The Let's Play Archive

Katawa Shoujo

by Falconier111

Part 39: Emi, Relf-Reliance, and “Overcoming Your Disability”

Update 35: Emi, Relf-Reliance, and “Overcoming Your Disability”

You ever heard of inspiration porn? It works like this: let’s say you’re feeling kind of down in the dumps. Life is hard, and it’s getting to you. You need a pick me up, but not a huge one, you know? Something that doesn’t take much time and effort to do. So you hit up one of the billion Facebook groups and subreddits where people post motivational memes and start scrolling. You will, inevitably, unless the group/subreddit specifically prohibits this, hit a meme featuring somebody in a wheelchair, or using sign language, or who the caption smugly informs you has a serious health condition. Sometimes they’ll be competing in the Paralympics or whatever, but often as not they’ll just be doing normal people things – going to the store, working at a desk, spending time with family, taking a hike. The text will tell you exactly what’s wrong with them, then compare them to you, who the text assumes is much better off. It’ll describe about just how hard it is for these poor people to lead ordinary lives, or maybe it’ll just cut to the chase: if they can manage in spite of everything they have to suffer through, you can too. You navigate away, inspired by how brave they must be for what is essentially being alive.

Yeah, you can probably guess we’re not always big fans.

Something interesting about those memes? More often than not, the people in them don’t seem to rely on anyone, whether they’re depicted as alone or interacting with others. We already talked about how disability gets conflated with helplessness all the time, and that’s part of what drives inspiration porn; overcoming that perceived helplessness is something you can supposedly do on your own. This stuff is targeted towards individuals, it’s designed to make you feel like you can overcome your problems without needing other people, you’re strong enough to do it by yourself. And if you’re not strong enough to do it by yourself? Well then, you must be weak. Too weak to lead a normal life, too weak to measure up to anyone else. So, if you don’t want to be weak, don’t want to be lesser, don’t want to be the sort of person who deserves praise just for getting out of bed in the morning, relying on others is a liability. It diminishes you, and you HAVE to be completely independent. Even if it hurts.

Update 30 posted:

EMI: "So I can't rely on you. Or the nurse. Or anyone else.”

EMI: "Just me.”

EMI: "That's how it's got to be."

So, yeah.

Like any piece of good literature, KS can be dissected a billion different ways, and that goes for Emi’s route too. But today, in this Frankensteinian hybrid of a route conclusion and a disability corner, we’ll take a look at Emi and Hisao’s story through that lens.

Over the course of the next several paragraphs, I’ll deliberately leave something out. If you can spot it, you win a prize, and the prize is nothing.

All right, take it from the top.

Update 15 posted:

EMI: "You're not out of breath, are you?"

There's almost an accusing playfulness to her tone. I'm tempted to deny it, but then I realize that I've been breathing heavy since we stopped. Guess it's kind of obvious.

HISAO: "A little. Not everybody can be in shape, you know. Takes all kinds, right?"

Emi frowns. It's not a particularly good frown.

HISAO: "Er, that is... I should... get in shape?"

Not that I hadn't already decided to try for that. After that flutter on the track I figure there's a real need to get in some sort of running habit. I was, after all, feeling pretty good until I had my false alarm. Well, actually I wasn't. But it was... fun? Meanwhile, my comment seems to have helped Emi come to some sort of a decision.

(Sudden Silence)

EMI: "Well, that's it, then."

She gives me a serious look.

EMI: "You're joining me."

HISAO: "I beg your pardon?"

EMI: "In the mornings. You and I are now running partners. I've got a routine all planned out. In fact..."

She produces a crumpled sheet of paper.

EMI: "I've got it right here with me."

It’s pretty obvious from the beginning just how driven Emi is. Not just in how determined she is, but in her approach to other people: we’ve talked about how pushy she can get in the thread, but it’s worth noting she has a strong sense of responsibility (even if she can get careless sometimes). Whenever something she does hurts Hisao, she’s quick to admit fault and accept responsibility.

Update 15 posted:

Emi studies her notes, comparing them to markings on the various paint cans, and passes them to me as she finds the correct matches. She stretches her neck to look on the topmost shelf, but it's not quite enough. Her eye level stays below the shelf no matter what she does. Emi gives up and just looks up to the shelf longingly, like a child at a toy store, huffing in annoyance.

After a moment of building anger, she starts jumping up and down, apparently trying to speed-read the labels during the fraction of a second she can see them, and catch what she can.

:eng101:Yes, her sprite is jumping here. No, you can’t see it very well. The perils of a visual medium. :eng101:

It's no surprise that she fails miserably, and almost manages to bring the entire shelf crashing down. Now I see why me lending a hand here would be useful.

HISAO: "Come on, let me do that. You can't jump high enough, and I don't want you to hurt yourself trying. Also, I'm like twice your height."

EMI: "You are not!"

She turns around, flaring scorn, flushed cheeks and all.

HISAO: "Just kidding, just kidding. Anyway, I'll look up there, okay?"

She glares at me one more time, but can't come up with a retort. With a grudging “hmph,” turns her back to me.

Not when it comes to herself, though. Emi hates limits. She despises them, she switches from cheerful to angry any time she bumps into one. But she hates being helped even more. She is ferociously proud of her independence, and she covers up her vulnerability with anger if and when it rears its head.

Update 19 posted:

EMI: "Oh, I've been running since I was really little! My dad was a runner, and so as soon as I could walk, he started teaching me how to run.”

EMI: “It was our father/daughter thing, you know?”


EMI: “Our own mutual hobby."

A shadow crosses her face, and I'm shocked to see her looking... sad. Did something happen between them?

EMI: "Man, I don't have a lot of time left. Sorry, but I've got to get a few more laps in before I go see the nurse!"

She races off around the track, hair streaming in the wind. It seems to me she's going a lot faster than she was this morning. As she rounds the track, I catch a glimpse of her face. It's much the same as it was this morning, but her eyes seem to have taken on a harder edge.

As Emi and Hisao drift closer over the course of Act 2, we get a few glimpses of vulnerability from her. Glimpses she quashes. It’s worth noting that she doesn’t lash out at Hisao for seeing her in a compromised state. She’s not some tsundere lashing out at him in exaggerated anime fear; she’s mature enough to not hold it against him and in fact appreciates him keeping mum. She’s happy with him as long as he doesn’t dig. Which, of course, he does.

Update 30 posted:

EMI: "Why is my saying I'm fine not good enough? You're concerned, I get that. That's cool. But I'm fine, and it's nothing that you need to worry about."

HISAO: "Not sleeping and spacing out more than Rin doesn't strike me as “being fine.” I just... I want to help."

EMI: "Uh-huh."

HISAO: "Yeah, I don't like seeing you like this. I want you to be happy, you know?"

I get the feeling that came out wrong, because Emi fixes me with an icy stare.

EMI: "So you want to fix me, Hisao?"

She's definitely getting angry now.

EMI: "Wanna swoop in on your white charger and save the day? Stop the nightmares, the phantom limb pains? Restore what's lost?"

From Hisao’s point of view, Emi’s behavior is deeply worrying; he empathizes deeply with her pain and seeing her suffer hurts him almost as bad. He feels compelled to help her so he can make the pain stop. From Emi’s point of view, he’s violating her agency and trying to “fix” something she has under control – and for the most part, she’s right. The game doesn’t make the timeframe explicit, but we are talking about a whirlwind romance here; Hisao transferred into Yamanaku part way through senior year (unless I misunderstood something, renessia can probably check me on this). Her deterioration can’t have taken more than a month or so. We have no guarantee she’s just as badly off the rest of the year, especially since that deterioration doesn’t become obvious until later in the route as the date itself draws near and her feelings about Hisao tear her up inside. Odds are she usually handles the situation and just moves on when she’s done. But Hisao, at least at first, feels compelled to approach her issues like things he needs to solve for her, and she gets understandably pissed off.

Update 30 posted:

As I'd hoped, the exams weren't so bad. I managed to breeze through just about everything but the English final. And even that was acceptable. I wonder how Emi did. Even more so, how she's doing; she looked terrible at lunch today. I mean, she was pretty happy to be out of her wheelchair, but she was so exhausted. Something's been wearing her down, and I'm starting to really doubt that it was just the exams. Should I confront her about this, though? My musing is interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.

MUTOU: "Hey, Hisao.”

MUTOU: "Got a minute?"

>"I suppose I can spare a few minutes."
>"No, I have other things to worry about."

The way he (and the player) deals with that compulsion determines which ending you get. Many of the choices you make in this route don’t have direct mechanical effects; they just provide you with a bit of context, then have Hisao reflect on that choice later on in accordance with the themes of the rest of the route. This here is the first choice that makes a mechanical difference, and it’s a doozy. If you choose to ignore Mutou, the game disables the next two choices, forcing you to blow off of the Nurse (which has no mechanical effect) and follow Emi after she runs away at her house (which absolutely does). While you do get a Hail Mary (which I’ll talk about later), if you ignore that too, then… Remember when Emi tried to force herself to break up with Hisao on the rooftop? In the Bad Ending, there is no “try” about it. By that point Hisao had repeatedly ignored her wishes, invaded her privacy, and assumed he knew how to handle her life better than she did. While he only had the best of intentions, he paved the road to hell with them over the course of the last Act. She definitely could have communicated better, but he also could’ve stopped constantly white-knighting her. So she fucking dumps him on the rooftop and that’s that.

It's kind of funny that, as much as the thread seems to side with Hisao over Emi (for good reason), I’m actually more sympathetic to her. It’s awful to have people step in and make your decisions for you. It’s a special kind of hell when those decisions are better than yours. If it’s consistent, after a while you end up unable to trust yourself and start deferring instinctively to others, so low in self-confidence you assume they know better because they aren’t you. I’m willing to bet Emi knows this, she may even have seen this in the hospital; it’s tragically common among disabled kids whose caretakers dominate them well into what would otherwise be their adult lives. A lot of abled people, I’ve noticed, kind of assume kids inevitably escape their parents and go out on their own, but if someone’s rigorously raised to be helpless, they’re probably going to end up being helpless into adulthood whether they like it or not. I can’t blame her for making self-destructive decisions when that seems to be the alternative.

Update 30 posted:

MUTOU: "How? How would you guess the movement of a quark? What is your guess based on?"

Of course. I should have thought of it earlier.

HISAO: "The things it affects."

Mutou claps his hands together excitedly and whoops.

MUTOU: "Yes, exactly. Good. Remember that, Hisao. If you can't examine something directly, it's because you're looking at it wrong.”

MUTOU: "You have to look at it differently if you want to uncover the truth. And if it eludes you, then look at what it leaves behind. That is the essence of being a scientist. We never stop looking for the answer. Never take anything for granted. Observe, experiment, and observe some more. There's a lot of stuff out there that makes no sense, Hisao. Your job is to get it to make sense. If nothing else, I hope you've learned that here."

But if you stop to listen? Well, that starts to reveal something that wasn’t immediately apparent. So far, I’ve presented the choice between help and no help as a binary, implying you have to either go it alone or submit to the control of someone else. Emi certainly seems to think so. She’s wrong. In a way, she’s falling into the same fallacy we talked about at the beginning of this post. Emi may be doing okay, but she isn’t doing well. All those caveats I attached to her situation earlier don’t change the fact that she refuses to take care of her health, or cries in her sleep, or couldn’t maintain her last relationship, or deliberately never thinks more than a month ahead, or has so much trouble forming social bonds despite her friendly nature that her closest friend is someone she can count on not trying to understand her. She can keep going as she is indefinitely, and if Hisao decides otherwise, she will correctly tell him to go hang. But it’s possible to support others without robbing them of their agency. It’s kind of ironic that Mutou, the eccentric and spacey science teacher, consistently offers Hisao better life advice than the Nurse (whose mistakes Psycho Lawnmower has so excellently explained), but Mutou talking about conducting observations at a step removed inspires Hisao to do the same with his relationship, first with the Nurse, then with Meiko. They don’t just give him useful information, though. By giving him context and advice, by checking his worst impulses without forcing him not to follow them, they teach Hisao by example how to do the same for others. And if you fail to talk to Mutou, remember that Hail Mary? After following Emi at her house and getting bawled out by her, Hisao spends the next couple days avoiding her and moping. Eventually, Misha confronts him on the rooftop about what’s going on with their relationship. If he plays it off, only then do you get the Bad Ending. If you decide to let her speak:

A theoretical version of Update 33 posted:

HISAO: "We had a fight at her house. I keep trying to get close to her, and she won't let me get close, and... I said something stupid, and she threw me out."

MISHA: "Have you talked to her since then?"

Misha looks genuinely concerned. I'm surprised, as I'd almost expected her to drop the subject after finding out what the trouble was. Even more surprising is how quickly I find myself spilling my guts to her.

HISAO: "No, I haven't. I just can't bring myself to face her after that. I made a complete fool of myself, and she probably hates me now anyway. Especially since I haven't seen her since then."

MISHA: "You're pretty slow, Hicchan."

This doesn't sound like advice.

HISAO: "Huh?"

Misha places her hands on her hips and launches into a speech that would sound more plausible coming from Shizune.

MISHA: "The solution to your problem is simple! You have to go and apologize to her! Leaving things like this will just make things worse! You can't know that she hates you now unless she tells you! Otherwise, there's no evidence that what you fear is true! And if you really care about her, shouldn't you be worried about how she's taking all this?"

With a sudden start, I realize that she's right. I've kept waking up to an early alarm because part of me wants to meet Emi at the track for our runs. I've kept running, because I know that Emi would worry about me if I didn't stay healthy. When I went on the roof yesterday, I was half-hoping that she would be up there, and felt disappointed when she wasn't.

HISAO: "I'm an idiot."

MISHA: "Kinda, Hicchan~! So~! Go and apologize to her as soon as you can, okay~?"

I open my mouth to say that I'll do it right away, but the lunch bell rings and I realize that I still have afternoon classes to attend.

HISAO: "First thing after class is over, I'll go see her. I promise. And uh, thanks for the advice, I guess."

Misha beams at me, as if I were a child that had just learned his ABCs.

MISHA: "Good! I'll let Shicchan know that you're okay, then~!"

HISAO: "Er, yeah. You do that."

I know the thread doesn’t like Shizune and I understand why, so who would’ve expected her to help save their relationship :v:? But if you think about it, she and Misha are doing exactly what Hisao should do: their advice and support are unasked for, definitely, but they make him realize his mistakes and bring him around instead of just jumping in to fix things for him. And if you follow their example?

A theoretical version of Update 33 posted:

HISAO: "I need to explain myself. Why I can't just let the matter rest."

Emi folds her arms and bounces one blade on the ground in an approximation of tapping her foot impatiently. Angry as she is, and as nervous as I am, she still looks beautiful.

EMI: "Okay, Hisao. Explain."

HISAO: "The thing is, I know that you're really sensitive about the accident and about your dad."

I can see Emi's face twitch at the mention of the two things that have been steadily driving us apart, or at least made me feel like we're being driven apart.

HISAO: "But that's why I want to know about them, I think. Because I see how much they hurt you, and I want to be there to comfort you. It makes me miserable, seeing you sleepless and depressed - and don't pretend you aren't, because I know, okay? I just remember that night when you fell asleep with me and had that nightmare, and that you were happy to have me there when you woke up. I want to be able to be there for you like that whenever you need me to be."

The stern face cracks, slightly. Emi interrupts before I can continue further.

EMI: "Just... stop right there. We can't see each other any more, okay?"

She's rushing now, looking everywhere but at me. I'm surprised she doesn't bolt, she knows I can't catch her...

EMI: "We're not... we're not right for one another."

HISAO: "That's not true, and you know it."

EMI: "No, it's true. You're too—"

HISAO: "I know. I know that I've been pushy about knowing your past. If you can't tell me yet, then at least let me be there even if I don't know the reason. It's okay, I promise. I won't ask why you need comfort, I'll just give it freely."

Emi's shaking her head, and tears seem to be threatening the corners of her eyes.

EMI: "Stop saying that!"

HISAO: "Why? Because you're afraid you'll take me up on it?"

EMI: "I'm not afraid!"

I can't keep the chiding tone from my voice as I respond.

HISAO: "Yes, you are. You told me so yourself, remember? That's okay, really it is. However, it seems to me that someone who'd manage to come out of that wreck and still be as energetic and cheerful as you are would be determined enough to face that fear."

EMI: "Determination? What do you know about determination?"

HISAO: "I know that there's a girl so determined to take care of a total stranger that she'd steal his food at a festival. I know that there's a girl so determined to help me with my own problems that she'd draw up a complete dietary and exercise plan, and that she'd not only draw up the plans, but she'd follow them with me, even when she couldn't run. Determined enough to keep me at arm's length that she'd put herself through emotional pain if she thought it was the right thing to do. Although, there's one thing that this determined girl didn't quite plan for, which was that I might feel that same kind of determination to keep her from being hurt. I fell in love with you, and I refuse to let that be thrown away because you're afraid of losing me."

What little control Emi still has at this point cracks, and I find myself suddenly enveloped in her embrace as she cries.

EMI: "Why are you doing this? Why can't you just leave me alone?"

I hold her close and plant a kiss on the top of her head.

HISAO: "I'm sorry, Emi. You helped me when I first arrived, so now I have to help you. It's only fair."

EMI: "You're utterly hopeless, did you know that?"

She hiccups and trembles a little.

HISAO: "Funny, I could say the same about you."

EMI: "Can you do something for me, Hisao?"

HISAO: "Anything."

EMI: "Can you go, now?"

It feels like she's just shoved a knife through my chest.

HISAO: "Go?"

EMI: "I need to... I need to think, okay? I can't just tell you everything yet. I'm still scared, and when you're around, I can't think clearly. But do me another favor."

HISAO: "What's that?"

EMI: "Show up for our morning run tomorrow?"

I smile, feeling better than I have all week.

HISAO: "Of course. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Emi steps back slowly, almost reluctantly. She sniffles a little and then grins at me, a real smile that lights up the track, overpowering the fading evening's light.

EMI: "See you tomorrow, Hisao."

HISAO: "Okay."

She darts forward suddenly, planting a soft kiss on my lips, then steps back shyly. Spinning on her back foot, she takes off running again, and I know that our conversation's at an end. My lips tingle with the warmth of that brief kiss and the memories of other, longer kisses. I walk back to my room with a spring in my step. Tomorrow when my alarm goes off, I'll get up.


From there we jump to the start of the scene that takes us to the graveyard, and aside from a few textual tweaks, everything is the same up till the good ending.

Okay, did you spot what I left out? At no point in this post have I directly mentioned Emi’s legs. That’s because the route writer did something very, very interesting. Instead of making them the focus of the story or a cosmetic detail, they turned her legs into a story element. Her legs are part of her life, yeah, but they aren’t directly important to the story: they’re important in that they symbolize her connection to the accident that cost her her father. After Hisao gets used to thinking about them, the narrative only really focuses on her legs when something goes wrong with them, things only go wrong with them when her character flaws catch up to her, and her character flaws catch up with her whenever her dad comes up. They’re treated like any other object or mannerism that connects a character to their backstory. They aren’t the point of the story, they’re literary devices. Hell, they’re not even literary devices in and of themselves; they only matter when something about them furthers the story. I cannot express just how refreshing that is. As a rule, whenever a disability shows up in a piece of media, it’s a major plot element. Whether it’s part of the premise, a defining character trait, or even a threat, it always ends up the focus of whatever’s going on. The only exceptions throw them in as background details and forget about them, or maybe, MAYBE use them as a red herring. Seeing someone’s disability used like any other character feature is nearly revolutionary, it takes the assumption that a disability defines a person and brushes right past it. It treats it like it would any other aspect of a person from a storytelling perspective, and as you can tell from me rephrasing the same sentence over and over again for half a paragraph, to me at least it’s a really big deal. With the proper placement of Emi’s disability in the hierarchy of plot elements, the story uses it to underline its broader point. It breaks that stereotype, turning what new readers might have expected to be the focus of the story because they’re familiar with that pattern I mentioned into simply a way to reinforce the point.

And that point is the lesson of this route: the best way to handle your problems is neither dealing with them entirely by yourself nor relying entirely on others, but instead accepting help from others while making your decisions for yourself. That’s a powerful and nuanced piece of life advice a lot of people need to hear. It is especially important for disabled people, and disability activism in general. A lot of us just can’t live independently, no matter how badly they want to. It’s infuriating, it’s humiliating, but it’s neither avoidable nor a knock on your character. On the other hand, some of us don’t need help at all and live perfectly ordinary lives. But the funny thing about ableism is that, like so many other -isms, it’s structural. “Disability” means a lot more than what a dictionary will tell you; it’s a label that sits on top of a massive complex of observations, assumptions, and biases. While individuals have a role to play in breaking those misconceptions down, they can’t hope to do so by simply showing they’re more capable than their disability might suggest; it just feeds the narrative that gives birth to inspiration porn without challenging the assumptions that make it tick. It’s a trap: we’re conditioned to believe that we can defy a disadvantageous category through hard work and dedication, but we’re actually just climbing into a predefined subcategory within it – one that brings with it personal advantages, yeah, but one that exists so success stories don’t challenge the categorization as a whole. It’s something we need to work together on, something we can only break by discovering what a world without ableism might look like and fighting towards that. And we can only do that by listening to each other, discovering things we missed, covering each other’s weak spots, and relying on each other even as we push on by ourselves.

Which is why Emi’s route validates the existence of my job :v:.

There’s plenty more we could talk about here, both positive and negative: the nature of Emi’s relationship with Rin, how unrealistically mature Hisao is for a mildly traumatized teenager, Shizune and Misha’s role in the narrative, how the route uses humor to generate emotional whiplash, Emi’s personality shift between Act 1 and the rest of the game, why the Nurse is a terrible medical professional. But by my best estimate this part of the LP broke a hundred thousand words several updates ago, making it substantially longer than most novels. I think it’s time I gave this part of it a rest. That doesn’t go for you guys, though. Remember, once we finish a route all restrictions on discussing spoilers and things I missed or skipped over in that route are lifted; feel free to talk about anything in that route, no spoiler tags necessary.

This isn’t the last we’ll see of Emi. As we’ve discussed in the thread, every character shows up in every other route, so she’ll pop up from time to time going forward. But for now, let’s move the spotlight on to someone who’d probably want to avoid it, to someone both completely different from and startlingly similar to Emi: Hanako Izekawa.