Title: Katawa Shoujo
Company: Four Leaf Studios
Release date: 1-4-12
When your life could end with the smallest of impacts, how can you learn live to within your constraints? When any relationship could be cut tragically short, how can you risk falling in love?
Nakai Hisao is a young man whose life does not begin with love; rather, it nearly ends because of it. Left hospitalized after a confession triggered a major heart attack, he receives crushing news: he has been living with a congenital heart defect all throughout his life, the symptoms of which have now begun to manifest, and will drastically shorten his remaining years without proper care. Left with little choice, Hisao reluctantly transfers to a school aimed specifically towards the disabled, in hopes of having a future once more.
For too long, any foreign attempts to join in the production of eroge has been viewed as a source of endless amusement and derision. The West has largely been considered supposedly incapable of the same kind of quality Japan delivers with their games, inspiring anime adaptions and truly uproarious popularity across countries and language barriers, an industry which only grows with the passage of time. Eroge makers of the West have always lacked any kind of support, facing derision on both sides, as a mere imitation of eroge’s irreplacable country of origin.
Along came Katawa Shoujo, with the most outlandish premise imaginable, and the disdain only intensified. A game about seducing the disabled? Clearly, it would be disgusting and offensive on every level, objectifying the unfortunate and providing some insensitive pornographic material for the desperate acrotomophile to complete this disastrous creation. Even without taking its origins into consideration, it continued to be a topic of controversy and seething outrage.
Five years later, it was finally released. And every loathsome extremist, every hate-filled purist, took pause. The characters have depth and issues, problems which do not revolve around their disabilities. These heroines are not sex symbols without limbs, nor are they helpless girls to be infantilized while a perfect hero saves them at every opportunity. They are simply people, with strengths and shortcomings as anyone else, people deserving of respect, trust, and dignity. The few sex scenes are presented with care, their placement crucial to character development. The visuals and audio are superb. It is well deserving of praise, not only a triumphant success after the long and arduous development process, but truly a labor of love. Touching, bittersweet, and tasteful, it is the finest eroge to have ever been conceived within the West.
“If you think about it, nothing lasts for long. Even something like my life or yours is just a blink of an eye in the history of everything. But we’re here, aren’t we?”
Left distant and apathetic since the incident, he has difficulties with adjusting to his new school and the colorful student population. Despite his own internal struggles, he is genuinely kind-hearted and willing to help others, but he has no intention of being taken advantage of, nor is his patience endless. He acts sociable and tries to be understanding, although thoughts of the past weigh heavily on his mind.
“Saying the right things is really hard for me. I say all kinds of things that I don’t really mean all the time. I get really nervous and everything comes out a mess and even I don’t really understand what I want to say. Like being at an amusement park and a beehive at the same time.”
A whimsical young girl, she acts purely on spurious decisions, and seems to lack any real direction in life. Her sole passion in life is painting, making her extremely popular in the art department; yet despite the excitement surrounding her, she never seems to share in the same enthusiasm. She is constantly speaking in riddles, making her an oddity to many.
“People think that I’m a really popular and friendly person, but I only have a few close friends. Probably because I keep everyone in the dark, but I think it’s also because I hate the idea of losing a close friend.”
Chipper and bright, her sunny demeanor and boundless energy is never dampened by the loss of her legs, instead taking her athletic skills to new heights. She tries to encourage healthy habits, exercising almost constantly as part of a strict daily regimen, but in the process, tends to ignore the limits of her body. She is friends with Rin, and together the two make up an odd pair of conflicting personalities.
“To be honest, I wasn’t altogether sure how you saw us, since you were a new transfer student from another school. If you had pitied us, I would have been quite offended.”
Elegant and maternal, she is a crucial figure of support to Hanako, lending her support in any time of need. Her kindness and sweet demeanor earns her the admiration of many, younger students looking up to her as an example of good behavior and academic success. While she is mature and responsible in many ways, she also has as a fathomless sense of wonder for everything she experiences, finding delight in the smallest of details and always eager to discover something entirely new.
“E-every day was the same. Everyone doing their best to pretend that I mattered. Everyone pretending everything was alright. I didn’t want to exist, but they wouldn’t let me.”
Plagued by misfortune in the past, her extensive scarring has made her a social outcast, leaving her with a severely low amount of self-esteem and an extreme aversion towards other people. Timid and distrustful, she struggles with even the most basic of relationships, often isolating herself to avoid attention. She treasures her friendship with Lilly, considering her to be the only one she can confide in.
“I’ve always wanted to stand at the top. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as I was the best at it, and understood it completely, and made it my own.”
As the student council president, she takes the utmost pride in her schoolwork, her authorative air and sense of responsibility making her a model student. She possesses an intensely controlling and competitive nature, always willing to turn anything into a contest. Unfortunately, people often avoid her due to her stubborn ways and rather logical way of thinking, rather than trying to view things from an emotional standpoint.
Mikado “Misha” Shiina
“Shicchan has a way of manipulating people. Sometimes she wants to, and sometimes she doesn’t really, but it happens anyway. And sometimes I’m just not sure…exactly which one it is.”
Close friends with Shizune, she acts as her interpreter and her assistant for student council duties. Incessantly bubbly and happy-go-lucky, she has trouble grasping appropriate behavior in social situations, paying no attention to her surroundings and speaking her mind as she pleases.
While the photographic backgrounds and sub-character sprites do look rather unpolished, the majority of paper dolls and event illustrations are impressive, warmly colored and convincingly atmospheric. Each character is given a variety of poses, expressions, and outfits, and although Emi is drawn in a slightly different style than the rest of the heroines, this new technique never clashes. The inclusion of effects like falling snow and exploding fireworks lends a very professional touch to the presentation, crowned with absolutely gorgeous scenes of animation.
Whimsical and romantic one moment, intense and somber the next: every piece is unique, befitting each scene. Considering that most amateur games’ background music is often woefully generic and grating, the powerful weight of every track is a wonderful contrast. However, while the use of piano as the main instrument is pleasant, the lack of variety does grow a bit tiresome. The lack of voices is to be expected, but it hardly detracts from the overall audio presentation.
The erotic scenes are far from fetishistic pandering, nor are they needless non-sequiturs interrupting a tender moment. Sometimes sweet and loving, other times difficult and discomforting, the scenes are all portrayed with faithful realism. And although it might have been a cause of previous concern, it is assured that the heroine’s disabilities are never viewed as an object of lust; there are no non-consensual scenes, and no coercion is involved whatsoever. While certain sessions might not be beds of roses, there is a distinct lack of tactless thorns, as well.