When Veronica Taylor was called to audition for a Japanese cartoon in 1998, she had no idea what to expect. Heavily pregnant and living in New York, the 33-year-old actor had just finished a run of commercials, soaps and theatre productions, before a chance call from her acting coach sent her hurrying downtown. It was some kind of anime, she was told, and she’d be reading for multiple roles. As Taylor wandered into the slightly run-down recording studio, she was introduced to the excitable characters she’d be voicing—and was immediately enamoured.

“I just really liked the colour and the energy,” recalls Taylor, with an infectious smile. “We watched a tiny Japanese snippet and then had to get our voice as close as we could to that character. There was no practising ahead of time, no reading the script – you just came in, watched for about three minutes on a loop and took your shot.”

Playing both a concerned mother and a determined child, the pregnant Taylor found herself channelling a weirdly existential energy in the booth—and it paid off. The last-minute audition she’d just nailed? Pokémon.

Kids look at Pokémon merch being sold on an NYC sidewalk in November 1999.

Photo: Evan Agostini (Getty Images)

“There was no way to know that Pokémon could become something back then,” Taylor reflects, “Anime wasn’t that big at the time, and we didn’t really have the internet, so I couldn’t look it up. I was so excited to be cast, but for no reason other than it looked amazing.“

Playing both the iconic 10-year-old Pokémon Trainer Ash Ketchum, and his mother, Delia, Taylor’s voice is one that’s soundtracked millions of English-speaking childhoods.

Sitting with a beaming Taylor at the London Card Show 26 years later, I’m hit by the surreal realisation that I’m chatting to Ash Ketchum – the determined kid that tiny me idolised. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of so many people’s families, and they are all part of mine.” she says, as I add my gushing memories of Ash to the chorus of stories Taylor hears daily.

She doesn’t need me to tell her how gargantuan Pokémon has become. Nestled in a convention hall teaming with more Pokémon cards and plushies than you can shake a Pokeball at, since that chance audition, Taylor’s embarked on her own lifelong Pokémon journey.

New York City kids wield Pokémon cards in November 1999.

Photo: Pokémon (Getty Images)

The power of Pokémon

“We’re all part of it,” Taylor adds. “I feel a real connection to the people who are carrying Pikachu toys or coming up to me with drawings or binders full of cards. I connect to the joy and the freedom that Pokémon represents—of being able to go out on your journey and become your very best, that feeling where everything is possible.”

While Taylor is now intrinsically tied to one of the most beloved creations of the last two decades, in 1998, Ash seemed like just another job.

Pokémon wasn’t so massive in the beginning,” Taylor reflects. “I’ve never had the luxury of working on one job at a time, so we just went on to our other jobs as normal.” She taped each episode of Pokémon on her VCR at 6:30am before work. As the first season wrapped and her daughter was born, Taylor’s life rolled along—blissfully unaware of the growing legions of enamoured young Pokémon fans.

As any good trainer knows, it takes time for a Pokémon’s power to grow, and sure enough, this pop-culture phenomenon slowly began to evolve. “When Pokémon was mentioned in The New York Times, I knew that something was happening.” Taylor says. “I remember seeing kids on the subway in New York with the cards, and a few months later the games were out.”

By 1999, Pokémania was officially in full swing. After voicing the role of Yukina in the YuYu Hakasuho movie, the millennium was just around the corner— and so was Pokémon: The First Movie. Debuting at number one in the U.S and earning a staggering $10.1 million on its Wednesday opening, Mewtwo’s big-screen bonanza had so many schoolkids calling in sick that the media dubbed it the “Pokéflu.”

“It was the biggest box office ever for a kid’s cartoon,” Taylor says, “It was just really exciting to see the whole thing come together in such a big way.”

Veronica Taylor Presenting At The London Card Show

Veronica Taylor Presenting At The London Card Show
Photo: Veronica Taylor / London Card Show

Ash’s Pokémon story is over, but not Taylor’s

While Ash may have hung up his prized cap in 2022, Taylor’s Pokémon journey shows no sign of slowing. Today is just one stop on Taylor’s current convention world tour, from hosting panels in Amsterdam to signing autographs in Tokyo. Yet Taylor’s time with Pokémon officially ended in 2006, with Ash and the original actors abruptly recast.

“I don’t know if I fully have said [goodbye] to Ash.” Taylor says, “When we were all recast, or fired—however you want to put it—after the eighth season, it was incredibly devastating to not have a chance to go on with the show. I’ve had a bit of PTSD with the ending, of just how sad it is.”

Though Ash is beloved by countless children across the globe, even that wasn’t enough to save Taylor from the harsh realities of a ruthless industry.

“You, as an actor, are so disposable,” Taylor says. “You have to come to terms with that. I was working on another show, and they said that if you’re busy, we’ll just get someone else to do it. I’d already done a whole season! There’s no rhyme or reason to being cast, or to being cut out. When you’re in the booth, you have to just try and be in the moment and put all of that out of your mind. Otherwise it’s all so crippling.”

Despite Pokémon’s popularity—now the highest-grossing entertainment franchise in the world—and the anime being viewed by over a billion people,Taylor is hardly living the high life you would rightfully expect from the voice behind one of TV’s most iconic characters.

Veronica Taylor smiles into the camera.

Image: Veronica Taylor

“VA is not great pay. It all should be unionized,” Taylor says. “Everyone deserves equality, fair pay and respect. Without actors, without writers, without artists, without game developers, you don’t have a show or a game. You all need to pull together to make a great project, and we all share in that. When people feel valued, they work better. It’s important that everyone knows that they’re respected, and often that comes with pay.“

Take a look at the jaw-dropping amount of acting credits that Taylor has amassed over her career, and the hustle of VA speaks for itself. From lending her pipes to Sailor Pluto in Sailor Moon, Nico Robin in One Piece, and April O’Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to name a few, Taylor is VA royalty. It’s an iconic career that’s cemented by her role as ‘Mother’ in Studio Ghibli’s haunting classic, Grave Of The Fireflies. (“When I worked on it I only saw my lines, so I never saw the whole thing until later,“ Taylor recalls. “The story is so intricate, deep and emotional. It was great to work on.”)

And it’s not just anime where you’ve heard Taylor. From Ape Escape, Dissidia Final Fantasy, L.A Noire and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the prolific VA has lent her pipes to a multitude of beloved video games. One of her recent game roles was a career highlight. “I really loved playing Manuela in Fire Emblem: Three Houses,” she says of the flirtatious magic professor. “She’s just so out there and wonderful!”

Ash wields his Pokémon trophy.

Image: The Pokémon Company

Ash Ketchum for life

Still, It’s Taylor’s voice as as Ash that most people remember—and a role that remains very close to her heart.

“Ash taught me about the power of positivity,” she explains. “He taught me about pushing through and being in the moment. For that, Ash has been the most life-changing role I’ve done…The fact that I could be so heavily pregnant and still have the energy of a 10-year-old boy just proves that you can do anything!”

Her admiration extends to the bug-collecting visionary that dreamt up Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri. “Imagining him sitting in his room alone drawing these pictures of Pokémon based on his love of animals and nature—and the fact that that idea spawned 25 years of creativity and still continues to inspire people… it’s why I’ll never grow tired of Pokémon.”

As two kids sprint past the press room squeezing Pikachu plushies and a group of thirty-somethings haggle over shiny trading cards, it’s impossible not to get caught up in all the Pokélove.

“We were always just a small cog in the giant wheel that is Pokémon,” Taylor says, “It has lasted because of the creativity and the spark in your imagination that it brings. There’s always something to learn from it, and new people to meet because of it.”

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