Katawa Shoujo: a VN Underdog Story

Before we start off, Happy Valentine’s Day!  May Cupid bring you a good romantic anime to watch, a sweet manga to read, or a nice Romance VN to play!

That being said, however.

To my knowledge, Visual Novels are the least-acknowledged Japanese medium.  It’s an interesting concept, mixing pictures with text, yet, for some reason, I feel it’s much more common to see people into anime, even manga compared to Visual Novels.  Perhaps they’re harder to get into?

Well, that being said, there’s one visual novel I came across, just a few years ago, that made quite a stir on the internet.  Supposedly a wonderful experience that emerged from the depths of 4chan, many skeptics downloaded the game expecting perverse trash, leaving instead with shattered hearts.  Being a skeptic myself, I decided to try it, as it was apparently a good first experience in the world of Visual Novels.  Lo and behold, I’m here now, as are many others, still unable to forget about the experience of Katawa Shoujo.

A Bit of History

raita_original

The original doujin page that inspired Katawa Shoujo.

Katawa Shoujo is a weird beast.  It emerged from a place that no one expected, with a premise that seemed rather depraved at first.  4chan, for those who are unfamiliar, is kind of like reddit, except…with a lot worse of a reputation.  It is an online forum that has become renowned for posting trash, memes, gore, porn, a place that you could see anything and everything.  It is here, that a fan posted a fan translation of artist “RAITA”‘s doujin, in January 2007.  RAITA had included a few bonus pages included at the end and on these bonus pages, translated, and fully colored in by the poster, was an idea for a Visual Novel, titled “Crippled Girls,” or “Katawa Shoujo.”

raita_translated
The translation of the doujin page that sparked interest on 4chan.

As luck would have it, a sizable amount of people backed the idea for such a game.  A whole forum board blew up, talking about what the game would actually be like, and how it could be created.  As the hype died, a small group of people, 21 strong, were eventually weeded out that would lead the project, forming the group known as Four Leaf Studios. Their intention was to create a free-to-play experience, a passion project, regardless of how long it took.

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What makes it more notable is that these people had never had any sort of experience with creating a visual novel- the program used, Ren’Py, had to be learned from scratch, along with the language used to program it, Python.  Artists had to volunteer, animations were at first a far off dream, and balancing real life with such an ambitious endeavor proved to be terribly hard, leading many editors, writers, and leaders to quit.

More of the same troubles came and went for 2 years, until the release of the first full Act of Katawa Shoujo in 2009.  Released to extremely positive reception, the team was revitalized- people still came and went, but with increased motivation, Four Leaf Studios worked harder to provide a quality product.  Given three more years of work, they had finally created the final product, released on January 4, 2012, to huge amounts of positive reception.

A Lasting Reputation

f1d.jpg
The final logo of Katawa Shoujo.

Katawa Shoujo, for many of those who have played it, was an intensely emotional, powerful Visual Novel.  Because of its unique origin, it served as many people’s first experience to the world of Visual Novels, and to this day, remains a powerful experience in the hearts of many.

Although in recent years, Katawa Shoujo has fallen into relative obscurity, it remains online for anyone to download, championing the creative potential that comes with open-source software.  It was an underdog story all the way through, only emphasized by the success that it has seen online, by creators who, to my knowledge, didn’t earn a single cent from its creation.  This passion-driven story adds to the history of the Visual Novel, drawing many to it, even now.

Perhaps later, I’ll talk more about this unique story, and how exactly it left such a lasting impact in the lives of many, but that might be for another time.  I just wanted to share a little bit about a Visual Novel that I feel deserves recognition- for the efforts of Four Leaf Studios, and also, the heartfelt story it aims to tell.  It…is a unique beast, that’s for sure.

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