Heart’s aflutter: Commentary on Katawa Shoujo – Part 1

As suggested to me by both Rachel and Mattie, I thought I would check out Katawa Shoujo. If Twitter is any indication, all the “cool kids” (e.g. vocal people on Twitter) are playing it. So, I thought I ought to check it out too. And, early this morning, I did.

Since, in the conversation on wanting men to talk to about the game, Mattie asked for responses and I responded with “I’ll write at least 2K words on it for next week,” I thought I would deliver on that too. Here are my actual notes and the written transcript — minus a single screen I missed — for just the first hour of playing it. (Yes, I wrote this much from just the first hour and at 1 AM to boot.)

“A light breeze causes the naked branches overhead to rattle like wooden wind chimes. This is a popular retreat for couples in the summer. The deciduous trees provides a beautiful green canopy, far out of sight of teachers and fellow students.”

Whoa. “Naked branches”? Really? What does that even mean here? Does this narrator prefer a simplicity of dress or is it more to do with loneliness (i.e. without connection)? This imagery is confusing. So, the naked tress are rattling? Also, “Rattle like wooden [wind chimes]”? I thought they clanked and clocked, not rattled. Are these small chimes?

A popular retreat for couples in the summer? So, the narrator is standing somewhere that is not the summer, I guess, then. And, as the screen shows, it must be winter. Or, of course, the narrator is thinking about winter. In fact, when is this story being told from? And who is narrating it? Also, are these thoughts, written items or just spoken words?

“Beautiful…far out of sight of teachers and fellow students”? So, this narrator prefers being away from people? Because, without that reading, I am unsure of what this means. Is it that the teachers and students are not there (and thus it is a quiet and innocent beauty) or that the narrator wishes they were to share it?

“But now, in late winter, it feels like I’m standing under a pile of kindling.”

What does that mean, a “pile of kindling”? Like a fire or the wooden parts? Is this an image of separation (from tree) again or one of something about to explode (from feelings repressed)?

I breath into my cupped hands and rub them together furiously to prevent them from numbing in the cold.

Why aren’t they covered? How long have I been out there in the cold? Am I by myself? Isn’t there a simpler way, like from the snow I see falling on the screen, to note that it is winter and also cold?

Hisao “Just how long am I expected to wait out here, anyway? I’m sure the note said 4:00 PM.”

Yes, a name! Okay, okay. Who is… this? Am I this person? Use of quotes? What does that signify and who I am in context to this person?

Ah yes… the note… slipped between the pages of my math book while I wasn’t looking.

There is a note, huh? And I have a math book. Am I in a math class? “Slipped in while I wasn’t looking”? What does that mean? Do I not pay attention to what I am doing? Did I try to hide it? If I hide it, for what purpose?

As far as clichés go, I’m more a fan of the letter-in-the-locker, but at least this way shows a bit of initiative.

Hmm. “Letter-in-the-locker”? Did I leave a note for this person? “Initiative”? In what way? Like, a dating way? And why this person? Also, what are the genders, roles and society at play here? Is this a secret thing?

As I ponder the meaning of the note, the snowfall gradually thickens.

Oh, like the plot is thickening, right? Right? I get it.

The snowflakes silently falling from the white-painted sky are the only sign of time passing in this stagnant world.

Invoking both individuality and group identity, huh? What does that mean? That I am part of a group yet also alone? “White-painted sky”? That is an interesting turn of phrase. “Sign of time passing” Is time important? Stagnant world? In what way? Is it stagnant in context or has the world not changed somehow?

Their slow descent upon the frozen forest makes it seem like time has slowed to a crawl.

Again with the idea of time slowing! Where am I in this story? Am I looking back at this event, the forest, or am I there and spending time looking around at everything and thinking about it? “Frozen forest” is interesting. Alliteration there with the idea of group not changing. “Slow descent… slowed” are the same words twice in the same sentence.

The rustling of dry snow underfoot startles me, interrupting the quiet mood. Someone is approaching me from behind.

Who is the narrator talking to!? Someone in the present? Him or herself? Dry snow? Quiet mood? Hmm. Rustling? Really? It’s more of a crunch noise not, you know, leaves or the like.

???: “Hi… Hisao? You came?”

Who is that? Am I supposed to know who this person is? “You came?” So, it wasn’t expected then? Why was that?

A hesitating, barely audible question.

Who is narrating this? And why are they judging such things this way? Like, if it’s “barely audible”, how did you hear it in the first place? Is narrator omniscient at this point?

However, I recognize the owner of that dainty voice instantly.

But for a moment you did not? “Dainty voice”? There are a number of interesting connections there. None of them great.

I feel my heart skip a beat.

Do I? Does mine? How do I know that? Should I know that?

It’s a voice I’ve listened to hundreds of time, but never as more than an eavesdropper to a conversation.

Whoa. A Stalker. Great, I’m a stalker. That’s so not good. So very not good. Seriously, who are the people here? Am I supposed to know that by this point?

I turn to face the voice, the voice of my dreams and my heart begins to race…

Good dreams then? Sex dreams?

Hisao: “Iwanakoo? I got a note telling me to wait here… it was yours?”

My name is Iwanako then? And I left her — her? — a note? Is that why I am waiting here in the cold commenting on the various nature about the place?

Dammit. I spent all afternoon trying to come up with a good line and that was the result.

A good line for what? So, the purpose was to take her some place quiet, away from people and then try to seduce her via some words? Really, that was the plan?



Iwanako: “Ahmm… yes. I asked a friend to give you that note… I’m so glad you got it.”

I know someone who knows her. I want to know more about the friend. Who allows their friends to go out into the deep woods, in the middle of winter, just to meet someone?

A shy, joyous smile that makes me so tense I couldn’t move a single muscle even if I tried.

Again, I am narrating my life for some reason. Is this exposition? I’m not sure. I mean, it acts like that but I’m not sure if I know why the paralysis is important at this point. Is this narrator nervous in front of people, the gender they are attracted to or just this person?

(There is a red flashing in the trees. What does that mean for us? Is is literal or metaphoric?)

My heart is pounding now, as if it were trying to burst out from my chest and claim this girl for itself.

Oh. My. God. What the hell? “Claim this girl for itself”!? What the fuck? “Claim” is related to dominant behavior. “This girl” is extremely objectified language. Even “itself” is distancing language again.

I am going to be very upset if I end up hurting this girl I’ve lured out into the deep woods.

Hisao: “So… ah… here we are. Out in the cold…”

Yes, that is a good point. We are in the cold, next to a tree. Plus, neither of us are wearing hats or anything.

Note: Why can’t I see her face at this point? Why is it only her back and legs? Why only my face? What does that say about the point of view? I can’t decide if it’s supposed to be a comment about how this guy sees women (as just a body) or if it is some authorial effect like trying to create tension. Either way, it’s annoying and bad.

Once again, the wind stirs up the branches. The cacophonous noice is music to my ears.

Wow, that is very bad. “Wind stirring the branches” is a bit weak. “Cacophonous noise” is very bad. “Phono” means noise. You have just said “noise noise” with “caco” meaning very bad. “Music to my ears”? You just said it was bad. If it is bad, it is not good right now.

As it passes, she rights herself, as if supported by some new confidence.

So, she didn’t previous to that? If it was me, I might be shaking from the cold and from waiting on this dude to say something. “I’ve come all this way out here and this dude just wants to stare at the woods and make comments about how lonely he is.” Yeah, I’d shake too.

Her eyes lock mine and she lazily twirls her long, dark hair around her finger.

What does that mean? “Her eyes lock mine”? What? So, like, both of you were staring at each other? And what is up with her “lazily” twirling her hair? Is she bored? Is this a nervous reaction?

All the while, the anxious beating of my heart grows louder.

Yeah… fine, whatever. The screen is beating too. I got it.

My throat is tight; I doubt I could even force a word out if I tried.

Vascular constriction? Hmm. He might be having a heart attack.

Iwanako: “You see…”

Again, the red flashing. Red for anger? Blood? Passion? What is that supposed to mean for me?

Iwanako: “…I wanted to know…”

Iwanako: “… if you’d go out with me…”

I stand there, motionless, save for my pounding heart.

I want to say something in reply, but my vocal cords feel like they’ve been stretched beyond the breaking point.

Yes, me too. I’m not sure what is going on here. I think, maybe, something bad is happening. I’m not sure.

Iwanako: “…Hisao?”

I reach up to try to massage my throat, but this only sends spikes of blinding pain along my arms.

Wait a second. Did he — me? — actually say that even though he couldn’t breathe or even speak?

Iwanako: “Hisao?!”

My whole body freezes, save for my eyes, which shoot open in terror.

Iwanako: “HISAO!”

The beating in my chest suddenly stop, and I go weak at the knees.

So… heart attack then? Weak at the knees? I fall over? All metaphoric?

I mean, I really like this idea; that if, when his heart — in both the literal and metaphoric sense — gets excited, he gets hurt. I really like that for limiting the protagonist. It’s a neat idea.

The world around me — the canopy of bare branches, the dull winter sky, Iwanako running towards me — all these fade to black.

WHAT!? We just switched POV? Where was the warning for that?

Or… was I Hisao the whole time? Was I someone else? Now, I’m even more confused.

The last things I remember before slipping away are the sounds of Iwanako screaming for help and the incessant clatter of the branches above…

Again, an emphasis on the branches. Lots of male imagery here. Branches rattling when the girl gets close?

It’s been four months since my heart attack.

So… coma then? Hospital, at least.

In that whole time, I can probably count the times I’ve left this hospital room unsupervised on one hand.

Four months is a pretty long time when you’re left alone with your thoughts. So, I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with my situation.

What is the situation? Come to terms with what? What happened to Hianso? Or… that other person, whatever their name was?


Heart is beating at the wrong beat, the wrong rhythm. Yes, I know the word.

A strange word. A foreign, alien one. One that you don’t want to be in the same room with.

Prepositions are bad to end sentences with. Also, you were… in the room with it, right? Oh. I get it!

A rare condition. it causes the heart to act erratically and occasionally beat way too fast. It can be fatal.

So, he can’t fall in love now because of this condition? I like that idea, it’s very interesting. “Heart to act erratically”, huh? So, it means, using the symbols presented so far, that I can date or do what ever I want since I can always blame it on my heart condition?

Apparently, I’ve had it for a long time. They said it was a miracle that I was able to go on so ling with anything happening.

I need to be patient again. I’ve been waiting for a signal (of love) for so long that it overwhelmed me. I have been alone for a long time. This was a very bad thing. My loneliness is to blame for the heart condition — both literal and metaphorical.

Yeah, I guess that works as a translation of what was just said.

Is that really a miracle? I guess it was supposed to make me feel better, more appreciative of my life.

Yes, hang a lantern on that too.

It really didn’t do anything to cheer me up.

I’m depressed then?

My parents, I think, were hit harder by the news than I was. They practically had two hemorrhages apiece.

What did they get upset about?

I had already had a full day to digest everything. To them, it was all fresh. hey were even willing to sell our house in order to pay for a cure.

What cure? To “heartbreak” or to a “broken heart”? It’s a bit heavy handed here either way. Unless it is a very rare genetic condition, you might could get a heart transplant. Of course, that depends on such technology existing within this world and the overall year of this story.

I also don’t know why the time scale is important either. What are they digesting?

Actually, it’s 2:15 AM. I don’t care. Time to save and go to sleep.

10 thoughts on “Heart’s aflutter: Commentary on Katawa Shoujo – Part 1

    1. Dan Cox

      Ah. Okay. Thank you. But… doesn’t that mean that there is a strange point of view shift then where I mentioned it?

      Do you know — is it Hisao waiting in the forest then? Or was that Iwanako? Who gave whom the note? Who was waiting in the forest?

      I want to like this game, but I’m finding it hard to keep up with events. (Also, for those wondering: yes, it’s heavily written from a male point of view for, I assume, a male audience. If the images are anything to go by, that’s the message anyway.)

      1. AG

        I can’t believe you missed the obvious nametag of the speaker on the top of the dialogue box. How can I expect an unbiased and professional review if you somehow miss something so simple and elementary? Or maybe you did notice, and are just messing with us, because you clearly put the nametags of the characters talking there in the review.

        1. Dan Cox

          You make a good point, AG. I will try hard to make sure I include all the names when I type up the next part later today.

          “How can I expect an unbiased and professional review if you somehow miss something so simple and elementary?”

          I don’t review things purposefully. I like many of the ideas in Katawa Shoujo as I’ve seen them so far. I like that the narrator has this heart condition and will have to learn to love again. That works really well and helps give story meaning to later player agency.

          What this… series will probably turn out to be is me writing from and about the game as I play it. It’s more of a commentary than a review. Although, yes, I have been reviewing things as I have gone through the game. If I see something I think might be bad writing or questionable imagery, I will probably flag it as such.

          If you came here for a “unbiased and professional review”, you are in the wrong place. I am neither unbiased nor very professional. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have been overly rude in some places so far — something I plan to work on in the coming parts.

          “Or maybe you did notice, and are just messing with us, because you clearly put the nametags of the characters talking there in the review.”

          I’m not doing it on purpose, no. I’m not used to this genre and have found it hard to tell if Hisao is talking (out loud, to himself), thinking (in his own mind) or just that certain things are exposition from an outside source, an omniscient narrator. It’s hard to tell if I am Hisao or if I am reading about Hisao. None of that is very clear so far.

  1. So far with my experience with visual novels, the writing is pretty terrible (like, fan-fic level terrible). The fun part comes after the first reading when you try to get all the endings.

    1. Dan Cox

      Yeah, I’ve seen that already with Katawa Shoujo.

      Can’t say, other than this, that I’ve had much experience with other visual novels though. Are there others you might suggest to me? If they are free, I’m willing to look into playing them. Katawa Shoujo easily ran on my netbook and that allowed me to get all that writing done. I could write in one window and play the game in the other. I’d want something like that, lower requirements to run.

      Try to get all the endings, huh? Do they really reward multiple playthroughs? I’m often against re-reading books, so I can’t say I would be willing to put up with bad writing a second or third time. On the other hand, with save files, I might be willing to see different branches too.

      1. Chaos_Alfa

        Some good free visual novels I recommend are:

        – Narcissu: http://narcissu.insani.org/
        – Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, it just ain’t your story: http://scoutshonour.com/donttakeitpersonallybabeitjustaintyourstory/
        – True Remembrance: http://trueremembrance.insani.org/
        – Higurashi (Demo, it’s the whole first story): http://sonozakifutagotachi.blogspot.com/2009/08/installing-game.html

        Because of the branching nature of Visual Novels it is often needed to play the game multiple times to see everything, but there is a skip function.

        For Katawa Shoujo there are 5 main branches. On for each girl. When you are on one of those paths you won’t get to see material from the other branches.

        The narrator is (almost) always Hisao. Most of the narration is him thinking to himself about the things happening around him.

        When you see a name appear above the text box it indicates that person is talking, otherwise it’s just Hisao narrations/thoughts.

        1. Dan Cox

          “The narrator is (almost) always Hisao. Most of the narration is him thinking to himself about the things happening around him.

          When you see a name appear above the text box it indicates that person is talking, otherwise it’s just Hisao narrations/thoughts.”

          Okay. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it now that I’ve played more of it today for the second post.

          Yeah, I see what you mean. The text not attributed means that he is thinking the response while the others, when there is a name, means that it is that person saying that. I think I have it now.

          I will definitely check out those other visual novels next.

  2. Johan Pajupuu

    Sorry, your thoughts are instantly rendered moot considering what you’re doing here is just silly. I could take any book ever written, be it from Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King or Voltaire/Emile Zola, and do the exact same thing you’re doing. You have a visual novel in front of you, and instead of enjoying the literature you decide to take every sentence apart, completely neglecting any logic or personal experience you may or may not have had.

    I could answer every single question you devised after every single quote in less than a heartbeat. If you want me to, I can do that based on JUST the information given in the VN, and what logic tells me instantly after reading the line.

    1. Dan Cox

      “Sorry, your thoughts are instantly rendered moot considering what you’re doing here is just silly.”

      That’s probably true. My thoughts don’t really matter that much to the work. People can read and interact with it and make their own decisions about its worth. In fact, I encourage that. Please, anyone else reading this, please take time to go through this visual novel and make your own thoughts. Please write and tell other people about it. It’s an interesting project that deserves more attention.

      If the argument is that I shouldn’t be doing this just because silly, that doesn’t really work either for me. Sure, yes, it’s a bit silly. But that reason, in and of itself, is not enough. I do dumb and silly things all the time. This was just an experiment. Maybe it will come to be a failure, maybe not. I’m interested in continuing it just to find out.

      “I could take any book ever written, be it from Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King or Voltaire/Emile Zola, and do the exact same thing you’re doing.”

      Yes, that’s true too. That’s the reason I don’t share much of my own personal writing on this blog. I know how harsh and critical people can be on the Internet. For example, I was called “obnoxious” just the other day for daring to compare myself with a writer I admire. I have tried to tone down my harsh comments and highlight things I like in later parts.

      You should know though that I’ve come to understand this genre a great deal more after this first post. I’m working on Part 5 today and I’ve stopped being snarky and questioning of every little thing as I’ve gone on and on through this. I’ve started to see why certain things are done in a certain manner and have, over time, developed a great deal more respect for this project in particular.

      “I could answer every single question you devised after every single quote in less than a heartbeat. If you want me to, I can do that based on JUST the information given in the VN, and what logic tells me instantly after reading the line.”

      If you would like to do that, I encourage you to go ahead. I would like to read your opinions of the work as I’ve transcribed it. It would be interesting to me to see if the story stands up without the backgrounds and especially in light of my (frequently) annoying comments about things. How much of a visual novel is the visual part? That’s a question I would like to look at in the future.

      As I said, my opinion has changed over the last few days. What I saw as bad in several places, I now understand, was necessary. Still, that does not dismiss the bad writing I have seen in some places. But I have again, as I said above, come to see that, because so many different people worked on this, the tone and style in some places is going to be different and, on occasion, as not good as it could be.

      Something I have begun to note in later parts is that there exists an interesting dynamic at play in the description of things. Some of the observations are outside of the narrator’s mind and frame of reference. I’m still, after writing several of these, undecided if this is an artifact of the genre or just this particular novel. I hope to go through more in the future and see if other novels do it too.

      If that’s the case, I might try my own hand at making a short visual novel myself and look at the various ways to play with this issue from the other side of the medium. Are designers and writers chained to this problem? What other interesting ways are there to present information to the player? I might try to look at these ideas too in later posts.

      If you decide to address my problems, Johan, let me know. I will be glad to link to something you have written on another blog or in another place that deals with the issues I’ve addressed in the later parts. This first one, as I think I mentioned in another comment and at the top of the post, was my actual notes as I typed them. I’ve since started to edit the snark and more critical comments out. I personally know how much work writing a novel can be. It’s incredibly hard work. I’ve tried to remember that as I’ve written the other parts. If, however, you think I have been unfair on those too, let me know.

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