It’s not easy being Pika.

Considering that every word Pikachu has said in a Pokémon anime or video game over the last 20 or so years is some variation of the Pocket Monster’s own name, you might be surprised to know that the character has an actual voice actress, Ikue Otani. You might also be a little jealous that she gets to voice the adorable mascot of not just one, but two of Japan’s most popular entertainment franchises, as she’s also the voice actress for One Piece’s Tony Tony Chopper.

However, that’s not to say playing the role of Pikachu is a cushy job for Otani. “When I first started, people would make fun of me by saying ‘Lucky you-all you have to say is “Pika pika,”’” recalled Otani in an interview for Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun earlier this month.

In actuality, though, her job is much more involved. Limited as Pikachu’s dialogue may be in terms of vocabulary, it’s not like Otani can just show up at the start of each new Pokémon installment and lay down a half-dozen sound clips to be mixed and matched for the rest of the season. Each time Pikachu speaks, he’s conveying a different emotion, which in turn requires a different delivery with a new recording.

You wouldn’t know that just from looking at the script, though. “All that the scripts have for my lines is something like ‘Pika Pikachu,’ but if I don’t thoroughly understand what Pikachu is trying to say, and plan out my performance accordingly, the proper feeling won’t come across to the audience at all,” Otani explained.

The voice actress says she perceives Pikachu’s emotional state as being like that of a small, innocent child, which is also the reason she thinks young kids can enjoy the Pokémon theatrical shorts that feature no human characters or intelligible dialogue. “When they can understand the emotion, even if the words don’t make sense, I feel like I’ve won some sort of prize,” she said.

Otani also revealed that she’s a bit of a would-be Pokémon Master herself, as she enjoys playing the series’ video game chapters. Since many situations that first appear in the games later occur in the Pokémon anime, she feels that having first-hand gaming experience helps her better empathize with viewers who have also gone through similar scenarios in the Nintendo titles.

In other words, even when Otani is playing, she’s still working hard to be the best Pikachu she can.

Source: Jin