Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Higurashi: When They Cry
GN 12 - Eye Opening 2
Satoshi cannot provide an alibi for the night of Hinamizawa's Cotton Drifting Festival, and coupled with his well-known animosity for his aunt, he becomes the primary suspect in her murder. However before he can be formally accused, he vanishes, leaving Shion with her identity exposed and her heart broken. A year later, still heartbroken and filled with anger over her treatment by the Sonozaki family, Shion meets Keiichi Maebara, new kid in town and her twin sister Mion's crush, and the night of the Cotton Drifting draws closer...
The single most important image in this volume isn't in the main story. It's not on the cover. Take a close look at the color insert to Yutori Houjyou's fourth contribution to Ryukishi07's horror-mystery and a major piece of the ongoing puzzle is solved, or at least hinted at. It's a great opening to the volume and a definite treat for readers who have been diligently trying to solve the mystery of Hinamizawa's yearly murders, but there may be something amiss when your biggest clue isn't part of your volume's main plot.
And what is that main plot? In this volume it is Shion's descent into madness, as she tries to cope with Satoshi's loss and the less-than-sane actions of her family, the powerful (and power-mad) Sonozakis. Once her identity is revealed to the other residents of Hinamizawa, the Sonozakis summon Shion to the family underground torture chamber. This is where things get ugly. While other volumes of the series, particularly in the opening two that make up the Abducted by Demons arc, have been gruesome, nothing thus far can quite top the nail-pulling scene in this one. Blood? Fine. Throatless dead bodies? Bring it on. A sixteen-year-old girl forced to use a medieval device to remove her own fingernails while a bunch of thugs watch? Oh hell, no!
It's the torture scenes where Houjyou's art really shines. The slow leak of blood as a nail is removed, the crazed look on Shion's face when wielding Satoshi's bat in an effort at deranged revenge, knees crumpled in pain...Houjyou makes you hide your nails, look away, and swallow uncomfortably. This is what good horror storytelling is in a visual medium – scenes so grim that they linger in your mind, floating off the page to haunt you.
One of the interesting features of the Higurashi series is its ability to blend those horrific moments with perfectly bland, slice-of-life pages. This arc, perhaps because of its nature as an “answer” rather than a “question,” still has a troubled air about its calmer portions, largely because of Shion's inner thoughts. There are several scenes of her lounging on her bed in a short slip, contemplating her loneliness and general unhappiness. While her monologue has an appropriately angsty teen feel, some of the images have an uncomfortably sexual tone to them, like we have come into the aftermath of her masturbation. While there is a sexual aspect to many horror stories, it feels off in this one, where legs are shown up to the crotch with no sexual innuendo and a family restaurant has a uniform that would look more natural in Las Vegas.
For a story with a large main cast, this one focuses on a very small number of characters. Satoshi, a large part of the previous volume, is developed by his absence in this one. However unlike absent characters in other series, what we learn about Satoshi is not who he really is, but who others want him to be. Shion's mania takes wing because of the idea of him, rather than because of who he truly is. This leads to a lot of development for her as well, primarily in terms of how she relates to the few other characters present in this volume. Mion is largely left alone in terms of development, though her portrayal might be a surprise for readers of other arcs. Keiichi, Miyo, and Satoko are more one-dimensional than they have been when seen through Shion-colored glasses. It's a bit distracting at first as the volume moves into more familiar territory, but ultimately it works.
The Eye Opening Arc, of which this is the second of four volumes, is no place to start reading the series. Ryukishi07 has laid out his story in a pattern that Agatha Christie would be proud of, and you need to be up to date with all eleven previous volumes before diving into this one. Clues are dropped, characters are twisted, and each page brings us a little bit closer to solving the mystery. That many of those pages can make us uncomfortable is a testament to the combined powers of author and artist. This may not be the strongest entry in the franchise, but it certainly is a good one.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Gut-churning horror scenes, more clues to the overall mystery at the heart of the series, varied panel layouts, and a believably crazed heroine make this great thunder-storm reading.
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