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.
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.
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?
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.
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.