After what appeared to be a lifelong wait, the much-anticipated original english language visual novel known as Katawa Shoujo was finally released this week, and from what I gather around the Internet via twitter, facebook, blogs, and whatnot, it has not failed to disappoint. The characters that longtime fans have fawned over ever since the release of the Act I demo were finally given due with their own routes, each with multiple ending possibilities.
I’ve completed Shizune and Lilly’s respective routes so far, and seen their possible endings, and it really makes me wonder about what it means for this visual novel to reach particular conclusions in the story. After seeing Lilly’s “bad” end, it made me wonder if it was truly bad at all; after all, due to the nature of Hisao and his classmates being in their senior year during the events of Katawa, every end could potentially be a bad end. People graduate. People move on with their studies, life, and even love.
If you look closely, even the beginning of Katawa Shoujo was also an ending of sorts, an end to Hisao’s life in his previous high school, and the missed opportunity of love from Iwanako. As I’ll explain through a few stories from my own romantic history, the end of a relationship is never truly the end of everything. Each story is simply a chapter in the grand visual novel that is a person’s life. In fact, I’ll try my best to relate them to the events that I’ve experienced through the game itself.
Small warning: Lilly and Shizune spoilers ahead!
Iwanako: First Love, Missed Love
Iwanako is the girl who confesses to Hisao during the prologue of the story, but disappears from his life after he suffers from a debilitating heart attack that sends him to Yamaku, abruptly ending his time at his old school and with Iwanako. His past creeps up to him later on in Shizune and Lilly’s arcs (I can imagine it plays a role with the other girls as well).
A missed romantic opportunity due to events that you can’t control is something that truly fills one with regret, especially if it’s something as meaningful as a potential first love. The Iwanako in my life was named Danielle. We were still in elementary school, and despite not being middle-graders yet, there was a fleeting moment of puppy love there. I had the biggest crush on her throughout the school year, and I anonymously left a confession letter on her desk on her birthday. I confessed in person sometime later. She accepted my confession, and we started spending time together during recesses from that point onward.
At least, until I contracted glomerulonephritis, a kidney disease which hospitalized me for the remainder of the school year. Like Hisao, I got the same get well soon card from my classmates, and one from Danielle. And like Hisao, that was pretty much the extent of which I managed to keep in touch with my friends from that school, and with Danielle. I changed schools to enter a gifted program the following school year, and never heard from her again. I was probably too young to truly know and understand what love really was, but I think anyone of any age would miss someone that was a reasonably important part of their life, even if it was at an age where recess was serious business. The perspective was different, but the feelings were the same. It hurt, and I thought at the time that I would never see her again.
I didn’t see her again, but as it turns out, I managed to move on from that, and and my time at my new school was fulfilling. I met new friends, developed new crushes (albeit unrequited), and essentially grew a little bit in maturity. At least, perhaps, I grew as much as one would from elementary to middle school. Looking back now, I don’t even remember her face anymore, not that it would matter anyway; she probably grew up to be quite the lady. I hope she’s doing well in her own life, though I sometimes wonder if she remembers me at all. If not for being the person who anonymously sent a letter and a box of chocolates to her, but also showed off his “amazing skills with devil sticks” to.
Shizune: Love That Simply Moves On
Shizune’s relationship to Hisao is particularly interesting, because they get to know each other initially through a common organization at school, the student council. A lot of the dynamic runs through the both of them, as well as her interpretor, Misha. The “good end” between the two of them is that they have to deal with graduation. It is implied that perhaps Shizune and Hisao break up, but they have a commemorative photo that captures the last moments between the trio before they implicitly head their separate ways.
In my Junior and Senior years of high school, I switched schools once again, after having dropped out from the International
Baka Laureate Baccalaureate program. I had to leave friends that I’ve known for a long time again, though this time I didn’t leave a girl behind. Instead, I ended up finding my Shizune in my school concert band.
She was Shizune in every sense other than her deafness: headstrong, confident, competitive, and was always in a pair with her best friend at the time. She confessed to me at the end of my Junior year, and we spent an entire year together. It was interesting, because although we didn’t fight too often, she was constantly quarrelling with her best friend, and it was in my best interests to act as the go-between; after all, this girl was my girlfriend, and her friend eventually became a pretty good friend to me as well. It had the same conflict dynamic as Shizune and Misha, who were always together, but whose problems rooted in graduation.
As it turned out, all three of us parted our separate ways after graduation, just like the supposed good end. She was the most important part of my life until that point, or at least, that’s how I saw it. There was no parting photo. I was a wreck. But I moved on to university. There was too much going on to be stuck in the past. Just like Danielle before me, this girl, whose name was Sonja, changed me for the better, and I’m always thankful for that memory.
Shizune’s is a love that you take with you and use as your strength to move on and act stronger than you otherwise would if you never met her. You come out a better person, and the ending of her route was surprisingly satisfying.
Lilly: Love That Gets Away
I’m strictly speaking about Lilly’s “bad end” here. At the end of the route, despite having a deeply emotional, and even more sensual relationship with her, Lilly tells Hisao that she has to return to her native Scotland forever. She takes off in a car with her sister, Akira, and disappears from Hisao’s life forever. The good end actually follows up on this event, with Hisao chasing after Lilly at the airport. As sweet as the good end was, I felt a greater emotional impact with the bad end. As I’ve said before, when it comes to romance, you don’t know exactly how much you have until you lose it.
I’ve already written about the girl who dated in University, and in many ways, she was a lot like Lilly. She was reserved, refined, a daughter of a well-off family living overseas, independent, and remarkably sensual in her physical expression of love. But as I mentioned already, it wasn’t meant to be, as she left back home to China. However, what really dug deep when I played through Lilly’s route was that just like back then, the announcement to go back home forever was out of the blue, without any chance to react with any meaningful parting words. It was simply goodbye, and she was gone forever from my life.
It’s rather intriguing that, even now, I still find myself wondering what could have been had she not disappeared. I wonder if, had I known the details of her departing flight, I would actually go after her in that dramatically clichéd fashion. I probably would have, but would the experience be tainted by such an attempt if we were to eventually break up anyway? I refuse to answer that question, because it’s never about how it ends, but how we change people over the course of its duration. I changed a lot, even moreso than I did when I was in high school. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Life is Like
Whenever I watch the credits roll at the end of Katawa Shoujo, I feel that it truly isn’t the end for Hisao. A story, after all is just a framework of events that encapsulate a period of time in someone’s life; if that period of someone’s life was depicted as merely a year of high school, then there’s definitely more that is to come from Hisao. He’ll move on from heartbreak, he’ll continue chasing his dream even after graduation. He’ll probably meet other girls, and though they may not be as unique as the girls from Yamaku high school, they’ll be special in their own way, and have an impact and effect on how Hisao grows as a person.
As Forrest’s mother always says, life is like a box of chocolates; you never really know what you’re going to get. Everything that happens is but a part of a cumulative life experience. It’s natural to mourn the end of things, whether they be relationships, someone’s life, or something else. After all, impermanence is everywhere, and we can’t stay attached to things that will eventually disappear. We just have to value it when we have it, and remember it forever when it disappears.
Katawa Shoujo, in all of its oddities, has reminded me of that in the most unique and fascinating way, and I’m forever grateful for having played it.