It's interesting how often Americans mistranslate Japanese slang and create really awkward situations.
Let me expand on this a little. One of the most basic words that Americans, or at least westerners, tend to misrepresent is "Otaku." Some people think it's a word that references people who like anime. This is of course completely false, it's a derogatory term for people with obsessive habits. And I've literally written an essay on this in the past, but "Lolicon" is basically a slang term for pedophile as far as Japan is concerned. And indeed, this item did trip a little on it's title choice. Katawa Shoujo means "Disability Girl," only the word Katawa tends to be viewed as a derogatory term in Japan. The creators were quick to apologize, but I just thought that was wroth bringing up.
Anyway, Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel. You might be wondering why I'm posting this when, by the time you get this, I'll have already posted my Ace Attorney Investigations review, so I've already posted my game review for the week. This may attract some fire, but I don't view visual novels as video games, the simple act of choosing your own adventure and reading what happens might technically be role-playing, but it's not enough interactivity to qualify the item as a video game.
And I'm not just saying this to cop out of reviewing Lunar: Dragon Song or Final Fantasy XIII. I draw that interactivity standard for a reason.
That said, I have discussed these items before, or at least reviewed animes based on visual novels. The obvious one would be Clannad, though Canaan and Steins;Gate were also based on visual novels. Clannad is the one that stands out because even though the second season shits itself to death in the concluding episodes, it was entertaining. But for all the wrong reasons to me, I found it funny. It wanted to be a drama. In my Clannad review I said you could go worse as far as dramas go, but that if you wanted a genuine drama relating to human flaws where you could stay attached to characters from start to finish, you'd have to eat shit as no such thing existed. Well, guess what?
Stop eating shit, i found something good.
Katawa Shoujo is a school life drama set in the fictional Yamaku Academy, a school meant specifically to help handicapped students. And to put it simply, the goal is to create an opportunity for the male lead to stick his cock into one of the five major female protagonists To put it in more broad terms, it's about Hisao's relationship with one of the five girls budding as they help each other grow as characters, and sometimes they rub their genitals together in animalistic acts. Luckily they're all high school seniors, so the only thing you need to worry about is Hisao dying mid coitus, which is a little more likely to happen than he might like.
I remember that snowy afternoon on that hill, the day of Iwanoko's confession.
That was the first time I died.
Hisao suffers from Arrhythmia, something he figured out after up and dying on a hill when a girl was about to confess her love for him. Though he is revived, the basic gist of Arrhythmia is that he'll always be at risk for heart attacks like that, even with medicine. After spending four months laid up in a hospital and distancing himself from his friends and girlfriend of two minutes, Hisao is transferred to Yamaku so that he can attend class in an environment where he can still receive medical help while doctors fine tune his already enormous list of prescription drugs he needs to take so that the simple act of walking down the hall doesn't cause his fucking heart to explode.
Obviously the situation Hisao is in has left him a little jaded, though the interesting detail is that while he does have his moments of stupidity, Hisao tends to be very smart for a protagonist and it's easy to find yourself rooting for him. The other five major girls all have disabilities of some sort, though they're not defined by the problems, they actually have depth and growth. After an introduction chapter that establishes the characters and plot, the actions you take will either lead to Hisao dying or Hisao getting together with one of his schoolmates.
Give us your soul and join the student council. The cake and grief counseling will be free for student council members.
Shizune and Misha are the first ones you'll interact with. Shizune is the president of the student council and is at Yamaku because she is a deaf mute and can only communicate through sign language, and Misha is her interpreter, though they make it clear Misha got into the role after meeting Shizune. They never reveal why Misha is there, though I assume it's severe brain damage. I mean look at those fucking pink hair drills, who in their right mind would do that to themselves?
Anyway Shizune is a dating candidate while Misha is just someone there to piss me off because making all of the characters great would lead to Four Leaf being forced to make a sequel. I suppose what pisses me off the most about Misha besides her obnoxious personality and a voice that, despite actually not being something we hear, physically hurt me; is that the casual wear she is given is a Bush Cheney shirt. Sorry, I'm still sore about governor bush and president Cheney, and that was just going out of her way to piss me off.
Shizune's arc is interesting though. Shizune herself is insanely competitive though actually quite immature and part of the arc is figuring out just how to handle her emotional obscurities, in addition to figuring out how to communicate with her. The weird detail is that it is possible to get a bad ending in Shizune's arc, but there is only one branching path if I remember correctly, and it is painfully obvious which one nets you that ending. Still, she seems much more appealing when standing next to her dipshit interpreter.
Wait a minute, did you just summon a bunch of monsters in one turn?
Hanako and Lilly is the next group you interact with. Lilly a well-mannered soft spoken blind girl with a surprisingly bold sense of humor and at the same time, someone surprisingly forward about intimacy in her arc. Not that I'm complaining, she didn't really stand out as having the most interesting arc, though her character was interesting enough on it's own for me to forgive the detail that the major plot element of her arc never appears in any other arcs.
Hanako on the other hand wound up being my personal favorite. Hanako was left orphaned and disfigured in a house fire at a young age, and learned to hate people because of how much torment she received due to the scars on her face. Her arc I wound up liking because one; I really like the shy emotional and psychological wrecks for some reason, and two; it's very well handled. You see clear hints of what she could have been like had the fire never occurred, a bad ending is possible if you ignore what she wants for herself, and while maybe more than a little soapy, her arc features some of the most touching moments in the novel.
Okay, I brought lunch for everyone! Just don't ask why the basket clearly only contains lunch for me.
Lastly we have Rin and Emi. Emi is the fastest thing on no legs (She said it, not me) and Rin is an artist who is mostly armless. Rin's arc is second only to Hanako's in how surprisingly human she feels and how well done the writers handled her eccentric qualities. Rin is a gifted painter, though has some difficulty in expressing what she wants or feels. With the Herculean task of simply figuring out what the fuck she is saying laid before him, Hisao's stress from the arc was largely understandable, and it ends on a note that's only moderately sweet when you consider what Rin had to go through to reach it.
Emi? Well, she's a track star and she is cute. Cute is evil and I already explained the major characters, didn't I?
Fine, fine. Emi also comes up with a surprisingly interesting arc despite initially being one of the more boring characters. She's also the hardest to date since getting to her arc involves making Hisao act like a suicidal moron. Emi lost her legs during an accident and a lot of the arc knocks of Four Leaf deliberately mocking Key after they totally fucked up Kotomi's traumatic parent death arc in Clannad. Oh, also, she may have a slightly unhealthy fascination with pirates and a weird sense of humor for her condition. Like I mentioned, she at one point calls herself "The fastest thing on no legs" and jokes about becoming a pirate because she already had the fake legs. Maybe she would be more appealing if she lost the fucking pigtails. Weirdly, since her disability came from a traumatic accident, her arc is actually slightly reminiscent of Hanako's in that the major focus is Emi learning to trust other people again.
There are side characters like your insane conspiracy theorist dorm neighbor who thinks feminists are a military group out to take over the world and the neurotic librarian. In fact, I think aside from Misha, and the conspiracy theorist Kenji, I think I wound up liking almost all of the characters. Even the neurotic librarian had her moments of wisdom, though not frequently enough to realize her outfit of choice makes her look 50 years older than she really is.
But you didn't come here to read about that, did you? It's an adult item, right? How's the sex?
The fastest thing on no legs mounts her heartbroken and dopey bitch
Well for the most part it's handled as tastefully as possible, though the detail that stands out is that in more arc than one the sex scenes are actually kind of bitter as they happen when both parties involved are so stressed out they largely forget what they're doing. I think I should mention that the sex scenes blend in well with the drama and don't always come off as non-sequitor porn, so I guess people who wanted fap material are going to be frustrated when it can sometimes take as long as three hours before anyone gets their tits out. There is one that feels kind of like a simple random scene, though considering the character it pops up with and the situation, it makes slightly more sense in context.
But enough about the physical intimacy, how are the technical aspects?
...okay, no one is going to ask that, but either way, the novel is based on an engine that keeps tabs on what scenes you have and have not witnessed, making it possible to rapidly speed through dialogue but not miss new items. You can save at any time, there doesn't seem to be a limit on save files you can make, and scenes you have witnessed can be replayed in the "Extras" menu.
The art is fairly good. There is sometimes a disconnect between in-game sprites, FMVs, and CGs that rely on art drawn specifically for the scene. It's most noticeable with Hanako whose scars seem to magically change shape in different scenes, and there are a couple of scenes where the background and foreground connections weren't erased and you sometimes see dividing lines or pieces of the background bleed into images in the foreground. Aside from that, the art generally looks fine, and the characters are nicely expressive. Especially in one scene where Emi gets the expression you get when you hear a doctor snap on a glove and say "This will only hurt for a minute."
Oh, that's undeniable. But I think we've talked technical aspects enough. How does the drama play out? Does it make you emote?
I just read Twilight... I can't feel my soul
Short answer? Yes. The drama works. Long answer? It is far above any drama I have seen previously, but considering it's predecessor to that was the Clannad anime, the praise feels hollow, so I'll simply state that if you like the genre, this is probably one of, if not the best, indie made visual novels you will ever encounter. It can be heartwarming when it wants to be heartwarming, gut wrenching when it wants to be gut wrenching, and it's funny moments come intentionally instead of me laughing at what they are trying to pass off as drama. A drama that works as a drama instead of a black comedy? Why, that must mean I think it's better than Clannad! Though does that surprise anyone? I mean Clannad only wanted to get one reaction out of people and I mocked and laughed at their efforts, here they wanted to get people invested in the characters instead of simply making you cry, and they hit it out of the ballpark and smashed Fuko's thick skull in with the loose ball, and damnit, I applaud that.
Katawa Shoujo is free to download. The first act is available in several languages though last time I checked, so far the full version which includes all character arcs is only available in English. Also, you need to torrent the full version, there isn't a direct download option, so I'll also link to a freeware torrent program in case you don't have one. If you like visual novels, Katawa Shoujo is a very good one. If you like dramas, it is probably going to be one of the best you've ever seen. If you want adult material to gawk at this will disappoint since you have to sit through a fair bit of dialogue before the humping begins, and even then it's tasteful, trying to speak on an aspect of human relationships instead of speaking entirely on hormones. But then again, is that really a bad thing? Because once all is said and done, Katawa Shoujo is good.
I wouldn't go that far. Like I said, there are still some gripes, small plot holes and continuity issues that most people probably wouldn't notice, and while some of the music loops are pretty good, I can't help but feel they should have added more variety. But none of that manages to distract from the fact that the drama is extremely solid and it's probably going to end up as either my anime of the year or game of the year depending on how stuck up I remain on the whole interactivity detail. It could have been better, it could have been a Portal when it's now a Half-Life 2, but it's still quite an accomplishment. And also, it's free and runs on my bottom of the line laptop, so really you have no excuse to not check it out. I'll link to the download site, a site for torrent programs and I'll also link to the review of Deskimus Prime on The Escapist who is more familiar with visual novels and might have a better effect on describing just how great this thing is than I will. Now if you'll excuse me, fate has decided I've been happy for too long, and now I have to get back to work on anime.
The reason no one will notice the continuity issues is because most of them happen during the sex scenes
Next Review: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei
Katawa Shoujo Homepage: Katawa Shoujo Homepage
Deskimus Prime Skips a Beat with Katawa Shoujo:Alternative Review Here