Dec 3, 2015
Quick! What’s a typical horror movie of the last thirty years like!? “Let me think...Stupid Young People™ do stupid shit that attracts a killer man/demon/monster/alien/Muppet that kills everyone in really gruesome ways for no apparent reason, all while loud noises and ‘scary’ images keep popping up at an annoying frequency until either the luckiest young person escapes, or somehow overcomes the killer flea/boss enemy/weather pattern.”
Okay, what’s Higurashi like? “It is a complex, interwoven tale that explores many different issues such as friendship, guilt, redemption, domestic abuse, romance, lies, paranoia, disease, pride, religion, corruption, revenge, perseverance, and uncompromising scenes of death.” I’ve had people asking me
in person, “Why? Why do you hate (insert either Friday the 13th/Final Destination/Scream/some other slasher here) so much!?” And I usually say, “Because they’re not Higurashi.”
There are great works of horror out there. There does exist great horror literature, cinema, and video games. The problem is that the creators and fans alike forget that the really strong works of horror, the ones that stick out in your mind for years to come, are the ones that do more than just scare the audience. They still tell a meaningful story. Even among people dying in inhumane ways, of frightened people screaming in hysterics, they still remember the fundamentals of telling a good story. Ryukishi knows this; it’s why he’s become a renowned name among Japanese authors of recent years.
So why then did I skip a review of the other Higurashi arcs, all the way to the 8th and last of the “original” arcs, and why did I wait 4 years to do another review? Because when I reviewed the first 3 arcs back in 2011, I was naïve. I was both naïve and simple-minded. I had tried to review something I had not finished. How could someone who had just come to Hinamizawa understand the history, the culture, the camaraderie of an isolated Japanese village? Keiichi certainly couldn’t have known what weighty issues awaited him and his family when they moved into this quiet country town. It’s incredible how different the series feels once you’ve gotten this far down into this Hell of violence and suspicion. Just like him, I knew there was something unpleasant going on, but I could never be ready for what was really happening. “This can’t be real!” “It’s all a joke, right!?” “It’s just a dream! It has to be!” And it stays this way, for both him and the audience, right up until this final arc.
Don’t believe me? Look at how this arc starts. It’s about Miyo Takano, the nurse of Hinamizawa, her past, and how she became who she is today. Much like everyone else, her past is filled with both darkness and light. Could you know what her life was like just from seeing her in the clinic, dressed in her uniform? That’s one of the many things that Higurashi is known for; no one is who they appear to be at first glance. A cursory glance at the surface shows little of what truly makes up a person in this setting. The same is true of Irie; we learn where he came from as well. All of the lingering questions from the previous arcs are finally answered, and an explosive confrontation ensues. Unlike the previous cases, -will- there be anyone left alive this time?
The manga, unlike the anime, preserves more of the original visual novel text. As such, even if you’ve seen the anime, if you haven’t read this or the VNs, there is still new content to explore. Indeed, just in this arc alone, Irie as a character makes much more sense than he did in the anime. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’ve only seen the Higurashi anime, as even this far into the series, the manga is a much stronger adaptation of the source. Granted, there is still content cut out from the original VNs, but the manga is truer to Ryukishi’s vision than the anime, and even with some missing material, it moves faster thanks to that and manga imaging making up for the VN text.
As for the artwork, Karin Suzuragi, the artist of the 1st and 6th arc, returns for the 8th arc. While I still prefer the art of the 2nd, 5th, and 7th arc, here, Suzuragi is more experienced than she was back in 2005 for the 1st arc. While the manga still lacks motion, as well as color in most of the pages, the character and background designs are still leagues beyond Deen’s attempts at drawing Hinamizawa. One other difference from the anime is the violence and gore is more detailed here. If you’ve come this far, you know a strong stomach is needed; steel your insides once again for this gruesome finale.
VN authors have attracted more attention in the anime world as of late. Not just Ryukishi, but names like Gen Urobuchi, Kinoko Nasu, Jun Maeda, and Romeo Tanaka, among others, have branched out to other mediums too. Anime producers have caught on to the fact that VNs, while still largely niche, can attract customers beyond hentai-obsessed otaku. Some producers will even bank an entire anime around the reputation of a VN author doing the script of a new series or movie. It’s easy to see why, as many VN authors do have considerable talent, but out of all of them, Ryukishi stands above them all. Few authors have the capacity to bring together the elements of an engaging hook, world building, distinct character voices, pathos, and uniqueness needed to start a new franchise, and fewer still can do that while still being engaging for the audience from beginning to end. Higurashi is proof that Ryukishi is capable of both feats.
And you know what’s even crazier? Higurashi isn’t even my favorite of his works! If you think my gushing of the Higurashi manga is enough to draw you into this series, then you -need- to check out the Umineko series of VNs as well. Then again, that’s an unfair comparison to make, given that he was less experienced making Higurashi than when he made Umineko, but keeping that in mind, I’d say Higurashi turned out fairly well, all things considered. Enjoy your stay in Hinamizawa, just, mind the psychosis.
What did you think of this review?