Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Higurashi: When They Cry
GN 17 - Atonement 3
Rena is certain that she's figured out the truth behind both the series of deaths plaguing the village of Hinamizawa each year and what she calls the “gushing maggot” sickness. But Keiichi's not so sure that she's right, and his suspicions seem to be confirmed when he looks a little further. But is it possible to talk to anyone now? Is Rena just too close to the edge?
Who do you believe? Just because someone sounds authoritative, or holds a certain degree or specialty, does that mean that you can trust them implicitly? These are some of the questions driving the plot of the penultimate volume in Karin Suzuragi's depiction of Higurashi: When They Cry's Atonement Arc, and like any well done horror story, by the protagonist's questioning, we too find ourselves wondering what we would do in a similar situation, or if there is a possibility that we are in one right now. After all, if you don't know who to believe, how can you know what's real? This is the position Rena Ryugu finds herself in as the volume opens. She has Takano's notebook detailing the nurse's theory of what causes Oyashiro-sama's curse to hit the village every year, and she is fairly certain that Takano was right. Her suspicions are only confirmed by what happens around her – if Takano wasn't right, why would all of this be happening? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that someone isn't out to get you, right?
If this sounds a bit like the Abducted by Demons Arc that this is in answer to, that's not a coincidence. Rena's thoughts and actions are mirroring Keiichi's in that opening storyline, with one major difference – the story is now being told from two characters' points of view. Both Rena and Keiichi narrate, whereas we were limited by Keiichi's first-person perspective the first time around. It is impossible to overstate how important this is to the story. English teachers like to warn us of the dangers of a closed first person narrative, and as events unfold in this volume, it is easy to see why. We get two sides to most events in the story, something that makes all the difference in understanding what is really going on inside the characters' heads and within the village itself.
It has become evident throughout this arc (and, to a certain extent, within the Time Killing volumes) that Rika Furude knows more than she is sharing, and this volume ups the stakes dramatically. The opening color image will make child protection advocates' blood run cold, and Rika's actions within the story are very telling. Clearly she is a major key to unraveling the central mystery, and she makes that ever more obvious as the book goes on. Likewise Keiichi begins to become aware in a way that was hinted at in earlier volumes, clearing up some of the events of Abducted by Demons in a way that will both assuage the curious and also maintain the thoroughly chilling sense that this is a village beyond help or control that the series as a whole projects. While this new awareness might seem like a slightly frayed plot device, it is used well enough that it does not appear as such during the story; it is only afterwards that the reader may sit back and say, “Wait a minute...”
Suzuragi's art continues to be strong, although perhaps not quite as strong as Cotton Drifting/Eye Opening artist Yutori Houjyou. She has a special gift for the unexpected two page spread or startling image and a talent for drawing an image that makes you want to cover it up immediately after seeing it, both great skills for an artist working in the horror genre. Her versions of the characters are not as well put together in the very literal sense – Mion and Shion's breasts really look as if they were hung on their chests and are being held on with clothing, and Mion's actually seem to inflate or deflate depending on the panel. Likewise Satoko appears unusually well endowed and at times Rena's legs look stuck on rather than attached to her hips. Keiichi seems to escape most of these problems, as do other male characters.
With heightened awareness of the situations facing them and a race to beat Rena to the edge, Higurashi's Atonement Arc is racing towards its finish. With many clues to solving the mysteries of both Rika and Oyashiro-sama's curse, the series remains compelling and chilling. Yen Press recently added the Massacre Arc's first volume to its website, so it looks as though continued reading will certainly bring rewards...if only we can figure out who is trustworthy within the story's world.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ More answers, a clear reason for the title of the arc, and good use of the more psychological aspects of the horror genre.
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