Replaying Katawa Shoujo for the second time proved to be a much bigger deal than I anticipated. It had been three and a half years since I first encountered the visual novel and spent six months completing all of the paths and story arcs. Because I lost my save file (and all those precious screenshots I took) when my hard drive corrupted, I only had a vague memory of the major story points, and it was a joy to rediscover the magic of the small moments.
The reason I got back into KS was because I mentioned it to a friend, and then linked him to the first blog I wrote about my experiences. Since writing those initial articles in 2014 (you can read them under the tag Katawa Shoujo), the posts have been read by hundreds, maybe thousands of people from around the world.
I was curious to see if my blog was somehow one of the most popular KS blogs on the internet, so I googled it started reading a bunch of other blogs. I discovered a facebook group that I had never thought to look for, and have found it to be one of the greatest sources of joy in my social media experience. There’s this special connection I have with so many strangers around the world, and it’s been wonderful finding that KS has meant as much (or more) to others as it has to me. The group is a celebration of many of the best parts of KS, and I’ve been so grateful to encounter so much amazing fanart and to see so many people posting for Hanako’s birthday. Plus, discussions around the soundtrack have got me listening to (and playing piano arrangements of) the score again. It’s such a passionate and largely wholesome community, and I’m blown away (and a little intimidated) by the dedication of the artists, musicians, authors and appreciators who give so freely of themselves.
Anyway, I downloaded the game again and worked my way through Lilly’s path like I said I would three years ago. Let me tell you, the feels hit me harder than I was ready for. I cried so much. Like, full body-wracking sobs. After the second heart attack, I literally said (between choking on tears), “Lilly, Lilly, it’s so fucking good to see you again.” What a rollercoaster.
Having the benefit of experience, I found it really interesting to replay the game with a deeper understanding of everyone’s character and backstory. For instance, I used to think of Lilly and Shizune as opposites. Whereas Lilly was thoughtful, measured and poised, Shizune was all spontaneity and passion. And yet, they turned out to be more similar than I had realised; they’re both thoughtful, considerate and caring, just that they had different ways of showing it.
I learned a lot about Hanako through this playthrough as well. When she learned that Hisao and Lilly were a couple, she made the conscientious decision to give them more space and privacy so that their relationship could develop. As a result, she started studying harder and thinking of her future. When Naomi wanted help in the newspaper club, she slowly took on more and more responsibility and found a whole new group of friends. When she decided to go travelling over the holidays, Naomi’s company was welcome but not essential. It was by breaking away from Lilly that she could really start to find her own feet. Honestly, Hanako has taught me so about strength, and I’m reminded that protecting others from their feelings rarely serves to honour who they are as people.
As I played, I was incredibly aware of the fragility of Hisao’s budding relationship, and the myriad of ways it could (and would) go horribly wrong if I wasn’t careful. I flinched at every conflict, painfully aware that I was one or two choices away from a “bad ending” at any moment. I sometimes found it hard to relax, even when things were going well, because I knew it wouldn’t last.
And that’s kind of the point isn’t it? One of the themes explored in Lilly’s path is that all things are transient, and that nothing lasts. At times Hisao contemplates the view that “life isn’t a fairy tale” and that everything good comes to an end. But other times he explores the alternative, that worries can be set aside while he treasures the present moment. There are so many moments in the game where he and Lilly decide not to think about the future and to just enjoy each other’s company while they can.
And Lilly really was the best part of Hisao’s life. Playing it through a second time, I noted the instances in which Lilly took Hisao under her wing, and saw him as someone who needed care and support. And I also noticed the many times in which Hisao took care of her and Hanako. I came to realise that being around and offering help when needed was very different from taking the initiative and going out of his way to be there for Lilly. (The only example that springs to mind is when he bought her the music box, and in a way it’s what saved their relationship.) Hisao realised this, almost too late on the night Lilly was leaving. And so perhaps for the first time, Hisao didn’t just sit back and let Lilly continue with her plans. He made a resolution: that he couldn’t let her go without at least trying to keep her.
The last time I played, I couldn’t understand how Hisao could justify asking Lilly to give up her family and choose to stay with him in Japan. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve come to realise a few things.
- Hisao saw that there was a part of her that didn’t want to go. She wanted to be with Hisao, but she was so used to putting others first that she couldn’t bring herself to ask for what would have made her truly happy. By putting his foot down Hisao wasn’t forcing her to change her mind; he was offering her the future she wouldn’t allow herself to consider.
- He reminded her of the promise he had made to her in the wheatfields: to always be there for her, in her joy and in her sadness, and to see her true smile. He was asking for Lilly to believe in their future together, to consider it to be worth just as much as a future with her family.
- Hisao well knew how much it hurt to lose everything and everyone. He saw Lilly about to go through the same thing, and he did everything he could to stop it.
- He also knew how much Lilly feared loss, and how it lead her to hold herself apart from everyone through her shield of perfect composure. In the end, it was his mad dash to the airport that made Lilly realise how much she loved him, and how much she was willing to give up in order to be with him.
It still gives me chills to think about. The more I consider it, the more I feel like it was a mature exploration of some really heavy stuff. The ending is heartbreaking, and beautiful, and perfect.
Still, I have to say the experience of replaying Katawa Shoujo was surprisingly difficult for me. Truth be told, this version of Hisao reminded me uncomfortably of myself in high school, and as much as I loved the story, it hit a little too close to home for me. Those years of my life were formative but not pleasant, and I found it really hard to spend so much time with a character who reminded me of a time I would rather have left forgotten. Honestly, it’s taken me a few days to write this because I’ve been working through some old thoughts and feelings (read: I’ve been an emotional wreck). All up, I’m really glad I replayed the game and got to fall in love with Lilly all over again, but I’ve decided to take a break from stories set in high school, and might come back to KS in the future.
If you’d like to read my other blogs on KS written after my first playthroughs, you can find them here: