Katawa Shoujo Review, pt. 1 — Shizune Route

So, last week, Katawa Shoujo finally had its full-version debut. It was the Original English Language Visual Novel That Could — one of those rare times when the stars aligned right, the auras were attuned, and there were just enough people to spur each other towards a distant finish line. And by distant, I mean it took them five years from the initial idea to the final production of the game.

But was it worth it? Other OELVN projects were… somewhat on the derpy side. They were generally marred by the use of rudimentary engines, amateurish writing, cheap art and crappy music — and when the entirety of the game is its UI engine, its writing, its art and its music, scoring so low across the board would’ve suggested that the American VN fan community simply didn’t have what it took to produce something on the level of a Japanese release. That is, of the more popular Japanese releases — honesty compels admission that visual novels, and especially doujinshi VNs, are as subject to Sturgeon’s Law as any other form of media.

Furthermore, and as a note of embarrassment to the American attempts, even the most popular VNs had numerous flaws. Umineko no Naku Koro ni, arguably more popular here than on its own native soil, was infamously plagued with bad art — characters were literally ham-fisted, blocky, and awkwardly rendered, though the series enjoyed sustained infamy via its convoluted and brain-wracking metaphorical writing and often jaw-dropping orchestral arrangements.

But the demos for Katawa Shoujo suggested that its rather large staff was uniquely earnest in their attempt, and at the bar they’ve set for it. The initial alphas were extremely shoddy, sure – the dark viridian school uniforms and blocky interfaces were more revolting than the already questionable base concept of overtly seducing a disabled female student, but the changes in artists and luring in of more talented programmers and writers finally presented a beta demo worth paying attention to.

So, I’ll play through it, route by route. And we’ll see if the final product lives up to the promise.

Naturally, everything under this cut is prone to spoilers.

Shizune Route didn’t live up well enough. Let’s get that out of the way first. It was not marred by problems of music or art — it can be safely said that the art for Katawa Shoujo is fully deserving of praise and respect. And while I find the music to be somewhat “generic” in sound — specifically in that it lacked any aural hooks or recognizable style to its composition — it was not at all harsh on the ears. In fact, if the purpose was to produce a very relaxed and gentle tone, it succeeded remarkably, and given the setting, a school for the disabled or otherwise infirmed, I would be shocked if this was not actually deliberate on part of the composer. It is, after all, a drama-heavy story, but necessarily light on actual “action” — music with high tension and emotional crescendos won’t quite fit, even during fits of high drama.

But… the writing is… not on that par.

The characterization is fine, I hasten to note. Ubiquitous to the visual novel is an earnest and very deliberate attempt to portray each heroine as humanly as possible, beyond matters of sympathy or admiration, and beyond matters of stereotype. Though with plenty of personal flaws and happenstances, Shizune comes off as defined by her ambition, not her deafness.

But that’s about the only thing her writer got right.

Her route had an excess of “fluff.” Scenes that were there for the sake of having such a scene, with little to develop her character by. Most glaringly, it is entirely possible to cut away every scene with her father, and lose no insight whatsoever as to her character. It doesn’t help that their interactions, on both sides, are entirely one-dimensional. He goes off on a lunatic rant, and he seems only capable of lunatic rants, more of a grown-up Kenji than a legitimate character, she ignores him. She signs to her boyfriend some infuriation over the minutiae of his conduct, but never actually interacts with him. We gain no insight as to the background familial structure that defines them, no reason to believe that they’ve had any tangible influence with each other. We only have Hisao’s guesswork – and that is a lamentable example of “telling” instead of “showing.”

The fact that it had no relevance whatsoever with the core drama of her story arc is even worse — not that the core drama is itself free from a piling list of problems. I was bored to sleep by it — while passive aggressiveness is certainly realistic, in some sense, spending thousands of words expounding on how they keep trying to track down Misha, and how Misha keeps running away, over and over again, is wearying to the reader. The fact that there is simply no emotional tension at all over the drama, which constitutes nothing more than a passive act of noncommunication?

Fucking dullsville.

It would be one thing to say that the pacing of the story was confusingly disjointed, but you can’t have confusion or joint problems if there wasn’t any pacing to speak of. It was nothing more than a mechanical progression from plot point to plot point, entirely without heart or strong emotions.

Speaking of lack of strong emotions: the sex scenes. There are three on her route, and all three are guilty of absolutely horrible scene transitions. Not graphically, but contextually. The very first one had about as much lead-up as a sudden and declarative “let’s fuck,” and the next two are only marginally better. And the only one that was successfully integrated into the plot in any way whatsoever was the one that triggers “Bad End.”

Back during the demo, Shizune Route’s Act 1 end was easily the most memorable of all the heroines (though, aha, arguably not the most memorable of all possible Act 1 endings). But it was a buildup towards an anticlimax.

So far, I’m not impressed.



~ by Gonzo Mehum on January 13, 2012.

One Response to “Katawa Shoujo Review, pt. 1 — Shizune Route”

  1. I disagree and I think that you failed to grasp the depth of Shizune’s character development.

    Shizune’s aggressive personality pushes away most who get to know her, but they are misunderstanding her. Shizune is trying to inspire others in the only way she knows how, through competition. Her personality was influenced by her father, who is similarly abrasive or outright offensive which often causes others to miss their motives entirely. They are trying to motivate others by chastising them into becoming better people. An awkward (perhaps negative) approach to a noble (but positive) goal. Combined with Shizune’s deafness she has pushed away nearly everyone she seems to have met, except Hisao. He learns to understand her because she pulls him out of his melancholy after his heart attack and subsequent diagnosis of arrhythmia; which shattered his psyche. As a result of their relationship Hisao falls in love with Shizune, but still struggles to communicate with her due to her personality and deafness. The situation grows even more complicated when Misha confesses that she too is in love with Shizune.

    I think that this was a great story, having characters that were believable and grew with the story. The reader has to deal with not only the struggles of the Hisao and Shizune, but also the unfairness that Misha faces due to her unrequited love. I also thought that the good ending was very well done, because i don’t think there can be a simple happy ending to this story. The end was instead bitter-sweat, just as this complex love triangle of troubled characters was.

    A beautifully realistic story I think.

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