The Let's Play Archive

Katawa Shoujo

by Falconier111

Part 143: "Tetsuo Takahashi Wants an Interview" (Pt. 2)

Interviews with Monster Girls, Episode 1: "Tetsuo Takahashi Wants an Interview" (Pt. 2)

We jump a little bit further ahead. Somebody is yelling at Hikari; apparently she left something at home and she’s trying to mooch it off someone else instead.

Takahashi is introduced to Himari, Hikari’s younger twin and responsible sibling. Unlike Hikari, she’s polite to Takahashi, collected, and kinda stiff, but she seems pretty used to putting up with Hikari’s nonsense. Himari stalks off after giving Hikari her book (“don’t draw in it”) while Hikari brags about how great her sister is.

Takahashi starts to ask her whether her sister is also a demi-human, stops halfway through the last word, and replaces it with demi. That’s how you handle it. We notice it if you use an outdated word, then replace it with something more appropriate. We don’t mind. Don’t worry about it, and just try to remember it in the future. She says Himari isn’t, and that’s the end of that conversation.

Takahashi takes advantage of the lull in the conversation to ask her for an interview, having his words and preparing for disappointment.

Hikari goes “yeah :haw:”…

… And he does a genuine double take. All she wants is permission to hang out in the biology prep room whenever she wants, and he agrees before she darts off to class. Fun fact: while this is hardly universal, lots of disabled people are actually happy to tell you all about their disabilities as long as you ask respectfully about it and then listen to what they say.

Wipe cut to our friendly neighborhood dullahan.

Meet Machi Kyouko, one of our supporting protagonists and the character that cleaves closest to the standard image of disability as something that one struggles with. Unlike the other three demis we’ve met so far, her condition is immediately visible and her accommodations pop out; she has to rest her head on a pillow turn it with her hands to meet people’s eyes. The conversation seems to be going fine, with her and her classmates bonding over living near each other…

… But the moment her nature comes up (she can’t take the bus because losing her head on there could be dangerous), the conversation grinds to a halt.

The other two abruptly change topics and start talking cat videos. They don’t cut her out of the conversation entirely, which is something that happens, but she reads the message that they’d rather not think about it loud and clear. People… Just don’t like talking about other people’s disabilities. They don’t know how to handle it, they get caught up in what would or wouldn’t be rude to say and end up talking about something else, even if the person in question wants to talk about their disability. At least they don’t stop talking to her entirely, which is something I’ve also seen happen. But it could definitely go better.

Takahashi starts another infodump as the camera pans to the next classroom, where [name has yet to be revealed] is picking up her books. Apparently, most demis come about as a result of random mutations and their conditions are not hereditary, so the one twin being a demi and the other not is more common than the other way around. Not… Gonna open up that can of dynamite-encrusted worms now. Maybe later.

He says that, even though he knows this and plenty of other facts about demis, he doesn’t know anything about how they live, how they interact with others, or even what they value. When he talked about interviews earlier, he’s not joking; he’s out to gather subjective information, to find out how they live from them directly and treat that as important. This point of view is rare. Information gathering on disabled people almost always focuses on collecting statistics and performing trials instead of performing surveys or interviews, anything that involves directly asking us about our wants and needs. When I did accessibility research for this thread (I’m still open to suggestions, by the way), I found very little from a user’s perspective; just about everything asserted principles and talked about general facts instead of how individuals might interact with the technology that’s supposed to be there to help them. It’s immensely refreshing to see somebody take the road less traveled here.

It turns out that narration was basically Takahashi typing up an introduction to his paper while Hikari enjoys the cool air. Fun fact: many, if not most, Japanese schools don’t have air conditioning. The biology prep room, though, has to be shaded and kept cool so the samples they keep there won’t go off, so it’s a lot cooler than the rest of the school. Turns out that vampire weakness to sunlight? They are extremely heat sensitive and overheat easy, so Hikari’s just like :buddy: out of the sun. She mentions that she COULD try and get accommodations in class, but she doesn’t want to inconvenience the people around her, which is… Very understandable. The issue of when, where, and how to ask for them is one way too complicated for me to cover here in a paragraph, but I can’t blame her for going :shrug: about something that doesn’t seem to debilitate her.

After some banter, they get the interview proper started. Takahashi kicks it off with a series of questions about qualities traditionally assigned to vampires.

She likes the taste of garlic and thinks crosses are terribly unfashionable…

… Is pretty sure that a stake through the heart will kill her (Takahashi’s like “yeah me too”)…

… And explains the blood dependency thing as a nutrient imbalance. Apparently they get anemic really easily, which is connected to their low tolerance for heat, but as long as they put a little effort into eating carefully they’ll get along just fine. … At least, she THINKS that, until he points out that she keeps unfavorably comparing the taste and texture of those foods to blood. It turns out vampires get a blood pack ration from the government, and she’d legitimately never considered how big a role that blood plays in her feeling free to eat what she wants. After some back and forth, they conclude that vampires who go without the blood ration are roughly equivalent to vegetarians and both are awesome.

He asks her about drinking blood next and she’s like “oh yeah :haw:

Remember the yuki-onna? Hikari gets up in her personal space a lot; she likes how she runs a lot colder than most people.

We get an uncomfortably erotically-charged imagination sequence about Hikari biting her neck, complete with lighting, costumes, and violin music…

… And then smash cut back to her deadpanning “I do think about it :geno:”. She never acts on it, though, because she’s aware of how colossal a dick move doing that would be.

At this point Takahashi kind of crosses the line. He points out the obvious erotic connotations of what she just described… To a teenager, who he then asks to break down her romantic preferences and how they relate to that impulse. Hikari gets flustered and confirms that it might have something to do with her sexuality, but doesn’t really commit; she just doesn’t know yet. As she says herself, she’s never fallen in love, so she can’t hope to compare the two.

After breaking the tension by having Hikari accuse Takahashi of being “ah, it’s so good to be young :allears:” and him go “yeah pretty much”, the anime lets them back off and cool down…

… Just in time for the bell to ring.

But as she walks away, she turns back…

… Nips his neck…

… And laughs at his :nallears: reaction.

… I’m honestly not sure what to make of this scene. It’s worth making clear, as you never really know with anime: we aren’t in that kind of territory here. This never goes anywhere creepy. But speaking as someone who’s established themselves as a stickler for interview ethics, this whole scene is kind of fraught. I don’t even know where to begin. At least Hikari seems more caught offguard then actually indignant or intimidated.

Back to Kyouko. She’s busily going :gbsmith: as her classmates walk by…

… When Hikari busts in and asks if anything’s wrong.

Nice touch here; when Kyouko tries to lie about how she’s feeling, she looks at Hikari for a second, gasps, and grabs her head off her pillow and rapidly rotates it to simulate shaking her head.

Hikari blows it off.

She starts openly – and frankly – empathizing with Kyouko about how hard it must be to get her head around safely, to the shock of her classmates.

Kyouko is delighted.

Hikari introduces herself as a vampire and they commiserate about their respective difficulties.

Eventually, a classmate walks over to see what they’re talking so animatedly about…

… And the sound of conversation cuts out as the camera shows the three of them talking and laughing.

I like how the anime has demis finding each other and forming friendships, because in my experience, we do find each other. Looking back at both my high school and college friends, it’s kind of startling just how many of them turned out to be disabled in some way, and that lines up with what I hear from other disabled folks, too. I mean, in this anime they have to come together enough to form a social unit in order to get the story to work, but that’s a comfortable echo of something real.

As the two finally pack up to leave (the other girl left, apparently), Kyouko and Hikari agree to college other by their first names, which is a much bigger deal in Japan. Kyouko asks Hikari why she never sees her during class breaks.

Sometime later, Takahashi gets a jump scare. It’s a headless Kyouko, bearing a note for him. He tries to awkwardly socially interact with her body before he realizes it’s pointless…

… While pointedly ignoring Hikari and Kyouko’s head hiding just behind the door frame.

The note is from Kyouko, thanking him at length for getting her body to the nurse’s office. She also says Hikari told her about the interviews and expresses an interest in swinging by to participate sometime. The two belatedly realized that, if he doesn’t know they’re there (he totally doesn’t guys, for real :ssh:), he can’t respond to the letter…

Only for him to open Kyouko’s hand and put a short response in it. She flushes at the contact.

He leans around the doorway to let them know, and we learn that when Kyouko gets startled, her flame thing flares and lets out a very :ghost: supernatural groan.

Her body beats a hasty retreat, and the two girls run away laughing while Takahashi reverts to the “ah, young people :allears:” expression he had earlier.

Response secured (it says “come by anytime”), the two result to celebrate by buying something on the way home…

… And the camera pans up, and ends the episode.

And that’s a wrap! So, conclusions? I’ve talked before about how uncommon it is to think of disabled people as a minority group with elements in common instead of a series of sad one-offs. From the perspective of someone involved in the disability rights movement, it’s abundantly clear that this anime is one giant metaphor for disabled life: disability as an identity, the importance of government assistance, accommodations, us finding each other, there’s so much there. So why is this interpretation so unusual?

Quackles posted:

Perhaps the reason people don't recognize this anime in the context of disability is that it's portrayed as a thing that just, like, the characters have and roll with, and not, like, a primary impediment to the characters' well-being?

Which, like, arguably dovetails right into what KS has been doing (the 'roll with' approach).

Yep. Looking back at the counterarguments on that reddit thread I mentioned earlier, many of them boil down to “these themes are not overt, and therefore they don’t apply”. The disability lens feels wrong to these people because the only frame of reference they have is disability as a life-defining affliction; the neutral approach we’ve been exploring this thread isn’t on their radar. It’s kind of disappointing that something so thoroughly rooted in that experience fails to make that experience clear to people interacting with it.

… But then, Interviews with Monster Girls never claimed to be a work of activism. I can wish it wore its heart on its sleeve more, but it doesn’t have the history or thrust of KS, so I’m not inclined to judge it. It’s a sweet, watchable anime that just happens to line up with the purposes of this thread, which makes it useful lens to look at things through.