When last we left our heroes, Ash and Brock were searching for Dawn and Pikachu, unaware that a stranger was spying on Ash's latest Pokémon capture. Now the stranger reveals himself as Paul, a Trainer with a tough Elekid and a surly attitude. Paul catches his own Starly and challenges Ash to a battle—but without Pikachu, Ash doesn't have enough Pokémon for a 3-on-3 battle! Paul leaves, leaving Ash embarrassed.
Elsewhere in the forest, Team Rocket swoops in and snatches Pikachu again despite the best efforts of Dawn and her Piplup. Ash shows up just in time to stop the villains, giving all our heroes a chance to finally meet each other. Then it's off to the Pokémon Center, where they find Professor Rowan. They all visit Rowan's lab where there's a package waiting for Ash, but there's another surprise waiting for him as well: Paul!
This time, Ash is more than ready for a battle. Both Trainers send out Starly, but Paul's Starly comes out the winner. Then it's Ash's Aipom against Paul's Chimchar, and Ash claims the victory! But in the last round, Elekid and Pikachu's battle is almost too close to call. Neither Ash nor Paul is happy with a draw. Ash sure doesn't appreciate Paul's attitude, either. Paul turns down Ash's request for another battle, but it's a safe bet that their rivalry is far from over!
Ash, Brock, and Aipom are continuing their search for Pikachu, now aided by Ash's newly-caught Starly. Meanwhile, Dawn, Pikachu and Piplup are retracing their steps hoping to find Ash. Ash and Brock suddenly notice an Electric attack in the distance which they go running towards, thinking it must be Pikachu.
However, it turns out that the attack is actually coming from an Elekid which is attacking a flock of Starly. The Elekid's Trainer throws a Poké Ball towards one. However, the Starly he throws the Ball towards is the one owned by Ash and, therefore, the capture fails. As the Trainer catches the Ball, Ash arrives and calls Starly to sit on his shoulder before asking the Trainer if he's seen Dawn and Pikachu to which he hasn't. The Trainer, who saw Ash capture Starly, then asks if he's sure the Starly he caught is the best one. He then throws three Poké Balls which all contain a Starly each. The Trainer then explains that by scanning a Pokémon with the Pokédex a Trainer can see what attacks it knows thereby saving a lot of time and energy in the long run. After scanning the three Starly to see which of them know Aerial Ace, he then returns them all to their Poké Balls. Then, after telling two of the Starly to get lost as they're not needed, he throws two of the Poké Balls which send out the Starly with a blue light, signifying their permanent release. Ash remarks this is an unusual way to treat Pokémon, as he believes any Pokémon has the ability to be strong and the Trainer challenges Ash to a three-on-three battle. Unfortunately, Ash has to refuse as he only has Aipom and Starly on him now to which the Trainer doesn't take kindly. After calling Ash pathetic he takes his Elekid and leaves.
Before Ash can get too angry about the incident, he and Brock hear the sound of a Volt Tackle in the distance. Knowing that only Pikachu knows that move, the two begin running... and the mention of Volt Tackle catches Elekid's Trainer's interest. However, Dawn, Pikachu and Piplup are having their own problems as Team Rocket has reappeared and cornered them with another giant robot. Despite Piplup's best attempts, Team Rocket successfully snag Pikachu to Dawn's horror. With his Bubble Beam attack not working, Piplup charges the mech but is no match and gets knocked out. Jessie mocks the fact that Piplup is a flightless bird and sends the robot's hands down and almost grabs Piplup when Aipom and Starly burst through the trees and attacks with Swift and Whirlwind attacks. Pikachu and Dawn are shocked to see the Pokémon. Ash realizes Team Rocket are in the machine. They step out onto a platform in front of it and say their new motto, much to Ash's distaste. Ash climbs a tree and jumps onto the machine's arm, climbing up to Pikachu. Dawn is stunned at the lengths he will go to for Pikachu, while also very scared for Ash at the same time. Ash tries to force the hand open and the machine begins to malfunction. Brock tells Dawn to duck and they do. The robot explodes and Team Rocket go blasting off.
Brock and Dawn become worried for Ash and Pikachu, who are still in the rubble. Finally emerging from the rubble, Ash, Pikachu, Aipom, and Starly reunite. Ash officially introduces Pikachu to Starly. Ash then introduces himself to Dawn and scans her Piplup with his Pokédex. Exhausted, Piplup collapses. Brock takes him in his arms, gives him some Potion and he feels better instantly. At a phone booth, the gang makes a call to Professor Rowan. He reveals that he has a parcel at the lab from Ash's mom. In the forest, Paul and his Elekid examine Team Rocket's broken robot. Ash is tougher than he thought.
Walking down the road together, Ash, Dawn, and Brock are approached by Officer Jenny who is glad Ash found his Pikachu. At the lab, Ash opens his parcel, surprised to find new clothes, a new hat, new shoes, and a new backpack. After putting them on, he calls his mom, telling her he is all right. He also calls Professor Oak, who chats with Rowan. In the living room, Dawn asks Ash if she could come along with them to which Ash agrees. Piplup, Aipom, and Starly are recalled into their Poké Balls, leading Dawn to ask Ash why he doesn't place Pikachu in his Poké Ball as well. Ash explains that Pikachu hates traveling in a Poké Ball, especially when his shoulder does just fine which amazes Dawn. Professor Rowan explains to Dawn that different Pokémon have different personalities. It's time for the gang to depart, and Ash thanks Professor Rowan for everything he's done. However, just as they leave Ash and Brock find Paul waiting for them. Paul tells Ash that now he has three Pokémon they can have a battle. Ash is now more than happy to accept a challenge from the arrogant Trainer, and Professor Rowan offers them use of his back garden for the battle.
As the two face off, Brock offers to act as referee while Paul spells out the rules; it will be a three-on-three battle with no substitutions, the first to reach two wins will get the match. Both Trainers release their Starly. Ash starts off by commanding his Starly to use Quick Attack but the opponent manages to dodge it. Paul's Starly uses Aerial Ace. Ash tries to counter with a Wing Attack, but Paul's Starly uses Double Team followed by another Aerial Ace and as a result, Ash's Starly is knocked out. Ash recalls Starly, as does Paul.
Ash throws a Poké Ball and his Aipom emerges. Paul throws out his Chimchar, which Ash scans with his Pokédex. Aipom launches a Swift attack, but Chimchar counters with Ember, and the two attacks explode on contact. Aipom prepares to use Focus Punch, but Chimchar uses Flame Wheel, stopping the attack, as Rowan explains Focus Punch fails if the Pokémon is hit when the attack is charging up. Aipom uses Double Team, but an Ember destroys all the clones, and the real Aipom is slashed by Chimchar's claws. Ash orders another Focus Punch, as Paul prepares to intercept it, but Aipom jumps into the air, dodging the Flame Wheel. Aipom smashes down into Chimchar with Focus Punch, knocking the fire monkey out. The Trainers recall their Pokémon.
Ash then sends out Pikachu and Paul sends out his Elekid. Ash starts things off by ordering Pikachu to use Thunderbolt, but Elekid simply absorbs the attack. Paul then tells Elekid to use Thunder. Elekid revolves its arms and fires off a huge electric bolt at Pikachu, who takes the attack as well. Ash then tells Pikachu to use Volt Tackle. Paul tells Elekid to use Protect to stop the attack. Pikachu is sent flying back, and Dawn wonders why Pikachu took damage. Professor Rowan explains that while Volt Tackle is a powerful move, it also damages the user.
Pikachu gets up however, and Ash tells him to use Iron Tail. While Paul orders Elekid to counter the move with Brick Break. Pikachu jumps towards Elekid, and the two exchange blows for some time, before Elekid manages to land a Thunder Punch attack. However, the strain of the battle takes its toll on both Pokémon, and Pikachu and Elekid fall down at the same time, defeated. Brock announces that the battle was a tie, and that the whole three-on-three battle was also a tie, with both Trainers with one win, one loss and a draw. Ash takes Pikachu into his arms, telling his partner that as he was the first to go down Ash considers it a loss, however Paul walks over to him and says that as it was called a draw, a draw is what it is. Then Paul pulls a Poké Ball from his belt and releases his last remaining Starly. Ash asks what he did that for, and Paul tells him that there will be other Starly even stronger than this one. He then bows to Professor Rowan, before walking off. Ash stares at him angry on seeing such disrespect to Pokémon.
And so, having made a new friend and a new rival, Ash and Pikachu prepare for their adventures in Sinnoh, not knowing what awaits them...