Higurashi When They Cry, Volumes 1 and 2
written by Ryukishi07
illustrated by Karin Suzuragi
Keiichi Maebara has just moved to Hinamizawa, a tiny village in a valley set deep within the mountains. Everybody knows everybody there, and his classmates Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika put a lot of effort into making him feel welcome and including him in their club activities. Unfortunately, the town is not as idyllic as it first seems. One day, while exploring an illegal garbage dump, Keiichi meets a photographer who tells him the story of a brutal murder that occurred there several years ago. Strangely, none of his new friends are willing to talk about it.
After the photographer disappears, Keiichi starts suspecting his friends of involvement in what he learns are not one but rather a string of mysterious deaths that may somehow be connected to the village’s local deity, Oyashiro-sama. Worse still, he’s afraid he may be next on their hit list! Paranoia mounting, he begins practicing his swing and carrying around a bat at all times. But even the bat may not be enough to protect him from Rena, whose dark past points to a sinister potential for present violence against Keiichi himself. How will Oyashiro-sama exact its unholy price?
One of the easiest and most effective ways to go about writing a horror story is to take something ordinary, something you see every day, and make it scary. The first two volumes of the Higurashi When They Cry manga, based upon a so-called visual novel computer game of the same name by Ryukishi07, do just that: It is an ordinary harem manga plot, the sort you have seen a thousand and one times over, that fast becomes terrifying.
The manga sets you up perfectly for your first scare with a beginning that could not possibly be more boring if it were a termite colony. The protagonist Keiichi is a—cliché alert!—transfer student surrounded and imposed upon by four lovely ladies who conform to typical harem manga archetypes. Yet by the end of the first chapter, Higurashi’s horror side starts to rear its proverbial head, and by the second volume, any pretense of romantic comedy has fallen away completely. The manga is fun to read critically: Is Oyashiro-sama’s curse real, or is it all just a figment of Keiichi’s overactive, paranoid imagination? Needless to say, do not expect any easy, concrete answers.
Karin Suzuragi has brought this horrific uncertainty to vibrant visual life. Though the quality of her artwork and layouts per se are only average and her characters are not strictly attractive in the usual sense, she seems to know exactly how to transition between the adorable and the abominable—and does so with dramatic, nightmarish effect. The turn of a single page can turn the tone 180 degrees, and you have to be made of some pretty stern stuff not to be affected by it.
Of course, the volumes reviewed here are only just the beginning. The textual density of the original game storyline supports many adaptations, and numerous manga artists have contributed different pieces of the franchise. Yen Press’s English-language release will eventually include the “Atonement Arc,” with Suzuragi reprising her work on the series, which is supposed to answer the questions posed by this, the “Abducted by Demons Arc.” Its premise may seem gimmicky, but make no mistake: Higurashi When They Cry is a surprisingly smart series that exceeds expectations. Highly recommended.