Katawa Shoujo: Shizune and Misha’s path

Gawsh darnit. Another blog post that comes either very late at night or early in the morning. It’s 7am and I’ve just finished Shizune’s path. Well, more correctly I finished it about 40 minutes ago and spent that time re-writing part of the wiki. (It seems that’s my thing now. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, but rewarding to do justice to the amazing characters of Katawa Shoujo.) I’m pretty tired, but I still want to write my traditional post-game blog. As expected, this contains massive spoilers for Shizune’s plot, so be forewarned.

Shizune’s path was a little different from the others because I couldn’t finish it over the course of a few days. When I first went through it, I made the terrible, heart-wrenching decision to comfort Misha. Let me first say that I absolutely love Misha. I have always loved the way she throws back her head and laughs unapologetically at the top of her voice: Wahahaha! She’s currently the background of my phone, and she brings me great joy every time I see her. Yet while I was browsing for pictures I could use, I came across this one:

screenshot0536 As I first spent more time with the duo in Act 1, I was secretly hoping that there would be a storyline where I ended up with Misha. How I regret that wish. I chose to comfort her, envisaging Hisao putting his arm around her and letting her cry, and then talk, and maybe hug. Instead they fell straight into bed and I was horrified. I was surprised the game continued into Act 4, and I thought that maybe there were further choices up the line that would enable me to redeem it. But nope: after four drawn out chapters of angst, the game ended with the trio basically never talking to each other again. It seemed particularly mocking that Hisao’s last words were along the lines of “I thought of all the choices I could have made that might have led to things turning out differently.” You gave me one choice, Game. One choice! You jerk.

It was several weeks before I had the time to play again, and I ended up replaying Act 3 just to remember what had happened and get back into the spirit of things. To my surprise, I had come to care greatly for Shizune, whom I had always considered the antagonist of Lilly (my first true Shoujo love!). Shizune drew me in with her childish competitiveness, and kept me around with her maturity, her passion and her intrigue.

I’ve realised that what I love most about Katawa Shoujo is that with every replay, my interest turns to understanding each of the characters. Hisao, the way he changes depending on who he’s with and they way they influence what he values. And the girls, who are profound in ways I didn’t expect. Everyone starts out seeming like a two-dimensional stereotype (see original concept art below) but are revealed to have pasts that shape them into complex, multi-dimensional people. And understanding who they are and why is deeply satisfying to me, especially when the characters realise and enunciate it themselves. I think these anagnorises are what I love most about the game, the growth of characters and the realisations they come to (and therefore I am witness to) as they see who they were and instead have chosen to become.

The initial sketch an artist casually produced that inspired a wave of people to actually create a game.

The initial sketch an artist casually produced that inspired a wave of people to actually create a game.

Understanding Shizune was as long and frustrating for me as understanding Rin and Emi. This time as I played I kept notes, jotting down revelations as they came to Hisao (and thus to me), and I ended up writing pages and pages. Shizune was more than just a deaf girl who liked competitions: one of the core pieces of her identity was the drive to be victorious, and without direction she applied this to every area of her life. Looking at her work in the Student Council, if there was a festival coming up she would throw herself at it relentlessly. But without an impending event, she would be restless and create mass amounts of busywork so that she had an outlet for her productivity and ambition. When there was a problem, she tackled it head on until it was resolved, and this is ultimately why she wasn’t able to understand why Misha was upset, or to respond in a way that was helpful to her.

screenshot0676 Another core part of Shizune’s identity was her love of passion. She became bored easily and didn’t like ordinary people: she thrived off excitement, and most importantly, passion. She loved arguing with people because it forced them to get fired up and fight for what they believed in, and regardless of whether she won or lost an argument, she was always impressed when people stood up to her. As a result, Shizune was always trying to create excitement for people, to do things that were spectacular and create that spark of passion in them. Ultimately what she was striving for was to improve people’s lives through her efforts: to be like a firework, bright and loud and fantastic, and to change their appreciation of the night sky if only for a minute. And so she applied herself to making people happy, even if they misunderstood her (rather forceful) efforts. Sometimes she felt that her efforts were impermanent and not worth celebrating, but other times she was deeply pleased by how much she accomplished through sheer force of will.

I’m also deeply impressed by how Shizune’s deafness affected her life. Her family not being able to sign was really hard for her, and she couldn’t even communicate with those closest to her. When she came to Yamaku and met Misha, things became easier for her, but she was never able to get close to anyone because she was always speaking through a translator. She could make conversation and exchange questions and answers, sure, but there was always the buffer of a third person that prevented her from really opening up or being opened up to. In the end, Misha was her only real friend, and she often took her for granted. It was good, then, that Misha decided to really focus on her studies halfway through the year and forge her own path that was not in Shizune’s wake.

Although Hisao’s relationship was focussed on Shizune, Misha’s happiness also meant a lot to me, and I strove to understand the cause of her sudden misery. At first I thought it was the guilt of sleeping with Hisao, but even in the good ending where he refused her, she still became suddenly melancholic. I’ve come to realise that for Misha, the fear of graduating was far greater than she let on, and she was deeply depressed by the thought of leaving the school and her closest friend and loved one. A small part of her felt that she had been replaced by Hisao, both as a translator and as a lover, and it hurt her deeply to think she wasn’t needed any more. To protect herself from the pain of an inevitably sad goodbye, she tried to distance herself from both of them, withdrawing into her own self-pity. This was worsened by Shizune not understanding what was going on and giving her space. By the time she realised it wasn’t working and tried to forcefully cheer her up, it only served to push Misha further away. In the end it was Hisao’s gentleness that got through to her, his kind words of advice to treasure her friendships rather than let them waste away, that allowed the three of them to join hands again.

screenshot0610 One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been hitting my S key an awful lot this time ’round. A quick glance shows me I’ve taken 68 screenshots of Lilly’s story, 135 of Emi’s, 137 of Rin’s and… 338 screenshots of Shizune’s. When I first started Lilly’s, I reserved screenshots for perfect, idyllic moments, and I left out most of the really special moments because I didn’t want to cheapen the experience by trying to capture it in a picture. After my fourth playthrough now, I just snap away any time I laugh, or I see the essence of a character summarised in a sentence or two, or I am moved by the unfolding relationships and circumstances.

And you know? It continues to amaze me that without fail, every time I play (even for a few short minutes) I am inspired to be a better person. Hisao’s constant choices to improve his life and pursue his passions, as well as the tremendous bravery of the girls who do the same, remind me of the sort of person I want to be.

I have to say though, there is something that continues to irk me: it’s never clear whether Hisao stays with Shizune after graduation. When Shizune is telling them that they have to meet up again soon, she says “Both of you”, which makes me think all three of them are going their separate ways. And the last line of the game is “We’ll meet again” – does it refer to just Misha, or Misha and Shizune both?! Hisao says he wants “to chase her” by continuing teaching at Yamaku, and that he wants to enjoy the rest of his life in Shizune’s company… Arrrrgh what happens?!?! I guess I’ll have to assume they stay together for the sake of my contentment. Well, I’ve completed four of the five paths in their entirety, leaving Hanako’s til the end. I have a feeling I will be super protective of her (I’ve got a bit of a white knight in shining armour complex) and will fall deeply in love with her, but I guess we’ll see! Once I’ve completed the game 100%, I wonder what it will unlock? Can’t wait for that, either. If you haven’t already downloaded the game for free, for God’s sake just do it. You can thank me later.

screenshot0341

How mental illness is improving my life

When I was in high school, I made the mistake of reading the Wikipedia page on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I instantly identified with most of the symptoms, as did my best friend at the time. I fed into that identity and encouraged it because it made me feel both unique and closer to my friend.

Years later I spoke to my psychologist and she gave me the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). It was a huge relief to get an official diagnosis, and to know that there is a reason that I think the way I do. However, I have since considered the problems of mental health labels at length, and for the most part identifying with a diagnosis is limiting and potentially destructive. So it’s with some consideration that I say I am grateful for the parts of my identity that are affected by OCPD.

I recently flew to Geraldton for work (I got a new job, by the way! More on that another time), but due to the thunderstorms the planes were delayed. As a result, I only had six hours there as opposed to the nine hours that I had scheduled. I spent those six hours meeting and casually interviewing a young man, getting as much of a picture of him as possible, learning the story of his life and how he viewed his circumstances, what was important to him and what we could help him with. As we spoke, I jotted down notes on the computer, separating the conversation into topics in my head and then making dot points under each heading. After those six hours I had four pages of condensed notes across the various dimensions of his life that were important to him. After an hour, I produced a neat, two-page summary of his past, his hopeful future, and how my organisation would be involved with him.

I am grateful to say that everyone was thrilled with my work, done with an excellent amount of detail in all the right places and produced in such a short period of time. When asked how I did it, I answered that report writing is a strength of mine. I realised that underneath that I have another, more influential strength: I excel at taking large volumes of data, categorising it into schema and then formatting it into something logically ordered, relevant and concise. In the past, I have taken great pleasure in reading scientific papers and extracting their essence into a few sentences or paragraphs. I am glad to see it serves me well now as I meet people and observe their lifestyles and personalities. In my mind’s eye, all of this data is fed into a machine which orders and organises it and prints out a concise summary of how I can work with them.

I have never met anyone who has loved data as much as I do (possibly excepting Dr Mark Liddiard, my statistics teacher at university). While numbers or reports may seem dull, they are the fabric of knowledge, and they inform how we move through and influence the world. They are the key to improving life, for ourselves and for others. For this reason, I always delight in taking surveys and sharing my opinion, because I believe the more we know, the richer life becomes (so long as we recognise the magic beyond the numbers.)

This ended up being a bit of a ramble. How ironic!