Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 26

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

As the readers of Higurashi plowed their way through the series, they gradually began to notice that the protagonist was changing before their eyes. At the start, this looked like a typical datesim variant, albeit a dark one, and therefore Keiichi Maebara was clearly the hero. After all, in the visual novels he didn’t even have a sprite. But as we got deeper into the plot, we realized who was really the driving forced behind this: Rika Furude, the young shrine maiden who was the only person who could remember all the past worlds. Indeed, she seemed at times to be much older than her unstated tween age, having lived her life till getting killed June 1983 over and over again. The main series, being more concerned with figuring out why this was happening and how to stop it, rarely stopped to consider the psychological implications of this. This epilogue, the “Dice-Killing Arc”, is here to do that.

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The basic premise is simple enough: Rika, who is no longer threatened by impending death, becomes too careless when biking down a seldom-used hill and is struck by a truck. She wakes up in a world unlike all the others she’d been reliving over and over again. Keiichi isn’t here, Satoshi is alive, and so are her parents. In this new world, all the horrible things that happened in everyone’s pasts seem to have been avoided. It’s a “sinless world”… but is there a place for Rika in it? Can she return to the Higurashi world we know and love? And who is Rika Furude anyway?

As Ryukishi07 wrote this, he was also writing and planning his next series, Umineko: When They Cry, so it’s unsurprising that elements of that are seen in this. Most obvious is Rika feeling disassociated with her child self – she’s lived so many lives by now that she doesn’t feel like Rika Furude anymore, and when she makes the transition into this world she feels like she’s possessed the real Rika Furude. In a drunken stupor (we’ve seen Rika dilute wine and get drunk on it before, and she does here as well – be warned) she stares at the label on her father’s wine bottle and declares that her alternate self is actually Frederica Bernkastel.

As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, Rika’s mental state really takes a nosedive in this world. Satoko supposedly hates her and the others are mostly indifferent to her. Her parents are alive, but this doesn’t cheer her up – she simply regards them as nuisances. It all comes to a head when she’s sitting in class trying to work out how to return to her own world and Satoko decides to bully her a little too much – she snaps and punched Satoko, then starts to beat her over and over with a chair. “Fans” of Higurashi who saw this in the anime tended to be a little too happy over this scene, feeling Satoko “got what she deserved”. First of all, if you feel anyone in Higurashi gets what they deserved, stop following the series. Secondly, this scene is meant to be HORRIBLE. It’s preceded by a scene where Hanyuu (communicating with Rika via a relic) states that she may have to kill someone to get back to her world, and Rika hopes it’s her parents, as she has no attachment to them. It’s truly chilling.

What ends up happening, thankfully, is that Rika slowly understands this isn’t just her correct world and a “wrong” world, but two unique worlds with their own virtues. She starts to rebuild a relationship with her mother, who had always been upset at Rika seemingly knowing how to do things (due to the loops) and showing little affection; Rika also tries to remember what being a child who loves her parents was like in the first place. Likewise, Satoshi, Reina and the others help her to realize she can forge new bonds here, and maybe try to be friends with Satoko again. In the end, Rika makes the decision to stay in this world and not kill her mother…

A decision that turns out to perhaps be irrelevant, as she wakes up (after being in a coma for a month) back in the Higurashi world we know and love, with everything seemingly having been a “dream”. This ending is somewhat debated in Higurashi fandom, mostly as it’s implied it was a dream Hanyuu deliberately forced on Rika in order to get her to properly remember and grieve for her parents (and also possibly remind her not to bike into traffic). This would probably read better if Hanyuu had been better characterized throughout the series – we’re not even sure why she’s incorporeal again.

So not without its faults – there’s also a long expodump between Reina (who kept the i in this world) and Rika explaining the differences that’s almost painful – but it’s a story I’m happy we got, as it reminds us that even if there is a happy ending for everyone, lives still go on, and Rika has to make the decision to go forward at last, and not let herself be bound by her repeated loops and assumptions. I’m not sure if we’ll see more Higurashi manga after this (Daybreak and Bus Stop are still out there if Yen is interested), but as epilogues go, this is a fitting ending for the series.

Ani-Imo, Vol. 1

By Haruko Kurumatani. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Aria. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The inside color pages of this book helpfully reveal that the title is short for “Big Brother Becomes Little Sister, Little Sister Becomes Big Brother”, which should help to explain why Yen went for the shorter version. The author, Haruko Kurumatani, has bounced around the shoujo world for many years, usually in Shogakukan’s Shoujo Comic, but I believe this is her first North American license. A quick visit to a page listing her works might tell you why – they’re all riding the edge of what’s appropriate for that age group, and they all seem to focus on ‘forbidden’ passions, particularly between siblings. And that’s what we have here, even though the story makes it clear right away that they are only stepsiblings – in fact, that’s the discovery that drives the plot.

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But there’s a twist, as this isn’t just a romantic comedy about pseudo-incest, it’s also a bodyswap comedy. We meet our hero, Youta, as the older brother of a set of “twins”, and he’s the sort of over-the-top “I love my sister so much” type we’ve seen time and again in these sorts of manga. His sister Hikaru is another type, though they aren’t usually paired together – she’s introverted to the point where her mere presence terrifies her family, and seems a bit overattached to her brother, the only one who “gets” her. The twist is that when the stepsiblings reveal comes, Youta is the only one in the family who didn’t know about it… and Hikaru is horrified to find he really *does* only love her like a sister. She then runs off to get hit by a car, he tries to save her, they end up in the hospital, and well, yeah. Bodyswap.

If you’re thinking this sounds out of place in a shoujo manga, you’re not alone, but pseudo-incest in shoujo has been around forever – anyone remember Marmalade Boy? – and Aria is somewhat ‘edgy’ for a shoujo title. In any case, that’s all in Chapter 1, and the rest of the volume is the fallout from what turns out to be the actual big reveal: Hikaru, now in Youta’s body, doesn’t want to switch back, really wants to have sex with her “sister”, and is something of a sadist (in other words, Youta’s personality now matches the character design he’s gotten). He’s helped along by a somewhat perverse doctor (who reminds me of the doctor from Excel Saga in some ways) and the girl in school that Youta always had a crush on, who turns out to be sadistic as well – and gay, with designs on Hikaru’s body. (The character design is also worth noting – the girls look extra young, appearing to be in elementary school even though they’re all high schoolers.)

How much you like this depends on how much you like comedy with overtones of creepy humiliation. I won’t deny there are a few situations here where the sheer ridiculousness of what was happening made me smile, but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that everyone in the book bar Youta was terrible – and Youta’s a siscon! (I was highly amused at the girls in school noting he’s attractive and nice, and they all just avoided him as his obsession with his sister was beyond creepy.) Take these terrible people and turn them loose in a manga which once again has the offputting “once siblings find out they’re not related, it’s totally OK for them to bang” vibe and you have, oddly, a shoujo manga that I would only recommend to young men who like this sort of vaguely sexual comedy.

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Vols. 1-2

By Satoshi Mizukami. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialized in the magazine Young King Ours. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

(This review contains spoilers.)

I reviewed the first half (i.e., Volume 1) of this series when it was digitally released by JManga a while back, but want to revisit it. It’s a new translation, and we get the addition of the 2nd volume, where things start getting a lot more serious. But also it’s a story that really holds up well when you reread it. What appears to be a standard story of superheroes uniting to defend the planet has a lot more going on under the hood, and you wonder if our hero and heroine are actually the least trustworthy people in the entire book… or if they’re just angsty teenagers dealing with life for the first time.

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Yuuhi is a really fascinating and messed up character. The second time around I wasn’t as fond of the resolution of his past childhood traumas, which seemed a bit too pat to me, but then that was the point – Yuuhi was so angry that all the hardships he grew up with that twisted him into what he currently is could be resolved without his input or presence. He’s clever and calculating, and has latched onto Samidare in order to gain a tether he lost when his grandfather apologized, but there’s also a lack of an emotional center in the young man, something the series will slowly draw out of him, starting with the shocking events at the end of the first omnibus.

Biscuit Hammer is hardly the first series to introduce an amazingly cool and competent cast member and then kill them off – it’s actually a very common Japanese trope – but all the beats are handled well, including his nascent romance with Samidare’s sister (who is fantastic throughout) and the mere fact that he’s so powerful – he’s a giant threat to Yuuhi’s plans of world destruction, and thus his death settles on Yuuhi like a giant ball of guilt (with, of course, perfect timing in his younger brother immediately showing up). For the audience, the death of Hangetsu lets us know this series is going to be more seinen than shonen, and that we shouldn’t get too attached to our main cast.

As for Samidare herself, she’s just as screwed up as Yuuhi, but in a more extroverted way. Fatalistic due to her illness and its remission while she has powers, she’s determined to make the most of her short life, and one of the best (and most chilling) moments in the book is when she turns to Yuuhi, smiling, and asks him to die with her. It’s especially chilling as she’s such a great person otherwise – gung ho, cheerful, smart – and you can absolutely see why Yuuhi has started to fall for her.

There’s a lot more to discuss, such as the fact that the Yuuhi and Samidare that show up in dreams seem to be entirely different characters to their waking selves, or the suffering that is Noi’s daily life, where he deals with the fact that a talking lizard is the only sane character in this series – but again, that’s the beauty of a series like this. It has enough complexity to reward a reader more than just on a first read through. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more Knights in the next omnibus, and that makes me happy. Enjoy this twisted take on superheroes saving the Earth.