A Misshapen Family

In this, the second part of our look at the free visual novel Katawa Shoujo, we delve into the narrative path that focuses on Lilly the blind girl.

If you missed the first part of our exploration of this fascinating game, take a moment to read The Fastest Thing on No Legs from the other day, which takes a close look at Emi, the athletic girl who lost her legs. And if you’re yet to play Katawa Shoujo for yourself, I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself; it really is an excellent, worthwhile experience — and for free, too.

Lilly, the subject of today’s piece and the character you initially know as “the mature-looking blind girl”, is an interesting character. From the moment the protagonist Hisao first meets her in the secluded abandoned classroom that she and her friend Hanako have been using as an improvised tearoom, it’s clear that she’s cut from a different cloth to many of the other students at Yamaku, the special school that is the setting for most of Katawa Shoujo’s narrative. Of course, the other students at Yamaku are also cut from a different cloth to the rest of society thanks to their various disabilities — including Hisao, who suffers from a debilitating heart condition — so for Lilly to set herself apart from such a group must make her pretty remarkable.

Lily's obviously based on the blonde-haired "exotic foreigner" trope from anime, but like the rest of the cast in Katawa Shoujo, she continually subverts expectations.
Lily’s obviously based on the blonde-haired “exotic foreigner” trope from anime, but like the rest of the cast in Katawa Shoujo, she continually subverts expectations.

Of all the characters you come across in Katawa Shoujo, Lilly arguably seems the most at ease with her condition. She has never known anything other than life as a blind girl, and so she has adapted to this life. She can find her way around without the help of another person; she doesn’t get offended when people make faux pas like Hisao’s blurted-out “I see”; she doesn’t depend on anyone else for support. She is, in many ways, one of the strongest characters in the narrative, which is one of the things that attracts Hisao to her in the first place.

Lilly has never known anything other than life as a blind girl, and so she has adapted to this life. She is, in many ways, one of the strongest characters in the narrative, which is one of the things that attracts Hisao to her in the first place.

Lilly may not depend on others for support, but others certainly depend on her. Her friend Hanako, despite being shy, retiring and reluctant to talk about her scarred body, relies on Lilly’s support to an unhealthy degree. Lilly doesn’t resent this at all, seeing Hanako almost like a daughter in many scenes. In fact, as Hisao’s relationship with Lilly and Hanako grows, they start to feel more like a family — a “misshapen family” as both Lilly and Hisao refer to the situation, independently of one another.

Lilly hides her pain well. It’s questionable at times as to whether or not it is “pain” as such, because of her good nature and calm demeanour. She misses her parents, though, and is curious about them. When she goes to visit them in Scotland during her aunt’s illness, it becomes clear that she enjoyed the experience more than she thought she would. Her sister Akira has other ideas, however, and still feels bitter resentment towards the fact that they effectively abandoned both her and Lilly in Japan while her father went to work in Scotland. While Akira went on to work for the Japanese branch of her father’s company, there’s an obvious distance between them that Lilly doesn’t feel to such a degree — or if she does, she doesn’t show it.

Hisao has to quickly learn to adapt to Lilly's unique way of interacting with the world; relying on touch a lot more than sight, her way of "seeing" Hisao's face is a curiously intimate moment.
Hisao has to quickly learn to adapt to Lilly’s unique way of interacting with the world; relying on touch rather than sight, her way of “seeing” Hisao’s face is a curiously intimate moment.

Lilly lets down her guard during the trio’s trip to her family’s Hokkaido summerhouse. Hisao comes across her standing alone in a field in oddly pensive mood, seeming somehow more fragile than she’s ever been. He manages to get her to admit the things that she fears. She doesn’t want Hisao to go away — especially not to be snatched away by death, as she fears when he almost suffers another heart attack while with her and Hanako.

Lilly is feminine, calm, quiet and reserved; traits that feel like they’re even more exaggerated when compared to her sister Akira’s masculine, brash, loud and confident demeanour.

Lilly’s tentative desire to rejoin her family comes to a head when Akira is invited to go and work with the family business in Scotland, and Lilly’s family gives her a “summons”. Lilly initially doesn’t appear to know what she is going to do, remaining evasive on the subject when Hisao questions her about the future. It eventually transpires that she has decided to accept their summons, however, and travel to Scotland, leaving behind Hisao, Hanako and the life they are growing to love together. It’s clear she’s conflicted about this. She doesn’t want to lose the people she loves — Hanako and Hisao — but at the same time doesn’t want to lose her family, either. Despite being the complete opposite of her sister in almost every way — she’s feminine, calm, quiet and reserved; traits that feel like they’re even more exaggerated when compared to Akira’s masculine, brash, loud and confident demeanour — she loves her very much and doesn’t want to lose her, nor does she want to lose the chance to be with the family she hasn’t seen since her early teens.

Hisao is partly to blame for what subsequently happens. In his relationship with Lilly, he grows more caring and considerate of others — particularly Hanako, whom he starts to see less as the fragile little porcelain doll she initially appears to be and more as someone who just needs to feel security — but also comes to depend on Lilly for support. She’s the first person he turns to when he needs help — when Hanako locks herself in her room around her birthday, he immediately phones Lilly in Scotland asking for advice, before coming to the realisation afterwards that he should have made more of an effort to make his feelings for Lilly clearer.

The "misshapen family" of Lilly, Hanako and Hisao makes for some touching scenes, but all three of them have to learn some hard lessons about independence and relying on others.
The “misshapen family” of Lilly, Hanako and Hisao makes for some touching scenes, but all three of them have to learn some hard lessons about independence and relying on others.

Later, in contemplative mood, Hisao comes to realise that Lilly’s sense of independence and aloofness is born from her internalised pain of having “lost” people dear to her. While they’re not dead, the distance between her and her family is a source of pain to her, and when her sister decides to leave, too, she feels that she is obliged to go and be with them.

Real life is rarely simple, so it is the prospect of losing Lilly once and for all — even though she said herself that she didn’t want to lose him — that spurs Hisao into action.

Hisao realises that Lilly, believing herself to be strong and independent as well as aware that both Hisao and Hanako depend on her for support, felt she had to make a decision for herself without relying on others. He mentally kicks himself for not having realised her inner turmoil sooner, and for having remained focused on his own problems and worries far more than about her. He realises that he should have talked about it with her, seen she was in pain, conflicted about what was to come. But instead he selfishly focused on the single future that he saw for himself — he put everything, including Lilly, in place and expected to be able to just sit back and let things run their course.

Real life, unfortunately, is rarely that simple, so it is the prospect of losing Lilly once and for all — even though she said herself that she didn’t want to lose him — that spurs him into action. Unfortunately, the pressure of chasing her down as she is about to board her flight proves too much for Hisao’s delicate heart, and he suffers another heart attack. His final thoughts are that he has failed, dying on the pavement with the girl he loved just out of his reach — and that it is his fault or, more specifically, his body’s fault, snatching happiness away from him due to his own physical weakness.

Assuming Hisao remained honest and true with Lilly throughout the narrative, however, that’s not where the story ends. While he ends up in hospital attached to a variety of machines — a place he never wanted to return, and an event which only adds to his worries that he has “ended up back at square one” — it transpires that Lilly hasn’t left his life just yet, and he has one last chance to save things.

Lilly's path is a good example of the very different tones the narrative paths in Katawa Shoujo have. While some of the other paths have darker angles, Lilly's is very "Hollywood romance" as a whole.
Lilly’s path is a good example of the very different tones the narrative paths in Katawa Shoujo have. While some of the other paths have darker angles, Lilly’s is very “Hollywood romance” as a whole.

Hisao comes to realise that he sees a lot of himself in Lilly — the desire to be independent, not wanting to burden others with his problems, the fear of having his hopes, dreams and precious people snatched away from him. Hisao promises Lilly that he won’t let that happen to her, because he knows firsthand how awful it is to find it difficult to trust someone — something Lilly has struggled with due to the losses she has suffered in her life — and how terrible it is to lose everything once held dear. In a rare and uncharacteristic display of forthrightness and stubbornness, he asks her to stay, not because he needs her, but because he wants to share her burdens and her happiness.

Ultimately, the biggest struggle Lilly has to overcome is not her disability, which remains almost irrelevant for most of her story. Instead, it is her way of thinking, and the walls she put up around herself. They’re different to the walls Hanako puts up around herself, but they’re still walls nonetheless. It’s almost as if she can’t see them from within, however, which is why it takes Hisao’s bold gestures and words to show that her life can take a different route.


This post originally appeared on my personal blog I’m Not Doctor Who.

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7 thoughts on “A Misshapen Family”

  1. Really enjoyable read, thanks for posting it.

    I have a really stupid question, though. As someone who hasn’t had as much exposure to visual novels as he would like, just how much of the narrative complexities in Katawa Shoujo will I miss without understanding the genre tropes well enough?

    You mention how the game subverts audience expectation often, and obviously you need to be familiar with the tropes to understand the subversion, right?

    Or are we talking about anime tropes etc in this game’s case?

    Like

    1. Visual novel, anime and video game tropes are fairly interchangeable. If you know what a “tsundere” is, you’ll recognise one whenever they come up, for example.

      In the case of Lilly here, the main trope associated with her is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed depiction of “the foreigner”. This tends to come with certain baggage attached and even define the character in some cases, but in Lilly’s case it’s just part of who she is. She just happens to be a mature-looking blonde girl.

      Katawa Shoujo also subverts more general, non-genre-specific expectations when it comes to how it treats disability, too. The immediate, knee-jerk expectation for many when they hear it’s a story about disabled girls is probably one of two things: 1) it’s exploitative fetishism or 2) it’s a shallow exploration of what it means to be disabled, with the characters’ disabilities defining the characters more than anything else. Suffice to say, neither of those things are true, and the game very quickly puts you (and the protagonist) into an admirable state of mind where you almost don’t “see” the girls’ disabilities; they’re just people like everyone else, despite their difficulties.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Scars | MoeGamer

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