In this new weekly series, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most memorable, interesting, attractive, sexy, badass and just plain awesome female characters in Japanese gaming, as well as highlighting some great fanart.
And what better place to begin than with Hanako Ikezawa from Katawa Shoujo, my favourite character from the game that truly got me into visual novels and the Japanese style of interactive storytelling once and for all — even if the game in question itself was actually developed as something of a worldwide collaborative effort.
Hanako is a character that I found to be deeply relatable, enormously sympathetic and highly memorable; she’ll always occupy a very special place in my heart, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Art source: Pixiv
For those less familiar with Katawa Shoujo, the concept of the game is that the protagonist finds himself attending a special school for young people with disabilities of various descriptions, thanks to an unpredictable and potentially life-threatening heart condition that he suffers with.
Early in his new school career, he encounters a number of remarkable young women, whom the player will doubtless initially identify as “the one with no legs”, “the one with no arms” or, in Hanako’s case, “the burn victim”. The central concept of Katawa Shoujo, however, is that people are by no means defined by their physical characteristics; people can often transcend their limitations to become something altogether far more incredible, and discover a place for themselves in a world which sometimes doesn’t seem to be built with them in mind.
Hanako is a little different from the rest of the cast in that her injuries don’t actually prevent her from doing anything — unlike the blind Lilly, the deaf Shizune, the armless Rin and the legless Emi, all of whom have had to find ways to cope with their situations — but instead, aside from the burn marks that cover one side of her body, her difficulties are primarily psychological in nature, stemming from the accident that claimed the lives of her family and left her with her scars.
Art source: Pixiv
Specifically, Hanako has great difficulty in social situations. She never directly attributes this to her physical appearance, but the way she carries herself and deliberately tries to cover her scars with the fringe of her hair and long-sleeved shirts makes it fairly plain to see, with this only confirmed during an intimate scene between her and Katawa Shoujo’s protagonist Hisao where she is uneasy about showing “all of herself” to him.
She finds it difficult to trust people she has not met before, and has a tendency to cling on to people that she has determined to be “safe”. As such, upon her first encounter with Hisao, she bolts after making an excuse about “having to go do something”, and subsequently she is rarely seen without her best friend Lilly, whom she has come to depend on over the years. Is she ashamed of her appearance? Perhaps that might be part of it, but a bigger part of this aspect to Hanako is the difficulty she has being presented with situations she hasn’t been able to “prepare” for.
Hanako is relatable to me because, as someone who deals with social anxiety and Asperger’s, I understand all too well the feelings of uneasiness and even outright fear provoked by the prospect of meeting a new person — or, worse, being thrust into an unknown social environment and being surrounded by a whole room full of unfamiliar people. Hanako’s story is inspiring precisely because she learns to come to terms with the person she is rather than specifically trying to change herself to please someone else, though it’s not an easy road for her.
Art source: Pixiv
So much of modern society is built on the assumption of being “social”, of the fact that “networking” is a natural thing for people to do. And perhaps it is for many people out there, but not everyone has the confidence to be able to pull it off, and not everyone wants to develop those sorts of social skills, instead being perfectly happy with a small but well-formed group of friends whom you have grown to love and trust.
Hanako’s personal growth throughout her tale in Katawa Shoujo shows how it is possible to function in a society where it can sometimes feel like if you’re not the life and soul of the party, you might as well not exist. Through her relationship with Hisao — and her friendship with Lilly — she learns that it is okay to depend on others, so long as you are not doing so to a fault, and that at times, there are occasions when you just have to be a bit assertive in order to get what you want, or what is good for you. It may be a terrifying prospect to do so at times, but more often than not you’ll come out of the other side of the experience feeling like it wasn’t anywhere near as much of a big deal as your brain made you want to think it was.
Hanako is a beautiful character whose story came to hold a great deal of personal meaning to me. While she’s the most obviously “damaged” of Katawa Shoujo’s cast at the outset of the story, much like her peers she learns not to let her scars define who she is, but to accept them as part of herself — and to encourage others to do the same.
Self-acceptance is an important part in finding your place in the world, because if you don’t accept yourself, how are you going to expect others to accept you? I’m sure plenty of us have found ourselves pondering such matters over the years, and seeing Hanako wrestling with such matters over the course of Katawa Shoujo’s narrative certainly helped me put a few things into perspective.
More about Katawa Shoujo
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