What started as a simple video game in #Pokémon has expanded into numerous anime series which have become arguably more popular than the original video game itself. With the anime, fans have gone to extreme lengths to delve into every hidden crevice of the Pokémon universe. That said, there's one aspect of the Pokémon universe which has never been directly addressed: death.
For as long as the Pokémon franchise has been around, the aspect of Pokémon dying has only been implied. Within its canon, cemeteries and ghost Pokémon have been sprinkled throughout, leaving more than a hint at them dying on a regular basis, but it's never been directly addressed.
Fans of the video games might confuse the state of "fainting" in battle as an example of dying but it's not the same. A Pokémon can recover from fainting but there's no coming back from death. The same principle can reasonably be attributed to the #anime as well. That said, it wasn't until the latest episode of Pokémon: Sun And Moon that a Pokémon's death was actually depicted in its entirety.
In Episode 21 of #PokemonSunandMoon, Ash's Pokémon, Litten, returns to the sickly Stoutland, for whom Litten had been caring before becoming Ash's Pokémon. When he returns, Stoutland is much worse off. Ash arrives soon after and they take Stoutland to the Pokémon center for treatment. It's there that Ash learns Stoutland's illness is irreversible and his death inevitable.
Litten then attempts to comfort Stoutland during his last hours. Some time during the night, Stoutland walks out of the Pokémon center and returns to its home under the bridge. Litten follows Stoutland to the bridge, where the Pokémon finally passes away.
What's interesting about Stoutland's death is that there was a lot of heavy emotional weigh in the scene. Between the grieving process and all the symbolism of passing on, it was a lot to expose fans to. Considering how the Pokémon anime is heavily skewed to a younger audience, the episode might be criticized for being too dark in the United States. The episode has only aired in Japan so far and it may not make it to America if the episode is deemed too intense for young viewers.
Still, the death of Stoutland is an amazing development for the Pokémon universe, seeing as how it finally answers some of the long-standing questions fans have had about the nature of death.
Now that Stoutland has died, we can expect some of these things to become Pokémon canon.
Where do their bodies go when they die?
From what was seen in Episode 21, Stoutland's death didn't leave a body behind. When Litten woke to find Stoutland gone, there was nothing left. That said, the absence of a body implies that the remains of dead Pokémon simply evaporate or disintegrate into nothingness at the onset of death.
This evaporation was implied when a oddly-shaped flurry of dust vanishes from where Stoutland was once laying. This raises the question: Do they have souls? More proof can be found in Stoutland's couch collapsing, as well as a single leaf dropping off a nearby tree. We should also note that Pokémon like Mew and Mewtwo have been depicted as evaporating in death, but not everyone will consider those deaths canon since they took place in the Pokémon movies.
Graves are mainly for memorial purposes.
At the moment, Stoutland's death appears to be canon in the Pokémon universe. If his death is an example of what happens to every Pokémon when it passes on, the Pokémon cemeteries we've seen in the past were merely set up in memory of past Pokémon. Without there being any remains to bury, a plot is simply placed as a memorial to the fallen.
What's the deal with ghost Pokémon?
So Pokémon seem to be aware of death. We saw that Litten, Stoutland, and Meowth were all scared of what was happening to Stoutland, handling the situation like humans despite being Pokémon. That said, it looks like Pokémon come to terms with their own mortality and know that they'll die at some point, which means they have no reason to return. Unless they return as ghosts when they feel their lives haven't been fulfilled.
That explanation would give reason to the existence of Pokémon like Haunter and Gengar when they're obviously perfect examples of Pokémon who either can't or refuse to depart peacefully. Still, we don't know with exactly why some Pokémon die and return as ghost Pokémon. Nor do we understand the nature of Pokémon Tower in the first installment of the anime.
How does Pokémon Tower fit into the universe?
For those who don't know, the first season of Pokémon: Indigo League featured a cemetery-like structure for ghosts, called Pokémon Tower in Episode 23 "Tower Of Terror." Within the tower, many Gastly, Haunters, and Gengars roam about. Their presence in the tower is never fully explained but its origins are described by one of Lavender Town's residents as a burial site for Pokémon.
The citizen from Lavender Town tells of how the Pokémon Tower was set up as a burial site but he doesn't go into detail of how said Pokémon are laid to rest. Though, if what we learned from Stoutland's death is canon in the Pokémon universe then we can assume Pokémon Tower is merely a memorial, not a burial site.
Regardless, we'll have to wait until the aspect of death is officially addressed by the creators of Pokémon. Now that a Pokémon has actually died on the anime, the question is bound to be of interest.