Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 22 – Tainted Love

Older Hanyuu lets Satoko basically fumble her way through the first few loops, no doubt trying to determine how far the “child of man” can get in trying to overturn Rika’s will to leave Hinamizawa absent any information. The answer: Not that far! 

First Satoko interrupts Rika’s dream spiel by leaving the bookstore, explaining how things will turn out, and then making Rika choose, right there and then: St. Lucia, or her. When Rika (notably in the voice of her older self) states that she can’t choose, Satoko jumps in front of a passing truck, painting her best friend’s face with her blood.

Having tried the aggressive route to refusing Rika’s dream, Satoko tries a more preemptive method, getting Rika up at the crack of dawn, showing her the beauty of Hinamizawa in hopes of swaying her. It doesn’t work, so Satoko slits her own throat.

In the classroom, she throws Rika’s exam prep book to the floor, then tears it in two, but Rika won’t stop studying, so Rika takes one of her pencils and stabs herself in the neck. Before long she and Rika are simply yelling at each other while wrestling, and both end up drowning in a canal.

All these loops do is frustrate Satoko. While the deity has been quite entertained, she decides to give Satoko the first key clue: Rika has also been living in loops. Not only that, but far, far moe than Satoko; one hundred years’ worth. Now Satoko understands how uphill her battle truly is, because Rika’s will has been reinforced by a century of failure and despair.

After being given a glimpse of one of Rika’s loops (the one in which Keiichi gets H syndrome and beats everyone to death with a bat), she determines that she needs to fully educate herself in order to have any chance of defeating Rika. That means watching all one hundred years of Rika’s loops…and I thought she detested studying!

Those horrific memories eventually go by and Satoko has seen it all. As with any huge and abrupt passage of time longer than the average human life, it’s hard to fully grasp what Satoko endured, but the her that exists in the “in-between” plane seems more mature, focused, resolved, and most importantly, informed.

When she hears that just before the victory over the Mountain Dogs Rika was at the end of her rope and ready to give up, Satoko realizes it is simply a matter of getting Rika to once again lose the will to go on, only this time make it stick. Like the games in their club, there can only be one winner.

It’s here where I take a step back and somewhat shudder at the notion of Satoko treating Rika like the enemy. Rika’s will is who Rika is, and by trying to destroy it, she’s trying to selfishly craft a new, more malleable Rika to her own specs. Rika, in turn, is trying to mold Satoko to fit her future dreams, and has a head start. It just doesn’t seem either of them love each other as much as they love their own wills. At this point, maybe they just…shouldn’t be friends anymore?!

What is missing is Rika’s awareness that Satoko is looping. So she asks the deity to make it so Rika’s memory persist through the loops, so Satoko is always dealing with the “same” Rika. The only thing Rika won’t remember is the cause of her death prior to Satoko’s, which she also intends to use in the battle of wills she intends to win, no matter the cost.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 21 – A Terribly Long Dream

Since Gou is my first foray into the Higurashi saga, I’m as confused as Satoko for much of the cold open, which consists of a Hanyuu-like woman saying various things and Satoko responding with lots of “Huh?”s and “What?”s. Bottom line: Satoko is being given the power to live through loops—whether she understands what that means or not—and told that if she lives through enough of them, her wish may one day come true.

Satoko wakes up back in June of 1983, and decides to shrug off the last five years as one long, awful dream. When she sees Lil’ Rika, she can’t help but run into her arms and start tearing up, she’s so happy they’re back where they belong. It’s only when events in the forest with Takano and Tomitake unfold precisely how they did before that Satoko starts to realize it wasn’t a dream, and she’s in a loop.

As such, one day a year and change later, Rika approaches her for a favor and they go to the bookstore to buy a study guide. This time, Satoko voices her hesitancy to join Rika at St. Lucia, but Rika makes it clear if Satoko doesn’t want to share in her new life-to-be, she’ll simply study on her own. Satoko caves and buys a guide, pleasing Rika.

Since she can’t convince Rika not to try to enroll at St. Lucia, she shifts her strategy to making it impossible for Rika to study enough to actually get in. She does this through various not-so-subtle means, such as physically placing herself between Rika and Chie-sensei, and even getting Rena and Keiichi to guilt-trip Rika into playing games with them.

It’s clear from the get-go this strategy would fail, for the same reason Wile E. Coyote’s schemes never pan out: because like the Road Runner, like Rika’s will, is the ocean: Fight against the waves and you’ll only get beaten up, or worse. Despite both Rika and Satoko being exhausted from club, Rika still gets up in the middle of the night to study. Satoko asks Rika if they can talk.

It’s here when I hoped Satoko would tell Rika precisely what’s happened to her, and how because of that she knows for a certainty how awful attending St. Lucia’s would be for her. Instead, she allows Rika to frame her concerns as rhetorical rather than empirical. Considering Rika is doing this because she’s lived through so many loops in Hinamizawa, you’d think she’d have been receptive if Satoko told her she’s now going through the same damn thing!

Instead, Rika hears what Satoko is saying, acknowledges them as legitimate concerns, but then promises to help Satoko should she struggle at St. Lucia’s. Whether due to Satoko’s love for and trust in her best friend, and/or belief that saying what she’s said to Rika will change the course of events for the better, Satoko takes her at her word.

Never let it be said Higurashi doesn’t possess brutally black comedic timing when it wants to, because just moments after Rika’s promise to Satoko, we fast forward five years and the two of them are right back where they were in the first loop: on opposite sides of the school wall, and on completely opposite social levels.

While the first time around, Satoko could forgive Rika for their drifting apart, but this time is different: Satoko was as explicit as she dared to be in telling Rika her concerns about St. Lucia beforehand. More importantly, Rika made an explicit promise, which Satoko believes she has broken. In Satoko’s view, her suffering in this loop isn’t the unfortunate consequence of miscommunication, it’s betrayal, pure and simple.

This time when Satoko confronts Rika, she calls her out for the “dirty liar” she is, only for Rika to counter her by saying when her grades start to slip, she did indeed keep her promise by offering a helping hand. It was Satoko who slapped that hand away. When Satoko says she didn’t want to be looked down upon, Rika says Satoko’s the one who put herself below her.

Satoko had hoped for a better answer from Rika than placing all the blame at her feet, but she doesn’t get it, so she has no further use of this loop. Embracing Rika tightly, Satoko makes a promise of her own: she won’t let Rika deceive her “next time”. With a dramatic flourish, she says “Good tidings to you, my treacherous Rika”, then snaps her finger. This brings the giant chandelier plummeting down on them, killing them both in a spray of blood, gore, and glass.

Goddamn, Satoko got the hang of this loop thing pretty quickly, didn’t she?! At least, I hope she did, and realized a promise from Rika isn’t enough, nor are further half-measures to keep her from entering St. Lucia. Instead, Satoko needs to take a hard look at either not joining Rika and parting ways, or telling her what’s really going on, and hoping she’ll believe her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 20 – Hard Time

Rika continues to bask in the spotlight of adoration at St. Lucia, to the point Satoko feels compelled to confront her in the main hall. Rika’s cronies come to her defense first, but Rika herself doesn’t suffer Satoko’s rudeness, and promises to “make time for her” later. When those cronies badmouth Satoko behind her back, Rika at least defends her friend, saying she’s in a foul mood because her grades have dropped and she’s doubting herself.

Rika believes Satoko will eventually pull out of her nosedive on her own, but that doesn’t happen. Satoko thinks implementing her metal pan prank on a grander scale will help Rika remember the past and their bond, but it all goes pear-shaped one of the pans bloodies a crony. Rika doesn’t rat Satoko out, but one of the cronies does, and Satoko is put in a orange jumpsuit and placed in solitary confinement. Yikes!

While there, all Satoko does is curse the fact she didn’t say “no” when Rika asked her to join her in attending St. Luica. She simply doesn’t fit there, and that’s reinforced when, upon being released, Satoko begins her second year in the “special class”, from which she knows there is no escape.

There’s finally a bright spot in Satoko’s dreary life when she gets a letter from Mion about having a Hinamizawa Country School Game Club Founders’ Reunion. Mion comes to pick Satoko and Rika up in a van, but if she senses the rift between them, she doesn’t mention it, nor do they.

Instead of using the trip to address or resolve that rift, Satoko uses it to forget about St. Lucia altogether. Perhaps she believes there’s no use in speaking to Rika at this point. When Rika finally lets out her trademark “Nipaaa!”, Satoko is both heartened and disheartened, as after everything that’s happened, it almost sounds mocking or patronizing.

Keiichi, Rena, and Mion seem to be exactly the same people, having simply moved their club from Hinamizawa to college they attend together. It’s clear that Satoko would have probably been much happier if she’d gone to high school with them, as she can’t be any less suited for St. Lucia.

After having fun with a card game that includes traps and pranks and penalties, the group heads to the cosplay cafe for a bite, but Satoko tells them to go ahead of her; she wants to have a walk alone in Hinamizawa. It may look pretty much the same, but so much has changed. The more she walks around, the more apparent it is that this is not quite her home anymore either.

Then Satoko comes upon the storeroom, and recalls sneaking in once and wondering if Oyashiro is still angry at her. A strange resonance starts to emanate from within, and when she touches the statue, it crumbles to reveal a broken horn, the source of the resonance.

When Satoko touches that, she’s transported to the same bizarre interdimensional plane where Rika ended up so often. She’s met by someone who looks to be a fully grown-up version of Hanyuu, who addresses Satoko as “child of man.” After punching the walls of her literal prison at St. Lucia wishing she could turn back time and do everything over, now she’ll have that chance!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 14 – Parting Gift

In the previous episode Rena informs Keiichi that they’re the only two survivors among their circle of friends, but this week we have the dubious honor of watching Ooishi’s rampage unfold in real time, and I’m not sure I needed that.

Watching the crazed detective choke Rika while scratching out his throat (due to the itch of Oyashiro’s curse, no doubt) and shooting anyone who comes near (including the Sonozaki twins and Satoko) before beating Rika’s head in with a bat is not my idea of a fun time.

When Rika wakes up, it’s in the strange space filled with pieces of a temple and glowing shards, and she’s welcomed by Hanyuu once more. Rika’s apparently been at this for over a century, trapped in Hinamizawa, but every loop ends the same: with her and plenty of others dying.

Only now, apparently, Hanyuu (or rather the “echo” of her) has used “the last of her power” to ensure Rika retains the memories of her past loops so she can learn from them. This sounds like absolute torture of Steins;Gate proportions to me. What kind of friend is this Hanyuu?!

Hanyuu also informs Rika of the Onigari-no-ryuou, a sacred sword that can kill a looper. She calls it a parting gift, because after telling her where to find it (the shed) she bids Rika adieu, and Rika wakes up in a fresh new loop.

Now that she knows of a weapon that can kill her for good, Rika, who looks for all the world to have had her fill of all this, can’t quite hide her depressive state from the others. She picks hide-and-seek for their club game, with the caveat that she’s the only one hiding. Sundown arrives and they can’t find her…but they don’t give up.

Rika has given up, however, and after briefly cry-laughing from the cruelty of the sword not being where it should be (inside the statue of Oyashiro), she digs a little deeper and finds a small shard of it, which she deems adequate to “do the job.”

Just as she’s about to open her Carotid with the shard, her friends call out for her from outside, having finally located her at the shed. She decides not to kill herself after all. Now that she knows she can, she can go on a little longer—five more loops, to be exact.

While this is an intriguing new twist on the formula we’ve seen so far, as a practical matter I’m starting to have trouble overlooking the clunky, inconsistent character design of Higurashi, especially as I begin new and far better-looking Winter shows. This week’s score reflects my growing disappointment in the visuals.