It’s a Pokemon world, we’re just living in it! The debut of Pokemon Go on smart phones everywhere last month became a smash hit and cultural sensation, but the fact of the matter is that Pokemon has been part of kids’ pop culture diet for two decades now; it transverses generations. A big part of that is Veronica Taylor, who that first generation of Pokemon fans will recognize as the voice of Ash, and the voice of Ash’s mom, in the English dub of the Pokemon anime that ran for eight seasons and several movies in the late 90s/early 00s.
Taylor’s credits include a long list of animated shows from both sides of the Pacific Ocean. You can hear her in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as April O’Neal, or as Scarlett in the anime G.I. Joe: Sigma 6. Taylor’s credits also includes Slayers, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Mobile Suit Gundam, and the latest dub of Sailor Moon. You can also hear her vocal talents reading books written by Judy Blume, Danielle Steel, and Mary Kay Andrews, and in video games like Ape Escape 2, Grand Adventure, and World of Warcraft. Today though, the topic of discussion was Pokemon, and the legacy that Taylor has helped sew as we countdown the days to Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, where Taylor will reunite with many of the people that have made Pokemon, and continue to make it, the success that it is.
Nerd Bastards: This must be a really great time to be associated with Pokemon, because while I don’t know if it ever went away, it certainly made a huge comeback now with Pokemon Go!
Veronica Taylor: Yeah, it is incredible actually. I was in the first eight seasons of Pokemon, so the nostalgia for those eight seasons is pretty big right now, and from going to conventions – and I’ve been to Fan Expo quite often – it’s really neat to see people through the years, and now many people are coming back with their kids, and they’re introducing Pokemon to them. That’s been a really wild thing to be a part of, and now everyone’s talking about Pokemon, and playing it on their phone, and even I’m playing it. To be able to be out somewhere and while you’re having your coffee, you look, and there’s a Charmander sitting on the counter. (Laughs) There’s just something really wonderful about it and certainly we aren’t living through the easiest of times right now in the world and to be able to escape for a minute into your Pokemon Go game has just been really fun. It’s not so isolating as many games have been in the past and Pokemon’s been something that’s always brought people together whether you’re playing the card game in the school courtyard, and now you’re on the corner with friends playing Pokemon Go.
NB: I think you hit on a couple of important things there, and one of them is that there’s always been a communal aspect to Pokemon, because you can’t play the card game alone, there’s no Pokemon solitaire. But also with all these things going on in the real world, walking around with your phone and adding a little creature to the street corner makes it so that we’re still in the real world, but we’re enjoying a little touch of fantasy as well. That seems to translate to all ages.
Taylor: Yes, it’s pretty neat. And I do think we don’t need something else to make us glued to our phones and making us myopic, but for little bits of time I think it’s pretty great.
NB: I wanted to ask you about the fan interactions because you’ve said that you come to Fan Expo quite often, do you become familiar with the fans? Are there people you see every time you go to a particular event and you become friendly with them?
Taylor: Yeah, it’s been really… I mean, I’m just an actor. This has been such an added to bonus to have this community. There are several conventions that I have gone to for many years in a row, and you see the same people over and over and find out how they’re doing, and how their families are. I’ve seen some people from – Gosh – Pokemon started in 1998, and I went to my first convention in 2002, and while I don’t go to something every weekend, I’ve been so fortunate to meet people that have travelled to other states to see me, and then we do have these little reunions. We start off having these conversations about the one thing we have in common, which is Pokemon, and then we develop a real friendship where I learn where they went to high school, and college, and then they get a job, and are married, and to be able to follow people that way has been an incredible gift for me, to actually make friends. And not to make everything connected to Pokemon, but isn’t that one of the things we learn from it? That while we’re on our journeys we meet people and take them with us, and it’s just been incredible, and I’m very lucky to have had that.
NB: And you’ve been doing this long enough, not to age you or anything, but when you started out, there wasn’t that kind of familiarity [for voice actors]. There wasn’t going to cons or events. It was a day job and what you did nine to five. Now you’re in a world where anybody that wants to know you can look you up on IMDb, and they know what you look like and they know all 100-some credits you have. That must be a huge change for any voice actor.
Taylor: Yeah, it’s weird in a way because all of us as actors have a certain amount of anonymity anyway because you are the characters that you play; you can go to work, do your work and go home. Now there’s also a responsibility to be more socially active, both from the fans and from the employers. In 1998, when I went to work on a cartoon, there was not a lot of prep. We didn’t get the scripts ahead of time, you just went to work, get it done, and go home. That’s still the same, but now when you get home you still have to tweet about it, or post something about it to Facebook, or find something interesting about your life to put out there, and then you have to be responsible and read what other people are posting and respond to that. In ’98 we didn’t really have the internet; even in 2005 we didn’t have to do a lot of internet stuff. If someone posted something about you, you didn’t really have to read it, you could not turn on your computer for days if you didn’t have work on it, but now we’re so much more connected in a different way, which is good and bad, because I think we all need some distance sometimes to let our imaginations go. If Satoshi Tajiri had the internet, would he still have sat alone in his room and drawn characters that then became Pokemon? I don’t know. When we cut down on our alone time, we lose some of that creativity.
NB: Or worse still, he might have put some of his drawings of potential Pokemon on Deviant Art and have a hundred people tell him how awful he was, and we wouldn’t have Pokemon at all.
Taylor: That’s exactly right! You follow your dreams and then when people comment on it, you go back to sleep and dream of something else. (Laughs) It’s a really interesting time because I also look up things constantly. We were just watching a movie on Turner Classics with Esther Willaims and there were these two kids who were star swimmers and we were trying to figure out who they were, and then we found out right away who they were and how they were discovered while were watching the movie. That’s fantastic, but at the same time, it still took us out of the movie. There’s pros and cons along the way and we all need balance, but for me, in my life, the fact that people can look me up, it hasn’t really affected my real time life.
NB: Nobody identifies you on the street because there’s still that level of anonymity being a voice actor…
Taylor: Oh yeah, absolutely. And that’s good. (Laughs)
NB: I was reading another interview with you, and it seemed like you got into voice acting because it was not something you were looking to do, but it was more a practicality in terms that it freed up your time to be a parent and be more involved, is that fair to say?
Taylor: Fair in a way, but I’m an actor and I’ll do anything – within reason. I don’t consider myself a voice actor, but a lot of what I do is voice related. I’ve been an actor for a long time, I went to college and grad school for acting, so any facet of acting is something I’ve wanted to do. It’s just that when I started working on cartoons in the first season of Pokemon my daughter was born, and so it seems that luckily, and naturally, my auditions were more voice related, and I didn’t really have time to do a full play but I could do a lot of reading. So the amount of time I could put in to a long day of filming, or when I used to work on soap operas, I couldn’t really do that much anymore, but it just so happened that opportunities came along with more flexible hours.
NB: I was at a panel with some of the cast members of Sailor Moon earlier this year, and you know about that because you’re Sailor Pluto…
Taylor: I am. Right now.
NB: Well they were talking about how doing the translation of an anime was a different challenge for them as opposed to something North American made, and looking at your credits you have done so much anime, so I’m wondering if you had the same learning curve, or do you just have a natural gift for translating anime characters into English?
Taylor: Well thank you, that’s a lovely way of putting that. (Laughs) As an actor, when you get a script you try to bring out whatever the author is trying to put across, so anime is just slightly different because as you skim down the script and figure out what your character wants, you then have the added difficulty of matching the lip flaps. So it doesn’t matter how I thought I would say the line, I would have to change that in a split second to fit the mouth flap. For me, it wasn’t really a huge learning curve, you just jump in and do it. That’s really my training. In a way it’s improv because you still have a script, but your improving how it comes out. It’s fluid, and that’s exciting. The great thing about doing a show that’s yet to be drawn is that your in a room with a bunch of people and it’s like doing a radio play, and you get to rally act along side everyone and play off of them. That’s a whole different dynamic and is terrific, but anime is all in your head, you often don’t hear what the other actors have done in English so you’re imagining how they said it and are reacting to that, so it’s a little more complex.
NB: I think it was Linda Ballantyne, who was the voice of Sailor Moon, said that she had to adapt to the mouth movements; you have to say the line, but it has to adapt to the sometimes exaggerated mouth movement of the character on screen, and that was hard to get used to.
Taylor: Yeah, and I worked on Cubix, which was originally done in Korea, and for that, which I didn’t know, the language ends in an open sound, so we often had to change the lines because the end of the sentence was open whereas in English we usually end closed. Also, and I’m in the current Sailor Moon, from 1995 and forward we use Pro Tools, so its much easier to dub something because they can shift it around. When you’re talking about Speed Racer in the 60s and 70s they’re using tape, so if you didn’t get it right it would have to spliced; they couldn’t just move things like they do on the computer now. Things can be tweaked a little bit, but when you have a great engineer working with it’s like having the world’s best surgeon, especially when you’re working on anime. It’s not all about you, the engineer plays a major part in getting it all right as well as the director. It’s never just a one person show. Without the whole team of people working together you wouldn’t get the quality that you get. On Pokemon there were so many people that really cared about that show, the writers meticulously watched the screen to make sure [dialogue] fit perfectly and then we worked on that. It’s not like we just got a raw script and had to wing it all. There was always great team work.
NB: There was always that feeling, and I was definitely too old for Pokemon when it first came out, but even just glancing at the cartoon occasionally there was a feeling that this was about more than promoting the characters in terms of the card game and Nintendo games, and what-have-you. There was a sense that they were creating its own separate thing with its own characters and story.
Taylor: I think it really had heart and that’s because everyone loved working on it. When you think back to whenever the first time you saw it, it’s just a wacky little show and yet there was something so endearing about it. And from the beginning, there was so much you could relate to: Ash gets Pikachu and they certain don’t get along right away, and that’s something that happens in all our lives, right? Your first day of school you meet some people, they rub you the wrong way and then they become your best friend, but you have to work at. All of that stuff we can all identify with and because of that, the show really had heart and I’m just amazed because I really do believe it did just start as a commercial for the games, but it became a lot more than that.
NB: For my last question, you did mention at the top that you are a pokemon go player so I am curious about your avatar in the game: Are you playing as Ash or are you playing as Veronica?
(Laughs) I’m playing as myself. I have long hair so my avatar has long hair, but I did choose Team Valour because I thought it was the most Ash looking with the red. I was going to play more as Ash, but I couldn’t find anything in the outfits they give you that looked enough like Ash to make me feel that it was the right choice. And secondly, I like playing myself. I like being a girl that can go out and catch Pokemon and just being myself even though my hair looks better in the game than it does in real life.
Veronica Taylor will be at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto from September 1-4. Fans will have the opportunity to not just get photos and autographs with the actress, but they’ll have the chance to play Pokemon DS Party along with 20 others, hosted by Taylor herself. For more details go to the Fan Expo website.
FAN EXPO CANADA™ boasts the largest comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming event in Canada, the third largest in North America. It is packed with exciting family-friendly activities and celebrity guests including the legendary comic creator Stan Lee who is making his last Canadian convention appearance, the iconic Mark Hamill (Star Wars franchise), William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek 50th anniversary), Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and more! The all-ages pop culture convention expects to host over 140,000 fans at 750,000 sq ft of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the four-day event September 1-4, 2016.