In spite of just starting the tale over using the same setting and conflict, and mostly the same characters, Watanagashi does add a lot of new things into our understanding of the Higurashi world. Let’s take a look at some of the more major ones. And, as always, be wary of spoilers. We won’t cover anything from later chapters, but I’m taking everything from Onikakushi and Watanagashi as fair game.
Watanagashi resets the clock on the whole Higurashi deal. As you might recall from the last chapter, Onikakushi, the story consisted of an arc wherein Keiichi moved to town, made friends, had good times, then everything went to hell and he died in mysterious circumstances after killing his friends. Watanagashi rolls the clock back to right at the beginning of when Keiichi started having good times, then starts taking things in a different direction. So it starts over. Rewinds time, then retells the story with different happenings. Lots of things do that. So what’s the issue?
Well, it’s clear that everything in Onikakushi still happened. Keiichi’s life still fell apart, he went insane and probably killed his friends, then died himself. This is not a simple narrative tool, where we’re getting to see a different dimension to the story. Something actually occurred to restart things, to flip the pages of Keiichi’s story back to near the beginning, and then it moves differently from there. We know this, because when whatever refreshed things happened, it left behind some scars.
They’re deep scars, ones you can’t see very well, but they’re still there. Keiichi gets the odd feeling that he can’t explain, momentary flashbacks to what happened last time around, that he’s no longer in a position to understand. Something in side of him is screaming for him that he’s in danger, but given that his memories are lost with the time, he’s not able to pick up on it. This is most clear when he first runs into Ooishi, and where last chapter he warmed up to the detective pretty quickly after a bit of a cold reception, this chapter around he automatically gets some pretty severe misgivings every time Ooishi shows up. Not only that, but he’s already way more familiar with both Ooishi and Tomitake than he should be when they first meet. Those memories are leaking through, he just doesn’t realize it. Because why would he?
It’s not just Keiichi that these memories seem to be leaking through with, either. Takano already seems to know more about Keiichi and his limitations than she should for someone who just met him. The police made no connections between the murders and the disappearances last chapter, whereas they’re completely on top of the pattern this time around, although that may be less the memory-wipe breaking down than it was Ooishi just dicking with Keiichi in the previous tale. Tomitake seems to have his odd misgivings as well. Whatever’s going on to reset time here, it doesn’t just seem to be localized to Keiichi.
Overall, Watanagashi is waaaaay less into the “maybe it’s people, maybe it’s magic” deal than Onikakushi was. Except for this. And this alone. But the nature of these cycles, whatever it may be, is huge. And for that reason, Watanagashi feels a lot more supernatural in nature than Onikakushi did, even though outside of time repeating itself, there’s very little that doesn’t have a person directly behind it. Some sort of outside force sent time spiraling back to it’s start, and it would take quite a bit of doing for that to have been something the people made happen themselves. These are almost certainly some other-that-human forces at work, here.
How long have these cycles been going on, though? How many times has time repeated itself. Think back to the opening of Onikakushi. Before it got into the story proper, it opened with a narrating character killing a woman with several sickening blows. At the time, I had theorized that was what was going on during the period of time that Keiichi had blacked out at the end of the chapter, before he woke up to find his friends dead, but maybe that’s not the case. Sure, that could easily be Keiichi and Rena, but at the end of that chapter, he apparently murdered his friends in his room. When the chapter opened, the scenery showed an outdoors location, under the open sky. Maybe, rather than filling in the gaps in Keiichi’s cognition, that actually showed similar occurences in an earlier timeline?
You know, the idea of cycles may not be limited to temporal loops. A big chunk of last chapter also focused on how Keiichi was repeating the final actions of another, posthumous character before that guy had disappeared. Stuff repeats in Hinamizawa. And I guess it doesn’t usually lead anywhere fun.
As I mentioned last time, Watanagashi introduces a new major player to the Higurashi story. Shion Sonozaki, twin sister to Mion Sonozaki, and it’s clear that she’s a big deal. She is no side character. So much of this chapter revolves around her and how she ties in with the rest of her family, to the point of being somewhat central to the Higurashi conflict. That makes it really odd that she was never even mentioned or alluded to last chapter.
You might remember from our character run-down on the last chapter’s analysis that Mion, the good old president of the Games Club, is a pretty wily, clever, and devious person. Shion is that up to eleven. In fact, it feels like Mion turns into a kitten whenever Shion is running her mind games on her, although that’s only partially because Mion’s so outclassed. Mion often just seems overwhelmed by Shion’s mere presence. Shion’s got a mean streak a mile wide, too. When things haven’t quite gone down the dark, dark hole they reach in story and everything is still all good and happy, Mion’s pranks are all done for levity. She goes a long way with them, sure, but you can tell she does them for a bit of good fun. Shion’s pranks are much more hurtful. She will actively manipulate people, tear them down, seemingly just because she can.
That said, Shion is pretty emotionally vulnerable herself. She puts up fronts, and is devious enough that it’s hard to tell which of her more open moments are showing an honest side of her, but there are a few of them that do seem to come through. She’s really fixated on being saved. From what, she’s never very clear on, but multiple times, she brings it up to Keiichi, or makes him promise to save her, multiple times. She also seems to lose control a bit whenever Satoshi, one of the previous disappearances, is brought up. It’s clear that something sore for her has happened in the past that’s left her with some scars, and she’s looking for some sort of out.
Oddly enough, aside from the fact that Mion seems to hate having her around, with admittedly good reason given the way she treats her, Shion seems to fit in well with Keiichi and his group of friends. When she’s not out to tear anybody down, she operates at that same level, can keep up really well with their games, and can give and take with the best of the crew. Oddly enough, the reveal that Shion and Mion are in fact different people is a pretty horrible action on Shion’s part; knowing full well Keiichi believes her to be Mion she takes him out on a date, leads him to trying to make up for a way he had wronged Mion in a pretty intimate manner, then rubs the whole thing in Mion’s face; yet even so, Keiichi still seems to trust her more than he does Mion. Rena had said in the last chapter that Mion used to be really bad at the games when the club first started, and that leaves me wondering if perhaps her extreme competence with them now is something she might have learned from Shion. The whole relationship between the sisters hard to gauge. Shion and Mion do seem to talk to each other behind the curtains, and share information, but Mion doesn’t like having her around in public, and well, there was that whole gorey business with the ending.
I’ve said before one of my favorite things about Higurashi is how it always gives you one story element that it makes perfectly clear without making it obvious. That’s a level of inference that is very hard to maintain as a creator. Any more opaque, and people won’t grab it the way that’s intended. Any more obvious, and the whole element is ruined. And in this case, the elements are clear. Shion and Mion are switching places, pretending to be each other. Keiichi doesn’t even believe Mion and Shion are separate people at first, thinking that ‘Shion’ is a guise for Mion to comfortably act out her kinder and more feminine side. Even when Keiichi knows better, he still sometimes refers to on or the other of them by the wrong name, and they don’t correct him. Likely because he subconsciously knows he wasn’t always talking to whom he thought he was talking to. There’s a moment in which Keiichi relates a story he heard from ‘Shion’, and Shion asks if he heard it from Mion. At one point, Shion helps Keiichi when he’s feeling down by bringing him a homemade lunch. Later on, Shion taunts Mion about it in a way that alludes that Mion was the one to actually do that. And of course, there’s the fact that Shion was still giving Keiichi phone calls when she was supposed to be out of the picture. And there’s a point when Mion get’s particularly worked up and starts referring to herself in the third person.
So yes, it’s clear that Shion and Mion are giving us the classic twin magic and swapping places with each other. When and why, we’re not sure of. But it does beg a few questions. Was Shion involved in anything last chapter, appearing as Mion? Given that is was Shion that pushed Keiichi into this Chapter’s inciting incident, what was the plan there? And who was in who’s place at the end, when people were being killed and the murders were being uncovered?
I mentioned this before, but Watanagashi plays a narrative trick I love. The OOC after-party even points this out to you, so they let you have this one for free. So you know how the tale of Higurashi is a big Paranormal Murder Mystery? Well, Watanagashi actually gives you an answer for that mystery. Mion did it. She wasn’t working alone, there was an organization behind it, but she was at the head of it, and may have killed some people directly. The murders were murders, the disappearances were sacrificed in Hinamizawa’s traditional disembowelment ritual and hidden in an underground well, and the organization would cover it all up and shift the blame. It was a series of perfect crimes, until the police started catching on and closing in this year. They were conducted for political and religious reasons, and to assure the safety of the village, but the explanation as to the motive is neither thorough nor satisfactory.
So, we can pack it up there, right? Mystery’s solved, the case is closed, we don’t need another eleven or however many chapters they’re putting into this release of the Higurashi anthology? Well, no. As the after-party itself states, this explanation doesn’t quite fit. The organization had been putting on a series of perfect murders, yet there barely seems to have been an attempt to keep the blame for it from resting on the perpetrators this year, to the point that the police are right on top of them, catching the ringleader in the act? That is a huge and sudden drop in competence. Moreover, the pattern just doesn’t fit. Every year, there’s one murder, and one disappearance. Except this year, in which there’s two murders and at least six disappearances. Almost as if someone wanted to draw the police’s attention. And the explanation for it all, that it was Mion and her crew doing it? It doesn’t perfectly fit the activities this year, wherein several people that would have been close to them were the ones disemboweled and dumped down the well. Moreover, that group has much better ways of disposing of people. Mion may have confessed to it, may have provided the explanation for it all, but that explanation doesn’t really cover any of that year’s activities.
There’s also the question of who exactly was ‘Mion’ at that time, given what we know about the twins switching places. Now, there’s a clear way to be sure. Mion has a tattoo marking her as the inheritor of the family, whereas Shion, the younger twin, does not. Problem is, Mion didn’t show it. She was, but Rena stopped her. So we have no firm proof either way.
Items in favor of that Mion, the one doing the confessing, actually being Shion, while the real Mion being the ‘Shion’ that’s locked up in the Sonozaki family’s dungeon, include that ‘Mion’ referring to herself frequently in the third person as she starts to get more worked up, referring back to a conversation Keiichi had with Shion before (although that could well have been Mion in Shion’s place then), and getting positively thrown when Keiichi tells her “you’re not Mion” before getting giddy when he says a demon took her place instead. Keiichi also tells her the Mion he know wouldn’t enjoy trampling over people’s dignity like she was then, although from what we’ve seen from Shion, she definitely would. Mion’s/Shion’s grandmother was one of the very recent disappearances. I’m not positive about this one, but given the reverence Mion had for her grandmother and the fact that from ‘Mion’s’ explanation, the disembowelment was supposed to be used when people broke village laws whereas the Sonozaki’s were charged with enforcing those laws, I don’t think Mion would have turned them on her grandmother. Shion, given her distance from the family, might.
Evidence in favor of the Mion at the end actually being Mion pretty much rests on the fact that Shion calls Mion by name then. Which is a small thing, and she would want to play along with Mion in order to try to keep Keiichi alive, but I think that’s pretty damning. She still calls Mion by name even as Mion’s dragging him off, when she’d have almost no reason to, and I don’t really have a good explanation for that aside from the obvious.