Now, I would recommend playing this game yourself before you read this. Hell, I'd recommend playing the game anyway. As Rodan put it two nights ago, "even if you don't like it you should still play it".
Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly > Rin
He threatened to remove me from the Walrus queue for my "objectively bad" opinion. I thought his response was funny, but it did make me think of the heat I've caught in the past for this ranking system, and the thoughts I've had on why I've organized it this way. To justify this, I am going to analyze each of the main routes, and what metaphors they create, parallels they draw, stories they tell, and how they develop the characters into who they are meant to be.
As a very well-written game, KS has evoked many thoughtful sessions and feelings, all of which I have put into words in the past, but only to myself. I have strong feelings, and I express them well through the English language. And when it comes to Katawa Shoujo:
I will begin with Shizune.
Many people find her to be a power-hungry control freak, but I feel like she honestly believes that what she does in the Student Council is right and justified. She works her hardest, harder than anybody else, to make sure that student events such as the Yamaku Summer Festival are of the highest quality they can be for everybody. She doesn't forgive laziness, but she recognizes perserverance and boldness. As long as you are trying, and you are trying your hardest, Shizune likes you. As such, her expectations are very high and are always rising, something that attracted me. She wants Hisao to be his best, and knows that he can achieve that, and is even willing to help him achieve greatness in what he does. "Can you tell me what you think?" is the overarching question of Shizune's route, and asks the player to take control of their own thoughts, emotions, and desires, much like Shizune has. Ironically, sometimes she can't even express herself to Hisao and Misha, this nonexpression of which erodes the relationship between Misha and Shizune every day.
As her whole character revolves around her control, I believe it is not just fitting, but right that Shizune's route only has the one choice: Do you comfort Misha? This choice tests both Hisao's and your self-control, the one time you get to make a choice. This whole scenario says that "You have one choice to do right by yourself. Your whole life has led up to this one choice, and are you going to achieve and be the best you can be, or will you break your own promises and moral code for base desires?" The rest of the route is in Shizune's control, as is dictated by her character. But Hisao has one chance. Once chance by which, afterward, he will either lose all control of his life, and make Misha and Shizune lose all control of their lives, or he will begin to control his own desires to grow, and control the responsibility of his disability. Misha will begin to take control of her learning, and take tutoring, and Shizune will let go of some of her over-controlling traits, as she learns to let Misha and Hisao go live their lives, while still knowing that they'll be there for her whenever. In this way, Misha, Shizune, and Hisao all come to terms and have closure for their long-pent-up feelings and denials, and they all move on, together, happy and in-control.
Shizune's character growth is not as great as either Misha's or Hisao's, as both noticeably change throughout the course of the story; Misha beginning with a mask of happiness, joy, and hard work, and transitioning to a mask of passive-aggressive cries for attention and help to cover her depression and fear, and then finally accepting that Shizune will never love her romantically, and being able to move on with her life, to be the teacher she wants to be, and Hisao comes to take control of his life and his disability and his responsibilities. In every route, Hisao becomes more like the girl he is with, wherein using what he learns throughout the arch will ensure a happy ending for both characters, and him sticking to his old, unsure, selfish ways will end up in despair for any couple he is with. But in this route, Hisao becomes more like both Shizune and Misha, and changes more dramatically than he does in any other route. The one choice in this route either launching towards the good or the bad endings rests on this choice: "Do I do what Shizune would do, and exhibit self-control, and recognize that something isn't right, or do I do what Misha would do, which is look for the easy way out, hoping that maybe something different and out of my character will change things?" Hisao is so different in this story, that the choice isn't "Do I do what [my lover] would want/do, or do I do what I would want/do?", it's "Shizune, or Misha?", a choice set unprecedented in the entire Katawa Shoujo storyline.
I see a lot of myself in Misha, and from the get-go, her akin personality to mine, coupled with Shizune's appeal to my want of control of both myself and my life, made me go with this route on my first playthrough, when I had no idea of what I wanted to do. Misha and I are both very friendly, very loud, very caring, very possessive, and very passive-aggressive people. Neither she nor I really think through our situations, and we both recognize that we don't. However, self-realization is by no means change or redemption, and even though we both know that what we are doing may be wrong, neither of us really know how to do anything differently. Like Misha, I've had some help in recent years from my friends in overcoming my passive-aggressive and possessive nature, and only focusing on my kindness, my caring, and my empathy for others. Also like Misha, I'm not quite there yet, and I'm going to need some more time, more practice, and more support to get to where I want to be, and to be the person I want to be.
I fear that, moving into college, I will begin to lose touch with all of my friends, and even begin to lose control of my own learning. In this time of uncertainty, Shizune's control and strong, unbreaking feelings for her few, close friends is something that I want for myself, to overcome my possessive nature, and my own group of close friends, to be willing to let them go. Her route makes me want to take control of my life and my own emotions, something that I am working on doing day-by-day. Shizune and Misha's route just means the most to me, and is the most applicable to my life, as well as being the most influential route of all on my life goals and my personality.
Now, Emi's control over her life is of a more negative kind than Shizune's, as Emi mostly restricts herself through her self-control, unlike Shizune, who pushes herself. Emi cuts herself off from both the past and the future, and attempts to cut herself off from those who would love her. But the thing is, she has already come to terms with her disability, just not what caused it. As long as Hisao recognizes this, and tries not to "save her" from her past, they both end up happy. Mutou's advice of "paying attention to what's around the black hole" illustrates this point very well. Hisao is sucked in by both Emi's personality and the gravity of her situation. But, like a black hole, he can't observe her directly. As long as he works to understand her and push her to move on, and not attempt a rescue mission inside of a black hole, he learns about her and helps her, instead of being sucked in further and shredded.
Emi's route is the one that, I believe, is the hardest to mess up. Unlike Shizune's route, Hisao has many opportunities to turn his bad situation around, even after he attempts to white-knight her. If he keeps ramming himself into a wall, the wall that Emi has built, he'll only strengthen her wall and break himself. Emi will slowly wither away, alone, and Hisao can now do nothing except watch her fade behind the wall that he accidentally made indestructible. But if Hisao learns from his mistakes, just as Emi is trying to learn from her mistake of building the wall in the first place, they will both end up happy, healthy, and open to the rest of the world, as Hisao comes to terms with his disability and keeping people away from it, and Emi comes to terms with the death of her father and keeping people away from her.
Emi's growth astounds me. She legitimately opens up, instead of just being "that friend that everyone has". She used to hide her closed personality behind a friendly and kind exterior, an exterior which was still a base part of her personality, but now she no longer feels like she needs to keep up a front, and can just be friendly, kind, and open because she likes people, not because she wants to hide the hurt.
Emi inspires me personally to not just recognize, but also to let go of the hurts of the past, and to look further into the future than around the next curve. Going into college, she makes me want to plan out my four years, instead of just running blindly in, assuming everything will be fine. Because it just might not be. She is, of all of the route's main characters, the most like me personally, and her growth thus means the most to me, as I can see myself doing the things she does, and maturing the way she matures.
Hanako's big conflict is that neither she nor Hisao really understand each other, and never do, no matter what choices you as the player make. Once more, she has a wall built up between her and the entire world. Hanako's wall is the biggest of all of the characters, but her main difference is that she does her best throughout the entire story to break it down, because she loves Hisao, and wants to make him happy, and thus make herself happy. In fact, Hanako states that she felt as if it was easier she "just didn't exist. But after meeting Lilly, and then you... I tried, but I couldn't make myself think that way again." She wants to love the world, and wants the world to love her back. But she can't do that without help, and she finds that help in Hisao and Lilly. They make her want to improve, to be happy, to just keep existing. Hanako's conflict doesn't lie within herself, interestingly enough. It lies in her friends, and whether they want to help her break down her wall, or if they feel like they know better, and keep her protected and sheltered.
Hanako has very little control over her life, only over her emotions and desires. She knows what she feels and wants, but cannot express it, as she has no social control, opting to let her friends decide her fate in a combination of reasoning including that she can't do it herself, and she trusts them. The one time she takes control is when she attempts to have sex with Hisao, a circumstance I still believe to be the shadiest and most gray in the entire game. I honestly believe that Hisao raped Hanako by accident, and by her own volition. No, hear me out. Rape, by its legal definition in the United States is "any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent and/or obtained through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion." Now, I feel that Hanako and Hisao both gave very clear consent throughout the whole situation, as Hanako uses the whole situation as a way to open up to Hisao and say "I want you to see me differently. I'm facing my fears, now face your fears of letting me become who I want to be," and Hisao is all like "Oh, baby." But the key word in that definition is "and/or". I believe that by attempting to protect Hanako in the first place, and by starting off trying to shelter her, Hisao unwittingly went against her own desires of wanting to open up to the world, and Hanako needed a way to change his mind. Hisao, by being sheltering, unwittingly coerced and forced Hanako to have sex with him, in a desperate bid to make him see her differently. The whole ordeal is uncomfortable for both, and Hanako shows many signs of fear and uncertainty, the signs of which Hisao missed, being the Master of Romance that he is, but the reader cannot help but notice and feel. We all know that something was wrong there. There are a lot of red flags all over this scene, and only Hanako and the reader notice them, Hanako opting to let them be, and the reader helpless to do anything but continue. Now, afterward, Hanako seemed happy, and even said "I love you," to Hisao for the first time in their relationship. I believe that Hanako knew and recognized that she didn't want to have sex with Hisao, especially not at her stage of emotional breakthrough, but pushed past her own feelings, knowing that he needed to change how he saw her, and that this would do it. Hanako is a very strong girl, and has a strong, tenacious personality, and forced herself into this, at best, uncomfortable situation because she felt and knew that she needed to. Now, no jury would ever convict Hisao on any sexual offense in this situation, because I believe that it can never actually be quantifyingly proven that Hanako didn't want to have sex with him, and there are signs to both arguments all over this scene. That's why there's so much discussion over this one scene, and so much confusion and unsureness. In any case, every reader can feels how wrong it is. I just feel like this scene is very shady and questionable. And yet, it strongly solidifies Hanako's strong character, and just how willing she is to fix herself through her most loved and trusted friends. To Hanako, the ends justified the means, as this scene does lead to the good ending, the ending of which makes Hisao and Hanako both realize that they don't understand each other, but don't need to understand each other to love each other. All-in-all, I think that this scene more than any other shows the depth of just how strong Hanako is, and how willing she is to face her fears in order to fix her life and get her friends to help her fix her life. She knows there's still hope, and to her, hope is worth stepping out of your comfort zone.
I believe that Hanako's character growth is the least, and yet the most subtle of all of the characters. Hanako was always a strong and caring but timid and anxiety-ridden character from the first few scenes, and, throughout the whole story, she mostly stays the same. The only difference is that she opens up to Hisao as well now instead of just Lilly, so we the readers get to see more of her character and her personality. Some may mistake this for character growth, but I want to say that Hanako was always this way, and she always wanted to change, and had the mental and emotional strength to do so. Where her character truly changed was before the entire story, from her house fire, to the point where she met Lilly, and further to the point where she met Hisao. Lilly already forced a change in Hanako's character long before Hisao showed up. However, she couldn't change further without help, and Lilly, being the sheltering mother she is, did not provide all of that help. So when Hanako began to fall in love with Hisao, she also saw a chance for redemption in him, a chance to change that Lilly couldn't give her. And Hanako fought for that chance. And if Hisao fights her back, determined to protect and shelter her, that's when her character reaches its maximum stage of change. She loses her mind, and rails against both Hisao and Lilly for trying to protect her when she very clearly doesn't want it. This is an action that Hanako would never have taken in the past, but her sheer frustration enables her to finally break down her own wall by herself, push past her kindness and timidity, to give Hisao a piece of her mind, a piece of the frustration she's been bottling up for ten years. Now, we don't know what happens to Hanako after this incident. Some believe that the bad ending for Hisao can still be a good ending for Hanako, because now, with her walls down, she may be able to venture out of her comfort zone fearlessly, knowing that she has the power to express herself. Sure, she loses two of her closest friends, a regret she'll carry forever, but know she has the ability to move beyond those two friends, and make her own life. Some believe that this ending is the one that breaks Hanako permanently, as the trauma of letting loose all of that frustration just forces her to retreat back behind a new wall, a stronger wall, but this time without either Hisao or Lilly to be there for her. I'd like to believe that this ending could continue with Hanako forging her own path, but my own analysis forces me to think that this trauma would cause her to retreat, to revert, and to stagnate, which is what she did before she met Lilly, before she had any friends, before her character changed to the strong, capable woman she was when she met Hisao.
In the ways that Lilly's and Hanako's story arcs are so tightly bound, and so subtly different, Lilly and Hanako teach much of the same lesson, albeit being subtly different. Hanako makes me want to look harder at the people around me, kind of like Lilly. However, while Lilly asks me to look deeper into people, to see their personalities beyond the outside of them, Hanako asks me to look harder, not just at someone's true personality, but also at the messages they give you, whether verbal or nonverbal. Hanako tries to make Hisao read people better, not just look at them differently. Hanako also makes me question myself, makes me wonder if I face my fears just as well as she does, or if I even truly face them at all.
Lilly's main conflict is that her politeness is a sort of wall, much like Emi's. Lilly knows that her parents could wish her back to Scotland at any time, and that her days here at Yamaku are numbered. She does not want to get close to people, and then be torn away from them when the time comes. Other than that, she is almost literally the perfect human being, so perfect as to almost be a cliche, something that 4Leaf Studios tried very hard to avoid, or even turn on their head. She's basically a Waifu-tron, only built to be the perfect waifu, she's so amazing. She's a kind, compassionate, and caring friend and girlfriend, a passionate lover with a "healthy adolescent sex drive", and is willing to put Hisao before herself in almost every circumstance, just wanting to make him happy. But this is where 4Leaf Studios messes with your head. If Hisao treats Lilly like the Waifu-tron she is, she will not love him enough to stay at the end of the route, and will leave, filling them both with the forever question of "What if?" But if he trusts her with his deepest thoughts and emotions, treats her like a human being instead of an emotionless lover, their love for each other grows even stronger, and makes Hisao realize that he can't live without her. Lilly, of course, realizes much of the same, but this time, instead of waiting on Hisao's every desire, and running after him, he has to run after her, to prove to both himself and to her that he truly loves her.
Lilly's control of her life is quite negative, much like Emi's. They both cut themselves off from a true relationship. You can tell that both Lilly and Emi want to open up to Hisao, but just can't do it for their own reasons. Hisao needs to open up to them first, and Hisao has to get around, not break down, the walls that they've all built for them to be happy. Now, all of the routes have you, the player, overcome the common VN trope that each character is. You can't white-knight Emi, you can't shelter Hanako, you can't bring Rin back down to Earth, and you can't be content with letting Lilly baby you like a mother/Waifu-tron. I believe that Lilly's route does that story the best, as you have to not treat her as nothing more than a lover from the get-go of her story in order to succeed. There are three choices in her route, each as important as the other, where the wrong choice, the wrong treatment of Lilly in one choice will damn both her and Hisao to a life of questions and regrets.
Lilly grows as a character much like Emi does. They both learn to look at the world differently. However, Emi learns to look at herself, time, and pain differently, while Lilly learns to look at other people differently. Lilly opens up, gains control over he relationships, and can be polite and kind to people not because she wants to hide behind a mask, but because she genuinely loves people. Sadly, her growth just doesn't strike me quite as well as Emi's does. Emi grows more because she learns to see herself and her own situation differently, while Lilly... Doesn't change quite as much to me.
Lilly inspires me to look at the world and the people around me differently, less superficially. She makes me want to look deeper at everything, because things and people aren't usually as they seem. Sometimes they're better than you thought, and give you the opportunity to be happy. And sometimes they're worse off than you thought, and just need a little bit of your help, support, and love. With Lilly, love is both blind and all-seeing. Your love should be much of the same, and I want my love to be as such.
Rin's conflict is similar to Hanako's: Neither she nor Hisao really understand each other, and she can't express herself to him correctly. But Rin also doesn't see the world the way everybody else does, albeit in a more negative way than Lilly does. Rin can't say "No" to people, hardly even knows how to, and doesn't know when to stop or when to quit. She feels this absurd sense of duty to her teacher, and to her art, even though she knows that she does not want any of what Nomiya wants for her. The entire story has Hisao bending around Rin, and what she's doing, and can only come to its happy conclusion once he stops bending around her, and learns to stand firm for what he wants, needs, and feels from her. Hisao and Rin never had a one-way relationship, but it felt like one because of Rin's inability to express herself in the English language. Once Hisao forced Rin to step out of her comfort zone, and learn to express herself, or to at least tell him what she feels, they suddenly have both of their future's brightened. One choice that I really like in this whole story is Hisao's choice of responding to Rin's statement of "You wouldn't understand,": "Then explain!", "I need to understand.", and "It doesn't matter." If Hisao continues to bend around Rin by commanding her to explain herself to him, she finds that she still cannot do it, and it launches you both into the bad ending, in which Rin, in her disappointment and frustration, kills herself so as to avoid this wretched life that she never wanted. But if Hisao separates himself from her, she begins to realize how much he needs him, and forces herself to learn how to communicate, to Hisao, to Nomiya, and, most importantly, to herself. I personally like the "It doesn't matter" choice the most, as it reminds me of Hanako's route, and makes both Hisao and Rin realize that they don't need to understand why each other feels a certain way, they just need to know that the other feels that way. Understanding will come in time, and that's a part of love.
Rin... has an interesting set of control in her life. She controls parts of herself quite negatively, and allows others to control other parts of herself. Rin controls herself by forcing herself to paint, even when she doesn't want to, because another part of her, controlled by Nomiya, says that she must. Some would argue that Rin has no control of herself in this situation, but I argue that she has a lot of strength and control in certain places that enables the rest of her that is controlled by others. Now, trying to justify Rin is very difficult, as the choices she makes are often very illogical, and we don't necessarily understand them. But I feel as though Rin does not need justifying. Just like Hisao, we should all learn to just accept her choices, and help her along with making them, but we don't need to understand her feelings on the matter. We just need to know that she has them, and help her along as best we can. That's where Rin relinquishes control to Hisao, as she trusts him to understand that he doesn't need to understand her, and that he'll help her make the right choice.
Now, if Rin misplaces that trust, and Hisao forces her to make a decision by herself by continuing to bend around her, she will go on unhappily, and end up killing herself. But once he seperates, and gives himself the power to stand firm with her, he comes back in the future, now willing to either help her solidify her choice to be an artist, or to help her back onto the path she wants to take in her life. Rin's artistry doesn't always have to end in suicide, because if Hisao comes back, asking "Aren't you happy?", it solidifies Rin's morale of being an artist, and kind of makes her realize that "This isn't bad, and I can be happy living this life." But Hisao ultimately has this choice. Rin relinquished control to him to make this decision. She has the power to fulfill that choice, whatever it may be, but it is not her choice.
Rin and Hisao both start off very closed to each other, with each character changing to be more open and honest with the other. In this way, unlike the other routes, both Rin and Hisao change in much of the same ways, instead of Hisao changing to be more like the girl, and the girl resolving to shed her negative traits. Rin and Hisao grow together, both of them realizing a state of self-awareness nearly simultaneously, in all of the endings. Whether that self-realization is negative or positive is ultimately up to Hisao, and how aware he is of Rin's desires and feelings at the time of his choices.
To me, the only thing holding back Rin's amazing, metaphor-ridden story is the fact that she never takes control of herself or her life until the very end of the good ending. Everything is up to Hisao and Nomiya. Unlike the other girls, Rin doesn't even want to try to change until Hisao forces her to. In this way, Rin frustrated me a little bit as a character. I know that's not her fault, as 4Leaf Studios was trying to create a girl with the traits of a Cloud Cuckoolander, while also turning that trope on its head by pointing out just how lonely and confusing of a life that would be. So they intentionally made her excessively frustrating, confusing, and sad. And in this regard, the team and the writer did an exceptional job. They succeeded in frustrating and confusing me, while also giving me food for thought for weeks on end. I just personally couldn't take that vagueness and nonchalance that she exuded. I've dated a girl like that in the past, another dating experience that I don't wish to repeat. Sure she wasn't as "head in the clouds" as Rin was, but that only made Rin all the more frustrating to me. She's incredibly well-designed and well-written, but she was designed to make the reader frustrated. She succeeded, and sometimes wish that that wasn't the cause, because I'd like her character a lot more. But then I remember: if I wasn't as frustrated with her, the story wouldn't have been so amazing. Rin's story is easily my second favorite, just in terms of the writing. But the story is simultaneously held back and made greater just by the virtue of having Rin be who she is in it.
Like who you like, and learn from them. This game has many things to teach us about ourselves, and everyone learns different things and connects personally with different characters. Learn, grow, and mature with whoever affects you the most. That's what's important, and that's what 4Leaf Studios set out to do.
Thank you for reading this, and thank your for giving me the chance to express myself. Feel free to discuss your feelings on the game, or your feelings on my writing, or your feelings on each of the stories. I wrote this not just to express myself, but also to give you a chance to express yourself.
Learn, love, and be happy.
RODAN Lord Gaius Da Letter El Oddish. Walrein TMan87