I've finished Onikakushi
, the first instalment of Higurashi: When They Cry
! It is extremely troubling
. It also contains, I suspect, the most dramatic Cup Noodle purchase scene in the history of fiction. Here are my spoiler-filled notes.
Rena's blank-eyed smile is absolutely terrifying (my favourite review on Steam, by EBbrain: 'By the last hour of the game, I was twitching every time a character changed their facial expression
'), and the scene where it first shows up is such a hard-hitting one. I felt so bad for Keiichi. (To be honest, I spent the entire second half of the game feeling bad for Keiichi.)
I think the most horrifying thing about Higurashi
is the gradual realisation that nowhere is safe. School isn't safe, obviously; they're your classmates. Your home isn't safe; they know where you live, and your parents will happily let them in, because they're your friends, aren't they? There's nowhere to hide in the village; it's a tiny place where everyone knows everyone else, so they'll quickly track you down by asking around. When Keiichi leaves the village for lunch with the cop, it seems like at last he's somewhere safe, if only for a little while. But no. They know about it.
That's a lie; the most horrifying thing about Higurashi
is actually the mochi scene. I was expecting Keiichi to think the mochi was poisoned and then find it was fine and feel bad about it. I wasn't expecting him to tuck in unsuspectingly and find A FUCKING SEWING NEEDLE in there. (His lack of 'is the mochi safe?' hesitation makes sense, come to think of it; his friends have been a bit unsettling, but he hasn't yet had reason to suspect actual murderous intent.)
And he tries to forget about it afterwards! He tries to pretend it never happened! His desperation for his friends just to be his friends
again is breaking my heart. (And, even after he decides 'no, they're definitely out for my blood and I can't trust them', we get that scene where he finds himself laughing with them, like it's a normal day, and then realises what he's doing and panics. It's unbearable to watch everything inside him collapse.)
One of my favourite moments is actually one of the optional 'tips' scenes, when Keiichi is obsessively thinking back over the time he bought Cup Noodles - it's such an innocuous memory, but now he knows he was being followed
, and he's desperately searching his memory for any sign of that. He's desperately trying to turn around, even though he can't
; you can't turn around in your memory if you didn't turn around in his past. You're restricted; you're trapped in the small slice of reality you actually perceived at the time.
The game creates such a sense of uncertainty. Are Keiichi's friends actually dangerous
, or does the danger actually lie in him thinking
there's danger? When I think they're dangerous, am I falling into Keiichi's paranoia? Or maybe they are
trying to kill him, and it's just a Keiichi-esque desire for things to go back to the way they were that makes me think 'but Keiichi might just be misreading things, maybe she's got that axe for self-defence because his terrified behaviour is so alarming.' One way or another, I keep getting caught in the protagonist's misconceptions.
When I try to set out what I believe, I end up with the following:
- At her previous school, Rena attacked three people with a baseball bat and then broke all the windows in the building. This is definitely true. Like Keiichi, she was probably afraid that those people were a danger to her. If the curse is real, perhaps it doesn't cause people to attack you; perhaps it causes you to expect an attack, leading you to behave in a way that puts yourself and others in danger?
- It is definitely true that the previous deaths and disappearances are connected in some way to Keiichi's circle of friends.
- It is almost certainly true that Mion and Rena don't want Keiichi talking to the police about those incidents, which suggests that Mion was directly involved in at least some of them. Possibly Rena as well, although she only moved back to the village recently, so she can't have been involved in the first few years.
- It is almost certainly true that Rena has been spying on Keiichi.
- There is a reasonable chance that there was a needle in the mochi, and that this was a threat. Keiichi can't find the needle later on, but the mochi has been cleaned away and needles are famously difficult to find. Mion never outright says 'yes, I put a needle in the mochi,' but she does admit to perpetrating some sort of mochi-related 'prank'.
- I don't know whether Mion and Rena actually intend to kill
Keiichi. It's possible that they hope to scare him away from investigating and then get back to being friends as usual.
- I don't know whether Rena's usual sweetness and concern is an act. When her behaviour turns strange, is she possessed? Does she have some sort of multiple personality disorder? (The game does allude to multiple personality disorder, although not with specific reference to Rena.) Is Keiichi imagining things? The battery-and-property-damage incident definitely happened, so we know she's not all
sweetness and concern, but there are elements of that incident that echo Keiichi's mental collapse, so it wasn't necessarily caused by something inherent to Rena.
- When Rena takes to carrying an axe, there's a chance
that it's a defensive act rather than an aggressive one, given that Keiichi has taken to carrying around a baseball bat and acting very erratically. She was saying she didn't want him to end up like Satoshi, and that might have been genuine. But carrying an axe whilst pursuing him and demanding to talk to him is a strange thing to do. If you're afraid of him, don't follow him!
- When Keiichi is almost run over, there's a chance that it's an accident, and there's also a chance that it never happened at all. He doesn't have any injuries, not even slight ones. If you were struck by a vehicle's wing mirror with enough force to throw you into a paddy field, surely that would leave some
sort of damage. But he only ends up covered in mud. Is there a chance that he threw himself
into a paddy field and invented the van? The van turning up again at the end makes me think it was real, though.
- When Keiichi smashes up the cupboard, there's probably no one there. He's just lying in the entrance to his house, screaming and swinging the bat at nothing.
- When Keiichi thought Mion was coming at him with a syringe, I fully expected it to turn out that the 'syringe' was actually a marker pen, and that 'You're going to have done to you what happened to Tomitake-san' meant that they were going to write on his shirt. But then the syringe was stolen when Keiichi tried to leave it behind as evidence! So I suppose it really was
a syringe? And yet the ending suggests that the throat-clawing wasn't actually the result of a drug at all! I'm so confused!
- Come to think of it: Tomitake and Keiichi died in the same way, but they were in dramatically different states of mind a few hours beforehand. Maybe Tomitake was given a drug that rapidly induces terror, whereas in Keiichi's case the terror built up without drugs involved?
- Wait a second: maybe Keiichi was
drugged in the end? We don't know what happened immediately before he made his call to the police station, and he was being pursued by people who presumably knew about the drug, given that the same people probably mutilated his note and stole the syringe.
- Mion is great. That's definitely true. Before everything went downhill, she was my favourite character. After things turned weird, I was too busy going 'OH NO' to think much about character preferences.
That was an adventure! A horrible adventure. And of course I've got the next few instalments lurking threateningly on my computer, so I'll have to brace myself and start the second part at some point.