Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 24 (Fin) – Down With the Ship

Satoko did not predict her uncle would be reformed to the degree he was as an effect of her loops, but she’ll still use him “to his utmost potential” in her overarching goal to keep Rika right where she is: in the “birdcage”. One of the key figures in assuring that outcome is Takano Miyo.

Miyo is taken out into the rainy woods by members of the Mountain Dogs. where she is told the operation has failed and all physical evidence related to it will be destroyed, including her beloved scrapbook. She’s also given a gun with one bullet to blow her own brains out, or it will be done for her.

Miyo wakes up in her office, clearly having experienced an alternate fragment and, like Teppei, considered it more than a dream, but a warning of what will come if she continues on her set path. The orders to get rid of her in that fragment come down from Nomura, a woman in Tokyo Miyo trusted. She gets a call from Nomura shortly after waking up.

As such, the possible events she just “dreamt” are foremost on her mind when Nomura informs her of what must happen if she fails her operation, which involves infecting Tomitake with Hinamizawa Syndrome. Miyo’s dear departed grandfather’s research will be dismissed as “fanciful nonsense” and he’ll be a laughingstock.

Miyo recalls when she was much younger and served as her gramps’ assistant, only for a bunch of old guys to come in, listen to his research, and dismiss it as…fanciful nonsense. Never the less, Miyo would grow up, go into medicine, and carry on her grandfather’s life’s work. In a meta moment, one of the old dudes says he’ll recommend a publisher for her gramps, as his research could make for some entertaining fiction.

Before Satoko comes in for a routine checkup and tests, Miyo has the sudden urge to take her scrapbook out of the safe, no doubt fueled by her “dream” about it and her ending up in the mud. In it she discovers a letter to her from her gramps, imploring her to stop pursuing the research and go life a “wonderful life”.

During their tests, Miyo tells Satoko how she’s considering quitting the Irie Clinic, considering that if she stays she’ll eventually be discarded like “ingredients in soup stock”. During Rika’s dance, Satoko follows Tomitake and Miyo to Oyashiro’s storeroom, though only Miyo goes inside.

Back in the ethereal plane, Eua notes that Satoko is working towards a world where the rules of Rika’s tragedy no longer exist. Satoko intends to take on the mantle of Oyashiro-sama and punish Rika for longing to leave Hinamizawa with the curse of another virtually endless cycle of tragedy, in which Rika will “learn” that her proper place is Hinamizawa, by Satoko’s side.

When Tomitake arrives for his “prophylactic”, Miyo takes out a vial of H173, but decides not to go forward with injecting him, thus scrapping the operation on her own terms. Without Tomitake succumbing to the syndrome, the rest of the “final operation” cannot happen. Satoko uses Miyo’s reluctance in this fragment, borne from previous fragments, to steal a vial of H173 for herself.

Eua asks Satoko if she’ll really feel no guilt or remorse for resorting to such methods to achieve victory, and Satoko, made both wise and weary by her decades of looping, says none at all. After all, the world she’s working toward, in which she and Rika are together, will be devoid of tragedy, and that will be the only world that really matters.

With that final declaration, delivered with red eyes and all the fervor of a girl obsessed, the story of GOU is concluded, and the story of SOTSU is announced as a continuation of Satoko’s quest. Rika has been ready to move on with her life for some time now, but Satoko isn’t ready to let her.

She can’t accept a future in which the two of them simply drift apart, as friends sometimes naturally do. For all the pain and suffering her plan has caused and will surely continue to cause, I can’t help but pity Satoko as much as I do Rika and the other victims, and I’ll be back to see how it all turns out.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 18 – Oyashiro Sleeps

At an undetermined point in time, the usual gang plus Hanyuu in the flesh witness Takano about to be arrested by commandos in the forest after firing a shot at them that misses. Tomitake arrives to order them to take her to the Irie Clinic for treatment, as she’s in the late stages of Hinamizawa Syndrome.

Shift to early June 1984: a year has passed since the many unpleasant Watanagashi loops and murders. It’s a new year at school, and the absence of Mion, who is now attending high school in Okinomiya, is deeply felt by the gang, to the point Rika and Satoko duck out of club activities because it’s just not the same.

Still, the fact is, June 1983 came and went without the town descending into chaos and destruction…which is good! The question is how, and can the peace last? Rika accompanies Satoko to the clinic, where Dr. Irie not only makes an inappropriate comment about what Satoko should be wearing, but declares that after a year of treatment, she has been fully cured of Hinamizawa Syndrome (there’s no mention of Satoshi).

When Rika asks why he said before that sufferers could never be healed after a certain stage, he believes that changed because the root cause of the syndrome somehow changed somewhere along the way. Rika knows what changed: after a millennium, Oyashiro stopped mistrusting humans.

Rika intends to make a new era of peace in Hinamizawa official, so after she performs her offertory dance, she has Kimiyoshi and Oryou join her on the stage. She’d met with the other two main family heads the previous night, and they all agreed to make a joint announcement that the Dam War is over and Oyashiro’s curse wasn’t, like, a thing.

According to Rika, Oyashiro is happy with the town and returned to his slumber. With the weight of the priestess, Kimiyoshi and Oryou behind them, the words reach the people of Hinamizawa. Confident that new wind has lifted the town’s sails, Rika has Satoko join her at an Okinomiya book store, where she buys St. Lucia Academy study guides for the both of them.

It’s been Rika’s dream to attend the academy longer than Satoko knows, and now she wants to make that dream a reality for the both of them. Surely nothing bad can come of that in an arc called the “Village-Destroying Chapter”, eh?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 17 – The Dice Roll for Thee

After a cold open in which Takano shoots Rika and her friends, we cut to a different version of the scenario in which Takano tells her she was going to kill everyone, but didn’t, and was leaving town with Jirou. What follows is a lot of stuff that comes out of the blue, but may have been happening off-camera for many loops.

The Tokyo Bloodhounds and Mountain Dogs are rival elite tactical groups, with Jirou being a member of the former. With Dr. Irie’s cooperation, the underground research lab is shut down, even though he has yet to find a cure for Satoko’s brother Satoshi’s “Hinamizawa Syndrome.

Honestly, I was pretty confused by most of this, and assume that’s because stuff similar to this went down in the original Higurashi. But whatever all these events mean, the bottom line is there have still been no demon-ing away or gruesome murders on this loop, days after the festival. So why is Rika so uneasy?

It’s simple: the events of the present loop are so far out of the usual norm, her only conclusion is that “someone else” is rolling the dice of fate. She considers killing herself with the blade shard, but decides to stay put for now. Satoko can tell she’s down about something, but urges her not to look gift horses in the mouth and simply enjoy these moments of happiness while they last.

Rika ends up taking everyone’s money in a game of poker at school, and her “punishment” for them all is to arrange a party for Satoko’s birthday, which falls on June 24 (usually once the shit has hit the fan). Satoko seems a little uneasy about being the center of attention, but still accepts gifts from Keiichi, Rena and Mion.

When it comes time for Rika to present her gift to her, Satoko instinctively ducks and covers, apparently knowing it was a gag gift containing a boxing glove on a spring. Rika lifts the box to reveal it’s just a teddy bear (not unlike, if not the same bear Satoshi sought to give his sis), and asks how Satoko knew. Satoko’s eyes turn red and she pulls a gun on Rika with an evil smirk. I guess we know who’s “rolling the dice”, but why, and to what end?

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 – 07 – Four Bad Kitties

Keiichi enters the storeroom with Shion Tanako Miyo, which not only contains an ornate statue of Oyashiro, but also a wide variety of very suspicious “ritual tools”. Clearly relishing every moment of freaking Keiichi the fuck out, Miyo tells them the tale of Onigafuchi, AKA “the demon’s abyss”—the original name of Hinamizawa.

When man-eating demons attacked the townsfolk, Oyashiro intervened, but not by killing the demons. Instead he gave them human forms so they could coexist with humans, and the gene pool of the town mixed from that point on through the generations.

Because the residents of Onigafuchi were descended in part from man-eating demons, they every so often went to other villages to kidnap human sacrifices for Oyashiro…making the “tools” in the storeroom more like…cooking utensils. We even learn the wata in watanagashi can mean both “cotton” and “entrails”…which is what were originally “drifted” back in the day.

It may be a couple weeks after Halloween, but Higurashi decided to whip out one of its spookier scary stories for this episode. Miyo herself is hard to read: is she legitimately overwhelmed by excitement upon discovering this motherlode of killing tools, or intentionally hiking up the creep-factor for the benefit(?) of Keiichi.

In any case, Shion touches the statue and its head slides off and splits in two…which was never going to be a good thing! Tokitake checks in on them, then leaves with Miyo to catch the end of the festival. Shion also takes her leave, making Kei promise not to tell anyone where they were or what they did. Kei reunites with Mion, Rena, Satoko, and Rika, who wonders if he saw her dance; he lies and says he did, but needlessly adds she made “no mistakes”, when in truth she apparently did.

Mion takes Kei by the hand and asks if he was hanging out with Shion, Tanako, or Tomitake. He lies again, and says he wasn’t. Finally, Detective Ooishi asks him if he’s seen Tanako or Tomitake, and mentions that Shion and Mion’s father is a prominent yakuza head. Kei lies once again…but Ooishi knows he’s lying.

Later that night Kei gets a call from Shion, telling him that Tanako and Tomitake have gone missing. While she claimed to be only joking about the four of them being the top candidates for Oyashiro’s curse, the call and her concern reveal otherwise. The curse is real, two of them are already missing, and they may be next. Kei lashes out, claiming he has “nothing to do” with any of this, and Shion hangs up on him.

Keiichi can plead ignorance and innocence all he wants; he did go inside that forbidden storeroom, learned the truth about the village and its deity, and has done nothing but lie about it ever since. It’s clear he’s freaking out to this degree because deep down he knows he fucked up.

The next day at school his friends note neither he nor Mion got much sleep last night—would you if you knew the curse could be coming for you? As Keiichi sulks, Rika comes to pat his head and ask what’s troubling him, and Kei finally owns up to what happened—albeit with a pathetic attempt to make it “rhetorical” and distanct himself by describing the four of them as “bad kitties”.

His story makes Rika laugh and speak in a voice Kei’s never heard from her before, and when he looks at her, her eyes are glowing red. She tells Kei not to worry, because there’s no point: he, she, the world, are all finished anyway. He should’ve just watched her dance…blissfully unaware that the cotton in the ceremony represents the entrails of human sacrifice.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 06 – There’s Something About Shion

Turns out Shion doesn’t have the power to draw allies to her; Hinamizawa just happens to be super tight-knit, and an attack on one of them is treated like an attack on all. Maybe the village should be called NATOmizawa, eh? Anywho, Shion changes on a dime from some kind of gangstress to a sweet lass when Ooishi and the cops arrive to take the punks away.

Keiichi is treated to a meal with Shion, who tells him the story about the dam project thwarted by that same village solidarity, weathering violent riots and legal wrangling. Later Keiichi gets a call to come be the guinea pig for the new dessert menu, and he defends Shion’s honor against two boorish otaku.

His ass is kicked, but for Shion the fact he defended her is what matters, and she begins to cling to him like a lover. They go out shopping together and end up at the shop where Mion works part-time, marking the first time we’ve seen the twins together and confirming there are in fact two of them, and that Shion was probably impersonating Mion at times.

Shion is the younger of the two yet more mature and refined compared to Mion’s rougher edges. Shion is also pretty blatant about basically stealing Keiichi out from under Mion’s nose, and whether it’s Shion getting Keiichi to buy a doll for her or talking with him after festival preparations the next day, Mion doesn’t seem too thrilled about her flirty twin sister-interloper.

Things get downright sinister when Tanako Miyo and Tomitake Jirou appear for the first time in this arc. Turns out Miyo’s a bit of a sicko, going on about the death and dismemberment kicking off an annual “curse” of one person in the village being murdered and another “sacrificed” (as opposed to “demoned away” in the last arc). Mion tries to get Keiichi away from the “lame story” but is unsuccessful.

Keiichi’s morbid curiosity and susceptibility to peer pressure rear their ugly heads again the night of the Watanagashi festival, when instead of watching Rika he is pulled away by Shion to the location of the shrine storehouse, where they catch Tanako and Tomitake breaking in. Shion and Keiichi decide to be partners in crime and have a look inside, as it supposedly contains “old ritual tools” that might fascinate Keiichi.

When he agrees, Tanako tells him “you’ve made your choice”, which is really what you want to hear when about to break and enter a dark creepy storehouse. I guess it was Shion’s goal all along to lure Keiichi into this very situation, but why she’s doing so, and what things await him remain tantalizing mysteries.

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