The Kingdom Hearts franchise is a videogame series mixing the elements of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games and the worlds of Disney. The games follow the main character main character Sora’s adventure through these worlds in search of his childhood friend Riku and his friend/ love-interest Kairi after they were separated when their world was devoured by darkness. During the search, Sora learns that Kairi was captured so her heart could combine with other Disney Princesses, like Jasmine and Belle, so their pure hearts of light could grant the antagonist’s wishes. The antagonists, led by the witch Maleficent, want to plunge all of the worlds into darkness and let the evil creatures known as the heartless rule them all. Sora sets out to save Kairi and all of the affected worlds by traveling between them, defeating all the enemies, and finding clues for Kairi’s location. After Sora finally finds and rescues her near the end of the first Kingdom Hearts, it’s shown that Kairi loves Sora as well, typical Disney princess ending. But, as the title says, Sora is not the hero I’m focusing on, Kairi is. You’re probably thinking, “Wow, Kairi doesn’t seem like a heroine at all. She was just kidnapped and had to be rescued by her love. That doesn’t sound heroic at all, how is she a hero?” Before continuing Kairi’s story through the rest of the franchise, I want to stop here and look at Kairi as a character through a feminist lense to show what the first game offered as well as Kairi’s development as a character.
I’m sure many people are aware of what a feminist lense is, or has an idea at least at what feminism in this sense could mean. For those who don’t, a feminist lense looks at how a piece of media portrays women, and how women are compared to the men in the story, focusing mostly the inequality between them. In the first game, Kairi is used more as a motive and a prize for Sora rather than a character with depth. She doesn’t have much development throughout the game, mostly because she was kidnapped and put in a pod where she slept. I’d show you a usual scene starring Kairi here, but it would just be a picture of a pod where you can’t see her inside. She has to rely on a man to rescue her, unable to fight or do anything for herself. While Kairi is sleeping and waiting, Sora is getting stronger and stronger, saving countless worlds and trying to save the one he loves. When Kairi is eventually saved at the end of the story, the main reward is a passionate hug from Kairi showing that she loves Sora too. Looking at this part of the game through a feminist lense brings up a couple of red flags due to the unevenness between the two genders. The men are shown as brave heroes that save the day, while the females are helpless. Sora, representative of men, develops throughout the game, becoming more brave, building more bonds, turning into a deeper character, where Kairi and the other female characters have little to no development besides showing her love for the main character when rescued. The is exactly what you don’t want when looking through a feminist lense, and the franchise is lucky this was not the end of the series.
To continue the story, we have to delve into the sequel, Kingdom Hearts II. After Sora defeats the main antagonist of the first game, everyone returns to their worlds. Sora and his party continue their search for their friends to save as many people from the heartless as possible. But, Sora and Kairi get separated again, and the plot point of finding Kairi repeats. Kairi was sent back to her and Sora’s original world, the Destiny Isles, and all memories of Sora disappeared besides the bond of friendship and love that will always be there. She tries her hardest to remember Sora, but fails. One of the new antagonists, named Axel, believes that if he kidnaps Kairi he’ll be able to use her against Sora. He appears at the Destiny Isles and surrounds her with enemies, but instead of letting herself be kidnapped this time she fights back. Right before she is captured, an unknown portal opens before her covered in darkness, where Pluto the dog pops out. Knowing that it’s her only option, she dives into the unknown world and escapes from Axel and starts searching for Sora on her own. When getting near the end of the game, Kairi meets up with her childhood friend Riku who has been battling the heartless. Instead of letting Riku fight for her, she is gifted a magical weapon of her own and fights along side Riku to find Sora.
When they finally all meet, there’s a romantic hug because they’re in love, but it’s not because Sora has done anything to win her. Sora, Riku, and Kairi work together as equals to defeat the main antagonist of the second game. This is where the story ends for now, and we don’t know how Kairi will continue to develop in the upcoming sequel.
Looking at the game now with the feminist lense, things have changed dramatically. There is no longer a giant divide between the males and females with everyone being equal. Kairi is no longer a prize for Sora to win through his journey and is a heroine on her own. Sora needs her to succeed and wouldn’t be able to finish his quest without her. Kairi is able to develop as a character rather than be a plot point in the story. Overall, this is exactly what you’re looking for when observing something through a feminist lense. Men and women are equal and there are no roles that each gender has to fill in. Everyone is just a hero. Luckily the first game was able to do well enough to spark a sequel, so we have an ending of equality rather than end on a gender unbalanced cliche.