Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Higurashi: When They Cry
GN 15 - Atonement 1
Welcome back to Hinamizawa, 1983. Newcomer Keiichi Maebara is still enjoying his everyday life with friends Shion, Mion, Satoko, Rika, and Rena. He is particularly fond of that last one, whom he sees as the ultimate happy, easy-going person. But Rena has a secret – the face she presents to the world is not the real her, and behind the closed doors of her home is a world she would rather not be a part of. What is the truth, and how does it shape who she is and who she wants to be?
Happiness. What is it, really? For Keiichi Maebara, male protagonist of Ryukishi07's Higurashi: When They Cry, it is playing with his new friends in the rural village of Hinamizawa. He especially envies easy-going Rena Ryugu, his age-mate as well as classmate, a girl obsessed with the “adowable” and as sweet as they come. At least, that's how it looks in the first chapter of this latest English arc of the original visual novel's manga adaptation. That chapter is primarily narrated by Keiichi, like the Abducted by Demons arc that this Atonement storyline is the answer to. In it Keiichi reintroduces us to the primary cast members of the series, including Mion Sonozaki's twin sister Shion, whom we followed in the Eye Opening arc, indicating that this time around, her presence is widely known and accepted by the community at large. Towards the chapter's end, Keiichi starts to wonder if Rena is really as content as she seems. This provides an excellent segue into the main body of the arc, which is narrated by Rena herself.
One of the first things we learn is that Rena, although a native of Hinamizawa, has only recently returned to the village. Her parents moved away when she was a little girl, and during the years she was gone her family fell apart. Rena, then spelled “Reina,” suffered a mental breakdown, which she blamed on Hinamizawa's indigenous god, Oyashiro-sama. She believed that he was punishing her for leaving the village by destroying her family and making maggots live in her blood. This is one of the clearest hints that we have had that the curse may be a localized mental disorder rather than the ravings of a mad god, a possibility emphasized by Rena's brief stay at a psychiatric hospital. She firmly believes that by returning to Hinamizawa the “curse” will be lifted, perhaps further evidence of her mental and emotional state. Return she does, however, along with her father, and as part of her new start in her hometown, Rena rejects all that happened while she was away. One primary method is to systematically remove the letter “i” from her world. This subtly alters the pronunciation of her name, a fact that will not be immediately obvious to anglophone readers, but more importantly serves as symbolic for her relationship with her father's new girlfriend, Rina. Rina is a person Rena cannot like, and the fact that her name is essentially Rena's new one with a one character difference could indicate that Rina embodies everything that Rena has rejected. This gives her treatment of the woman a deeper symbolism than the surface actions show.
Story-wise, this arc is setting up to be similar to the Demon Exposing side arc. That story also focused on what happens to those who leave Hinamizawa and the mental breakdowns that begin to shape their worlds. The sudden familial disasters that destroy Rena and Natsumi are similar enough in nature that there seems to be a deliberate parallel, making them that much more significant to solving the overall mystery. Also evidentiary is the “prologue” to the book, several full-color pages narrated by Rika, the child head of the Furude family. Her dialogue is simple enough – she remarks that this year is just like every other year and wonders how many times she will hear the higurashi cry – but it is overlayed with a quotation from in-world poet Frederica Bernkastel about a tragedy that keeps on happening. Does this suggest that Rika is aware that her world is made up of many intersecting arcs? Is she aware that every time Keiichi fails to solve the puzzle he will be forced to start again? It is an interesting theory, and certainly one that has a basis in at least manga (Sailor Moon's quest to set the past right), if not in literature.
Karin Suzuragi's art may not be as attractive as Demon Exposing's En Kito's or as terrifying as Cotton Drifting/Eye Opening's Yutori Houjyou's, but she does an admirable job of showing Rena's conflicting emotions and dual lives. Her strongest moments are when she goes from a very nearly moe style to pure horror, such as when Rena first rediscovers the maggots squirming from her body. Faces go from anime-sweet to monstrous in the flip of a page, proving that Suzuragi has an excellent sense of timing and impact, something that she also showcased in the Abducted by Demons volumes. While her grasp of anatomy isn't excellent – breasts frequently look stuck on and Mion and Shion aren't as identical as in other arcs – her art still makes an impression. She frequently throws in small pieces of symbolism that work to confirm readers' suspicions about some the series' larger mysteries, which shows that if nothing else, she understands the story that she is illustrating.
The Atonement arc, Suzuragi tells us in her afterword, is considered one of the most intense. Ryukishi07 adds that Rena embodies the world of the story like no other character, a girl trying to be normal in a world that won't allow it. Like in his notes in the Demon Exposing volume, he encourages us to think about what we would do in her situation. What fears and monsters do you carry around everyday? And if you were Rena, would you just keep them locked inside your heart...or would you make of them a weapon to avenge yourself upon the world? Perhaps the greatest strength of this volume lies in the fact that for many of us, the answer is a resounding “I don't know.”
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Story that builds on itself, horror scenes are well-drawn, a plot that makes you think.
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