Katawa Shoujo: Shizune’s Route Review: Relationship Issues and Bonds Between Friends
With schoolwork and the like I haven’t been able to play as quickly as I would prefer but yesterday I finally completed Shizune Hakamichi’s route, leaving me with only Lilly’s. As I had feared from what I heard about this route, Shizune’s route ended up being my least favorite yet. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s a bad route, but I certainly enjoyed the others more.
Shizune is a strict, serious individual and as the president of the student council (or what there is of it, consisting of only her, Misha, and in this route, Hisao) she works hard to coordinate school events and keep things moving. Of course, this alienates many students who find her policies too extreme and leaves her with many who are displeased, especially Lilly. However, this side of her is not all that exists of her personality, as she quickly reveals herself to be a very competitive person, constantly making games out of many activities that Hisao takes part in. Shizune can be playful, almost childish, at times and this contrasts with the image she exhibits.
What distinguishes this route from the others is the fact that Shizune is deaf and cannot communicate in the conventional manner. With Misha as the person who communicates Shizune’s words to others as well as to Shizune herself, two girls instead of one take center stage in this route, although the romance does follow Shizune and Misha herself has no route. Misha is a loud, upbeat girl who’s almost always laughing (even when she’s sad) and seems very different to the serious Shizune. This is often confusing because Misha is the one who relays Shizune’s messages, sometimes in a humorously happy manner in spite of Shizune’s intended emotions. Strangely enough, it can indeed be hard to differentiate where Shizune stops and Misha intervenes, as the messages often seem to connect with these two. Luckily, in this route Hisao does learn sign language and thus his efforts to communicate to Shizune himself become much more fluid than in any other route.
Shizune’s route focuses more on the aspect of friendship than the other 3 routes I’ve played. With Shizune and Misha always together, it’s easy to see why this would be the case and Hisao’s bond strengthens with both of these two as time goes on. However, there are eventually some complications as some backstory tensions start to emerge and Hisao has to put in his best effort to avoid worsening the relationship that the three share. It’s difficult to elaborate too much on this without entirely spoiling the story, however. What I can say is that both Shizune and Misha have much more self-doubt than they seem to and this is key to some of the more dramatic events that play out later on. These situations aren’t nearly as dark as, say, the philosophical dilemma of Rin or the heartbreaking tragedies of Hanako and Emi, but they definitely stand out in their own way and the notion of a relationship in itself seems to be more important in Shizune’s route. Not just in the romantic sense but also concerning friends and close ones. The issue of communication and expression is quite important, and the confusion over how to address this is certainly amplified by Shizune’s disability.
Such themes certainly separate Shizune’s route from the others, but there are a few reasons why it was my least favorite. For starters, Shizune’s route has significantly less choices than the other routes. And by “less choices” I mean the entire route literally has only one point in which the reader makes a choice to initiate the good or bad end, and it’s incredibly obvious which one to pick if one hopes for the good ending. Now this doesn’t ruin the story, as having played Narcissu I know a kinetic novel can indeed be quite good all the same, but in comparison to the other routes it certainly feels lacking in variety with only one branch, especially considering a lot of the scenes and dialogue between the two are the same with the obvious exceptions of the critical events. Shizune’s route also seemed considerably slow in comparison to the other routes. Now development certainly existed and there was some drama later on just as in the other routes, but this did not become important until very late in the game, while in the previous routes there were at least a few if not multiple allusions to key areas of conflict even in Act 2. It wasn’t until late Act 3 that serious developments took place and even then the depth and seriousness weren’t on the same level as the other routes. This is not to say that the conflict among friends is something trivial or unworthy to note, but in comparison to the desperate need to change in Rin’s route, the psychological impact of tragedy and mistreatment in Hanako’s, or the determination to deal with pain alone in Emi’s, the issues that dominate Shizune’s route feel much less pressing.
This is not to say Shizune’s route was all bad though. More than any of the other routes, Shizune’s route gave perspective on time and it felt like Shizune’s story stretched the longest out of all the routes, following Hisao’s entry to Yamaku all the way to around graduation time. While the other routes do give mentions to the notion of pursuing one’s future, Shizune’s does the most with this as it not only follows Hisao and his friends up to almost the very end of their high school lives, but even gives insight into Hisao’s post-school plans unlike the other routes. As someone who is approaching high school graduation, I myself could connect to the progression of high school life as well as the fact that my life will be filled with change once this period of life ends and I leave my own group of friends. Yet all the same, Shizune’s route does provide a sense of optimism in that such goodbyes are not permanent and that friends will remain friends regardless, destined to meet again. In this way I must say that as of yet I like Shizune’s ending best as it provided what I felt to be the most closure of any routes so far while following the growth of Hisao as well as the school itself to the very end.
I may not have enjoyed Shizune’s route as much as the others, but all the same it remains an enjoyable route and certainly one that should be played. Shizune’s story is quite different from the previous three and has multiple elements of its own that make it appeal in a way that none of the others possibly could. Though the story and developments were typically weaker than some of the others, its themes and handling of the progression of time are enough that I would still rate it an 8/10 just like the other routes. And with that, I have but one route left of Katawa Shoujo to complete. I’ve heard many times that Lilly’s route is either the best or one of the best, so I am looking forward to seeing how that plays out. I don’t want my expectations to be too high, but if it’s possible for a route to top Rin’s then that would certainly be quite something.