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.

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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.