Having explored the narrative paths of all the other girls in the Western-developed, Japanese-inspired freeware visual novel Katawa Shoujo, it’s time to turn our attention to the final girl: Rin.
As I’ve noted in the previous explorations of Emi, Hanako, Lilly and Shizune, one of the interesting things about Katawa Shoujo is that while you initially — for better or worse — recognise each of the cast members through their disabilities, all of the narrative paths throughout the game serve to show that people most certainly aren’t defined by their most obvious physical characteristic. In many cases, they can surprise you greatly.
Rin is one such example. Despite having no arms, Rin is an artist, and a great deal of her path explores the way she deals with having an artistic temperament — and how protagonist Hisao learns to appreciate the beauty in everything around him. Thematically and tonally, it’s one of the more complex, difficult paths in Katawa Shoujo, but it’s also one of the most rewarding to explore.
So let’s do just that.
Rin is an infuriating enigma from the moment Hisao first meets her, and remains so for pretty much the whole of her story. She’s calm, aloof, frequently nonsensical and, more often than not, completely self-absorbed. Despite this, she’s not disliked by the other students and indeed has developed a surprisingly close bond with Emi who, being outgoing, bubbly and the sort of person who wears her heart on her sleeve, is the absolute antithesis to Rin. The pair admit shortly after Hisao meets them that they were put together in the dorms because it was felt they “complement each other well”. They chose to interpret this as meaning that they had all their limbs between them — Rin missing her arms, Emi her legs — but it’s actually much deeper than that, as their personalities also complement each other.
“I’m sorry I’m such a mess,” says Hisao to Rin once they start to get to know each other. “It’s okay,” she replies. “It’s the best part of you.”
Hisao’s interest in Rin is piqued just as he is wallowing in self-pity over his life situation, feeling like he’s been plucked from a “normal” existence by his heart condition that kicks the whole story off in the first place. He feels depressed about being at the Yamaku special school, at not being what he initially believes to be “normal” and at his bad memories of lying in the hospital bed. It bothers him significantly more than it does on the other paths through the game, and causes him to wear a perpetually grim expression on his face. He’s not naturally the most outgoing, smiley person in the world at the best of times, but his relentless grimness intrigues Rin, who is a self-professed “people collector.”
“I’m sorry I’m such a mess,” says Hisao to Rin once they start to get to know each other.
“It’s okay,” she replies. “It’s the best part of you.”
Hisao doesn’t quite know what to make of that, but finds himself drawn to Rin regardless. Later he comes to the conclusion that it was Rin’s carefree nature that attracted him to her in the first place — she, in her own way, acted as a “muse” for him, inspiring him to pull himself out of the pit of darkness he was slowly drowning in.
“Maybe that’s why I latched so tightly on to Rin,” he muses, reflecting back on their relationship. “Trying to get inside her world that was so different from my own bleak life.”
Through Rin, Hisao starts to see things with the perceptive eye of an artist. Even his internal monologues become more riddled with imagery.
Whether or not he actually realises it, Hisao does manage to get inside Rin’s world, but perhaps not in the way he expects. Through her, he starts to take an interest in the smaller details, seeing things with the perceptive eye of an artist. On a trip to town, he notices a woman’s subtle gesture that his past self would have missed; in class, he catches a fleeting glimpse of a passing bird and feels inspired to try and draw it, even with his own self-doubt in his skills. Even his internal monologues become more riddled with imagery as he observes things, relating things to nature and the things he sees around him rather than stating things in a matter-of-fact fashion. It’s an interesting yet subtle change to Hisao’s personality compared to some of the other paths, but an apt way for the more contemplative protagonist he becomes to behave.
Rin, however, isn’t as carefree as Hisao assumes. Inside her seemingly spaced-out exterior is a great deal of turmoil. She doesn’t like to talk about it because she can never find the right words, and it’s questionable as to whether or not she really understands what it is she is so conflicted about, either. One thing does seem to comfort her, though, and that is her art. When she paints, she feels like she can freely express the things inside her mind, and hopes, by extension, that anyone looking at them will be able to catch a glimpse of her soul and gain a better understanding of her. She wants to be understood, but has such difficulty expressing herself that most of the time it simply causes her to retreat into her own world. Planet Rin, around which Hisao establishes himself as a satellite.
When she paints, Rin feels like she can freely express the things inside her mind, and hopes, by extension, that anyone looking at them will be able to gain a better understanding of her.
Rin is lost and directionless, pulled in several directions at once, swept up in a current of people doing things she doesn’t want or understand. Her pushy art teacher, apparently seeking to live vicariously through her and correct his own past mistakes, seizes the opportunity to push her into exhibiting her paintings and move into becoming a career artist. It’s abundantly clear from her initial hesitation and resistance to the idea, however, that she’s not sure she really wants to do this — even after Hisao’s gentle nudging pushes her over the edge into letting it happen.
She feels she has to change, but she confesses to Hisao that change is “the scariest thing in the world” to her. She also doesn’t seem to understand what she is supposed to change into, and doesn’t understand the emotions that well up inside her — except for loneliness, which becomes painfully obvious to Hisao when he catches her all alone in the atelier in which she takes up residence: cutting a pathetic image, kneeling on the floor naked except for a shirt, seemingly masturbating as best she could with no arms.
“I thought that all that is inside me could become a picture if I tried really hard,” she explains. “And it could. But it doesn’t feel like it’s enough any more. Because if nobody else can see that, I will still be alone.”
Rin, it seems, is just as frustrated as Hisao, though for different reasons. Hisao is frustrated at the yawning chasm that seems to open up between the pair of them whenever they talk, and Rin is frustrated by the fact she just can’t seem to explain her emotions and put them across to other people, even with the help of her art.
Hisao explains that wanting to do something for self-expression isn’t wrong in and of itself, but assuming everyone else will be able to “understand” it is.
But after some reflection, Hisao comes to the conclusion that nobody can ever express their true feelings exactly in a manner that others can understand. He explains this to Rin, noting that wanting to do something for self-expression — be that talking, writing or art — isn’t wrong in and of itself, but assuming that everyone else will somehow then magically be able to “understand” it is. Why? Because everyone sees the world differently — something which becomes very apparent every time Emi shows up in Rin’s story, as she is always filled with energy, rushing around with a smile on her face, compared to Rin and Hisao, neither of whom crack a smile for almost the entire time they know one another.
Hisao realises throughout the course of his relationship with Rin that he wants her to be something more than a friend. He has fallen in love with her despite the fact that she drives him crazy at times. The feeling of “inspiration” that she gave him in his darkest moments is what allowed him to pick himself up, pull his head above water and start living his life. He gradually comes to accept himself and his own disability, and this in turn allows him to take a more objective view of things.
Rin, meanwhile, isn’t sure what she wants. She wants Hisao as a friend, because she doesn’t want to be lonely, but at the same time, she doesn’t know how to behave around him, doesn’t understand his feelings and is even more confused by her own. It’s not until she shows up on his doorstep, drenched by the rain from the outside and shares arguably the most truly intimate sex scene in the whole game with him that she really “lets go”, releasing the walls she has up around herself, guarding her emotions and feelings from the outside world. Ironically, it’s then she who tells Hisao that he needs to let go and, for once, live in the present.
The feeling of “inspiration” that Rin gave Hisao in his darkest moments is what allowed him to pick himself up, pull his head above water and start living his life.
Rin does change through the course of her knowing Hisao, but it’s a slow, gradual process rather than the “destroy and rebuild” approach she assumes she must take earlier in the story. By the end of her tale, she’s still the same spacey, weird girl she always was, but with a newfound acceptance of herself — more able to articulate the things she’s feeling, and more accepting of the fact that sometimes there will be things about her that other people just won’t understand — just as there are things about other people that she doesn’t understand.
Hisao changes in the same way. While his relationship with Rin has signs of severely self-destructive tendencies at several points throughout the narrative, his inherently tenacious nature (which we see in several of the other paths, particularly Emi and Shizune’s) means that he refuses to give up — either on Rin, or on himself. It’s a difficult journey for them both, but one which ends with them not necessarily understanding each other completely, but having a much better understanding of themselves.
This, I feel, is an apt way to end our exploration of Katawa Shoujo, since each of the five paths throughout the game is designed to have a particular emotional impact on the player, with each of the girls representing a particular trait or quality. Some of these will resonate with the player a little more; some of them the player will find more attractive; some of them the player will find less desirable or even offputting.
For me, I felt like I understood Hanako the best — her fear of social rejection, of being judged, of being scared to put trust and support in others. But I found Emi’s drive and determination coupled with Lilly’s grace and empathy to be the most attractive qualities. While I would describe myself as a creative type, I’m not sure I’ve felt such inner turmoil as Rin does over her own self-identity — though I have felt the desire (or, rather, “need”) to change myself on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, my initial reaction to Shizune was one of dislike, though on reflection I do recognise certain aspects of her personality in myself — her practical nature, wanting to succeed and, at times, wanting to compete over even the silliest things.
So, then, as trite as it might sound, like in Rin’s ending, I feel that in my time with Katawa Shoujo I have come to know myself a little better. Certain paths and situations resonated with me a lot more than other for various reasons, whether it was because I recognised the situations, whether I recognised traits in myself or whether, in several cases, I had had those exact conversations with someone, albeit in a different context.
Playing Katawa Shoujo for the first time was truly a remarkable experience that I’m incredibly happy I had the opportunity to go through. The only thing I’m sorry about is that I won’t ever be able to experience those stories for the first time again.
If you haven’t already, though, you can, right here.
This article originally appeared on my personal blog I’m Not Doctor Who.