Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Higurashi: When They Cry
GN 25-26 - Festival Accompanying Arc 1
Miyoko Tanashi was a happy, normal child living in post-war Japan with her loving parents until a terrible train crash took that life away from her. Sent to a vicious orphanage, her life begins to fall into madness until she is rescued by her father's mentor, Dr. Takano. Dr. Takano is researching a strange brain disease known as “Hinamizawa Syndrome,” and his young ward decides to make it her life's work to get his thesis accepted by academia. Naturally this brings her to Hinamizawa in the year 1979 – the first year of Oyashiro-sama's curse. Coincidence? What do you think?
Warning:Once again, if you have not read the previous volume of Higurashi: When They Cry and do not want to be spoiled, do not read this review, as it is necessary to discuss a major revelation from the previous book.
Sometimes to get the answers you seek, you have to go back. Way, way, back, in this case, to a Japan recovering from World War II. This is when Miyo Takano, whom we now know to be intimately related to the re-occurrence of Oyashiro-sama's Curse, was a little girl known as Miyoko Tanashi. It's the late 1950s, or thereabouts, and she lives with her parents in an unnamed town. Her dad likes to tease her by telling her ghost stories, some of which he seems to have gotten from his mentor, a brilliant researcher named Hifumi Takano. Miyoko is easily spooked, but she loves her parents and her everyday life. Soon, however, that life is shattered. Her parents are on a commuter train when it derails horribly, killing her mother and putting her father at death's door. Before he dies, he tells her to seek out his mentor...but the police are unable to find him. Miyoko ends up at a remote orphanage run by evil and abusive men. She eventually does manage to find Takano, however, and soon realizes that his research into a rare parasite-borne disease known as “Hinamizawa Syndrome” is earning him nothing but scorn. Slavishly grateful to her adoptive grandfather, she changes her name to Miyo Takano and vows to spend her life proving that he is not a crackpot.
In the second half of the book we see how Miyo established herself in Hinamizawa, brought in Tomitake and Dr. Irie, and is obsessed with proving the existence of Hinamizawa Syndrome, to the point where she appears to be utterly insane. It is now 1979, the first year of the the curse's reign, and that, we soon find out, is no coincidence. We also meet Satoshi and Satoko Hojo, learning more about their shared past and seeing how Satoko reaches the point she's at in 1983, although right now the increased time given to Satoshi is more interesting. We've heard about him, we've seen him from the besotted Shion's perspective, and now we see a different side of one of the most talked about absent characters – from Dr. Irie's point of view. This second half of the book is fascinating in that Ryukishi07 has suddenly let us into the minds of more than one character. Previously we got one or two characters' inner narration, but now we hear from Takano, Satoko, and Dr. Irie all at once. Dr. Irie is the most different and informative, although Satoko reveals some very telling details that we were not privy to previously, and his past is one that is rooted in one of the less excellent practices of psychotherapy. This is also where a large part of the volume's horror comes into play. Whereas the first half of the book relies on the tried-and-true (and still highly effective) torture scenarios, as well as the ghastly hand of fate, the second half looks at a different type of man-made terror. It reveals a truth about Oyashiro-sama's curse that we needed to know, but perhaps would rather have remained ignorant of, as it is truly ghastly, both in its execution and in what it implies about the Cotton Driftings of 1980 – 1982.
There are two very interesting themes that make multiple appearances in this volume: the lingering (and lasting) effects of WWII and religion. The latter is likely to raise some eyebrows among more religious readers, and it seems likely that Ryukishi07 will return to those ideas later in the arc. The former is much more pervasive, and perhaps proves that the gas chamber scene of the previous book was an intentional reference. Miyoko's parents tell her that she is lucky not to have lived through the war, soldiers were instrumental in the discovery of Hinamizawa Syndrome, and constant mentions of “during the war” demand that we pay attention to the fact that it happened. (It makes us question, in fact, how the men who ran the orphanage were affected by it.) Whether or not there will be greater significance to this as the answers come in is uncertain, but it seems likely, given the number of times “The War” is mentioned and the devastating effect it had on those who experienced it firsthand.
Readers with good memories will notice that Karin Suzuragi, the artist of two previous arcs, has returned for this final one. While she has a tendency towards tiny feet and strange bosoms, her technique is excellent and her horror scenes effective. It seems like the two first images, the front cover and the picture on the first page, are deliberately similar, hinting at a parallel between Miyoko and Satoko that we may want to pay attention to.
The Festival Accompanying Arc is off to an interesting start, already full of early answers, and it is clearly going to take its time getting to June of 1983. This is both good and bad, as these are things we really want to (and need to) know, but also fosters a sort of impatience as we wait to get back to the point where we've been. This book is both the prologue and the prologue to the prologue, and it does feel like it, but it is also still a damn good read. Impatient people eager to get back to Rika, Keiichi, and the rest may want to wait for the next omnibus to come out so as to be able to binge read, but if you don't mind a slow reveal, as always, Higurashi delivers an intense book full of mysteries and horrors...along with a slow trickle of answers as to how the story can finally be resolved.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Still as engrossing as ever, answers are starting to really come through. WWII and religious themes are intriguing. Suzuragi shows great technique in her art.
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