FEATURE: Original Ash Ketchum English VA Veronica Taylor on the End of a Pokémon Era
Ash Ketchum would change her life...in more ways than one
“The first episode I probably did…six times.”
It’s been almost 25 years since Veronica Taylor landed the role of a kid named Ketchum in the North American dub of the Pokémon anime after auditioning for the role around April of 1998. But she remembers very clearly the half dozen or so times she recorded (and re-recorded and re-re-recorded) that premiere episode: “Because they changed Ash’s name (It was originally Casey Ketchum.) Then they changed it to ‘Poke-aye-mon’ so we had to go back because we used to say ‘Poke-a-mon.’” But eventually, they got “Pokemon - I Choose You!” to the finish line, where it would change pop culture as we know it.
It would also change Taylor’s life, too. To say that Ash Ketchum, the prodigal son of the Pokémon franchise, is the role most closely associated with her career is an understatement. When Taylor began, she was not inexperienced by any means—Even in the medium of anime, she played roles in Slayers, an early dub of the Yu Yu Hakusho: Poltergeist Report movie, and, perhaps most interestingly, the immensely tragic Grave of the Fireflies But it was her voice as Ash Ketchum that would become a calling card, “the greatest responsibility of my life,” Taylor said, and one that “changed the trajectory of how I want to be in the world.”
Images via Pokèmon TV
Back in 1998, it started like many other jobs. Her introduction to Ash (named Satoshi in the original version) was through a short Japanese video clip. The role she was asked to provide was meant to match “as closely to the character as we possibly could be,” said Taylor.
Taylor was a trained actress, something that allowed her to quickly embody Ash and deliver: “...there really was no time. And I would say, in most anime I work on, there's no time for kind of goofing off or chatting about stuff or finding it. They just want you to get in and get the lines done and get out because you are on an hourly rate, and they're on a tight schedule. I think the skill you have as an actor is to be able to just be in the moment and really focus on what you're doing so that you can bring out the best possible performance.”
Sitting in the booth as Ash Ketchum meant that when Pokémon did evolve from “the little monster collecting series that could” to full-blown Pokémania in the US, Taylor found herself on the fringes of it. “We worked on things and sometimes didn't really know where our voice was going,” said Taylor. “I wasn’t really aware of how mass-marketed [Pokemon] was.”
Even when Pokémon: The First Movie debuted a little over a year after the anime’s premiere, Taylor could only watch as it grew bigger and bigger. “I was able to go to the premiere in LA, and it was a really amazing thing to be part of and see it going on. But they didn't mention that I was there. So you know, like I was there, but it wasn't like ‘She's a star!’” Taylor explained. “You know, everything was very undercover, in a sense. So we, as the actors, were never made to feel like we were really part of it or part of the success.”
Taylor would eventually find out how huge Pokémon was around the world, but many of her favorite moments were personal ones rather than red carpet events. “I have a picture of myself with my daughter when she was really small in Times Square, and there's a giant billboard for the first movie out there. I was with my family and we're all like, ‘Oh my god, this is so exciting!’”
It wasn’t just her own family, either, that Taylor got to be a part of as Pokémon continued. Even after her role was recast when the licensing rights were bought back from 4Kids by The Pokémon Company, she found that generations of fans considered her their hero, an aspirational figure to relate their own victories too.
“I think of all the things about Pokémon that I really love and hold dear, going to conventions has been the most incredible experience of my life because I have met so many people,” said Taylor. “I've met families and I've met kids when they were 10. I see them now with their children. I've seen people coming back to see me and saying, ‘I just got out of high school. I just got out of college, I have my first job.’ I can track them all through their lives and they're such a part of my life and my family has grown because of that. It’s a great bond.”
RELATED: Lessons Ash Ketchum Taught Me in His Pokémon Journey
Though Taylor’s career has since spanned to everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Sailor Moon, she also found herself feeling sentimental at the recent announcement that not only had Ash become World Champion, but his anime series was finally ending. The boy who never grew up was finally walking into the sunset. But to Taylor, it never really ends. Ash’s story is our story and while our story continues, so does his.
“We all have sweated along with him through this whole journey,” said Taylor. “It's not just him out there alone. It's all of us doing it. We won the championship, we became a master. And yeah, we're not retiring. We all have to just turn our sights onto the next thing. You hit that goal. And you set the next one. Yeah, so I think he, too, will have to set the next one.”
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter! His book, Monster Kids: How Pokemon Taught A Generation To Catch Them All, is available wherever books are sold.