My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

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ElitistOars
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My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by ElitistOars » Thu Nov 16, 2017 8:41 pm

Hiya all, new here.

I got introduced to Katawa Shoujo via a NSFW story/quest in Questionable Questing that had its protagonist be a fan of 'erogames' and she mentions Katawa Shoujo (if you're interested in the quest it's called The Erogamer -- and I heartily recommend it -- but you're going to need an account for it as it's in the NSFW section)
Anyway I decided to write commentary on the three erogames mentioned in the story -- and this here is my third one, the one on Katawa Shoujo. First posted in The Erogamer's thread, decided to repost first on the Katawa Shoujo subreddit, now here.
Note that I SPOIL EVERYTHING, so please don't read further if you've not played through ALL the routes.

---

Title: Katawa Shoujo

Overall impression: This is really really good -- some parts of it excellent, and even the weakest parts are quite decent. It's actually more of a set of slow romance stories with a few sex scenes added in, quite unlike the previous two games I reviewed. So be forewarned, that if you just want some good quick wank-material this is probably not for you.

Number of girls: 6 - in pairs of best friends: Emi & Rin, Lilly & Hanako, Shizune & Misha

Number of routes: 5. You don't get a route for the gay girl, but you still get a sex scene with her in a bad ending. Note that the sex content of each route is much lower than in the other two games, just 1-3 scenes per route.

Each route has four acts, including the shared first act ("Life Expectancy") where the choice of route occurs, based on what girl you show most interest and most compatible personality with. The remaining three acts are labelled as follows per route.
Hanako - Hide and Seek / Castling / Scars
Emi - Form / Perspective / Motion
Rin - Distance / Disconnect / Dream
Lilly - Past / Present / Future
Shizune - Learning to Read / Sleight of Hand / To My Other Self

I so much love theming! And most of these deliver. :)

Characterization: Oh, this game takes characterization to the next level.
- - In "The Sagara Family" characterization was two words per character. The violent tsundere, the lusty widow, the introverted cosplayer.
- - In "Yume Miru Kusuri", characterization was layered. You start in the 1st route with e.g. the innocent bullying victim. Then to add complexity, the creators add a non-innocent aspect (emotional manipulation and her effectively selling her body to you). Then there's layers of guilt and regret to balance those. Then there's a layer of unhinged madness to balance the introspection. Or in the 2nd route, you start with the Student Councilor. But surprise, she turns out to be rather of a slacker that takes you to wild adventures. Which in turn is caused by her constant sense of pending death. Layers.

But here, oh Katawa Shoujo does so many things even better:

(1) "It had been his virtue, and therefore also the cause of his fall..." -J.R.R Tolkien
Characters aren't rounded by balancing clearly delineated virtues with clearly delineated failings. A single trait becomes virtue or failing in different contexts -- it becomes a failing in the context in which it becomes counterproductive to the happiness and goals of the person. The best, most admirable and lovable aspects of each characters can't be easily separated from their weaknesses. Emi's self-confidence becomes recklessness and her self-reliance becomes an urge to keep other people at an emotional distance.

(2) I was also reminded of when Orson Scott Card was talking how in his first draft of "Speaker for the Dead" (one of my all-time favorite SF books) a complaint he got was that Novinha's children couldn't be told apart. OSC repaired this marvelously, and ended up making them the stars of the story -- and his first act of repairing was giving each of them a 'gimmick', something to instantly differentiate them from each other and make them memorable to the readers. After that initial memorable characteristic (Olhado's metallic eyes, Quim's religiosity, Grego's burst of violence), their personalities could be developed more fully.

The central 'gimmick' of the entire game is that this is takes place in a school for kids with various disabilities -- but given this, it's exceptional and excellent how little the actual disabilities matter. Their initial encounters gives also not just the physical gimmick, but also a clear personality gimmick to remember: Shizune's forcefulness, Misha's cheerfulness, Emi's impulsiveness, Lilly's dignified authority, Hanako's panicky shyness. (The only one whose personality I didn't immediately get a strong sense of was Rin -- and I think that's fine, because Rin's whole thing is that she doesn't know who she is either)

The disabilities are not ignored, they do affect things, each character does need to work around them, and we get moments where we each how each person's interactions with others is affected by such. But for the majority of the girls this is something in the background of their existence, as they've had to live with it all their lives. It's a gruesome and distasteful irrelevancy when Rin's art teacher notes the fact that she has no hands and has been drawing with her feet, revelatory of his boorishness even if he intends it as praise -- Rin's lack of arms doesn't really affect her art, it's actually much more troublesome in other things like when she wants to get dressed, replace sanitary pads, or masturbate.

And the point of each route is definitely not the physical disability, instead there's some different inner trouble unconnected with it, revealed in the course of each route. Your relationship with each girl will need to either be able to handle it for a Good Ending or fail at handling it for a Bad one (there are also a couple "Neutral" endings, that fall somewhere in between.)

(3) What the game also figures out out is that the worst failings tend to somehow feed in on themselves. Rin is bad at communicating, so she doesn't communicate much, so inevitably she remains bad at communicating for lack of practice. Shizune domineering nature drives people away, so only a few people remain close to her and she dominates them all the more. Hanako panicky isolation causes other people to be concerned for her -- but since she doesn't want to be a burden on others, she ends up trying to isolating herself further.[/list]

Themes and Gameplay

Sigh... after I finished the first three routes I played (Emi, Shizune, Rin), I was wowed by something that struck me suddenly -- I thought that the form of the gameplay was in each route directly relevant to the personality of the girl, and whatever message and lesson each route was trying to convey.

Emi's route and her virtue-that-becomes-a-flaw is her self-reliance, becoming stubborn unwillingness to accept help -- because if she starts relying on anyone else, she fears she will lose them, as she lost her dad. And in her route *all* the choices (3 or 4) is about whether we're willing to reach out and hear some person's advice. Following that advice we lead directly into the Good Ending (we have a fight, but she's mostly in the wrong, and after a week or so of fretting she apologizes and your relationship is repaired) -- even failing to take the advice (leading to a 'we have a fight and *you* are mostly in the wrong' scenario) we get the option to open up for advice to Misha at which point following her advice you manage to repair your relationship again.

And the Rin route are the opposite. Rin's issue is confusion. She can't communicate what she means, she can't explain what she means, she often doesn't know what she means, or what
she wants to communicate. She reaches out with words and words betray her, she draws art and it means nothing but itself. She tries to make both words and art mean something and as often as not they'll be interpreted as the opposite of what she meant, if she actually meant anything at all, which she isn't certain about. And the Rin route gameplay is similar. The choices here are many, many, but each choice is unclear as to its impact, they often seem to make no difference at all, or an impact you can't have expected. One option had "I need to understand." and another was "Then explain to me." -- and one of these will lead you immediately to a bad ending, and though I picked it (only route where I *first* experienced the bad ending), I don't actually remember which one it is. I then reached an ending where your relationship with her is fine but her career prospects seem shattered, I went back to see if there's a different ending where she could have both career and romantic relationship intact -- and though momentarily it all seemed to be fine, with you being generically supportive, going "Nobody understands each other, and that's okay" -- the scene suddenly twists and everything you've been saying becomes justification for her to leave every person behind, and transfer to some art school in a different city. (Neutral ending).

I had slightly more trouble seeing the thematic connection with Shizune, but I kinda thought I could see something there too, though it was a bit more of a stretch. The Shizune route was unique in that the whole route had only one choice altogether -- basically a clear cut choice of "Cheat on Shizune with her best friend" vs "Don't cheat on Shizune with her best friend" (no points in guessing which one leads to the Good Ending and which to the Bad). And... well, perhaps that fits a bit with Shizune's character too. She has a domineering personality leaving the people near her with little choice, and when (after Misha confessed her love to her and got rejected) refused to let go of Misha's friendship -- which (in the manner of both virtue-and-failing) is ambiguous to what extent this was goodness or selfishness on behalf of Shizune, whether it was good or bad for Misha's own psyche. And perhaps the gameplay leaving you just this one choice "Betray Shizune / Don't betray Shizune" matches up thematically with that. You can choose to be true to a person, or you can choose to not to. And when they're as domineering as Shizune perhaps it'll mean you have few choices in your life, but you'll have at least one: whether to stick with them.

But eh... the Shizune route thematic link still felt a bit of a stretch, more as if I was shoehorning a thematic connection rather than finding one. And in the last two routes I played, Hanako and Lilly, I couldn't say I found any thematic links, even at a stretch. At this point I think that the Emi & Rin thematic links must have been deliberate enough -- but they didn't spread through the whole story. The Shizune & Hanako likely suffered from last minute rewrites, the way I understand it (hearing about the severe differences from the beta version), and that probably explains the smaller number of actual choices. And as for Lilly, there are choices enough, and consistent forthrightness will lead you to the Good Ending well enough -- but I wouldn't really say that this truly connected with Lilly's story. It's more as if whoever wrote the choices in the Lilly route picked a random virtue which you needed to display in order to get to that route's Good Ending.

So, yeah, if what it seemingly did with the Rin & Emi routes it'd have done consistently throughout, I'd have called it brilliant. But right now it's just 2/5ths brilliant -- still that's more than most games achieve.

---

The other thing I want to note here is that each route seems to portray a different style of relationship, both in Watsonian and Doylish terms -- both in terms of how the characters themselves perceive it, and the expectations it leaves to the players/readers:
- With Emi, we see a... young highschool relationship. They date, they kiss, they eventually have timid playful sex, and then slightly more kinky sex, they have a stupid fight over boundaries leading to temporary friction, and then they make up (Good Ending) or they break up completely (Bad Ending). And right now they're young, and infatuated with each other, and a rather cute match -- but even in the Good Ending we don't know if their relationship will last beyond highschool. It might or it might not. You and Emi and the story don't think much about the future, and that's fine.

- With Shizune on the other hand -- it's the opposite of 'not thinking very much about the future'. This highschool relationship has an expiration date, it's bounded by the end of the school year, which alone of all routes it reaches. By the end of the route, Good Ending or Bad -- you're split: She'll go on to some business school, you'll go into science, and the unspoken understanding (even in the Good Ending) is that you'll not be together anymore. In the Good Ending the expectation is that you'll meet again some years in the future, and perhaps you'll rekindle your past relationship then, or perhaps you'll have found other people and just be business partners instead, or helping each other in some philanthropy task.

- With Lilly, oh, everything so romantic and serious, and whereas Emi in her love-confession scene goes with the simple and funny "I think I've developed a bit of a crush on you. You're going to have to do something about that.", and Shizune has her simple happy acceptance to being asked to be your girlfriend, Lilly's love confession is all dramatic "I love you, I love you, I love you!", and OMG it soon turns out she's gonna have to leave you FOREVER, and OMG you're running after her at the airport, and OMG this is one of the stories where the reader demands from the author that they must surely live happily ever after until the end of their days, or else the story has betrayed you in a narrative sense.

- With Rin... it's just a clumsy relationship where two young people, fond of each other, end up stumbling into having a sexual encounter one night of mutual neediness -- and then they don't know how to deal with that, they don't really know what or how much it meant to each other, and everything is awkward after that, and a bit bitter, and instead of bringing you closer together it drives you further apart -- and in the Good Ending you end up repairing that, and perhaps you build something that can last on top of the initial stumble.

- Lastly with Hanako... it's a sort of almost unhealthy thing, where she's fond of you, and you're fond of her, but each of you doesn't know how much they must push or pull back from the other, and eventually Hanako has sex with you less because she wants to, but because she feels she has to for you to stay with her, and it's kinda of an ugly mess. And okay you stay together in the end, and talk openly about your feelings, but at this point I'm thinking Hanako should instead perhaps date more people, or at least you know talk to more people, rather than stay with you.

Random thoughts per route

-- Emi route: "I don't want to be a knight rescuing the damsel in distress, but even knights helped each other out. I want to help you, even though I know you can do it on your own."
Oh, this was the first route I played and it remains my favourite. What a delight Emi is. You and she spend an arc steadily growing more friendly to each other... and at the point where it has reached clear flirtiness and I'm thinking "Will you two kiss already!" Emi's next sentence is "If you're going to kiss me, you should probably do it soon. I think the lunch bell is about to ring." And after playing two games (Sagara family, Yume Miru Kusuri) where everyone is to some degree dishonest and covert and hidden, what a balm to the soul is reading about this utterly unhidden and healthy relationship. Finally a relationship that doesn't need to be covered up. Emi & you openly share kisses in the hallways in front of your classmates, suffer the mild and friendly teasing of Misha who squees over how adorable the two of you are, and everything is so fine and lovely.

- Shizune route: Second route I played. I think this one tired me out a bit. Probably second least-favourite. It followed the same pattern as the Emi route in that you openly become a couple at the end of the 2nd arc -- so I thought it'd remain a pattern with the other characters too, but that was probably just a coincidence -- Emi & Shizune are the two most direct and forthright characters, so it makes sense that they're ones who in one direction or another will either be most direct at you wanting (or accepting) to get together, while with the others you and they will both dance some around the issue.

Shizune's issues are more complex than Emi's need for self-reliance -- Shizune has ambition, desire to make good things happen without really knowing what these things are meant to be, a counterproductive directionless drive turning into a need for control ("Tyranny works!"). The trouble with your relationship, relating to Misha's own buried feelings for Shizune, is NOT what I had actually expected the issue with Shizune to be like. I had expected the trouble to arise because of the instance when, taking the role of her interpreter in Misha's absence, you deliberately misinterpret some of her words to Lilly, to the point where Shizune signs "I will devour you!" and you pretend to Lilly that Shizune is making polite comments instead. I thought that if this became a habit and Shizune found out about it she'd see it as a catastrophic breach of trust, as if you're taking away her ability to communicate. But it was a one-off funny scene instead, not something really relevant to the route as a whole.

As a whole I'd say this was among my least favorite routes, I felt it had too much unrelated padding. Not sure that visiting Shizune's family had all that much relevance, seemed more like padding the thing out.

- Rin route: Third route I played, second most favorite. I think I've already mentioned in previous sections most of what I had to say about this route. One last note: She may be supposed to be a brilliant artist, but I didn't feel any brilliance from whatever artist the game hired to do Rin's paintings, sorry...

- Hanako route: Holy fuck the bad ending in this route was really forceful. Hanako screaming "I hate you" is understandable for a Bad Ending (though still more extreme than what the other Bad Endings of the game delivered), but her also screaming "I hate Lilly!" was genuinely, if mildly, shocking to me. That having been said this route is probably my least favorite. The options and the outcomes don't feel well-matched with each other, to the point that depending on an earlier choice, the last choice taken may lead you to an undifferentiated Bad Ending no matter what you pick -- I wasn't even certain whether this was bad design or a bug.

- Lilly route: Last route I played. 3rd most favourite route -- well constructed, but it doesn't have the thematic linkings of Emi & Rin routes, and Lilly's personality doesn't do much for me. One interesting thing is that in this route we see Hanako actually thrive and grow out of her shell more than we do in her own route - find a new friend, work with the school newspaper, plan an excursion. To an extent it makes sense chronologically (Lilly route takes you further along through the school year than the Hanako route does), but it also makes sense character-wise because one of the insights of the Hanako route is that Hanako needed less help and attention. When Lilly & you get into a relationship, she's happy enough to know that she's not a burden on her friends, find her own path independently of both you and Lilly.

The other thing that makes me like the Lilly route less than the Rin and Emi route is that the conflict that challenges the relationship is almost completely external -- her family wants her to move back to Scotland. So though this can be as big a dilemma as any in the other routes, it felt arbitrary and external to the character.

Last thoughts:
- What do you mean that Misha's hair are pink because she dyes them pink!? Aren't all Japanese people supposed to be born with pink, blue or green hair!? This is a serious offense against the laws of anime! And Lilly's golden hair is a hint of her half-European ancestry?! OMG!

- What do you mean that Emi & you try anal sex, but don't enjoy it very much, and decide you don't want to do it again? Is this allowed in erogames? Shouldn't the erogame-police revoke your erogame-license?

- Casting:
Misha will be played by... Pinkie Pie.
Hanako will be played by... Fluttershy.
Emi will be played by... Rainbow Dash.
Rin will be played by... Maud Pie.
Lilly will be played by... Princess Celestia.
Shizune will be played by... King Sombra.

Related Perks & Skills:
-- [Student Councilor] Shizune route!
-- [You Forgot to Lock the Door] Both in the Emi & the Rin route.

In conclusion: A good game, a really good game. Not as much H-content as the other two, but it makes up for it with good and varied characterization and themes.
Last edited by ElitistOars on Sat Nov 18, 2017 7:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

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QuietlySomething
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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by QuietlySomething » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:11 pm

Thanks for sharing this. This is a very well-thought-out and well-articulated commentary, and I am always interested seeing other peoples' own evaluations of the themes and characterizations in the story (although the comparisons to the other games you looked at went over my head; that obviously can't be helped :P) So curious to see you arrive with Hanako's as your least favorite of the routes considering she is far and away the fan favorite character. I agreed with a lot of the points you made though (funny note about the hair colors; it's always amused me how the game averts Misha's and Lilly's unusual hair colors and yet there are still the blue and blood-red heads of hair on Shizune and Rin which defy explanation anyway lol). This is a very thoughtful review and I admit I do get a little giddy seeing someone talking about their brand new experience with KS even though it is practically dinosaur dust at this point. :P

Oh, and welcome to the forums if you plan on staying!

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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Nov 17, 2017 12:49 pm

A very well-written deconstruction of the VN.
I hesitate to call it a review, because calling it that might cause people to turn to it to find out whether or not they might be interested to read the VN, and that's something that they really shouldn't do because of the heavy spoilers...
Well, there's not much chance of finding anyone on these forums who hasn't read KS, so everything's fine :-)
A few things I'd like to point out:
The Shizune & Hanako likely suffered from last minute rewrites, the way I understand it (hearing about the severe differences from the beta version)
That's not quite correct. Yes, the Shizune route was the last one finished, and Hanako's route changed it's writer for the last act, but that has nothing to do with what is usually called the "beta version" - because the "beta version" was not a beta version at all - more like a pre-alpha or proof of concept, and it was already obsolete by the time the Act 1 demo was released years before the final release.
the scene suddenly twists and everything you've been saying becomes justification for her to leave every person behind, and transfer to some art school in a different city. (Neutral ending).
This is a pet-peeve of mine, but officially this is not a neutral ending but a second bad one. Personally I found it more emotionally devastating than the other bad ending in her path, because it makes it unmistakably clear that reconciliation is impossible and both of them are going to be miserable. At the same time the other bad end of Rin's path is obviously salvageable, because you see the exact same scene on the path to the good end, and you are able to salvage it there.
The only route that has a neutral end is Hanako's.
It's more as if whoever wrote the choices in the Lilly route picked a random virtue which you needed to display in order to get to that route's Good Ending.
What bothered me most about her route was that this random virtue (honesty) was exactly the one that Lilly did NOT display when she started a relationship with Hisao, stringing him along, all the way knowing she would be leaving soon to the point where Akira had to be the one to tell him a week before she was supposed to be leaving...

And finally: No mention of Kenji's End? :mrgreen:
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by Oddball » Fri Nov 17, 2017 6:39 pm

One interesting thing is that in this route we see Hanako actually thrive and grow out of her shell more than we do in her own route - find a new friend, work with the school newspaper, plan an excursion. To an extent it makes sense chronologically (Lilly route takes you further along through the school year than the Hanako route does), but it also makes sense character-wise because one of the insights of the Hanako route is that Hanako needed less help and attention. When Lilly & you get into a relationship, she's happy enough to know that she's not a burden on her friends, find her own path independently of both you and Lilly.
I can't say I really agree with this part.

It's not that Hanako needs less help and attention, because she does. She needs a LOT of help. Part of her revelation is that while she might hate to be helped all the time, she does kind of need it and invite it and her friends are only doing that because they care for her. Likewise, her issues about friendship are never addressed in Lilly's route.

Also, the My Little Pony references are unneeded. I almost stopped reading as soon as you included them.
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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Nov 17, 2017 7:45 pm

Oddball wrote:
One interesting thing is that in this route we see Hanako actually thrive and grow out of her shell more than we do in her own route - find a new friend, work with the school newspaper, plan an excursion. To an extent it makes sense chronologically (Lilly route takes you further along through the school year than the Hanako route does), but it also makes sense character-wise because one of the insights of the Hanako route is that Hanako needed less help and attention. When Lilly & you get into a relationship, she's happy enough to know that she's not a burden on her friends, find her own path independently of both you and Lilly.
I can't say I really agree with this part.

It's not that Hanako needs less help and attention, because she does. She needs a LOT of help. Part of her revelation is that while she might hate to be helped all the time, she does kind of need it and invite it and her friends are only doing that because they care for her. Likewise, her issues about friendship are never addressed in Lilly's route.
Forgot to mention that part. I wouldn't interpret too much into that. For me it was more a storytelling neccessity than characterdevelopment on the part of Hanako. To tell Lilly's story, Hanako's problems had to be taken out of the equation or it would have taken too much time to tell that story and much of it would have been similar to Hanako's route. So having her get other friends and joining a club is a nice - if somewhat convenient - solution for that problem.
Also, the My Little Pony references are unneeded. I almost stopped reading as soon as you included them.
Seconded.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by Oddball » Fri Nov 17, 2017 11:32 pm

Forgot to mention that part. I wouldn't interpret too much into that. For me it was more a storytelling neccessity than characterdevelopment on the part of Hanako. To tell Lilly's story, Hanako's problems had to be taken out of the equation or it would have taken too much time to tell that story and much of it would have been similar to Hanako's route. So having her get other friends and joining a club is a nice - if somewhat convenient - solution for that problem.
I looked it at this way.

If you play Lilly's route, she's fine. You have nothing to worry about. She gets better by herself, at least as Hisao or Lilly knows. That works because unless you ARE playing Hanako's route, you never discover just how deeper her issues are.

The game is full of instances where people mention things in one route and you don't know how big a deal it is unless you play a different one.
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ElitistOars
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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by ElitistOars » Sat Nov 18, 2017 7:30 am

Oddball wrote:Also, the My Little Pony references are unneeded. I almost stopped reading as soon as you included them.
Just moved them to near the end, so that they be less distracting/annoying. Thanks.

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Re: My commentary/review of Katawa Shoujo

Post by WillDfly » Tue Nov 28, 2017 6:07 pm

Minor disagreements on the review, but nothing big. Mostly entering the following discussion.
Also, get perks for everyone, like [To a Tea], [Scarfing Down Pizza], [Orange You Glad?]... It might be time for dinner.
Mirage_GSM wrote:
It's more as if whoever wrote the choices in the Lilly route picked a random virtue which you needed to display in order to get to that route's Good Ending.
What bothered me most about her route was that this random virtue (honesty) was exactly the one that Lilly did NOT display when she started a relationship with Hisao, stringing him along, all the way knowing she would be leaving soon to the point where Akira had to be the one to tell him a week before she was supposed to be leaving...
Though I thought the zero tolerance was a bit much, I figured that unless you're honest with her, you don't have a leg to stand on (maybe borrow one from Emi) to get pissed off when the family matter comes up, and any complaint comes as childish. Being forthcoming and not getting the same courtesy, you get that slight edge to go a little insane and risk life and limb to go for it, with some justification.
And finally: No mention of Kenji's End? :mrgreen:
No ponies, no friendship. Hentai only. The cartoon of true men... and weebs.

I'm with the "Hanako is going to be fine, eventually" camp, and we only see more of it on Lilly's route because Hanako's is so short.

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