For a whole generation of Pokemon fans, Veronica Taylor's was the voice that breathed life to Ash Ketchum from Pallet town, the hero of one of the most popular and influential franchises of all time.
Taylor, who was in Dubai for the first PopCon Middle East, was incredibly humble about her contribution to a show that not only shaped the childhoods of many but also helped to herald a new era of animated television.
“I had no idea, I didn't even believe that it would be on TV,” she tells The National, when asked if she had an inkling that Pokemon was bound for global success.
“But the animation was so sweet and simple and bright that I just wanted to be a part of it. I don't think anyone really could have predicted that 25 years later, we'd still be talking about it.”
People are more than just still talking about it.
Pokemon is still an intrinsic part of mainstream pop culture and is continuing to grow. In fact, as of August last year, it became the highest-grossing media franchise generating a revenue of $105 billion, across licensed merchandise, video games, card games, the series, movies, manga sales and more.
However, it was the anime series, which made its premiere on TV Tokyo in April 1997, that struck a cultural chord, becoming a catalyst not only for the expansive world of Pokemon, but for Japanese animated series and forever changing the animation landscape worldwide.
The Pokemon series took anime into the global mainstream, particularly with western audiences, with more than 1,000 episodes broadcasted and dubbed for international viewers, as it was simultaneously shown in 192 countries. Today, it is one of the most popular shows on Netflix.
“The way it has touched people so deeply and just rooted itself in their lives is extraordinary,” says Taylor.
“I do think we learnt so much from the adventure of Ash and we, as the audience, can join him on the journey and learn from his mistakes and celebrate all of his successes.”
There is no denying the power of animation as a compelling vehicle for storytelling. In 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that Netflix had spent $1.1bn, 11 per cent of its overall original content budget, on animation while Amazon was projected to spend $300 million that year.
Japanese animation, that has an estimated value of $21.3bn according to a recent report from The Hollywood Reporter, has had and continues to have an undeniable influence over the industry worldwide.
Pokemon has played a major part in that growth. It was also one of the first Japanese series that helped connect different people from varying cultural backgrounds through communities of fandom.
“I think that's what we all share is that love of the adventure, love of community,” Taylor says.
“We have this secret language of Pokemon that we can share. The names may be tweaked in different languages but they all look the same. And so you can say, ‘Oh, that pokemon is my favourite’ and, right away, there's something that you have in common with people. It's a great way to start a friendship.”
Streaming platforms today offer a combination of dubbed Japanese animated series as well as a plethora of original animation from the West that is heavily influenced by the art of Japanese animation or their approach to storytelling.
Avatar: The Last Air Bender, Castlevania, Arcane, Blood of Zeus, The Dragon Prince, Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters series, these critically acclaimed and commercially successful shows wouldn’t have had the space to exist if it wasn’t for the initial success of Pokemon.
Taylor, who has also voiced characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Slayers, Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon Crystal and One Piece, is also working on a podcast about Pokemon with her daughter Rena, whom she was pregnant with when she voiced the first season of the show.
“When she was born, she probably could recognise Ash’s voice more than mine,” she jokes.
As a voice actor, Taylor’s life is seeped in the world of storytelling and animation. It’s not difficult for her to understand why all of us, children and adults, still find solace and entertainment in hand-drawn or computer-generated characters going on epic adventures.
“Storytelling is so necessary to human beings, it's where we all started when there wasn't anything else,” Taylor says.
“And I do think with animation your imagination can go further. We can do more through that, we can let our minds explore more through animation. With Pokemon, especially in the beginning, (the animation) was so simple, that it ignited your creativity. That's what I look for in animation, just that escape but also a way to relate.”