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