Thursday, March 17, 2011

Higurashi: When They Cry Volumes 9-10

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Mimori. Released in Japan as "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Yoigoshi-hen" by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Before I get started with the review of this, the 'Beyond Midnight' arc, a quick word on how these books come out in Japan. First of all, as I've noted, the manga is written mostly for fans, which is to say those who have played the games and know what will happen. Yes, each arc may have new readers, as a GFantasy or Shonen Gangan reader who did not otherwise care about Higurashi might get into the title, but it's still geared towards the fan. As a result, the first three arcs all ran simultaneously in three different Japanese magazines, and were released on the same day in tankobon form. The future arcs are similarly released: Eye-Opening and Atonement came out simultaneously in Japan. I think Yen was originally going to alternate, but decided (probably wisely) simply to do each arc as it comes. Which has worked out well, but does help to explain why this manga-only arc is a retelling of a future based off the 'Atonement' arc, which we won't see till the fall.

The Time Killing arc gave us a Higurashi story that focused elsewhere, but it was still part of the basic cycle. This manga-only arc actually does very well in focusing on the village of Hinamizawa as an urban legend, a place where death and the supernatural are inevitable. It also takes place in the 'present-day', rather than 1983, something that truly hits us once we see the star of these volumes: Mion, now a grown woman, struggling to deal with her yakuza succession. We also get our nebbish reader-identification hero, a young blond who it's noted resembles Satoshi; a young couple who seem to be on the verge of a breakup; and an incredibly annoying reporter here for his next big scoop.

It has to be said, if you like Mion, you'll get a kick out of this book. Even given the twist at the end, this is clearly her book all the way, and she gets to not only kick ass with a katana, but also be the smartest one in the bunch, rehabilitate the others through the power of snark, and even have a touching memory or two - her pause in the ruins of Keiichi's mansion to remember the past is quite affecting. The others don't fare as well, with Arakawa in particular coming off as shallow and irritating. He ends up being the only cast member who didn't need to be there, and his 'redemption' at the end rings rather false, as we didn't get enough of a chance to see him not be annoying for it to be carried off.

The books read fast. Possibly too fast - while I felt Time Killing was just the right length, this one seems almost rushed, as if it's trying too hard to fit within its framework of taking place during one evening. That said, it also has something that even Time Killing couldn't quite arrange - a vaguely happy, hopeful ending. Obviously, the village is still all dead, given what happened 20 years ago, but the moral here is to get people to take charge of their own lives and go forward, rather than simply giving up or trying to take the easy way out. Mion, of course, being the walking example of the former. The last scene was (trying not to give anything away) incredibly touching.

So, in the end, this does not add much to the Higurashi universe (except perhaps noting once again that you can never be too sure about twins, something we'll get into even further in the next arc), but on its own is pleasant enough, with some good action and set pieces. Pick it up if you like the idea of a hot adult Mion with a katana kicking ass. As for me, this 2-volumes-a-time thing is working well, so I'll wait till April and then review the first half of the Eye-Opening arc, with Mion's sister Shion as the focus.

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