This article is a part of AniTAY’s Summer 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
Higurashi: When They Cry is the type of anime I love, as it helps me overcome existential issues and break the cycle in the narrative of my daily life. It hits especially close to home these days considering how the pandemic makes every day just like the last. After watching the first four episodes of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Sotsu, its special brand of storytelling continues by showcasing how circumstances out of our control can give us the wrong perception about events causing harm to those that we love.
Higurashi’s ongoing reboot continues to unfold as a collection of answer arcs for Kai and Rei, recontextualizing those arcs before arriving at a larger conclusion.
If you watched the previous seasons and OVAs, you will notice that the first episode opens the same way as in Gou and the 2006 run.
At first, I thought it was lazy recycled animation or, even worse, something like the Endless Eight arc in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. However, I ended up finding it immersive, considering it allows the viewer to understand the dynamics in place for Hinamizawa’s inhabitants.
We are no longer trying to break a cycle of bad endings like Sisyphus, punished for cheating death twice and forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.
Albert Camus states “At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”. In Gou, Eua represents unreasonable silence, her attitude proper of a deity not meant to interfere in human affairs, all the while watching the actions of Satoko during the last arc.
Camus imagined Sisyphus overcoming despair by defiantly meeting his fate as he walks down the hill to begin rolling the rock again, giving the task significance and value by embracing it as his own despite its absurdity and repetitiveness. In the same vein, Rika does everything she can to avoid her demise and break her own cycle, realizing, as Frederica Bernkastel, that when her curiosity and her pain become equal she can grasp the meaning of her task.
Higurashi mainly uses gore to impress the audience, as seen in the grotesque imagery throughout the first season of When They Cry and Kai. However, it also dabbles in cosmic horror, a subgenre melding the horrific and the weird by emphasizing the dread of the unknowable and incomprehensible more than pure shock.
Higurashi uses elements of cosmic horror in a few key ways:
a) Cosmic dread (the way Eua uses her powers in Gou to help Satoko or the guidance Hanyuu gave to Rika);
b) Forbidden and dangerous knowledge (political power obtained by the head families through fear by exploiting Oyashiro’s curse);
c) Madness (collateral effects of the Hinamizawa Syndrome in stage 5 causing psychosis, paranoia, and schizophrenia in carriers of the endemic parasite);
d) Non-human influences on humanity (Hanyuu helping Rika or Eua helping Satoko);
e) Religion, superstition, fate, and inevitability (the relation between the cotton drift festival and Oyashiro’s curse); and
f) Risks associated with scientific discoveries (the use of the research about the Hinamizawa Syndrome to gain political power).
The basis for this is the evolution of the thinking processes each character provide to explain the origin of the tragedy through spiritual beliefs (Oyashiro’s curse), scientific facts (Hinamizawa Syndrome), or strategic thinking (using the parasite to give impulse to a political agenda). Nonetheless, the sense of wonder comes in Sotsu through Satoko’s perspective as both new antagonist and foil for Rika, both trying to solve the same problem. By developing the consequences of the last chapter of Gou in this first arc, Sotsu gives viewers the answer sheet to the questions raised in Gou, letting them rethink the events from Satoko’s perspective.
Furthermore, by letting Satoko manipulate the outcome and complicate Rika’s work, it perpetuates the conflict, using it as a tool to let the story flow and force both characters to grow through pain. By discarding the uplifting ending achieved in Kai and revealing it as a lie, Higurashi exposes the need for both characters to transform their narcissism into empathy implying they need to accept that each of them need to pursue their own goals. Although this might cause a separation or deterioration of their relationship, it is required to transition into adulthood by settling any bad blood from the St. Lucia Academy experience and embracing the fact that pain is the only constant in the universe, thereby creating their own hope by putting the effort to be better.
This also leaves enough room for speculation by letting the viewer witness the cast enter chaos in their search for happiness through apparently opposing goals.
The first four episodes made me watch again Gou to search for clues and try to understand how Satoko will screw every arc until the moment where threatens Rika and the rest of the cast with a gun out of nowhere, leaving me wondering how everything ties into Umineko, too. Also, I cannot stop thinking about what will happen during the rest of the season if the core cast is splintered due to trust issues from Satoko’s and Rika’s actions and how those issues will factor into the ending. Finally, for me, Higurashi remains a remedy against the Groundhog Day effect of the pandemic. It talks to the person inside me constantly searching for purpose in life by experimenting and distinguishing what I can control according to my capabilities — it allows me to empathize with Rika and Satoko to a certain degree
Will Satoko and Rika become aware of the consequences of their actions? Will they overcome their fixations or delusions out of a god complex? Will they abandon their arrogance and accept the inevitable true ending just like Bill Murray in the Groundhog Day? Only time will tell.
Perhaps Groundhog Day holds the answer for Rika and Satoko: the main character, played by Bill Murray, finds redemption by distancing from himself and his selfishness to break his cycle. In this matter, Higurashi already has anestablished reason for Rika to do the same as Bill at the end of Kai through showing unconditional compassion to Takano as Frederica Bernkastel. However, we cannot be sure about what will ultimatelyhappen in Sotsu, and therein lies the importance of the Epictetus quote transcribed above: both Satoko and Rika need to distinguish what is and is not up to them to finish the conflict.
Title: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Sotsu (ひ ぐ ら し のなく 頃 に 卒)
Based on: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni visual novel series by Ryukishi07, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, Yutori Hōjō, Jirō Suzuki, Yoshiki Tonogai, Mimori and Rato
Produced by: 07th Expansion (Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Ciconia no Naku Koro ni)
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes Watched: 4
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This article is a part of AniTAY’s Summer 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts…
 Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. translated by Justin O’Brien. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.