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 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.

Continue reading

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.