Once again, we should really take a look at the leading ladies of this work, what they’re up to when all this crap goes down. Because really, chances are, all the people you’re spending most of your time with in a good mystery. Probably going to end up at least slightly important.
Between her and Shion, the Sonozaki sister take the prime spots of this chapter. Whereas the previous chapter really delved into who and what Rena was, this one shines the spotlight on the two of them. Revolving focus. Start of a pattern. We covered Shion last entry, so let’s take a look deeper into what we’ve got going on with Mion.
Of course, this gets a little more complicated with what we talked about last time, how Shion and Mion have been switching places, but we’ll do our best. And our best is pretty great.
One thing we learn about Mion here is that she kind of has the hots for our Keiichi. Yes, just like Rena did last time. Yes, he’s a visual novel protagonist. Higurashi never shows you what your viewpoint character looks like, so I’ve been inserting my own appearance in there, so it makes perfect sense to me that all the ladies would be looking for a piece of his doomed self, but I understand if the rest of you find that unrealistic.
So anyways, yeah, Mion here’s way into that animu boy. This turns out to be very relevant. When Shion’s getting her claws into Mion, that’s the route she uses. You see her breaking out of her usual characterization in order to benefit Keiichi plenty of times. Maybe the reason everything goes to hell so hard is because of Keiichi.
Yeah, let’s explain that last one. Rena reveals that Keiichi inadvertently offended her without realizing it sometimes earlier in the story. Keiichi thinks it stems from an incident wherein he gave Mion scorn instead of a doll she may have wanted, which is as good a time as any although Mion never confirms what it was. Moreover, Keiichi’s involved in the incident that seems to have spurred the murders/disappearances this time around, in which he, Shion, Tomitake and Takano break into the village’s sacred torture-disembowelment storehouse. More blood is spelled than in any other year previous, yet Keiichi goes almost entirely untouched in the killing spree that follows, until he goes out and finds trouble himself.
Mion seems to be struggling with her identity a bit this chapter, especially as her twin gets added to the mix. She seems to react a bit hesitantly every time Keiichi insists that she can’t be feminine. She also struggles a bit with the duality of her role as just your average Japanese high school girl and her role as the heir to the Sonozaki family. This chapter goes a lot deeper into the history of the village and the interplay between all the families, as well as Mion’s particular upbringing and background. It’s clear that there’s a lot of expectations on her, a lot of responsibility that she never really asked for. Beyond that, there’s her relationship with her sister, which, at the very least, seems quite colored by the family structure set in place before she was even born. So much of her life was already decided for her by virtue of being the firstborn in her family, and although she fulfills all those expectations, I get the feeling that sometimes they’re at odds with what she’s really feeling.
Then again, I could just be assuming things. It’s really hard to tell when you’re not sure when Mion is really Mion.
One piece of that dichotomy that I am sure of, because the game won’t stay quiet about it, is that Mion is struggling with her femininity. She’s always referred to herself as “this old man”, but Watanagashi tops that by having Keiichi, Shion, and Mion herself suggest she should have been born a boy at several occasions, and Keiichi running through the thoughts of ‘if she were a boy I’d do [etc.]’ and the like at several junctures. Even before Keiichi realizes that Shion and Mion are separate people, he assumes that Mion is pretending to be her own twin sister because she couldn’t bear to add the feminine things she’s doing into her own identity. There may be some truth to that though. If you read between the lines, the most likely times Mion is masquerading as Shion are when she wants to be kind and tender to the boy she crushes on who just can’t seem to see her as a woman in the first place.
And yeah, if you take this story at face value, Mion’s behind the murders. It’s clear, particularly in the character discussion following the end of it, that this is at most only part of the truth, but still, she is wrapped up in some pretty nasty business. In her position as the head of the village, she’d likely know what’s going on, and may be actively involved. She could be leading the murderers, particularly if you take her confession this chapter as truth. How much might actually be her and how much might be Mion, it’s hard to say, but given how clear this chapter is on Mion’s position of power in the village, it’s hard to believe she’s entirely uninvolved.
Then again, maybe she’s a victim of it all too. Rika figures out what’s all going on, and talks to Keiichi about it at one point, referring to the different parties as the dogs, the villagers pissed off at the intrusion into their taboo storehouse, and the cats, those being hunted by the dogs. She refers to Mion as a cat.
There’s a lot of times that Mion acts inconsistently with what we know of her. Sometimes, she doesn’t pursue the games to their conclusion. Sometimes, she sets up games that don’t follow the rules. Sometimes, she just straight up sucks at the games. Keiichi even mentions in the end that she’s being to cruel to really be Mion. Which, yeah, Shion and Mion are switching places, that explains a lot of it, but the inconsistencies are so widespread and blatant it makes me wonder if that’s all there are to it.
And it is really, really hard to track Mion’s character when you’re not always sure she’s really her. The game is clear they’re switching places, but not clear on who is who when. That’s a big source of the puzzle I’ve been trying to unravel this time around, at least. Rena mentioned in the last chapter that Mion used to be really bad at the club games. Mayhaps they’ve been switching places much longer than we realize.
Watanagashi really throws us for a loop. You remember in the first chapter, when Rena was so terrifyingly bloodthirsty? Her villainous portrayal, particularly the shift we saw from the sweet-as-honey innocent Rena to the laughing wild axe murderer Rena, was so powerful that an image of her with a cleaver has basically become the most identifiable thing about the Higurashi series. I still remember getting chills the first time we caught sight of the evil within her. Going into this chapter, it is completely impossible to trust her.
She never goes there. She is never anything except sweet and helpful, and seems to want only that her friends be happy and healthy.
Which is not to say that she doesn’t do anything suspicious, but really, however much she might be doing, she really seems to be completely benign last chapter.
Rena still seems to be the member of the club that Keiichi has the easiest time getting along with. She still seems a little out of place among the cutthroat members of the club, having so little obvious deviousness with her, and usually ends up behind in these games. She seems to serve as a confidant for both Keiichi and Mion, giving them a shoulder and advice for their various problems. It also seems to be she that helps the two of them navigate that awkward high school romance they’re embarking on. When things start going horrible, she’s often the one who takes command of the situation, emerging from behind her beguiling child-like facade to get what needs to be done done. She’s rather insightful, too. She seems to come to the conclusion that Mion’s behind everything even before Keiichi, and she takes the lead in confronting Mion to settle things. She’s friendly, happy, and reliable the whole way through, right?
Well, a few things about that. For the most part, Rena seems on the up and up this story, but there are a few moments that put her motives to question.
Last chapter, the police never got any real leads on the murder. This chapter, the police clue into the source of the murders and end the tale by closing in on her. There’s a few reasons as to why. The murders are a lot sloppier, there’s Shion possibly playing as Mion to make her seem more guilty and… maybe Rena’s working with the police on this.
Two things seem to lend to that conclusion. The weaker one is that the police seem to know the contents of phone conversations that they shouldn’t be privy too, which yeah, tapping phones is a stronger explanation, but that even occurs with phone lines that should be too protected for them to reach. The strong explanation is that… well, Rena just seems to do the police’s business. She and Ooishi already know each other the first time we see them meet, she’s the one who convinces Keiichi to get involved with the police, and she’s the one who first initiates the police surrounding Mion’s home and who goes in there with Keiichi to negotiate Mion’s surrender.
At the same time, though, maybe she’s working with Mion instead. After all, she did keep up the masquerade until Keiichi figured out those murders. And, things don’t really end up very well for Keiichi. In the end, Mion asks for some time alone with him before she surrenders, which she uses to strap him to a murder-table and begin ritually torturing him to death. Who gave her the opportunity to do that? Keiichi, who’s not too bright in the first place, and Rena, who should know better than to leave a friend with a known murderer. And who gave them enough time for Mion to get that far? Rena.
I don’t really think both of those are true, but I do get both impressions from her at separate points. Maybe my subconscious is just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.
The second chapter of Watanagashi develops everyone to some extent. We see some new side to all the main characters. Satoko probably gets the least of that, though. There’s a bit new to her, but unfortunately for her, she is way to the side of this story, so not much development for her.
The real big thing about her that we discover is that she went through a big personality shift sometime prior to when Keiichi knew her. Apparantly she used to be really kind and gentle, a far cry from the malicious trapmaster that she is now. The happenings in the village have not been kind to her family. She’s lost her parents, her aunt, and possibly the closest to her, her brother to the murders/disappearances. Her life has been torn apart on multiple occasions by the evil in village, and you could expect it’s taken its toll on her.
Last chapter, putting the leads together, you could gather that her parents were behind the dam project, and that may be why they were targeted in the early rounds of murders. This chapter says it straight out, her parents where the ones who put the dam support movement together, acting in direct opposition to the group protesting the dam that seemed to initiate these murder disappearances in the first place. Given how much disfavor the dam project has in the village, I find it pretty likely that outside the club, Satoko and everyone associated with their family probably aren’t all that popular with the rest of Hinamizawa.
Satoko disappears partway through. And as you know, nothing good’s going to be coming from that. While everyone’s looking for her, Mion has a bit of a moment where she just loses her mind, just like Rena did in Onikakushi. In this, she claims that Satoko is cursed, and that’s the reason she’s an orphan and everyone around her dies. As far as what that means, I don’t know, but it seems to be one of the most supernatural-leading moments in a story that otherwise seems to be lending to the idea that everything is being done by people.
Finally, it’s a throwaway line that nothing ever follows up on, but just like Keiichi, Shion, Tomitake and Takano did when they were breaking into the storehouse, Satoko had disappeared for a while on the night of Watanagashi. It’s possible that she might have been up to something as well. A few members of the group did hear a banging sound in the storehouse, although it’s not explained why others didn’t hear it when they really should have, but if that’s not ghosts or vengeful gods, it could have been her.
Right, lets talk Rika for a bit. In a lot of way, Rika’s the most mysterious of the group. It’s really heard to tell where she stands. It’s clear she knows stuff, a lot of stuff, about what’s going on. But she has that all behind that beguiling cute child-facade, and it’s hard to know what she’s thinking.
Of course, the fact that she’s killed off before the climax doesn’t help either.
So let’s start with what we do know. Rika is part of the Furude family, one of the three leading families of the village, the one charged with taking care of the village’s spiritual needs. Much like Satoko, she’s an orphan, her parents killed in one round of the murder-disappearances. Whereas Satoko’s may have been targeted for their support of the dam project that would have wiped Hinamizawa off the map, it seems the big fault found against Rika’s family is that they didn’t oppose it nearly as strongly as the villagers hoped they would.
We’ll be talking about this in a later post, but one thing that’s really interesting to me is the relative position of the three families in the modern day. The Sonozaki family, Mion and Shion’s clan, has seized a lot of power in the village. Notes in this chapter state that this is a relatively recent development, the Sonozaki’s were at the low end of the totem pole until a few generations ago, around the time of WW2. They have a lot of holdings, the family owns a lot of businesses, and they have plenty of people in politics and organized crime, but they are beholden to strict internal politics, and we see in this chapter that their properties, vast as they are, are not very well maintained. Rika, from the Furude family, another of the great families, I remind you, lives with no parents in a shack. Particularly after the murders that left Rika the sole surviving member of that family, they’ve lost a lot of political ground.
And yeah, she knows stuff. She knows right away that Keiichi et al had snuck into the storehouse. She knows that Mion’s been doing the killings. She knows how, and why, and what needs to be done about it. And when this all comes crashing down on Keiichi’s head, she’s the one he first goes to for help, and she resolves to do something about it. She fails, mind you, and pays for that failure herself, but it’s clear that she approached the perpetrator with a weapon in hand, ready to put a stop to it.
It’s established in the last chapter that Rika pets people, seeming like she’s comforting them, but when she does that she’s actually making fun of them. She pets people at really odd moments this chapter. She pets Mion when he’s talking about Keiichi, then pets Keiichi when he’s having problems connecting with Mion. She pets Keiichi when he’s unable to save Shion from perverts on his own, to which he sees something completely different than what we should, knowing her petting habits. She also pets Keiichi when he confesses to her about what he’s done. Without outwardly being obvious about it, she knows a lot more about all those situations than she lets on, although even the reader may not be clued into what she’s thinking.
She may have prompted the break-in to the tool storehouse herself. With the help of the mayor, sometime prior to the break-in, she had replaced the heavy, solid lock on the taboo building with a cheap, simpler one, something that would be a lot easier to pick. This enabled Tomitake to get through, which led to Shion, Keiichi, and Takano breaking the village rules and getting attacked for it. If she knew this was coming, it’s not too far a stretch to have seen her conspiring with Shion to allow the rest of the group to see what was going on in there, thus creating this whole conflict. Her timing of changing the lock is very suspicious, and it’s hard to see that as anything but a deliberate decision. If she did do it deliberately, she wasn’t working alone, and may have different goals than the rest of the break-in crew entirely.