Reviewby Casey Brienza, Feb 19th 2009
Higurashi: When They Cry
An isolated but idyllic town nestled deep in the mountains where everybody knows everybody, Hinamizawa seemed like the perfect place to grow up. Unfortunately, Keiichi now realizes that life there is not as ideal as it seems, and he suspects his newfound school friends of involvement in a recent string of premeditated—possibly supernatural—murders. Worse still, he's afraid he may be next on their hit list! Paranoia mounting, he begins practicing his swing and carrying around a bat at all times. But even the bat may not be enough to protect him from Rena, whose dark past points to sinister potential for present violence against the boy who once considered her a friend. How will Oyashiro-sama exact its unholy price?
The fan favorite tale of bishoujo, mystery, and murder Higurashi: When They Cry is based upon a series visual novels by Ryukishi07 collectively known as, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (literally “When the Cicadas Cry”). The original games consist of numerous “arcs,” representing different storylines set in Hinamizawa and/or different perspectives on the same events. The second volume of the spinoff manga series to be released by Yen Press is the conclusion of the “Onikakushi-hen,” or “Abducted by Demons Arc.” It is known amongst its fans as one of the “Question Arcs,” and it certainly raises many perplexing questions that are, needless to say, left deliciously unanswered by the end of a book that only begins to scratch the surface of Ryukishi07's complexly realized world.
The most obvious of these questions, at least from Keiichi's point of view, is: What the heck is the deal with Rena?! From Ooishi-san he learns that she is not merely the innocent girl who ends every sentence with a waffling question that is supposed to be cute. Turns out that she went berserk at her previous school, smashing every window in the building. A therapist's records show her invoking the name, Oyashiro-sama. Is she possessed by the demon god that some believe rules the inhabitants of Hinamizawa with its implacable, bloodthirsty curse? And does this god have its sights set on Keiichi next? Or is she just a psychologically damaged teenager who doesn't know how to deal when the guy she likes stops being nice to her? The manga supports arguments in favor of both.
Moreover, is his classmates' suspicious behavior just a figment of Keiichi's own overactive, paranoid imagination? It's lots of fun to try to read critically: Razor blades in rice cakes, penalty games that involve being injected with an unknown substance—are these the innocuous actions of mischievous girls or the warnings of killers ready in a heartbeat to kill again? This, ultimately, is the central question that remains infuriatingly unanswered by the end of the second volume. Even the letter that Keiichi leaves behind the clock on his bedroom wall after his disappearance, which purports to explain everything, has holes big enough to drive a Hummer safely through. Ryukishi07 painstakingly leaves plenty of reasonable doubt that could, with just a little twist at the end, turn Keiichi into the villain and the girls into the victims.
Yet despite the many unanswered questions, the experience of reading this manga is, once again, wholly enjoyable and satisfying. The harem romantic comedy tropes have, like the accelerating plot of a trashy horror flick, fallen away completely. The scare scenes come fast and furious every time Keiichi has even the most innocuous interaction with any of the girls, busty or babyish alike. By now, any fanboy drool left is surely frozen solid at the bottom of his chin. The artist, though her characters are not strictly attractive, again knows exactly how to maximize the scare quotient of these scenes, and the turn of a single page can turn the tone one-hundred and eighty degrees. The money shudder comes right at the end in a swath of scratchy lines and midnight black ink: Keiichi's final phone call to Ooishi-san.
Of course, the manga run of Higurashi: When They Cry is only just beginning. The textual density of the original storyline supports many adaptations, particularly those in manga form, which is a fluid marriage of words and pictures somewhat similar to that of a visual novel game and supports the translation from one medium to another very well. Numerous artists have adapted different pieces of the franchise for different publishers and magazines over the past several years, and over twenty different tankoubon have been released to date. Yen Press's English language release will eventually include the “Tsumihoroboshi-hen,” or “Atonement Arc,” the “Answer Arc” paired to the first two volumes, with illustrator Karin Suzuragi will be reprising her work on the series. The "Cotton Drifting Arc," though, is up next. So if you have become hooked on this particular, sequential art vision of the gruesome mysteries of Hinamizawa, a new fix—if not all the answers you seek—will be forthcoming right quick.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ A smart series oozing mystery at the seams that leaves you craving more of its signatures scares.
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