Review: Katawa Shoujo

By: Derek Yu

On: February 8th, 2012

[This is a guest review by Tof Eklund.]

Katawa Shoujo, by 4LeafStudios
“Everyone wants someone there to pull them up, out of their self-pity.” -Hisao Nakai

Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel that takes place at a school for the disabled. The game’s protagonist, Hisao, arrives there reluctantly after a long hospital stay for life-threatening arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). His first episode occurred when a girl at his school confessed to him, setting the tone of heartbreak, isolation, and the difficulty of human connection for the game. Thus the game’s logo, a yellow heart criss-crossed with bandages: wounded and frightened.

This is a relationship/dating sim game, but it is closer in feel to Evangelion than any of the “harem” anime and manga (Tenchi Muyo, Love Hina) that it may seem, on casual inspection, to resemble. Each of the girls that Hisao can wind up falling in love with at Yamaku Academy has a different disability, and that, combined with the fact that there is (semi-)explicit sex in this game, is the reason some people have dismissed it, unplayed, as a fetish-fest.

The thing is, though Katawa Shoujo is painstakingly detailed and accurate in its representation of different forms of disability, it isn’t about disability. Hisao is the only character in the story who is learning to live with and accept his handicap. None of the girls in the game need or want a helper or caretaker. The first thing that Hisao, and the player, starts to see is that the people around him aren’t charity cases. Each one lives with their disability, taking blindness or armlessness the same way you or I take the fact that we can’t fly – when was the last time you worried about that?

There is an exception: a nearly-blind social phobic (hikkikomori) named Kenji who lives across the hall from Hisao. He alone, out of all the characters, has completely failed to adapt, and lives a small, pathetic life of isolated paranoia, characterized by extreme gynophobia. Kenji is a kind of dark and distorted mirror of what Hisao could become if he lets himself wallow in his own misery.

The real challenge in the game – and it is a challenge – is emotional trauma. If Katawa Shoujo has an underlying theme, it is that we are all disabled and “normal” alike, walking wounded. Even the teachers at Yamaku Academy (who are, as far as we can tell, not disabled) show some emotional scarring. The name of the game is “the hedgehog’s dilemma”. Sometimes the “obvious” decision, an attempt to get closer, pushes the other character away.

If you treat other characters as invalids to be taken care of or broken dolls that Hisao must “fix”, you won’t get far in Katawa Shoujo.

Katawa Shoujo, by 4LeafStudios

For all its strengths, Katawa Shoujo is still prone to the flaws common to visual novels, like decision points where reasonable actions are not available and occasionally some lack of clarity about where a single choice will lead the conversation or action. In many visual novels, choices are either head-smackingly obvious or impossibly vague. This is especially true of games translated from Japanese, where differences in degree of politeness are hard to convey. In Katawa Shoujo (which was written in English), the choices generally feel credible, and decisions are usually made difficult by apparent tradeoffs between options rather than lack of clarity about what the options are. Some choices yield fairly clear and immediate consequences, but many take time to play out, increasing suspense and replayability.

There is sex in this game, and it’s an important part of the game. There is a general division of dating sims (visual novel or otherwise) into “sex” and “no sex” games, with the former group often making sex the goal of the game, in the vein of “sow wild oats, then (maybe) pick which girl to settle down with”. I think it’s inevitable that the sex in Katawa Shoujo will act as a “carrot”, a part of players’ interest in the game, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. What’s interesting, then, is that sex is also depicted realistically in the game. Sex isn’t a cure-all. In the game, it sometimes deepens intimacy or releases tension, but it can also really mess things up.

Most interestingly, it can even be desired and appropriate, but go poorly. There is one scene in the game that involves poorly-informed experimentation with anal sex. Rather than succumb to the porn-industry cliche that the only thing better than vaginal is anal, this scene leads to a much more likely conclusion: both characters vow to “never do that again.”

There is an option in the menu to skip the game’s adult content, a key design decision. Four Leaf Studios clearly recognized that there are people who would want to play this game but would be put off by the graphic sexuality. This self-censorship, when enabled, is crude but functional. There is still sex in the game, and it is obvious when it happens, but it happens offscreen. To be clear, images with nudity and/or sex acts are skipped, as is the most explicit text, but there is still sexually suggestive content in that mode of the game.

However, there is no option to “lock out” the adult content. This is consistent with the developers’ 4chan origins: you don’t have to see things you don’t want to, but other people have a right to. The lack of an option to lock out the adult content means, for example, that a parent who thinks the expurgated version of the game might be appropriate for a young adult would have to trust their child not to turn the sex back on.

That’s my one complaint about the game: the no-sex version of Katawa Shoujo could be appropriate for tween/teen audiences, and maybe even educational use, but that won’t happen when the adult content is just a click away.

  • Lark

     *fundamentally incompatible unless you’re in the SCA.

    I never thought I’d see whales lunge. And I’ve never felt more afraid for knees that weren’t mine.

  • westley

    “Great argument there bud.”

    No, it isn’t an argument.  But then, you’re an idiot.

    “You can’t refute anything I’m saying”

    Of course I can’t; you’re completely ignorant.  Like Harlan Ellison said, everyone’s entitled to an INFORMED opinion.  I can’t possibly refute any of your babble since it’s hidden behind an invicible wall of stupid.

    Now, if you weren’t an idiot, you would try Katawa Shoujo for a few hours so you could write about it in an intelligent manner, instead of pig-ignorance.  If you did that, THEN I could 1) present an argument, and 2) refute statements of yours with which I may disagree.

    But you’re either a genuine idiot, or a person pretending to be a genuine idiot (i.e. a troll), so in either case, you’re just an idiot, and it’s impossible to have any sort of actual conversation; all that’s left are insults.



  • John Evans

    Hm, interesting…pretty good review.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Your way of repelling arguments makes it quite apparent, that you are not willing to accept that people may express their thoughts without having to ask you first. I wish luck to anyone, who wishes to gain insight into anything by arguing with you.

  • flaps

     wow that sure is a lot of words to have not said anything

  • Sunny

    Yes because it is sooo *disgusting* to sexualize disabled people. This game in no way seems to support the idea that disabled people can only date other disabled people. It is a school setting, and just like any school setting there is probably normal teenage drama and attraction, just like at any other school.

    I don’t have a disabled fetish. I also haven’t played this game. But i find the comments on this article more offensive and disgusting than this game could possibly be, no matter how much it may cater to disability-fetishists.

  • Sunny

    It’s quite ironic that you’re the one complaining about other commenters trolling.

  • Lark

    So sue me, I’m a stubborn bastard.

  • Paul Hubans

    What?? Are you putting words in my mouth or do you really fail this much at reading comprehension? I was saying his behavior of using the sexuality of disabled people to defend his creepy fetish is disgusting, since he equates disabled people to only being able to have sex with other disabled people. Are you like 18? Please, read more carefully before replying to someone on the Internet.

  • Raskolnikov

    French people surrender!
    Irish people drink!
    Brits have bad teeth!
    Stereotypes are so much fun aren’t they?
    So persuasive and full of wisdom.
    The tools of the expert debater.

  • westley

    But you have no basis to say anything, since it’s painfully obvious you know nothing about Katawa Shoujo.

  • Paul Hubans

    Yeah, I’ll be honest… I only played the game for about 20 minutes with my girlfriend. The writing was really poor, then again, we’re adults aged 28 & 30, so we probably have a higher standards for writing than this college-level tripe.

    At one point I stopped caring about the boring, obtuse, and predictable story and started skipping through the text just to see the “good parts”… I eventually gave up after 20 minutes of endless text I didn’t care about, really dull backgrounds that were lazily photo-sourced and filtered (see my first post here) and really stupid moe-looking anime characters that look just like every other nerdy otaku anime bullshit you see these days.

    So wait, are you telling me that this game actually gets interesting??

  • News

    sensitive guy convention

  • News

    pretense says otherwise

  • News

    butthurt nasally panderer

  • Jabberwok

     I’m not saying sexuality is not present. It absolutely is. It’s the way in which people think about it that I’m talking about. One could never market a game depicting sex to any mainstream audience. We can have games out the wazoo with big-breasted characters. Sexuality is everywhere, but sex itself is confined to pornography. This is changing somewhat in many areas, like film, but not so much in video games. Also, I would say that Duke Nukem was considered controversial exactly because of the sexuality, and not the graphic violence.
    I haven’t played enough of this game to know, but I’m not sure why you think the game is about manipulating people. I suppose if the stated goal is simply to have sex, then as a player, you could say that you are just trying to find the right combination of responses to reach that point. But the character in the game is not a pedophile trying to have sex with crippled children. The character is a crippled student, and from what I’ve seen of the game, has more interest in whining about his situation than in trying to get laid. I think you’re overstating the case with this whole pedophile thing.

  • Cypress_dahlia

    ITT: people who can’t accept the fact that the disabled also date and have meaningful relationships, which include sex. To play a game about the disabled and not be able to see past the fact that the characters are disabled says volumes about many peoples’ level of tolerance.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the review, especially considering this seems to be quite an controversial title.

  • Lucid

    Indeed, and as Hubans has said, above and below, he hasn’t actually read the novel: he is just judging a book by its cover.

    My own comments haven’t praised this as a “good” book, they’ve simply said that it’s a book that can be evaluated as a book.

    The arguments attacking K.S. seem to presume that it can’t be evaluated on the grounds that it is porn; well, it isn’t more pornographic than a lot of what passes for high literature (less pornographic than plenty of high literature…) but that is entirely spurious: inasmuch as this is porn, it can still be evaluated as porn (good, bad, or indifferent).

    The attitude of Hubans and many of the other people screaming that this novel has no right to exist (again, without reading it) is to presume that anyone who has read this thing and hasn’t immediately turned themselves over to a confessional booth is a sexual fetishist (who reads it for that reason).  That, also, is a weak and self-defeating argument.

    One of the plots is pretty much a constant monologue on the philosophy of art (no, I’m not kidding… you can tell that the writer is an illustrator…) with lengthy reflections on the meaning of painting, creativity, etc. etc. –and I’m not saying that’s “good”, but I’m saying that it can be evaluated like any other piece of writing.

    As with a film review, a more interesting question to ask would be “for what audience is this interesting?”  The answer to that would probably be the type of people who have a longstanding interest in either Japanese pop culture, or in the representation of physical disability (East vs. West), or, indeed, the small but stable market of people who are regular fans of the translated Visual Novel genre (numbering a few thousand, but not all that many in total).

    On the internet, anyone looking for porn will find porn; anyone looking for it is extremely unlikely to read through a monologue (of many hours) on the meaning of Art (etc.) to see a few hand-drawn illustrations (that the vast majority of people would not find erotic… and that’s why the vast majority of people prefer photographs of models, etc.).

    The subject of being born with a heart condition that is likely to kill you before you turn 30 is worth dealing with, and, yes, I did know someone who lived through this precise scenario, and who is now deceased (before reaching 30).  Yes, it makes graduating from high school (and applying to go to university) rather surreal.  No, I don’t think it turns anyone on.

    I don’t think that K.S. is a masterpiece, I don’t even think it is “good” (if I were to write a review, I would generally judge it to be “bad”, but not for the reasons that are being ranted about on this website) –however, the reason why it is worth talking about is precisely that it broaches themes and issues that other forms of pop-culture or the media neglect.

    In terms of my own disappointment with the novel, I was hoping that there would be more reflections on the public perception of disability in Japanese society, including religious attitudes, the impossibility of “normal” employment in the workforce, and so on.  The book is lacking in this type of “cultural critique”, and is instead (as everyone has said) strictly based on the (sentimental) development of the characters.

    I genuinely think that Derek Yu will need to reconsider the commenting policy on this website (unmoderated and anonymous posting is not working out very well).

  • Lucid

     Lark, genuinely, I think your own website (if you’ve got one) would be one hell of a lot more interesting than

    That line about the “lime jello worldview” was solid.

    Link to your blog (or equivalent) if you’ve got one.

  • Paul Hubans

    ITT: Creepy perverts pretending to be disabled so they can rationalize defending their statutory rape simulator.

    Do I actually care what the game is about? No. Am I calling bullshit on people who are being dishonest and using not-so-clever strawmen? Yes.

    Yes, it is disgusting to pose as a disabled person just so you can rationalize a fetish towards disabled girls. Just be honest about what you’re in it for, for fucks sake.

  • Paul Hubans

     For example, I’d have a lot less of a problem if it came straight from the horse’s mouth, instead of being implied as such:

    “Hey, just so you know I’ve lost the use of both of my legs and I haven’t had much luck in dating non-disabled women… So this game was like a breath of fresh air for me; I can relate to being in a situation where my only option at romance is other disabled women-”

    No, wait; I don’t think any person, disabled or otherwise would ever say something that stupid. How about this?

    “You know, I’m not disabled, but there’s something alluring about disabled girls to me. Truth is, I’m not very confident when it comes to women. With disabled women I feel a slight advantage; I mean, society by large would look at one of these otherwise beautiful women and shrug them off because they’re in a wheelchair… But me? No way; as long as she’s got a hot face and some nice tits I can work with that. Plus, I’ll be like a knight in shining armor to her by being the only guy who appears kind enough to notice her. I’m such a good guy.”

    See, now that’s a lot more honest but it reveal the true intent, which is fucked up, but the honesty is far more admirable than pretending you’re not like this and claiming to be more like the person from paragraph one, who is actually disabled, but doesn’t have to feel limited to other disabled people in choosing a sexual mate.

    That’s the point I’ve been trying to make; that it’s fucked up that people are posing the argument that this game is acceptable because it’s by and for disabled people, not creepy, opportunistic vultures like the case mentioned in the second quoted text. If you find a girlfriend and she happens to be disabled, then good for you… But relationships should form organically, not based on some weird standard that involves having a certain prerequisite like, “Well that girl’s not disabled, she won’t like me.” or “That girl’s not Asian enough for my tastes.” or “Her tits aren’t big enough.” etc. That’s really narrow-minded and short-sighted.

    If thinking this makes me an idiot, then so be it. I’d rather be an idiot than a creepy, dishonest sex-pest any day.

  • Davide

    Plus, I’ll be like a knight in shining armor to her by being the only guy who appears kind enough to notice her. I’m such a good guy.”

    The game challenges (English not being my first language, I think it should mean “goes against”) this mindset. Trying to do the white knight with the girl who seems the most frail, ends up with her hating the main character.

  • westley

    “Do I actually care what the game is about? No.”

    Do you actually KNOW what the game is about?  No.

    “Am I calling bullshit on people who are being dishonest and using not-so-clever strawmen? Yes.”

    But you can’t call bullshit, since you have no fucking idea what the game is like.  Your entire argument is made up of straw men.

    “If thinking this makes me an idiot, then so be it.”
    What makes you an idiot is writing about a game that you’ve never played.

  • westley

    I’m not nasal, Mr. Sockpuppet.

  • westley

    “Yeah, I’ll be honest… I only played the game for about 20 minutes with my girlfriend.”

    Stop lying.  You have no girlfriend.

    “So wait, are you telling me that this game actually gets interesting??”

    No, I’m telling you to fuck off and die, moron.

  • flaps

    Ahahaha look how mad you are about someone not liking a video game. You seriously told him “fuck off and die, moron” because he didn’t enjoy an anime dating sim. If I ever caught myself doing something this sad I would reevaluate my entire life. What’s it like to be a “fan” of something internet user westley?

  • westley

    “Ahahaha look how mad you are about someone not liking a video game.”

    No idiot, he can’t have a credible opinion of a video game, because he hasn’t played it.  But that doesn’t stop him from vomiting out worthless reams of text.

    But you’re just a sockpuppet anyway.

  • flaps

     You’re saying people can’t have opinions about things they haven’t done. Uh-huh ok well I don’t really know what to say to that except to laugh at such a stupid thought.

    Ever shot yourself in the dick?? Then how do you KNOW it isn’t good for it? Heh, got you there. I’m a master of internet debate.

    Also not changing the fact that you told someone to fuck off and die over a dating sim which probably is linked to you being the sort of person that is playing dating-sims in the first place.

  • Asshole

    The story does sound good, too bad the developer thought the addition of porn would add something to the story rather than take something away from it.

  • RH

    Sure are a lot of people arguing about nothing in here.

    Thanks for the suggestion, guys. I started playing KS when Derek posted about this and probably logged about 7 hours. I don’t really think the writing is anything magnificent so far (Except for the Rin path, props to the writer) but I definitely got a ton of feel-good vibes and was quite entertained. I feel bad for anyone who goes in this for the erotica though simply because they’re in for some heavy disappointment; 2 plotlines done (Emi and Rin) and I’ve yet to see genitalia of any kind.

  • Cypress_dahlia

    It’s just really insulting that a lot of people are brushing this off as a “fetish porn” game or a “statutory rape simulator”. That’s extremely offensive, not to the people playing, but to the subject matter. What that suggests is that disabled people cannot have meaningful relationships, or be genuinely loved. To say anyone who would be interested in this game is probably just a fetishist is to suggest that any interest in the disabled simply boils down to indulging a fetish. Disabled people are humans, too. They date and have sex, and are capable of loving and being loved. So it’s fucked up to suggest that this is “fetish porn”. It’s a dating sim about humans, just like any other dating sim. These humans just happen to be disabled. Does that mean they’re any less genuine or lovable? No.

    That’s like saying I date my 4’8″ girlfriend just because I have a midget fetish, not because I genuinely like her. Because it would be impossible for our relationship to be anything more than sexual indulgence, right? Ugh.

  • Paul Hubans

     Haha, you sound really, really mad. Given the context of what you’re arguing in favor of, I’m not surprised the concept of having a girlfriend is inconceivable to you. [laughing_out_loud_smiley.gif]

  • News

    sockpuppet identify phail

  • Davide Mascolo

    Depends how wide your definition of “porn” is. Mine fits with “hardcore sex”, something the sex scenes here are not. Only one has visible genitalia and it’s still quite tame. Many others seem rather out of a R-rated movie – a certain scene in Watchmen was probably more “porn” than these! – and are quite short, even more compared to the long time it takes to reach time (sex is part of a romantic relationship but… not so fast :p)

    I agree it can be argued if they were really necessary firsthand; on the other hand, that the story works also without them says a lot about how they aren’t treated as the center of attention, or some ultimate goal.

  • Brian Westley

    You spelled “phial” wrong.  HTH.

    1. A glass vessel or bottle, especially a small bottle for sockpuppets.

  • Brian Westley

    Glad to see you aren’t bothering to deny your lack of a girlfriend.  Confirmed.

  • Brian Westley

    You’re saying people can’t have opinions about things they haven’t done.”

    No, I’m not saying that, but you can’t read.

    What I said was that people can’t have a CREDIBLE opinion of a video game if he hasn’t played it.

    However, given your piss-poor reading skillz, you may as well not bother playing it either, since it involves a lot of reading.

  • flaps

     So you can’t have a CREDIBLE opinion of shooting yourself in the dick unless you’ve popped off a metal slug into your crouch. EXCUSE ME for that very important distinction.

    Also pretty sure my lack of being able to jerk off to cripple little girl porn is much more of an obstacle to my playing this game than my reading “skillz” (turn on speel check pleacse, that is jusyt a reallly revealring mistake, Mr. Friendly Atheist).

  • flaps

     Did a little Google-fu – if you’re the guy I think you are (and I’m pretty sure) then I’m feeling awful. If you had just said at the start that you were a lonely old man whose life is INTERNET DEBATE and ATHEIST OPERATIONS, like attempting to shut down local Boy Scout units for your spaz of a son, then I’m sure everyone would let you ‘win’ and we’d all shuffle off.

  • Brian Westley

    No, moron.  You can’t have a credible opinion on a visualnovelwithout reading it. Your fantasiesabout shooting yourself in your dick is your own problem.

  • Brian Westley

    Well, I see your lack of reading comprehension extends beyond this page; what I did was stop the national Boy Scouts of America from issuing charters to government entities like public schools, since the BSA requires that they break the law and exclude atheists.

    Sorry if you don’t like first amendment rights, but you don’t seem to be the brightest bulb out there.

  • News


  • News

    victim complex whiner

  • News


  • Brian Westley

    Oh, and your right hand is your “girlfriend”?

  • Brian Westley

    No, no, a “whiner” only complains about things; I stopped unlawful constitutional violations.  I get shit done.

  • Patter

    And i though that only japan would freak out about games like theres guess i was wrong lol

  • flaps

     lol A true hero of the internet age, Percy Shelley wishes he could have accomplished half your storied atheist feats. Wherever faith lies in the heart of man BRIAN WESTLEY, DEFENDER OF FREEDOM will be there to post text that can only be read in Woody Allen’s voice, if anyone actually bothered to read it.

  • Brian Westley

    I’m sure with a name like “flaps” you’ll go far; at least with your fantasies about shooting your own dick off.