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goldpanner has translated the KINGDOM HEARTS 3 Ultimania interview with Miyu Irino (Sora, Vanitas), Risa Uchida (Kairi, Xion) and Mamoru Miyano (Riku). They share their thoughts on their characters, growing up with the series and working with Nomura.
[I was able to overcome my desire as an actor, and perform with honesty]
—It's been 12 years since the three of you gathered for an interview last time in the KHIIFM+ Ultimania. If you count from the first KHI Ultimania, it's been 17 years.
Irino: It's nice to have a chance to see you again!
Uchida: I was 13 years old the first time. Now I'm more than double that age (laughs).
Miyano: The first time we were in our teens, the next time we were in our twenties, now we are in our thirties. This is the first time I've ever been involved for so long in a series.
Irino: It doesn't happen all that often, getting to do a role for so long.
Miyano: It's extremely rare to be able to do something for 20 years. Plus, since we have been doing it since we were teens, you truly see the changes in us through the games: the growth of our bodies, our voices, and our hearts. The time we've spent being involved in the KH series has been hugely beneficial to us.
—Have you found that as you've played the same character for so long, your performance of them has changed?
Irino: Up until around KHII, I was about the same age as Sora, so I played him with basically my natural voice. But, I struggled with KH Re:coded. I listened to recordings of my voice from KHI over and over. I got tense, thinking, I've gotta reproduce that! At that time, it took a very long time for me to warm up my engine and "become" Sora. When I was in my early twenties, I got some experience acting on stage, and I developed my own sense of desire regarding what kind of drama I wanted to create. This made it hard to express Sora's naivete straight up. Sometimes, even when Mr Nomura (Tetsuya Nomura: Director) and Mr Shimizu (Yoji Shimizu: Voice Director) were directing me, I'd think, but wouldn't it be better like so...
Miyano: It became a struggle within your heart.
Irino: Yeah. It really sucked back then. I'd think, what am I gonna do, it's taking me so long to get into Sora, maybe I just can't do it anymore? But now I record without working myself up unnecessarily. My voice settled with age, and I can fall into Sora naturally just by thinking about who he is interacting with. Even if there is significant time between recordings, I can get my engine going right away.
Miyano: Mr Shimizu did say to me, "Miyu (Irino) has had a breakthrough. He can become Sora straight away."
Irino: I feel like, as I've continued to play Sora, I've become able to properly balance the vital "Sora-ness" with my own feelings.
Miyano: I've gone through something similar to Miyu. When I did KH1 in my teens, I didn't think hard enough about my performance compared to now. Actually, that let me avoid overthinking things: I was able to perform something right from myself, true to life. But by the time I did KH2 in my twenties, my sense of "self" as an actor had been formed—I knew what kind of performances I wanted to give—and I found myself unable to really become Riku. I did so many re-takes. Thanks to that experience, I was able to create my performance in KH3 by prioritizing "becoming Riku" over my own desires. Plus, I was able to make a link between Riku, who had overcome the darkness and was heading for the light, and myself, who had broken through the endless anxiety about my performance—I was able to express my real emotions as Riku's feelings. I think I was able to give all the experience I've gained through the KH series back to this title.
—Ms Uchida, has your performance as Kairi changed in any way?
Uchida: In KH1, I really didn't put any thought into what I was doing, other than, I love this! It's so fun! (Laughs.) In KH2, I was a little more mature, and I felt pressured by the popularity of the series. I worried over whether I was really good enough for the job. My voice had also changed a little, so there were times when I was very conscious that I had to "become Kairi." But in KH3… happily, I felt, "I am Kairi."
Miyano: (In a deep voice) "I am… Kairi!" (Laughs)
Uchida: Exactly like that (laughs). Even when recording is done, Kairi is always in my heart. And, I think I've gained experience too—although maybe not as much as she has. I believe in that, stop myself from overthinking things, take just my script, and face straight ahead. This time, there were even more parts than usual where Kairi got to feel more human, which was fun. When she tells Axel, "Oh yeah. Very memorized," I first did it in a more serious tone, but I was directed to "make it sound like you're doing an impression of Axel." And that's the one they put in the game. I love that scene, it shows lots about Kairi, like her humanity and kindness.
Irino: Kairi can also fight now, too.
Uchida: Yeah! Ever since KH2, she has wanted to fight with everyone, and to be of use to everyone—and I feel the same. I am so happy that she got to fight in this game.
Miyano: Getting to have an old dream come true is so moving, it's like you're able to feel the history of it.
Irino: When we did the KH1 Ultimania, the 11th FF game had come out, and I remember saying I hoped the KH series would go on just as long. If you include all the side games, it's hit about that number.
—You also said, "If it goes on that long, we'll all be in our thirties."
Miyano: And now we really are! (Laughs)
Uchida: And back then, we were only really like "wouldn't it be nice if"… I am so thankful.
Miyano: It's amazing that we've been able to make so many titles. I think it only goes to show the strength of the feelings of fans of the KH series.
[I express the emotions I have the first time I read the script through Sora]
—In what order did you record the main story and each world?
Irino: We record starting from whichever parts of the script are finished. This does mean we are creating a performance without a grasp on how the whole story flows, but that's a lucky thing for me personally. Sora is the type to respond from his heart to whatever is right in front of him. Whenever he learns something for the first time, his feelings come right out of his mouth. When difficult topics come up that he's had explained to him before, he'll just ask, "what was it again?" (Laughs.) I don't know what's going to happen either until I receive the script, so I express the emotions I have the first time I read it through Sora. By the way, looked at storyboards during recording for this game, which was a first for me. Before all I had was the script, but with a storyboard I was able to imagine the scene and add my own fine-tuned ad libs.
—Did you know beforehand which worlds would appear?
Irino: No. In fact, I decided not to even ask. That way, I could look forward to the surprise (laughs).
—Irino, which world had you the most hyped?
Irino: Toy Story is a favorite of mine among Disney movies, so I was like, it's finally here! I was pretty excited to be able to talk to those characters and do battle in that world. I was also really happy that Sora turned into a toy in that world.
Miyano: How nice. You sure get some perks. You know what else I was jealous of? When you got to sing Under the Sea in Atlantica in KH2.
Uchida: Oh, I was jealous of that too!
Miyano: Although, even if Riku did go to that world I don't think he would sing Under the Sea… (laughs).
—Miyano, Uchida, which Disney worlds would you like to visit?
Uchida: Which wouldn't I like to visit!
Miyano: If we are talking KHI, Agrabah is number one for me. I love the world of Aladdin. Also, this might double up on what Miyu said, but I love Toy Story and would love to visit Toy Box.
Uchida: I can't go past Atlantica. where you can sing Under the Sea. But I also want to meet Elsa from Frozen!
Irino: Riku got to travel through different worlds in KH3D, so maybe Kairi will get to as well next time, right?
Miyano: I hope so! I wanna play a game like that so bad! I want to see Kairi change into different forms.
Uchida: I want to play that too!
Miyano: Maybe she wouldn't battle all that much, instead getting to do fun missions in worlds like Winnie the Pooh…
Uchida: What a peace-loving guy!
Miyano: Let's make a Kingdom Hearts party game starring Kairi! (Laughs).
Irino: It'd be nice for the three of us to travel the world's together, too.
Miyano: With Kairi front and center, and Sora and Riku following after her?
Uchida: Oh, they'd be so encouraging! It sounds fun.
Miyano: (To the development staff sitting in) May the three of us have a journey together? (Laughs.)
Uchida: I really do want to see that happen.
Irino: So far, our journeys have always involved someone looking for someone else. The three of us barely ever get to be together.
Miyano: I think perhaps the three of them getting to go on a journey together is the ultimate dream. They've wanted to do that since KHI, after all. They tried to leave Destiny Islands together on a raft, but all the way up until now it still hasn't come to be.
Uchida: If the three of them did go on a journey, I think Sora would be the one to decide where to go next, don't you?
Miyano: I will.
Irino: Yeah. I can see Sora saying, "I'm happy with whatever Riku decides!" It sounds like the journey would go well with Riku there. Sora, Donald and Goofy are always like, "Where do we go?" "I dunno." "Use your brain!" "Shut up!" and then end up going nowhere (laughs).
—Actually, the topic of wanting a game with Kairi as the protagonist came up in a previous group interview too. Uchida, you said, "Just thinking about being the protagonist gives me anxiety. I want them to make it, but they don't have to actually release it."
Uchida: Ahahahha! (Laughs.)
Irino: That's when you make it an indie game.
Uchida: Making it an indie game would be the biggest waste (laughs).
Miyano: That's exactly right! (Laughs) Why would you do that when Disney and Square Enix are making it!
Irino: Two big name companies get together to make an indie game? How extravagant!
Uchida: If we are going to make it then we may as well release it (laughs).
—By the way, do you play the games you're involved in once they release?
Irino: I play basically all of them.
Miyano: Me too, as best I can.
Uchida: …I suck at video games… In KH1 I couldn't get past Destiny Islands.
Irino: Oh yeah, I remember you saying something like that before!
Miyano: (Laying it on thick) Whaaat, you mean there are people who suck that bad out there?
Uchida: Yeah, and one is right here (laughs). Happily, I have a lot of friends who love the KH series, and they let me watch.
Miyano: I played KHI over and over. I always saved right before cutscenes so I could watch the ones where Riku appears whenever I liked.
Irino: I feel you there!
Miyano: I have so many save files (laughs).
Irino: I did the same thing! That reminds me, the other day I went and got a massage, and I ended up talking about video games with the masseuse. They said they loved KH2 so much that they couldn't bear to clear the game, it felt too final, so they just kept doing the Gummi ship for ages (laughs). I'm the type to do a completion run after clearing it once, so it was nice to remember that there are people out there who do things differently.
Miyano: I absolutely know how they feel! I still haven't cleared FFVII.
Irino: What, you haven't cleared FFVII!?
Miyano: Finishing it would be too sad. I couldn't put the final disc in.
Irino: The final disc? That's practically the end anyway!
Miyano: Yeah, there's just the final dungeon left. But when I realised it meant the game would be over, I couldn't do it. The worst part is that I made it that far but I haven't seen the ending (laughs).
["My friends are my power," which is linked to "Alone, I'm worthless."]
—One part of the story that had a massive impact was when Sora, having lost his friends at the Keyblade Graveyard, cries out with the fight gone out of him.
Irino: Yeah, that part hits hard.
Uchida: I agree…
Miyano: I got so sad seeing that.
Irino: When I read the script for that scene, it left a deep impression on me. Like, wow, even Sora can get like that sometimes… With everyone gone and their bonds broken, Sora is powerless… In KHI, Sora has the line, "My friends are my power!" I felt like there was a proper link between that and the line in this game, "Alone, I'm worthless."
Miyano: Sora's been a shining light to everyone this whole time, right. To see that even someone like that would still undergo a massive shock if something so terrible were to happen to them, and to see his emotions exploding out of him, it was painful but it was also lovely, or I guess, it made me think, yeah, Sora is a normal guy after all.
Irino: From an acting perspective, it was pretty difficult to determine how far to go in showing Sora's feelings of loss. In the end, I stopped thinking and just performed exactly what I felt. My Sora engine was warmed up, and I had faith that what was coming out of me was what Sora was feeling. In KH3 we see many sides to Sora that have never been shown before. He shows weakness like in that scene, while at the same time he also exchanges comedy duo type jokes with Donald and the like. I discussed things with the sound director and staff constantly as we recorded.
—We also thought the scene where Riku and the Riku Replica talk on the beach at Destiny Islands had a lot of impact.
Miyano: I love that scene too. Riku understands the Riku Replica's personality. so when he tells him, "Take all the time you need," those words are full of warmth. Since he has been fighting his own darkness this entire time, he was often looking inward as he spoke. But this Riku is being positive, looking forward, and I felt like he was speaking proper "words of light." The reasons Riku fell to the darkness in the first place were things like yearning for and jealousy towards his friends, and the desire to protect those important to him… so it all began from the kinds of things everyone feels, right? It's hard for us humans to get rid of the darkness born in our hearts as we go on living our lives. But as we build experiences and grow, we take those things in and become able to face forward with positivity. Riku isn't fighting against the Riku Replica as a manifestation of darkness, he has melded with him as a part of himself, having made up his mind that even if he carries darkness he is a being of light. I think that is a personal strength of Riku's.
ーThe scene where Kairi tells Axel "don't hold back," a line Xion also said, hit especially hard for those who played KH Days.
Uchida: When I first found that line in the script, my heart wouldn't stop beating like crazy. When Kairi says that line, she isn't thinking of Xion at all, she means to say it innocently and cheerfully. But I just couldn't help but think of Xion… it was pretty difficult for me. But, I worked to say it "as Kairi."
ーHow do you differentiate Kairi and Xion when performing?
Uchida: Changing my tone isn't a skill I've managed to polish as a voice actress, so instead of doing that, I try to make it sound like they're different from inside. Even when saying the same line, Kairi and Xion have seen different worlds, and the meanings behind their words change. So, I pay attention to clearly differentiating how they express those things. This is just my, Risa Uchida's, personal image, but I have strong feelings of admiration and idealization for Kairi: she's the kind of girl I want to be. Xion is more relatable in many ways… although I'm not as noble as she is (laughs). So, in the sense of "becoming the character," I did feel Xion was easier to perform than Kairi.
ーSpeaking of Kairi, she and Sora sharing a paopu fruit before the final battle was another memorable scene.
Uchida: I love that scene a lot and I think it's so important, and at the same time, I thought, what a heavy scene…
Irino: We recorded two versions of that scene: one where she had him eat one, and one where she didn't. At the time we recorded, it hadn't been decided which way it would develop. It looks like in the end they went with her having him eat one. I'm sure Mr Nomura was unsure how far he should go in depicting their feelings for each other.
Miyano: I'm sure that's because it definitely is a delicate scene, one where Sora and Kairi's pure thoughts and feelings are made apparent. My heart leapt watching that exchange. Although they didn't confess to each other, if there wasn't love there then that scene wouldn't have felt as romantic as it did (laughs).
Irino: I don't think sharing a paopu is an official declaration of love though?
Miyano: Hey hey hey, I never got a lucky charm from Kairi or anything now did I…
Irino: The promise charm?
Uchida: Sorry! (Laughs)
Miyano: And in KHI you secretly tried to have the two of you leave the island without me, right?
Irino: Maybe it's Kairi who made Riku turn to the darkness. Seeing her so friendly with Sora probably made him feel lonely, right?
Uchida: …I see, so it was my fault, was it? (Laughs)
ーWhat are you impressions of KH series director Mr Nomura?
Irino: We have worked together on recording in the same team for years and years, so he feels like family.
Uchida: Despite the fact that he's such an important person, he always speaks to us as equals: he's extremely kind. That time we were together at the KH orchestra held in Osaka, he was showing me pictures of his pet cats (laughs). He's always open-hearted without reserve.
Miyano: Working on KH is always warm and comfortable, and I think that's because Mr Nomura isn't just like that with the cast, he also takes good care of his staff. I think he's someone who loves deeply: once you've worked with him you're family. Also he has this quiet aura, but he is always cracking jokes. The other day he cut me off and said very seriously, "You know what, Miyano…" I was really nervous about what he was going to say, and then he finished with "... I have that T-shirt too." (Laughs) I told him we should wear them together.
Irino: After the talk show we did at Tokyo Sky Tree, I told him we should take a picture together, and we got a snap at the Keyblade Graveyard photo spot. I thought he might say no, but he went along with it for me.
Miyano: Aw, you guys are so close (laughs). You're like a real father and son.
Irino: Yeah (laughs). I wondered if perhaps Sora in KH3 is a projection of Mr Nomura himself. I'm sure he would deny that if you asked him, but I felt there was some of that.
ーWith this title, the 17 year old Dark Seeker Saga is over. How does it feel looking back?
Irino: It feels like a temporary end. I have the impression that I was able to get involved more deeply with KH3 than any other title so far. When the series began I was a kid, and all I did was show up and act. But this time I was brought to the orchestra recordings for the BGM, I visited the Osaka development team's office, I've done so much coverage: I was allowed to do so many different things. It feels very special. I'm allowed to be so deeply involved precisely because if how many years I've been doing this.
ーIt seems from the secret movie that the story isn't over yet.
Irino: I'm really looking forward to it. The gap between KH2 and KH3 was 13 years, I hope it's a lot shorter this time.
Miyano: I hope we can all hang out again soon.
Uchida: We did recording in our teens, the twenties, then thirties, so…
Miyano: Next time we'll be in our 40s? (Laughs)
Irino: Will I even be able to do Sora's voice? (Laughs) But, I do know veterans who are still performing the same voices after all these years, so I'll just have to do that too. Story-wise this game did mark a cutoff point, but the KH series is still showing developments. I want the next game to be one that pushes forward into new territory, and let's you connect with all kinds of people in the world.
Miyano: "Connection" is the theme of KH after all.
Irino: I want to be able to make friends with characters from all kinds of new works.
ーLastly, please give a message for fans who are enjoying the KH series.
Miyano: I'm sure that those of you who have supported us from the start have been feeling nostalgic as you read our discussion. The fact that we have so much history is a huge source of pride to me as someone who has had this role for so long. When recording for the KH series, I walk in there filled with the happiness of being able to have your support, having followed one title for so long. And if this is your first experience with KH, I would be so happy if you were to play the series from KH1, so you can feel how we have grown, as well as develop a deeper love for the series as a whole. With your continued support, I am sure we will have the chance to meet again. Cheers!
Uchida: The fact that my beloved KH series has been able to continue for so long is of course thanks in part to the efforts of the creators and cast, but the biggest thanks must go to all the players. It may be presumptuous of me to say that, but I am truly full of gratitude towards those who have loved Kingdom Hearts. Thank you! I know you're curious about what's coming next, but first please enjoy KH3. I'm going to read the Ultimania along with you all and do my best to play (laughs).
Irino: The KH series, which has grown over the long months and years, is something that was made by all of us. Not just the creators, but the players too. From now on I want our passions to grow and grow, and bring even bigger dreams to life with the power of our connected hearts. Mr Nomura has all kinds of ideas, and I'm sure bringing them to life will be a big task for the people around him, but just like Sora I am waiting with excitement for whatever is coming next. For now, enjoy KH3 to the fullest, and then let's charge into the future together!
goldpanner has done a lot of translations for Kingdom Hearts fans everywhere over so many years! You can say thank you to her by buying her a coffee!