As promised, we’re going to revisit one of the story arcs from the “Answers” part of Ryukishi Zeronana’s light novel version of When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Volume 1 (竜騎士07の”ひぐらしのなく頃に解:祭囃し編”). This title is typically left in Japanese when referring to the “Answers” arc since the anime has not been dubbed, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, but even when it is translated, it often keeps it partially in Japanese, Higurashi When They Cry.
Looking at the translation of the title a little more carefully, I think I would go with When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Cheering Chapter, perhaps even The Festival Jeering Chapter, depending on which character’s perspective you want to take. Given the fact that this story arc features the villain’s backstory, jeering might be more appropriate anyway. Accompaniment here seems to be referring to music, but it sounds decent anyway. None of the Japanese dictionaries I consulted gives the connotation of people going somewhere together, not that it has to be translated literally though. It’s just a point of curiosity. If anyone can shed some light on that translation choice, feel free to explain it in the comments.
Unlike the last book I read in the series in December, this one is from the Kodansha boxed novels rather than the newer, tiny pocket bunko release, which means each volume is a plain book with a light cardboard slipcover. It is available only in Japanese and can be purchased here in the newer bunko pocket edition:
This is the edition that I’m actually physically reading, which is apparently out of print:
I assume that they’re all the same text, but I can’t guarantee it. I know from reading a little of the manga edition, which is available in English, that there are differences, which is why I don’t wholeheartedly recommend the manga version here. (The East Asian publishing scene can be so confusing and frustrating at times with all of these issues!)
Here is the boxed set’s cover art:
It also has a few interior drawings, as does the bunko version.
I mentioned when I covered the story arc from the “Questions” portion of the series that I felt was most noirish that I wanted to emphasize that aspect of the story with the “Answer” selection, and so I picked the story arc written from the perspective of the murderer. This series is going to have major spoilers, so readers, beware. The novel begins by revealing the most shocking part of the murderer’s psyche right off the bat instead of exposing it slowly as the anime version does. But before I get into that, let me explain why I am saying this story fits the noir genre.
I did a lot of reading on noir film and it story characteristics, as opposed to its film technique, since it has really focused on certain types of tropes and characters from the start. I was actually surprised to discover that in general the serial killer story was typical of noir from its earliest days, not horror. It’s a theme that is very popular in the history of noir. Another really big noir theme that applies here is the focus on illicit medical experiments and corruption in the medical field, which goes along with its twin, government corruption. These themes have been common noir tropes from its inception, and we certainly see them here as the Higurashi series reaches its climax with the reveal of the murderer. While most of Higurashi suggests a supernatural source for the murders, it is the murderer’s story arc that moves it fully into the category of noir, since it turns out a human is behind the string of bizarre deaths and disappearances.
Unlike most of the books in this series, this volume doesn’t begin with a poem by Frederica Bernkastel, who is a strange alter ego for Rika Furude, the little girl I introduced last December with the volume from the “Question” arc. (Fredericka really just sounds like her name in the Japanese order, Furude Rika, said really quickly. Ryukishi Zeronana is usually very playful with language and experimental in his writing, which is what makes him much more than just the average video game writer.)
Instead, the first volume starts out in the first person with a little girl talking with an old man who is her adoptive father about his research on parasites in his cluttered study. They talk about how these parasites are distributed across religions, nations and races throughout the whole world, and her adoptive father’s theory is that parasites living in their human hosts are the true cause of cultural conflicts driven by such differences. Their conversation expresses an extreme materialistic, mechanistic view of the world where human emotions come from the brain, not the heart, from secretions of these parasites in the body.
The girl and the old man also talk about psychiatric surgery, the similar symptoms of illness people exhibit, and abnormality in general. The conversation also turns explicitly to Christianity and Jesus’ death and resurrection, including a discussion of how he is no longer physically on earth but in people’s hearts. At this point, the girl worries that her adoptive father won’t live forever. Therefore, at the end of this section, she declares to the reader that she wants to study parasites and make the old man and herself gods so they can be together forever. The last few sentences expressing this come off kind of creepy, I think.
However, this whole idea of becoming gods together is more in line with Shinto beliefs than Christian ones. This kind of goal shows the character is merely unstable with a God Complex rather than someone who is conventionally religious, which is an interesting shift in the Higurashi plot since in earlier “Question” arcs it toyed with the idea that the murders were religiously inspired.
The second, much briefer scene then turns to Showa 32, which comes out to be around 1958 or 1959 before the little girl lives with the old man. The narrator is talking to someone named Eriko. Four of them are planning on getting a key to the “chicken room” and escape, but someone keeps telling them to be quiet because one of the staff is coming.
The book then begins with its first major chapter titled “The Institution,” and here is a scan of the title page:
The first section here titled “My Parents’ Deaths” shows her talking with her father as he is dying, and he tells her to contact Hifumi Takano, his teacher, after he dies, since he knows she has no next of kin. He makes sure she gets the name right before she has to leave the room. The mother isn’t really mentioned here, and I assume she is already dead, though she did die at the same time as the father.
The next section is titled “I Prepare for the Institution.” In this scene, she mentions this Mr. Takano whom her father told her about to the government agency staff, but they can’t get in touch with him, so she is sent to a private orphanage. This chapter runs for 20 pages and goes into the difficulty of bringing up children without parents, how they become “problem children” due to sadness and the lack of a loving home. She wishes an angel would come and wake her from this dream, which is referred to a number of times throughout the section.
The orphanage is very unpleasant with lots of angry staff and crying children, and a number of special punishments are discussed here: the “Casket Punishment,” a “Crushed Catepillar Punishment,” “A Duck That Can’t Drink Water Punishment,” and a “Swollen Pig Punishment.” I’m not going to try to figure out what all of those are, but the kids are very scared of being murdered in this place and consider it hell. They plan an escape, which picks up with the storyline we saw earlier with Eriko trying to get a key.
Four of them are plotting to escape, including the so far unnamed narrator, Eriko, Kikuko, and Tomomi, and the narrator describes running out into the rain and hearing the voices of the staff members in the distance. The scene seems to change abruptly to her getting caught and a staff member’s finger in her mouth, which she bites. It goes into a very detailed description of how the finger feels and how the blood fills her mouth after she bites it. She is afraid she is going to die there, and the staff member is referred to as a beast.
The next section is much shorter and continues the scene with another quite creepy ending. She is screaming and trying to run as the staff member forces her into the car. This is one of the first places we see the name Takano used, this time with a new spelling, which I’ll explain in a moment. The section ends with a fairly surreal comment about a coffee maker and how coffee would wake her up from this evil dream. She asks for milk and sugar with her coffee to get rid of the evil in her mouth after biting the finger, where the blood has mixed with the saliva and rain. Sweet coffee will clean her mouth and wake her up:
This passage is disturbing on so many levels, but it’s one of the reasons I think Higurashi is such effective horror. He’s very psychological and subtle.
By the time the story gets to page 45, we see the little girl change her name from Hifumi Takano’s spelling of his last name (高野) to a new spelling of Takano (鷹野). The last name with the new kanji means falconry, while the old professor’s kanji spelling refers to a high plain. This is more word play by the author, and it’s significant because of how the villain handles herself later to some degree with bird references to her secret military unit. It also is notable that the change goes from a rather benign image evoked by Hifumi’s version of Takano to the more rapacious, predatory image of the same name with the single character substitution.
Here the chapter jumps even further ahead in time and switches to the third person. We have someone giving a toast at a banquet in this ten page chapter titled “Takano and Tokyo.” The banquet is held in some kind of hotel where the guests are drinking beer. A few hundred people are in attendance, with eight people to a table. An elderly man gives the speech, and its themes include respecting the national flag and anthem, loving Japan, living under Japanese principles, and concern over anti-Japanese teachers. This starts off sounding like a normal patriotic speech, but as most fans of the show would expect, it starts to show some extreme nationalist distortions, veering into talk about how the militaristic brainwashing during the wars years wasn’t foolishness. Note that the word “brainwashing” in Japanese is used here specifically throughout the passage.
His speech elicits thunderous applause, then he calls up an old man to the podium who is a popular drama BGM player, which I guess is someone who scores TV shows. This man is introduced in the novel as ○○○○君 or ○○君. The character there means kun or mister, which is used for a younger man. I don’t know how common this is in Japanese books in general, but this author does seem to like to use a lot of “anonymous” or blanked out information such as dates, place names and personal names. Right before this guy is introduced, there is a reference to “XX province,” so maybe its supposed to give you a feeling of reading something classified.
This new speaker discusses the anti-Japanese teaching in his own province and how it is affecting the children and the need for “correct” history. He then launches into a racist commentary on the occupation of Japan by white people and how Japan was restored to self-rule. Both speeches contain lots of exclamation or double exclamation points after nearly every sentence. There’s a lot more here, particularly about the Japanese school system, but that gives you a taste of what it’s about.
What comes next, though is explosive. The section turns to the topic of an alumni association that has existed for decades and sent out invitations to this banquet apparently. It talks about this association for a few pages, then brings up the former imperial university alumni gathering; Takano is a member of this group. There is some sort of secret society or “shadow government,” both Japanese terms are used in this passage quite explicitly, and again, the last sentence of the section just socks it to the reader, identifying narrator Takano Miyo as a member of this shadow government.
The anime doesn’t get into the political underpinings too much other than to make it clear there’s something nefarious going on at the upper levels of the government that Takano has been involved with and shows many of the minor male characters in those scenes with Hitler-like mustaches. Of course, this references the actual historical situation of Japan’s alliance with the Nazis during World War II, which adds a layer of depth to the series. While the dramatic deaths all ultimately take place in this sleepy little fictional village of Hinamizawa, those historical issues loom large over the whole story in the “answer” arcs as they get closer to revealing the identity of the murderer.
Also of interest here is that we only get the narrator’s name in this section, 55 pages into the story. I’m going to continue to refer to her as Takano Miyo using the original Japanese name order, which a lot of the fan base for the show seems to prefer, as do I.
I’m going to stop here because this post is getting a little long as I try to set the tone and dig into the background material a little more. As a bonus, I’m going to post one of the best pictures I’ve found on the web of Takano Miyo. I’m not sure if it’s officially from Ryukishi Zeronana’s crossover series When the Dolphins Cry (Umineko), which I personally don’t care for (I prefer his Ookamikakushi much better), or if it’s fan art, but it’s by Rouge and can be found over at Zero Chan.
It just really captures the character better than many of the other renditions I’ve seen.
Takano Miyo is, of course, Rika Furude’s chief adversary in the series, which really goes to show how warped Takano is, too, since she’s a grown woman who has zeroed in on some little girl in middle school as her chief rival. It’s a good story construction, and Ryukishi Zeronana comes up with some very situationally creepy details like that which really make a statement about the characters’ psyche without having to explain everything to the audience.
We’ll dig deeper into the villain’s storyline next time.
Part one of a three part series.