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Inside the 10th Anniversary Higurashi When They Cry Exhibition

by Ken Iikura-Gross,

Independently published manga and videogames have steadily been gaining popularity in Japan, and a small handful of these independent works have been adapted into anime series. Recent examples range from Ojisan to Marshmallow, Hetalia - Axis Powers, and Seiyu's Life!. Although the Higurashi: When They Cry series may not have been the first independent work to become an anime series, it was possibly the first to gain such a wide following with its 2006 anime adaptation. It certainly caught many viewers by surprise with its horror and mystery elements, but it held onto its fans with a great cast of characters, plot twists, and voice acting. One decade later later, Higurashi might not have the staying power necessary for a grand-scale tenth anniversary celebration, but the anime merchandising company MOVIC celebrated the event well with a small Higurashi: When They Cry Reki Exhibition between June 10 and June 12, in the Tokyo Solamachi shopping center.

It is frustrating that this exhibition was so poorly advertised by MOVIC and its parent company, Animate. Finding information about it was difficult for fans, but also difficult to pass up thanks to all the goodies that came with a ticket purchase. These promotional items included six different autograph boards with different characters printed on them, a CD with the audio tracks that played in the Exhibition, and a stamped autograph board with a message from the series creator, Ryukishi07. Only the ¥8,000 Super Oyashiro Time Tickets came with every item, but fortunately, fans could also purchase a ¥2,000 Standard Ticket, which included two random character autograph boards, or a ¥4,000 Bundle Ticket that added in the audio CD.

The entrance hall inside the exhibition displayed nine attractive portraits of the main characters that were humorously misleading about the gruesome and mysterious tone of Higurashi: When They Cry. Past the entrance hallway, a two-minute video featuring Rika Furude and Hanyū introduced the Exhibition to patrons. Both the portraits and video introduction were pleasing gallery pieces, but the message from Ryukishi07 was the perfect reminder of why the tenth anniversary of this series should be celebrated. In his message, he wrote how he considered this work his child and was glad so many people enjoyed it. He still remembers how excited he felt when the series was first animated, and he hoped patrons would still think of his story when they heard cicadas crying in the summer months. The message was very touching and conveyed his appreciation towards fans and patrons alike.

The exhibition was divided into five sections, each one featuring different aspects of the Higurashi franchise. The first section was a replica of the Game Club's classroom at the Hinamizawa Branch School. While not that large, it captured the spirit of the Game Club with a cluster of desks in the center of the room and a metal pan suspended from the ceiling. On the desks were a set of dice, decks of Hanafuda and Uno, and Shōgi and Othello boards. There were also character introductions, as well as images of events that occurred in the school plastered across the walls. These images also did not convey the ghastly nature of the story, but it was clear that this area was meant to portray the carefree side of the story. The message scrawled on the blackboard really rekindled the feeling of being back in the Hinamizawa Branch School. The large chalk message roughly translated to “It's a Club Competition!” and fit well with the audio playing in this section.

Patrons were also encouraged to open the lockers along the back wall of this classroom. Aside from the cleaning supply locker, they were individually labeled with the main characters' names, with items used by those characters throughout the series inside. Satoshi Houjou's locker had his iconic baseball bat and a few other odds and ends, while Mion Sonozaki's had an assortment of board and card games. This was a nice touch by the coordinators of the exhibition, especially since patrons aren't often allowed to interact with gallery pieces in such displays.

Between the first and second section of the Exhibition was a short hallway with more images from Higurashi: When They Cry. While there were still happy-go-lucky images present, they slowly mirrored the mad decent of the series. Appropriately, the second section was entirely dedicated to the violent insanity of the series. Patrons were greeted with a display of memorable lines from the series, particularly the phrase “Liar.” While not quite bone-chilling, the props and images displayed in this section certainly conjured the horror and shocking nature of the series. The piece that stood out most was the stair-step mural of Rena Ryugu. It wasn't immediately apparent upon entering the section, but when combined with the other gallery pieces, it definitely added to the eerie atmosphere.

The Exhibition branched into two paths after the second section. The first branch led to a small area that explained the mystery behind Higurashi: When They Cry, delving into the backstory of Miyo Takano and the mysterious Hinamizawa Syndrome. It wasn't all that informative for prior fans, but the section featured a lovely recreation of the top-secret Emergency Handbook 34, with pages from its files on display. Between this section and the penultimate area of the Exhibition was a short corridor that partially revealed the fate of the series' characters, forming an enticing advertisement for any visitors who had not yet watched the anime, played the games, or read the manga/novels.

The second to last section was a fantastic reproduction of the Watanagashi Festival at the Furude Shrine in Hinamizawa. Each of Higurashi's six leads had their own display to represent their personality in the mock Festival. For instance, the pervy Keichi Maehara had a bloomer shorts stall while Shion had a parfait stand in the style of Angel-Mort. Patrons could also take their picture behind a life-size headless dummy of Jirou Tomitake, using his signature hat and glasses to complete a cosplay illusion. Not many visitors seemed interested in taking advantage of this photo spot, but it was a thoughtful sentiment by the staff. However, the pièce de résistance of this section was the large model of Furude Shrine's facade. Like all Shinto Shrines, the model had a torii entrance arch and an offertory box, as well as a cardboard cutout of Rika for patrons to photograph. It's amazing that the coordinators built a scale model of Furude Shrine for this exhibition, and it was nice seeing the Watanagashi Festival replicated for patrons to live in the world of Higurashi: When They Cry for a few minutes.

The Exhibition ended with a projection map of the river where the Watanagashi Festival occurred and a small gallery of the original character line art by Ryukishi07. In the projection mapped room, patrons were encouraged to write a message on cotton-patterned paper and send them down the river. A fair portion of the messages congratulated the tenth anniversary of the series, but many more included letters about how the series influenced or impacted each visitor. It was a lovely sight and a fine end to the main Exhibition. The accompanying gallery was small, but the vast difference between Ryukishi07's artwork and anime character designer Kyuta Sakai's was striking. While the original character designs seem odd by contrast, these differences add to the richness of the franchise's history as a whole.

The gallery also featured trading cards and a promotion for the Watanagashi Pilgrimage Festival in Gero Onsen & Shirakawa Village in Gifu Prefecture on June 18 and 19, 2016. While the cards were nice gallery pieces, they seemed more like collector's items than pieces in a playable card game. This was quite a shame because the franchise lends itself rather easily to a Cluedo-style board game. The Pilgrimage also appeared promising, with special guests including Keichi's voice actor, Souichiro Hoshi, and Satoko Houjou's voice actress, Mika Kanai. There was also a handy location guide for anyone attending this trip to the real-life Hinamizawa.

No exhibition would be complete without a gift shop, and the Higurashi: When They Cry Reki 10th Anniversary Exhibition was no different. Like the rest of the exhibition, the gift shop was small and didn't boast a large variety of items, but there were still interesting goodies available. The dining ware, Japanese teacups and plates with attractive designs, stood out the most. The gift shop also sold a music box that might make a nice living room piece. Apart from those three items, merchandise was standard fare: key chains, shirts, towels, pins, Blu-rays, and plush toys, all items that it would not surprise me to see commercially available outside the exhibition. That's not to say there weren't any limited-edition items up for sale though! While on the expensive end of things, there were two exclusive products in the gift shop: an assortment of made-to-order body pillow covers and mist-graph prints of the characters. Both products were wonderfully designed, but only dedicated fans of the series would want to pony up for them.

While the Higurashi: When They Cry Reki 10th Anniversary Exhibition wasn't as grand as some other anime and manga-related galleries, it was a delightful outing for fans of the series. There were just enough pieces to interact with to make visitors feel as if they were living in the world of Higurashi. The exhibition was satisfactory for the base entry price of ¥2,000, and because it was held in Space 634 in the Tokyo Solamachi shopping center, you could enjoy the sights of Tokyo by climbing the Tokyo Skytree to its 350-meter Tenbo Deck after your visit was over. Nonetheless, it was a shame this exhibition only lasted three days and was poorly advertised. It was a nice experience for those who could attend.

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