So let’s go ahead and start getting in on the people our poor, tragic Keiichi has been hanging out with. The people he loves. The people who turned his life into spiders. The people who ended up killing him. Because, get this, in a character driven story, the characters end up being a little bit important. And when your lead character is largely a cypher, the supporting cast end up picking up all that personality weight. So let’s take a look at these people, who they are, and what they’re doing in the story. Now’s a good time to put your overthinking cap on, by the way. I certainly am.
Rika and Satoko
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first. I do want to say, it is clear that Rika and Satoko are both very important to the overall plot. There’s enough going on with them in this chapter alone that it’s obvious that we’re going to be seeing a lot, lot more of them in the arcs to come.
That said, although the both of them are around for a lot of Onikakushi, they’re not present for all the big moments, and they don’t really do a lot. They’re not active characters, the plot does not turn on them. At least, not yet. Or maybe not in front of the curtains. Yeah, it’s that kind of story.
Both Rika and Satoko are members of the big name families of the village. Both of their families fell on the “wrong” side of the dam incident, Rika’s for not protesting it hard enough, Satoko’s for being in support of it. Both have family members who were killed/onikakushi’d in the yearly incidents. Multiple times, for Satoko. And both of them live together, alone. No parents, no caretakers, just the two of them. Alone. Rika gets some respect from the rest of the village, due to being their resident shrine maiden, and coming from a family strongly connected with their faith. Satoko, we don’t really get an idea of what everyone thinks of her. Well, except for Mion. We’ll get into that in a bit.
In fact, let’s get into that right now! Mion is competitive. And you’ve got a club built around playing games against each other. It stands to reason she’s going to be butting heads. With everyone else, it seems just a good bit of friendly smacktalk. It seems to cross the line a bit when she’s up against Satoko, though. Could just be Satoko’s nature. She’s definitely one to take the playfight a little too far. But even so, Mion seems a little more ready to poke at Satoko’s vulnerabilities than she does to others. And remember that her family was a supporter of the dam project while, according to Ooishi, Mion herself was on the other side of that fight. Starts to make those barbs seem more a veiled blade.
It’s really, really strange nobody pays much attention to Satoko this story. Her family gets called up all the time. Her brother, Satoshi, in particular. Keiichi even gets a bit obsessed with him. Yet, even as Keiichi finds himself walking in her brother’s footsteps, he never bothers to talk to her about him.
And as for Rika… we know she’s a bit devious. She’s good at knowing things, and not letting on that she knows these things. She shows that in the games, where she plays up her childlike appearance to manipulate people and lull her opponents into an unfounded sense of security. In truth, she’s very analytic, and good at sussing things out, but she keeps that hidden.
So where is she at with this story? I’m going to do that thing where I read a lot into a single scene, but you recall when Keiichi took up Satoko’s brother’s bat, and started training with it as a weapon? Rena freaked out. Mion had a lot of trouble with that. Rika noticed it, even as he was trying to hide it, and all she did was warn him not to lose the bat. She wanted to make sure he kept it with him. And earlier on, she was particularly concerned about Keiichi’s health.
Does that mean that she’s on his side, and wanted him to have it to defend himself? Does it mean she knew what would happen to Rena and Mion in the end, and wanted to set him on that path? Given that nature of this story, I think we can safely discard the idea that she knew nothing about the happenings and only wanted to Keiichi to be careful with the cherished bat.
We’ve got a really weird dichotomy with Mion. I’ve already made a big deal of that one moment, where even after we’d seen Mion get all dark and evil, she seemed completely unaware of everything that’s been going on with him when Keiichi confronted her about some of what he’s been seeing from her late in the story. We see her be evil. We see her be confused and innocent. And it’s a little hard to match the two together.
As far as everyday life goes, Mion’s the ringleader of the game’s club, always the one who seems to lay down the when, the where, and the punishment for all the challenges. She’s almost always the one to end up on top of them, too. According to Rena, though, this wasn’t always the case. When Mion started the club, she was often the one on the bottom. It was only after she spent the time, learned to become devious, learned to bring these mind games, that she was finally able to show success at the games. Then again, there was at least one more person who was a member of the club, Satoshi Houjou, at the time she was reportedly bad at these games, that may have had something to do with it.
When she lets the demon out inside her, Mion seems to be something of a ringleader. Rena is the one that’s more actively aggressive to Keiichi, but to some extent, she does defer to Mion’s lead. Mion appears more the manipulator than the actual instigator here, working more with schemes and organization than assault. When they do land Keiichi at the end, her weapon of choice isn’t an axe, like Rena, something that will kill Keiichi immediately. Rather she opts for a more convoluted tool, a drug that drives its victim to kill themselves instead.
One thing that’s interesting to me is her belief in Oyashiro-sama and the whole mystical village business. At one point, she tells Keiichi straight up she doesn’t take it seriously. At another, she’s talking with Rena about the Demoning Away business as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Not quite sure what to make of that just yet.
Her role rather fits that of her family, who always seem to find themselves in positions of power, of some sort. Politicians, business owners, all of ‘em. Even Mion herself gets in on the action, as we see her managing the vendors and other businesses as they’re getting ready for the festival. As Ooishi recalls, she was leading part of the charge in the dam protests as well, even as a little green-haired kid.
Even so, she’s not completely in control of things here. At the end, she does call over a ‘director’ to take command. So she’s got some rank, could be pulling it on the people who apparently tried to run Keiichi over, assaulted him around the building, and surrounded his home, but there are even others above her.
Again, I still have to call back to that last real conversation Keiichi had with her, when he did confront her on the needle bun, on what he’s been experiencing, and on all that they hadn’t filled her in on. I can’t emphasize enough, that conversation does open up a whole new side to the story. Keiichi was calling her on the devil in her, and she seemed to either not know what he was talking about, or thought that what she’s done was a far less big a deal than, you know, attempted murder and terrorism would be. She and Keiichi have been seeing completely different things. To what degree the separation of perception was, and who was seeing things closer to reality, is really the big question on which so much hinges.
Oh, Rena. Dear, sweet Rena. How could this have all happened to you?
So, Rena is lovely and happy and sweet and hot for you and everything you want in a girlfriend. She cares for Keiichi when he’s sick, she waits up for him before school every morning, and all she wants is for him to be happy and to fill her life with kyute things. Blazes, she’s such a sweetheart.
Which makes it all the more drastic when she snaps.
So sweet as honey Rena had that hidden demon inside of her. Could we see that coming? Well, sort of. Keiichi would occasionally ask her questions about her past, and she would duck and weave like a master boxer to avoid answering them. She would change the subject, switch the focus to Keiichi, or just straight up misdirect to get out of answering them. She also changed her name from Reina at some point in the recent past. Now, this is high school, and figuring out your identity would normally be a common thing. Hell, I dated a girl in high school who went from being called An-dree-a to An-drei-a to just Drea in the scant few years I knew her. But this is anime, and in anime, names are important. To change a name, takes some sort of event.
So there are a few things worth questioning there. Nothing that would clue you in onto the full-on evil inside.
Rena’s also a bit of a hypocrite. She hates lies. When she’s going crazy, nothing pushes her off faster than lying. In fact, that tends to be why she can’t win many of the club games, she has little habit for deceit. Active deceit, anyways. Yet, she lies all the time herself. She lies about her past, telling Keiichi she’s only lived in Hinamizawa for a year. She lies about the Hinamizawa dismemberments and continued murders, keeping them fully hidden from Keiichi. And, when talking to Keiichi about Oyashiro-sama, she… well, doesn’t lie outright, but she does mask quite a bit of what she must think is the truth there, if word from Ooishi and Mion is anything to go by.
And when she’s getting into her insane mode, she seems to get full-on obsessive. Mion, what little we see of her there, is relatively non-emotional about what she does, but Rena dives deep into mania. She’ll latch onto singular ideas and pursue them in spite of all reason, such as apologizing after her fingers get smashed, which she repeats over and over, or on saving Keiichi from getting demoned away, for which she pursues him relentlessly. She also shows some elements of stalking, having knowledge about Keiichi from even before they met and seeming to know any time he’s talking about her that she could only get either from being within eye/earshot at normally very unlikely times or by some sort of supernatural means.
Even so, the last time we see her completely lose it, when she’s actively attacking Keiichi, doesn’t her madness seem just a little different? Before then, she’s menacing, she seems to relish Keiichi’s fear, but she doesn’t actually push him much. She’ll stalk him as he’s talking about her, she’ll just lurk outside his door in a way that he’s clear to find out about, and she’ll show up at his place with veiled threats, but no matter what he’s doing or how vulnerable she is, she doesn’t directly get involved. She’s in for the terror, not for the kill. Except for that time that she tries to hack into Keiichi. There, she winds up defeated due to a simple shove, then, when Keiichi sees her later, she’s back to her more terror-oriented self.
A lot of her background, we get from Ooishi. And as already stated, he’s a bit unreliable as a source. From other clues we get, we can be pretty sure that Rena grew up in Hinamizawa, left, and returned relatively recently with that new name. She probably did have some sort of smashy smashy trouble at her old school, if only for the reason that the story would be a lot weaker if Ooishi was lying to you completely. And she does have some real, strong, deadly belief in Oyashiro-sama and the curse, to the point where, at some stage, she’s convinced she’s about to disappear, and later, seems convinced something similar will happen to Keiichi.
Rena seems to be a bit of a gateway into the games club. By my memory, she was the one who first suggested and most pursued bringing Keiichi to it, and the one who broke the ice for Tomitake and suggest he be part of the night’s festivities as well. Seems friendly. But things didn’t exactly end well for either of them.
And even after all that’s happened, Keiichi still seems to have some sort of affection or trust for her. He seems a lot more fearful of the idea of Rena than actual Rena herself. He can’t sleep when he’s imagining her on the other side of his door. When she actually is on the other side, he dozes off. As he’s thinking they absolutely have his number and just want him under their thumb, he still playfully musses Rena’s hair when she says something silly. Even after Keiichi’s killed her, he still trusts that she actually did call a doctor, at first.
So, it’s the games club. Not that it’s ever called that, it’s always just “the club”, but you know that’s what it is. So guess what you do in that club? That’s right. Knitting.
So the games the club plays are one of those things I’ve been raving about, where they just seem like really simple, fun moments at first glance, but end up turning into something far more meaningful once you know how the story turns. Metaphor at the most subtle while still being detectable, running a very fine line there and managing it beautifully. Let’s take a look at them.
The first game they play after Keiichi joins up is Old Maid. Simple enough, right? Except that the deck they’re playing with is rather old, and everyone except for Keiichi can read the cards by the scratches and folds on the back. So we’re left with a game where all the natives to the club know everything, have a common knowledge between them, and they’re not sharing. Similar to the state of the town, where everyone knows about the dismemberment and the yearly murders and demon abductions, yet keep such hidden from Keiichi. It also ends with Keiichi losing while calling the rest of the club members ‘Demons’.
Second game is zombie tag. One person is ‘it’, anyone they tag are also ‘it’, winners are those who end the game not being ‘it’. In this game, Keiichi completely loses track of who’s been tagged and who hasn’t. He doesn’t know who he can trust, and ends up getting burned by those he thought were on his side. Later on, he gets to trusting Ooishi, and that may be the factor that pushed him towards his demise. This also showcases Keiichi’s more malevolent nature, given how readily he takes command when he gets taken to the other side.
Third game is… I don’t remember. Some card game where the loser has to draw a punishment out of a hat. Keiichi does well at this game. Really well. He hits the zone, and relishes in it. He’s having himself a good time there. Then Rena goes into her kyute mode, hits her own zone, and not only brings Keiichi down, he gets slapped with the worst punishment of them all. This follows along the same trajectory as his life in Hinamizawa. He gets accustomed to it, starts really having a good time there, then all that weirdness with Rena ends up taking his good times down, and get him killed. Moreover, Keiichi knows before she plays her hand that Rena’s going to win, just like he knows his last morning that he’s going to die that day.
The final game is their Five Demon Firefight, at the festival. So first, this sees everyone competing to eat random things from the food stalls as quickly as possible. I can’t really tie it to anything later on in the plot here, but what was really notable in that instance was that with these games, there was no punishment, no points to earn, nothing on the line. Yet the players were still sacrificing themselves in order to win. Going from just eating in ways that completely ruin their ability to enjoy the food to actually mixing their food with disgusting things, like goldfish water, in order to get them down faster.
From there, the Five Demon Firefight adds Tomitake to its ranks, and moves on to the typical shooting gallery game. Cork guns, whoever knocks the biggest prize down wins. This game both shows Keiichi to be the best with killing tools, being the only one to actually be able to use the guns effectively, it also foreshadows Tomitake’s upcoming death pretty strongly. He doesn’t get referred to as ‘dead last’ so many times for something.
Another thing I find myself unable to tie to anything later on, but also seems really important to me; in all of these games, the club are breaking their own rules. The first by having no punishments for losing, and the second, by all the members except for Keiichi and Tomitake trying not to lose, going for smaller prizes that’ll keep them from having nothing, rather than trying to win, to beat all other players. I don’t know what that means. But it seems the club tenants aren’t as important to them as something else this day.
Then, their final game before Keiichi starts distancing himself from the club is Clue. With all the traditional character cards, representing the potential murderers, replaced with cards of the clubs members. The parallels there should be pretty obvious without me pointing them out to you. So I won’t!