Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Yutori Houjyou. Released in Japan as "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Meakashi-hen" by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Gangan Wing. Released in North America by Yen Press.
So at last we come to what are known as the "Answer Arcs". Each of the first 4 main arcs of Higurashi (Vols. 9 and 10 were a manga-only side story) set up the basic situation, watched it descend into paranoia and death, and had us confused and trying desperately to figure out what the heck was going on. By the end of the "Time Killing" arc, we sensed we were getting closer to solving things. And now we get this, the "Eye-Opening" arc, which (like all the answer arcs) is much longer than its predecessors, and hopes to let those who have not played the games figure out what's behind this.
Despite the manga beginning with the Rena-focused arc, this set actually is the "answer" arc for the Mion set of books, the "Cotton Driftijng" chapter. It's drawn by the same artist, so manages to give even more of a sense of deja vu than anticipated. It stars Mion's twin sister Shion, and purports to tell the events of "Cotton Drifting" from her own perspective. Purports being the right word, as we quickly come to realize that Shion, like Keiichi before her, is descending rapidly into paranoia and madness.
The plot actually begins a year before the main events of the other arcs, as we see Shion escaping from the private Academy she's been exiled to and returning to a town near Hinamizawa. Shion has issues from the start, being the younger twin of a family that is essentially the Yakuza. As a result, Mion is being groomed to be the next head of the family, and Shion gets the short end of the stick, as the family has sent her off to school hoping she4'll quietly disappear. No such luck, as not only does Shion start "twin switching" with her sister, but she also runs into a young boy named Satoshi, who we've only ever met before in flashbacks or backstory told to Keiichi.
Satoshi's similarities to and differences from Keiichi are both deliberately played up, and unfortunately we get another heaping helping of the child abuse that plagued the earlier volumes of the series, as Satoshi and Satoko's aunt and uncle as as horrible as ever. Shion is trying to cheer him up, but in the end, it doesn't seem to be enough. And then comes the night of the cotton drifting...
I'd spent the past few reviews laying into Keiichi as a horrible hero, so I feel I should say that the series is keeping up that tradition, as our sympathies with Shion slowly vanish as the series goes on. Clearly whatever happened to Keiichi and Mion in the earlier arcs, be it "Hinamizawa Syndrome" or what have you, is happening to her here, and Satoshi's disappearance only helps to send her further into the spiral. Interestingly, we also get a more in-depth portrayal of Mion - while her crush on Keiichi has been heavily implied in previous volumes, here when she can open up to her sister without anyone else around it's outright stated - as is her jealousy of Rena, who is more feminine and so gets the doll that Keiichi has.
We also see the side of Mion that we're more familiar with from "Cotton Drifting", which is to say the inheritor of power. The scene in which Shion is ordered to tear off three of her own fingernails by her grandmother is horrifying, and easily the most disturbing in these first two volumes. (On the other hand, seeing later on that Mion has done the same thing is also possibly the most heartwarming moment.) Mion has always been my favorite character, so I was very pleased to see all of this. Shion, on the other hand...
Shion has to date been played as a bit of a tease who was in love with Satoshi. Here we manage to see the depth of that love goes well into obsession territory, and also that she would seem to be the main ANtagonist so far, as well as the PROtagonist. And, as these volumes end with their grandmother dead by Shion's hand, Mion locked up in the Sonozaki Family torture chamber (what, doesn't every family have one?) and Shion giving the famous bug-eyed hysterical Higurashi laugh, we're starting to realize that all the twin switching and "which one is really Mion" of the previous 10 volumes (especially after the last manga-only arc, where Mion literally possessed Shion's body), we're now left with a big question: Was that really Mion we saw at the end of "Cotton Drifting"?
By the end of the second volume, we're exhausted and Shion is insane. It's a bit difficult to see how much further down she can go, given we have two more full volumes to go. But, having said that, I feel that the author will show us how much worse things can get. After all, Keiichi and company are all still alive. In the meantime, we get a month's breather from all this start horror with another one-off manga-only arc, this one complete in one large volume. Good thing, too, I need a break from Shion as protagonist.