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Title: collectively Higurashi When They Cry (Higurashi no Naki Koro ni)

Format: Manga                        Writer: Ryukishi07      Licensed by: Yen Press

Artists: Karin Suzuragi, Yutori Hojo, Jiro Suzuki, Yoshiki Tonogai, Hanase Momoyama, and Rechi Kazuki,

Volumes: 23/30 main series (depending on how you count); 8 bonus (5 translated) *I consider Dice Killing and Beyond Midnight bonus chapters

 

A quick foreword. While this review avoids spoiling any late series plot points, I do give my thoughts on the second half of the series. Because of the nature of Higurashi as a mystery story, it is best to watch it with absolutely no presumptions of impressions going in. So, if you have any interest in horror/mystery/supernatural anime, and haven’t looked at Higurashi before, I highly recommend you wait a few month for Sentai Filmworks to rerelease the original anime series, and watch that first. If you’ve already seen that and want to know about the second half or the manga, then continue reading.

This was supposed to the final instalment of This Week On Higurashi, but I realized that that would just amount to me writing about how the series fell so far downhill that it went subaquatic, and how the ending landed somewhere in a hadopelagic trench. So instead I took a deep breath, calmed down, and decided to write about how this series fell so far downhill it went subaquatic, and how the ending landed somewhere in a hadopelagic trench. Today on The Anime Harvest, a review of this god awful manga!

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It’s not fair to put the blame here solely on the manga. Higurashi When They Cry was originally a series of amateur Japanese sound novels that gained attention after the release of the fifth chapter in late 2004. The series spawned a ton of adaptations, including this manga, but from what I understand they all follow the same basic story. Protagonist and anime teenage boy, Keichi Maebara, moves into the small mountain village of Hinamizawa, where nothing much happens. In Hinamizawa, the air is fresher, people are friendlier, and the many hours spent with friends are more fun! Keichi spends his days playing games with the caring and only somewhat kidnapping prone Rena Ryugu, the competitive Mion Sonozaki, the mischievous little Satoko Hojo, and the village’s pride and joy, Rika Furude. The only thing that could ruin his good time was if people started mysteriously dying or something. Then people start mysteriously dying.

-Hinamizawa Village, June 17th 1979: An altercation between workers at the Hinaizawa dam project breaks out into a deadly fight. The project foreman is discovered dead, but his right arm and one of the workers are never found.

-June 15th, 1980: Supporters of the Hinamizawa dam project, Mr. and Mrs. Hojo, fall from a cliff while on vacation. Mr. Hojo’s body is found dead, but Mrs. Hojo is never discovered. She’s pronounced dead a year later.

-June 21st, 1981: The curse strikes for the third year in a row. Mr. Furude is found dead of a mysterious illness, and his wife has gone missing, presumed suicidal. A note and her shoes are found at the edge of Onigafuchi Swamp. The Furude’s were complicate in the Hinamizawa dam project.

-June 20th, 1982: Teppie Hojo (brother of the Hojo who died two years earlier) finds his wife’s body beaten to death. Police suspect his nephew, Satoshi, but a few days later Satoshi disappears.

In what has come to be known as Oyashiro-sama’s Curse, every year for the past four years one person has been killed and one person has disappeared on the night of Hinamizawa’s sacred Cotton Drifting Festival. The Cotton Drifting Festival is meant to honour the villages local diety, Oyashiro-sama, who is said to have brought peace between the humans and demons who shared the village long ago. The humans and demons are said to have lived together, and even bore children together, meaning that demon blood still runs through the villagers’ veins.

Keichi moves to Hinamizawa sometime in early 1983, before the fifth year’s curse strikes. But when he finds out about the horrors and history of the village, and finds out that one of last year’s victims used to sit at his desk and play with his friends, Keichi starts wondering why Rena and Mion are keeping secrets from him. The unsettling air of Hinamizawa slowly shapes his anxiety into maddening paranoia, which drives him to beat both of the girls to death with Satoshi’s old baseball bat, then claw out his own throat.

Now, that may seem like a bit of a spoiler- it’s kinda hard for a story to carry on once the main character is dead- but that’s just what’s so intriguing about Higurashi. After a story arc is finished, time resets back a few months. Events then play out similarly, but slightly different in each story; a different person goes insane, and different people are killed. Because there is no consequence to who lives and who dies in any given arc, you never know what’s going to happen. The story can go all out with violent deaths and psychotic rampages, and as a Lynn Okamoto fan that’s A-OK with me.

Because of the lack of consequence, rather than getting invested in the characters, Higurashi sells itself on the mystery. Who, if anyone, is ultimately behind these murders? Why does someone go insane in every world? How did this happen? Why did that happen? Each world adds to the number of mysteries and clues, but the characters themselves only have one world at a time to piece them together in. It’s a great set-up for an audience who wants to solve the mystery, and that’s why it became so popular.

After the release of the fifth chapter of the sound novel, the popularity spawned a manga series, then light novels, then drama CDs, then a two season anime, followed by another anime, novels, live-action films, OVAs, and even a fighting game. Most Western fans, however, are probably only familiar with the first anime, which only covers half the story. That series went through some licensing hell, sold poorly and almost didn’t get released, while the second season ran into some real-world controversy in Japan and for a long time no North American company would touch it. But earlier this year Sentai Filmworks picked up both licenses.

Because most Western fans only saw up to the sixth arc, Atonement, they left the series at its peak, where the exciting, violent chaos of each world was still going on, and there were plenty of mysteries and clues for the curious mind to play with. So Higurashi got a reputation among English speaking fans as a great mystery, horror, and supernatural anime. Unfortunately, things fell apart in the second half.

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Before we go over the horrific train derailment of this ending, let’s get some checklist items out of the way, starting with the most checklist-y of manga review sections, the art. Higurashi is an unusual beast. It’s drawn by six different artists, which, you might think, would make it look like an unfocused mess. But, surprisingly, the consistency of the art is actually very impressive. Each artist will do an entire arc, not just chapters or volumes, so they never had to actually collaborate, just stick close to the pre-established character designs.

The original character art in the visual novels were drawn by series creator Ryukishi07, and they kinda sucked. So, as far as I’ve been able to find, the first professional quality official art for the franchise came from the first artist to work on the manga, Karin Suzuragi. She worked on three arcs throughout the series, including the longest one by far, the Festival Accompanying Arc, making her the closest thing Higurashi has to a lead artist, and my favourite of the bunch. The other artists all stick fairly close to Suzuragi’s designs, except Hinase Momoyama, who changed the characters Rena and Shion a little bit for the 8th arc. Also, Mion and Shion’s bust sizes seem to change at random, even within a single page, so that’s amusing. It’s clear every artist had fun with their parts, and the art serves its purpose.

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As for the characters, well I’ve already said pretty much everything that needs to be said about them. At least, everything that wouldn’t spoil at least one arc. They all come off as a normal bunch of anime friends. Rena is hyperactive and likes “kyute” things (which somehow includes a Colonel Sanders statue). Mion is a competitive tomboy with a big heart. Her twin sister, Shion, is a lady with a sense of humour, who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Satoko is a prankster who can dish it out but can’t take it. And Rika is a very sweet little girl. I can’t go into more detail than that, but they are all very broken in some way.

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Okay, now the meat of this review. Higurashi’s second half sucks. The final arcs did two key things wrong. First, they broke away from the set-up. Up to and including Atonement, the series weaves a compelling mystery; the village of Hinamizawa forms a neat closed circle, almost all of the clues are tiny details with big repercussions, and the balance between straightforward and supernatural elements constantly keeps the reader on edge and second guessing themselves. But right after Atonement the story breaks from the closed circle and everything is explained using characters, methods, and motives that the reader couldn’t have known about.

When you are deeply invested in a mystery, like, oh I don’t know, to the point where you’ve written over 50,000 words trying to piece it together, finding out that the answer has almost nothing to do with the clues you were given might just piss you off a tiny bit. It is one of the most frustrating things a piece of fiction can do to its audience, and the explanation given isn’t even that good. Because of it, the whole backstory of the Hinamizawa dam project makes no sense.

The second mistake the ending made was, well, the ending. Now, with a premise like Higurashi’s, it’s almost impossible to make a satisfying ending. It has to somehow have the characters escape the repeated cycle, otherwise no one will really consider it an ending, but that means at some point real consequences have to enter the story. When you’ve gotten used to seeing half the cast get killed off every couple chapters, it’s hard to suddenly start considering any threat to their lives a big deal. The best way to handle this would be to do it quickly, like a Band-Aid; make the final, cycle breaking arc the shortest, and deliver a satisfying, mystery solving conclusion. The characters themselves don’t even have to solve the mystery, just the audience.

But Higurashi’s finale is terribly slow. The final arc is by far the longest, taking up eight volumes while most other took two or four. And I guess the manga tried to ease the audience into this with the arc just before it, where one character kept repeating that they totally don’t get any more do-overs, even though they did. Throughout that length, it has to start holding back the violence and death, but also ramping up the action. The result is a mixture of one of those cheap Home Alone rip-offs, and gunfights that look like they’re being fought with water pistols. It is dull, and disappointing, and drags on and on and on up to a completely dissatisfying ending about the powers of friendship and how just believing hard enough can make miracles. Bleck

So, is Higurashi good or bad? It’s surprisingly hard to say. The question comes down to whether a terrible second half can ruin a great first half. Does a bad ending outweigh a good premise? For me, that was answered as soon as I started watching the second anime series, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, and right from the opening sequence was reminded that, even knowing how it ends, I loved the experience of Higurashi, even if I have mixed feelings of the series itself now.

My recommendation is not to read this manga, but watch the first series of the anime instead. While it’s not available by any legal streaming service that I know of, and copies of the original Geneon release are crazy expensive these days, Sentai Filmworks has announced that they will rerelease the series in March of 2016. It’s cheaper than collecting the manga, and while the animation is unimpressive even for 2007, the art style and music bring a lot to this story. If you like it, and do decide to go through with watching the second half as well, I hope you will find solace in the fact that, for fans who know the whole story, some of the OVAs are really damn good.

Updated translations of the original visual novel are also slowly being released on Steam by Manga Gamer, but I wouldn’t recommend them, at least not for a first look at the series. Their writing drags on a lot, and it will probably be a few years until the full series is available.

If you are still interested in Are reading the manga, I recommend reading the main series arcs in release order. But, if you are also reading the spin-off arcs, read Beyond Midnight and Demon Exposing between Time Killing and Eye Opening, and read Dice Killing at the very end. Hopefully, with that, you should get the most out of the experience

Don’t Lose Your Way

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