A quick preamble: I'm coming at this as a newbie. I only discovered Katawa Shoujo a week ago, it's only my second ever visual novel (DDLC was the first), and I haven't started on any of the other girls yet. (Heading towards Hanako or Lilly, and happy to take suggestions.)
I only started her route because she was just sort of there, and I had to start somewhere. A few scenes in and I was filled with trepidation. She doesn't exactly make a good account of herself in act one, does she?
But Shizune. Oh my, Shizune. She's just magnificent.
So I find I have some thoughts. This isn't a comparison, an attempt to defend a best girl, or anything like that. I'm looking at Shizune's arc on its own terms. Who knows? Perhaps I'll end up liking the other girls better (Rin looks like a good candidate). But right now, these are my overwhelmingly positive thoughts on Shizune a day or so after completing her story. It's a biggish essay, part character analysis, part enamoured gushing. It's … longish, but I hope it's worth the effort.
SPOILER WARNING, obviously.
1. She's vulnerable but confident.
The word tsundere and how it's constructed gives you a sort of philosophy of female characterisation: She's one thing on top, and another underneath. I'm not just talking about tsunderes specifically here. I mean bilevel characterisation in general: The girl who's aggressive/cold/shy/unapproachable in general/extremely chipper at first, then turns all warm and gooey when you get past her defences. This is pretty much the simplest sort of complex character; it's basically just two flat characters jammed together.
But Shizune is nothing like that. Yes, she does have a vulnerable side that you learn about as you get closer to her, first of all, it's not a binary switch. She reveals her vulnerabilities progressively.
But more than that, she never loses her confidence. We never get anything like “ohh, it it was all just a facade to conceal her wounded little heart.” Her confidence, her arrogance, her sense of duty, her independence are all part of who she is, for good and bad.
Even when she's at her lowest, when you
And all that, even though …
2. She's tragic.
It's never rubbed in your face quite how bad Shizune's situation is. Sure, her father's a dreadful person, but she's not defined by Daddy Issues. But it's definitely there.
She has a very clear idea of who she wants to be and how she and others should behave. In the name of this ideal, she's alienated pretty much everyone except Misha – and their friendship is hanging by a thread. She's put all her energy, her very identity, into this student council thing. And for what, exactly?
It's made very clear how little any of it matters. She could resign from the student council and vanish, and nothing much would change. As much of a bastard as he is, Jigoro has a good point.
All of her energy, everything she's sacrificed, is in the name of triviality. I found that horribly sad. But more than that, it really is all her fault. It's her own choices that have brought her to this point. And that's what makes it tragic rather than sad.
When I had this realisation, I did get that protective urge. You know the one, where you want to hold a character and comfort them and tell them everything's going to be okay. Except …
3. She doesn't need Heroic Unrelenting Niceness, or Magical Healing Dick, or anything like that.
There's a class of love stories that go like this: Woman is deeply emotionally wounded. Her comes along, gains her attraction by being nice to her, and then heals her wounds by boning her.
But Shizune doesn't need you to be nice to her, at least not in any trivial way. You rather get the feeling that if you offered her cuddles or platitudes like “You're nice!” to fix her woes, she would rightly disdain them.
Hisao does help her, of course. But not by simply being nice. And even then, she doesn't need him: If you
.Similarly, sex doesn't fix anything for her. It's not even the culmination of her arc, which comes right after when she shows Hisao Misha studying. For Shizune, sex is what (in my view, anyway) it ought to be: A zenith of trust and companionship, and a fun way to spend time besides. I think you could reasonably make the argument that, given the confidence with which she approaches it, Hisao isn't her first time. That would be an interesting story to tell.
Now pretend I had a good segue into the next point, which is …
4. Shizune's arc is romantic, but not in the obvious way
Actions speak louder than words. Okay so that's probably the least appropriate metaphor considering who we're talking about, but it sums up Shizune's attitude pretty well. Anyone can say they'll do something, or promise, or plan, or intend. For Shizune, chatter is trivial. Action is what matters. (Notice, by the way, that here she differs from her father, who's very interested in talking about himself.)
And this is how she approaches romance. For Shizune, love is an action, not a feeling. Say you love her, or she's beautiful, or she's the best thing that ever happened to you. So what? Do something. That's what matters.
Moreover, as a point of good writing, if you want from romance to spring from characterisation, one of the best ways to do that is have the lovers do something together that they're both passionate about. What is Shizune passionate about? Her student council work. What does she spend a lot of time doing with Hisao? Ah.
When you take this perspective, Shizune's arc is highly romantic. She brings Hisao into the realm of action, of being able to accomplish something – and of accomplishing things and feeling proud of them together. It's not all work: their moments of repose are silent; nothing needs to be said because love has already been demonstrated in the act. But even there, they're not face to face, but shoulder to shoulder, engaging with the world.
The climactic arc is once again working together to bring Misha back into the fold. Again, they stand shoulder to shoulder facing the world, and they support each other in doing something.
More generally, her story is redolent of things left unsaid. She never talks about Hisao's condition, but she figures it out, and she's mindful of it. In the bad ending, she knows you
I struggled for a bit with the meaning behind Hisao saying “I love you” out loud at the end when Shizune clearly can't hear him. I think this is the key. He could tell her, but it would be meaningless to her. He's already demonstrated love. He understands her well enough to know this. And that is love.
And just as Shizune demands active engagement…
5. Shizune's arc demands active engagement from the reader
Okay, this is a bit tenuous, and I'm not entirely confident it checks out, but let's have a go.
I like Shizune a great deal, but … she's not really very likeable. Especially at the beginning. She's manipulative, insensitive, cantankerous, and something of a hypocrite. (Bet you didn't expect to see that in a post with a title like this, did you?) And even after act one, it's never an easy ride. Once you get past her personality, you have to deal with the fact that half the story is given by implication. But if you do the work of getting past all that, of trying to empathise with her, the rewards are there.
That, I think, is the theme of Shizune's story as a whole. Fittingly, it's best phrased in the imperative: Don't just sit there passively. Work for it, get past the surface, the chatter, the trivial, and find the rewards hidden below.
And that slots very nicely into what seems to me to be the theme of Katawa Shoujo as a whole, one of going beyond the superficial.