Manga-ka: Karin Suzuragi
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: February 2012
Synopsis: “Based on the evidence detailed in Takano’s notebook, Rena believes she’s uncovered the truth behind Oyashiro-sama’s curse and the mysterious deaths in Hinamizawa! But though Rena’s theory fits perfectly with Hinamizawa’s dark history, it is difficult for Keiichi to believe such an outlandish tale, especially given Takano’s fascination with the occult. However, Rena cannot be diverted from her obsession with the plot she believes will inevitably destroy the village. Will her mounting paranoia cause her to take drastic action once again?!”
Things continue to get darker and more dire in this volume of Higurashi. Rena has fully bought into Takano’s conspiracy theory and believes that the whole village will be wiped out if she doesn’t do something. The only person in Hinamizawa she trusts is her friend, Keiichi. While Keiichi isn’t as sold on Takano’s story, he still tries to give Rena the benefit of the doubt and help her look into it. But, as Rena digs deeper into the goings-ons in Hinamizawa, the more paranoid she gets until even her best friends start to seem like enemies.
The book moves back and forth between Keiichi and Rena’s point of view. This is a great technique and the story would’ve fallen flat if we were stuck in just one person’s head. From Rena’s side of things we see how a crazy story involving ancient viruses and aliens could be believable if you were in the right frame of mind. Just when things start to get too weird, we get to see Keiichi’s take on things. Keiichi is also investigating Takano’s claims about the town, but the answers he digs up are very different from the conclusions Rena comes too. Through Keiichi we see that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for almost everything going on. While we the reader know that, Rena doesn’t have access to the same information and therefore just distorts everything to fit her warped world view. A lot of the ‘mystery’ in this arc is really just the product of Rena’s deranged mind.
Except…someone did kill Tomitake and hide Takano’s body. And the town does have a history of mysterious disappearances. And cute little Rika-chan has been acting like a totally different person lately…
Rena’s right: There is indeed something weird going on in Hinamizawa, but it’s something totally different from what she thinks is going on. The readers, who have access to more pieces of the puzzle than Rena, are able to pick-up on this but at the same time they don’t have enough information to put together the whole picture. In a way this can be frustrating, but I kind of like all the unexplained weirdness. Having watched the anime I know what’s going on (kind of; the series is a mind trip in any medium) but some people might be turned off by the unexplained aspects of this arc. One important thing to remember is that while Higurashi is made up of several seemingly unconnected story lines, there is a cohesive story being weaved together through all the disparate elements. In this volume, we start to see some of that when Keiichi actually ‘remembers’ his actions from an earlier story arc.
Another dramatic moment in this volume is when Rena confronts Keiichi about his ANGSTY DARK PAST. The manga just drops it on us like an anvil. There’s been no hint what-so-ever before this point that Keiichi had such a dark back story, so instead of it seeming like a grand reveal it’s more of a ‘Huh? What?’ moment. It’s a shame, because I liked the idea behind Keiichi’s past and it adds an interesting layer to his interactions with the girls, but I think the manga creators dropped the ball when it came to incorporating it into the story.
The artwork is solid throughout the book. Suzuragi is good with the ‘cute’ side of things, and then using that same cute edge to make the creepy parts even more disturbing. The brutal scenes are done in an almost cartoony way: when someone gets nailed in the side of the head with a baseball bat, their whole face squishes in a way that doesn’t look very realistic but is unsettling in a surreal way.
The Atonement Arc is probably my favourite storyline in the Higurashi series. While it’s packed with weirdness and creepy parts, it still has a relatable story in the relationship between Rena and Keiichi. What do you do when a friend’s gone off the deep end? How to you help someone when they believe that you and everyone else is out to get them? It’s the kind of dilemma that people all over have to deal with, even if you don’t live in Hinamizawa.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes