The Pokémon anime has been broadcast on television here in the west for seventeen years now. That’s a lot of episodes and stories over the course of such a long time, but one constant has been the presence of voice actress Ikue Otani in the role of Pikachu. Otani recently sat down for an interview with Manga University where she went over her history as the character and revealed some fascinating details about Pikachu and how she came into the job that might be a surprise to fans!
Otani Thought She Was Auditioning For Meowth
When Otani made her way to the auditions for Pokémon, she was laboring away under the assumption that she’d be tackling the role of Team Rocket’s chatty cat partner!
“There were many other people auditioning for other parts. So when they called for Pikachu, all the people with Pikachu scripts went over. I didn’t go because I didn’t have the script. Then, someone came over and told me to come, but I said I wasn’t there for Pikachu. He said, ‘Yes you are.’ (Laughs).”
Though the original Game Boy games had already launched and were a rapidly-growing phenomenon in Japan, Otani and her colleagues were a bit clueless as to what Pokémon even was.
“Well, I was invited to an audition, and there [sic] many other voice actors there as well. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, the Pokémon Game Boy games were already big hits in Japan. I didn’t have a clue! There were Pokémon posters all over the room at the audition, and production officials were telling me that the characters were really popular among kids. All I could say was, ‘Oh, really?’ The other voice actors auditioning for the roles had the same reaction. None of us knew how popular these characters really were!”
Only Otani Does Pikachu’s Voice
With the exception of a handful of episodes, and despite the overhaul of the English voice acting crew for the Pokémon series back in 2006, Pikachu has only ever been voiced by Otani. Since Pikachu’s name is the same all around the world (some Pokémon have different names in Japan versus other regions), Otani has been the lone actress to portray the character– including for toys!
“No one else has ever done the voice of the Pikachu owned by Satoshi (Ash). There are other Pikachus owned by other trainers, and other actors do the voices of those.”
Pokémon Were Going to Learn to Speak Japanese
Saying one’s name over and over might seem like a poor method of communication, but for Pokémon it works… though it wasn’t always going to stay that way. Otani revealed that the lovable pocket monsters were once going to learn Japanese!
“But even the production side wasn’t really sure how they would depict these characters in an animated series. At first, they thought the monsters would be [sic] learn how to speak. So, in the beginning, Pikachu would only say its name, but eventually it would start speaking Japanese. They eventually changed their minds on that, though, and most of the Pokémon only speak their names.”
“As I’ve mentioned, Pikachu was supposed to learn a language, like a baby learns a language, and that’s the way I was doing it at first. Then, a few months later, the producers told me Pikachu wasn’t going to speak. At the time, I was disappointed. But because Pikachu doesn’t speak Japanese, children all over the world can hear my voice. So it turned out OK. I’ve since given up any dream of Pikachu ever learning or speaking Japanese.”
There’s plenty more to the interview; click here and read in its entirety Otani’s insights on playing the iconic Pokémon!