Why Penrith?

When we were writing Katawa Shoujo, we were often faced with a question of authenticity. None of us were Japanese, and with the exception of a few of us that had been there for holidays, the only experience that we had with Japanese culture was through media, and a little bit of study.

Sure, we never made any presumptions of accurately nailing Japanese school life, but then again, that wasn’t the point of the story. It could have easily been set in Boston, Berlin or Birmingham and we could have had the same result. But, as Aura said to me, “your weabooism has influenced the game.” (He meant it as a compliment).

 

So, for Historia, I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I won’t go too far into plot details, but it needed to be a small enough town so that the characters would meet, but also big enough to have some degree of industry. Too small and some things wouldn’t make sense, too large and it would be unrealistic for the characters to know each other. I’m not sure why, but that is one of the things that bugs me about a lot of fiction – the way the characters meet seems too… fictitious.

Single Weatherboard House.jpg

My mind quickly settled on Penrith. It’s a town about 50km (30 miles) out of Sydney. It’s not really country – there about 100,000 people living in the metro area, but it’s also not a big city by any stretch of the imagination. Almost all of the buildings are under three stories high. There is only one main street, and the life has been drained out of it and into the large shopping complex/mall. There’s a big hospital that supports a lot of the industry there, and a few other concerns just outside of town.

There’s two high schools; one private and one public (albeit selective). The latter is where I went to school.

Main Street 2A.jpg

I had to go back there recently for family business, and I was surprised at how much it hasn’t changed, but also by how much my opinion of the world has developed after 4 years of constant global travel.

If I had to compare it to an American setting, I would say it is like the part of Las Vegas between the Strip and Freemont street, or those parts of Hawaii that aren’t in the main resort locations. The buildings are all old; from the 70’s or earlier, and sport that aesthetic. The signs are all sun-burned and poorly maintained, and the streets are mostly deserted.

Most of the houses are either red brick or “weatherboard” – a type a asbestos cladding that was made illegal in the 80’s but existing buildings have been allowed to stand so long as the cladding wasn’t damaged. Most of the shops that still exist are crappy eateries, pawn shops or poorly stocked “convenience” shops.

Main Street 1A.jpg

Of course, there is a second side to the city, and that’s the new developments. Like a lot of places, those people that have money don’t want to be seen near the dilapidated houses of yesteryear, so they have moved a little further out of town. There they pick a plot of land and choose a house from one of about 5 different models. This leaves you with some kind of artificial neighborhood. It all looks very neat and tidy – and, to me, totally unlivable. It’s hard to explain, especially as I now live in the home of high-density housing (Tokyo), but it feels somewhat spooky to be there. (Unfortunately I didn’t get out there this trip so I have no photos).

In any case, I feel much more comfortable speaking about the struggles of a high school student in Penrith than I do about being a Japanese boy with a fatal heart condition. I’m not sure if this will help or not, but, to be honest, the city likely won’t play much of a part in the story whatsoever. It could be any Nowheresville in the world – any town that is big enough to hold a story but small enough to make you want to escape it.

(PS: I didn’t live in Penrith – I lived about another 30km away… needless to say I spent a lot of my high school years on a bus…)

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