It seems that many bloggers have had plenty to say about Katawa Shoujo, pretty much all surprisingly positive. What I haven’t expected from such a title though is an equal outpour of personal stories to go along with this strange visual novel. From startling confessions of people who witnessed the development to heartfelt anecdotes comparing the girls of Yamaku to those that have been crushes or romances in the past, the blogosphere has churned out a shocking number (More than zero) of personal posts related to this oddly enchanting little game. And, with me being the trend-whore that I am, I figured I’d hop onboard the bandwagon and put my own twist on it.
When playing through the game, one character that wasn’t Rin caught my eye for not so obvious reasons. And that character was the shrinking violet Hanako. Be aware that there are some spoilers ahead, but it isn’t anything that should come as a big surprise to anybody who’s met Hanako thus far.
The main conflict of the Hanako’s arc relates to her past, having lost her parents in the fire that almost killed her, and the ensuing feelings of guilt that persist throughout the duration of the story. She gets even more withdrawn than usual because it just happens to be around the anniversary of their deaths, and she ends up feeling like a burden on those around her before, naturally, Hisao can break her out of her slump.
When I played my cards right, I went through her route without any issue. Everything was going strong until a certain point where Hanako was invited to a group with Hisao and the Shizune/Misha duo for a classroom group assignment. Because she’s nowhere near socially able, especially without Lilly around, she doesn’t know how to deal with the sudden attention aimed toward her while Hisao’s being interrogated about being out the previous day, and thus seizes up before having a panic attack. It was at this point that the events of the story started really hitting hard for me and I became more invested in Hanako’s arc. I wanted her to be happy because she’s essentially me.
I don’t mean that she’s me in the sense that I have a tragic backstory that left me with burns all over my body; the worst I can claim is a horrible grease splatter on the first day in my high school cooking class, which left my arm splotched red all down the front. Nor is she me in the way that she lost her parents; Worst that happened is my father left home when I was five and hasn’t contacted me since for reasons that are best left undisclosed. No, our back-stories have hardly any similarities beyond that one crucial element that’s both so sweet and so bitter: Solitude.
For many people that I know, solitude is something that’s absolutely unbearable, whether online or off. As far as I know, this is because they haven’t been raised in it like I have… or as Hanako has. While I wasn’t orphaned, I did grow up in a single parent household with a mother who was out working a good portion of the time, often to the point of exhaustion. I barely ever saw her for my first few years of elementary school, being passed around between babysitters to the point that it all became a blur. The only companions that I ever had were various stuffed animals, books, and whatever games I was allowed to play for my Gameboy Color (Usually Pokémon).
My in school situation was hardly any better, with me being essentially skipped ahead a grade (Given advanced work, but not technically advanced forward) and left alone by both teachers and students because I couldn’t handle any social interaction beyond handing assignments in. For the first three years, until I was entered in a gifted program against my will, I was largely a self-imposed recluse because I enjoyed the solitude. Much like Hanako, the most social interaction I would ever do would be silently play board games with other children or read with them. I can’t say I was miserable, but the element of social interaction was definitely missing from my life in spite of everyone generally acting friendly toward me.
I did eventually break out of my shell, but not without some awkwardness; I was still left alone most of the time, and not knowing how to start talking to people left me constantly frustrated as I was shifted around different classes with each coming grade. Being forcibly put into social situations bugged me, leaving me exhausted when I wasn’t a sobbing mess because I just didn’t know how to handle it. Whenever the noise of the class ever escalated past a low din, I had to be taken out to the school counselor to calm down. Most of this instability subsided around middle school, but the social exhaustion and occasional panic attacks still persist, as I continue my freshman year of college.
For that one agonizing moment in Katawa Shoujo, seeing Hanako on the verge of a breakdown but being too frozen to really do anything, I saw a glimpse into my own past. Hell, it was a short look into my present as well, the panic attacks being an uncommon fixture of my everyday life. Seeing her withdrawn afterward, seeing herself as a burden on those around her… I saw myself there as well. She’s that part of me, just in the form of a Key-like romantic interest, and I want to see her get past her hang-ups and be happy.
Despite what I said earlier, I’m perfectly content with my life, even though I need ridiculous amounts of alone time in order to function properly throughout the day. I can go out and make friends now, even if doing so leaves me feeling winded afterward. Hell, I’ve even had my fair share of girlfriends over the years, something that I never thought possible when I still had trouble working up the courage to ask my teacher something.
This post was a bit heavier than usual, and a little more incoherent, and I realize that. I don’t know why I decided to even make it a thing, or why I decided to post it. Maybe I had some demons I needed to exorcise that didn’t rear their ugly, demonic heads until I played through Hanako’s story. Still, getting this written out, getting it posted even if it is for the world to see, it feels like a small weight’s been lifted from my chest. I could empathize to a ridiculous degree with Hanako, despite our lack of extroversion originating from two different angles of the same… triangle. I dunno, that’s the best shape I could come up with for such an occasion. It’s this reason that I found myself so drawn to her, and why I think she’ll be the character that I most resonate with in the strangeness that is Katawa Shoujo.