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Released Pokémon are Pokémon that have been caught by a Pokémon Trainer, but are sent back into the wild.
In the games
In every main series Pokémon game, players have been able to release previously captured Pokémon. Unlike the anime, this cannot be done while traveling, but must be done with the Pokémon Storage System in a Pokémon Center. A condition coded into the game exists that disallows the release of Pokémon knowing certain HM moves, such as Surf, to prevent the player becoming trapped in an area that requires the use of that move (like Mossdeep City, which is surrounded by water). A Pokémon might also refuse to be released if it has a very high friendship level or if it is the only Pokémon in the player's party.
Released Pokémon cannot be found again in the wild. The only exception is in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, where if a legendary Pokémon is released from its Friend Area or Chimecho Assembly, it will reappear in the dungeon that it can be fought, save those who only join once when they ask to.
In the anime
Throughout the Pokémon anime, a Trainer releases a Pokémon for several reasons. The Trainer may see it as weak, as Damian did with Charmander and Paul with Chimchar. The Pokémon may have to do something that requires it to leave (such as Ash and his Butterfree). Another common reason is that the Pokémon does not listen, frustrating the Trainer, much like when Dawn caught Pachirisu. To guarantee release, some Trainers destroy the Poké Ball, as seen with Jessie and her Dustox.
The blue coloring indicating release.
Pokémon released in the anime
In the manga
Various manga touch on the aspect of releasing Pokémon.
In the Pokémon Adventures manga
Pokémon Adventures arcs often culminate in the capture of a legendary Pokémon, but these are almost always released afterwards. Pokémon shown to be released include Red's Vee while under Team Rocket's control and Yellow's Seadra.
Team Plasma's ultimate goal has been to convince Trainers to release their Pokémon. In Pokémon Black and White, it is revealed that their leader, Ghetsis, wanted to make himself the only Trainer to own Pokémon in Unova, making him the regions leader almost by default. N, Team Plasma's king, appears frequently to the player to battle him or her and convince them to release their Pokémon. Each time, he appears with a different team -- using the Memory Link in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 confirms that N released his Pokémon after battles with the player, and the player may encounter and catch them again.
Although there were apparently no other instances of anyone releasing their Pokémon in the games, several Trainers are seen releasing their Pokémon whenever Team Plasma holds a speech in the manga. Black himself owns a Pokémon (Galvantula) previously owned by another unseen person, and now uses on his team after he decided to keep it after Team Plasma's first seen speech and it agreed to be with him. White herself also released her company's Tepig, Gigi, although this was against her own will, as it was technically Gigi who left White after it learned about its battle capabilities.