What About Kairi?

*The following post contains spoilers for some of the final cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts III. For a less spoilery post, please refer to the review I posted last week.

Kairi is the only original Princess of Heart in the Kingdom Hearts series. She has been there since the very beginning when we saw her playing on the Destiny Islands with Sora and Riku. While Sora and Riku demonstrated enormous growth since the first game, Kairi still remains very much static. It's been 13 years since the first game, but her role still follows many of the same outdated tropes as much older video game princesses. While being a damsel in distress is not necessarily as bad as it's cracked up to be, a princess character does need to have some sort of redeeming quality to make up for her lack of physical prowess. For Cinderella, it was her unwavering loyalty to her stepfamily and her late mother despite the tragic events of her life that would have turned anyone else into a bitter cynic. For Snow White, it was her ability to see the best in everyone she met including the Huntsman, the seven dwarfs, and unfortunately, the Evil Queen in disguise. Kairi is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky girl who places all of her faith in Sora, but there's not much else to her even though the series has had numerous sequels and spin-offs that they could have used to further develop her personality and backstory.

At the end of Kingdom Hearts II, Kairi is briefly shown wielding a flowery keyblade that she intends to use to help Sora on his quest to defeat Xehanort and the heartless. Yet, she only manages to swing it around once or twice before the story turns its focus back to Sora and Riku. In the epilog of Dream Drop Distance, the seeds are planted for Kairi to begin her training under Yen Sid and become a more active participant in Sora's adventures. So, when Kingdom Hearts III came along, hopes were raised high to see Kairi gain new powers and join Sora as a Guardian of the Light. Even though she does become one of the seven guardians after a series of off-screen training sessions with her new ally Lea/Axel, this training never seems to pay off. The last few battles of Kingdom Hearts III portray Kairi being consistently defended by the stronger men from the game before getting knocked out and even "killed." The last thing Sora says about her is that he spent too much time away trusting that she would be all right without him. The problem is that we never know what she was doing during all this time she spent waiting for him to return on the Destiny Islands.

The idea of a princess needing to be rescued all the time makes sense in video games with more simplistic plots such as Super Mario Brothers, which is not meant to be taken seriously. The fact that Princess Peach is always getting kidnapped is more of a running gag than a representation of women in the Mushroom Kingdom. However, Kingdom Hearts has a very complex story with characters who are tormented in one way or another from something that happened in their past. After 13 years, all we know about Kairi's past is that she was once a princess of Radiant Garden and that her grandmother used to tell her stories about the ancient Keyblade War. She even tells Aqua that her memories of her days before meeting Sora and Riku on the Destiny Islands are "hazy."

Aqua's character was created well after Kairi's in the spin-off game Birth By Sleep, but she already has a much richer history and personality than Kairi has ever had. In fact, with the way that her rescue inspires hope, her role in the Kingdom Hearts series is much closer to that of a fairy tale princess than Kairi's is. To add insult to injury, Xehanort makes Kairi disappear at the end of Kingdom Hearts III in one fell swoop. Sora says he intends to look for her, but we see none of his journey in finding her and only a vague hint that they were reunited during the end credits. Perhaps this journey is intended to become yet another spin-off, but the fact that it was left out of Kingdom Hearts III still devalues the emotional impact of Sora's relationship with Kairi. Yes, they finally get to share a paopu fruit after all this time, but since we don't see any of Kairi's training as a Guardian of the Light or how she helps Sora and his friends during the final battle, it doesn't feel earned. Even Sora's devastation at losing her seems rushed because we see so little of their time together during the rest of the game.

With each new Kingdom Hearts game, my hopes that Kairi will become a more important character in the mythology of the series dashed just a little more. I would love to be able to play as her in a spin-off or see her do something that impacts the plot of the game other than getting kidnapped. She is a fun and playful character with a unique design. Thanks to the later spinoffs, however, that design is now shared by Naminé and Xion, both of whom have made enormous sacrifices for Sora that make them far more sympathetic characters than Kairi. All we can do now is hang onto our faith that one day Kairi will do something other than sitting around waiting for Sora to remember that she still exists.


Hope35 said…
This kind of thing just gets less acceptable as time passes.

Kairi may not be meant to be a big hero in this game series but the whole lady in jep thing doesn't work anymore.

Like you, I'd hope future continuations of this game series will let her be a stronger character, even if she can only throw a quick punch or cast a small spell to help Sora win a battle.

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