on December 7, 2012 by ricedigital
Okay, I KNOW, this isn’t strictly Japanese – but you have to admit – it’s certainly doujin in spirit, and who could possibly argue with that! I have the utmost respect for these kinds of projects, a group of dedicated individuals getting together for a common cause, and creating something that’s at once unique, beautiful and touching. No, not THAT kind of touching. Okay… maybe a little bit…
Anyway, I’m getting off track here already! Katawa Shoujo began life as a simple sketch – originally by Japanese artist Raita – which found its way onto 4Chan where it was discussed heavily. The sketch showed concepts for girls with disabilities and disfigurements – and as the discussion continued, a group formed in order to create a visual novel around the concept.
This group came to be known as Four Leaf Studios – and in just over 2 years – the team managed to create an ‘Act 1’ demo of the Visual Novel which was greeted with wide acclaim. Following from that milestone, a full version of was eventually released in January 2012 – almost five years exactly, from the when the original sketch was discovered.
So what’s it all about? Well, Katawa Shoujo literally means ‘Cripple Girls’ – unfortunately, with all the negative implications of that. ‘Katawa’ is not a term that’s viewed favourably in Japan. However, despite it’s rather controversial name, the subject matter, which is a rarity in both videogames and visual novels, is handled with a great deal of sensitivity.
The Visual Novel centers around a young man named Hisao who, during a meeting with a girl one snowy afternoon, suffers some kind of seizure. Awaking in hospital he discovers he has a heart problem, and so will no longer be able to go to a normal school.
Instead he has to move away from home to a school for disabled kids, something which he is initially resistant to, but in time, and through developing friendships with his new peers, he begins to change his original perspective and attitude for those around him.
It’s been well received critically – as it should be. Many have applauded the way that it has sensitively handled the subject matter – although I’d say this has less to do with ‘sensitivity’ and more about the fact that it neither preaches nor patronises – or attempts to be heavy handed in the way that it deals with its subject. It treats everything with an even hand and a resolute sense of normality – never forcing onto you a particular opinion, or suggests you think or feel one way or another.
Unsurprisingly, there ARE sex scenes in Katawa Shoujo – and I think that’s up to you to decide just how comfortable you are or aren’t with those. I have to admit, I personally found them quite uncomfortable and were almost at odds with my enjoyment of the rest of the VN. Not because of the disabilities I hasten to add, but because I felt they didn’t sit as well within the framework or atmosphere of the game for me – they felt almost contrived somehow. You may well feel differently of course – and, well, perhaps that says more about my own sensibilities than it does about Katawa Shoujo itself.
One thing you can’t take away from it, is that it’s very nicely written and is presented to a very high standard – two elements which are vital to a successful Visual Novel. More importantly, the characters themselves are very well rounded and nuanced – and this is vital to your enjoyment of it.
Many people often approach their first Visual Novel as though it is somehow a game. It’s not really – in signing up to a visual novel you’re committing yourself to a very long period of reading and clicking though text.
Imagine you’re playing an RPG and only had dialogue skits to sate your desire for interaction – same thing here, and so characterisation and a distinct range of individuals, relationships and emotions are very important. Katawa Shojo succeeds in this respect.
Ultimately, the important thing here is that this Visual Novel represents a very real achievement – and is a great demonstration of what a doujin circle can achieve in terms of production values with the right amount of effort and dedication. For that reason alone, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try – and given that it’s completely free, there really is no reason not to.
If you’d like to know more you should head to the official website HERE.
For those who have played it, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you think it’s deserving of its acclaim? Would you like Four Leaf Studios to make another Visual Novel?