Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni

I wanted to know what’s outside the well.
So I tried to claw my way up from there.

I wanted to know what’s outside the well.
So I continued to climb even when I fell and injured myself.

I finally realize.
The higher I climb, the more pain I feel when I fall.

When my curiosity toward the world and my physical pain became equal……
I finally understood the meaning of the frog in the well.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni takes place during June 1983, at a fictional rural village called Hinamizawa, which has a population of approximately 2000. The main character, Keiichi Maebara, moves to Hinamizawa and befriends his new classmates Rena Ryugu, Mion Sonozaki, Rika Furude, and Satoko Hojo.) Hinamizawa appears to be a normal, peaceful, rural village to Keiichi.
 
 
Keiichi himself soon becomes drawn into the strange events surrounding the Watanagashi Festival, Oyashiro-sama, and the mysteries of the village. While it seems impossible to tell delusions apart from the mystery of Hinamizawa, slowly the truth is revealed.
* This review covers the entire story – Kai included. Needless to say, spoilers abound.
 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous entry, I would be reluctant to call myself a fan of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. Out of everything which I grew out to dislike about it, I would say that the fanbase had the largest impact on me. I went from mildly enjoying the series upon its airing, to absolutely detesting and vigorously slating it whenever the chance arose until several months ago. I became that enraged. But it does happen to the best of us. We begin liking series X, loving it even and take to discussing it with other like-minded individuals. A sense of camaraderie is formed, and you all have your own inside jokes and memes that come with a relatively popular series (Casey and friends, anyone?). But then, you come to love another series even more. Series Y is new, exciting, and is the next best thing. You’re eagerly participating in every discussion, tracking down episodes as they air. You steadily begin to forget about one of the series you used to like so much, series X.

And soon you lose sight of series Y. And many more series come along which you begin to like even more. It has happened to us all. One day (it could be months, or even years later), you realize something about series X. Something which would annoy you incredibly so, which would make you want to feverishly discuss how much much it irked you. Then other things come to light about the series, and you wonder why you even liked it in the first place. It could have been a glaring plot inconsistency, sloppy characterization, downright ugly art, whatever. Either way you start beginning to hate absolutely everything about the series you once treasured so dearly and frankly, you can’t see yourself ever caring about the series again.

So what caused me to finally stop hating series X? Or, even having a go at reading the accompanying visual novels? To be honest, I’m not all too sure. I probably just wanted to give the series one more chance, to let it tell its story once again. After all, purely going by what a hastily constructed adaptation had to offer wouldn’t be fair. I have nothing but contempt for Umineko’s anime adaptation after all (I mean, eh, what Umineko anime?), but do adore the source material. Would it be the same case here? Would I come out of Higurashi once again singing its praises? I wasn’t sure, but I set about fairly reading it, taking my second journey to the mysterious village of Hinamizawa.

Even for those who haven’t watched/read Higurashi, they have mostly likely heard of it, somehow. Whether they’ve seen a gif of a torture scene, a parody image of  Rena’s fingers and face being seen through Keiichi’s front door (reminiscent of The Shining’s ‘HEEEERE’S JOHNNY!’ moment), or have seen parts of it crudely spliced into some fourteen year old’s AMV, they know of it. It’s one of those series that gain recognition for all of the wrong reasons. When most people think of Higurashi, they think of badly animated bobble headed KILLER LOLIS!!!111 XD. And it’s frustrating that most people can only think that when the series comes up. It’s more than that, and Ryukishi would surely frown at anyone who thinks that his series is just that. After all, during an answer arc he wrote how killing was wrong, and not a solution. At its core, Higurashi is a story about learning to trust and rely on other people, and how it’s impossible to do things on your own without the help of someone else.

Without others, you’re in isolation, whereas it’s something that just happened or self-induced. You begin to doubt others and lose sight of the more important things. Takano Hifumi became so engrossed in his research that he became estranged from his wife and family, going so far as to not include any of them in his will. Takano Miyo had learned the skills to socialize and make connections (if only artificially), but she too eventually came to the realization that she was all alone. In Minagoroshi-hen, instead of murdering Rina like she did two arcs prior, she rang Mion asking her for advice on what she should do, essentially changing her fate. Rena avoided a tragedy, only by relying on other people and letting them into her world. Rika was almost like a martyr in the way she carried everyone’s worries on her back, along with Hanyuu, for a hundred years without fully relying on anyone else. She only came to the realization in the sixth chapter that she simply could not work on her own. Although, Ryukishi himself admits at the end of Matsuribayashi-hen that although the power of friendship is a bit idealistic in the real world, in the world of Higurashi it’s something that can transcend tragedy and fate.

Not being one who is easily ruffled, Higurashi made me feel truly appalled and horrified a total of two times. But it wasn’t because of a desperate Shion giving us a vivid description of her nails being ripped off, nor was it Rena practically ripping her neck apart believing that maggots were in her blood. At the end of Minagoroshi-hen, there’s an inhumane, callous scene which involves the entire village of Hinamizawa. It was a combination of government officials casually discussing it, the villagers being essentially lied to, while an almost religious sounding BGM played amidst a massacre which would make you put your hand over your mouth in distress. It’s probably the most disturbing scene in the entire series, but of course others would most likely find something else more dreadful. Takano’s life in the orphanage at the beginning of Matsuribayashi was also difficult to read through. It ties in with a being place that’s supposed to be a safe haven where people are welcome, to actually being the complete opposite of that. The terror that Miyo felt there was suffocating. I myself felt dread when Miyo was telling the readers about what happened to a boy who got caught when he tried to run away… He was playing in the boiler room, and ‘slipped’, putting an end to his life. There was something so sinister about the way it was said, along with the circumstances and music playing that you couldn’t help but be skeptical about how he actually died.

While watching the anime, I don’t think that I thought much, or even cared about Takano. Not enough to stir up any especially potent feelings. But by the time the eighth arc started I began to sympathize with her. The Hinamizawa Syndrome also took on a whole new layer, and I felt empathy for the people who had the disease. It wasn’t just a disease which OMG TURNED PEOPLE KERAZAYY!!111, it was something horrific and tragic which broke up families, and destroyed people’s minds. The mild mannered, meek, and sacrificing Satoshi had thoughts about slapping Satoko and leaving her to the mercy of their aunt – something that Satoshi never would have usually thought.

At times the story will take a decidedly odd shift. Here I’m not referring to the slice-of-life club hijinks twisting into a tragic tale involving blood and dismemberments, but sometimes it seems like I’m reading completely different genres. We have elements of political thrillers, high action cop films, heated mahjong battles, and everything in between. It can be quite confusing at times, and would only make you click the text forward faster, waiting for the normality to resume. For example, in the penultimate episode we had a ridiculously random mahjong game, which I felt puzzled over.

I may have complained about the music during the question arcs (mostly comprised of awkward throwaway 8-bit BGMs), but the music has taken a step up during Kai, bringing the talented dai on board to create fitting tracks reminiscent of the spectacular soundtrack we hear in Umineko. ‘you -destructive’ plays during a powerful moment for Takano, where she decides to take fate into her own hands, and works hard at becoming an elite to continue her beloved grandfather’s research, after witnessing the papers he worked himself to exhaustion over all his life being stepped on by careless officials. zts’ ‘soak’ is a token creepy track, which mostly plays during those eerie moments you’d come to expect during the series.

I particularly liked propan_mode’s ‘Sheep counts’, which you’d first notice when Rena decides to let Keiichi into her world, and tells him in strict confidentiality about Takano’s scrapbooks. dai’s ‘conviction’ is one of those BGMs which will make you feel twice as emotional no matter what scene it’s played in- it’s one of those repulsively poignant tracks. Similar to Umineko with ‘hope’, Higurashi’s leitmotif is ‘you’, and you can bet that you’ll be hearing instrumental versions of it often enough. Chances are that you’ve heard the vocal version of the song before, even if you aren’t a fan of the series – it’s a part of the famous Nico Nico Douga melody. If you’re playing Mangagamer’s translation, I’d advise you to download Higurashi Fix wikia’s fantastic music patches, since there were some music licensing difficulties with MG’s edition and they weren’t able to feature a lot of great tracks which only enhance the experience.

While I’m a fan of Ryukishi’s Umineko sprites, I ultimately decided to use the graphics patch (sprites/backgrounds which were ripped from Matsuri). The hands and eyes, while charming, were honestly too much for me. And with the option of having clean and updated graphics, I imagine that a lot of people had the same idea. And if people are able to rip the sprites from Umineko’s PS3 remake, then I imagine that most people will go with that fresh looking art, too. Of course it loses most of the original feelings, but some people are… fine with that. The updated character sprites are nothing revolutionary. They’re not even that visually appealing. They’re… fine. The artist is not one for drawing expressions, I’ll give them that. Every face looks the same, especially on the girls. The number of expressions each character has is minimal, and you’ll get tired of Mion giving you the thumbs up pretty quick. Having said that, Rika’s ‘mature’ face did catch me off guard.

There also aren’t a lot of character sprites for characters in general – definitely a change compared to Umineko where almost every named character has a sprite. There’s also the annoying problem of having a character being mentioned and spoken to in one arc without a sprite, and having them show up with one in another. Examples of this are Ciel-sensei, Okonogi, Teppei, and Akasaka. It wouldn’t have killed Ryukishi to have added a few more sprites, for characters like the fearsome Oryou, the gentle Kimiyoshi, or Oishi’s assistant, Kuma-chan. When narrowing down suspects in a village, the player could easily deduce that it has to be someone with a sprite.

I’m not sure if I’ll give Rei a read or not, considering the OVAs came out not that long ago so they’re still fresh on my mind. 2/3rds of, from what I recall, are silly fanservicey material which really have no place in the story (the thought of reading through endless paragraphs describing swimsuits or majong battles would most likely give me an awful headache). The one arc that I’d actually be interested in is the alternate world one, where Rika wakes up in a world where Keiichi never arrived. As Rika said herself throughout the story, Keiichi is the key piece to changing their world, and the times that he never showed were very unfortunate ones. If I were to read Rei, or even just that one arc, you can be sure that a follow up review will come.

If you’re from the abhorrent OMG KILLER RORIS!!111 XD <333 brigade and are looking into reading this, then by all means, go right ahead… But if your main interest in this series lies in just that, then this is most likely not for you. There are no exaggerated crazyfaces here, or sudden bursts of ‘USO DA!’. The dismembered corpses can’t be seen, and the pace is slow, almost certain to turn you off. It’s a long series that requires time (I’ve been reading the entire series on and off for roughly a year now), and for you to think things through properly. If you really want to soak up what this series has to offer, then I recommend that you take a break after every arc, open up notepad and type down any observations or theories you may have. Even if you’ve already seen the anime a few years ago and know everything that’s going to happen, it doesn’t hurt to give your mind a workout. For example, while reading through this I forgot many of the finer details, and was completely absorbed in reading about plot points which I don’t think were even in the anime (were Keiichi’s parents even seen once? what about Irie’s venture into psychosurgery?). So, yes. Even if you’ve seen the anime, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look. Or if you haven’t even started the series yet, then even better. You can’t go wrong with this.

Company; 07th Expansion
Translation; MangaGamer
Release Date; Question Arcs ; August 10th, 2002 -> August 13th, 2004
Answer Arcs; December 30th 2004 -> August 13th, 2006
Genres; psychological thriller, mystery, horror
Links; officialVNDBwiki

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