Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 16

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Karin Suzuragi. Released in Japan as “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Tsumihoroboshi-hen” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Gangan Powered. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As the Higurashi series has gone on, the descent into murder and gore has seemingly come faster and faster, with far less build-up. This is, of course, because the audience is well aware of what’s going to happen and needs less setup. Of course, just because the first volume ended with Rena committing bloody murder doesn’t mean things get to wrap up quickly. What’s going to happen in Volume 2?

Well, another murder. Right away. The first images we see are of Rena luring Satoko’s uncle out to the trash heap and killing him brutally with an axe. Of course, this leaves her with two corpses she has to get rid of. And it doesn’t help that she killed them in the one place that everyone who knows her well would go if they wanted to find her. So it does not take long for her to be discovered. This is where much of the horror comes in this volume – Keiichi and the others are determined to cheer Rena up, and the discovery of her hacking the corpses to pieces with her billhook… it’s chilling. As is Rena’s desperate response, asking why they had to show up *now* when she was almost finished covering everything up?

And so the next half of the manga deals with Rena’s confrontation with the rest of her friends. It’s an interesting examination of guilt, with Keiichi and company all feeling the exact same way – “why didn’t we notice how badly Rena was hurting before?” This is not helped by Rena slowly sinking back into paranoia and madness, and accusing them of the same thing. Here, though, is where Keiichi really steps up. In my previous reviews, I tended to call him an idiot a lot, and indeed he was. But in this arc, where he’s not the main character, he shows amazing insight and strength – I particularly liked him noting that Rena was crying “in her heart” this whole time, which helps lead to Rena finally shedding actual tears.

There’s an examination of “inaction” as a whole here, and in fact all of the others – Keiichi, Mion, Satoko and Rika – all apologize to Rena for various things they could have noticed and taken action about, but didn’t. And then they all choose to forgive each other – including Rena, the murderer here – and help her take care of her problems. Which, yes, means helping her chop up and hide the bodies. It’s amazing how heartwarming this is given what’s actually going on. But that’s Higurashi for you.

Of course, things have only just begun. Just as Rena is getting back to her regular school life, along comes the school nurse, Miyo Takano, with her notebook filled with Hinamizawa analysis. I’m really getting to dislike her – yes, she keeps getting killed off, but she manages to be quite creepy regardless, in a skin-crawling way. What’s more, she gets Rena reading about Hinamizawa’s past, including the three families. Is everything that’s gone on before a giant conspiracy? And why is Rena being followed all the time now? She does try to confide in Keiichi, but can she even trust him?

This book starts out very gore-laden, but quickly becomes an examination of what trust is – and what people can be forgiven for. The cast are very quick to blame themselves for what Rena did, and forgive her for the murders – but was that really the right thing to do? Moreover, if everyone is involved in a townwide conspiracy, is there anyway to trust someone without overanalyzing everything until you draw the inevitable conclusions? For all that the cast descends into paranoia in this series, it’s not as if they don’t have help. And oh look, there’s Oishii as well, the police officer who means well, but tends to make everything worse. So we’re now halfway through, and not any closer to Atonement. Will this all end as badly as Shion’s arc did?

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