Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 22

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

And so, finally, welcome to the Good End, as well as the longest of the arcs – it’s 8 volumes, or 4 omnibuses. We’ve come a long way to get to this point, seeing most of the main characters at their worst, and then later seeing them at their best. Well, mostly. The adults in Higurashi haven’t really gotten a good backstory yet. Particularly the villain of the piece. We knows that she’s insane and sociopathic – witness her face at the end of the Massacre Arc, as well as the plot she’s cooked up – but “she’s evil like that” is not a motivation, and Ryukishi07 has gone to great pains in previous arcs to show us how important someone’s past and the way their life unfolded can be to the actions they may take in the future. So, what’s Miyo Takano’s past?

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Well, it starts with a little girl named Miyoko Tanashi. That’s her on the cover, isn’t she a cutie? She lives with a loving mother and father, and her hobbies are collecting flags of the world from a local restaurant chain. She is living a great childhood. Then… there’s a train accident. Miyoko went out to play with her friends instead of going shopping with her parents. From that, comes one of the most horrific childhoods we’ve seen in all of Higurashi, even managing to top Satoko and Rena’s. Miyoko’s father, before he dies, tries to get Miyoko to contact a researcher friend of his, but to no avail – Miyoko is sent to the local orphanage instead.

Orphanages in fiction are usually never a good deal, but this one goes above and beyond. (I have no idea if this is what orphanages in Japan were like in the early 60s – I hope it’s heavily exaggerated for dramatic effect.) It’s a prison camp for children, with daily beatings and abuse. Then comes the most striking scene of the volume, where Miyoko and her three other friends make an escape attempt from the orphanage – led by Eriko, who has heard there’s another orphanage a few miles away that’s loving and happy. What follows is… bad. They don’t escape – indeed, the whole “other orphanage” doesn’t seem to even exist. They are taken back. Eriko is tortured and killed by having her unconscious body tied down and covered in chicken feed, so she is basically pecked to death. I mention this as a spoiler because it’s so grotesque and graphic – everyone who reads the manga remembers this. The other two girls are rolled into a mat (which is then beaten with sticks) or put into a metal shower cage (and then beaten with sticks till they go deaf).

As for Miyoko, before capture she was able to accomplish a few things. First, she found a phone and managed to call her father’s friend. More importantly to the story, though, she screams at God to kill her, and a lightning bolt then comes down… directly behind her, missing her body. She takes this as a sign. It doesn’t go into effect right away – I won’t spoil her punishment, except that it’s the ugliest of the four, and the only reason she isn’t killed is that her father’s friend, Hifumi Takano, shows up to adopt her. (Note there is no suggestion the orphanage is ever shut down or stopped – only Miyoko is saved. I am reminded of the fact that everyone accepts Mion will be a yakuza head when she grows up. Morality in Higurashi can be starkly realistic when it wants to be.)

So, ten points to Hifumi for rescuing Miyoko, who changes her name to Miyo Takano. However, just putting her in a loving home and having her help with his research into brain parasites is not going to do the trick. Miyo clearly has post-traumatic stress disorder – we see her reliving the events of the orphanage more than once – and really should be getting therapy that she never gets. As a result, the PTSD will never really leave her, and drives her actions and descent into madness. Especially when the government mock and ridicule his research into parasites, and this drives him into deep despair. And so Miyo makes it her life’s dream to prove her father’s research is correct and that he was right all along. His research… into Hinamizawa Syndrome.

That leads us to the second half of the omnibus, where an adult Miyo is putting all her pieces into place. She’s not going to be stopped by some nasty old government officials – indeed, at one point, she believes that bullets won’t kill her (flashing back to the lightning bolt missing her as a sign). She delves further into his research, and also makes connections, showing that she’s an up-and-coming woman whose drive is not merely frivolous. (We briefly see her fighting a bit of “but gosh, why is a girl interested in parasites?” male doctors.) And finally, she gets what she wants – a research facility in Hinamizawa, with a helpful doctor in Kyousuke Irie, and a liaison in Jiro Tomitake. she notes Tomitake looks like an easy sucker, something that does not bode well for their relationship.

Irie is more complicated, though, and our sympathy shifts to him in this second half as Takano starts to slip deeper into madness. Turns out Irie, due to his parent”s crumbling marriage after his father had a head injury, has made it his life’s work to study brain injuries. Unfortunately, he was doing this around the time lobotomies were discredited, and therefore his career was somewhat ruined. Here in Hinamizawa, he’s trying to start over – being a nice helpful doctor, encouraging a young and stress-out Satoshi to take an interest in baseball – while also researching Hinamizaqwa Syndrome and trying to stop it. He’s a good guy, mostly.

Then they bring in a live specimen. The murderer of the dam construction manager, who is at Level 5 and trying to claw out his throat. And Takano blackmails Irie into dissecting his brain – while he’s alive. This really doesn’t bode well for Satoko Hojo, as she’s also showing signs of Hinamizawa Syndrome, and her parents fell off of a bridge just now in a very suspicious manner. Miyo isn’t too bothered – more live dissections! – but with Irie draw the line and cutting open a little girl?

As you can see, there’s a lot of backstory here, but it’s presented with a lot of dramatic effect – indeed, one might argue too much at times. This is really over the top grotesque in places, and the images of Eriko, and later the live dissections, are some of the more nightmare inducing of the entire series. That said, I think we can now see how Miyo Takano got to be the way she is, even if we can’t sympathize with her. Irie’s role in the series expanding is also a good thing, taking him away from “comedy lolicon doctor” and into a man trying to hold onto his ethics while still doing surgery FOR SCIENCE.

Karin Suzuragi did the Keiichi and Rena arcs, and her art is back as well for the final arc. It’s not my favorite of the artists, but it’s pretty good – although she’s not good at showing younger versions of our leads. Satoko in 1980 looks exactly the same as Satoko in 1983, and given that’s going between age 8 and age 12 or so, I’m not sure I buy that. Overall, though, for an omnibus whose job is to pour out backstory and explanations, this remains an amazingly gripping read, though of course I only recommend it for fans who’ve read the other books.

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