Jab’s Reviews: TMNT (Karai)


KARAI- Mirage & 2003 Versions

Karai- Nerd Bait For Years:
-And now we’re at KARAI. One of the late-comers to the lore, she didn’t debut until 1992 in Mirage Comics, but HOLY SHIT did the fans ever take to her. The notion of a “Dark Action Girl” and a dangerous Japanese martial arts chick running around were just CANDY to the legions of Japanophiles reading the books, and so almost every adult TMNT I’ve ever met was moist for Karai, who comes off like a FanFic character (the bad-ass daughter of the long-dead Shredder who is actually honorable and a sometimes antihero ally of the Turtles?) to the point where I just started backlashing against the character as a reflex. Like, “Karai Love” felt like it was EVERYWHERE for the time, nerds all “OMG, *fapfapfap* KARAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!” at the expense of every other character. I mean, if she was so great, then why wasn’t she in the cartoon, HUH? Only now did I research it and found that “Karai as the Shredder’s Daughter” is a later adaptation NOT from Mirage, but has shown up everywhere starting with the 2003 series.

-Karai, of course, has since become this GIGANTIC addition to the lore- every later version of the franchise possible seems to include Karai as a major character, to the point where she’s usually the #2 villain. She was the Final Boss in one version of TMNT: Tournament Fighters, but never made the first generation of video games, nor its adaptations like the Archie Comics. But ELSEWHERE?…

Mirage Karai:
-When she debuted in 1992, though, it was as a successor to the deceased Shredder, who had been so casually discarded in the first TMNT issue eight years before. Eastman & Laird, clearly not expecting this franchise to take off like it did (I mean, who would?), probably cursed their luck at killing their team’s worst foe right out of the gate, and so Karai is likely a “Mulligan” of sorts. She arrives in NYC from Japan, attempting to unify the warring factions of the Foot Clan. She offers the Turtles a deal- ally with her to stop the Foot Elite, and she will give them a treaty with the Foot. Unfortunately, Karai’s daughter is killed in the battle. Donning the Shredder’s armor for revenge, she and the Turtles execute all of the remaining Elite and she returns to Japan to spread her daughter’s ashes and begin a journey of atonement. This taste of the character is all we get (honestly, this is probably part of why she was so fascinating to older indie comics fans) until Volume 4, MANY years later, and she seems to have a one night stand with Casey Jones (who was way too drunk and missing April, who was on a solitary pilgrimage).

IDW Karai:
-In Kevin Eastman’s IDW continuity, she is a direct descendant of Oroku Saki, who is vastly old in this continuity. Acting as his second, she is enraged when he replaces her with a brainwashed Leonardo, mutating Rocksteady & Bebop in response and attacking the Turtles- Shredder reveals this was actually a test of her leadership skills, which she passed. Eventually, she scores leadership of the Foot Clan from Splinter once Shredder is killed.

2003 Karai:
-The first cartoon to regularly use Karai was the 2003 cartoon, where she was a main recurring character, torn between honor and family, and ultimately becomes a heroic character (SEE? FANFIC CHARACTER!). The daughter of the Shredder (apparently the first time this was used), she appears in the second season- she manipulates the Turtles to help her unify the Foot Clan when they think Shredder is dead, but hints at her motivation exist, confirming that she is kinder and nicer than her “Father”. We learn more of her backstory, realizing that she’s adopted (given that this Shredder is actually an alien). She knew his secret all along, and when he’s exiled in Season 3, she spends the next two seasons hunting the Turtles for it.

-The show thus plays up her divided loyalties- she sees the Turtles as honorable followers of Bushido, but is loyal to her father. Her relationship with Leonardo is especially deep (this is another recurring element), and she ultimately sides with her father and damages Leo’s shell. However, when Shredder is exiled, he returns as a “Demon Shredder”, badly injuring Karai to take control of the Foot once more. As the latest “Shredder” (having taken her father’s role), she has a psychic link with him, and this proves instrumental when she absorbs some of his power. Though they do not part as friends, Karai seems to have buried the hatchet (the Wiki repeatedly indicates “off-camera” like this was a plot hole or something) and appears at the wedding of April & Casey, and helps the Turtles fend off the Cyber-Shredder. However, she returns to this “Divided Loyalties” character in the Turtles Forever Series Finale- she aides the Utrom Shredder and frees him, but ultimately turns on him and aides the 1987 & 2003 Turtles & Splinter and ’87 Shredder, Krang, Rocksteady & Bebop against him.


KARAI- Nick Version
 Shredder’s Daughter, Dark Action Girl, Mutated Girl

-By far the biggest role for Karai ever goes to the 2012 Nick Toon version (played by Kelly Hu, joining the ranks of curiously attractive women who now make work using only their voices), which depicts her as a punk-rock looking teenage girl, again highly respectful to her father, The Shredder. However, we quickly learn the real backstory here, even as Leonardo clearly nurses a crush on her (which she sometimes reciprocates, or else just flirts with and taunts him)- Karai is Hamato Miwa, the daughter of SPLINTER, not Oroku Saki! Shredder had killed Splinter’s wife and taken their daughter to raise as his own, training her to hate Splinter more than anyone else in the world. When Splinter learns the truth, he is crushed, and it takes Karai ages to “forgive” him (thanks to her brainwashing) and accept the rat as her father. And tragically, right as this is figured out, she is captured by Shredder and used as bait to mutate the Turtles… but Karai herself falls into the Mutagen, becoming a hideous, mutated snake-girl who lashes out at anyone around her. Even the Shredder is mortified, thinking of their life together- his coldly using her has ruined her life, and even he knows it.

-Karai is finally rescued after a full season of angst, Leonardo in particular being obsessed with changing her back. She finally regains her humanity, but retains the snake-like mutation, which she can adopt at-will before changing back. However, the show just ramps up the discomfort, as she becomes obsessed with revenge against the Shredder, even refusing to live with Splinter and the Turtles. Finally, when people are hurt during one of her attempts, she drops her grudge and agrees to join them. And then Splinter dies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s