Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Emi Route)

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A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Playing through this game for the first time with relatively no experience of the visual novel medium (except for amateur ones I’ve played on Newgrounds and such), I was a bit flustered by all of the text and dialogue that awaited me. My only rest came from the intermissions that transitioned the end of one chapter to another, through which I had enough knowledge to save after every opening line. As the story progressed, I had already met most of the attainable girls in Shizune, Lilly, and Hanako, and had made the conscious decision to pursue Hanako on my first go. The story then introduced me to Emi, an energetic and almost childlike young woman without the benefit of legs. My first interaction with her painted an image that I would immediately brand as “unappealing,” and decided that at all costs, I would avoid going through her route until I went through the others I found more interesting, such as Rin, who I met soon after. When the time came where my character was coerced into joining Emi for a run for the second time, it gave me the choice to either run at her fast pace or take it easy. If there’s one thing about visual novels, it’s that my decision-making within them is very, very aggressive.

Imagine my confusion when I was suddenly shown an animated cut scene of Emi running and “Act 2” showing up on my screen. It seemed I had accidentally stumbled upon Emi’s route. I silently cursed myself.

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I was originally going to complain that a single decision had led me into Emi’s route, but upon playing through the rest of the game, one decision could ultimately change the shape of history, so it’s understandable. Still, I felt the one incident shouldn’t have been enough to cement myself as Emi’s husbando. I would’ve preferred Hanako or Rin to Emi, but once I was running through her route, I decided to stick with it. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

Emi’s dedication to running is deliciously ironic. She doesn’t have any legs, yet she’s the fastest member of the track team (Unfair handicap, perhaps?). Her dedication to running is almost to the point of obsession, as she’s constantly running even in the most uncomfortable of situations. It’s almost like it’s a set-up for a future plot device. This stubbornness and commitment to going all out reminded me a bit of myself, except without the part about exercising. In my case, it’d be more like gaming. Emi’s base personality is supposed to be one of naivety and airheadedness, a whimsical kid living her life without regret or hesitation. While that held me back from getting to know her at first, the more I spoke with her, the more I found myself enamored with my conversations with her.

While she does have a bubbly demeanor, she’s a lot more intelligent than she lets on. Her conversations are very playful, jabbing at the player at every chance while making the mood very lighthearted and fun. It is fairly ironic that as time went by, I found myself more and more glad I accidentally went through with her route. Her interactions with others is quite similar to how she interacts with the player, but there’s a very subtle emphasis on intimacy when around you. I also liked the dynamic that Emi has with the Nurse, as I find the Nurse to be a likable player as well. The progression of her story feels more realistic on the premise that she has a lot of older, wiser people in her life to give her comfort. The whole “I have no one to go to but you!” cliché is horribly overdone.

I’m not really sure if this was just my version of the game or if it was present all throughout, but Emi’s sprite artwork looked a tad sketchy. Incomplete, if you will, in the sense that it wasn’t completely polished for the game’s release, much like the other girls’ spritework was. There are times when her eyes, her mouth, and her hair would have incomplete lines sticking out like she was a rough sketch with paint on top. Something like this. Apart from that, I loved the outside sketches during pleasant moments of her route. She looks, for lack of a less-cheesy term, beautiful. I really appreciate the artwork she has during these scenes, which brilliantly captures her happiness and innocence. Even her h-scenes exude some manner of playfulness. Aside from her sketchy sprite expressions, I have no complaints whatsoever with the art direction.

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Getting into the nitty-gritty, there are a couple of underlying themes to her story. One is her relationship with the track team captain, which is never accentuated to melodramatic levels, but highlighted enough to make the player suspicious. It leads the player to “interrogate” other track team members as well as Emi herself to find out more about their relationship. This, however, is ultimately scrapped after Emi confesses her feelings for you in the middle of Act 3. I feel they could’ve made it more into a thing, but I appreciate the desire to keep things easygoing, rather than make the player an overjealous psychopath.

The more serious of themes is the reason behind Emi’s desire to run at all possible moments. Laced in-between conversations with Emi and others who know her are subtle hints about the nature of her past and the origin story of how she lost her legs. Now, if you have a brain, you would pick up immediately that Emi was involved in an accident that paralyzed her from the knees down (not exactly, but assuming) and killed her father, as her mother flat out states that her father “is no longer around.” That was enough for me to predict it accurately, but it decided to go further by having Emi cry and whisper “Dad…” in her sleep. By that point, I would’ve expected your player to pick up on it, but he only dicks around and keeps second guessing the situation. Her running habit is a means of giving herself a distraction from thinking about the overwhelming guilt she feels about being a part of the incident. In essence, she is running away from her feelings.

Speaking of dicking around, the player seems very excitable during this route. The level of density with his conversations with Emi and the manner at which he keeps pushing the topic that Emi clearly doesn’t care to share with him made me question his level of intelligence. If not intelligence, then his level of trust with himself and his relationship with her. I can understand the lack of confidence on the player’s part, as the condition of his heart and the vulnerability he feels because of it would make him self-conscious, but I feel he’s a tad too selfish in the way he deals with conflict. You could say that he’s selfish, too concerned with unveiling every nook and cranny of a girl’s heart and mind to make himself feel important. It’s almost like he needs that information to validate himself as someone important to Emi, or else he may as well be expendable.

Personally, I don’t think Emi would ask just anyone to try out anal sex with her.

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Most girls’ fourth Acts are pretty long, but Emi’s was fairly straightforward and painless. It was over in, what I felt like, the blink of an eye. The player is finally shown Emi’s father’s grave, then Emi resolutely unveils a lot of personal (and some arbitrary) information about herself to show that she trusts the player. It’s a cherry-on-top kind of sugary-sweet ending that is embellished with a titillating h-scene. It’s a lovely ending to an otherwise well-paced and realistic route for a girl I never even wanted to pursue. My only general complaint is that her dark secret is incredibly predictable, while the player pretends not to pick it up early on. That and the player is really forceful.

Seeing as I’ve completed the game at this point, I can declare that Emi’s route is my personal favorite, while also the most objectively sound. Emi is best girl. Emi has best route. Emi was a wonderful way to start out. I would’ve given this game an 8.5 should every girl’s route had been as well-developed as Emi’s, but alas, that’s for another day. For now, I’ll sit back and appreciate my delicately spontaneous, warmly playful, legless waifu.

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