Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Sep 3rd 2011
Higurashi When They Cry: Demon Exposing Arc
Natsumi Kimiyoshi and her family have moved from the town of Okinomiya to the big city for her father's work. Natsumi is enjoying her new life when the village of Hinamizawa is wiped out by a natural gas disaster. Originally from there, her grandmother proclaims that the cause of the disaster was “Oyashiro-sama's curse” and that her leaving was part of what triggered the event. Though Natsumi doesn't believe her, sinister events are beginning to unfold...
“Tragedies fascinate people.” This line, spoken by two different characters in the Demon Exposing Arc of Ryukishi07's horror series Higurashi: When They Cry, is at the heart of it all. It's a basic truth about humanity, as anyone who has driven past a traffic accident can attest to, and Ryukishi07 uses it to keep us reading to the end of this latest offering.
Originally published in two volumes, Yen Press' edition combines both into an oversize trade paperback. It's both thicker and taller than most graphic novels, though still smaller than a Viz Big book, and they've provided eight full color pages to go with it, including the original cover for volume two. While it can be a bit difficult to hold, the spine is flexible enough that it bends comfortably without getting crease marks. This is an author-proclaimed side story to the main Higurashi manga: it does not take place in Hinamizawa, the Cotton Drifting has nothing to do with the plot, and most of the familiar characters are absent. Only three make an appearance: Detective Akasaka from the Time Killing Arc, Rika Furude (although she is too dead to make an impression), and the ever-present Detective Oiishi. The detectives are investigating cases of former Hinamizawa residents going on killing sprees in the wake of the disaster, thus tying Natsumi's story to the better known ones of Keiichi and company.
Astute readers of the Higurashi series will note that Natsumi's family name, Kimiyoshi, is that of the third major family in Hinamizawa. This is the first time that the Kimiyoshi clan has been the focus of the stories, and they prove no less frightening than the Sonozakis or the Furudes. Fear is, as always, a major focus of the book. Natsumi's pleasant school life is destroyed very quickly by a specific action on the part of her grandmother. She watches her world fall to pieces in a spray of blood. This book is not for the faint of heart, and animal lovers need to be warned that there are two terrible pages of extreme animal cruelty in chapter two. If ASPCA ads make you tear up, this will give you nightmares.
You do not have to be a follower of Higurashi to understand the story. For regular readers, some of the people and events will make more sense, but if you're curious about the series and don't know if you want to commit to it, this is a good way to find out. En Kito's art is cleaner than most of the series' other artists, and there is a cuteness to his characters that makes the violence that much more startling. It is also worth noting that he is thus far the only artist to give a distinct feel of the 1980s, the period in which the story is set. He is not, however, the master of fear that some of the other artists are. The animal cruelty scene (which makes one of the color pictures seem particularly sick) is more upsetting for its content than the way it is drawn. The blood and gore is scary, but not terrifying. However, you may be haunted by old lady teeth for the rest of your life.
Like most other arcs, this one intersperses slice-of-life with blood splatter. In this case, the everyday details of the story take place at school or otherwise outside the house. Natsumi has the requisite tall friend and chubby friend, as well as Akira, a boy she is romantically linked to. Akira proves to be more important to the story than he at first seems, calling to mind the series' Eye Opening Arc, which is being released simultaneously with this one. While his role isn't fully developed, it is still crucial in a surprising way.
Most of the arc's violence takes place behind the closed doors of the Kimiyoshi family home. This almost makes one accuse the author of symbolism, both for domestic violence and the faces that we present to the outside world as opposed to our families. Kito uses Natsumi's basic character design well in these transitions. As the story picks up momentum, particularly near the end, her tightly bound hair begins to unravel, giving us a visual clue as to what might be going through her mind.
“The main character, Natsumi Kimiyoshi, has absolutely no special skills or abilities. That means she's exactly the same as you who are reading this book right now,” the author says in the afterward to volume one. In the conclusion to volume two he tells us that Natsumi's tragedies could befall us as well. As anyone who has ever taken a literature or language arts class can tell you, there is no such thing as a reliable narrator. Everyone has their biases, and that goes for manga protagonists too. As the story unfolds and characters are seemingly punished for doing what's right by people who have no concept of such a thing, Ryukishi07 forces us to question just whose story we are reading. Who is pulling the strings? And is he pulling ours as well?
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Transitions smoothly between calm and crazed, an ending that bristles with “what ifs.” Pleasant art and clothing that actually evokes 1983 along with an interesting new angle on the series means this can easily function as a jumping off point for new readers.
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