I've been following KS since about when Act 1 came out. So, I was obviously excited to play it.
So I did.
And then I wrote a community blog on Japanator dot com from my musings and feelings about the game, but since the comments there are notoriously sparse I figured I would post it here. I would have posted it in the Feedback subforum, but the rule there is that it should be relevant to the development team, and this definitely falls under "random musings and general discussion". Hopefully you guys won't consider me posting it here as too self-serving, since I mean, it kind of is...
At any rate, there's the link above to the post on Jtor and I'm pasting the text below. Hopefully this'll make you think about things you may not have considered. If not, well, no harm done, right?
(Spoilers for all routes ahead)
Katawa Shoujo came out a bit ago, and it’s a milestone for the internet, I think. Only in this day and age can people from all over the world collaborate on a project as massive and impressive as this, and five years of development was definitely worth the wait. It shows what people can accomplish if they work for it.
There’s the obvious idea throughout Katawa Shoujo that disabled people are just people – no more, no less. But in my experience playing the game from start to finish, the real theme isn’t just about seeing past their disabilities. It’s deeper than that.
Every route in the game, beyond the love story of each heroine, is all about understanding and connecting with others.
Every path deals with, if not necessarily helping the heroine out of their shell, then closing the gap between them and Hisao. None of the heroines really lets people get close to them, for various reasons, and this is what makes Katawa Shoujo most obviously and most poignantly a product of the internet society.
In this day and age, it’s easier than ever to connect with people, but it’s also easier than ever to keep everyone at arm’s length. Hiding behind a pseudonym, talking 140 characters at a time, using emoticons and jokes to mask actual opinions in fear of being ostracized – it’s what the internet does, really. It’s a brutal, brutal place at times, and it’s definitely easier to just clam up and deal with people at only a superficial level.
It’s kind of like the hedgehog’s dilemma, really. For those not in the know, the hedgehog’s dilemma is an analogy about people and relationships – hedgehogs have to huddle together to keep warm during cold weather and tough times, but they can’t get too close without harming each other with their quills. But humans aren’t hedgehogs, and we don’t rely solely on animal instinct – we are social creatures, and I think we’d all go crazy if we couldn’t form bonds with others.
The crux of every route is always about bridging the gap between Hisao and the heroine of the story. It’s more superficially obvious in some routes than others, but it’s always the main point in the end, one way or another.
Emi puts up a barrier of goodwill around herself – she keeps everyone at arm’s length, hides her problems behind a façade of energy and happiness. She speaks about how it’s pointless to talk about her troubles to anyone else – her life was stripped from her once in the car accident that took her legs and her father, and there’s no telling when it could happen again. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say. She admits that her previous boyfriend couldn’t handle the distance between them, and broke up with her, and she explodes at Hisao for trying to help her through her problems, thinking that they are hers and hers alone. The route is about helping her understand that it’s okay to rely on others.
Hanako’s route is similar – she lost her previous life in a house fire. She withdraws into herself, more obviously than any of the other heroines. She believes that her existence does nothing but make life more difficult for others, so it’s best to not make waves and not trust others. She holds resentment for the world because it has taught her that she would be better off not existing – the false care shown during her birthdays hits her especially hard - she feels she doesn't deserve the pity, and people don't want to give it, so why delude herself into thinking that it's justified?
She is angered by the pretenses her relationships with Lilly and Hisao are built on, and by the reason you probably played her route in the first place. She’s seen only as a fragile flower to shelter and protect, not as an actual person in and of herself. Refusing to understand her point of view and continuing to try and coddle her leads directly to her bad end.
Lilly’s route deals mostly with her mothering nature, and Hisao stumbles around her point of view. Hisao admires Lilly’s independence, and her care with others. She offers him the knowledge that he is not alone in dealing with his problems, but he still considers his troubles to be his own burden. By the ending, he realizes that she was doing the same with her own issues – because of her blindness and her family situation, Lilly constantly works herself to make sure she isn’t a burden to others, only a help. Hisao’s final attempt to close this distance between them and create a mutual bond of support forms the climactic scene of the route.
Shizune’s route makes the gap between them obvious from the get-go. A deaf-mute, Shizune can initially only connect with others through Misha – fittingly, Hisao’s first goal in the route is to learn sign language to communicate with her properly. She notes that she wants to make people happy, but that her force of personality just ends up pushing people away, making her unable to really have a true relationship with anyone. The drama in her path comes from her realizing this and how it causes her to treat the people closest to her.
Shizune’s father is shown as an example of refusal to understand others, and also stands as a clear reminder of exactly what demographic spawned Katawa Shoujo, as well as the one it’s aimed towards. A muscular man who carries a katana for no reason, his boisterous attitude and loud proclamations of his own virtues are reminiscent of a particular character from Gurren Lagann who seems to be idolized by the anime fandom. However, Shizune’s father is immediately shown as a rude and inconsiderate buffoon. He refuses to acknowledge Shizune’s circumstances, and makes no effort to understand either of his own children. The portrayal is a bit heavy-handed, but necessarily so.
Rin’s route tackles the issue of self-isolation and connection more deeply than any of the others, I think. The valley between Rin and Hisao makes up the entire story, as it explores Rin’s difficulties in expressing herself and Hisao’s inability to really understand the object of his affection. The only way Rin can express herself is through her artwork, but even through that people are unable to determine what she’s really feeling. She struggles with the idea that people want her to be something she’s not, and whether change is really the best answer when trying to bridge the gap between people.
In every single route, failure to understand the heroine’s point of view and picking the wrong choices, even with good intentions, leads to a bad end. Even more tellingly, in Act 1 of the game, if the player refuses to have Hisao open up to any of the heroines and begin the steps towards a connecting with others, he drinks himself stupid and ends up falling to his death.
Maybe you shouldn’t have pushed everyone away, eh? And maybe this’ll teach you a few things about real life.
Like I mentioned above, this concept of connecting with others - letting them understand you and you striving to understand them - is really what I think Katawa Shoujo is all about, and what makes it really something aimed towards this internet hive-mind. Have you seen all those reaction images online cut from 4chan, with these people being brought to tears and saying their lives have been changed and all that? Every route, every form of distance between people depicted in the game, is something that I think almost everyone can understand in some way.
We’re all people. Everyone suffers one way or another, and in some ways the veil of anonymity the internet provides has made it worse than ever before, making it harder to receive support from others. Katawa Shoujo is relatable on a level that most media simply isn’t, especially to those who spend their time on the internet talking to strangers, making sure not to get too close to anyone. It shows us that it’s okay to trust others, to let them into our world. Not just okay, in fact – it’s vital to being a human, I think.
And it gives us this lesson by showing us people with disabilities, with clear physical and mental gaps between them and others, ones that so many can’t simply look past to see the real person behind them - and by having us connect with them like with anyone else. That it isn't impossible, that's it's something we should strive for.
And, in my eyes, that’s pretty damn powerful.
A forum for general discussion of the game: Open to all punters
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