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I recently made a point (IRL, not on this site) that part of what makes pikachu iconic is that it has a starring role in every single episode of the main-series anime (so not the no longer broadcast mega-evolution specials or Pokemon origins/generations) as well as every movie. but was that statment actually correct? has pikachu (or A pikachu) ever been absent from a main-series episode or movie?

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What Leafy said, there was a little thing with Yveltal set in the past stretched over 2 eps. All I can think of unless Legend of Thunder counts as main series.
This question could count as a dupe of the question linked below, but it was asked and answered seven years ago. I'll leave it up to the other mods/editors to decide whether or not this question is hidden. https://pokemondb.net/pokebase/49649/are-there-any-pokemon-episodes-with-no-pikachu
I guess technically someone should answer the old question with an update answer, but that was 7 years ago. Might as well keep this one, no reason not to.
@hellfire: that question didn't come up when I typed up my question's title.
BTW guys, I specifically mention in the question that I'm not including origins,  generations or the mega evolution specials. because those episodes are SPECIALS. those are cancelled shows, while the main-series anime is still ongoing.
It does not matter whether the question appeared or not. A duplicate question is a duplicate question. It’s simply too bad.
I edited the question to make it relevant to this year, so there is absolutely no ambiguity.

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This answer is based on the assumption that Mew's answer on this (https://pokemondb.net/pokebase/49649/are-there-any-pokemon-episodes-with-no-pikachu) is a correct list of all episodes without Pikachu up until that point.

Since then there have been 303 new episodes. All of which I have gone through on Bulbapedia in order to find out whether or not Pikachu made an appearance. Bulbapedia has a list of every character appearance on every episode, I checked that list on all 303 episodes.

Pikachu makes an appearance in every single episode of season 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 21.

In Season 19 however there is an episode called "The Legend of X, Y and Z!" in which both Ash and Pikachu are absent. Which seems to be the only time since Mew's answer was written that Pikachu doesn't appear in an episode of the anime.

That means the list would be:

  • The Legend of Thunder (Part 1)
  • The Legend of Thunder (Part 2)
  • The Legend of Thunder (Part 3)
  • A Family That Battles Together Stays Together!
  • Cerulean Blues
  • We're No Angels!
  • Showdown at the Oak Corral
  • The Blue Badge of Courage
  • Oaknapped!
  • A Date With Delcatty
  • Celebi and Joy!
  • Training Daze
  • Journey to the Starting Line!
  • Putting The Air Back In Aerodactyl!
  • Luvdisc Is A Many Splendored Thing!
  • Those Darn Electabuzz!
  • The Search for the Legend
  • Of Meowth and Pokémon
  • Trouble in Big Town
  • Big Meowth, Little Dreams
  • The Legend of X, Y and Z!

Source: The Bulbapedia page for every season 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. For example (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/BW049)

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I'm assuming this answer extends to pikachu as a species, not as a character.
If there is an episode with Pikachu, Ash's Pikachu is most likely in the episode if not the Pikachu.
Ash's Pikachu appeared in every episode except "The Legend of X, Y and Z!" and no other Pikachu appeared in that episode either.