Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 18

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.

This is a revelatory volume of Higurashi, both in the way that it wraps up the plotline with Rena and Keiichi, and in the way that it affects Rika, who is turning out to be the real star of the series. Of course, we have a ways to get there. First off, we deal with Rena’s continuing slide into madness, which culminates in her holding the entire school hostage and dousing it with gasoline. (Thank heavens this isn’t Naruto-level popular, I have to say, or the censors might wake.)

There’s not as much creeping paranoid horror as there was in the previous three volumes, mostly because Rena’s all the way there. That said, there are some impressive visuals from artist Karin Suzuragi. The way the panels and pages are set up and flow from one to another is very well done, and there’s lots of ‘turn the page and be shocked’ moments, particularly when Keiichi realizes he’s been tricked with the fake bomb. And, of course, Rena’s ‘Higurashi faces’ are impressive as well, though the best and most terrifying of those is at the end of the next arc.

Rika had mentioned last time that it was too late to save this world, but Keiichi is trying to make her realize that it’s not just about ‘how do I avoid getting disemboweled’ but about trying to prevent the little tragedies. She was already stunned that he remembered a previous world where he was the instigator. Now, in teaming up with Keiichi and Satoko to stop Rena, she decides after so long to try to stop fate even if it is impossible. (I love her cynical face as she faces off against Rena – we’re seeing more and more of the Rika that remembers every single go-round, and must be far older than 10 years old.) Incidentally, when Rika tells Keiichi that last time she didn’t try hard enough and Rena succeeded? We’ve seen that world too, in the Beyond Midnight arc.

Satoko is also impressive here, and it’s nice to see an arc where she’s less physically and mentally abused. Mion also gets a fantastic moment at the very start of the volume, reminding you that she is indeed the heir to a huge yakuza family and has no intention of doing anything else when she grows up. Mostly, however, she is the abused one in this volume, getting the blunt end of Rena’s billhook to the head in a mistaken belief that her family is behind everything that’s happened for the last few hundred years. In the end, though, this is about Rena and Keiichi.

There really aren’t as many “ship wars” as you’d expect from a harem series in Higurashi fandom. Partly as it ends up being about friendship, partly as little is resolved one way or the other. Keiichi/Rena fans, however, can be happy that the most shippy of their arcs was adapted for manga – Keiichi/Mion fans have to say “But hey, we got the PS2 arc!”. It will be hard to top this, though. The fight on the roof is fantastic, the best Keiichi has ever been, showing him finally breaking through to Rena not by pleading and making sense, but by the game they started with. This arc has been very cyclical, with Keiichi’s need to atone going back to the first arc. Now we end as we began, with a battle between friends – only instead of water, they have lethal weapons in their hands. But lethal weapons are only lethal if they’re used.

Rena’s been very clever through this volume – she’s one of the smartest in the cast, and implied, like Keiichi, to be playing stupid much of the time. But perhaps her finest hour is being able to break through the madness that has gripped every antagonist in this series to date, before killing him. Keiichi realizes how amazing this is, praising her for it in text. By distracting her with the roof battle “game”, he was able to remind her of the fun they all had – and also of her love for Keiichi, and his love for her. They both seem to know it’s not to be – there’s still a certain fatalism here – but Rena cries, and repents her earlier actions. She’s no longer crazy.

And so this arc ends, with the schoolchildren safe, Keiichi and Mion alive, Rena sane, and a final speech by Rika and Keiichi about finding the strength to fight fate, and that they’ll kick back against it as many times as they have to. Which is good, as after this happy ending (the chapter is called “Happy Rena”, anotehr cyclical bookend), we turn the page… and the whole village is dead again. Yes, we’ve managed to resolve Rena’s issues, but Rena was never the one who was disemboweling Rika on an altar, and the main villain is still unknown (though I can hazard a guess). The manga actually makes our irritation at another bad end explicit, with “The End” appearing 25 pages early, and then someone (Bernkastel?) chiding us for ruining the happy ending by turning the page. And so we’re left with Akasaka, 25 years later, wondering what could have stopped this horrific tragedy.

Overall, this arc was one of the best of the series, especially for fans of Rena, its iconic character. Higurashi now takes a summer break, but Yen Press will return in September with what I’m sure will be the final arc in the series, in which everyone lives happily ever after.

After all, how could the “Massacre Arc” possibly be bad?

Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 17

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.

I will admit, very little happens in this volume of Higurashi, at least in terms of actual events. Rena’s paranoia grows, the others realize just how far she’s gone, and they resolve to save her. That’s about it, along with one other revelation. But that said, this was a fantastic volume of Higurashi, mostly as it rewards the readers who have been following along with the first volume.

We haven’t quite seen Higurashi get as ‘conspiracy happy’ as it does here, and that’s mostly due to the choice of protagonists. Keiichi was the newcomer, so his paranoia was stemming from not knowing his new friends well enough. As for Shion, everything about her revolved around Satoshi, making her manipulable in that sense. Rena, though, has already killed and is well on her way to the madness we’ve seen before. So it’s time to break out the silly guns. Yes, we get ‘aliens are causing it all’, along with ‘it’s a parasite burrowing into people’ and ‘my dead friends have been replaced with exact duplicates’ as well. Sadly, not only are many of those actual common diagnoses with folks who have paranoia, but several of them might be true. We’re still not sure what’s actually causing everything. And now we find that one of the series’ perennial corpses – Takano Miyo, the sleepy-eyed nurse – may have been dead 24 hours before she was supposed to have died.

So Rena’s not doing very well, and Keiichi, the one person she can trust, immediately goes and tells Moin about this. From Rena’s perspective, it’s the worst kind of betrayal. From *our* perspective, we’re cheering. At last, we’ve stopped distrusting our best friends! And true to form, Mion is able to put his mind at ease and also help start a search for Rena, who’s gone missing. Rena is, of course, hiding from everyone who is plotting to kill her – i.e. everyone. And unfortunately, the one to run into her first is Rika. We’ve gradually become aware that Rika can remember the previous iterations of this manga, and would appear to be very different from the small child she appears to be. She’s never been quite so bleak and uncaring as she is here, though. Some of what we see is clearly Rena’s ‘paranoia-vision’, but some of it is clearly a person who is exhausted and has just given up – and who has seen a bit too much of the nasty side of humanity. Rika’s cynicism here is the opposite of what we want to see in Higurashi, which makes it heartbreaking.

(She’s also drinking wine as well, which can’t be good for her. And talking to an offscreen voice we can’t see.)

After this, Keiichi tracks down Rena, but she’s prepared for him. She reveals Keiichi’s past to us. Given that everyone else in the manga has a tortured, tragic past, it makes sense that Keiichi would have one as well – it’s not as bad as the others, but it definitely shows us why he might be the way he is, and why he’s so tolerable of the girl’s goofy antics at his expense. And given that, like Keiichi, Rena has also shown signs of being very intelligent but hiding it under a mask of goofy, it helps to connect them even closer. If Rena wasn’t driving him away, that is.

So a guilt-ridden Keiichi confesses what he did before he moved to Hinamizawa to his other friends. And they’re OK with it, forgiving him, noting they were all little brats as well, and pointing out that being friends doesn’t mean telling everyone every aspect of your lives. It was good to hear that, especially from a comedy-horror manga. Then, just as Keiichi is coming to accept their forgiveness… he remembers the events of Book 2. Remember Book 2? The first arc? Seeing a shot of Mion’s head getting beaten in with a bat, especially as we weren’t expecting the flashback, is very startling. and now Keiichi’s in even worse shape. He thought he just had to be forgiven for his own past – now he has to atone for the other Keiichis as well!

Rika’s the one to notice the big thing, though – Keiichi REMEMBERS ANOTHER ARC! She even calls this an impossible miracle, noting that she’s the only one who remembers them. That said, it’s to Keiichi’s credit that this doesn’t turn him into a gibbering heap – remembering Rena desperately trying to save him (and it was terrific, if horrifying, seeing the events of the first arc as they actually happened – with Keiichi’s paranoia fueling his murders) makes him even more determined to avoid her going through the same thing. Even better, this actually galvanizes Rika. She notes that this world is beyond saving – this isn’t the last arc – but decides to help Keiichi anyway, as Rena is her friend and it’s the right thing to do.

So everyone’s forgiven everyone – except for Rena, who’s scratching at her bloody throat and getting out her billhook to prepare to kill everyone in the village in order to save them. (Something, notably, she and Keiichi had regarded as ridiculously stupid at the very start of this volume.) Will Keiichi be able to stop her madness? The previous evidence suggests the answer is no, but who knows? One more volume to go to find out.

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?