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The Transformation Of Karen Fukuhara From Childhood To The Boys

Comic book fans will recognize Karen Fukuhara from her two big entrees into the genre. Fukuhara plays Kimiko Miyashiro on Amazon's The Boys, which aired its second season last year, as well as Katana in 2016's Suicide Squad. But younger millennials may remember Fukuhara from her childhood stardom. Fukuhara was one of the hosts of Movie Surfers on the Disney Channel. If you made a family film in the mid '00s, you did press with Karen Fukuhara.

Fukuhara is somewhat surprised by her own success, in part because she grew up missing some of the cultural context that her peers had. Fukuhara was raised in Los Angeles by Japanese parents. At school, she spoke English. But at home, her upbringing was 100% Japanese. Fukuhara told NBC Asian American that she appreciates the work her family did to preserve her ties to her Japanese heritage, but also said that there were some references in her childhood that she just didn't get: "For example TV shows or popular music – Who is Dora the Explorer?" 

Here's how Karen Fukuhara went from missing certain pop culture references to becoming them.

Initial success on Japanese TV

Fukuhara always wanted to act, but didn't think it was possible at first. "Coming from immigrant parents, we didn't have the means to know how the industry worked," she told NBC Asian American, "who we needed to contact, what classes we needed to take, what are agents anyway?" Despite this hurdle, Fukuhara lucked into a role on Disney's Movie Surfers. "My friend invited me to an open call, and I booked!" she said. 

Movie Surfers went behind the scenes on Disney movies and TV shows. Children of different nationalities interviewed celebs for the show. Fukuhara's first episode involved interviewing Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean. "If I could do it over, I'd actually listen to their answers, but I was so nervous," she told Women's Wear Daily. From Movie Surfers, Fukuhara got jobs reporting for Japanese station NHK, which helped her pay for college.

Karen Fukuhara: the college years

Despite landing the Movie Surfers and NHK gigs, Fukuhara was still wary of pursuing acting full time. "My mom suggested studying acting in college, but I was a bit scared to choose that path because I couldn't wrap my head around the drama school audition process," she said in WWD. Instead, Fukuhara went to UCLA where she majored in sociology. She did join an a cappella group with future Disney princess Kelly Marie Tran, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Eventually, she decided to go all in on pursuing acting.

Between graduating college and landing her first big movie role, Fukuhara took odd jobs to make ends meet. Some odder than others. "I've worked as a part-time translator, subtitle editor, and a waitress at a reggae-themed sushi restaurant," she told NBC Asian American. She was still doing her translation job, this time translating for a Japanese model, when she got the call that she had landed Suicide Squad.

Fukuhara's career Suicide

Fukuhara played Tatsu Yamashiro, alias Katana, in 2016's Suicide Squad. Katana is the lone goodie on the Squad, volunteering to join the mission that her teammates have been conscripted into. She works as Rick Flag's (Joel Kinnaman) bodyguard, wielding her special sword. Soultaker is a magic katana that has the power to trap the souls of its victims. It houses the soul of Yamashiro's late husband, Maseo. This was Fukuhara's first movie role, and she was blown away by the fan response. "At the time, I didn't know how big the role was, but I remember I was just excited to book a role," she said.

Suicide Squad is based on the comic book team of the same name, first seen in The Brave and The Bold #25 from 1959, but made iconic by John Ostrander in the 1980s. Imprisoned villains are compelled into service by Amanda Waller, who places bombs in their necks. Should the Squad go off-mission, the Wall won't hesitate to set those bombs off. If they succeed in their mission, the villains-turned-heroes have years taken off their prison sentences. Suicide Squad met with mixed reviews, and is now being rebooted by Guardians of the Galaxy's James Gunn.

The Suicide Squad is set to premiere August 6, 2021. Katana, sadly, is not returning.

Voice over princess

After Suicide Squad, Fukuhara found voice over work on multiple cartoons. In 2017, she began a recurring role on Cartoon Network's Craig of the Creek. The show focuses on the playground politics of a neighborhood creek, where Craig and his two friends, Kelsey and J.P. hang out. Imagine if The Warriors was cute, and you've got a pretty good sense of Craig of the Creek. Fukuhara played two roles on the show, voicing Craig's older brother's girlfriend as well as the fabled Sewer Queen. Many kids in the show shun the local water park, preferring instead to hang out in the local sewer system. The Sewer Queen is their leader, and she serves on the Creek Council.

Fukuhara also voices a major character on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Produced by DreamWorks for Netflix, She-Ra updates the He Man spin-off only '80s kids remember. The show follows Adora as she realizes that 1) she is She-Ra, a legendary princess, and 2) she has been conscripted into an evil army called the Horde. Fukuhara voices Princess Glimmer, the rebellion's former leader and one of She-Ra's closest friends. The show has been praised for its queer themes and LGBT+ representation.

Fukuhara lent her voice to another Netflix cartoon, providing the voice for the title character in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. The show follows Kipo as she searches for her father in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles full of fantastical "wonderbeasts." It has also been praised for its racially diverse cast and LGBT+ representation.

One of The Boys

Karen Fukuhara's biggest role to date may be as The Female in Amazon's The Boys. Based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, The Boys follows a group of vigilantes who are fighting against superhero abuse. What sets The Boys apart is its jaundiced take on superheroes. The caped crusaders aren't all they're cracked up to be, abusing their powers and generally behaving in a sociopathic manner. Fukuhara's Female is one member of the vigilante group that opposes caped misrule. Forcibly injected with Compound V, Kimiko Miyashiro joins The Boys after they rescue her from her imprisonment.

Miyashiro is mute on The Boys, and Fukuhara feels incredibly lucky to be working with sign language interpreter Amanda Richer on the project. "I got to work with Amanda Richer, who was the sign language coach for Sally [Hawkins] on 'The Shape of Water,'" she told Insider, "and she is phenomenal because she's the one who's creating the language."

 Fukuhara is expected to reprise her role on The Boys when season 3 premieres.