It's fair to say that 4 Leaf Studios' independently-developed freeware visual novel Katawa Shoujo (literally "cripple girls") is somewhat divisive and controversial due to its subject matter and provocative title, but it's also hard to deny the fact it exists at all is remarkable for a variety of reasons.
The game casts players in the role of a young man suffering a chronic heart condition as he attempts to adjust to life at a school for disabled teens, and originated with a sketch by Japanese doujinshi (independent) artist Raita that was posted on notorious Internet messageboard 4chan. The sketch was discussed extensively on the boards, and over the course of the subsequent five years, a complete game based on these initial character designs came together thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers. In January of last year, the full version of Katawa Shoujo was released to the public for free, and proved to be something of a phenomenon among those who played it.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Katawa Shoujo - particularly given where it originated from - is the fact that it handles its subject matter very sensitively, and that even the game's erotic scenes are both tasteful and integral to the plot rather than gratuitous. The controversy surrounding the game largely stems from its title - "Katawa" is a highly derogatory Japanese term that literally means "cripple" and is usually used to describe something that is working imperfectly. The title was not, however, the choice of 4 Leaf Studios - the original sketch by Raita was titled Katawa Shoujo and the name was maintained in order to remain true to the original concept art.
Katawa Shoujo proved to be a surprisingly influential work - so much so that it has inspired a variety of fan works since its release, despite the original game being released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license. One such project worthy of particular note is Katawa Seiyū, a group of actors, designers and editors who have come together with the aim of voice-acting the entirety of the game, and to subsequently present it to the public as a series of YouTube videos. Seiyū, for those of you who don't speak Japanese, is a term that simply means "voice actor/actress."
Katawa Seiyū launched back in August of 2012, but it wasn't until January of this year - the first anniversary of the game's release -- that the project's first official video was posted, introducing the game's protagonist Hisao. Since that time, a series of other trailers introducing key cast members have been released, with the final one dropping at the end of last week. The team behind the project says this means that the next video you can expect to see on its channel is the game's prologue, which will kick the story off properly.
"What about the sexy bits?" I hear you ask. And it's a good question - like many other visual novels, Katawa Shoujo's sex scenes are important to the story rather than existing simply to be titillating. Since YouTube does not allow explicit sexual content, the team will be censoring these parts to a certain degree, but leaving them as intact as possible while remaining within YouTube's guidelines.
And why YouTube? Well, for starters, it's a great way to reach a wider audience who may not feel inclined to download and play a game of this type. Not only that, but splitting the content into a series of shorter videos means it can be released episodically more regularly rather than there being months - or potentially even years - between the project being announced and it coming to fruition. Perhaps the most important reason, though, is the fact that without a developer version of the game, it would be impossible for the Katawa Seiyū team to incorporate voice acting without some serious reverse-engineering, which would be against the terms of the original game's Creative Commons license. As it stands, 4 Leaf Studios is aware of the project's existence and is happy to allow it, and the Katawa Seiyū team is keen to stress that its work is by no means an "official" dub.