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Sarah Natochenny ‘went through all the stages of grief’ saying goodbye to Ash Ketchum

Sarah Natochenny ‘went through all the stages of grief’ saying goodbye to Ash Ketchum

You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard Sarah Natochenny’s voice — especially if you’re a cartoon fan. After all, the actress has played Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum almost half of her life.

For 17 years, Natochenny provided the English-dubbed voice for Ash and several characters across the Pokémon universe. She started voice-over work for the role in 2006, when she was 18.

“There’s a reason that I [played] Ash,” Natochenny, 36, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It took me a while to recognize that, but when you book a role, that’s because there’s a part of you in that role. So I knew that there had to be an adventurous, protagonistic spirit in me that’s coming through.”

Playing Pokémon

Natochenny says getting the role of Ash gave her a “real sense of responsibility” to encourage young viewers to “be the very best like no one ever was.”

She joined the ninth season of Pokémon after replacing Veronica Taylor as the voice of Ash and also lent her voice to 21 of the catchable creatures on the series, including Buneary and Wingull.

Still, voice acting wasn’t a goal of hers, at least initially.

“I wanted to do theater and film, and suddenly this audition fell in my lap, and I was like, ‘OK, cool, that’s amazing, and I just happen to be right for it,’” she explains. “You never know where life is going to take you, you just have to be prepared for those moments and accepting of them when they come.”

Sarah Natochenny was  the voice of Ash Ketchum on Pokémon from 2006 to 2023.Sarah Natochenny was  the voice of Ash Ketchum on Pokémon from 2006 to 2023.

Sarah Natochenny was the voice of Ash Ketchum on Pokémon from 2006 to 2023. (Steven Simione/Getty Images) (Steven Simione via Getty Images)

She says fans are always shocked to hear that a woman is behind Ash.

“Every convention I go to, especially kids, they’re like ‘You’re a girl?’ It’s really cute. It makes women see that you can play anybody, even a boy. You can do anything you want,” Natochenny says. “I have fun stories, sad stories, touching stories, moving stories. It’s everything. … Our show inspires people to be the very best like no one ever was, and it’s nice to be a part of that.”

One of her most memorable encounters was with a 19-year-old fan.

“He wanted an autograph all the way down his calf, big. He was like, ‘Make it huge.’ And I signed it, and he’s like, ‘All right, now add an ugly Pikachu drawing.’ So I did that, and he came back the next day and it was tattooed on his leg!” she says.

Saying goodbye to Ash

When she found out in December 2022 that her role as Ash on the 10-episode Netflix series Pokémon: To Be a Pokémon Master was over, her “reaction was sadness, extreme sadness.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” she explains. “Then I just kind of went through all the stages of grief — acceptance and then looking to the future and knowing that this will always be with me, and it’ll always be a part of me, and it’ll always be a part of all the people that [Ash] affected.”

In a behind-the-scenes clip she shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, she got emotional “watching the freshly dubbed last scene” in the studio.

What’s next

Even though Natochenny will no longer be catching Pokémon, she isn’t done with voice-over work. This year, she joined Season 2 of the Manga series Tokyo Revengers as Yuzuha.

In Tokyo Revengers, 26-year-old Takemichi Hanagaki discovers the murders of his middle school ex-girlfriend and her younger brother. After being pushed in front of a train, Takemichi travels back in time to 2005 in the hopes of warning the younger brother of the siblings’ impending death.

“Yuzuha is an awesome, badass kind of girl, and it’s really fun to play them because I typically have worked in children’s animation and this is a more adult show. There’s violence and gore and cursing, and it’s fun,” she explains.

As for future projects, she’s using the similarities she has found with her longtime character to keep up momentum.

“You got to keep going. Especially in the business that I’m in, you have to keep going. You’re going to keep getting rejected, you’re going to keep losing, you’re going to think that people are against you who aren’t necessarily against you but you still feel that way, and you just have to push through and keep going through all of it. You have to be incredibly strong. That’s Ash,” Natochenny says.

Tokyo Revengers Season 2 is currently streaming on Hulu.

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