dizzy Punch to defeat Piplup in one shot. Dawn rushes forward to grab her Piplup, but Buneary bounces off her head and runs away. Piplup is upset at failing, but Dawn cheers him up.
Dawn returns to her bike, with Piplup riding in the front basket, as she maps out her plan to become a Pokémon Coordinator, starting with participating in the Jubilife Contest. Dawn soon spots a Burmy hanging off a branch and checks it with her Pokédex. Piplup leaps out of the basket and launches a Bubble Beam right away. The attack removes Burmy's Plant Cloak and causes it to fall off the branch. Dawn applauds Piplup's efforts, but Piplup frantically points to Burmy scrambling to put its Plant Cloak back together. Dawn remarks on Burmy speed, but Piplup still frantically points to Burmy. Dawn fumbles for a Poké Ball, but by the time she gets it ready, Burmy has already gone. Dawn sinks to her knees in defeat as Piplup consoles her this time. Dawn mentions that she can make mistakes just like Piplup, which does not sit well with the Pokémon.
Piplup hears the bushes rustling nearby as Dawn turns to the source. A Pikachu, which belongs to Ash, stumbles out from behind the bush, collapsing from exhaustion as Dawn checks her Pokédex. Although the type disadvantage is present, Piplup is willing to take a shot, firing off Bubble Beam. Despite being exhausted, Pikachu manages to use Thunderbolt to negate the attack. Piplup follows up with Peck, but Pikachu launches another Thunderbolt to overpower Piplup, sending him flying backwards into Dawn's bike, roasting it in the same manner as Misty's and May's bikes. Pikachu scratches his head in apologetic embarrassment, as Dawn is furious at losing her bike, throwing the Poké Ball. The Poké Ball opens and tries to pull Pikachu in, but the energy field dissipates, sending the Poké Ball back to Dawn. Dawn realizes that this Pikachu must already have a Trainer. Pikachu runs away, but a Seviper, Dustox, and Cacnea cut him off, surrounding the injured Pokémon. Meowth steps out, the talking ability shocking Dawn as she checks her Pokédex. Jessie and James step out as well with Wobbuffet and Mime Jr. in tow as they confront Dawn. Pikachu uses Thunderbolt to shock Team Rocket, but the other Pokémon attack, forcing Pikachu to dodge.
As Dawn watches angrily, she notices Piplup and decides to help out, Piplup firing Bubble Beam to clear the way as they shield Pikachu. Team Rocket recites their motto, but it has little impact on Dawn since Team Rocket has not spread to Sinnoh. Dawn knows that Pikachu does not belong to Team Rocket, Pikachu clinging to Dawn. Jessie's Seviper attacks Piplup with Wrap, binding him as Team Rocket decides to take Piplup as well as Pikachu. Piplup retaliates with Bubble Beam, freeing itself of Seviper's bind. Meowth orders the three Pokémon forward, but Piplup's Bubble Beam and Pikachu's Thunderbolt stops them and sends Team Rocket blasting off. Dawn and the Pokémon celebrate, but they are forced to rush over to a Pokémon Center after Pikachu collapses with exhaustion. At the Center, Nurse Joy treats Pikachu as Dawn explains what happened. Dawn calls her mother, informing her of her progress so far. Dawn admits that she hasn't caught a Pokémon yet, which sparks an argument between her and Piplup about who was at fault. Johanna and her Glameow watch on, soon ending the call. After the scuffle, Dawn contacts Professor Rowan to recount her brush with Team Rocket. Dawn also informs the Professor that she wants to find Pikachu's Trainer before heading off to Jubilife City.
Meanwhile, Ash's Aipom looks around from atop a tree, assisting Ash in his search for Pikachu. During a routine patrol, Officer Jenny finds Ash sombrely sitting on the roadside. After learning of the situation, Officer Jenny gives Ash a ride to Professor Rowan's lab. Professor Rowan greets Ash, handing over Aipom's Poké Ball from Professor Oak before mentioning that his Pikachu is in Dawn's possession. After hearing that, Ash and Rowan place a call through to the Pokémon Center, but Nurse Joy reveals that Dawn already left to try to find Pikachu's Trainer. Ash immediately runs out of the lab for the Pokémon Center to try and catch up with Dawn.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket hikes along a road, exhausted after being beaten. James looks up in astonishment as the group finds James's second summer cottage, where he would go when the first one needed to be cleaned. They enter the estate, finding the furniture covered and the curtains closed. James opens the curtains as the Pokémon lounge on the couch. James enters a playroom and finds a box holding his first bottle cap collection. Among the caps, James pulls out a Poké Ball and recounts the Pokémon he played with before. He throws the Ball up, releasing the Pokémon, which is a Carnivine. The Pokémon happily bites James's head and hugs him, much like his Victreebel. After Jessie's stomach grumbles, James calls for his servant, Mr. Cheeves over the phone. As Team Rocket feasts on several courses, Mr. Cheeves reports that he notified James's parents and that they, along with Jessebelle, are flying out the next day, much to James's horror. Later on, as the Pokémon play video games, James informs the team that they must leave before his family arrives or else Team Rocket is history, knowing that Jessebelle and his parents would make him marry her. Meowth places a call to Giovanni as they announce their plan to set up in Sinnoh. Though Giovanni does not sound enthusiastic, he approves their plan.
Back at the lab, Rowan manages to contact Dawn, identifying Pikachu's Trainer and that he is heading in her direction. Dawn and the Pokémon head back to Route 202 to cross paths with Ash. Dawn remarks that it would be faster with her bike, Pikachu scratching his head in guilt. Meanwhile, Ash and Aipom run along the path when a truck pulls up alongside them. His traveling companion, Brock, steps out of the cab. Brock introduces Ash to the driver, Claudina. Brock recounts that he met her in Pewter City and that they have been on the road. He plans to continue his road trip with her, believing he has a shot. Claudina suddenly receives a call from her boyfriend, instantly upsetting Brock. Claudina apologizes and waves to the pair before driving off, leaving Brock dejected. Brock puts his broken heart aside and decides to journey with Ash once again. At that point, Brock notices Pikachu is missing.
As they walk, Ash brings Brock up to speed on what happened, Brock is astounded that Team Rocket has not given up. Ash checks the map for the Pokémon Center that Dawn was at. Aipom swings through the trees and crashes into a wild Starly, starting a fight. Ash wants to stop the fight, but Brock notices the Pokémon, prompting Ash to check his Pokédex. Ash pulls a Poké Ball out, intent on capturing the Normal/Flying-type Pokémon to look for Pikachu. Aipom backs off to launch a Swift attack. It lands, but Starly uses Whirlwind to blow the smoke away. Aipom prepares a Focus Punch, but Starly uses Quick Attack to knock Aipom down before following up with Wing Attack, smacking Aipom several times. Aipom manages to land the Focus Punch, injuring Starly enough so Ash can throw the Poké Ball. Starly goes in and the Ball rattles before locking. Ash holds up Starly's Poké Ball in success, but suddenly feels upset that Pikachu was not around to see it. Brock reminds Ash that he caught Starly to help find Pikachu, so he brings Starly out to begin an aerial search. Meanwhile, Dawn, Pikachu and Piplup also continue their search for Ash while another Trainer was watching Ash's catch, remarking that he wouldn't bother with a Pokémon which was that easy to catch.