Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Dec 24th 2011
Higurashi: When They Cry
GN 16 - Atonement 2
The deed is done, and Rena feels that she has reclaimed her right to be happy. Unfortunately her friends from school stumble upon her hiding evidence, forcing her to come clean. Rena wants to trust that they'll understand her situation, but memories of what the vanished Satoshi went through the previous year give her pause. Later she is approached by local nurse Miyo Takano, who claims to have information about Oyashiro-sama's curse...and the night of the Cotton Drifting arrives.
Do you trust your friends? If you committed a crime, would you tell them? How much? What about authority figures? If someone gave you information, would you take it at face value? For Rena Ryugu, these questions have no easy answers, and as she struggles with them we see more of the girl behind the facade and get drawn ever deeper into the twisted village of Hinamizawa.
This volume picks up right where we left off last time, with Rena in the cool throes of a murderous urge. It is important to realize that she is not suffering from any noticeable delusion – Rena feels that she is justified in her actions and does not appear to be having a repeat of her psychotic break. While this may indicate some emotional detachment on her part, it seems more likely that she is creating that separation between thought and action deliberately: this girl knows what she is about and why. Like many fictional murderers before her, Rena believes that if she can hide the evidence of her crime, she will be free to return to life as normal. Regretfully Keiichi, Rika, Mion, and Satoko stumble upon her, learning her secret. Rena takes the opportunity to bring up the disappearance of Satoko's brother Satoshi the previous year, naming herself and the other girls as catalysts to his actions by their inability to help their friend. Doesn't that just prove how untrustworthy friends really are in times of need?
The devil truly is in the details of this book. Despite Rena's position as primary character in these chapters (closely followed by Keiichi), Rika is the one to pay attention to. Her facial expressions and comments back up the clues about her role in the story that we have been receiving right along, most notably in the previous volume. Her reaction when Rena accuses her of enabling Satoshi to go over the edge is particularly important, and readers invested in the central mystery will want to analyze her words closely. Mion also has some interesting reactions, with larger implications about the Sonozaki family, and Shion's absence is worth remarking. Another large clue comes from Keiichi himself, who is totally ignorant of the Satoshi situation. He experiences what British author Terry Pratchett terms a “flash side,” which along with Rika's behavior sheds some light on the story's world. In terms of how many clues we get, this book is at the top of the list for the sheer density of them.
The volume's narration is shared by Rena and Keiichi, an interesting method for telling the story, especially given that no other arcs have really shared the narration between two characters before. It gives us a larger view of the story, which is perhaps part of the reason that the Atonement Arc is considered to be one of the most important. Ryukishi07 says again in his afterward that he wants readers to really consider how they themselves would act in Rena's situation, and the dual narration helps us to do that. Are we more likely to be Keiichi or Rena? Part of writing a good horror mystery hybrid relies on making us ask ourselves just that.
Regretfully this volume, for all of its tight plotting and clue dropping, suffers a bit from the inclusion of two little side stories. Not listed in the table of contents and titled “The Melancholy of Rika Furude,” these three page shorts detail a costume punishment game played at school. While they might have been cute or even slightly funny at the end of the volume, or perhaps more effectively at the beginning where they could be experienced before getting involved in the main story, all they do is serve up a big distraction to readers enmeshed in the mystery. They not only break the mood, they also stomp all over the setting of 1983 by using terms such as “moe,” which really did not come into common usage (that is, among non-otaku) until around 2002. If you can, stop yourself before reading these sections and go back to them after finishing the book. These stories aside, Karin Suzuragi continues to deliver solidly drawn images, and while she is still not the best of the Higurashi artists, she clearly enjoys her work and has a few panels that readers with sensitive stomachs will not be able to focus on.
For all of the clues we are provided, including a couple that look like outright answers, this volume of Higurashi: When They Cry still leaves us with plenty of questions. Three key players, Satoshi, Takano, and Rika remain in the shadows and it is clear that we still have a long way to go before the final ending is reached. But with each installment come new hints, and as always, half of the fun is learning how to find them.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Gruesome, scary, and full of hints and clues. Great “hidden” details.
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