Here we finally are, the last arc in the first season of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, AKA When They Cry. Or is it series, since the next series/season has a different subtitle, title song, and end credits song? I’m honestly not sure, just like I’m honestly not sure what’s really going on in this series. But not necessarily in a bad way? That’s the intent, what with it being a mystery series and all, but damn, it would be nice to get some actual answers. Good thing this is a so-called answer arc! So let’s jump into Atonement and finish off the first season. Series. Whatever.
We open with Rena monologuing to her friends at the dump while wrapped up people chunks just chill out nearby. Yeah, that’s gonna happen pretty soon this time around. We then backtrack to a water gun fight between the main friends, highlighting that Satoko is a master strategist and that Keiichi and Rena are evenly matched enough that the battle ends in a tie. To be continued later! Despite no clear winner, there are losers, so Mion, Rika, and Satoko have to dress up and wait tables at the local restaurant, which is… sure, why not. While there Rena runs into Rina, a pink haired lady with–OH SHIT! She has a red star tattoo on her hip! That was her dead body at the beginning of Curse Killing! No nails are driven into her fingers this time around, so the two stories aren’t directly connected. Anyway, Rina is the new girlfriend of Rena’s dad, who is spending a lot of money on her. Rena later goes treasuring hunting at the dump alone, chilling out in an abandoned van that she’s converted into a comfy spot. She remembers her mother announcing the separation from her father, and how her new boyfriend got her pregnant. Rena didn’t take this well, and it may have been the catalyst for her acting out and breaking shit at her school before she moved back to Hinamizawa. Later, Rena is given a chore of picking up her dad’s new jackets in a neighboring town. While waiting, Rena overhears Rina talking with her pimp, Teppei, AKA Satoko’s bastard uncle! Shion and her bodyguard, Kasai, also show up and Rena learns from them that Teppei is most likely Rina’s pimp, and that the two engage in “badger schemes,” where the old boyfriend–Teppei–bursts in on his girl with her new boyfriend–Rena’s dad–and demands money. Rena is not happy about any of this.
Wanting to be alone at the dump, Rena is nevertheless followed by Rina. After a terse conversation it comes out that neither woman likes the other, especially when Rina announces she’s planning on marrying Rena’s dad because she’s pregnant. This absolutely triggers Rena, who beats Rina to death with a pipe. Rina’s body is stashed in an abandoned fridge, and after that Rena runs into Teppei again. She tricks him into following her to the dump by saying Rina wants to talk with him, but Rena turns around and kills him with her meat cleaver/dogslicer. At school, the gang is worried about Rena being absent again, so they decide to have a treasure hunt at the dump. They of course run into Rena disposing of the bodies (in a very professional way that raises questions). Oops! After Rena monologues about how friends abandon you, the gang surprises her by banding together to help her hide the remains, no questions asked. That also means there’s no indication that Satoko knows one of the bodies is her uncle, but whatever, the power of friendship and all that! Later on the gang is at the Cotton Drifting Festival, where Oishi is watching them closely. Oh no! Does he know what Rena did?! Absolutely not, as it turns out. The deaths of Rina and Teppei are never investigated to our knowledge. Huh.
The next episode begins with Oishi and Irie at the scene of Tomitake’s death, finding evidence that he may have been attacked before tearing out his own throat. Irie realizes that Takano had been seen with the photographer, so a search for her begins. The next day, Oishi asks Rena if he had seen Takano the night of the Festival, and we get a flashback showing Rena meeting Takano at the library. Takano goes into her whole “the people of Hinamizawa are the half-demons from Onigafuchi and all the victims of Oyashiro-sama’s curse were killed by adherents of the god” spiel. Rena shares her own experiences with Oyashiro-sama, confessing that she had attempted suicide and that she saw maggots crawling out of her cut wrists. Takano gives the girl a scrapbook containing all the evidence she had compiled in case she were to go missing, which she has. Things in the notebook about the “curse” include feelings of homesickness and maggots, which very, very closely mirrors what Rena went through, so her paranoia starts flaring up. She wants to confirm things in the book–especially about the Sonozaki family’s involvement–but tells Keiichi about some of it before swearing him to secret. Sure enough, Rena’s paranoia is verified when a van stops Keiichi, looking for the girl. He calls her later to ask what she knows, and she tells one hell of a story: Oyashiro-sama was not a god, but most likely some kind of doctor who came to the village ages ago. The area is home to a strange parasite or virus that can cause extreme paranoia and homicidal mania. The mantra of “never leave the village” was originally a rule about enforcing quarantine to avoid infecting the neighboring areas. Over time those who had extreme reactions were killed, and the other villagers ate their intestines as a very privative form of vaccination. Those descendants today are said to have “demon blood,” but it’s really a general immunity to the virus/parasite. If this became public knowledge, belief in Oyashiro-sama would vanish, so adherents are killing specific people in order to bolster belief.
That, uh… That’s a fucking lot to take in, but it does make sense with what we’ve seen before. Nothing should be taken as fact until it’s been backed up, but damn, is this the source of nearly all the incidents?
Calling Oishi from the payphone, Rena says she believes the Sonozakis are after her, and that someone is planning on enacting a bioterrorism attack soon (could that be the “volcanic gas” that kills the town?). Oishi shares that the medical examiner believes that Takano was killed before the Festival, which does wonders for Rena’s paranoia. She’s now on the run, having stolen a bunch of money from her dad. Mion and Keiichi talk about the situation, with Mion sharing that she had her people hide the bodies in order to protect Rena. But can we really trust the Sonozakis? Hiding at the dump, Rena hears some searchers mention that she was supposedly spotted elsewhere, making her believe that the people who used Takano’s doppelganger the night of the festival are now doing the same for her. We also notice that Rena has a rash on her neck, and scratching it causes maggots to fall out. Not that we believe the maggots are real, but that’s still not a good sign. Keiichi finds her at the dump with bandages on her neck and asks if she’s okay. She reveals that she knows about the bodies being moved and believes it’s part of Mion’s plan to silence her. Rena also lets slip that she believes the parasite/virus is extraterrestrial, which is yet another bad sign for her mental state. Keiichi tries to help her, but she snaps at him, revealing that she had Oishi investigate her so-called friends so she knows his secret: before moving to Hinamizawa, Keiichi was responsible for shooting several children with a “model gun,” which I think it like a pellet gun. He was caught, but because he was a minor–and because his dad was rich–his records were sealed, he got probation, and his family moved to Hinamizawa to lay low. His ensuing freakout confirms this, and Rena shouts that real friends wouldn’t hide things from each other. Later at school, Keiichi confesses to the other girls, and they’re very conflicted about the whole thing, generally thinking he’s a good person now and that not everything needs to be revealed. But then Keiichi gets a vision of himself murdering Rena and Mion, straight from Spirited Away by the Demon! But the truth seeps in: the girls were never actually trying to kill him, but help him. The syringe? Actually a marker. Dr. Irie being called in makes way more sense now, too. Rika realizes he had a vision of a “different world” and says the same thing is currently happening to Rena. He vows to not let his previous fate befall her. The Sonozakis meet with the police, both sides believing the other is after Rena for nefarious purposes. Turns out Mion’s mom has several of Takano’s scrapbooks, but most of them are filled with paranormal nonsense. So how much of what Rena has learned is true? Probably not the alien parts, at least.
After tricking the school’s teacher to leave the building, Rena enters school with her dogslicer, taking her classroom hostage. The police immediately show up, but there’s not much they can do. Rena tells them that Keiichi is on her side–he’s playing along to get close to her–and that she wants the Sonozaki conspiracy revealed. Keiichi delivers Takano’s missing scrapbook to the police, and Oishi slips him an earpiece. He returns to find Rena splashing gasoline all around the class, enacting her backup plan. Oishi opens the scrapbook to find a note saying that Rena believes she’ll be dead from tearing out her throat by 7PM, so she rigged a timer to blow up the school if the “conspiracy” isn’t revealed by then. So they have an hour, which quickly becomes 15 minutes. Keiichi tries to stop Rena from beating Mion to death, making her question whose side he’s on. As she talks to the cops over the phone, Keiichi shares info with Oishi’s men through the earpiece. Satoko and Rika help out, with Satoko using her tactical genius to figure out where Rena hid the bomb. Saying he’s investigating a strange sound, Keiichi tries to find the timer, but is caught by Rena. Rika tackles Rena, holding her off as Keiichi keeps searching. Satoko realizes that the timer is on the roof, connected to the plugged up rain gutters full of gasoline. She gives Keiichi Satoshi’s bat, and he rushes to stop the timer, succeeding with only a second left. The hostages escape while Rena is distracted, but the gasoline everywhere in the school means the police can’t go into such a dangerous situation. Rena corners Keiichi on the roof, and the two decide to finish their tiebreaker from the water gun fight, only this time with a bat and a cleaver. The two banter as everyone watches, both combatants realizing they’re finding enjoyment in this. Keiichi says that if he wins, Rena will have to be his personal maid, and she responds that she’d like to have him do much the same, effectively being her boyfriend. But Rena knocks the bat out of Keiichi’s hands, preparing to kill him. He’s willing to die to save his friends (as he demonstrated in Cotton Drifting with Mion/Shion) and that finally makes Rena come to her senses. The power of friendship, motherfucker! The end credits reveal that the time loop is still in effect, and that friendship won’t unlock all the mysteries of Hinamizawa.
Did… did we get a happy ending? Mion’s definitely going to have a scar and Rena’s absolutely getting arrested, but no one died! No one who we care about, at least!
This arc had a level of tension I didn’t anticipate this series having: will Keiichi be able to break the cycle of violence and madness, or will this be yet another bad end? I was on the edge of my seat, y’all, hoping that these characters would finally, FINALLY get an ending that didn’t end with them murdering each other. I don’t know if this version ends with the town all dying, but forget about that! Right now, right here, the five friends survived!
So with a season behind us, what do we know for certain? It certainly appears that events happening before 1983–the year of the main story–are pretty static, so the previous four years saw the deaths and/or disappearances of Rika’s parents as well as Satoko’s parents, aunt, and brother. The night of the Cotton Drifting Festival, Tomitake and Takano enter the forbidden shrine. Tomitake is found the next day having torn out his own throat, while Takano is found burned to death in a barrel. The medical examiner in two stories has said that evidence says Takano died before the Festival, meaning… something. I don’t believe the answer is “zombie,” but there’s some extra weirdness happening with her. After that, bad things happen to our main characters, Rika is killed at her shrine (assuming she survived up to that point), and then everyone in the town dies due to volcanic gas (or at least that’s the official explanation). The story then starts over with Rika fully aware of what has happened before.
Character backgrounds seem pretty static, so it appears we can trust those. Keiichi is a nice guy now, but was a creep before his family moved him to Hinamizawa to avoid legal repercussions. Rena’s family left Hinamizawa, but after her parents’ separation, she started acting violently, claiming it was Oyashiro-sama’s influence. Satoko lives with Rika and truly believes that her brother, Satoshi, is alive and will return some day. Rika pretends to be a little girl, but remembers everything (and doesn’t try to change outcomes very often). Mion is heir to the Sonozaki family empire, and Shion shows up occasionally.
Now, what’s supposition? Assuming the stuff about aliens is just crazy nonsense, it appears that most of the violence in the town is brought on by some sort of virus localized to the area that causes homicidal tendencies and extreme paranoia, like hearing footsteps following them. Following what we know about Keiichi being infected in Spirited Away by the Demon, it’s likely that Tomitake was also infected and that’s why he tore out his own throat. The Sonozakis keep claiming they have nothing to do with the deaths and disappearances attributed to Oyashiro-sama’s curse, but the victims were–before Tomitake and Takano–proponents of the dam that would’ve destroyed the town, and therefore the family’s enemies. Oyashiro-sama appears to be a more benevolent character than the town believes, with Rika insisting he’s a forgiving god. While the time loop is treated as a fact by this point, where it restarts is unknown as Rika had full knowledge of future events 5 years before the main story. Is she born knowing everything, or does she awaken at some point? And apparently other people can become aware of the time loop, but how or why is unclear.
So really, we don’t know shit. Which kind of makes sense since this is an adaptation of a mystery video game with several chapters. I imagine When They Cry: Kai–the next season/series–will have a bunch of answers, but I need a break from children murdering each other. I will return to this series at some point, but expect something different next week!
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