|Developer(s)||Four Leaf Studios|
|Release date(s)||January 4, 2012 (English)
July 8th, 2013 (French)
December 9th, 2013 (Russian)
|Genre(s)||Visual novel, eroge, nakige|
Katawa Shoujo (かたわ少女 Katawa Shōjo?, lit. "Cripple Girls", translated "Disability Girls") is a bishōjo-style visual novel by Four Leaf Studios that tells a story of a young man and five young women living with varying disabilities. The game uses a traditional text and sprite-based visual novel model with an ADV-style text box running on the Ren'Py visual novel engine. The game is licensed under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND.
The majority of the story takes place at the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located in an unnamed city somewhere in modern, northern Japan. Hisao Nakai, a normal boy, has his life changed when a long-dormant cardiac dysrhythmia forces him to transfer to a new school after a long hospitalization. Despite his difficulties, Hisao has the opportunity to find friends and love.
The gameplay of Katawa Shoujo is choice-based, with the player reading through text and occasionally making decisions that initiate the possible events or dialogue within the story. Depending on the choices made by the player, the story branches into multiple forks variously chronicling Hisao's deepening and eventually romantic relationship with one of the five main female characters (or lack thereof), some of which may variously end well, badly, or neutrally (or bitter-sweetly).
The concept originated in a sketch created by Japanese doujinshi artist Raita. From January 2007, the sketch was discussed extensively on the 4chan image board, and a development group was assembled from users of 4chan and other internet communities, whom are of various nationalities unnecessarily Japanese. The group took the name Four Leaf Studios (based on 4chan's four-leaf clover logo). On April 29, 2009, the team released an "Act One" preview. Act 1 has since been updated for several additional languages; as of Act 1's fifth version, English, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, German, Hungarian, and both Traditional and Simplified Chinese are included. It was announced that the French language translation would be released July 4, 2013 as both a download and a limited-edition physical edition. The French-language version was made available for download on July 8, 2013. A separate, full-patch adding a completed Russian translation was released independently by its translation group on December 9th, 2013. As of February 12, 2014[update], the full Visual Novel has been released officially in English and French only.
Following the project's release, Four Leaf Studios announced it had no plans for its members to collaborate on any new projects. However, in their celebratory 1st anniversary blog post, Aura had stated that there might be future projects for 4LS announced in the year of 2013.
Hisao Nakai (中井 久夫 Nakai Hisao?)
- Hisao is a male high school student diagnosed with chronic cardiac dysrhythmia and congenital heart muscle deficiency. In the prologue, he collapses from a major heart attack after receiving a confession of love from a girl on a snowy day; they break off relations during his long stay in a hospital, and she officially ends the relationship with a letter sent a month after his discharge. Due to his heart condition, he transfers to Yamaku High School in class 3-3, and although initially resentful of his placement in a school for the disabled, he eventually adapts to his new lifestyle. Through his new relationships and interactions, he begins to reconsider his preconceptions towards disabilities, including his own. His main hobbies include reading and chess.
Emi Ibarazaki (茨崎 笑美 Ibarazaki Emi?)
- Emi is an energetic, extroverted blonde girl with twintails and forest-green eyes. She has prosthetic legs, having had her original legs amputated below the knees as a result of a car accident. She considers her misfortune a blessing, however, as she is a track star, although she is somewhat self-conscious of her short stature. She values good diet and exercise, and is on friendly terms with the head nurse of Yamaku; she promises to keep tabs on Hisao's exercise in exchange for having him as a running partner. Indeed, she meets Hisao by literally running into him in the hallway, and ironically endangers his heart on more than one occasion. Hisao feels guilty whenever she pouts, equating her expression to that of a sad puppy. Emi is Rin's friend and hall mate due to both having extremely passionate vocations and complementary disabilities. However, she has trouble getting emotionally close to people, because she is afraid of losing people important to her. Her question is "Can you stand up for yourself?".
Hanako Ikezawa (池沢 華子 Ikezawa Hanako?)
- Hanako, as a child, suffered an accident in which her house was burned down, taking the lives of her parents. The right side of her body is heavily scarred from the incident and has left her traumatized. Her long, dark purple hair hangs down her back, and her bangs cover the right side of her face, which hides much of her scars. Due to the flames, she has spent most of her childhood in an orphanage and was bullied during her time in elementary and middle school, so she was offered to go to Yamaku because of the discourse. Initially, she is incredibly shy towards anyone except Lilly and Akira. She is another one of Hisao's classmates, but is frequently absent, preferring to spend time reading in the library where she can be alone. Her question is "Can you face your fears?"
Lilly Satou (砂藤 リリー Satō Rirī?)
- Lilly is the class representative of 3-2, a class composed of blind and partially blind students (including Kenji); she has been blind since birth. The tallest member of the main female cast, she has long blonde hair and blue eyes — her father is Japanese and her mother is Scottish with family in Inverness. She is very polite and ladylike with a motherly demeanour, not wanting to intrude on others' private life (including Hisao's reasons for being at Yamaku). It is also noted that she had previously attended a strict all-girls school. In contrast to Misha's fast-paced attitude to Hisao's transfer, Lilly takes things at her own relaxed pace, helping Hisao to adjust to school life in the midst of a busy festival. She is Hanako's closest and initially only friend; she regularly has lunch and tea with her, and accompanies her grocery shopping. She is also on a friendly basis with Yuuko. Shizune and Lilly have been seen to not get along, perhaps due to the fact that direct communication between her and Shizune is not feasible (inasmuch she cannot see Shizune's sign language and Shizune cannot hear her or speak to her). Her question is "Can you see what I see?".
Rin Tezuka (手塚 琳 Tezuka Rin?)
- Rin, a girl whose arms were almost entirely amputated due to a birth defect, uses her feet to accomplish everyday tasks with surprising dexterity. She has short red hair and dark green eyes, and wears a boy's uniform to avoid the awkward situations that would arise from using her feet while wearing a skirt. Rin's unique personality has brought about awkward situations with her peers, especially for Hisao, and as a result, some people do not talk with her such as Lilly. She is nonchalant with the other students and about their disabilities in general; she usually inquiries about other people's disabilities as a hobby. As a result, she is seen as extremely blunt, especially with the mention of her period. She is Emi's friend and hall mate, as their physical abilities complement each other. Her role in the school festival is being the sole painter of a giant mural posted in front of the dorms. Her question is "Can you seize the day?". Note that this is the longest branch of the entire game.
Shizune Hakamichi (羽加道 静音 Hakamichi Shizune?)
- Shizune is one of Hisao's classmates who serves as the student council president and class representative of class 3-3. This bespectacled girl has short dark blue hair and eyes; she is both deaf and mute, communicating primarily through sign language. Her friend, Misha, is almost always at her side, translating everything from and to Shizune, allowing for communication with other people. As others have described her including herself, Shizune is strong-willed, forceful, and manipulative; she seldom displays a softer side and sometimes shows a face that reveals her emotions. She has an intense intolerance of Lilly and initially indirectly dislikes Hanako as a result. Her question is "Can you tell me what you think?".
- Misha is Shizune's best friend and only fellow member in the student council. She serves as her interpreter, and is the first to befriend Hisao in Yamaku. She has long curls of (dyed) pink hair and gold eyes. She is friendly and cheerful, though her enthusiastic tone for most things have sometimes tired those around her. Despite being a relatively major character in Act 1, she is not a potential romantic interest to Hisao, but instead, she helps him get used to the school in his first few days of his transfer; she does however become a potential love interest in the Shizune arc as Hisao can engage in an affair with Misha, leading on to the bad ending. As well as helping Shizune convince Hisao to join the student council. Misha attends Yamaku as part of a sign language recruitment program, making her one of the few "normal" (i.e. having no disability) students attending the school. It has been widely speculated by fans, however, that her "disability" might be ADHD, OCD, or Angelman syndrome, based on her personality and behavior. She did not appear in the original concept sketch by RAITA.
Kenji Setou (瀬藤 健二 Setō Kenji?)
- Kenji is Hisao's roommate (next-door neighbor in the dorms), who is legally blind, being unable to see anything unless he is almost an inch close to them. He appears to be a hikikomori and very anti-social, claiming to be the "last sane man in an insane world." He often rants about feminist conspiracy theories, claiming that feminists are evil and want to rule the world (these feelings are revealed to stem from his feeling tired after having intercourse with his ex-girlfriend a year before the story starts), among other pointless subjects, possibly rivaling Rin's "uniqueness" in that aspect. Kenji's route is the bad ending of Act 1 if the player does not choose one girl to befriend over the course of Act 1.
Nurse (ナース Nāsu?)
- The head nurse of Yamaku whose name is not given. He is friendly to all of his students and patients, but can quickly become stern if his advice is not taken seriously. He asks Emi to be his "spy" for keeping tabs on Hisao, making sure he gets proper exercise. He first appears after Hisao leaves Shizune and Misha and go to the doctors' block for the first time.
Akio Mutou (武藤 昭夫 Mutō Akio?)
- Mutou is Hisao's homeroom teacher, and the science teacher of class 3-3. He is just as much out of touch with his class as he is out of touch with reality. Probably born to be a teacher (no matter how much his students disagree), his greatest skill is the ability to ignore irrelevant things completely (no matter how much anyone who wishes he'd remember their names disagrees). He first appears as Hisao enters the halls in the beginning of the game. His design was largely based upon David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor of Doctor Who.
Yuuko Shirakawa (白川 優子 Shirakawa Yūko?)
- Yuuko is the librarian who is on friendly terms with Lilly and Hanako. She has serious problems with managing her life, which makes her the perfect person to ask for help to manage one's own. She funds her university studies by working part-time at a popular cafe. The lengths she goes to avoid being fired for her natural clumsiness bewilder other people, along with her neurotic attention to detail and frequent streaks of depression. She first appears when Lilly takes Hisao to the library, and Lilly calls out her name. It is revealed that she used to have a younger boyfriend who disappeared on her, it is speculated that said boyfriend may be in fact: Kenji Setou.
- Akira is Lilly's older sister. She's a lawyer for the Japanese branch of her father's company. She dresses in a man's pinstripe suit and has the tomboy-like attitude to match, often as a slightly irresponsible, friendly foil to her sister's personality. She appears through several routes, primarily Lilly's and Hanako's. She is often seen with her cousin, Hideaki Hakamichi.
- Hideaki is Shizune's younger brother. Very intelligent and shares an attitude similar to that of his sister. He dresses in very feminine clothing, a fact that he rarely acknowledges.
- Jigoro is Shizune's father. He is stubborn, mean, and a braggart. He is confrontational with most everyone and shows off constantly, from talking about his in progress autobiography to carrying a katana with him at all times.
- Iwanako is Hisao's former girlfriend, from prior to his initial heart attack, which occurs during her confession of love during the prologue of the story. They eventually drift apart completely during his hospital stay. In every route of the game, Hisao receives a letter from her; his response (whether he writes back, reads it completely, etc.) differs by route.
- Miki is a student and fellow classmate of Hisao's in Class 3-3. She is an amputee, missing her left hand below her wrist, which is covered in bandages. She's is on the track team and is considered the second fastest in the school, behind only Emi. Despite this, she is not mentioned, nor does she appear in Emi's route (outside of back ground shots). Rather she is mentioned once in Lilly's route, and interacts with Hisao for only a small portion of Hanako's route.
- Nomiya is Yamaku's art teacher, and as such only appears for Rin's arc. A fat, eccentric man, he was once a promising painter but gave it up to teach. He has an almost obsessive drive towards making Rin a famous painter.
- Sae is the owner of an art gallery in the city and is an old friend of Nomiya's. She is a smoker and a former artist herself. She appears prominently only towards the end of Rin's route.
- Meiko is Emi's mother. She appears briefly in Rin's route, and features more prominently in Emi's. She appears rather young and attractive, and has been described by Hisao as an older version of Emi, after observing that she acts very much like her daughter.
Katawa Shoujo received generally favorable critical reception. Upon release, it was praised by some reviewers and fans, who most notably praised the game's sincere and respectful treatment of the setting. The game's sensitive handling of its eroge elements, instances of soft core erotic imagery on the relevant forks which were integral to its narratives, was also praised (it was also noted that as "adult content" is removed the game can be played with these scenes replaced, without the cost of losing much characterization and plot development). Other critics were less warm, with Dave Riley of Otaku USA Magazine claiming the game had "bad prose and bad characters."
The game's name itself, however, has attracted some criticism, as the term "Katawa" [片輪] is considered an archaic derogatory term in Japan. "Katawa Shoujo" translates into "Disability Girl" in English, but a more literal translation of "katawa" from Japanese is "cripple", and more literally refers to a vehicle with just one wheel and thus working imperfectly. In response to questions regarding the usage of the term "Katawa", the developers commented, "It’s not like we intentionally want to offend, and we did not come up with the name ourselves. The origin of the name is of course Japanese itself, with Raita and his original concept picture of [Katawa Shoujo]."
April Fools pranks
Every year of production, even in the years prior to the game's release, the Four Leaf Studios team have held a tradition of making April Fools Day prank post on their developer's blog. These jokes take the form of fake announcements of upcoming features or updates, sometimes satirizing real-word habits of video game publishers and developers. Among these announcement pranks have included sequels (and cancellations thereof), high definition and censored re-release, expansion packs DLC, microtransactions and bonus content, exclusive merchandise, advertisement removal, premium content, online distribution through Steam, an anime adaptation by Studio DEEN, voice acting, and a second, parody visual novel project.
- "Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog". Katawashoujo.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- Katawa Shoujo Act 1 Manual. Four Leaf Studios. April 29, 2009. pp. 10–12.
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: Behind the Name (Archive)
- "Katawa Shoujo (PC) FAQ/Walkthrough by MegaManZ3ro". GameFAQs. 2012-01-25. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- "Original sketch". Shimmie.katawa-shoujo.com. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- "Informational database listing of book that contains the inspirational sketch, from The Doujinshi & Manga Lexicon". Doujinshi.mugimugi.org. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- "4chan Group Releases Eroge Demo". Gamesetwatch.com. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
- "Katawa Shoujo Released". Katawashoujo.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
- "365 Days Later". Katawashoujo.blogspot.com. 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- "Katawa Shoujo Characters". Four Leaf Studios. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Katawa Shoujo Forums • View topic - Ask!
- Lum, Patrick (2012-01-11). "Unexpected Sincerity: Disabilities, Girls, and Katawa Shoujo". Kotaku. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
- "Impressions: Katawa Shoujo". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Valentine, James (2006) . "Naming and Narrating Disability in Japan". In Corker, Mairian; Shakespeare, Tom. disability/postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory. Continuum. p. 218. ISBN 0-8264-5055-5. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
- "Discussion of the Japanese reaction to Katawa Shoujo". Ks.renai.us. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: Katawa Shoujo 2 Cancelled
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: April Fools: Katawa Shoujo HD rerelease!
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: April Fools: Announcement - Future Plans
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: April Fools: Katawa Shoujo Anime Officially Announced
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: April Fools: Technology Prevails
- Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog: 4LS ANNOUNCES NEW PROJECT "KSS"
- Riley, Dave (June 2012). "Katawa Shoujo". Otaku USA (Sovereign Media Company, Inc) 5 (6): 96–97.
- Official Katawa Shoujo and Four Leaf website
- Katawa Shoujo at the Visual Novel Database
- "Romance With Disabled Girls: How An Unusual Game Came To Be" - (Kotaku article on KS & 'disability girls' in general)