Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Jiro Suzuki. Released in Japan as "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Tatarigoroshi-hen" by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.
Bless me father, for I have sinned. It's been over a year since my last Higurashi review. Look, sometimes things happen, OK? Especially when you KNOW bad, horrible things are going to happen and all you're doing is waiting on tenterhooks for them to take place. In addition, this particular arc, while not the goriest, is particularly unpleasant in many 'psychological horror' ways. In any case, I've read it now, and hopefully will start catching up with the other 5 volumes I have left here. Oh yes, it goes without saying that if you don't know the basic concept of how the Higurashi series works, you'll be spoiled here.
So this is the 'Satoko arc'. In the first two arcs, she was basically the bratty little kid who set annoying traps for Keiichi and did her ojou-sama laugh. It was briefly implied there was more to her than this, and this is the series where we find out what it is. She's abused. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. For a while, she had her brother to help her, but he disappeared a year earlier, on the night of the Cotton Drifting festival. And now her uncle is back, and worse than ever. But now we have our hero! Can Keiichi help and prevent another cycle of senseless tragedy?
Nope. And here is where we realize it's time to face facts; Keiichi is an awful, awful hero. As in the first arc, he's driven here primarily be paranoia and fear, and by Volume 2 almost everything he does will make you want to reach through the page and strangle him. His "perfect murder" plan is laughable, especially given that he is so obvious about his guilt. What's more, his innate distrust of his friends (who clearly are giving him an alibi, something he doesn't understand AT ALL) leads him to make things even worse. Now, to be fair, Satoko's uncle is a loathsome individual, even by Higurashi standards, and I shed no tears at his death. But as with the first two arcs, Keiichi seems to be defined by making the wrong decisions over and over. Which makes sense - this is based on a game, and there is no good end.
That said, if you can get past the protagonist's idiocy, there's a lot here to like. The mood is oppressive throughout, with the mantra of "we're powerless" coming up over and over. As I noted above, the gore here is subtler, though it does appear when it needs to (Rika's corpse is as horrible as ever). The most depressing moment of the manga is not the ending, with its huge pile of body bags, or Keiichi's murders, or even Rika at the shrine. It's Keiichi patting Satoko on the head, and having him hit what is clearly a hidden wound - something which sets her off into a shrieking frenzy as the strain gets to be too much for her. There's also odd hints and suggestions that work better in hindsight, after playing/reading the other arcs. The poem at the end is written by a character from the sequel series Umineko. And a phone conversation with Mion Keiichi has, and her subsequent freak out, makes me wonder if another 'twin switch' was going on at the time.
Overall, while there are no 'good endings' in most of the Higurashi series, this is one of the worst. Luckily, we're done with Keiichi as the hero. Next time, we get what appears to be a side story taking place a few years earlier, with a young police officer running into a little shrine maiden girl. However, I'm sure nothing will be as it seems. In the meantime, if you like over the top psychological horror and don't mind the occasional lolicon character designs, Higurashi will deliver for you.