Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 04 – Chin Up

After his last encounter with Rena, Keiichi is hesitant to return to class. How can he pretend everything’s normal and peachy after what she said, and after his nightmares of her watching him through the door? He tries to feign a fever, but the only clinic in town is suspiciously undergoing “remodeling”, so he heads to school, where things were always going to be awkward.

Rika takes Keiichi aside at lunch, in a scene where I thought maybe our blue-haired time-looping shrine maiden will offer some kind of assistance to our lad. Nope, she just gaslights him, saying if he thinks something’s wrong with Rena, it’s only because there’s probably something wrong with him. Keiichi tries to follow her advice to keep his chin up and “win”, but I’m wondering why she couldn’t say more. Is Rika simply resigned to the events that follow?

When Keiichi comes home to an empty house, as both parents were called away to Tokyo for work, completing the perfect horror story scenario when Rena comes to his door with food for dinner and there’s a voice inside telling him it’s a really bad idea to let her in. Both Rika’s words and Rena’s sweet talk finally persuade him to grant her access, but her giant stack of bento trays don’t contain food, but the tools of murder.

Compulsively scratching her neck bloody, Rena brandishes a knife and declares that in order to “protect her dad” she must kill Keiichi, then get demoned away and disappear. Then she enters a sort of fugue state of homicidal mania, rushing at Keiichi with the knife. When he strikes back, she plays dead, and when he draws in close, she stabs him dozens of times in the gut. Keiichi grabs a clock radio, but no matter how many times he smacks her in the head, she keeps stabbing and laughing maniacally.

I cannot underscore how unsettling and horrific this scene is, or how perfectly the tension was set up until all hell broke loose. Rena, apparently under the influence of Oyashiro’s curse, is legitimately terrifying, and I really felt Keiichi’s terror at what both what she was doing and what he was doing to try to stop her.

After a brief glimpse of the aftermath, with both Keiichi and Rena lying in a huge pool of blood, Keiichi wakes up in a hospital bed, first to his worried parents, then to Ooishi, and finally to Mion, who comes with a fruit basket and bad news: Rena couldn’t be saved, while Rika and Satoko were found dead in their home, apparently the victims of a robbery gone wrong or even suicide.

But with the next episode preview marking the start of a new arc, I imagine Rika had to die, since this was another instance where she wasn’t able to prevent the bloodbath that happened. Will events reset back to the start, before Keiichi started having suspicions about Rena and the town?  Or will we get a taste of Keiichi’s life post-Rena/Rika/Satoko, in which he is now suffering from an itchy throat that could indicate he has the curse? All I can tell you is I’m fully on board for this sinister, bloody ride.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 03 – Floating Cotton and Questions

After watching Rika’s dance, Rena shows Keiichi how to perform the cotton-drifting ritual on the river to honor Hikamizawa’s local deity, Oyashiro-sama. Then she heads off on her own, and Keiichi spots Tomitake talking with a blonde woman. He doesn’t interrupt in case it’s something romantic, but we see that Rena is staring them down from the woods.

The next day Keiichi is called out of class to meet with Ooishi, a prefectural detective investigating the recent disappearance of both Tokitake and the woman, Takano. Turns every year out of the last four, people have died from what the locals believe to be Oyashiro’s curse on the day of the festival. He asks Keiichi to keep his eyes and ears open and to report anything strange that happens.

The next day, June 21, Keiichi does just that, overhearing Mion and Rena talking about Tokitake’s disappearance and whether he was “demoned away”. He and Ooishi go to a cosplay cafe, where the detective tellls him the village believes in a form of spiriting away involving demons—not those of hell but the kind that eat people alive. Every year, someone falls victim to the curse and someone is demoned away.

While walking with Rena on the afternoon of the 22nd, Keiichi tries to pry further into what she and the others might be hiding with him, and her cheerful personality drops and turns the accusations on him. Accusing him of lying and hiding things she witnessed him doing, including hiding the magazine at the junkyard and talking with a random stranger. She eventually returns to “normal”, telling Keiichi to admit they both have things they want to keep hidden and leave it at that.

Keiichi is still well and duly spooked. That night, he gets a call from Ooishi, who has been digging into Rena’s past. While she claims to be new to Hinamizawa, it turns out she and her family are originally from the village. She also had an incident at her old school in which she smashed all of the windows, was diagnosed with neurological and psychological conditions, and prescribed medicine and therapy.

In those sessions, Rena would often speak of Oyashiro-sama appearing as a spirit in her room every night. The phone call is then interrupted by Keiichi’s dad, who has a tea set for him and his visitor…he assumed Rena had come to hang out with Keiichi, but she snuck in and eavesdropped on his call. That can’t be good!

Just as the ending sequence starts with beautiful happy moments between the five friends only for the imagery to turn traumatic and bloody, so too is the bucolic affableness fading away. Rena isn’t afraid to show her dark side to keep Keiichi in line, but now it’s a good bet he now Knows Too Much, which means he must be…Dealt With.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – 02 – Something is Rotten in Hinamizawa

From last week’s suddenly murderous Rena to Rika’s burning-red eyes, we open with Something Completely Different, with Rika waking up somewhere outside of normal time and space, welcomed by a little horned shrine maiden named Hanyuu with whom she is well-acquainted.

Rika asks if she died, but Hanyuu doesn’t have an answer. All she can say is that the “shard” on which they stand leads to July 1983, which angers Rika, who has apparently lived that month for a hundred years. With no other choice, and knowing everything there is to know about that place and time, Rika vows to “win their future” like they’ve won it before.

While offering an enticing taste of the “bigger picture”, and I now know July 1983 has happened many times before, it is only a small taste, and there’s plenty of mysteries yet to be revealed. It is only the second episode, after all! As for the cliffhanger of Rena with that scary blade, she reverts back to “kyute” Rena once Keiichi looks back at her.

Back at school it’s time for P.E., which means the girls are in super-tight bloomers for fanservice while guys get to wear shorts. Strange how such an otherwise laissez-faire school has such strictly-followed P.E. uniform guidelines! Especially when the physical activity of the day amounts to a game of “zombie tag”, with make-believe gory imagery filling in for the real stuff yet to come.

Keiichi and Rena head back to the junkyard that evening (they should really go in the morning of a weekend when there’s more light!), with Rena holding the creepy murder blade. When Keiichi offers to carry it, she shuts him up with another curt response—even though he ends up handling it anyway while freeing Kenta-kun.

As he delivers blows to the wood in the way of the statue, Keiichi suddenly gets a flash of him bashing someone to pulp with a bat—a vision of the future or merely a possible future? Considering Rika’s strange experience with Hanyuu and the shards, anything is possible. As for Rena, she keeps spacing out at times, as if revealing her true nature or an alternate personality.

Keiichi and the kids end up encountering Tomitake, who always seems to be on his way to something else. His quasi-military clothes suggest he’s up to more than harmless bird photography in the village, but Mion tells Keiichi that his true reason for being there is nothing more nefarious than looking for a single lady to date.

That night everyone attends the Watanagashi (or “cotton-drifting”) festival. The ceremonial dance is to be performed by Rika, who wears the same shrine maiden garb as Hanyuu…that can’t be a coincidence, right? In any case, she’s painfully cute, and Rena can’t resist fawning over her.

Before Rika’s dance, Keiichi, Rena, Mion, Rika and Satoko avail themselves of the many festival foods for sale, from takoyaki, snowballs, and cotton candy—particularly appropriate for a festival honoring futon cotton). Mion makes sure Keiichi gets to have a nice moment alone with Rena, though between Rena’s occasional momentary mood shifts and that whole future incident with the bat, I can’t see any romance between them lasting long!

Tomitake appears again, taking a photo of the group without permission before saying he can’t stay for Rika’s dance. Before he leaves, Rika approaches him and pats him on the head, almost as if to bless him. I guess she knows Tomitake—and everyone else in the village—a lot better than I initially thought.

Then there’s the episode’s pièce de résistance: Rika’s gorgeous, beautifully animated ceremonial dance. The convivial festival atmosphere abruptly shifts to something more sacred and profound as the crowds watch in silent awe. Then we cut to Tomitake in a field being greeted by blonde woman we’ve yet to meet.

What does it mean? is my most frequent question this week. The five friends continue to have youthful fun, but how much longer will it last? Well, the calendar indicates only a couple more days before shit hits the fan. So then the question becomes what Rika can do to stop a future where Keiichi is bludgeoning people to death—if that even is her goal—and how the adult characters fit into the equation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – 01 (First Impressions) – Moe Horror Done Right

Higurashi: When They Cry wastes no time establishing that this story will not have a pleasant ending, as it opens on a boy beating a girl to death with a bat with at least one other corpse in the room. It’s not played off as a nightmare, either, as protagonist Maebara Keiichi wakes up in that same room some time before that bloody spectacle takes place.

While some horror anime that hold their powder until the end of the first episode (Gakkou Gurashi! comes to mind) Higurashi isn’t interested in keeping you in suspense about whether shit will hit the fan in this suspiciously idyllic village, but rather when, how, and why, and how bad…I’m guessing pretty bad!

We haven’t had much good horror on RABUJOI lately aside from Hannah’s great retro reviews of 2004’s Elfen Lied, but that same cute girl horror DNA is evident in Higurashi. This is actually a reimagining of an identically-titled series from 2006. I’ve personally only seen half of When the Seagulls Cry, a family murder mystery, but never finished, so consider me a Higurashi Novice.

That said, one of the changes that’s quite evident in the remake is the new character design by Watanabe Akio of Monogatari fame. The way he draws eyebrows and mouths in particular were a dead giveaway, and I’m a big fan of Watanabe-san’s work here. “Easy on the eyes” is an apt description; “as pleasant as the ending won’t be” is another.

We’re gradually introduced to Keiichi’s friends, starting with the meek but extremely good cook Rena, the green-haired “big-sis”-type Mion, and a pair of younger girls in the mischievous Satoko and adorable Rika. They’re all so cute and have such great chemistry with Keiichi and each other, you almost want to forget that things will go sideways without fail.

It’s a testament to Watanabe’s designs, the veteran voice talent, and the beautiful setting of Hinamizawa village that despite the bloody cold open we’re invited to enjoy some good times with this group first, and are thus lulled into a false sense of security and safety. The multilayered traps Satoko sets at school are a useful metaphor for what Higurashi does in this episode: the first trap you see is merely a decoy.

Case in point: As soon as the sun started to set and the crisp blue sky turned a simultaneously gorgeous and menacing orange and red, dread started to amass around me, even as Rena kept things light and breezy. She leads Keiichi to a sinister-looking junkyard and climbs over the junk with zero regard for tetanus, looking for treasure and finding it in a buried Kenta-san.

While Rena is scrounging around, Keiichi meets a photographer who comes out of nowhere, identifying himself as Tomitake. The fact he’s the first adult we see other than Keiichi’s mom is disorienting, but then he mentions an unpleasant “incident” involving the loss of someone’s arm in the area. When Keiichi askes Rena about it later, her cutesy voice immediately shifts to a curt and dead serious “I don’t know.”

While I was certain something awful was going to happen in that junkyard (and the show most certainly wanted me to think that), Keiichi and Rena come out unscathed, though you could say Keiichi has now been “marked” by suspicion over surroundings that must now feel a tinge more threatening.

The next day after school, Keiichi asks Mion about the aborted dam construction project, and Mion offers him some information: the developers tried to ram the project through, but the village was spared from flooding and relocation thanks to some help from politicians in Tokyo. That said, when Keiichi asks about any violence, Mion has the same curt response as Rena.

Keiichi heads back to the junkyard as the sun once again falls, but Rena forgot he offered to help her unearth the statue. It’s clear she wasn’t prepared for him to show up, and heads home to grab them some tea. While waiting, darkness falls, in more ways then one, and Keiichi finds an old magazine detailing the story of a dam construction worker who was lynched, murdered, and dismembered.

As he reads, Rena creeps up on him, wielding a huge, curved, and very sharp-looking blade, while cute lil’ Rika stands behind Rena with glowing red eyes, suggesting she might be controlling Rena’s body. Roll credits, complete with an ending theme that absolutely slaps. Now that got dark quick, didn’t it?!

Higurashi is not for everyone, as those without the stomach for bloody horror will be joined by those who insist the franchise didn’t need rebooting. That said, had it not been rebooted, I would never have checked this out, and then find it right up my alley as a casual (and sufficiently-desensitized) horror fan. I’m looking forward to watching Keiichi and the town’s slow descent into madness and murder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sarazanmai – 01 (First Impressions) – Secrets, Lies, and Butt Stuff

“The world is full of connections,” muses Yakaza Kazuki at the start of things. Yeah, no duh, Kierkegaard. That’s especially true in Tokyo (Asakasa specifically), where many people are connected both by technology and the relatively small amount of space they share. There’s one connection in particular Kazuki never wants to lose.

Turns out that connection is a ritual exchange of selfies with the local idol, Sarakappa, who is constantly keeping the folk appraised of the latest Asakusa news via the public video screens. While Sara herself is taking a selfie, she happens to catch someone breaking into a car. That someone is Kuji Toi, who chases after her.

Instead, Toi encounters Kazuki, notices he has the same phone strap as the girl, and lunges at him with his ruler-cum-slimjim. Kazuki happens to be grabbing at statue of the Prince of the Kappa Kingdom, and in the ensuing violence, the statue is destroyed, releasing a great gust of wind.

The next day at school the two lads hear a clear ringing bell no one else can, and start compulsively acting like kappas, dousing themselves with water, doing a sumo dance, or eating cucumbers. Neither knows what the heck is going on.

The ringing leads them back to the destroyed statue (now a crime scene), where they are introduced to the actual Prince of the Kappas, Keppi, whom they awoke with their roughhousing. Keppi seems level-headed enough…until Toi dares to call him a “frog.”

Keppi reaches into their anuses (yep) and extracts their shirikodama, an organ containing desire, then gobbles them up and transforms them into kappas themselves. When Kazuki’s best mate Enta arrives to see what’s up, he ends up calling Keppi a frog, so he’s transformed as well. It’s a very gross process!

The gross weirdness continues when Keppi assigns them their mission: extract the shirikodama from a “zombie kappa” in the “Field of Desires,” a realm between life and death where no humans can see them, but where the kappa and zombie kappa dwell.

This particular zombie is hoarding stolen “Kappamazon” packages, and his deep dark secret is his compulsion to empty the boxes and place them on his head while naked. The three kappa-lads work together to sing a musical number, blast through the zombie’s defenses, reach and enter his anus, and successfully extract his shirikodama. Again, quite gross!

After the extraction, before they pass the shirikodama to Keppi, the three undergo the titular “Sarazanmai”—a connection of mind and soul between the three. Within that state, Toi learns that Kazuki and the girl he saw were one and the same, and Enta learns his best friend cross-dresses as an idol, all to send selfies of himself as Sara religiously.

The other two learn Toi is a car thief, but Toi isn’t outwardly ashamed by that, but after the initial embarrassment has passed, neither is Kazuki. Even when Enta tells him he’s cool with his “quirk”, Kazuki insists he isn’t asking for understanding, only for his secret to remain his and his alone…which is fair.

Post-ED (a lush merging of live-action footage, augmented reality lightwork and animation with a very catchy peggies song) there’s another strange incident involving two very pale, stylish cops extracting something from their prisoner, but that will have to wait until next week.

Sarazanmai is nothing if not visually bold and doggedly inventive with its madcap brew of mythology, symbology, philosophy, and sociology you tend to get from the work of Ikuhara Kunihiko. Its narrative isn’t always the easiest to follow but you can be assured it’s going to look and sound cool and explore ideas few anime do (especially when it comes to contemporary social issues), which definitely helps.

Non-fans of kappas (or, incidently, Ikuhara) probably need not apply, nor should anyone who is uncomfortable with the occasional…stylized anal extraction. But there’s a lot to like here so far.

Psycho-Pass – 17

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The Cybil System: “It’s not something worth putting your life on the line to protect,” Makishima warns Kogami by phone. As a member of society not under such an invasive system, I knew this intrinsically, and that was before I knew what Sybil actually was. Now that I know the horrifying truth, my revulsion has been galvanized. Now it’s just a question of whether the “good guys” (Tsunemori, Akane & Co.) will catch on.

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Wait…there’s a Division TWO?

After killing Guseong and Kagari, a repaired Chief Kasei propagates the fiction that the latter ran away, and pins the blame on Ginoza. But even if Ginoza himself followed Kagari down to the Sybil Core and saw what he saw, he’d have been eliminated too, and the circumstances covered up as neatly as Kagari’s. For their part, the rest of Division One doesn’t think Kagari ran, but that something happened to him. They just have nothing to go on.

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Kasei tells Ginoza that Makishima is now out of the MWPSB’s authority, and tells him he will be disposed of as a “research specimen”, if he hasn’t already. This is some truly devious shit, because even at the time, when I had no clue Kasei was part of Sybil, this just felt like the higher-ups doing the dirty work that needed to be done to deal with those who fell through the system’s cracks: the criminally asymptomatic. You know, just good old-fashioned corruption at the top.

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I had no frelling idea what was really going on…not until Kasei shows up in Makishima’s hospital berth and talks to him like an old friend, because he’s actually Touma Kouzaburou, that teacher who made body part sculpture and disappeared. This is when shit starts being revealed even Makishima couldn’t have fathomed, for all his literary efficacy. Touma is one of 247 disembodied human brains working as one that form the network that is the Sybil System. Shudder.

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Even more incredible, those brains were all selected for those with “irregular personalities” that don’t fit mankind’s “conventional standards” for emotion. In other words, Japan is being ruled by 247 psychopaths. As Makishima says, that is one hell of a joke, and he breaks out a nifty Swift reference about the brains of those who disagreed being halfed to alleviate conflict. But the more Touma talks about it, the more he sounds like he’s just doing it to Play God.

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Cruelty, megalomania, lack of remorse: they’re thinks Makishima has in spades, and he’s immune to cymatic scans too, which is why Touma uses this opportunity to welcome him into the fold. But while both Touma and Makishima are criminally insane, their goals are completely different. In short: Makishima isn’t interested in becoming Umpire Number 248. He doesn’t want to officiate the game; he wants to keep playing it.

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That’s when he enters Awesome Makishima Mode. Taking advantage of the fact that is Touma is alone and vulnerable, ambushes the cyborg, breaking its limbs one at a time, and making sure Touma knows why Makishima’s not joining their little zombie buffet. When last we see Makishima, he’s looking out on the city from a crippled aircraft, but I’m going to wager he somehow survives the crash.

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Just in case, Makishima contacts Kogami, right after Kogami espies a vision of Makishima in his office. As Kogami says to Tsunemori, every battle a detective faces has been lost, in that victims have already been created by a crime. That’s true in that the entire country is presently being victimized by Sybil, but it’s false in that they don’t come upon all crimes after the fact. The crime is still in progress. They can stop it, prevent more victims from suffering, and save themselves while they’re at it.

10_brav

Psycho-Pass – 16

Those don't work, remember?
Those don’t work, remember?

As they approach the Nona Tower and a gauntlet of untold helmeted baddies, Kogami asks Kagari if he’s scared. This question interrupts Kagari’s monologue about becoming an enforcer not to protect the people who took everything away from him when he was five, but simply because being a hunting dog out in the world is preferable to hell as a lab rat in a facility. That is all. Well, that, and he has friends in the CID who he’s loyal to.

Very Akira-esque machinery
Very Akira-esque machinery

That loyalty is tested when he descends alone below Nona’s four official basements and into a cathedral-like anechoic chamber where Choe Guseong is attempting to break into Sybil’s core. Makishima ascends to the tower’s top floor as a decoy for Kogami and Tsunemori. They go after Makishima despite knowing he’s a decoy, because their primary directive is to capture him alive. Well, that, and they both have a score to settle with the bastard.

The cityscapes on this show are so sweet
The city vistas on this show are so sweet

All three detectives are slowed down by helmet guys armed with dangerous tools, but Kagari and Kogami show they’re not afraid of a little hand-to-hand combat and manage to charge through; Akane gets hit in the leg by a nailgun and has to hang back, and we finally come to the scene that starts the very first episode, when I had no idea what was going on. Well, now I know: we were getting a tantalizing glimpse of Makishima’s cornering and ultimate capture.

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We had no idea what had led up to that showdown high atop the Nona Tower, or the costs exacted to allow it to happen. Nor did we know how things would go down after literary pleasantries were exchanged (apparently one parries (Blaise) Pascal with (Jose) Ortega (y Gasset). I tellya, sometimes Psycho-Pass is like a Holiday Inn: just staying there makes you feel smarter, or that you should have paid more attention in that Civilization and Its Discontents elective.

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Putting aside academic discussion on the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual, Kogami and Makishima have one heck of a physical fight, and as the helmet-men had softened him up—maybe even if they hadn’t—Makishima seems to have the slight upper hand, but in his desire to punish Kogami for forcing him to end things less entertainingly than he hoped, he neglects the possibility Kogami isn’t alone, and gets stoved in the head, ironically, by one of those damnable helmets.

POW!
POW!

Kogami tells Akane to kill him. Personal vendettas aside, Akane probably should kill him. But she lowers the helmet and pulls out the cuffs; returns to being an inspector of the MWPSB, and arrests Makishima in the name of the law. It’s another great victory marred by great emotional and practical cost. Meanwhile, far below them, Kagari finally finds Choe, who is finally in. Both of them look at something bright we don’t get to see, like the contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

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Then both Choe and Kagari are swiftly eliminated by Chief Kasei, who AAAAUGH SHE’S A CYBORG! Honestly that’s not that surprising, as there was a noticable coldness to all previous scenes with her. And if he wasn’t already, let there be no doubt any longer that Makishima is hardly the greatest adversary in the show. Hell, he isn’t even the greatest adversary in the building! Kogami was ready and willing to kill him; he just wasn’t able.

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That Akane was able to hold back murderous rage at her friend’s murderer just may have given both her and Kogami a fighting chance against the true enemy, if they ever find themselves on its bad side…if they aren’t already. Until then, this episode was a thrilling tour-de-force from start to brilliant finish, one of the best of the show yet. Still kicking myself for not watching this much sooner.

10_brav