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Kensho Ono Interview
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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | Nico Nico News: Kensho Ono Interview
On the morning of June 17th, 2022 the entertainment website Nico Nico News Original posted an interview with Mr. Kensho Ono, the voice actor who played Alan in the Pocket Monsters XY and Pocket Monsters XY&Z TV series, to commemorate his character's return to the Pocket Monsters (2019) TV series.
Below is an English translation of the original Japanese interview.
When he found out about he'd be winning he thought "Even though I already knew from reading the script I was still really happy!"; Kensho Ono reflects on playing the popular character Alan on Pocket Monsters for the first time in six years.
The Pocket Monsters animated series, now in its 25th year on the air, is gearing up for the most exciting spectacle in its history.
The curtain is finally rising on the "Pokémon World Championships," a tournament to determine who's the strongest Pokémon battler. The Masters Eight, an octet of Trainers who've climbed their way to the top in the rankings from all over the world, are about to get this Masters Tournament started.
Participants will include the Sinnoh Champion Shirona, the Hoenn Champion Daigo, the Kanto and Johto Champion Wataru, and more! These Champion-level Trainers from the history of the Pocket Monsters animated series will be coming back, one after the other, to compete in the tournament.
Social media was set ablaze as soon as the list of Trainers participating in the Masters Tournament was first released. A lot of people were asking "Which one will Satoshi go up against?" while other fans even came up with their own homemade tournament brackets to predict how things will go.
One of the participants garnering a lot of attention is Alan, Satoshi's rival from the Pocket Monsters XY series and the person who won the Kalos League Miare Tournament. It's been about six years since Alan last appeared but his popularity has been so everlasting that people are still talking about him, even today.
In the Kalos League finals, Satoshi's Gekkouga and Alan's Lizardon went up against each other in one of the most outstanding battles in the history of the Pocket Monsters animated series, one that people are still talking about even now.
This time around, we interviewed the voice of Alan himself, Mr. Kensho Ono.
In this interview we'll talk about what to look forward to in this upcoming tournament, of course, but we'll also talk about Mr. Ono's memories of working on Pocket Monsters XY six years ago. We'll also talk about his wife Kana Hanazawa, who plays Koharu in the current TV series, and hear a story that can only come from a Pocket Monsters animated series husband-and-wife duo.
As we look ahead to when the Masters Tournament will start airing we hope you'll read this interview and come to like Alan even more.
Interview / Text: Shungo Kanazawa
Photography: Shohei Kanazawa
Hair and Make-up: yuto
Lizardon has a special place in his heart
-- Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. It's been about six years since Alan's been on the show and there's a lot we want to ask you about.
Kensho Ono: Sure, go ahead!
-- But before we get started, I'd like to ask if you had ever played the Pocket Monsters games before?
Mr. Ono: I did! I was really into them around the time I was in elementary and high school. Like everyone else I was playing Pocket Monsters Red & Green.
-- Did you have a favorite Pokémon back then?
Mr. Ono: Yeah, when I was younger I really liked Mew and Mewtwo. I also really liked the legendary Pokémon Thunder.
-- Alan's partner is Lizardon, so does that mean you picked Hitokage as your starter Pokémon back in the day?
Mr. Ono: Actually, I chose Zenigame (laughs). Sorry, I know that wasn't the answer you were looking for (laughs)
-- It's OK, don't worry about it (laughs). But you must have come around to Lizardon thanks to playing Alan, right?
Mr. Ono: Oh, absolutely. For me, Lizardon has a special place in my heart. We even have stuffed Lizardon all over our house and everything.
-- You have Lizardon stuff in your house! So that reminds me, your wife Kana Hanazawa plays the role of Koharu, right? Since Wanpachi is Koharu's Pokémon does that mean you also have a bunch of Wanpachi stuff in your house?
Mr. Ono: Uh, let me think…my wife really likes Yadon, actually, and so we have a ton of Yadon stuff in our house (laughs). We've got Yadon stickers, Yadon cushions in our living room, etc.
I'm happy I was paired up with Lizardon
-- When playing a Pokémon Trainer, the partner Pokémon you're paired up with is also very important.
Mr. Ono: Yeah, I'm happy I was paired up with Lizardon. Before I started go the role of Alan I only knew the first 151 Pokémon, but now I look back and see that there are all these new ones I have no idea about!
-- Yeah, more Pokémon are discovered every time a new game comes out and right now there are more than 900 of them.
Mr. Ono: If they had paired Alan up with one of those newer Pokémon then I would have had to study how to say its name and then get myself to the point where I could say it as if it was second nature. But with Lizardon, I didn't have to do any of that extra prep work.
-- Oh I see, so trying to call out a Pokémon's name you haven't gotten used to is no good.
Mr. Ono: That's right. And so for someone of my generation, who grew up playing with Pokémon like Lizardon in real time, getting to see it in action makes me really happy.
-- Ah, I'm in the same generation as you and so I can understand completely.
Mr. Ono: You get it, right! Lizardon can do things like Mega Evolve1 and Kyodaimax2 and so it continues to be in the spotlight, even now. The staff at Pokémon really love those Pokémon who've been with them since the beginning and it shows, and being able to feel that love they have for them makes me happy.
 Mega Evolution
Mega Evolution first appeared in the Pocket Monsters X / Y video games series and is said to be an evolution that surpasses evolution. Mega Evolution happens when a Trainer and Pokémon have strong bonds, when a Trainer with a Mega Ring that houses a mysterious stone called a Keystone and a Pokémon holding a Mega Stone resonate with one another. Not all Pokémon are capable of Mega Evolving but Lizardon can.
Daimax appeared starting with the Pocket Monsters Sword & Shield video games and is a new phenomenon where Pokémon become giants. Certain Pokémon are also able to do something called Kyodaimax. Pokémon who are able to Kyodaimax don't just become big; they change into a form that shows off their individuality even more.
The mutual trust with the Sound Director Masafumi Mima
-- Now I want to shift gears and ask you about Pocket Monsters XY, where Alan was Satoshi's rival. How did you wind up getting the role of Alan in the first place?
Mr. Ono: I got in through the man who's been the sound director for the Pokémon series since the very beginning, Mr. Masafumi Mima3. Ever since I worked with Mr. Mima on Kuroko's Basketball I had been getting a lot of different offers for these big parts, and with Alan I think I definitely got the role thanks to a recommendation from Mr. Mima.
 Masafumi Mima
In addition to the Pocket Monsters series, Masafumi Mima is the sound director on such works as the Macross series, Initial D, Card Captor Sakura, Full Metal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and many more.
-- You played the main character in Kuroko's Basketball, Tetsuya Kuroko. What are the other roles you got offered by Mr. Mima?
Mr. Ono: Well to be clear, I auditioned for my role in Kuroko's Basketball. But when it comes to the roles I got offered, those would be Floch Forster from Attack on Titan, Oboro Shirakumo from My Hero Academia, and Tadashi Kikuchi from Sk∞, among others.
-- Wow. That's a lot of really beautiful characters, huh?
Mr. Ono: Yeah, it kind of is. Alan's kind of the same, but I'm also happy to get characters who give off this aura of "there's more to this guy then what he lets on."
-- When we first meet Alan he's already in the middle of a Pokémon battle. So you had to start out saying things like "Roar out, Lizardon! Use Flamethrower!" right off the bat. How did you go about developing his character?
Mr. Ono: When I watched the TV series as a kid I formed this idea of what I thought a Pokémon battle should be. So when I got in the recording booth I thought back to those ideas and tried playing it the way I had imagined. And throughout the whole thing the sound director Mr. Mima would tell me "If you have any trouble you'll let me know, right?" It was a very reassuring work environment.
-- It sounds like you were able to build up a mutual trust with sound director Mima.
Mr. Ono: Mr. Mima is not the kind of person who'll ignore tiny little problems and just give his OK anyway. But what's great about him is that instead of having this stern, unmovable idea of what a character should sound like Mr. Mima is flexible enough to work with the actors so they can create the character together.
The Kalos League finals, where Mr. Ono and Alan became one
-- When people think of Alan they immediately go to the end of Pocket Monsters XY where he had that incredibly memorable showdown with Satoshi in the league finals. What do you remember from those recording sessions?
Mr. Ono: I remember the feeling the weight of it being the finals and also how much I wanted Alan to win.
-- In the end, Alan did end up winning. When you read that part of the script you must have been really happy, right?
Mr. Ono: Oh yeah, I was really happy (laughs). I really was very, very happy.
-- Satoshi's Gekkouga was -- and continues to be -- a really popular Pokémon, and back then fans on social media were wondering "Is this the series where Satoshi finally wins?" 4
Mr. Ono: Well, all I can say is I'm sorry (laughs)
 From the time the TV series started in 1997 up until that point in the show Satoshi had never won a Pokémon League. He would eventually go on to win his first league in 22 years in 2019 during Pocket Monsters Sun & Moon.
-- You say you're sorry, but you also said you wanted to win.
Mr. Ono: Well yeah, of course. My desire for my character to come out the winner was really strong, and I think Alan obviously went into his battle with Satoshi with the intention of beating him. At that point, Alan and I became one.
-- You could take those shared feelings with you into the recording booth.
Mr. Ono: I could, yes. For that battle I really did give it my all, so much so that I was thinking how I hope my voice doesn't give out in the middle of recording. But, Mr. Mima would stop me and say that when you put too much power into your voice you end up sounding like you're merely putting on an act, and that in turn actually makes your character sound weaker, not stronger. And so I remember it being really difficult to find the proper balance in my performance.
-- I see. Well, Alan is a bit older than Satoshi and is someone I feel is usually depicted as calm and collected.
Mr. Ono: That's right. But in the league finals he's not so cool and composed and wants to fight with everything he's got. But also, when Alan finds himself going up against someone like Daigo, someone who may be stronger than him, then I think that's when his competitive side comes out. So when I was playing Alan I had to keep in mind how aggressive he can get when he's up against someone really strong.
-- In the last episode of the Pocket Monsters XY series, you have a conversation with Satoshi where you say "Let's battle again!" Even if you didn't think Alan would ever appear again, did you have a strong desire to battle Satoshi again?
Mr. Ono: I really did. When it comes to the Kalos League Finals I'd have been happy with either one of them winning; it was such a fantastic battle either way. And with Satoshi I think it's possible we'll see him go up against Alan again someday.
Kana Hanazawa said "Dande's supposed to be the best of the best," and that got me worried
-- In 2019, the new Pocket Monsters series started. In this series, which is a culmination of all the series that had come before it, your wife Mrs. Kana Hanazawa has become a regular member of the cast. What impressions do you get from here being on the show?
Mr. Ono: My wife really seems to be having a lot of fun. I can tell that she's enjoying herself in the recording booth.
-- Do you talk about work when you're at home together?
Mr. Ono: We do, yes. When it was decided that Alan would appear again I told her "Hey, he's going up against Dande!" and she replied "But Dande's supposed to be the best of the best…are you gonna be OK!?" And that's when I became really worried (laughs)
-- You can only have this conversation in the first place because the two of you are actors on the show who are also married to each other. This time around, Alan appearing in the Masters Tournament marks his first appearance in six years.
Mr. Ono: This time around I told myself that I would show everyone how much stronger Alan's gotten these last six years. Alan has achieved Rank 6 in the Pokémon World Championships, which means he's the sixth strongest Pokémon Trainer in the world. We don't actually get to see this in the series itself but I think Alan had been working really hard all this time, gathering new Mega Stones to Mega Evolve his Pokémon, to climb all the way up to Rank 6. I hope we get to see these moments at some point.
-- The person you're battling is really "the best of the best" and so I think the show's viewers are excited by what kind of battle they can expect.
Mr. Ono: When I was in the booth I had the desire to win burning inside me (laughs). I hope you to enjoy watching Alan in battle and the bonds he shares with Lizardon. And since this tournament is kind of an All-Stars battle from all the series that have come before it I think you'll be able to look forward to seeing who will be pitted against who as the tournament progresses. That goes for Alan as well, of course.
-- It really seems like we're in for the most exciting spectacle in the series' history.
Mr. Ono: I think so too. When I played Pocket Monsters Red & Green as an elementary school student I thought the Four Heavenly Kings and the Champion were really, really cool. And now I get to count Alan among those ranks! I'm so, so proud of that.
-- At the end of the day Alan is one of the eight strongest Trainers in the world.
Mr. Ono: And I'm so happy about that. When my nephews get a little older maybe I'll be able to show off to them a little bit (laughs)
A show where everyone has a hand in making the characters
-- It's about time to go, but we have one last question. You play these popular characters, including Alan, who have tens of thousands of fans. Do you feel any sort of pressure because of this?
Mr. Ono: I basically don't. Of course, if I'm playing a character who was really popular in the original manga or game or whatever then sure, I'm a bit on edge until that character's debut episode airs. But other than that I basically don't feel all that stressed.
-- I see.
Mr. Ono: I think the reason why is because I can't think of what I'm putting out there as solely the product of my own work. I talk with the director and the rest of the staff and we all have a hand in making the characters who they are and so I can be proud of the work we all do.
-- It's the confidence that comes with working on something as a team.
Mr. Ono: That's right. Everyone already has the confidence to say "that's it, we got it!" and then put it out into the world and so I get to think "Don't worry, it'll be fine."
-- And I think the end result that is Alan, as well as the Pocket Monsters animated series as a whole, are all wonderful. I'm looking forward to watching!
Mr. Ono: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the Masters Tournament!
Pocket Monsters the animated series
Airs on TV-Tokyo affiliates every Friday from 6:55 PM. Airdates my differ depending on your region; check your local listings for more details.
Episode 115 "The Curtain Rises! The Masters Tournament!!" Summary
The curtain is finally rising on the Masters Tournament, the battle that will determine who stands at the top of Pokémon battles! Satoshi has come to Shoot Stadium in the Galar Region to compete in the tournament. Can Satoshi, who dreams of facing off against Dande, win his way up the tournament ranks!? The greatest Pokémon battles in history are about to start! First up is a battle between Dande and Alan. Let's get things started!
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