Did Brodie Lee Play Katawa Shoujo? - or, Unearthing A Cosmic Coincidence

By: Erin

Posted: January 05, 2024

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Introduction | Archaeology | Conclusion

No. Of course he didn't. But that doesn't mean it isn't fun to pretend. Let me explain...

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of your situation and reflect on the little things that stick with you as you make it through the ride of life. We are made of moments that interlink into a vast night sky of stars, counted by the shepherds we meet along the way.

December 26th marked the third anniversary of the passing of pro wrestler Brodie Lee. One of Mandy's favorite wrestlers since his days on the indies, Brodie Lee was known as Luke Harper in WWE, Mr. Brodie Lee in AEW, and Jon Huber in real life. He was an excellent wrestler with wild eyes and a wilder beard. Before his run in WWE's Wyatt Family, Mandy and I both knew him the most from our shared love of CHIKARA, the Philadelphia promotion that got me into independent wrestling with its colorful cast of characters and over-the-top lore-heavy storytelling style mixed with some seriously great action. I can't hear God's Gonna Cut You Down without thinking of Brodie Lee, even if just for a few seconds.

I have a silly anecdote I think about whenever I remember Brodie Lee. It's one of those cosmic coincidences that became something of a running gag between me, Mandy, another friend of ours, and as ridiculous as it was it hurts that I'll never get to ask him about it, even in passing. Stick with me here - it's about Katawa Shoujo.

Well, kind of.

Katawa Shoujo came out on January 4th, 2012. For the uninitiated, it is an erotic visual novel, made by a team of people who met on 4chan, set in a school for the physically disabled. It was, to a small section of the internet, something of a phenomenon, partly due to the novelty of a 4chan project actually coming to fruition, and partly because for 2012 it was shockingly well-written and genuine in its portrayal of disability, trauma, and the trials of being a teenager looking for love. Eleven years on, it's undoubtedly a flawed piece of work, and no discussion of it comes without the disclaimer that it is an eroge, but a fresh 21-year-old me beheld it as a revelation. I sank into it, playing through every story and route, because even though I had physical and mental disabilities I had spent so long denying it and refusing to accept these parts of myself that to play anything - even this game with hentai scenes made by 4channers - was like reaching into my chest and ripping my heart out Bride-of-Re-Animator-style, bloody and beating. It was agonizing, yet freeing. It forced me to confront something about myself I had previously refused to, and so after a good cleansing cry I found myself posting in 4chan's threads used for discussion about the game.

Posted with extreme regularity on /vg/ - the then-newly-created Video Games General board - the Katawa Shoujo General threads were unique. Unique in that they were as abrasive as one would expect from a 4chan thread, but also that they attracted a smorgasbord of people looking for comfort and community. They would consistently reach the dreaded 1000-image limit, after which they would no longer bump and would be forced to die, and then a new thread would be made. They moved fast - if I had to guess you'd see 2 or 3 threads made a day, each numbered. For old time's sake, I just checked, and someone is still out there making these threads ten years later. They're on thread #3985. The reason they moved so fast was because the game attracted a broad set. KS attracted writers and artists, people sharing music, fan art, humorous edits, people trying to troll the thread and getting trolled back, the expected pornography and furious offensive abrasiveness the phrase "a Katawa Shoujo thread on 4chan in 2012" conjures visions of...but most importantly, it attracted "the feels".

"The feels" was a phrase coined by the threads to refer to any kind of genuine emotion the game created in its player. It was a spin off of the "I know that feel" meme and came to represent a phenomenon that Katawa Shoujo had in those who were playing it and posting in those threads. It's a common term to some extent now, but this is at least partially where it all started. Bolstered by the anonymity of 4chan, the threads were a haven of people unloading their personal stories and venting to the void, more often than not receiving life advice and suggestions from people just as messed up as they were. Somehow, despite everything, a group of broken and emotionally-stunted people found some kind of safe haven in an anonymous imageboard thread surrounded by slurs and hentai, and used it to discuss and tackle and face head-on their own fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. I was one of them.

I posted in those threads for a few months, eventually moving on when I had gotten my fill and felt ready to move on, but during my time there I wrote fanfiction, had a period where I stretched and did Couch-to-5K regularly, discovered new experimental music, and expressed my life anxieties and listened to others expressing theirs. I even found some meditation music that helped me process the unexpected grief I was feeling about the death of "Macho Man" Randy Savage almost a year after the fact, music that would later go on to inspire my own. Thanks, Counting Stars With Randy Savage.

Even the silliest things became unspeakably beautiful in that moment.

It was in that strange intersection of fandom and emotion that I happened upon a post from someone claiming to be a wrestler that was offered an FCW contract. Deep into pro wrestling as I was and always will be, I followed the post with interest. The poster had been promised by management that should he sign with WWE he would be on the main roster within a short amount of time, but he was struggling with impostor syndrome and felt like he was leaving his brothers on the independent scene behind. He specifically mentioned that while he was a well-known independent name, he felt bad that he was getting picked up despite wrestlers like El Generico not getting a shot at all.

I excitedly relayed this story to Mandy and provided updates as the thread moved on. I encouraged this anonymous wrestler to go for it as did others, and when he was pressed for clues to his identity he said that while he didn't want to say who he was for obvious reasons, he was tall, with black hair and a beard. I brought this up to Mandy, and Mandy immediately wondered if it could possibly be Brodie Lee.

At the time, Brodie Lee was still very much on the independent scene, and there had been no rumbling of his signing with WWE at all. Mandy was only bringing him up because he fit the description and because they loved him as a wrestler. We laughed about it, amusing ourselves with the idea that this tall wild lumberjack-looking man sat around on 4chan playing a hentai visual novel and asking for encouragement to sign with WWE.

We weren't laughing when a few days later, on March 12th, 2012, PWTorch announced that Brodie Lee had signed a WWE contract.

It was absurd! It was a coincidence so absolutely ridiculous that we couldn't help but bring it up for years to come. There was never any evidence that this supposed wrestler was telling the truth, but either he was a faker who got very lucky, he was another guy with black hair and a beard who reported to FCW, or we just had the funniest leak ever just because I was in the right place at the right time, grappling with my own emotions and disabilities.

Not every wrestling site believed PWTorch, not even the forum I spent most of my time on. But I knew the truth.

Interestingly, his official reporting date happened after he finished up his independent dates, with Brodie announcing his signing at a 2CW show one month later. Eventually, Luke Harper appeared on the FCW website, and he would go on to find success as part of the group lead by another wrestler who left us too early, Bray Wyatt. And on January 30th, 2013, the mysterious Katawa-Shoujo-playing wrestler would get their wish as El Generico was reportedly signed to WWE as well. Generico is still there, better known these days as Sami Zayn.

This is where I was originally going to end my article, just a little story I half-remembered that Mandy and I would joke about with our friends, posted on the EMN Blog's Blather section a few days after Christmas, but as I was writing I remembered something: aren't there websites dedicated to archiving old 4chan posts?

In a delirious 1 AM haze, I got to work.

After some frantic Googling, I thought I was out-of-luck. You see, there used to be some pretty well-maintained 4chan archive sites, but it seemed like most of them had been scrubbed in some way and the Wayback Machine was of little help. I knew I was looking for a thread from before Brodie's signing, and that's how I found the date of that PWTorch article from earlier, but I doubted anyone would have saved anything back that far. There was a website called the Yotsuba Society that through various Reddit posts claimed to have /vg/ threads until 2012, but upon looking into it a combination of hosting and bandwidth drama and webmaster in-fighting had torched most of their archives from the internet...except for a tiny collection of pages from 2012 and beyond.

I downloaded those pages and pawed through them, and eventually I found a Katawa Shoujo General thread from March 29th, 2012. It was thread #154, and from the date it was close but far after the time I would have needed. The search continued.

I'll save you the sorry details, the search terms, and the post I made in the latest (as-of-this-writing) Katawa Shoujo General thread, but through sheer luck and unrelated clicking around, I found a 4chan archive website that hadn't been scrubbed from the internet. Archived.Moe appeared to have archived threads up until the modern day, and they even had a /vg/ section! The only problem was that on that board, the granular search function was disabled.

It was time for some archaeology. I didn't even think the archives went back that far, so I entered bigger and bigger numbers into the URL, my eyes widening as the years counted backwards from 2023 to 2021 to 2016...and finally, to 2012. I couldn't believe it - all the images were gone by this point, but the text was there, preserved. There were thousands upon thousands of threads to dig for, but it was a start. Luckily, I knew the thread ID of the thread from the YS archive, so I was able to pull that up. That's when I realized that each Katawa Shoujo General thread liked to include a link to the previous one in the opening post. I followed the trail backwards, trying to get to the pre-Brodie-Lee date.

It wasn't easy - these threads were made with so much more frequency than I had remembered, and sometimes there were duplicates or the thread creator forgot to put the link to the previous thread in the opening post. I dove backwards, past thread 150, past thread 100 and the workout tips, searching each thread for mentions of wrestling, FCW, or WWE.

My first hit was a post about the post. I'm pretty sure this was me. I'm so sorry.

GUYS. Remember a few weeks back when the FCW wrestler dumped his feels about how he felt he was abandoning his brothers by signing to WWE, and we helped him out? And remember when he said he had black hair, a beard, and a muffin top? Well this guy, Brodie Lee, has been reported to have been signed to WWE. inb4 MASTER OF ROMANCE gimmick

No one else was making the connection, as far as I recall.

When I found this I teared up, and not because of the old memes and thread language. It's silly, because there was no way I had imagined any of this, but it wasn't something I was expecting to have still survived in any way. I started this journey on a whim, but this was enough of a push I needed to see it through until the end.

Finally, with one last click, in Katawa Shoujo General thread #79, I found it.

Sup /ks/

I'm kinda freaking out about some big changes in my life right now.

I'm not really looking for advice as such, but more re-assurance that I'm doing the right thing.

Do you guys want to hear about it?

- Post #1226423 in Thread 1220869, March 5th, 2012 | Image

My heart, appropriately enough, skipped a beat. I read on, and it was much like I remembered it: after some encouraging words, this anonymous wrestler dropped the bombshell.

I just thought I'd check because I don't really want to attention whore.

I'm not going to reveal anything personal about myself because I could get fucked over by my bosses for saying something stupid.

Truthfully I doubt anyone will believe me because this is 4chan, and people sometimes get called out for bullshitting for not being NEETs or because they have a girlfriend.

Anyway, I'm a wrestler that's worked for all kinds of US indie companies.

I was recently signed by Florida Championship Wrestling and I have been guaranteed by Dusty Rhodes that by this time next year I will be in the WWE.

This is my dream, but I feel guilty about doing it. I was a big name in the independent wrestling scene along with guys like CM Punk and Bryan Danielson and I've seen them go on to big things and I hated them for getting further than me, but then there's guys like El Generico who are still in the minor leagues and they haven't even received a call from WWE. I feel like I'm abandoning my brothers. People I've travelled the world with. People who would put their lives literally in my hands every day.

Am I doing the right thing by going into the WWE?

- Post #1226624 in Thread 1220869, March 5th, 2012 | Image

His story was latched onto by several of us, but it didn't make the biggest splash. If I'm honest with myself, some of his later posts in the thread feel like a fabrication - would a wrestler signed to FCW at the time really make fun of FCW names like Kevin Hackman? Would a wrestler know exactly how to post like a 4chan regular complete with reaction images (Of course, Brennan Williams, 4chan and 420chan regular, would transition from football into wrestling a few short years later)? At the same time, if I learned one thing about my time on the independent scene, it was that many wrestlers had the same in-jokes that people who posted on the pro wrestling forums and imageboards of the time did, and many of them were aware of the communities, too. Our anonymous wrestler certainly was. There's also the line about putting others' lives in his hands, and his description of other wrestlers as his "brothers". These are phrases I heard many times while I was myself in wrestling training, so Possibly-Brodie-Lee at least knew his stuff. He was understandably cagey otherwise, but just as I remembered, he provided that description of himself deeper in the thread.

I have long hair, I have a beard, smallish eyes and I'm not in the best shape of my life so I've got a bit of a muffin top going on.

- Post #1227796 in Thread 1220869, March 5th, 2012 | Image

It was a little more detailed than I remembered - almost like he wanted people to know, or at least if it was a faker that he wanted people to put the pieces together. Sure, plenty of people have these traits, but when combined with the El Generico namedrop and statement that he was a known name in the US indies, it really gave me pause. At the same time, would a wrestler really call the indies "the minor leagues"? Independent wrestling certainly wasn't the powerhouse it would become in 2017 yet, so who can say? After some encouragement, he responded to some questions and then, as far as anyone knew, never posted again. It was such a specific thing to fake if it was indeed fake. There was no real wrestling community that crossed over with the 4chan Katawa Shoujo threads, and I only happened upon that post out of sheer luck. And yet, it was that little stroke of luck, those little stars that connected, that lead to me not only seeing it but remembering it all these years later.

"Was this lie able to change something? Was this lie able to change someone?"

The ending of Danganronpa V3 asks this of the player, and it is a moment that affected me deeper than I'll ever be able to put into words - though one day, perhaps I'll try. The power of a good story told well is undeniable, and that's what I keep going back to when I think about this article. I've grappled with myself about the thesis of this article several times as it spun out-of-control, growing much larger than I ever really expected. I went from wanting to share a silly anecdote to wondering what that anecdote really meant. This one person, Brodie Lee or not, unknowingly affected my life with this story. Coming in when I was in the middle of self-discovery, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this little coincidence deepened my bond between Mandy and I and was at least one important domino that lead to me becoming a wrestling manager myself in 2016.

"It doesn't matter whether it was real or not. What matters is how it made you feel."

Solid Snake says that to Raiden at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2. I think about it a lot. Being a pro wrestling fan and someone formerly in the business, the live theater built on the suspension of disbelief that wrestling provides is intoxicating and is in its purest form a testament to the power of a simple story told well. Whether Brodie Lee has played Katawa Shoujo or not is ultimately unimportant - what's important is that this simple story stuck with me and was associated with a pro wrestler Mandy already liked, and it was a small, silly part of our relationship that helped us grow closer. His death was devastating, but it's not like I ever knew Jon Huber personally. Nevertheless, his death meant the death of our secret joke, the death of a wrestler we watched and loved. We are affected in so many small ways by the tiniest little things, living in a world where we are interconnected and speaking to strangers at all times. Once upon a time, that wasn't such a scary proposition. Once upon a time, those little moments were something to be cherished. Do you think whoever made these posts would think they'd be remembered ten years later?

There's beauty in these little sparks. If magic exists, it's in stories like this.

One day, early last year, Mandy and I went to Target to look for movies. On our way out, we stopped by the toy aisle and saw they were selling AEW action figures. It all seemed to be wrestlers important in AEW's first year - Nyla Rose, Evil Uno, and Adam Page among them. But there, in the back, was a single figure of Mr. Brodie Lee.

We took him home. He's on our shelf in our living room, a constant reminder of his life and ours.

You can run on for a long time...

Rest in peace, Brodie Lee. I hope you're out there counting stars with Randy Savage.