Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 20

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Hinase Momoyama. Released in Japan as “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Minagoroshi-hen” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.

(This review talks briefly about the villain of the series, for the one or two of you who haven’t figured it out or spoiled yourselves.)

I have a lot I want to say about this 2nd Massacre omnibus, so pardon me if I go on for a bit. Let’s start with what we’re fighting against here and what our weapons are. The villain here isn’t the child center, or the village, or the Sonozakis, or even Satoko’s uncle, really – it’s apathy, discouragement, and stubborn pride. When you know something is wrong but look the other way, or go along with everyone else, or simply lie to yourself that it’s the right thing to do – after all, if it was wrong, someone would step in, right? And so Satoko is scapegoated by the entire village, just as her brother was, for their parent’s actions, even though everyone knows deep inside she’s an innocent girl. She is fighting against the unity of the status quo.


Then we have the weapons that can free her. Not Keiichi and Rena, though as semi-outsiders, they are eminently suited to be more appalled at everyone else’s behavior than the others. Not the Sonozaki family, who, once converted, prove to be able to take down any governmental barrier with just a few well-placed lawyers and friends in high places. (Speaking of which, has anyone noticed that the Sonozakis being essentially yakuza isn’t really remarked on as horrible? We see them do yakuza-type things – they have a torture chamber, for chrissakes – but there’s no suggestion, even with the upcoming ‘Good End’ in the next arc, that Mion will do anything other than take up the reins of the family when she is of age and her grandmother dies. It’s quite odd from a Western standpoint.)

No, the weapons everyone uses are courage, resolve, and unity. I like the way that this plays out in regards to the writing. Unity has been killing Satoko – but it’s a terrified village afraid to speak up for fear of getting ostracized just like she is. Keiichi, however, reminds them of what they once were, rebelling against the unfeeling government in the dam project. He points out the force for true greatness that a united village can be – and then Rena shames them by reminding them what that unity is doing to Satoko right now. Then, when confronting Oryou, Mion’s grandmother, Keiichi and the others need to muster their courage and resolve. Oryou is the most prideful of this bunch, and to the end she refuses to publicly back down. But it’s Keiichi’s resolve – along with a death threat, but hey, he’s held back from actually doing anything – that impresses her, and once the public eye is away from her, she too makes the right decision.

This arc seems at times to play out like a series of boss fights in a video game, where you need to face tougher and tougher foes and come up with new and creative weapons. Luckily, the last 6 arcs before this have been tempering our heroes, even if they don’t remember it save for Rika. Again, we see what happens when the answer to everyone’s problems is not ‘goo off on your own’. Even Ooishi, who I noted gave us a cliffhanger last time by looking creepy and threatening, is trying to give Keiichi some good and sensible advice. He just… looks creepy, it’s how it is. By the way, we also meet for the first significant time Akane, Mion and Shion’s mother. She appears to be semi-ostracized from her mother, which is why Mion is next in like as clan leader. She’s also an even better tease than her daughters, both of whom she offers to Keiichi.

Speaking of which, I’ve noted before how this has harem aspects to it, many times playing out like a date sim. This is especially true in the early visual novels, where you don’t see Keiichi’s face – he’s the generic player character. He was initially the harem lead because, well, there weren’t any other options around, really. But as the series has gone on and he’s been overtaken by Rika, he’s really impressed. Both in the Atonement arc and here, he shows why the nickname given to him is ‘master of words’ – he is the heart of this group (Rena, who’s always one step ahead, is the brains) – and there’s no longer any question as to why Rena and Mion fell for him hard.

I wonder if we’ll ever see what motivated Satoko’s parents to be the lone villagers saying the dam should go through. Was there some deep reason behind it, or are they meant to be simply ‘bad guys’ as Satoko’s aunt and uncle were? Speaking of which, I don’t think there’s been any villain character in Higurashi more deserving of his fate than Teppei. He gets some of the more terrifying Higurashi faces here, and his physical, mental and emotional abuse of Satoko is teeth-grindingly appalling. But of course, that’s what makes the scene where she finally asked the child center for help, and then stands up to her uncle, so amazing. This is what the unity of the villagers can lead to – a downtrodden 9-year-old girl finding her own courage and taking a stand against a horrible man. When she brags to her friends about how something like this won’t get her down, it’s impossible not to have a tear come to your eye.

(By the way, the artist for this arc, Hinase Momoyama, is one of the best of the entire series, keeping everything light and moe but avoiding some of the awkward bodies and weird posing from prior arcs. She also does some really over the top ‘Higurashi faces’, which will only get worse as the series goes on.)

Oh, yes, the series goes on. Thought you were done? This is only omnibus 2 of 3, and this is called the Massacre arc but has been rather free of massacres. And Rika is aware of this – Teppei is horrible, but he’s not gutting her on an altar. She still has to stop the killings after the Cotton Drifting. And that leads us to our villain, who I can now, at last, discuss. Not that it hasn’t been somewhat obvious. Some stories try to hide their villains by making them the seemingly nice, friendly person. But Ryukishi07 is perfectly content with making it the paranoid, occult-loving woman who was practically having an orgasm when she was shown the torture weapons of Hinamizawa.

Rika and Bernkastel had gone over the 3 ironclad rules of each world, and it’s here that we see that one of the rules is obviously incorrect – Takano is the villain, so she’s not the corpse found in the oil drum. Not that faking your death in this series seems all that hard. I will admit, the final scene in the manga doesn’t have all the impact it should, in my opinion, mostly as the audience still doesn’t really have all the facts – Takano’s revelations to Tomitake are as confusing to us as they are to her, and a casual reader might very well think, “Wait, it’s her? Where did that come from?” Of course, in Japan this series had few casual readers – the anime was over, the visual novels were done, and everyone knew what was going to happen. As Frederica Bernkastel notes in her poem, the cat in the box is dead. This is not the Good End world.

And so with one omnibus to go, where will Takano lead us? To a massacre? And for god’s sake, what does Rika have to do to stop dying? What is the solution here? How can Takano be stopped? Well, we won’t find that out next time. But we will get to see some VERY over the top, scary Higurashi faces. Stay tuned.

(TL, DR: this volume was fabulous, except maybe towards the end.)

License Request: Additional Higurashi Manga

Higurashi When They Cry is, let’s face it, a franchise by now. And as such, it’s not the sort of series that was going to stop merely because the story ended. Heck, even the author of the original visual novels released an extra one with several stories after Matsuribayashi-hen was completed. The anime did two series of OAVs. Indeed, Yen Press has already released an extra side-story as an omnibus volume. So even though they still have over a year of Higurashi still to release, I thought I’d take a look at what’s out in Japan and see what, in my ideal Higurashi world, I would want licensed.

First, I’ll cull off things that can be skipped or are expendable. There are a giant PILE of Higurashi anthology books by various artists, with the vague tacit approval of 7th Expansion. Some are terrifying, some are hilarious, but all are basically one step removed from the ‘official product’. They’d be nice, but not necessary. The same goes for the Higurashi 4-koma volumes, which go under the title All You Need Is Love. There is a one-volume manga starring Shion, who is investigating a murder at the private school we see her attend at the very start of Eye-Opening; it got cancelled/cut short by the publisher, but is only one volume, so might be looked at. There’s also a one-volume manga that revolves around mahjong that was also cut short; due to the subject matter, it won’t be looked at.

So that basically leaves us with four books. All are done in one, though one may be continuing, I’m not sure. Publishers like single-volume books.

1) Dice-Killing Chapter. This is probably the closest the series will get to a genuine, actual post-series sequel. And, unlike most of the post-series stuff that’s come out, it’s mainly serious. The premise has Rika, overdosing on having escaped her unhappy fate and free of the endless June, not looking where she’s going and getting hit by a truck. Aheh. She wakes up in a different Hinamizawa, where no one was ever killed, the dam project is going through, and everyone’s happy and content. Well, everyone except Rika. This was taken from one of the post-series VNs, and I find a lot of its basic themes very disquieting. But then, that’s what makes a Higurashi series.

2) Daybreak Chapter. For all that I call Higurashi a game, it’s actually a series of Visual Novels. You don’t do anything but hit enter a lot. So naturally, one of the first things fans did was to make the series into a third-person shooter. This was a big success, and they even got Ryukishi07 to do the scenario, which involved a magatama that forced people into love confessions. This was then adapted into several manga. I prefer Mion with Keiichi, and there is a version of that which Kadokawa put out, but it’s not as good. This is the best of the lot, and is about as Keiichi/Rena shippy as you can get.

3) Heart-Healing Chapter. This was one of the titles that Kadokawa Shoten taunted us with by sticking the synopsis up on JManga’s site, before we realized they had no plans to actually release any of these. As such, it’s a good fit with Yen. Note it is the only non-Square Enix title on the list – it ran in Kadokawa’s Comp Ace. It’s the most heartwarming of these choices, dealing expressly with Rika’s feeling after the end of the series about having to finally move on and think about life. I like heartwarming fluff a lot.

4) Hinamizawa Bus Stop. Sorry for the tinier image, but this one only had its cover image released a few days ago -it’s not out in Japan yet! The latest of the Higurashi tie-ins, this one is supposedly based off the original scenario that Ryukishi07 had in mind before he moved away from it to make Higurashi proper. It stars a 17-year-old Rika, with her goofy friend Mion, so definitely falls into the ‘alternate universe’ category – and not in the usual Higurashi way. But the plot still revolves around that pesky dam, there’s still the threat of Oyashiro-sama, and there’s still scary faces galore. I’m not sure if this is complete as of this volume or still ongoing – guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

As you can see, it’s a Higurashi world out there. Any of these four volumes coming out over here would make me very happy indeed.

Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 19

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Hinase Momoyama. Released in Japan as “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Minagoroshi-hen” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This review has spoilers!

Ladies and gentlemen, after 18 volumes, meet our heroine.

The author talks in the notes for this volume about how he tried to keep Rika’s main character-ness a secret at first, with Keiichi, Rena and Shion getting all the attention. The Time Killing Arc was probably the one exception, and even that was 5 years before the main action. We’ve known Rika is much deeper than she seems, and that she can see/understand the constant resets in this world. But this is where the manga outright has her as the star. And while no one is going to pick up a new manga 19 volumes in, the first chapter does a decent job at setting up the ‘mysteries’ and ‘rules’ of the resetting worlds… even if it turns out to be wrong a lot.

By the way, the twin girl that Rika meets is Frederica Bernkastel, whose poetry we have been enjoying at the start of each arc. She is somewhat unimportant to the Higurashi series (we’ll only see her again at the very, very end), but is a far larger player in Umineko, which begins over here in two months… Also, Frederica, not Furude Rika. I don’t know how anyone could mix them up. :)

We do also meet another major character here – Hanyu, aka ‘Oyashiro-sama’. For a series that has combined moe and gore to such a large degree, it’s not as much of a surprise as one would think to find that their torture god is an adorable little girl who hates all the killing. Seeing her stomping her feet in rage at Takano’s insane ravings is quite funny. Possibly the only funny thing she gets to do in this arc – Hanyu is a drag, and ends up bringing Rika down with her. Downtrodden and depressed, she’s the one resetting the worlds, but it’s clear she has no confidence this one will be any different.

But oh, how wrong she is. This is what the previous 18 volumes have led to. Remember Higurashi is actually an adaptation of a game, where the player saw everyone make really, really horrible mistakes. And in this world, through the constant replays and reboots, they subconsciously learn from those mistakes, and make the right decisions. This is one of the more heartwarming parts of the volume. Seeing Keiichi give Mion the doll, seeing Shion treating Satoko like a little sister, Rena confessing that she got her dad help and a job… it’s great to see. And it has a wonderful capper, as who should show up in Hinamizawa but Akasasa. With his wife. Who is not dead. It’s pure happiness on a manga page.

And this is where hubris starts to hit Rika. After being so depressed for so long, seeing this is a world where everything is ‘perfect’ makes her a little too cocky. She goes to tell Tomitake and Takanao that they’re going to be killed… and they seem to believe her. She deliberately incites a gang to hit her… and it turns out she now has hidden bodyguards. So she gets the tiniest bit smug… and oh, does she ever pay for it. Because this is the Answer Arc for the MOST DEPRESSING ARC EVER, the Curse Killing Arc.

See, when Rena turned to Mion and confessed the difficulties she and her dad were having, Mion told her family. Who are yakuza. Who responded by simply quietly killing off Mamiya, the woman blackmailing Rena’s dad. And with Mamiya now dead… Satoko’s uncle has come back home. This leads to the most chilling image of the volume, Satoko with a huge bruise on her cheek and empty eyes. We only have one problem to solve in this world, but oh, it’s a doozy.

But remember, people are learning from their mistakes, mostly. So even though Shion backslides a little, murder for once ISN’T an option. Instead, they go to child services. Who suck. Horribly. So they go back, with their teacher and principal. And fail again. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall, mostly as Satoko refuses to admit that she is being abused. (Well, maybe murder isn’t an option as it’s being taken off the table… the first thing Rika does is go to Takano and ask that her hired goons take out Satoko’s uncle. She should know better.) And Ooishi, despite getting a nicer introduction than usual, is not helping at all with his usual elliptical warnings.

By the way, there’s still the matter of who is killing Rika. When this first started in GFantasy in 2009, the games were finished. As was the anime. 95% of the people reading this knew who the main villain was. So you see the author cheating a bit, with perhaps a few more creepy villainous smiles than might be warranted. More on this later. It isn’t called the Massacre Arc for nothing, after all.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in these first two volumes. I am pleased that Yen omnibused them. The next two aren’t out till December, but luckily we have Umineko in November. We switch from cicadas to seagulls… and also switch from a series searching for its happy ending to one where that may not even be an option.