Katawa Shoujo

So yeah, I finished Lilly’s route, and with it, my time and experience with Katawa Shoujo, as I don’t really think I can be asked to go through any of the other routes given that I have other things that I would rather go through first, like Nayuki’s route in Kanon and rereading Narcissu 1.

[Spoilers aplenty]

 

 

 

So, Lilly’s route was good.  I have to say, it was rather…”expected”, given that you could kind of surmise that they were going to end up with a “happily ever after” ending even through all the hard times, just because…that’s what the genre does.  Then again, this is Katawa Shoujo, so the fact that this is a game that’s supposed to defy convention actually did throw that into a bit of doubt, which was interesting.

But yeah, Lilly’s route, in stark comparison to Hanako’s, felt very…”textbook”.  Not to say that it wasn’t emotional, or fun, or interesting, because it was all of those, and it was really quite nice to read through all of it.  But it didn’t really throw me for a loop or anything, you know?  Which is fine.

I guess one thing about Lilly’s route, though, is that it feels just slightly lacking in a sense of deep, frank trust in communication.  What I mean is that it doesn’t feel like you see too much of Lilly’s proper, quiet, serene exterior drop down, so it feels like her character has a little bit less depth.  I think this could be just me projecting myself onto Lilly, but perhaps it would have seemed more “real” to have her act a little outside of her character slightly more.  I mean yes, we get the emotional outburst at the end and everything, but that was about it.  Through and through, when you talk to her, she’s always reserved, and on top of everything.  There’s never a time when you just get to “hang”, and you don’t see her angry besides the one short glimpse where she says “Dammit!”.

…Though I guess the same could be said about Hanako, to some extent.  Which brings us back to the issue of Hanako…kind of a swampy mess in my mind that I attempted to visit before, but I’ll try to tackle it again, this time with a better handle on things.

I’m still having some issues coming to quips with how Hanako’s story played out, and while I could simply write them off as “Hanako is different from me, that’s why I feel that way because I want so badly to project myself onto her”, I think it’s important to dig deeper than that, to make sure I’m not just denying myself of a truth that I’m not willing to accept.

 

So, let’s start from the beginning.  The reason Hanako is so relevant to me is, of course, because of how closely we relate.  Being someone who scored 1 out of 100 on the extroversion scale without trying, and who uses “soft” as my #1 character adjective, it’s no wonder I would find myself relating to her way of acting around others.  But as I went through Hanako’s route, it was even more compelling due to the way they handled it–this was the first time I had actually seen my sort of persona described in writing, or heck, in media at all.  And it’s not just the silent Nagato Yuki type either (though, Yuki also garners points because of how depended-upon she is), but rather someone who really is just withdrawn into themselves.  When she went into her catatonic state, that sealed the deal for me–I knew this was someone I could relate to very strongly.  Because when I get into “trouble”, I too go into a similar state.  “Paralyzed”, I call it.  It’s not a physical inability, but rather an emotional lockdown that happens to me, where I become trapped within myself, unable to get any feelings out.  It’s as if the normal “safety bubble” that keeps me from speaking out as often as normal people do kicks into overdrive, going as far as to restrict motor function.  And some of you are familiar with this state because you’ve seen me in it before (it doesn’t happen as often nowadays, since I’ve made considerable progress).

All that said, it becomes important to note that there are differences between me and Hanako.  Besides the obvious ones, like her circumstances and such, she is much more one-sided than me, in that she =only= has that “locked down” side of herself, whereas I have other facets.  And of course, her case is more extreme.  Whereas I would shrug off a “how are you?” with a normal response, she might even run away or something.  It’s also interesting to note that she says she actually doesn’t like people because she was bullied (if I recall correctly), so that’s something different, though it’s hard to tell exactly how honest she was being.

So, essentially, in Hanako’s route, the message is, “don’t be the white knight.”  If you try and protect Hanako as best you can, you get a bad end and you get slapped in the face because you didn’t love Hanako for who she really is–rather, you thought of her instead as a fragile thing that needs taking care of; someone who needs to be rescued.  There are also undertones of codependence/overdependence–by investing so much in Hanako, you’re neglecting your own self-direction.

Something that bothers me is that browsing through the Hanako thread on the KS forums, almost everyone seems to love it, and agree with the message, and they really seem to “get it”.  Which of course, worries me, because I didn’t feel that way at all upon reading it.  They seem to also have this thing about having Hanako “rehabilitate” herself…and it seems like people really like seeing her step out of her shell and become a more outgoing person.  For example, in Lilly’s route, we see that Hanako becomes so outgoing as to make a friend outside of Hisao and Lilly, join a club, and even plan on taking a trip.

I can’t say I share the same enthusiasm.  I guess perhaps this is my perspective coloring things again.  For me, Hanako represents a very pure, “soft”, part of me that is important and treasured, and so to see that as something that is “wrong” is a foreign concept to me–it’s like saying that my persona is “wrong”, which doesn’t make sense, especially now that I have so much pride in it.  Perhaps it’s also because reading the VN dilates time so much…perhaps it would feel more natural if Hanako had grown more outgoing, very slowly, over the course of years, as I have (in a certain way, yet I’ve also grown softer in a way–a good way), as opposed to reading through that in the span of less than a day, which was honestly kind of alarming to me.  But I think it still worries me that there is this sentiment that being like Hanako is “bad” and that people want to draw her out.  As someone who has come to quite amiable terms with my introversion recently, I find that to be the wrong stance to be taking altogether…I might even consider it a bit offensive.

Anyways, back to the whole “don’t be the white knight” message.  I think another thing that really colors my view of Hanako is that she has issues on her birthday, and I can’t seem to disassociate my own feelings about that from hers, which are entirely different.  Hanako, you see, blames herself for the death of her parents, and so feels bad about her birthday because she doesn’t feel like her birth is worth celebrating (or so we infer).  My issue, on the other hand, is that birthdays are…well, there are several issues, actually, but let’s say the issue I have is that birthdays are a reminder of how little attention people put into me and how often I can be taken for granted, as well as a reminder of the imbalances in my relationships with other people.  It’s a classic Enneagram type 2 thing.

So when Hanako shuts herself in her room, Katawa Shoujo posits that the right thing to do is to give her time and space and have faith in her to deal with her problem alone.  To let her be her own person, instead of trying to “rescue” her all of the time.  And I guess that’s why I have such a disjunct from the story here–because if it were -me-, then I would be shutting myself inside my room because even though I desperately want company, attention, love, contact; I can’t ask for any of those things because to do so would be “selfish”, and meaningless at that, because attention somehow isn’t “true” if it’s asked for.  But even though I’d shut myself in my room, I’d want nothing else other than to have someone close to me come and spend intimate time with me, to hold me, tell me that I’m loved, tell me that things will be alright…you get the idea.

So what did Hanako really want, at that time?  …well, we can’t say for sure.  The story seems to want to make you believe that she wants Hisao to love her as a person, and not as a “broken thing” that needs “fixing” (ironic given what I’ve said earlier about people wanting to see Hanako be “better”).  So what does she really need?  Well…for one thing, for Hisao to be less of a bro.  Hahaha…I have to admit that when I was going through and interacting with Hanako, I was really ruing Hisao’s demeanor at some points, since I would be acting =much= differently.  It’s kind of an interesting thought experiment to see how me and Hanako would get along, actually…(truth be told, I have actually experienced something similar to exactly that, though I don’t know whether I can say the details)

So yeah…I guess you could say, that I still don’t really “get” Hanako.  I mean, yes, I understand it spelled out in words: she wants Hisao to value her as a person, instead of just being one to respond to her needs…but I don’t =really= get it.  It’s the same thing when you consider another one of the pivotal choices in her route (one that you need to make to get the good end).  After Lilly leaves the country, you choose to take Hanako into the city, or you choose to call it a day (which takes you down the path to the bad end).  And again, that doesn’t make sense to me.  Taking Hanako into town is supposed to be saying something like: hey, I know you’re fragile and super-withdrawn and everything, but I’m going to treat you like a normal person and take you somewhere outside of your comfort zone because I respect you like that and I want you to be a part of my normal life…whereas calling it a day is supposed to be saying something like: hey, she’s this really fragile girl so she probably can’t handle it and I need to protect her, so let’s just play it safe and be sure she’s okay.

Again, that isn’t right to me.  To me, taking her into the city is being insensitive and doing something that she doesn’t want to do.  …I guess that’s not quite right, given that she does like to be with Hisao and she enjoyed herself in the city last time, playing pool and all.  But you see, for me, the choice was basically, do we try and force Hanako out of her comfort zone and try to make her into a more lively person?  Or do we accept her for who she is and care for her in that way.

If it were me, the choice I would make would probably be to go and have tea quietly, or play chess together; you know, that kind of thing.  And that’s because for me, taking me out of my comfort zone isn’t going to make me feel any better, hardly ever…that’s something I’ve learned through years and years of experience.  There are some people, who, being down or depressed or withdrawn or introverted, really need something that will take them up and out of that all.  And that’s why it’s good to have people who are super happy-go-lucky to pull those people into happyfuntimes.  I’m reminded of Ceili and the kind of atmosphere that presides there, because I know that if I went to Ceili with a downcast mood, they’d do their best to try and pull me into some happyfuntimes.  Actually, that’s probably happened before, and while I appreciate the motion, it’s really not what I need at all, because I am completely, perfectly happy being my inner, quiet self, and I don’t ever need anyone to pull me out of that in such a noisy way.  No, what I need instead is some serenity and loving care that will bring me back to the peace that I know and love best.

 

All of that being said, it’s also important to play devil’s advocate for a bit here.  First of all, as I’ve already said, a lot of this disagreement with Hanako’s route is due to the fact that her feelings are different than mine, and because she is a different person than I am.  So the solution, I guess, would be different.  I’m still not going to agree that the solution that’s presented is the one that =I= would take, but I can understand that the solution would maybe be different than mine.  …maybe.

Furthermore, we also need to consider the possibility that maybe I’m wrong about myself?  I think the main issue here is that I, too, tend to be guilty of wanting a “white knigh–well, more like a “white princess” figure to come to my aid when I’m in trouble.  And you could argue that the only way for me to really grow is for me to get past that want and actually speak out for myself instead of depending on a magical figure to come to my aid.  That’s…true, in a way, and I certainly have become better at that over time, but you can’t deny that during those times when I =do= have a magical figure coming to my aid (think of a Lilly-type figure), I am helped immensely by it.

I guess, again, the situation is a little different.  The danger that I face is that I need help but don’t express it, and doing so leads to first sadness and then bitterness.  Hanako, on the other hand…we are meant to believe that she doesn’t have a deep yearning for help (I find it somewhat difficult to believe though), but instead a yearning for “normalcy”.

 

I…still don’t buy it.

I think I just accept Hanako for who she is.  I guess, to be honest, that’s always been one of my faults–I’m the last one to give “tough love” because I simply accept people as they are, without judging anyone.  It’s in my nature, which is why I always seem so serene, tranquil, and angelic.  I wouldn’t encourage Hanako to become more open, or make more friends, or become more social, or anything like that.  I would simply want to help her, in whatever way I can, by understanding her, and showing her that I care.  And of course, showing her that I understand.  Something tells me me and Hanako would have an acute sense of mental telepathy, just like I do with another one of my friends who is quiet like I am.

In a way, I want to say that I understand Hanako better than Hisao did.  Perhaps even better than the KS writers did…but I think to say that would be going too far–again, I’d just be projecting my own ideas onto Hanako, which again, is so painstakingly easy to do because of her character.

=====

I guess I should also reflect on Leigh Alexander’s review of KS, in that she deemed it…not really anything good, besides the miraculous story of its conception and completion.  I think one of the complaints is that KS doesn’t really know what it’s trying to be.  Which I think is valid and okay–I mean, it doesn’t really feel like KS is trying to “be” anything.  Hanako’s route tells you “respect people as people” and Lilly’s route feels more like a standard love story where the love interest happens to be blind, so there’s no real message on disabilities or whatever.  But I’d argue that not many other VNs have very much of a “thing” they want to be either, besides something like Naricssu.  I’d allow for the writing not being the best, but I don’t really think you can complain much about it either.  I don’t think there’s anything about it that stands out as =bad=, for example, but maybe my bar is sort of low.  I think honestly it’s just another VN, that is a little different.  That’s all.

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