Katawa Shoujo – Initial Review, And Hanako’s Good End [No Spoilers]

Katawa Shoujo is an Original English Language Visual Novel, started by a thread on 4chan and gained traction to become its own development project. It was released on January 4th 2012 for free, after 5 years of development. It is a wonderful example of how an online community of people with similar interests can come together to produce something, though from what I heard it had its own share of internal problems. Despite being in development for 5 years, I never heard of it until 2DT wrote a post about his brief involvement.

Story

The story, without giving away too much, follows the main character Hisao who was hospitalized due to a heart attack from heart arrhythmia. Because his condition can worsen to become fatal, and he has to take a large amount of medication to stay alive, his doctor and family advise him to attend Yamaku High School for disabled children after he was discharged. Initially enraged and uncomfortable at suddenly becoming “abnormal” as well as having to get used to a new surrounding of different types of people at his new school, Hisao takes a while to adapt. After meeting the main female characters, you follow a route to pursue a girl based on decisions you make. 

So far I only played one route, and reached Hanako’s happy ending (my One True Love in this VN). Hanako is a girl whose body was heavily scarred in a fire, which caused her to become extremely shy and terrified of human contact and interactions. The original cause was physical, but her current disability is traumatic and psychological. Not the typical ‘shy girl’ type you see in anime and other VNs, far more extreme than that. The only person she talks to is her friend Lilly. Oh, and 2DT was the one to give Hanako her name (see above link).

Review

When I heard about the story, the first thing that came to mind was whether it would treat disabilities as just another trait that happens to be there and focus on the personalities of the characters, or would it wave a flag saying “HEY LOOK THIS GIRL IS DISABLED ISN’T THIS NEW AND WEIRD?!?” (I think people used the terms Empowering VS Exploitative?). I was very pleased to find out that it was the former, and the disabilities aren’t thrown in your face. You’re told about the girl’s disability when you first meet her, but afterwards although it affects her actions you don’t really notice it, and just focus on her personality.

Production Value

The only other VN I have played so far is Aoi Shiro, so I don’t have much to compare Katawa Shoujo with. The game itself feels very solid and smooth, and the parts that had animation (e.g. when you enter a girl’s route before the first Act transition) were really beautiful. It feels like it was made professionally. However there were really few choice selections, and each selection that I’ve encountered only had 2 choices to pick. That’s understandable for a fan-made game though, considering how there are 6 different girls you can pursue, and each of them have different routes that lead to different ends (luckily I reached Hanako’s Happy Ending on my first try, in Aoi Shiro I had to watch Yasumi die several times before I can be with her).

Writing

The writing for this game (or at least for Hanako’s route) is superb, which is extremely surprising considering the kind of place 4chan is. Like I stated above, they approached the disability issue really well. I can tell that a lot of care was put into the characters, and their actions and thoughts feel like how actual people would react to situations. I can sympathize with many characters, and can empathize with Hisao on a less intense scale (I had two spontaneous pneumothoraxes in my right lung, and I’m often paranoid that my left lung will randomly collapse). Although unlike Hisao who prefers to hide his past, I can’t shut up about my experiences to anyone willing to listen (if you’re curious, feel free to ask about it). Hisao’s monologues occasionally drag on too long in my opinion, but I’m an impatient person and I’m really nitpicking here. There’s one part of Hanako’s route that made me cringe and send several WHAAAAATTTT tweets, but I won’t talk about it to give many people the chance to finish her route without spoilers. Apart from that part the Hanako route is fantastic, and my heart swells up each time we get closer and she starts opening up more.

If you want a measure, my attention was glued to Katawa Shoujo for 6.5 hours straight and playtime would’ve been higher if the route didn’t end there. I’ll probably go back to play other routes, but for now I’m content with reaching the happy end of my one true love. When I went to eat in the cafeteria earlier I was frightened by the large crowd of people, possibly an indication of how absorbed I was into Hanako’s route.

Emotional Attachment

One of the most important factors in how much I like a story (whether it’s anime, manga, VN) is the amount of emotional attachment I have to it. Katawa Shoujo really delivers in this department, and I have a large emotional investment in Hanako. It’s not just with the character I’m pursuing either; I actually care for many of the characters, and feel like Lilly really did become my friend. I could sympathize, and I felt really “in”, as if I’m actually in the story. The writing is that good (or maybe I’m just that delusional).

Because I reached the Happy End, the ending was really sweet and cute. After entering her route, my times with Hanako had my heart thumping the whole time right to the end. And when the end finally came, I was happy for them, but at the same time I was really sad that it ended. It left a large gaping hole in my chest, which is an indicator of how emotionally attached I am e.g. Heartcatch Precure, Ebisu-san and Hotei-san, The iDOLM@STER, and writing that delusional Takane post. I wish that their story would continue on, that I can find out what happens next in their lives. The emptiness I feel when I quit the game and return to my lonely life really makes me wish Hanako was a real person.

The following screenshot is my favorite, it’s very heartwarming and hopeful when you know about Hanako’s personality.

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22 thoughts on “Katawa Shoujo – Initial Review, And Hanako’s Good End [No Spoilers]

  1. When I first heard about this from Twitter and on 2DT’s site I thought hmmm interesting sounding idea, but on the other hand personal experience due to my own physical disabilities I will be honest and say I cringed a little..but after giving it a shot I can honestly say I feel different about it. Like you said they do no focus 100% on each girls problems, sure they remind you about it but they do not shove it in your face every ten minutes.

    I have some personal experience with some “dating” but you know some out there always are put off with my wheelchair, but I suppose that can be a bit shocking to some out there. However I know there are a select few that don’t even look at that part, but who knows I am sure we will find our matches one day…

    Now I have not gotten started on choosing a girl yet but there are a few that sound great! Now I just need to actually play longer than an hour! I did like Hanako she reminded me of one of the Clannad girls that reads lots of books xD

    I will keep you posted on which “arc” I choose to go for! I may even review this soonish.

    • Yeah finding someone IRL is hard (I don’t even know how dating really works in real life lol).

      Many of the girls are interesting, and a good thing about the game is they let you meet each of the characters for a bit so you know who you would probably like. After interacting with Hanako for a while I fell in love <3

    • You can go with someone else, Hanako is MY one true love :3

      So much kyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa and so much hhnnnngggggggghhhhhhhhh *left lung collapses*

  2. I admire how into a character you can get.

    I’d say, though, that it’s because we have to say goodbye that a good story has any power.

    • Thanks, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing because it’s so painful >.>

      And I agree that having to say goodbye is part of what gives it power, though I wish this route would continue on, and maybe hint towards what their future would be like.

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  5. Beautiful Review. I wish truly that Hanako was real. She has touched my Heart like nothing (or nobody) has before. I hope someone makes a story of their future.

  6. I can really understand your passion here. I got the exactly same feelings after i finished the Hanako route (it was my first) And i hardly can start an other route cause I cant choos an other choice as i did. It’s somehow my story and i dont want to see an other.
    I also played 2 other VN where i did everthing to get the 100% but i think i will pass on Katawa Shoujo to do that because i dont want to lose the emotional connection to the game i have now.

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  8. I did the same, i went through Hanako and her storyline, and after getting the good ending… so extremely reluctant to go into other characters because i would meet Hanako and bang my head on the desk…… i still havent, after downloading it a week ago… (admittedly i was this >—< close to crying)…. my girlfriend called me girly, she played it and within 3 hours had to stop because she was crying too much. Goes to show how much i got into this.. loved it 20/10

  9. I absolutely loved this game, and Hanako was my favorite. I did her first, and I think she spoiled me for the other girls, because none of them compared to her, for me. Everything about it was just incredible. It’s amazing what devoted amateurs can accomplish!

    • Yeah, I’m always interested when a group of fans get together and create something. It’s part of why I like the Touhou Project so much, there’s a lot of things that fans create, and most of the music I listen to are arrangements of the songs.

  10. Pingback: Katawa Shoujo ~ Coping and Living With Our Disabilities | Ephemeral Dreams

  11. shit… the amount of feels in this game is so great… i tried Hanako first too, i don’t know why… i just knew i wanted to go with that arc. i also managed to get the good ending. i can’t make myself try the other paths because i can i say “bonded” with her as much… which i agree as the others, i would be so happy if she was real… i hate the endings no matter which… She is my favorite and probably the only one i ever going to play in this game.. btw is it normal to be so emotionally attached to a fictional person?.. god i cried after playing Hanako’s path…

    • That shows that the writer was a good storyteller. Stories are meant to appeal to our emotions, and if written well we become emotionally attached to them.

  12. i have a disorder called autism however people tell me that im alot more normal but i dont think so but at least i can talk to people normally, its my ambition to become a game developer but i always feel behind for some reason but at least i can model various things. i also have Social anxiety where in social situations i over think various things and fear that i might screw up something but im trying my best to overcome that but so far im still socially awkward.

    Anyway enough of that, heres what i think:

    this was pratically my first visual novel, and i loved it and i want to play VNs more just like this

    i felt really attached during hanakos route. it makes me feel a various waves of emotion and it also makes me wish that i could meet her (in some ways i feel that we have stuff in common). As for characters like lily , i even felt like she was my friend. that route left me with some sort of wierd emotional stomach ache at the end of hanakos route but i have no regrets for playing (i am so wierd)

    i also just finished emis route.
    Now time for me to keep going until i completed them all :).

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