The Higurashi Notes Chapter 2: Watanagashi – The Club

The Club

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.

Mion

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. Continue reading

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The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 2: Watanagashi-The New Major Factors

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.

Cycles

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes: Chapter 2 Watanagashi-Overview

It’s time again. We’ve been going too long, without massively overthinking anything. I have no excuse. I just haven’t been feeling myself, really. But it’s time to correct that. It’s time to do what I do best. And apparently what I do best is throw way too many word into loosely organized blog posts for my own intellectual satisfaction that nobody else is going to care about.

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We’re finally getting around to taking our good, long, deep look at the second chapter of Higurashi. Deal’s pretty much the same as last time. Going to be analyzing this work in as much depth as I’m capable of mustering while still amusing myself. Going to have full spoilers for both this chapter and Chapter 1: Onikakushi, but we’ll be spoiler free for any of the later entries. Savvy? Let’s go.

The Bird’s Eye View

Recall, if you will, the end of Onikakushi. If you missed our run on it, here’s a quick spoiler: everyone dies. Keiichi, all his friends, probably a few puppies, it was all horrible and really tragic.

The second chapter, Watanagashi, leads off in a really odd position. We’re back in Keiichi’s shoes. He’s off to go visit all his friends. After all the horrors, the paranoia, the brutal murders of last time, everybody’s happy and having fun together like nothing ever happened. Because, in Watanagashi, nothing ever happened. Maybe.

The story this chapter starts at a point in time maybe a few weeks or so after Onikakushi started, well before everything started going to hell. There was no paranoia, no demons/possessions/insanity, no murders. Keiichi’s already met his friends and been part of their game club for a while, but aside from that, we’re starting completely fresh. We have been teleported back in time to when everything was happy and nobody was planning anybody’s bloody demise.

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Except it’s not just us taking a look at a different point of time. Not just giving us a different perspective of the same events. The record hit a scratch, and needed to be reset, but now it’s taking us through a whole different progression of events. It seems that things were the same as Onikakushi in the background, but once you hit the point at which the novel starts showing you the plot, things start progressing differently. Moreover, it’s somewhat clear that the events of Onikakushi happened, even if nobody involved may remember it. Several times, Keiichi encountered something that would be familiar to all of us from the previous chapter, only to feel some sense of misgiving that he can’t explain.

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Watanagashi introduces one new leading character in Shion, the estranged (maybe) twin sister of Mion, who we know so well from our previous adventures. It takes a bit of a different focus than Onikakushi as well, in that where the first chapter was largely focused on Rena and her background, this chapter puts the spotlight on Mion, Shion, and through them the whole Sonozaki family. It’s also more externally focused, as well. Keiichi may still be our viewpoint character, but here, he’s a lot more of a supportive character for the others, doing the dumb things so that their stories can be told, than he was in the latest chapter.

Watanagashi also does something that I find very interesting. So a lot of the plot of the whole Higurashi series is driven by the mystery behind it. Why are all these people being killed, how is that happening, what is up with all the maybe-supernatural stuff there? Watanagashi has an answer to all that. One of the characters ends up confessing to all of it, you see some of the corpses, and have an explanation for some of the methods in which they died. It’s all done by people, no real supernatural involvement here. Really, if you take this chapter’s explanation for it, it’s all pretty open and shut.

So Watanagashi has an explanation for it all, eh? Then, why is this still one of the “question arcs”? Why are there still like 20 chapters to go after it? Yeah, that explanation only works on face level. As the OOC after party points out, it’s full of holes, and at most only really explains that year’s deaths and murders, not the ones prior to it. It’s never made completely clear within the plot itself, but really, that’s my favorite thing about the way the Higurashi story is told; that it has enough faith in the reader’s ability to figure things out that it doesn’t put a big neon sign on all the things it wants you to notice. It makes the whole story feel deeper, because it does expect you to be connecting those strings of logic, but always gives you all the tools you need to do so. It is really fascinating, though. It gives you an answer, but the way they deliver it, that answer only leads to more questions.

The second of anything in a series has a pretty big responsibility. Sure, it’s the first game, movie, book, whatever that first puts the paint on the canvas, that establish the basics of what that series is going to be, but it’s the second entry that establishes the patterns that determine the series’ overall identity. It’s no wonder that the second entry is often considered the best one. Suikoden 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill 2, with good reason, a series often tends to reach it’s high point of critical acclaim with its second offering. Higurashi’s creators knew the creative position they were in going into Watanagashi, and they made full use of it. Watanagashi is the largest chapter of all the question arcs, and in some aspects, one of the deepest. Now that we’ve got all the introductions out of the way, and knowing that any readers are going to be suspicious and wary going in after their expectations were set last time, Watanagashi has a lot more room to deliver complexity while still setting further expectations and mystery for the future chapters. Just an example, this chapter’s only a few hours longer than the previous ones, but even so, my notes for this ended up running twice as long as my notes for Onikakushi.

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Part of that is just in a lack of an ability to trust. Which is turning into a big theme for this series. Onikakushi saw Keiichi’s friends turning against him, Keiichi himself became an unreliable narrator, and, as I pointed out, the one seemingly reliable source of help was very, very suspect. In Watanagashi, Keiichi at least seems to be much more reliable of a narrator, but aside from that, it’s hard to trust in all the information you receive. Last time, that was because you couldn’t trust the people that was being filtered through, which is still the case here, but there’s an added layer, in that a lot of that information is going to be just plain wrong. A lot of the background info, you’re given a few perspectives that are a bit contradictory, conjecture presented as the closest thing you have for a fact, or with a layer of bias on there. Even coming from sources that you can be reasonably confident don’t have much in the way of ill intent, a lot of the information you’re given in this game is just flat out wrong. You’re given clues that it’s wrong, but it still makes it more of a challenge to dig through the facts you’re presented with.

Overall, the story, the mystery, seems to really open up in this chapter. Which once again, I really have to commend the writers for actually making the story broader while the content would seem to be narrowing it down by giving ‘answers’ to those mysteries. This also seems to be the entry where the Higurashi series really settles into what it is. So here, we’re going to spend way too many words that probably nobody’s going to read exploring it. I’m looking forwards to it.