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.

All up in Nintendo’s Business

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Among both the console manufacturers and video game developers in general, Nintendo stands apart. Not just in terms of their games or consoles themselves, although those are certainly a result of the way Nintendo stays askance. But rather Nintendo is just different in terms of the way the business is run; in its decisions and very culture. Sometimes, this sees them make some greatness, such as when they single-handedly pulled the entire video game industry out of the dark ages. Sometimes, this sees them make some really boneheaded decisions, such as when they decided that online gaming was just a passing fad. For like ten years.

But even with all the ups and downs this causes, it makes them a very interesting company. They intrigue the businessman part of me endlessly. Why do they do the things they do, even when it flies against all established knowledge? The fantasizing about that really appeals to the part of my brain that makes my heart skip a beat at the words “Six Sigma”. And you know, it’s been a while since I’ve done any business analysis. I think I might be jonesing.

So anyways, let’s take a look/wildly theorize at the things that make Nintendo the way they are. Now, as we’re doing this, I want to say that a lot of what I’m going to talk about next, particularly about the culture of Japanese companies, comes from things I learned from people who got their chops in the era where all the businessmen were scared Japan was soon going to dominate the world, so that might color my perspective a bit. Also, some of my classes were, like, really boring, so I may only be half-remembering some things. So, you know, don’t put any money on any of this. With that out of way, let’s dive into the business character of Nintendo.

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The first thing in understanding what makes Nintendo tick is understanding where they’re coming from. I know this is going to blow you minds here, so hold on to the back of your skulls, but, see, Nintendo is a Japanese Corporation. And I don’t know if you realize this, but Japan has a different culture than we do in the rest.

Sorry, I might be going a little fast there. Go ahead, read that paragraph a few times, until you can wrap your head around those bombs I dropped. When you catch up, we’ll be here for you.

Let’s take a look at what that means. No matter where you are, corporations are publicly owned companies. People buy and sell stock in that company outside the control of the company itself. Stocks represent a portion of the ownership of that company with all that entails, including a share of the highest level decision making and a share of the company’s profits, delivered by means of the stock value increasing or by dividends paid out to shareholders.

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Oxenfree: A Case Study of Theming

Themes in fiction. They’re one of those things that are easy for the authors to work in, easy for the readers to detect, and they make everyone feel smarter for their inclusion. Themes are great. Just latch onto one idea, bring it up in your story a few times in a few different ways, and bam, you have an easy way of making your story go just a bit below the surface level.

Ok, so maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but not by all that much! Given that themes are all in the eye of the reader, it can be easy to just work some themes in there accidentally. Hell, I’d been finding themes in the Saints Row series, and you know, if they had the sort of creative minds to be deliberately carrying a solid idea through than maybe they’d be able to write an ending that doesn’t suck without overriding it the next game. Moreover, themes are fun! Try finding some consistent ideas in the next story you go through, and see for yourself!

Oftentimes you see a theme, at least one implemented deliberately, the work will have something to say about it. Not always. And really, the works that don’t impose anything on their themes aren’t necessarily any worse than those that do. But what you rarely see is a work that does make a conclusion about its theme, and fits it into the greater work, but that conclusion comes entirely from the consumer. That’s a way of handling a theme that is largely unique to videogames, and even then, it’s something you’ll see rather rarely. So when Oxenfree freakin’ rocked it, I felt compelled to take a moment to recognize it.

Now, you might notice Oxenfree was released relatively recently. So I’m going to be talking about a modern game here. On Lost to the Aether. That never happens. It’s like Christmas and your birthday all put together. And we’ll be talking about some plot stuff. But I’ll do my best to keep it spoiler light. For the most part.

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So, Oxenfree has a theme of guilt and blame. It’s not like a major thing in the game, so don’t expect it to be hammering you over the head with it, but it’s a concept they return to every now and again, enough for it to gain some mental real estate. It does some minor exploring of the concept. Or rather, it guides you through it. Sometimes, stuff happens. Bad stuff. People are unwittingly involved in the bad stuff happening. Whose fault is it?

For example, in the beginning of the game, you meet your dead brother’s ex-girlfriend. She blames you for his death. You get no other information as to the circumstances. How do you react to that?

You track down your stepbrother investigating some creepy stuff. You find something strange, he wants to push it further. You end up unknowingly doing a thing because of it that triggers the inciting incident. Who’s to blame there? You for actually doing it? Your stepbrother for putting you in that situation? Nobody, because seriously, who would expect that thing to be holding evil?

Even the backstory event that set things up happened because people were forced to act with insufficient information and there ended up being some grave consequences for it. Is it the executor’s fault for doing so? The person who held the limited information for putting it in the hands of those who had to act? Nobody’s, because everyone did the best they could with what they had? One background character spends her entire life blaming herself for it and trying to deal with it. Should she have done so?

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At every stage, the story poses the questions, then lets you put in the answer. What does the narrative have to say about this concept? Entirely up to you. And that alone ends up doing some interesting things with its treatment of the theme. It turns the story from your garden variety plot to something with elements of a thought experiment. It forces you to be more introspective about the plot, to reflect and conclude on happenings there. And that is a way of storytelling that is so uniquely videogames.

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi-Wild Mass Theorizing

So after all that, we come around to the big question.  What exactly is going on in Higurashi?  The first chapter, Onikakushi, has no answers.  But it does have some fuel for speculation.  And you know what?  In the latest chapter released, the developers straight up ask you to spend some time on the speculation.  So let’s do that.

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Now, there’s two main questions the game leaves hanging.  Why, and HowWhy does the town hate Keiichi?  Why do his friends keep turning evil and trying to kill him?  Why do people get murdered there?  And How all of that?

Let’s explore this.  I do want to say, I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers here, and limit things to content as presented in this chapter.  But, honestly, some of these conclusions are informed by what’s been presented in the other question arcs, and really, I’m not going to be able to get around that.

Anyways, let’s go into some random guesses as to what all makes things work in this story.  I’m not entirely convinced in all of these, in fact, some of them I’m pretty sure the story will never even consider.  But they’re all taking up some mental real estate.  And you know what, before we get into the meat of it, let’s get one thing out of the way.

Natural vs. Supernatural

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Right, so I said earlier we could just brush this question off.  And really, we can.  But I figure, this chapter makes something of a deal of it, so we may as well address it.  In brief.  Because that’s all this question deserves.

Are the weird happenings in this game the acts of men?  Are the consistent murders a series of copycat killers?  Are the villagers getting organized to expulse any outsider they consider a threat to their operations?  Is there some sort of conspiracy going on among the major families to maintain the village in just the way they want by force if necessary?  Or is it the act of otherworldly beings?  Is Oyashiro-sama real and working to purge the village?  Are there truly demons among the villagers?

Again, this is a question this chapter tries to raise, and definitely the one it wants you speculating on, but I don’t think it’s very material to the story.  Some being is making murder, whether it’s a human or a spirit doesn’t make much difference in the end.  And really, this chapter doesn’t give you anything to base it off of.  The idea of the supernatural is raised, but if you take Keiichi’s fractured sanity into account, you don’t see anything concrete as to how it’s acting.  Unless that fractured sanity is how it’s acting.  But even that could be the drug they allude to.  They don’t give you enough either way to foster good speculation on that. 20160709181328_1.jpg

For what it’s worth, given the direction the story’s been going, even in this chapter, I’m of the opinion that there’s at least some supernatural element there.  The people are definitely involved in it, at least as far as covering it up goes, but there is some magic involved either in the actual execution of the murder/disappearances, or in the organizing people to do such.  I just don’t think the lead they’ve given and the way the following chapters progress will make much sense if there’s something beyond human running behind it.  But it’s not completely supernatural, because this is a character-driven story, and all that actual characters are human.  If you take the humans out of it, then you’ve wasted at least the early chapters.  So some mix of human and supernatural is where it’s at.  If it’s not, I will refund you the price of reading this blog post.  What do you have to lose?

The Theorizing

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The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – The Club

The Club

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Higurashi Notes: Onikakushi-Keiichi’s Sanity and Ooishi’s Behaviour

All right, so now that we’ve taken a look at the happenings in our last post, let’s go back and try to work out… you know, what actually happened.  Onikakushi drops a whole lot of questions.   No answers.  But if you know where to look, there might be a few hints.  So, what do you say we start with the biggest question?

How much is actually real?

Yeah, yeah, Onikakushi runs really heavily on the “Is it magic? Is it mundane?” question, to the point it has the characters arguing about it OOC at the end.  But you know, that question is nowhere near as interesting to me as this one.  Stuff happened in this plot.  A lot of stuff happened in this plot.  But, did all the stuff that happened actually happen?

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At its core, Onikakushi is a story about Keiichi’s descent into paranoia.  You see him going from being a normal kid, run into a conspiracy so far beyond him that starts targeting him for even knowing about it, and in defense, Keiichi starts backing into the corner and pulling out the claws.  Starts smashing up nothing, thinking enemies are all around him.  But, maybe it goes beyond justifiable paranoia.  Maybe Keiichi starts experiencing things that are not actually there.

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It’s interesting to me how much Keiichi does that seems to serve no other purpose than to make his house a portrait of madness at the end.  The entry way of his home is all smashed up.  Mashed garbage strewn all over the room.  A hastily scrawled note asking “Was there a needle?” on the fridge.  The brief, hand-written memoirs of a crazed child stuck with tape behind his clock.  The kind of home that would make you think its owner escaped from the asylum if you came across it in any crime drama.  Of course, all of these were in response to something Keiichi was reacting to, and you see all the context for that, but take a look at that from outside Keiichi’s head for a bit.  He smashes up his house by swinging at something invisible and intangible.  He has a relatively calm phone conversation with Ooishi, then mention of the needle causes him to take a break and throw garbage all over his house, before he returns to the calm-ish conversation.  Keiichi knows what it all looks like.  That’s why he’s so very careful about what he puts in his dead drop note, and why it ends up being way too vague to be useful, outside of the bits that get torn out before the police find it.

But how far back does Keiichi’s altered perception go?  Let’s start from the end, and take a look at some contradictions between what we’re shown and what we know.

So first, the police report at the end.  Right off the bat, it states, and states conclusively, that Keiichi had called Rena and Mion over to his house before he beat them to death.  Now, it doesn’t list any of the evidence for that claim, but logically, the police would be able to look into phone records in regards to what calls were made.  At least, I’m going to assume they could.  I don’t know ‘bout that 1983.  So we can figure that it’s more than just an assumption that Keiichi called them out.  Thing is, if you recall from the events we saw, when Keiichi woke up in his house before he killed his friends, Rena was already there.  Sure, she called Mion from Keiichi’s house, but there’d be no reason for Rena to be called over.  Unless, either the ‘Director’ she called share’s Rena’s number, or Keiichi had in fact called her over, and just wasn’t cognizant of it.

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Keiichi died in exactly the same way as Tomitake did earlier.  That’s exactly what Mion was threatening, saying he’d be injected with the same drug.  But there’s two problems with this.  The first, going by what we saw, Keiichi was never injected with the drug.  He blacked out just before he did, came to with his friends dead, then recalled that he had knocked them away before he was injected.  Possibly, this is recreating memories after the fact, but otherwise, he should never have been impacted by the drug at all.  The second notable thing is that Keiichi started following in Tomitake’s footsteps long before the drug ever came up.  The big moment is when he smashed up his front entryway, striking at the presence he detected but couldn’t see.  Ooishi had notice that Tomitake had been found with a two-by-four that had impacted several things, but had no blood, skin, or biologic materials found on it.  He smashed up a guardrail, but had no sign of actually hitting anyone else with it.  Mayhaps he had been finding a presence that couldn’t be seen or touched, himself. Continue reading

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.

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The Higurashi Notes-Introduction

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I’ve been finding myself absolutely enthralled by the Higurashi: When They Cry series of visual novels.  I’ve been following the new, updated round of releases on Steam, picking up each new chapter pretty much as soon as it’s available.  This is one of the best visual novel series I’ve read, and I’ve been completely wrapped up in the scope of the writing, the mystery that’s only started to be revealed, in the characters, in… well, basically everything else that’s been offered.  I’ve gotten through the three parts of the updated release in this eight (at least) part story, and I am hungry for more.  The updated releases thus far have all been of the ‘Question Arc’, part of the story that is deliberately vague about the mystery involved and leaves a whole lot up to interpretation.  I’ve had my own impressions of what’s going on, but, as often is the case in stories like these, I’ve really found myself drawn online, to read up on what other people are picking up on as well.  Get myself better informed on all the intricacies of the story and what other people are seeing in it.

Now usually, I live life on the edge.  All sorts of edges.  Including the cutting edge.  So when it’s a series I’m already caught up on, that’s all good, everyone else has the same information as I do, they’re at the same stage of the story, and I don’t have to worry about spoilers.  Learning plot twists and story future outside of the proper moment and context.

The thing is, Higurashi, or at least the original version of it, has been around for a while.  The original came out in 2002, long before I developed into the sexy hunk of suave, debonair, and modest human being I am today, so that was so long ago it’s not even worth thinking about.  The OG version was first released in English back in 2009.  And before the updated release with all the new visuals and, you know, not sucky translation Manga-Gamer’s been coming out with in the modern day, the series has seen a lot of adaptations.  Anime, manga, novels, a live action film, more than a few stuff that’s seen its way to the English shores.  In any case, for people who’ve picked up on the series before this new release, the statute of limitations on spoilers is long past.  And that’s gone so far it is very dangerous to try and learn anything about the series.  I’ve been spoiled on some key developments just looking up some very basic questions

I want to read up some real analyses of a given chapter without being spoiled for anything beyond it.  And that has proved very difficult.

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So you know what?  I’m not able to find something I want on the internet, so I’m going to make it myself.

With this series, I intend to go through my whole schlock narrative analysis deal for each of the updated Higurashi Hou releases being let out on Steam.  A given entry will naturally be full of spoilers, but only for the chapter in question.  As of the time of this writing, I’ve played up though the most recent release on Steam, the third chapter, Tatarigoroshi.  As of the time in this writing, I’m still in the Question Arc, just before the story takes a big shift in focus and still at least one full game before they start presumably cluing us into what the blazes is actually going on there, so I think I’m in pretty good position to pull off a spoiler-free analysis.

I have a few goals out of doing this.  The first is just to get a better understanding of the story myself.  Getting my thoughts all good and organized for posting requires a lot of analysis and review of what I’ve worked up myself, and frankly, I’m enjoying this enough that I want to put the work in towards that additional understanding, and it’s complex enough to really foster that.  The second goal is that girls might be watching.  The third goal, well, maybe there’s someone out there going through the same thing I am, picking up the new releases of Higurashi as they come out and wanting to explore more but not willing to go through spoilers or pick up the poorly translated release.  Maybe I’ll be able to help more than just myself with this.

In any case, it’s probably most apt to start by taking a look at just what Higurashi: When They Cry is.

I was lucky enough to get into Higurashi with mostly no idea of what it was all about.  I jumped on just based on reputation alone.  If you’ve got any inkling of getting into the series, I’d recommend you take that route, as it made the first Moment so much more powerful for me as the veil was ripped back, and I learned just what I had gotten into.  But it’s completely fair to want to know at least a little about something before you drop money on it, even if this is one of those things where just knowing the genre changes the experience.  It won’t seem like it at first, opting to start with a slice of life style of story-telling, but Higurashi is a psychological horror murder mystery.  Perhaps a supernatural psychological horror murder mystery.  It’s hard to say.  There are plenty of supernatural elements alluded to, but they’re implemented in a very subtle way and there could easily be a mundane explanation for all the seemingly supernatural happenings taking place.  In fact, that’s a question the characters themselves raise in an OOC moment at the end of the first chapter.

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The story takes its time.  That’s a major thing with this game, and one of the things that makes its storytelling so effective, that it’s willing to take time to deliver the experience, largely spending a lot more time in the introduction to make sure you’re in the proper frame going forward.  Things get majorly screwed up in this world, you guys!  And the story will take you there.  But first, you’re going to spend a good long while with the characters, getting to know them in their average, day to day life.  You spend a lot of time in exciting, event-filled normalcy, getting to know and care about these folks, before the entire world turns upside down and all your feelings for them get torqued to delicious effect.

The series we’re getting now, through Steam, is a release of the more recent Higurashi: When They Cry Hou, featuring new character art and a brand new translation.  Good thing, too, because the original character art was pretty awful, and from what I’ve heard, the translation was too.  The new models, while they do look like you’d expect being drawn by someone with a strong hentai influence, are at least good enough not to be distracting from the story, which you can’t quite claim for the OG sprites.  They’re made specifically for the English release, too, so hey, we’re really getting something special, here.  Each game in the series is a separate chapter, which, while they’re not self-contained, do at least tell a complete arc each.  It’s a little complicated to explain without getting into spoiler territory, but why the central mystery carries on between games with little ends tied up, the actual events of the story do come to a complete, if deliberately unsatisfying, conclusion.

Higurashi is one of the series that coined the term ‘Sound Novel’.  Which largely seems to refer to a visual novel whose visuals suck, so it places more emphasis on the writing and the audio to create its sense of life than it does visuals.  Even with the vastly, vastly improved character sprites, that’s still the case here.  That was what the original was built on, and it’d take a pretty huge overhaul to get the visuals complex enough that they’re adding more to the story.  The effectiveness of it all is all up to interpretation, but you know what?  It works pretty well for me.  The writing is as strong as they come, and while the music might run a little long at points, it is pretty effective at instilling a good, simple mood.

Not going to talk about the plot just yet.  We’ll be getting into that in the next entries.  But for the time being, let’s take a look at who and where we’re working with.

Hinamizawa

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For Geezer Zeus’s sake, do not search the name of this town.  Google’s suggested search results will spoil so much for you.

Anyways, this is the town the story takes place in, and Hinamizawa is just as much a part of the story as any of the characters.  It’s a small, rural town, just a few thousand people, with a really, really close and structured community.  It’s so small, it doesn’t even have a proper school, the town just renting a few rooms with the ranger station and chucking all the grades in together there.  Some strange things have been going on in Hinamizawa for a while, which we’ll be seeing a bit of over the course of the series.  It’s close enough to the nearest city to take advantage of the amenities there, but is otherwise pretty insulated.

Hinamizawa is strongly, strongly based off of the real life town of Shirakawa, Gifu, to the point where plenty of the filtered images that make up the game’s backgrounds come straight from there.

Keiichi Maebara

This is the viewpoint character you start with.  Get used to being behind his head.  Unusually for visual novel viewpoint character, he’s actually got a strong personality.  He can verbally throw down with the best of them, is always up for a good challenge, and although he’s plenty introspective, he’s very outgoing as well.

Keiichi’s the son of a famous artist, who newly moved the family to Hinamizawa for… reasons.  In any case, Keiichi’s largely clueless about the town, everyone in it, and everything that’s going on.  Makes him a good pov for the player.

He quickly makes a group of friends, in the school’s game club, a group constantly playing games with each other where anything goes and loser is subjected to some dire punishment.

Rena Ryuugu

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One of the first friends Keiichi makes.  Rena’s relatively new to Hinamizawa as well, moving in only a year before Keiichi.  She’s got an obsession with all things ‘kyute’.  As for what is ‘kyute’, your guess is as good as mine, but she’s spent plenty of times trying to take her kouhai home or digging around in the garbage dump for new trinkets and toys.  She’s the most openly sweet and kind, and does her best to make the games you all play fair to those at an obvious disadvantage.  She rarely obviously cheats, but never seems to lose games against all those who do, either.

Mion Sonozaki

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No, I don’t know how you’re supposed to get breasts to do that.

Mion’s the class president and leader of the games club.  She comes from a family that has a hell of a lot of connections all over the place.  She’s wild, brash, and enthusiastic, and comes with a great love of life.  Also the most merciless and devious member of the club.  She’s usually the one who comes out on top.  Constantly refers to herself as ‘this old man’.  Probably for reasons.  I don’t know.

Satoko Houjou

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You know, Satoko was my least favorite character, until I got to know her.  On surface level, she plays every pissant bratty kid trope you’ve seen way too much of, developing a rivalry with Keiichi and seemingly always getting on top.  She’s mischievous.  That’s probably her strongest personality trait.  A trap fanatic.  Which makes her deadly at the games you play, as she knows well how to predict your behavior and adjust her tactics accordingly.  She seems to focus more on just beating Keiichi than in actually winning the games.

Rika Furude

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The same age as Satoko, although she plays more on the sweet, loving child tropes.  It’s at least partially an act.  She’s as devious as they come, when it comes to the games.  Plenty caring outside of that.  She cheats a little more blatantly than Rena, although she’s a lot quieter about it than Mion and Satoko.  She’s well revered in the village, and seems to get along well with pretty much everyone.

And that’s it for the surface level review.  For the rest of it, well, you’ll have to play or follow along to find out.

Freytag’s Pyramid vs. Non-endings in Storytelling

Man, Frank R. Stockton was such a punk.

So, there’s a lot of bad endings in the world of stories.  I’m not talking about downer endings, those can actually be quite good no matter how sad they may be.  I’m talking about those blatant sequel hooks, rushed finales, story threads you’ve been waiting for the conclusion on that never finish up, works that just skip the denouement entirely, and the like.  Narrative tricks that stop the story without finishing it.  Non-endings.  Non-endings have been around for quite a while.  Longer than you or I.  Frank R. Stockton punking it up all over the 19th century is proof enough for that.  It seems they’ve been getting more and more frequent in the modern age, though, as pretty much every writing industry gets more competitive, as serial fiction gets more popular, as more creators either get lazy or try to leave things open for the follow up.  It’s easy to see why.  Endings are really, really hard in the first place.  Keeping track of all the myriad threads you’ve opened up?  That’s for nerds!  And hey, if you set things up so that people have to keep with your story beyond the initial work in order to get a satisfactory conclusion?  Who cares if it’s manipulative as all hell!  There’s dollars/ego at stake!

Yeah, so non-endings abound, they’re getting more pervasive, and a lot of authors seem really, really attached to them.  They also make all of your stories worse, though.  And I’ve got the science, in the form of pretty line graphs and century old literary theories, to prove it.  And you can’t doubt any of it.  I got my Bachelor of Science degree.  See, “Science”.  It’s right in the name.

Anyways, once upon a time there was this guy called Gustav Freytag, better known to modern literary historians as the Frey-Dawg.  The Frey-Dawg was a novelist and playwright who wrote some things you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re European or something, but he moonlighted as a literary critic because nothing picks up women in the 1800’s like talking smack about Shakespeare that they’ll never understand.  Remember than in case you ever get your hands on a time machine.  It was in the latter field that the Frey-Dawg truly made his mark on history.  Check this out.

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This is Frey-Dawg’s Pyramid.  Also known as Freytag’s Pyramid or Dramatic Structure because your English teacher had all the personality of a brick wall.  This showcases what is just about the most basic plot structure you can have and still have a story anybody’s going to want to read.  That line could represent a lot of things, like tension, pace, reader’s interest, the amount of changes being made, whatever.  You could argue about that for years, and it really doesn’t matter.  It’s something you feel mostly by impulse, what specifically it is doesn’t make a difference.  Basically, this plot structure sees your hero kicking it in his crib at the start, spends a bit of time showing you the base level of what the story-world is, before shaking it all up with the Inciting Incident.  Said Inciting Incident starts up the rising action, with the hero progressing through the plot and leading up to the big “Luke, I Am Your Father” moment at the climax.  After the climax, the story stops introducing new elements and focuses on wrapping up the threads it does have, the mysteries have been uncovered, the hero is whaling on the bad guy, that sort of thing.  Then there’s no more to do, and you hit the denouement, where all the happily ever after happens, and the story sets the stage for the life you’ll assume the characters and world will have after you put the book down.

The Frey-Dawg built this pyramid strictly with five-act Greek and Shakesperian dramas in mind, but you can actually fit most stories ever since mankind was hanging around in caves telling tales of rocks mating into something approaching this mold.  Not only is this such a basic measure of storytelling, this also outlines what are usually the minimum requirements to tell what most readers will consider to be a ‘complete’ story.  This is generally what it takes to satisfy readers.  This is the structure that most simply fills the needs of storytelling.

Of course, tastes in narratives change over time.  While this structure fit a lot, possibly even most, of stories up through the early 1900s, most modern authors and readers alike prefer something considerably more complicated.  Modern storytelling tends to extend the rising action greatly, pushing the climax back into the endgame, and adding in a lot of mini-climaxes or complications on the way there.  Both the exposition and the denouement tend to be shorter, establishing the baseline and wrapping things up a lot faster compared to the time spent on the main thrust of the plot.  You have little bits of falling action interspersed among the rising action, then the main fall happens over a lot less time than Shakespeare would give it.  So, for an example of how Frey-Dawg would work that structure around a modern story, here’s the pyramid for an absolute masterpiece I just spent the last five minutes thinking up.  Man, I’m awesome.

Modern story freytag

Don’t get too stunned by how amazing I am.  We still have some talking to do.  So, the important part, at least for our discussion today, is at the end there, the bit starting right after the climax.  Even in modern-day stories, where the post-climax period is a lot shorter, our stories still have a period where they wind down, then plateau before THE END.  That is vitally important.  That is what you need to have a good, satisfying ending, no matter how happy or sad your conclusion is.

And that is what all these various non-endings fail at.  Frey-Dawg clearly showed future generations just what it takes, and our storytellers are just stomping all over it.  These endings suck because they fail to take into account the basic needs of a finale, as demonstrated by Frey-Dawg’s Pyramid.

Let’s take a look at exactly how these work out.  There’s three main structures these bad endings tend to fall into.

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The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 6, Other Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

ANTAGONISTS

The Masked Circle

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These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the game’s plot.  The Masked Circle is a doomsday cult, led by the Joker, who seek to gather enough ‘Ideal Energy’ to destroy the world and drive humanity into a new golden age in space.  Yeah, the rumors allow pretty much anything to happen.  Those who make their wish with the Joker find themselves first forced to be a part of the Masked Circle, then sacrificed for their goals, their Ideal Energy drained from them until they’re left motivation-less husks.  Their leadership is made up of pastiches of your own group, as Jun seeks to replace your childhood crew with his own creepy cult fellows.  They lose a lot of steam after you break Jun out of his Joker guise, leaving them pretty much without leadership, but they do maintain a presence up to the end of the game, being one of the few organizations able to make a stand against the Nazi invasion.  Of course, they don’t stand for long against them, and they’re only fighting them towards their own twisted goals, but still, at least you’re not the only group putting up the fight.  You’re constantly running roughshod over them, interfering with whatever they have planned, but most of the time you figure out the full extent of their plans just after they put them into action.  Your interference only seems to make them stronger, too, thanks to your spreading the word about them and the power of the rumors at play.  At least until you start knocking off their leadership.  Once you reach that point, there’s no recovering for them.

Joker

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If you call your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear before you and grant you one wish.  At least that’s what everyone says.  Except that your crew tries it in the early game, and instead on sending you on a shopping trip to buy those larger pants you’re suddenly needing, he just sics a bunch of demons on you.  As stated previously, the Joker is Jun, still really, really pissed off at your crew thanks to the influence of Nyarlathotep and the false memories he has of all his childhood friends burning Maya to death.  To say his feelings towards you are troubles is an understatement.

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Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the fun, fun goal of destroying the world.  Making you suffer seems to mostly be a side project of his.  The Joker is all about ideals.  He highly values his own ideals, he respects other’s commitments to their own ideals above all else, and he thinks largely in terms of ideals.  As twisted as it is, he honestly believes that the destruction of the world and the ascension of its people are honestly what humanity wants.  Thing is, he’s much more of a big picture guy, and doesn’t much care for the individual.  So, the fact that thousands of people don’t really want their ideal energy drained away in pursuit of the Earth’s destruction doesn’t much matter to him.  He is completely serious about the Masked Circle and their goals, focused on them above all else.  He doesn’t even use them to go after you until you start messing with the circle first.

Like Guido/Kandori of last game, Nyarlathotep is his persona.  And like last game, Nyarlathotep ends up taking him over for his final battle in this guise, then flees his form once he’s defeated.  Free of Nyarlathotep’s corruption, Joker reverts to his old form, and joins you in undoing the mess he’s created.

King Leo/Tatsuya Sudou

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Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is Japan’s Foreign Minister.  Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is a bad, bad man.  Growing up in that environment did him no favors, compounding the troubles he already had with his schizophrenia.  He found a father figure in Jun’s dad, however, who helped him make some sort of sense of the voices he was hearing, believing them to be some sort of alien prophecy and codifying them into the Oracle of Maya doomsday thing the Masked Circle is buying into.

Some time after that, Sudou snapped.  Depending on how far back the rumor thing was in effect, this may have been a result of other’s beliefs about him, conflating his schizophrenia and his father’s bad reputation and thinking he was a violent figure.  Either way, he became a serial arsonist, and burned down the shrine kid you and kid Maya were hanging out in.  You broke out, Sudou stabbed you, and you awakened your persona and burnt out his eye.  I’m going to say you got the better of that one.  After that, he stalked Maya for a good long while, then joined up with the Masked Circle for reasons that are mostly up to conjecture, and serves as King Leo, the second in command to the order.

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Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and change your protagonist’s handle for something wicked sweet, is the counterpart for your lead.  Given Maya’s history with him, he serves to some degree as the Masked Circle replacement for her, too.  He’s an arsonist, so he likes blowing things up.  Throughout the section you’re dealing with him, he leaves behind clues that will lead you to buildings he’s rigged to blow.  You usually have two buildings at a time to choose from and have to pick the right one, enter it, and find the bombs in order to properly bring a halt to his deeds.  Or, if you’re of a lazy mind, you can choose the wrong one and skip a few dungeons entirely.  It culminates in a big encounter in an aviation museum where you have to rescue an entire field trip, beat him in a big slogknocking fight, and jet of there in an exploding blimp.  Probably one of the high points of the game, in all.  As you might guess, he gets a sadistic glee in death and violence, and actually burns a man alive by means of introducing himself.  His persona is Reverse Vulcanus. Continue reading