The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – Plot Rundown

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Look at this!  Isn’t this amazing!  I said I was going to do a thing.  Which, ok sure, that happens.  But then!  But then I actually did it!  How often does that happen in your life?!

In any case, here’s the first part of typing waaaaaaaaaaaay too many words talking about Higurashi.  If you missed our intro post, here’s the deal.  I’ve been playing these visual novels.  I’ve been wanting to talk about them.  To analyze them.  To dissect them.  So that’s what we’ll be doing today, over the first chapter of the series, Onikakushi.  We’re going full on for spoilers for that chapter, but we’ll be keeping things safe for all the other chapters.  We’re free on discussing chapter one, whatever we need to there, but we won’t be brushing on anything else.  Might be literally the only place on the internet to do that.

Do I need any further ado?  I think that’s enough ado.  Let’s get into the do.

So, today, we’re mostly going to be following along with the plot.  Summarizing things for those who are just joining us or could use a bit of a refresher before we jump right into the deep end.  We’ll be dropping some bits of analysis on the way, but it’ll be the next post where we really get into things.  So hey, if you’re interested in this stuff, why don’t you follow along?  If not, go ahead and wait for next time.  Do whatever works for you.  Ain’t required reading here.  But, chances are, it will make your life better.  So much better.  In fact, I’m pretty confident about that.

The 30,000 Foot Look

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Onikakushi stands in an odd position in the Higurashi lineup.  This is the story charged with introducing us to the tale that has to span at least eight complete storylines.  It’s the first step of the Question Arc, and accordingly, it brings a lot of mystery, a lot of intrigue, a lot of questions… and very little in the way of answers.

It takes its time introducing everything, too.  All the chapters of Higurashi I’ve seen take their time in the opening, but this one stretches things out particularly long.  In fact, more than half the story is just spent getting to know your characters, the town, making friends, maybe falling in love a little bit?  Higurashi is built upon the completely innovative idea that you’re going to be affected more about bad things happening to people you care about than people you don’t.  Really, people should be taking notes of this.  Get a big government study and everything.  Onikakushi starts from a blank slate, so it recognizes that it has a lot more ground to cover than the other chapters in terms of getting you actually interested in the day to day lives of these people before your viewpoint’s world gets turned all upside down.  Really, it is very notable how much time the series spends on the slice-of-life storytelling.  It’s not for everyone.  I was good with it for a while, the first time around, but it started to run a little long for me.  Then it reached its capital M Moment and twisted the entire story around.  Then those claws I hadn’t even noticed the story had been getting into me just turned up the torque.

The second time I played it?  The story is so subtly, surprisingly deep in tons of different ways that are impossible to notice your first time through.  There is so much foreshadowing in ways that are absolutely innocuous, hidden as they are so cleanly in pretty common storytelling and anime tropes, yet carrying so much meaning when you know just how the story ends.  The story, even what seemed to be just that first date period, is completely different if you walk into it with foreknowledge of what the ending was.

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Higurashi is completely non-interactive.  A total kinetic novel.  You’re a passenger in this story, purely along for the ride it takes you.  This is not the type of story that’s open to player agency.  And really, with this tale, it’s better for it.  You have a viewpoint character, not a player character, and that degree of separation is required.

Getting into the story

Onikakushi opens with… well, first, it opens with sound of children’s laughter and this thing:

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Then it opens with this:

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And finally, it reveals the year is 1983.  It really doesn’t get much mileage out of the date, aside from a few things that seem different than the modern era.  Although I wasn’t around in 1983, so that falls into the large stretch of human history that officially Doesn’t Matter, but maybe someone who was will feel right at home.  In any case, I suspect it’s largely set in that date to get rid of what is a common challenge for a lot of modern stories, the ubiquitousness of cell phones.  There are a lot of scenes in this story that would be very, very different if Keiichi could have just, you know, called and talked to someone, so my theory is that this got set here to avoid that.  Even though Higurashi still makes the occasional modern reference.  Whatever, let’s move on.

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After that, the story itself opens with your viewpoint character, whom you don’t know quite yet, lamenting.  Moping over some nameless, hidden girl.  Punctuated by the sounds of something slamming into something else.  Slowly, his language becomes more and more fatal, and it becomes clear he isn’t doing anything kosher to this woman.

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Then bam.

So, right from the start, this is a really interesting use of In Media Res.  Standard practice with this storytelling technique is to pull something from the middle of the story to get you feeling the action straight off, before ducking back to the beginning.  This is a little different, in that this pulls from the very end of the story, once everything’s gone all to hell as far as it’s going to get.  Well, maybe.  As with much in this story, it’s a little.  It draws directly from the character’s lowest points, and serves largely to give you a hint of just what exactly this story is, so that as you spend the next few hours with all the good times, you still have this lingering feeling in you that this is not going to end well.  My favorite part of this is that the scene we’re seeing here very much happens at the end, but it’s a scene that Keiichi blacks out for.  He can’t remember it.  You, the player, do, however.

From there, the plot opens into a more normal day in the life.  Your viewpoint, Keiichi Maebara, has been living in Hinamizawa for a month at this point, but had to leave for a funeral and is riding the train back home.  He’s dreaming about a woman who won’t stop apologizing to someone he can’t detect.  He feels the someone is being ridiculous, that if she’s so sorry, the person she’s apologizing to should simply forgive her.  That nothing cannot be forgiven.  Remember this.  It’ll be important later.

After that, you make it home, and get introduced to your parents.  Dad’s a famous artist who moved the family to Hinamizawa for reasons.  Mom’s a stay at home parent who seems to take an admin or supportive role to your Dad’s business.  Don’t worry too much about them.  Their presence is important to the story, but who they are doesn’t matter all that much, except for one little bit we’ll be talking about later.  In fact, the story takes the time to flesh them out right here at the beginning, but their characterization is going to be very, very sparse thereafter.  Then, it’s time for school, and we’re introduced to the story’s players proper.

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We’re initially introduced to first Rena, then Mion, who together with Keiichi, are the three main characters of this story.  Really, most of the action in Onikakushi goes on between Rena and Keiichi, although Mion’s enough of a presence that you can’t count her out either.  All the other characters, even the other two major characters of your club, don’t play as much of a part of Onikakushi.  Characterization initially mostly centers on establishing Rena as a lovely but quirky girl with maybe a bit of a flame for Keiichi, Keiichi as someone who quickly attaches himself to his friends and can’t resist a good tease, and Mion as a game junky looking for a good time without worrying about class.

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After that, we get introduced to the other two members of your club, Satoko and Rika.  Satoko gets shown as the typical bratty half-pint, while Rika is the demure proper young lady with a hidden deviousness to her.  Their placement in the story is a little strange.  They’re important.  You can tell they’re important.  We’ll see later that their families play a really important part in the history of Hinamizawa.  Satoko and Rika are both primed to be big, major players in the plot.  But it doesn’t materialize here.  The action’s not about them, so while they revolve around the plot, and they have important parts to play, nothing really moves on them.  Especially not in Satoko’s case.  They are not active characters in Onikakushi.

A side note, Satoko and Keiichi strike up a rivalry from the moment they meet.  That’s one of the few things Keiichi regularly comes out on top on.  And with as much of a pain as she can be, I find that so satisfying.

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After a few days of that, just getting to know each everybody, Keiichi finding his place with his friends, Rena and Mion take him around town and more formally introduce him to the place.  This is our first time really getting to see what Hinamizawa’s like.  Two things to note here.  First, the town is small, and its citizens are very close-knit.  Second, everybody already knows Keiishi.  He’s getting introduced to everyone for the first time, but they already know his name, where he lives, all that good stuff.  Mion demonstrates the whole everybody knows everybody bit by reciting full profiles on everyone they met that day, which leads Keiichi to the conclusion that “there is absolutely nothing you can keep hidden here.”  This is another scene that seems very innocuous your first time through.  Both these factors tie very closely into the context of the situation that they seem to naturally come up.  Could just be normal world-building.  Yet, they’re also foreshadowing a big factor later on in this chapter.

This is one of the things Onikakushi really shines at.  Foreshadowing is rampant in this story, yet it is worked in such a natural and subtle way, that it really adds a huge amount of depth to the story.  Leads to some great exploration once you know the nature of this beast.  This little event also introduces the Watanagashi, a once-a-year village festival supposedly celebrating the end of winter that will end up being a very important moment in our story.

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So some time later, Rena and Keiichi go to a place that has been the site of the hottest of dates the world over.  Their local unofficial garbage dump.  Rena’s looking for Kyute things, don’t ask.  While she’s busy mooning over a Colonel Sanders statue (really), Keiichi runs into another of the characters we’ll be following, Tomitake, a professional photographer and avid birdsman.  Tomitake ends up dropping the first breadcrumb of a good long trail that leads to Keiichi finding out about the village’s history that he has to spend a while unravelling.  I could take you guys through the whole circuitous route Keiichi has to go through, but I don’t feel like it, so here goes.

Hinamizawa’s History

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About 6 years ago, when everyone and your parents were indulging in the true atmosphere of the 70s and passing the time with all the drugs, some people in the government had something else in mind and were putting in a dam project in the Hinamizawa area.  Right in the illegal dumping grounds Rena was happily digging into, in fact.  This isn’t mentioned too strongly in game, but back in the 1970s, Japan’s rapid industrialization really outpaced its ability to produce energy, and they were being impacted hard by an energy crisis.  I imagine hydroelectric projects like these would have been quite attractive.  This project would have flooded both Hinamizawa and the nearest four towns.  As you can imagine, citizens weren’t exactly happy about that.  They organized protests and political pressures seeking to shut the dam down.  They got nowhere though, with the dam project still moving forward.  The way things were going, it was looking like the village of Hinamizawa was about to become the next Japanese Atlantis.

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Then the site foreman was murdered.  And not just murdered, dismembered.  See, the murder was carried out by like six guys, and the ringleader was a little worried that one of them was going to snitch.  So, in order to make everyone double extra guilty, he had them all cut up the body and everyone take a different piece.  Which, instead of keeping them all quiet, ended up making the five other guys all turn themselves in, so, you know, didn’t really work out there.  In any case, the ringleader disappeared with his part of the body, and like magic, the dam construction was stopped, because construction works just like video games and everything’s over once you beat the boss.

Since then, however, once per year, somebody dies.  The deaths aren’t seemingly connected, never happen the same way, and in some cases are chalked up purely to accidents or natural causes.  It’ll take a good long while for this to come up, but on top of the deaths, each year, somebody disappears.  The story doesn’t go out of its way to highlight it, but the person who goes missing is always in some way related to the person getting killed.  The only real thread in between the deaths/disappearaces seems to be that they happen to people with some degree of disconnection from the village of HInamizawa, and that they all happen on the night of the Watanagashi festival.

The missing person is whispered of as falling victim to an Onikakushi, being ‘demoned away’, in the same sense as being spirited away.  See, Hinamizawa, way back in times centuries before I entered this world and made the whole place that much better, was thought of as the place where demons live.  In fact, the Onigafuchi swamp at the edge of town is thought of both as being bottomless and as the gateway to the ogre’s abyss.  So those who disappear get thought of as being gobbled up by demons.

Back to the Plot

Of course, little of that gets told to Keiichi outright.  In fact, his friends are all rather cagey about it, shutting the question down and switching tracks whenever he asks.  He assumes they’re trying to protect him, what he thinks of this new place he lives.  Now that Tomitake’s cracked the dam, though, he has a hard time putting the question to rest.

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Anyways, after proving himself a worthy competitor/punching bag at their games, all of Keiichi’s friends decide to induct him into their little club, where games are always the order of the day and everything’s a competition.  The crew can’t even eat lunch without turning it into some sort of battle.  First rule of the club is to always shoot for first place, while the second rule is to do whatever it takes to win.  Things… don’t usually end up well for Keiichi.  He often finds himself overwhelmed.  He has a lot of fun with it, though.  We’ll be talking about the games played a bit later.  They’re very interesting.  I’ve mentioned it before, but the story, so many times does this thing were something seems totally innocuous and fluffy but it ends up meaning so much on a re-read, and nearly all the games you play have all that at its height, so we’ll need to dedicate a section to those.

Over the next couple of days, Keiichi and Rena go about trying to save Colonel Sanders from the garbage dump.  God’s work.  Tomitake show’s up, demonstrates that he’s kind of used to not being wanted by the village, while Rena demonstrates that she’s totally comfortable walking around Hinamizawa with an axe in plain view.

After that, stuff happens.  Then it’s festival time!

Watanagashi

So, let’s get into things a little more deeply with the Watanagashi here.  Watanagashi is the cotton-drifting festival, held at the shrine to the village guardian deity, Oyashiro-sama.  It starts with a whole bunch of traditional Japanese festival stalls at the shrine grounds, seemingly organized by Mion’s family.  After everyone’s had a good time there, they move on to the shrine proper, where the festival maiden, Rika, beats up a futon with some garden tools.  It’s all very solemn and ceremonial.  Following that, everyone sets little bits of cotton down the river.  Set their cares away, and all that there.

Oh yeah, and also, every time that goes on, someone dies and someone else disappears.  I’m sure some people will find that important.

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As for what goes on this year, the club uses it as the stage for the Five-Demon Firefight, basically just a contest to win all the carnival games.  Partway through, you run into Tomitake again.  Tomitake expresses how much he enjoys coming out to Hinamizawa, and that he’ll miss the place once he leaves and the festival is over.  Keiichi suggests if he enjoys the place, he should just move out there.

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And there the festival goes silent.  Which is a little hard to pick up at first, because Keiichi doesn’t point it out until a throwaway line when the noise returns, but the atmospheric noise pretty much stops there, and it seems everyone within earshot just quiets down.  The village heard you suggest an outsider come in, and everything just stops to watch.  Mayhaps Tomitake’s feelings of not being welcome there is not so much out of place.  The silence is maintained until Rena tells you not to tease adults, at which point it picks up again.  One more moment that means little on your first playthrough, completely different when you know what’s coming next.

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After that, the club inducts Tomitake as an honorary member, just for that night, and play the typical shooting range game with him.  Keiichi does well, and the girls all cheat.  Tomitake comes in dead last.  ‘Dead last’ specifically.  The novel uses that term multiple times.  It’s very pointed about that.  That’s what we call foreshadowing.

Then it’s time for cotton smashing.  The whole crew watches Rika do her thing, then Keiichi learns a bit about Oyashiro-sama, which we’ll go into a bit later.  Keiichi sets some cotton adrift, and begins to truly feel a part of the village.

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Afterward, Keiichi wanders around until he runs into Tomitake and his squeeze, Miyo Takano.  The story had actually introduced Miyo long, long ago, when Keiichi was being introduced around the village, but didn’t see fit to show off her sprite then.  There, Keiichi finally gets the chance to talk about the village’s past.  Tomitake and Miyo fill him in on a bit of what I told you before, that ever since the murder of the dam site foreman, someone’s been killed every year on the night of the Watanagashi, and Miyo says that a lot of people believe it’s due to Oyashiro-sama’s curse.  And, as it turns out, all the victims were related in some way to the dam construction. Theoretically, that would be the guardian deity protecting the village from the threat of the dam in some pretty vicious ways.

One interesting thing that comes up here.  When hanging around with Mion, Rena, and all them, Keiichi made a note of just how many people were showing up.  He was surprised at the huge number of people at the Watanagashi.  Mion says it’s because they’ve been sending out invites to people with the surrounding towns.  Miyo, however, says that in spite of those invites, people haven’t been showing up from the neighboring villages.  There were a lot of complaints about how hard it’s been to get people to come.  Keiichi saw a lot of people there.  Miyo says there shouldn’t be a lot of people there.  I don’t know what would account for the discrepancy there.  It is stated there’s a bunch of plainclothes officers hanging around, trying to get ahead of trouble, but it couldn’t account for that much.

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In the end, Tomitake and Miyo kind of joke with Keiichi about getting so worked up over the curse business, and offer a logical explanation for each of the deaths.  From this point on, the story takes a whole ‘Is it magic?  Is it mundane?” dichotomy with the mystery, kind of hovering in between them.  So we’ll be seeing a lot of this, presenting something that seems paranormal, but then hinting at a logical explanation for it.  Then, the whole club meets up again, everyone sees Tomitake off, and the Watanagashi is over.

Back to the Day to Day

Waking up the day afterwards, Keiichi and the club go to school, and start playing a rousing game of Clue, with all the club members as the potential murderers.  Sometimes this story is subtle.  Keiichi gets called out of class though.  Someone’s wanting to talk to him.

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Detective Ooishi.  The police.  As much as you all were saying the curse wasn’t real, it hit last night.  It hit Tomitake, just the person you were talking about.  He was found dead at the side of a road.  It was obvious he was in some sort of fight, but the actual cause of death?  Tearing out his own throat with his fingernails.

Let me say that again.  He tore out his own throat with his fingernails.  I’ll give you a moment here to shudder.  I know I need it.

Beyond that, Ooishi suspects Keiichi’s friends in some sort of foul play, and wants to flip him against them.  Keiichi isn’t quite so up on that, but doesn’t exactly say know.

Obviously, this is not a good position for Keiichi to be in.  Loves and trusts his friends, but doesn’t want to go against authority figures.  He mopes around the next few days, but still keeps his eye out like he promised Ooishi he would.  Gets some distance between him and the rest of his friends.

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One day, while Keiichi’s falling asleep in class like any good kid would, he overhears Mion and Rena talking about Tomitake’s death.  Here, they throw around the whole Oyashiro-sama’s curse business freely, and where they talk about a disappearance happening along with the deaths each year.  Rena’s worried that she’s going to be the one to disappear, and the way Mion’s talking, maybe there’s some basis for that.  What is really notable here is how certain Rena is that she’s on Oyashiro-sama’s hit list.  She shouldn’t be any more a target than plenty of the other people the deity could be going after, yet she is convinced she’ll be the next one to go.

For the record, the person to disappear this year was Miyo.  I’ll be dropping some conjecture on that later.  Prepare your minds!

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Keiichi looks over some of the club materials, and finds that Satoko’s brother, Satoshi, used to be a member of the club.  And a member of the school.  And in fact sat in the same seat that Keiichi did.  Keiichi asks about him, but is told little besides that he ‘transferred out’.  Just like when talking about the dam, his friends don’t want to answer his questions about that.

Which does call into question Keiichi’s position within the group, and the village.  Everyone’s accepting of him, welcoming to him, and treats him a lot better than they did someone like Tomitake.  He is afforded a certain amount of citizen treatment.  Yet they don’t tell him things that are common knowledge for villagers.  So, is he an insider or an outsider?

Keiichi’s walking home with Rena later, and decides to get a little more forceful with his questions.  He asks if there’s something everyone’s hiding from him.  He calls Rena on it when she says there isn’t.

And that leads to our capital M Moment in this story.  I mentioned before that there was a time that this story completely shifts gears.  My first time through, up until now, I was mildly enjoying it but wasn’t hooked.  And then this moment got its claws into me.  This was the biggest moment in the story for me.

Rena turns the question on him, and points out he’s hiding something from them.  Namely, his conversation with Ooishi, which she knows all about.  He denies it, and…

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That gave me chills my first time through.

Rena changes.  She goes dark.  Sinister.  And there’s no explanation for it.

This is the moment upon which the entire story pivots.  There’s been little hints of the intrigue and danger, there’s been those threatening moments in there, the big one when you learned that Tomitake was dead, but this is the first time the danger has been thrust upon the main character, became very immediate to the story.  This is the point upon which the entire plot pivots.  Before now, it was mostly slice of life business, but going forward, we’re getting into the psychological thriller territory.

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And oh man, this moment is so delicious.  It’s beautiful to me, how, with just a few lines, visuals, and sounds, the designers were able to deliver a shift so momentous.  This moment is visual novels at their peak, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a little hard to carry just through a description and screenshots, but keep an eye out for it if you happen to be playing through.  This is a great bit of storytelling. And honestly, if anything is going to sell you on this story, it’s going to be this moment here.

We’ll see that change a few times.  Mostly with Rena, but at least twice with Mion.  They’ll be cheery, friendly, and as happy as usual, then slip into that monster mode.  What specifically is happening there is one of the big questions the story leads to.

Keiichi, for what it’s worth, thinks that Rena transformed into a different person.

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Ooishi gives him a call that night.  They talk about what Keiichi overheard.  They bring up the whole Onikakushi thing, and this is news to the detective, that people related to the victims are going missing whenever a victim is killed.  Which honestly calls his credibility into huge question.  Although he’s definitely with the police, there’s plenty in the story to suggest that Ooishi may be going rogue on his investigation here, and the fact that the police, with all the resources and thought they’ve put into these cases, haven’t made the obvious connection there, well, it’s a little shakey.  Possibly suggesting that maybe Ooishi doesn’t have access into all their files there.  Or maybe he’s just playing dumb.  But I frankly can’t see any reasonable way the police would have missed something so apparent.

The other bit of news, Satoshi Houjou, the kid who transferred out last year?  He was the Watanagashi missing persons case a year ago.

Shortly after this is the first time a repeating theme comes up.  Keiichi gets the thought in his head that if he keeps going, he’ll learn something that will end up killing him.  He continues pushing forward anyways, no heed to that little voice inside of him.

Ooishi also, again, raises the idea that Keiichi’s friends are behind the murders, somehow.  Mion, Satoko, and Rika are all from some of the village’s most prominent families, and Ooishi thinks it’s the families in power that are doing it all.

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After they hang up, Keiichi’s dad bursts in, for like the one and only time he gets any real dialogue.  Turns out Rena had come over for a visit an hour ago, and Keiichi’s dad sent her up to Keiichi’s room and left the lovebirds alone.  Best wingman ever?  Anyways, Rena’s nowhere to be found, Keiichi had no idea she was there, but it seems she spent the whole time just listening in on your conversation there.  She heard everything they were talking about, and as a result of that, knows they’re keeping an eye out on behalf of Ooishi.

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So, Keiichi’s a little terrified.  Skips the next day of school.  Ooishi catches him as he’s wandering around, and takes him out for lunch.  Tells him a bit of the village’s lore.  The whole village, rather than just the swamp, used to be named Onigafuchi, the Ogre’s Abyss.  Can’t be good for that tourist income, I can see why they changed it.  Villagers use to have some sort of living arrangement with the demons, where they could make requests of them, but they came with some pretty deadly costs.  There were some other stories were demons banded together to capture prey, stories where you’re not supposed to get involved with either the demons or the victims when the hunts going on, and stories where Oyashiro-sama acts to protect the village from the outside world and the outside world from the demons of the village.  All folklore, fiction really.

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Of course, when you’re reaching the point where you start thinking you might be under a curse, who can really say what’s real and what’s fiction?

It seems your friends are connected with the victims, as well.  Satoko’s parents, aunt, and brother all either died or disappeared, as did Rika’s parents.  Mion was up to some violence during the dam event.  Rena doesn’t seem directly connected to any of them, but she did have a spate where she went through her last school, attacked students, and broke all the windows.  Rena had said back then that she was constantly being watched by Oyashiro-sama.

And here’s the first time that Keiichi gets a very accurate thought about his relationship with Ooishi.  Ooishi keeps pushing Keiichi, telling him more and more, and getting him further and further involved, yet does little to protect him.  Ooishi picked Keiichi, out of all the possible people in the village, to use as an informant without giving him any guidance whatsoever.

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Ooishi is using Keiichi as bait.  Ooishi is casting the line out, Keiichi at the end, trying to see what bites.

What is a little uncertain is the extent to which Ooishi intends to leave Keiichi hanging out there.  Specifically, is Ooishi just basing his contact with Keiichi on the idea that Keiichi fits all the requirements of a victim in these cases, and so is just trying to get ahead of the murders, perhaps to stop it from happening?  Or is Ooishi actively pushing Keiichi along in order to make him more of a target and prompt the perpetrators to move?  Is Ooishi passive and reactionary, just investigating someone who’s already in danger in order to get enough evidence to act, or is he active and placing a potential victim into even more danger just to gather evidence?  This chapter isn’t conclusive either way, although a bonus scene sees Rena and Mion calling him Oyashiro-sama’s messenger, saying that he’s gotten involved with people before, and whenever he does, they fall to the curse.

Rena and Mion come by that night, to check on Keiichi after he was out sick all day.  Keiichi’s still leery around Rena, but feels things will be fine if Mion’s there.  They’re both their usual selves, Mion couthless and Rena concerned.  They bring him some buns, one of which Rena made, and, as one of the games for the club, assign him to figure out which bun it is.

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Then, the both of them change.  They know all about Keiichi’s lunch with Ooishi, and what they were talking about there.  And they make it clear that Keiichi can do nothing without the both of them knowing about it.

They leave.  Keiichi goes mad.

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He seems to actually be going through a couple stages of grief at this rationalization.  First, he tries to deny it.  Rena and Mion are good people, and don’t have any ulterior motives or hidden meanings behind asking him about his lunch.  Then, he tries to rationalize it.  Maybe they did some evil things, but they were good to him, and the people who got killed deserve it.  After that, he blames himself for it.  It’s not their fault they’re getting all freaky evil with him, it’s his fault for not following the rules.

This is pretty similar to the early stages a lot of people whose family members committed suicide go through.  I haven’t seen anything I’d consider reliable on this, but word on the street is that Ryukishi07, the author of this visual novel, was a social service worker before he hit it big in visual novels.  If true, he’s likely bringing a lot of that experience into play in moments like these.

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In any case, Keiichi’s sanity clearly starts to crack.  He can’t bring himself to say ‘kill’ or ‘die’, even to himself, even as he’s thinking such malicious thoughts towards Tomitake and Ooishi.  He repeats the thought that ‘it wasn’t their fault’ to himself over and over and over and over, in relation to Mion and Rena.  This is now a man who has stared into the abyss, and felt it touch his mind.

Keiichi ends up convincing himself that after this, everything will be fine and his life will go back to normal.  He sets himself into the club game they set for him.  Six buns, one of which was made by Rena, the rest by Mion’s grandma.  He has to figure out which is Rena’s.  He goes for the bun that looks most obviously different from the rest, and chows down on it.

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There’s a needle inside.

Keiichi doesn’t seem injured by it, but he got the message clearly.  He freaks out, hurls the buns into the wall, and heads back up to his room.

Desperate to get his life back to normal, and thinking if he returns to the way things once were, the girls won’t attack him again, Keiichi heads in to school the next day.  Keiichi starts viewing Rena’s evil shifts more as a disorder.  He gets the vivid image in his mind of what Ooishi had told him about Rena attacking her last school.  Like, very vivid.  With way more detail than anything Ooishi had told him.  He sees himself there, at the event.

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Keiichi spends most of the day at school lost in his own head, trying to convince himself the girls aren’t up for killing him.  He doesn’t do a great job.  Ends up accidentally making an outburst on his thoughts in the middle of class, which seemingly nobody notices.  A little strange, given that other people can read him so well, they can tell what he’s thinking even when he doesn’t say it, yet when he yells it out, nobody reacts.  The school day is otherwise uneventful, in all.  Everyone is their normal selves, and seem honestly concerned that Keiichi isn’t.

He gets home, finally convinced that he’s under attack and starts making plans to deal with it.  Paranoia starts to set in.  He starts making a log of what he knows to help Ooishi figure things out, and sets it up so that his parents will find it if he dies.  Even though he knows pretty much nothing.  Not very useful there, Keiichi.  Second, Keiichi decides he’ll need a weapon.

Obviously, he can’t go wandering around town with an axe like Rena does.  He decides on a baseball bat, figuring that would be more inconspicuous.  He leaves for school early the next morning to pick one up, and is nearly run over by a van that swerves towards him on the way there.  After Keiichi dives into a rice paddy to escape, the van runs off.

Making it to school, Keiichi runs into a bit of a problem.  Although the school has baseball bats, all its school equipment is locked up this early in the morning.  In a bit of a panic, he looks around for something else to help him, and finds just what he needs.  A free, open, slightly dented bat in the locker of Satoshi, the kid who ‘transferred out’ the year before Keiichi showed up.  He takes it up and begins practicing with it, telling his friends he’s looking into picking up baseball.

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Keiichi gets a little inconsistent from this point forward.  He derives a lot of security from being in school, and being around other people, to the point that a few times he’s still his friendly playful old self who feels sad that the way he’s been acting has been hurting his friends so.  Other times, he feels they can strike from anywhere, and he has to constantly be on his guard.  He even has a big freak out moment in the middle of the schoolyard while he’s practicing his swing, yet, once again, nobody seems to notice his outburst.

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Rena hides herself and tails Keiichi home after he skips out on club activities the next day.  When he catches her, at first, she expresses concern about the way he’s been acting.  As Keiichi tries to force her away though, she gets very upset that, apparently, everything Keiichi is doing, down to picking up a bat and practicing his swing with it when he formerly had no interest in baseball, is exactly the same set of actions that Satoshi took before he disappeared.  This is a cycle that’s repeating itself, and it spells no good thing for Keiichi.

When Keiichi tries to question her further, Rena goes full on evil again.  The freaky Rena expresses that Keiichi’s not going to ‘transfer’ then leaves.  Keiichi’s bat was of no use to him.  Keiichi becomes fixated on the thought of Satoshi, a boy that he’d never met.

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When he gets home, Keiichi senses a presence behind him.  He gets no response when he calls out, and doesn’t see anybody there, but feels it all the same.  He swings at the presence wildly, smashing up his front entryway.  It seems to dissipate without being impacted, so Keiichi heads up back to his room.

Here, the idea that maybe things aren’t quite how he’s seeing them starts to enter Keiichi’s head.  It’s just a light touch, not a full on realization, but he does know that it might not be the best idea to mention just what exactly happened just there in his dead drop note.  He seems to grow a lot closer to Ooishi in the interim, starts relying on him as the only person who can maybe get him out of all this.  Even so, Keiichi’s still gonna be looking for more knowledge before safety.  Some more juggling with the whole ‘is it curse?  Is it peoples?’ occurs, with the knowledge that any answer only means more horrible things.

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Keiichi’s parents give him a call and let him know they’ll be out of town for a few days.  Ooishi gives him a call to talk about… stuff.  Keiichi gets all set to ask him about Rena’s background, when Rena herself shows up.  She seems bidden by Keiichi’s call, knows he’s home all alone, even knows what he’s planning on eating for dinner.  She wants inside.  Keiichi’s having none of that, leaving the chain on the door.  She pushes a hand in, and Keiichi smashes the door into her fingers.  She begs him to stop, and starts saying that she’s sorry, over and over, before eventually forcing her fingers loose.  Keiichi locks the door and heads upstairs.

Keiichi gets back to his phone conversation with Ooishi, and works out that the police officer can do nothing to help him without evidence.  Doesn’t tell him about what just happened with Rena, for whatever reason.  Ooishi launches into a bit of what I already told you about Rena’s backstory, that she broke all the windows in her school and attacked a few students, although it seems no charges were filed so the police have no records on that.  He states that some of her backstory may be conjecture on his part, but which sections, exactly, he doesn’t see fit to clue us in on.

By chance, Keiichi looks out the window.  He sees Rena out there, still apologizing, over and over.

Do you remember the dream he had waaaaaay back at the beginning?  Where some woman was repeatedly apologizing to someone else, and he thought it was so ridiculous that they wouldn’t just forgive them?  That thing I told you to remember?  No?  Shame on you.

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This time around, he says he won’t forgive, over and over, matching Rena’s little madness mantra.  Which does raise a question.  Has Keiichi changed since the beginning?  It’s only been a few days, but is there something different about him now, that causes him to look at these things in a new way?  Or is this just a matter of Keiichi having more context as to why she might be apologizing so much?  It’s happening to him, now, as opposed to some nameless schmuck

Keiichi doesn’t sleep that night.  He decides to go to school the next day anyways, explicitly to try and get more evidence.  Clinging to Satoshi’s bat, he starts to imagine the weapon’s previous owner as some sort of ally to him, again, in spite of never knowing the ill-fated child.  He gets the hunch that today is going to be the day he dies.  Goes to school anyways.

Rena’s fingers are definitely wounded, but she doesn’t say anything about it to Keiichi or the other kids.  Mion confronts him about how weird he’s been acting.  Specifically, she was wanting him to stop using Satoshi’s bat, as it seems like a bit of a keepsake to her and some of the other kids.  Keiichi reveals that he knows Satoshi was demoned away, and about Oyashiro-sama’s curse.  She freaks out a bit, warns him not to say that out loud, stating that although she doesn’t believe in the curse, plenty of others in the village do.  Especially Rena.  So as freaky as Mion gets, even though she got just as evil as Rena, she’s not a believer.  That seems very notable to me.  Again, Mion states that Keiichi is acting just like Satoshi did before he disappeared.

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Keiichi continues to rage at her about all the stuff they hadn’t told him, and Mion breaks down crying.  Keiichi calls her own the whole finding something deadly in the food deal from a few days back.  Mion owns up to it, and says she’s the one who did it, claiming it was only a prank.  Keiichi just calls off the whole friendship, declares war, and lets her know the cops are on to them.

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Through it all, Mion just seems more confused than anything else.  This is a far cry from the deadly, freakishly evil Mion that we’ve seen before.  Honestly, I find this conversation to be the most illuminating bit in the entire chapter.  Which, given that Onikakushi is pretty much all questions, no answers, is not exactly saying much, but still.  Mion acts completely out of character from what you’d expect after seeing the tacit threats she laid out to Keiichi before.  It’s pretty clear that both parties are having two different conversations, coming from completely different directions there.  We’ll go some more into what that might mean later, but remember this moment.  ‘Tis important.

Unfortunately, this status doesn’t last long.  Keiichi leaves as Mion collapses into a heap of emotion, and in between sobs, Keiichi hears her going dark, muttering some murderous thoughts towards Ooishi.

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After school, Keiichi once again muses to himself that things are about to end.  Specifically, he calls it the ‘last day of this cycle’.  A ‘cycle’.  Which is a really odd thing to call the situation he’s in.  After all, there hasn’t been any repetition in this chapter.  Nothing happening, passing, then coming around again in sequence as you would usually expect with a ‘cycle’.  That word does not remotely apply to this situation.  Unless, maybe, Keiichi’s privy to something he just doesn’t see fit to let the rest of us in on.

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Keiichi starts getting the sense that Tomitake, Satoshi, and a random dying higurashi are trying to tell him something.  He’s feeling like he’s communicating with the dead and/or gone.  As if on cue, Rena appears before Keiichi.  With an axe.  And those freaky, freaky eyes.

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Keiichi completely loses his nerve.  He takes a different route home.  Rena follows him.    Keiichi starts running.  Rena, although she’s still walking, keeps pace.  Rena starts babbling about Satoshi, saying she thought she could have kept him from transferring out, and she wants to save Keiichi from the same fate.  All while cackling maniacally.  Keiichi gets cornered, Rena moves to strike. Some discussion, Keiichi says there’s no way Oyashiro-sama could exist, Rena says of course Oyashiro-sama does, and that he/she/it takes the form of somebody apologizing to you, over and over.  Sounds familiar.  Before she strikes, he knocks her down and books it.

Keiichi makes it back to the site of the dam construction.  There, he runs into two nameless faceless adults, who both attack him.  After a bit of a struggle, he gets choked out and loses consciousness.

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He wakes up back in his room, with Rena taking care of him.  She says she found him unconscious, with nobody else around, and took him back home to recover, and had called a doctor.  Keiichi excuses himself to the restroom, and sneaks downstairs to try to give a call to Ooishi.  Someone knocks at the door, and, thinking it’s the doctor Rena called, Keiichi opens it up.

It’s Mion, instead.  Rena comes down too, and together, they cart Keiichi back up to his room.  They have a pretty standard conversation, just like they would have before things went all pear-shaped, when casually, Rena dropped that she called the Manager.

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Who’s the Manager?  I don’t know, and neither do you.  Rena and Mion aren’t exactly full of answers when he asks about that.  Instead, they tell him that he failed the club game with the bean buns they left him with a while back, and because of that, he needs to undergo a punishment.  The same punishment Tomitake went through, specifically.

Rena pins his arms behind him, and Mion pulls out a syringe.  Before she does anything with it, though, Keiichi blacks out.

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When he comes to, he’s living the aftermath of what seems to be the scene we saw in the In Medias Res opening scene.  Bloody bat in hand, Mion and Rena both dead in his room.  The entire room was splattered with blood, making it obvious he didn’t stop at just a few strikes.  He remembers breaking out of Rena’s grip just before he was injected, grabbing the bat which was left in his room, and, after that, nothing.  The “Other Me” inside him keeps him from remembering any more, for his sanity.

Having gotten some evidence of what’s going on, namely through whatever was in the syringe Mion was going to use, Keiichi feels he’s satisfied his desire for knowledge and is ready to take things to the police.  He sees a number of people amassing outside his home, so he quickly writes out the rest of his dead drop note, sticks the syringe to it, and hides it in his room where he thinks Ooishi will end up with it.  Then, after some reflection where he still can’t seem to decide whether this is paranormal or his friends are just evil, Keiichi flees.

He feels a presence behind him as he runs, then starts apologizing, over and over again.

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The POV switches over to Ooishi here.  He gets a call from Keiichi through a payphone.  Keiichi is in a panic, obviously trying to tell Ooishi something, but he can’t get it out.  Keeps coughing when he tries.  Then that turns to vomiting.  With a scratching sound running through it all.  Keiichi does finally reveal that he thinks Oyashiro-sama is real, and that he’s been feeling a presence behind him.  He doesn’t want to look at it, but at Ooishi’s bidding, does so.  From there, he only repeats “I’m sorry” faintly, until the line goes quiet.

Keiichi is later found in critical condition in a phone booth, having clawed out his own through with his fingernails.  He died in the hospital within a day.

The police report at the end names Keiichi as the murder of Mion Sonozaki and Rena Ryuugu.  It states he called them over to his place, where he ended up beating them to death with a bat.  His note was found, although parts of it were missing, such as his speculation about the Manager being the still-living dam site foreman, his mention of Mion’s drug, and the syringe itself.  This raises the possibility that Keiichi was involved in some other sort of incident, but no more evidence ever arose of that.  In the end, the police conduct a confidential investigation, but with the way all their other investigations have been going, the chances of success there are slim.

And so ends the first chapter of Higurashi.

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2 responses to “The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – Plot Rundown

  1. What’s wrong with walking about with an axe? I might have the sudden urge to chop down trees. The story starts in 1983? I was three years old back then. Writing stories in that time setting is certainly easier as people can’t bail themselves out with a quick mobile phone call.

    • If we didn’t have ways of writing around cell phones, we wouldn’t have horror movies anymore. No more running to meet the girl before she leaves on her airplane. No more having to through rocks at windows to get people’s attention while their parents sleep. It’s a whole new world, now.

      That’s pretty similar to something Rena says, in fact. Wait. Waiiiit… Judge, you didn’t happen to grow up in a small Japanese town did you?

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