Spoilers ahoy! If you are interested in playing Katawa Shoujo, DO NOT READ this post, it might ruin your experience or colour your perceptions of it, if not a particular route.
As I clicked through the final scenes in Shizune Hakamichi’s route, a thought kept nagging at my head.
‘So much potential, but such mediocre results.’
That pretty much sums up what I’ve to say about this route, the route I had put so much expectation on, the route which had left me hungry for more all the time but ultimately let me down. It seems unfair and harsh, but here’s why I thought so.
It all started when the protagonist Hisao met Shizune, the deaf and mute Student Council President, and her energenetic interepreter-cum-sidekick Misha. I found them likable enough, their antics in persuading Hisao to join their understaffed council were quite interesting to watch. Later, I decided to aim for Shizune’s route (Misha doesn’t have a route in the visual novel). Two stories for the price of one route, I thought.
Turns out, both Misha’s and Shizune’s background intertwine closely with one another. This leads me to one of the strong points in this Katawa Shoujo route, the fascinating relationship and never-dull interactions between Shizune and Misha.
This is particularly obvious in the beginning, when Hisao hasn’t learned sign language and has to communicate through Misha to Shizune. The conversations and resulting misunderstandings were particularly interesting to watch. After the 2nd act though, it wasn’t as prominent or as interesting though it did occasionally made me laugh. Instead, a theme steals the spotlight here, the theme of freindship.
In the later acts of the VN, Misha and Shizune get into a cold war thanks to Hisao rekindling the romantic feelings Misha had for Shizune. In order to set things straight, Hisao has to intervene and use the power of nakama. It felt a bit generic, but it was still well thought-out and I did enjoy it somewhat. The scene where Hisao ‘re-tours’ spots in the school which hold memories along with Misha made me feel a bit nostalgic myself.
First place though, has to go to the shock reveal that Misha was actually in love with Shizune. No doubt about it, I was awestruck they could present the whole affair as a run-of-the-mill love triangle yet give such an unexpected twist to it. I can only applaud them for this ingenious move.
What I cannot applaud though, are the missed opportunities that slipped through the script-writers’ fingers. There was a part where Hisao visited Shizune’s family during the summer break. There, the tension and distance between the Hakamichi family members was obvious.
Except that the reasons behind this are not so obvious. It is never fully or clearly explained why the Hakamichi’s are such a dysfunctional family. There are clues, such as the absence of Shizune’s mother, Jigoro’s (Shizune’s father) less than fatherly attitude and even Shizune’s condition as well. But, I think those aren’t valid excuses and that her family could and should have played a more significant role in the route. It could be due to my preference for clean-cut and clear plots, but this is something that I feel could have been better done.
I also feel that missed opportunities were everywhere in the scenes between Shizune and Hisao too. Hisao’s relationship with Shizune lacked the sort of intimacy and closeness I was expecting. In the end, I got the vibe that they were good friends, but were they lovers? I don’t think I could say that.
Also, as far as I could tell, Shizune had little to no character development at all throughout the VN. In the beginning, she was a competition-obsessed and very stubborn person. In the end, she was also a competition-obsessed and somewhat less stubborn person.
To be fair though, the real motivations behind her fierce personality are explained and she does direct that negative obsession and stubbornness to a positive and meaningful goal in the end. But still, I feel a more dramatic change in personality or a scenario to show that change would have been better. But I guess, as in real life, a few months isn’t enough to change a person’s entire personality.
Other aspects of her personality like her fears and weaknesses are not given adequate time in the limelight as well, which is a pity, since I find her to be quite an interesting character to explore further. Perhaps, in order to make her a headstrong and independent disabled person, the writers did this deliberately and forgot to add some flaws to her. I’m all for empowering disabled characters, but when they seem invincible and untouchable, I find it hard to connect with them.
Hisao can be whiny and over-thinks occasionally as well. Although, he does change quite a fair bit in the end and some of his observations are a little humorous.
Moving on, Shizune’s route did give me something to personally chew on. The themes of friendship and goals did resonate with me and made me think about what I did or did not have the courage to do back in school. The bad ending, in which all three friends drift apart from each other made me a bit regretful and depressed as well. It wasn’t life-changing or anything of that scale, but it did make me question myself about the role of friends in my life, of whom I’ve rarely thought about these past few months after school ended.
Shizune also made me ruminate about the trials and tribulations of the deaf and/or mute community. I think it must be hard not being able to communicate normally and directly with other people, I myself could not imagine such a life. But, now I think I understand a bit about this disability and how it affects daily communication, especially after seeing Hisao and his interactions with Shizune.
Overall, I’d say Shizune’s route was a decent effort. But, due to my admittedly high expectations, the hype and the freeware nature of the game, this route was quite disappointing. If I were Hisao, I’d avoid being a lover and just be friends with Shizune and Misha, enjoying the highs and lows of being a 3-man Student Council.