Saying goodbye to Pikachu and Ash, plus how Pokémon changed media forever : It's Been a Minute It's the end of an era. After more than 25 years, The Pokémon Company is closing the book on the adventures of Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. To celebrate the cultural impact of this dynamic duo – and of the Pokémon franchise – Brittany Luse sits down with actor Sarah Natochenny, who's voiced Ash since 2006. Sarah talks about growing up with a character who stays 10 years old, and how fans have been the lifeblood of the show. Then, Brittany sits down with Dexter Thomas, VICE News correspondent and Japanese culture critic, and Daniel Dockery, author of Monster Kids: How Pokémon Taught a Generation to Catch Them All. They explore how Pokémon transformed gaming and children's TV in the U.S. and became one of the biggest media franchises in the world.

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Saying goodbye to Pikachu and Ash, plus how Pokémon changed media forever

Saying goodbye to Pikachu and Ash, plus how Pokémon changed media forever

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It's the end of an era. After more than 25 years, The Pokémon Company is closing the book on the adventures of Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. To celebrate the cultural impact of this dynamic duo – and of the Pokémon franchise – Brittany Luse sits down with actor Sarah Natochenny, who's voiced Ash since 2006. Sarah talks about growing up with a character who stays 10 years old, and how fans have been the lifeblood of the show. Then, Brittany sits down with Dexter Thomas, VICE News correspondent and Japanese culture critic, and Daniel Dockery, author of Monster Kids: How Pokémon Taught a Generation to Catch Them All. They explore how Pokémon transformed gaming and children's TV in the U.S. and became one the biggest media franchises in the world.

The interview highlights below are adapted from an episode of It's Been A Minute. Follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and keep up with us on Twitter. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Pokémon's origins and its message to kids

Brittany Luse: Daniel, you've written a whole book on Pokémon. I want you to take us back to Pokémon's early beginnings, to where the inspiration came from. How did Pokémon come about?

Daniel Dockery: Post-occupation, Japan sees a massive amount of economic growth and urbanization. And growing up around that time is a young boy named Satoshi Tajiri. He loves collecting bugs and finding bugs and searching through forests and going through streams, to the extent that in a Time magazine interview later, he said that his friends nicknamed him "Dr. Bug."

He loves this, but he's watching everything get paved over. On one hand, this kind of destroys natural spaces a lot. It also leads him to his next love, which is arcades – and during the '70s and '80s they're seeing a kind of boom. And it eventually becomes time to make his dream game, Pokémon, which is all built around this relationship between a natural world and... a swiftly urbanizing world.

Pokémon as an 'asset class'

Luse: A huge part of the franchise is the trading cards. For people who aren't in the know, Dexter, what is going on with the Pokémon trading card economy today?

Dexter Thomas: The Pokémon trading card economy, even when we were kids, was pretty wild. I remember hearing there was this place in the mall that apparently you would take Charizard's if it was in good condition and [give you] $100. We thought that was incredible. Kids were getting their Pokémon card stolen because these things were worth a lot of money.

Now it's a lot more. Recently the wider public has realized, because of a few famous YouTubers, that Pokémon cards are an asset. I've talked to so many people just in my own reporting who collect Pokémon cards. And they've never played the game. Don't know how to play the game. I spoke to a dude who's built a multimillion-dollar business buying low and selling high. He showed me just a couple of his really prized cards. It's hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was holding Lamborghini money in my hands. One thing that a couple of collectors have told me is that Pokémon is actually a better investment than sports cards.

Luse: Why is that?

Thomas: Because Charizard is never going to have a bad day. He's never going to have a bad season. Charizard will also never get canceled, because he's never going to say something racist or sexist or homophobic. Charizard is a safe bet. ... Pikachu's safe. He's never said anything wrong because Pikachu only says his own name.

A trailblazing franchise

Thomas: One of the things I think that Pokémon isn't given enough credit for is really breaking down the barrier, frankly, of Japanese entertainment or Japanese anything being OK in the United States. This was an era in which the same kids who were playing Pokémon had also probably watched Power Rangers, not knowing that Power Rangers is actually a Japanese show. There was a sentiment in the United States that Asian people were not welcome, they certainly weren't welcome in entertainment. Nintendo bought the Seattle Mariners and people were not happy about that. Think about Sailor Moon, they changed all the names, to give them the most American names they could. ... I can't say that Pokémon changed everything, but I really think there's a before and after Pokémon.

Voicing an iconic character

Luse: You are not the only person to voice Ash in English, but you're our longest-running Ash. How did you become Ash Ketchum?

Sarah Natochenny: I was a rhythmic gymnast. I won a bronze medal IN the Junior Olympics. So my parents were like, "you're not going to sit around doing nothing." I was 12, 13 years old. ...So they put me in acting school and it was such a natural fit. I absolutely loved it. And I did not try to get into voice acting. I wanted to be on camera. And I signed with an agency, I got a manager, and that's how I got the audition for Pokémon. I didn't know what dubbing was. I learned how to dub at my audition. They kept me there for half an hour because I sounded right. And I got it.

Luse: What has it been like to go on this adventure with Ash for the past [17] years?

Natochenny: The time really flew. I'm doing this job like once, twice a week. So you know, I fell into a rhythm with it. And I wasn't doing the Comic-Cons then. 2021 was the year where I got into Comic-Cons. I realized people really love what I do. In theater, you have the feedback of an audience right away, and I've barely ever had that. When you're doing voiceover, you're in a booth by yourself and now I'm in a closet by myself. I'm in my home studio most of the time, so I get nothing. I don't even get the love of my director. So to go out there and have people line up and meet me and do the panels and hear the applause and feel the energy of a group of people being like, "Yes, we love what you do" – for an actor, there's something to it.

Ash Ketchum's impact on her and on fans

Luse: How did you feel when it was shared with you that The Pokémon Company was ending Ash's arc on the show?

Natochenny: You know, sad. I'm really sad. It felt like someone died...

Luse: There are some fans that are newer, but there are also some fans who have been with Ash the whole time. What's the thing that keeps even grown up Pokémon lovers coming back to the show, to the games, into the franchise again and again?

Natochenny: I think it's a couple of different things. I think primarily it's comfort and nostalgia and it feels like I'm coming home to my friends. And in the world that we live in today, I think we can all use a lot of that. So I think that's why people stick with it even into adulthood. But beyond that, his tenacity, his 'can do' spirit is his love for his Pokémon, his love for his competitors. I think these are all wonderful lessons for people of all ages to learn. And that's, I think, why he's so universal and beloved.

This kid has been with me for 17 years. It's like, to not have him be a part of my week anymore is definitely very jarring and very strange. I'm weeks out of this now, so I've gotten used to it. But I was crying a lot. It helps to think about the fans – it's like sitting on a plane and it's really turbulent, but there's a kid sitting next to you, so you've got to keep it cool for the kid, otherwise the kid's going to freak out. So I came up with something to say to the fans [on YouTube].

This episode of 'It's Been a Minute' was produced by Barton Girdwood, Jessica Mendoza, Alexis Williams, Liam McBain and Corey Antonio Rose. Our intern is Jamal Michel. It was edited by Jessica Placzek. Engineering support came from Gilly Moon, Josh Newell and Tre Watson. Our fact checker was Julia Wohl. Our executive producer is Veralyn Williams. Our VP of programming is Yolanda Sangweni and our senior VP of programming is Anya Grundmann.