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Earlier this year Ash Ketchum finally hung up his Pokémon protagonist hat. The adventure may never be over for Ash, as he and his buddy Pikachu headed off for parts unknown, and it certainly isn’t for real-world fans, as the anime continues via Pokémon Horizons and two new protagonists: Liko and Roy, the latter of whom is voiced by Supa-Star Anjali Kunapaneni!
But, with the end of any era, we tend to get nostalgic, so it’s natural to look back at those early days with Ash and his friends and reflect upon what made those years so special to us. What is it exactly that captivated us all? While Ash and Pikachu were undoubtedly key to our captivation, today we’re going to give thanks to an unsung hero of Pokémon’s early years, Supa-Star Eric Stuart, or as you might know him, Brock and James.
There’s no doubt that Brock and James are two of Pokémon’s most iconic characters and so much of that has to do with the life and energy that voice actor Eric Stuart imbued them with in the show’s American dub. Like most of the original American voice cast, Eric worked on the series for its first eight seasons, before the dub was taken over by another production company.
With a background in music and music production, Eric sort of fell into voice acting by accident with the classic ‘90s anime, Slayers. However, he debuted his most iconic role in Pokémon’s fifth episode, with the introduction of the Pewter City Gym Leader, Brock. In the original video games, Brock was depicted as a fairly stoic character, shirtless with his arms crossed across his chest like a martial artist. He was as tough as the Rock-type Pokémon he specialised in. And while Brock’s initial anime appearance does radiate a similar energy, that version of the character is gradually revealed to not only have a softer side, but to be downright fun and full of personality.
Obviously, a lot of that comes from the writing and the original Japanese performances that the American cast worked from, but praise must be given to Eric for his varied and nuanced performance. Brock could be anything from tender and caring, to passionate and determined, to just unashamedly goofy, and Eric sold them all with gusto. He even managed to sing a number of different comedic songs in character, which really demonstrates his skill as an actor and a musician. Whether he be a wise and protective big brother or a lovesick, immature kid, Eric brought Brock to life in a way that endeared him to millions of kids all over the world.
He didn’t just do it with one character though, he did it with two! While he didn’t voice James for his first few episodes, Eric took over the role from Ted Lewis, starting with Episode 8, The Road to the Pokemon League. While Jessie and James had initially been envisioned as serious threats, it was quickly realised that they were much more comedic than dangerous, and Eric’s performance really sold that fact.
As with Brock, he worked a whole range of voices for James, with the character going from quiet and mysterious (or at least the character tried to be), to cackling with a high-pitched giggle. And that’s not to mention the countless, uniquely-voiced disguises that James donned over the course of the show. He managed to make James more than just a cartoon villain, or a piece of comic relief, he managed to fill the character with a heart and humanity that made audiences – even kids – invested in his story.
Who didn’t feel a tug on their heartstrings when we saw glimpses of James’ unhappy childhood? And despite being a villain, we all totally bought his genuine love for his Pokémon, not to mention the dysfunctional family dynamic he shared with his teammates. Along with the equally wonderful Rachael Lillis voicing Jessie and several talented actors voicing Meowth, Eric helped to make Team Rocket a beloved trio, and for many, the best part of the anime.
To cap it all off, Eric also voiced countless Pokémon on the show, most notably, Ash’s Squirtle and Charmeleon. These are perhaps some of Eric’s most challenging, yet underrated performances on the show, given that he had to convey emotion and meaning through the repetition of single words (since Pokémon can only say their own names). Think back to all of those times we felt Squirtle’s determination in battle, his sense of humour, or his love for Ash, and consider how hard it must have been to convey that range of emotions through variations of the same word. Squirtle, Squirtle, Squirtle!
Every member of the Pokémon cast and crew deserves recognition for their tireless work over the last twenty-five years, there’s no doubt about that. But as one of the original voices of the show – a voice which many of us grew up with – Eric truly deserves the thanks of a generation. For every time we laughed or cried with Brock or James, or were inspired to set out on our own Game Boy Pokémon journey, we owe Mr. Stuart a debt of gratitude.
Seriously though, that James laugh is iconic.