Kaori and her
hiatus from voice acting






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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | KAORI. and her retirement from voice acting



Kaori, who also goes by the names KAORI. (with a dot at the end there) or Kaori Suzuki (鈴木カオリ), is a former voice actor / singer who's probably best known among Pocket Monsters fans as the voice of Haruka in Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation and Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl. She's since taken an indefinite hiatus from voice acting, with most fans in the West vaguely understanding that she has some sort of medical issue keeping her from continuing on as a voice actor.

The purpose of this page is to share as much information as I could gather about Kaori stepping down from voice acting, primarily by translating blog entries she's written herself, and to work out what all this means for the future of Haruka.



| Early Life and Pocket Monsters | Health Issues | The band breaks up |
| How is she doing now? | Haruka's future | Final Thoughts |



Early Life and Pocket Monsters

According to this 2007 interview with Animate TV, Kaori has wanted to be a singer ever since she was a little kid. She started going to music auditions when she was in elementary school and, after many years of trying, finally managed to get herself signed to a record label after graduating high school. She made her professional singing debut in 1994 by performing one of the songs for the CD Drama THE LEGEND OF HEROES III: Gagharv trilogy first "White Witch" and her voice acting debut the following year as the voice of Lime in the CD Drama Popful Mail Paradise 5.



Kaori in 2002 (left) and 2003 (right)

Kaori joined the cast of Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation in 2002 as the voice of Haruka, the young Coordinator who travels around the Hoenn and Kanto regions with Satoshi, Takeshi, and Masato. She played a few other bit roles throughout the series -- a Lucky in one episode, a Konohana in another, etc. -- but Haruka was by far her largest and most prominent role.




Around 2003 or so Kaori started going to her friends' rock concerts and, after seeing how fun they looked, decided she wanted to get in on the action as well. She eventually joined a rock band with some of those friends but it didn't last; the band dissolved after less than a year. Not long afterwards, however, Kaori joined a second rock band, "Spunky Strider."

Spunky Strider doesn't seem to have released any CDs or anything but I did manage to come across this promotional video on YouTube of a (hilariously named) music festival they took part in back in 2010.



When Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation finished its run in 2006 both Haruka and Masato ended up leaving the show. Two years later, however, Kaori came back to play Haruka for a five episode mini-arc
in Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl.



Since then, Haruka hasn't appeared at all outside a few silent cameos here and there.

Kaori herself, meanwhile, hasn't had any voice acting roles since 2012.


Health Issues

Problems apparently started back in 2007 (so a year before her return in Diamond & Pearl) when the voice actor / singer started feeling that something was off. Five years later, in May 2012, she made a blog post announcing that she had been diagnosed with
spasmodic dysphonia (痙攣性発声障害), a form of focal dystonia (局所性ジストニア). Here's a translations of the blog post she made on Spunky Strider's website at the time:

☆ To all my fans out there ☆

I want to start by saying I'm really grateful to all of you who have been graciously supporting me all this time. I have something to announce to you all and so I've had this page set up to do just that.

Some of you may have noticed this already, but my singing voice has been a little off during recent in-person events. I went to see a specialist about this and, long story short, I was diagnosed with focal dystonia and spasmodic dysphonia. And so I would like to report that I have these conditions and have started taking medicine to treat them.

I started feeling something was off with my singing voice around 2007 or so but I had no idea a medical condition like "spasmodic dysphonia" even existed or that there could ever be a world where I, someone who's been singing for as long as I can remember, could find myself unable to do so.

So from around last summer or so I've been studying up on various vocal disorders from watching TV and searching the Internet. I want to keep singing, of course, and I want to allow the band that I love so much to continue playing. But the agony of not being able to sing the way I know I can has gotten so bad that I find myself being terrified of even getting up on stage. I was really stuck between those desires to help the band and my own mounting fears and so I talked it over with my bandmates and we made the difficult decision that I take a break
in order go to the hospital for treatment and recharge. Conditions like the ones I have are not common in Japan and so the doctors here find it difficult to even diagnose, much less treat, And the treatments that are effective are difficult to get approval for because health insurance companies typically don't cover them. And so the whole thing's been really stressful.

In my case, the only major symptom I had was with my singing and so it really took a long time for them to diagnose me.

I apologize for not being able to announce this sooner, and since I only just started taking medicine for this I have no idea how much time it'll take before I start seeing improvements. And so that's all I can really say right now. I'm afraid all I'm doing with this announcement is causing everyone to worry but I also couldn't just sit by and not say anything while you all waited so patiently for Spunky Strider to take the stage again. And so to avoid wasting any more of your time I've chosen to make this announcement.

For me, not knowing what's going to happen from here on out is scary, but getting to the point where I can start actually taking medicine for this is a huge step in the right direction. And so I will do my best to do whatever I can to help my treatment along. And if you'll have me again, I'd love to get back up on stage someday, share my experiences with you all, and sing for you all with a renewed zest for life.

I will let you know if there are any developments. I'm sorry to be selfish but please give me some time. And please keep me in your thoughts.

Thank you for reading.

May 2012 KAORI.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) offers the following description of spasmodic dysphonia:



Spasmodic dysphonia causes voice breaks during speaking and can make the voice sound tight, strained, or breathy. In some people, the breaks occur once every few sentences. In more severe cases, spasms may occur on every word, making a person’s speech very difficult to understand. Some people with spasmodic dysphonia may also have vocal tremor—a shaking of the larynx and vocal folds that causes the voice to tremble.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a chronic condition that continues throughout a person’s life. Spasmodic dysphonia may develop suddenly, with severe voice symptoms present from the start of the disorder, or it may start with mild symptoms and occur only occasionally before worsening and becoming more frequent over time.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a rare disorder. It can affect anyone, but the first signs occur most often in people between the ages of 30 and 50. It affects more women than men.


Kaori was 36 years old when she made the May 2012 announcement.

I haven't been able to find any evidence that Kaori's diagnosis was ever picked up by the Japanese mainstream media. Every fansite or social media post that talks about her affliction simply link to the blog post above where she made the announcement, not a news site like Yahoo! Japan or NHK. It makes some sense, I suppose; Kaori was never really a huge figure in the world of voice acting and Spunky Strider wasn't exactly setting the charts on fire, either. So it's not super surprising that this news kind of fell under the radar.

The band breaks up

Over the next few years, Kaori would post on her band's blog to let fans know how she's doing. In this entry from Christmas Day 2012, for example, she mentions how she's feeling a lot better but still isn't at 100% yet. In March 2013, she talks about how the side effects from some of the medicines she had been taking made her not want to leave her house for long periods of time, but that when she stopped taking them she started feeling a lot better. In August 2013, she pops in to tell fans that she's closed her mixi page due to her inability to keep it up-to-date. In December 2013 she wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Then on June 21st, 2014 Spunky Strider -- that rock band she had been a part of since 2003 -- posted an announcement on their website that also included an update on Kaori's health:

Spunky Strider in 2011. From Facebook.

To all our fans out there

We apologize for the radio silence. The members of Spunky Strider have been doing well and working hard!

You may have seen this news already, but our drummer Sugiura left the band last August -- we're sorry for taking so long to address that here. On top of that, Kaori's voice still hasn't recovered yet and so it looks like it's going to take a little more time for her to return to the stage.

Other members of the band like Satoyan (bass) and Kou (Guitar) have started going down their own paths and so those of us remaining talked it over and have determined that it'll be difficult for Spunky Strider to start holding regularly scheduled events and that the hiatus we're under right now shouldn't continue in limbo the way it has. And so it is with a heavy heart that we've decided the break up the band as a way to draw a line in the sand.

This doesn't mean that "Break up = The End," just that we don't know when or how we'll be able to have fun with you all again.

There aren't enough words to express how grateful we are for the unwavering support we've received from all you up until now. But I guess this will have to do.

Everyone, thank you. Thank you so, so much. ☆

From here on out the members of the band will be here under the same blue sky as everyone else, wishing for everyone's happiness. There are a lot of people out there who have it rough but if we all work together to give it all we've got, and even cry it out sometimes, we'll be able to get through all the hard times with the sounds of our laughter.

We look forward to seeing you again someday ♪

June 21, 2014 - Spunky Strider

While Kaori's health wasn't the main reason the band broke up, it doesn't seem to have not been a factor, either.

How is she doing now?

Kaori doesn't seem to have her own social media accounts (she mentions that she finds them too cumbersome) but she has kind of taken over her band's old blog to reach out to her fans from time to time.



I'm not going to bother translating  the dozens of blog entries she's posted over the last ten years so I'll just focus on her most recent entry from July 2021 called "Excuses." It's a long, long entry that's mostly about her elderly dogs' health problems but she also sprinkles in updates on how she's doing, health-wise, that are relevant to this article.

I've been getting an average of around three hours sleep each night. One reason is that I can't go long without going into one of my coughing fits. Once I start coughing I can't stop, and I have to do things like press down on the acupressure points on my throat in order to calm down. The whole ordeal puts a lot of stress on my body and so I never have time to rest, day or night.

So when I sit down to update this blog I have to start and stop so many times and it can get frustrating.

A few paragraphs later, she talks about all the treatments she's been trying:


I just want to stop the coughing, somehow, but there just isn't anything more that Western medicine can do. I've tried every medical nutrition therapy, Eastern health food, and herbs one could ever think of but so far nothing's worked. I'll start a new treatment and I'll get excited because it seems like it's working, but then my body will get used to it and its effects start to fade. So I've been spending all my time searching endlessly, every way I know how, from the time I wake up to late into the night and then early into the morning again. The number of days where I've just crashed on the floor or in a chair without dragging myself to bed first have been increasing lately LOL

Recently, I've started looking at some new herbs and supplements and I'm getting a good feeling about them, and so while I'm not pinning all my hopes and dreams on them I do remain hopeful and will keep looking forward and doing my best.

She ends the blog entry with one more note about her condition:

P.S.

This happened a little while ago, but you heard the announcement that (famous enka singer) Natsuko Godai has been diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, right? To think that it's so bad for her that she even has trouble speaking! And yet she's still so full of life and courage regardless! That fact that it's being reported by the mainstream media and even make the evening news means that more and more people will learn about this condition, which will lead to more people understanding it and help accelerate the development of effective treatments. And so I'm really grateful she's come forward with her story. There's still so, so much we don't know about this condition and I think a lot of people are really suffering from it. I pray that an effective treatment will be developed as soon as possible.

As of this writing, this blog post from July 2021 is the most recent update she's made.

Haruka's future

The seventh animated TV series, Pocket Monsters (2019), has been featuring old traveling companions coming back to the show, one after the other. What are the chances that Haruka will come back?

Shigeru




Well given what we've been reading in her blog entries I'd say the chances of Kaori herself coming back to voice Haruka are practically zero. It'd be great if she discovered some miracle treatment that made her well enough to come back but at this point it just doesn't seem realistic.

So what about having a different actor come in and take over the role? It'd be possible, but highly unlikely. Countries like the U.S. will replace their voice talent at the drop of the hat but that is absolutely not the case in Japan, where voice actors are usually not replaced unless one of the following happens:
  1. The original voice actor passes away (i.e. Dr. Ookido, Sakaki)
  2. The voice actor needs to go on maternity leave (Megumi Hayashibara, Ikue Otani, Mariya Ise). In this case, a replacement voice actor (or, in Ms. Ikue's case, stock audio) fills in for the few episodes they miss but the original actor always seems to come back as soon as possible.
  3. The original voice actor is too expensive now (I'm guessing that's why Shijima got recast when he reappeared), but even then the show mostly gets around that by just not having the character appear anymore (i.e. Mamoru Miyano as Dent)
  4. The original voice actor has some sort of scandal that makes it difficult for the Pokémon brand to continue associating with them (i.e. Tatsuhisa Suzuki as Kibana).
  5. The voice in question is of a minor character that nobody would notice (i.e the Trainers who make it to New Island in Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution).
Kaori doesn't really fall into any of these categories, does she? She has a medical condition that prevents her from continuing to work as a voice actress, sure, but it's not like she's dead or anything. And so the powers that be probably think it would be too disrespectful to replace her. The chances of her getting better aren't 0%, right?

So the way I see it, unless something miraculous happens I'd say the chances of Haruka coming back in anything other than a silent cameo are practically non-existent.

Final Thoughts

At this point, all I can really say is that I hope Kaori is able to discover some sort of new treatment that helps her feel well enough to return to both the recording booth and the stage someday.

To learn more about spasmodic dysphonia, including ways you can help support the search for a cure, check out the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association's website at www.dysphonia.org.





 

 

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