Ikezawa Hanako, the Otaku Exotic

You’re a male student who has the pick of five high school girls with disabilities to date and sleep with. Yes, Katawa Shoujo has a sensationalist premise promising for something to go horribly wrong. The main character, Nakai Hisao, transfers to a private school that accommodates students with disabilities and health issues that require the need of an around the clock medical staff. As he wrestles with his disability and how that involves his identity, attractive girls with their own problems whom he can romance complicate things further. One of the story paths Hisao can take is to involve himself with Ikezawa Hanako, a burn victim with scars covering half her body, and crippling social anxiety as a result. There is a case for Hanako being the standard romance, or the one made in mind of the audience that would play this game, despite having the most unconventional look of all the romances.

With its sexual connotation, the scars exotify Hanako. Without them, she would be a very typical Japanese schoolgirl who is extremely shy, tries to cook, hides in the library… Would anything be interesting about Hanako if it wasn’t for her accident? The mental side of her disability is actually emphasized traits of what we think of woman nerds: dislikes social interaction except with those who earn her affection, hypersensitive to her preferences of where they can go, and enjoying anything that makes them a relative shut-in. All wrapped in traditional Japanese beauty and given scarring to make her unique. Many of the other girls have personality quirks that involve their disability but don’t rely on it to make them unique. Hanako, on the other hand, enables the typical men’s fantasy traits; by rousing Hisao’s white knight tendencies and being an extreme stereotype of a geek or nerd, she is the most palatable choice for the typical consumer visual novels and dating sims. Having this social anxiety forces the player to invest their own protective tendencies, but in a way that won’t backlash at them. In a way, the player won’t feel their own social ineptitude or inability to read people to be a hindrance because Hanako is such an extreme case.

The conclusion of her storyline is pretty telling; you can only get the perfect run through if you respect her independence and allow her to start doing things on her own without Hisao hovering over her. Because this is a fantasy, her new stake in autonomy happens right at the end of the game, so the player doesn’t have to experience a complicated relationship. Instead, Hanako provided the chase and the emotions of caretaking and resolved her character arc without disrupting these feelings. So when players look back at their time with Hanako, they will remember holding a glass figurine rather than the first step to being a woman she makes at the end of the game. It is a strange convention of these high school dating sims to end the game when the relationship officially starts, which is typically after a sex scene. Because players will remember the dutiful, quiet Hanako that provided sex because she wanted to be close, and not the potentially threatening social and secure Hanako that happens after the story’s end.

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