Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 16 – Escaping the Doom

In the fifth and final loop before Rika calls it quits, Satoko wakes her up in bed as usual, but she has a heavy fever and hurts “all over”. Turns out she’s already dead right out of the gate—she just doesn’t know it yet. In this loop, Satoko is the neck-scratcher, and has already killed everyone else. The Oyashiro-sama in her head has told her the priestess-hood must pass from Rika to her.

What awful sin has caused Satoko to be compelled to disembowel a conscious Rika and hack away at her guts with a ceremonial staff? The simple reason that Rika wished and dreamed of leaving Hinamizawa, abandoning Oyashiro-sama and everyone she knows for a sophisticated life elsewhere. There is no greater sin for a priestess than to forsake their deity thus.

But before she dies, Rika expresses her sorrow and guilt and essentially begs for forgiveness, which Satoko is sure Oyashiro-sama will bestow upon her if she’s serious in her contriteness. The younger and older Rikas converse in an idealized Hinamizawa and wonder why their dreams ever strayed from the village. Then, as Satoko embraces her, hopeful that things will be better next time, Rika closes her pinky and snaps.

Satoko wakes Rika up as usual, only this time outside. Rika’s guts are where they belong, inside her body, and the whole gang is in their bathing suits for a day of summer fun in the river. It’s Higurashi’s version of a beach episode, portraying the Sonozaki twins in bikinis and the other girls in school swimsuits.

As the sun goes down, Rika talks to Satoko about a realization she hand about two very long, very different dreams she was having. One dream was painful while she was liviing in it, but looking back knows it was full of “shining wonders”. In her other dream, she never noticed those wonders, and was punished for clinging to an “ungrateful” dream (the one where she leaves town for a fancy school).

Rika concludes by saying she loves Hinamizawa, and everyone in it, and Satoko, almost serving as a proxy to Oyashiro-sama, embraces her once more, glad to have heard Rika speak such words. With Rika no longer dreaming of being anywhere else, her curse is seemingly lifted. No one gets the neck itch, nobody kills or dies, and everyone watches her perform the Watanagashi dance.

Then Rika spots Tomitake wandering into the woods and she stops him to say something about her and Takano, only for Takano to emerge from the trees. She wants to talk to Rika too. I wonder what about, and if and how this latest loop, so ideal and peaceful so far, will suddenly go sideways.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 15 – Scratch Off

After coming so close to a good ending only for a crazed Ooishi to kill everyone, Rika is buoyed by her friends to try five more loops before using the fragment of the weapon she can use to kill herself for good. I figured the loops would gradually unfold in the next few episodes. Instead, we get all but one in one go!

This new loop starts out promisingly, with Ooishi and Keiichi getting along famously over their shared love of mahjongg (stop trying to teach us mahjongg, anime!) Ooishi’s mahjong buddy also makes an appearance: Akasaka, who is introduced with a soft filter and angelic light.

Back in 1978, one of Rika’s predictions saved his wife Yukie’s life, and he’s come to return the favor. Rika asks him to stay for the entirety of the Watanagashi Festival, and he agrees. Rika is genuinely happy and hopeful about this development!

Then there’s a smash cut to her covered in stab wounds and bleeding out on a tatami mat. Akasaka is the crazy killer scratching his throat out. Even as she burns Rika laughs out loud at how whimsical fate is, puts up her hand, lowers one finger, and snaps.

The episode doesn’t bother with the lighthearted fluff; we just fast-forward directly to the killing, as Mion and Shion’s mother is this loop’s crazed slasher, and she uses her katana to behead her own daughter, vowing to erase their family’s blood for good. Rika lowers two fingers and snaps just as her shoulders are relieved of her head.

In the next loop, Kimiyoshi is the killer, and drags Rika by a rope, rows her into the middle of a swamp, and tosses her overboard with a rock to drown her as a sacrifice…but not before Rika has to endure way too much unhinged monologue and bad breath for her taste. As she sinks into the swamp, she lowers three fingers and snaps.

Just when we’re wondering what ridiulous hell-scenario Rika will end up in next, there are columns of riot police outside the cosplay cafe, where a very itchy Keiichi is bludgening everyone to death, including Rena, who can’t get him to wake up from the bad dream. Rika gets Keiichi to end her life quickly by telling him the secret to getting rid of the “maggots in his neck” is to bash her skull in and eat her brains. She lowers four fingers and snaps.

These loops have become the most unbearably hellish torture for Rika, who is trapped in the goriest version of Groundhog Day ever. It is by far the bloodiest and hardest-to-watch episode of Gou to date. Those scratching sounds…Jesus. If Rika keeps to her plan, she’ll only have one more life to endure before ending it by her own hand. But will that really work?

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.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 13 – Fate Pushes Back

Thanks to the support of Sonozaki Oryou and other adults, most of Hinamizawa and parts of neighboring towns have come out in support of Keiichi’s efforts to save Satoko. The crowd is so large, Ooishi lumbers over to tell them they have to disperse. They don’t have a permit to demonstrate, and the CWS isn’t subject to mob rule.

The same laws meant to protect Satoko seem destined to torpedo Keiichi’s last gasp efforts, as any group dispersed now will surely be smaller next time around. Fortunately those in the highest positions of power have Keiichi & Co.’s backs, including Mion and Shion’s uncle, prefectural assemblyman, and another Sonozaki who’s a powerful lawyer.

The coup-de-grace that ends the CWS siege is Oryou herself, who pays a personal visit to the prefectural mayor along with her daughter to request the crowd’s demands be met. The mayor wouldn’t dream of going against Oryou, and so Keiichi and his friends are allowed inside. There, the cowardly director sends his assistant to confront Teppei. Ooishi gives him a ride to his house.

Later that evening, Keiichi gets a call from Satoko, who is safe and sound—if ominously framed throughout the call. She says learning about the extent to which Keiichi and others did for her sake, she stopped thinking it was best to keep enduring the pain, and cried out for help. When Teppei threatened her, he was arrested and detained. Satoko is now free from his clutches.

The next night is the Watanagashi festival, and the reunited group of friends decides to engage in a far more enjoyable battle than the one they just won: determine who can have the most fun! Festival food eating, target shooting and goldfish scooping ensue in a subsequent montage.

When Rika takes the stage for her sacred dance, Satoko pulls Keiichi aside. In a secluded spot, she asks if it’s okay if she calls him “nii-nii” from now on, making him officially her new big brother. He agrees, and she leads him to her house to give him an additional gift. It was at this point, with these two walking around the dark, that I started to worry about the curse.

Sure enough, the moment Keiichi switches on a lamp in Satoko’s house, Teppei comes at him from behind with a baseball bat. How the hell he escaped from jail isn’t explained, just that Keiichi suddenly snaps, wrests the bat from Teppei, and beats him to a bloody pulp. The uncle’s blood and brains splatter all over the room, Keiichi, and Satoko, and Keiichi then passes out from his own head wound.

The next morning, Keiichi is visited by Detective Kumagai, Ooishi’s colleague. He asks what happened last night at Satoko’s, but due to his head injury Keiichi simply can’t remember. Days pass, and no one comes to visit him except for Rena. He later learns there’s a reason for that: everyone else—including Satoko—are dead.

Rena tells him it’s a good thing he left the festival early, because Ooishi ran into the crowd and started firing his gun wildly, killing Mion, Shion, Rika and Satoko. I would guess that Satoko returned to the festival after running out of her house.

It’s an instance of Keiichi and everyone doing absolutely everything right on their way to a good ending, only for cruel fate to yank everyone back into not just a bad ending, but one of the worst possible. I honestly don’t know how Keiichi could have avoided disaster here. The curse appears to be more powerful than even a whole town united in its desire to protect a young girl whose parents supported the dam.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 12 – Rotten Tatami

Keiichi proves he can amass a grand army of protest against the CWS’ dithering on Satoko’s case, but he soon learns that numbers aren’t everything. He’s on the right track with regards to Hinamizawa coming together to protect its own, but he can’t just summon a lot of people, he must convince the right ones to lean on CWS.

Mion invites Keiichi to the next village council meeting, presided over by Mayor Kimiyoshi. After some initial pleasantries are exchanged, Keiichi is called outside by Mion and Chie-sensei. Chie asks Keiichi to stop his protests for now and see what happens.

Chie proved her mettle by risking her job to keep teaching at the Hinamizawa school when it wasn’t government certified, but with Keiichi utilizing all the students in his army, the school is threatened. Shion also feels the pressure from her grandmother.

The bottom line is all the old farts in the village aren’t prepared to openly, publically forgive the Hojou family for siding with the dam builders, even though they’re already in agreement Satoko personally has nothing to do with what her family did. They fear doing so could upset the village’s hard-fought delicate balance.

Silence and inaction has spread “like mold in a tatami floor”, which means the only remedy is to rip it up. That task falls to Keiichi, who violates protocol and tradition and forcefully makes his case to the council. The old men chastise him for being a rude little brat, but Keiichi makes clear he has no time for politeness: he’s on a mission to save a friend in trouble.

In a thrilling scene that amounts nothing but a spirited discussion in a stuffy old room, Keiichi gradually appeals to one old fart after another by appealing to their past brave deeds during the dam war, and points out the hypocrisy of letting one of their own suffer just to preserve their presently cozy relationship with the government (which, among other perks, helps fund the Watanagashi Festival).

Keiichi demands nothing less than the resurrection of the spirit of the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance. His combination of respect and impertinence wins over enough of the council, but they admit that they cannot properly lean on the CWS without the approval of the town’s true boss, Mion and Shion’s gran Sonozaki Oryou.

In the “Boss Fight” segment of the episode, Keiichi meets his match, for Grandma Sonozaki is a predictably formidable battleaxe who swears like a yakuza goon and doesn’t give two shits about the “cursed” Hojou child, and sees no reason to give her approval to the council or Keiichi.

Oryou sees each and every one of the people in her presence to be a bunch of imbeciles, which stands to reason: she’s older and more powerful than any of them. But in his increasingly disrespectful negotiations (he threatens to kill the “old hag” more than once to her face!), Keiichi presents something she hasn’t seen in decades, if not longer: actual stern resistance to her position. Someone being as stubborn to her as she normally is to everyone else.

Once again, Keiichi’s audacity and guts pay dividends, as Oryou decides to give the okay after all. Deep down, she always wanted to see the long-standing Hojou situation resolved before she died, even if she was committed to carrying the grudge to her grave—so it would die with her.

Now Keiichi has more than sheer numbers, but the full force of the three head families of Hinamizawa, the village council, and the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance at his command. In other words, never before has Keiichi been better equipped to create a good ending not just for Satoko, but a new beginning for the entire village. Even so, we never saw Satoko this week…I hope he’s not too late.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 11 – Tearing Fate Apart

Keiichi can’t snap Satoko out of her panic attack no matter how hard he tries, so Rena steps in, and eventually she stops screaming. But when Chie-sensei returns to the classroom, Satoko literally laughs it off as a practical joke. While it’s probably an animation quirk that the tears and vomit vanish from her face, it’s clear she’d rather pretend her outburst never happened.

Rika again insists Satoko come home with her, but Satoko’s response sounds practiced, even programmed: she lives with her uncle now; there’s nothing she can do about it. That’s not good enough for Keiichi, who wants to do something…anything. Well, not anything, because he draws the line when a furious Shion appears and declares she’s going to simply murder Satoko’s uncle.

Keiichi stands in her way and even takes a chair to the head, telling Shion that’s not how to get back to “the world where everyone is happy”; killing Teppei would destroy that world. Rika’s ears perk up at his phrasing; it’s almost like he’s aware that victory in this route isn’t possible unless they “follow the rules.” She comes between Keiichi and a violent Shion, who finally stands down.

The thing they all settle on is going to Child Welfare Services as a united group to voice their concerns with the process thus far. The employee who receives them does not let their emotions influence the facts: the case is currently being worked on, and she’ll add their concerns to her notes. She also won’t discuss the details of Satoko’s case due to confidentiality.

It’s basically a stonewalling, and Keiichi doesn’t take it well, adopting a defeatist attitude as they walk home at sunset. But Rika won’t someone she believes in—who said earlier he’d “tear fate apart like wet paper”—raise the white flag so easily.

If the five of them weren’t enough to convince CWS of the urgency of Satoko’s case, then they’ll just have to rally more troops to the cause. The next day, Keiichi makes an impassioned speech to the entire class, who are all on board with visiting CWS together. Rika warns Chie-sensei not to stop them, but she won’t. On the contrary, she’ll come with them.

Unfortunately, while a group of sixteen complainants doubtlessly stretches the CWS’ tea and paper cup budget, it does not move the needle tremendously far; at least not proportional to the size of their force. The CWS manager insists that everything is being done with Satoko’s best interests in mind. He also hastens to mention that they have no credible evidence on file that Teppei was ever abusive of Satoko. As far as they’re concerned it was the aunt who allegedly committed the abuse.

That said, Keiichi & Co. won’t take this second defeat lying down. They and the rest of the class commit to asking everyone they know to descend upon CWS at once to insist they do more to protect Satoko. Rika stares semi-maniacally into the middle distance, assured that they are amassing the power to tear through fate and save Satoko.

I appreciated Shion’s infusion of rage into this crisis as a sign that yelling and stabbing is rarely the best way forward; Keiichi is likely 100% right that Satoko would not take her uncle’s death well, especially if a friend killed him, even if he deserves it. That said, Rika’s and Rena’s voices constantly shifting between “cutesy” and “serious” got a bit…silly at times.

Judging from the previous arcs, it’s unlikely the gang will succeed in saving Satoko. Then again, never before has everyone been on the same side working so hard to prevent disaster. “People can’t live without hope,” says Rika…so I’ll hold out hope a bit longer.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 10 – Leaving No Marks

Keiichi wakes up from a dream of beating Satoko’s Uncle Teppei to death with a metal bat, only to find Satoko is late for school. Keiichi doesn’ have any success asking Rika about her, and instead is approached by Ooishi for the first time in this arc. He asks about Satoko, grabbing Keiichi so hard on the shoulder it hurts despite not leaving a mark.

Dr. Irie rescues Keiichi from Ooishi’s piercing gaze, saying the locals call him “Oyashiro’s familiar” due to his obsession with solving all the crimes attributed to the curse. Irie also tells Keiichi about Satoko’s harsh home life ever since she and her brother Satoshi moved in with their aunt and uncle. Now, of course, it’s just Satoko and her uncle.

Satoko finally arrives, but looks depressed and sleep-deprived, and can barely keep up her peppy formal-speech act. After seeing this clearly-changed Satoko come and go without playing games with them, Keiichi, Mion and Rena finally get Rika to talk about what she knows.

Last night, Satoko didn’t come back from a grocery run until very late, only to tell Rika she had come to collect her things; she was moving back in with her uncle. This time the abuse is likely worse for Satoko, since Satoshi is no longer around to shield her. Mion mentions having called social services last year, but they offered only lip service.

The next day, Satoko is absent from school, and her friends rack their brains for how they can help her from what is clearly a worsening situation. They decide to go to an adult, Chie-sensei, and leave the matter in her hands, but when she visits Satoko’s house the Uncle stonewalls her, not even letting her see Satoko.

The excuse that she was in bed with a fever is repeated by a much more chipper and back-to-normal Satoko the next day, but while horseplaying during lunch Keiichi moves to pat her gently on the head, her hand reflexively slaps his away, and she vomits and has a complete mental breakdown, yelling how sorry she is and how much she “hates it.”

Not knowing exactly what kind of abuse Uncle Teppei is inflicting upon poor Satoko makes it particularly awful, since it forces us to contemplate the extent of it, but even worse is the fact that because Satoko lied about abuse to get her real father removed from the home, social services seems to be skeptical of any subsequent reports.

Satoko’s friends feel crippled by their inability to act, but know that if someone doesn’t do something, Satoko could end up dead. Will the violent events of his dream come to pass, or will he and his friends find another way?

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