I’m finishing off 2017 with a one volume story arc in the popular series “Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni” by Ryukishi Zeronana (竜騎士07 “暇潰し編 – ひぐらしのなく頃に”), which began as an indie video game/visual novel that later expanded into an anime series, manga and light novels. This series is sometimes translated into English as “Higurashi When They Cry,” though the literal translation would be “When The Cicadas Cry.”You can purchase a copy of this pocket version in Japanese here:
This novelized version was published in 2011 and has 336 pages. The whole series runs to something like 16 volumes from start to finish, though not all of the anime is covered by the novels. I wanted to cover some of these books because I think the story is underrated and has very sophisticated horror-noir motifs and a complex storytelling style that is quite effective. The novel versions also have some nice features in spite of them being based on a video game. Visual novels in Japan, however, are mostly text-based games with little player interaction, which makes them quite a decent source for adaptation to novels and manga. Since they also are more like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels popular in the US in the 80s, they have different story paths with alternate endings, too, which explains some of the story’s odd structure.
The doujin self-publishing movement is very strong in Japan, and here is an overview of the general art hubs involved:
This is a pretty interesting English-language database of popular doujin, maybe only manga, but still a good resource for readers who want to get deeper into that subculture:
Of course, author Ryukishi Zeronana began as a doujin self-published game developer, and he is part of a group of game developers called 07th Expansion, and this is their website:
I know that some anime clubs are leery about watching the anime because they can’t make it past the first scene, which depicts a murder. As someone who doesn’t enjoy graphically violent fare, I actually thought that scene was tastefully done and that the anime was tolerable, while there are plenty of too-violent anime I won’t watch. The story was clearly never meant for kids to begin with. What I hope to do with this book and the answer story arc I want to do from the series in 2018, is convince people with reservations to take a second look at it. But even if you aren’t into gaming or anime, as long as you can read Japanese, you can enjoy the novels. I am going to cover this novel with non-anime fans in mind for a few reasons that I’ll get into later.
The basic premise of the story is that teenage Keiichi Maebara moves with his parents from Tokyo to the sleepy, picturesque little village of Himanizawa in 1983. Hinamizawa has a lurid, legendary history, and local politics are dominated by the three families, the Furude, the Sonozaki and the Kimiyoshi. The Furudes lead the local Shinto shrine, the Sonozaki are rumored to be a yakuza-mafia family whose elderly matriarch is considered the power behind the veil in the village, and the Kimiyoshi who don’t really have much of a reputation beyond competently running the local government. Keiichi, one of the few teen boys in the village, is very good-natured and falls in easily with a group of girls who also attend Hinamizawa’s one room schoolhouse.
Eventually, the sinister events taking place among the adults in the village intrudes upon the kids’ fun, so they also get drawn into the dramatic, mysterious string of murders that have been occurring over the past five years. The murders are connected to a government-imposed dam building project that would have left Hinamizawa underwater. This project split the adults in the village mostly along class lines, and the murders were the fallout of the acrimonious battle among them, though some people believed the murders were of supernatural origin. Because the story is mostly told from the perspective of the kids and not the adults, it makes the storytelling all the more disturbing.
The “Time Wasting Chapter” is one of the “question” arcs in the series; certain story arcs are “answer” arcs. While all of the arcs can stand alone and have their own interesting interpretation of events with red herrings and alternative endings, you really don’t get the full effect of the storytelling or get to the noirish rationale for the murders once the culprit is revealed unless you see or read all of them. The “question” arcs bring to light various aspects of the murders and different characters’ theories about what they think is really going on, while the “answer” arcs finally reveal some of the truth about the situations presented in the “question” arcs.
This “question” arc is a powerful political and supernatural flashback to the events experienced by an outsider to Hinamizawa, a policeman from Tokyo, in 1978. It is one of the rare story arcs told from the perspective of an adult and not one of the kids in Keiichi’s circle of friends. Note that the series uses the old Japanese method for expressing dates with the name of the reigning emperor and the number of the year within his reign. Therefore, the “Time Wasting Chapter” falls in the year called Showa 53. At this time, the heiress to the Furude Shrine, Rika Furude, who is a major character in the whole series, is only 5 years old. The volume begins with a short poem by her alter ego Frederica Bernkastel asking who the killer is.
The story begins with a first-person introduction set midsummer of Showa 60, 1985, by Mamoru Akasaka. Akasaka goes on a trip for a reunion with an old friend Kuraudo Ooishi, who is a retired police detective, in XX Prefecture – the author doesn’t specify location in some parts of the novel and notates it this way – in the city of Okinomiya. The two of them worked together 7 years before, and Akasaka thinks of the little girl he met back then and the abduction he was investigating. Ooshi’s family is from Sapporo, so there are some references to that city and Hokkaido, which provides a bit more grounding in real Japan for the setting for the story than the anime provides.
The next big section division comes with “The Start of the Summer of Showa 58 (1983).” This novel doesn’t have chapters but has very choppy breaks with sub headings of chapter sections, so it has a very random structure, which makes it kind of interesting and challenging as a non-native reader. The setting here is a location where there are a lot of noisy children, and someone nearby is listening to a car radio with news about traffic and the controversy surrounding the Hinamizawa dam construction opponents. There is a mention of a murder, riots and an appearance by Minister Inugai outside the Ministry of Construction in connection to it.
The man in the car listens to this and looks out the window. He’s there to get one of the children, Toshiki Inugai. In the confusion, someone calls bird-related code names out and, entering a gate, comes face to face with the little boy, who has a name tag on. Let me pause here to mention in passing an interesting detail. The Japanese characters for the name Inugai actually mean “domesticating dogs.” This is a nice bit of wordplay since an important, secretive intelligence group more prominent in other story arcs is called the Yamainu, or “wild dogs.” If I recall correctly, the Yamainu call themselves by bird code names, and the name of the village at the center of the story’s intense drama, Hinamizawa, literally uses the Japanese characters meaning “young bird or chick watching swamp.”
The scene shifts to a telephone conversation. Minister Inugai, sits in his office as the phone rings, and whoever is on the other end of the line takes their time responding to him. Ultimately, it’s a weird phone call about the little boy, and most of the speaker’s dialogue is normal Japanese written in katakana, which we have established with other Japanese books suggests a non-standard accent. They say their piece and leave Minister Inugai sputtering into the phone.
In the next scene, Akasaka spends time with his pregnant wife in a section titled “Reflection with Yukie,” where the writing is even addressed to her in the second person “you,” which is pretty unusual to see in novels. He has a photo of her, talking about memorizing her and the memory being enough for him. He reminisces at length about his marriage proposal to her before going on to think about the birth of their child and guess its sex or try to come up with names for it.
Right now Yukie is in the hospital waiting to give birth to their first child, and he is apologetic that he won’t be there. Work has intervened in the form of this business trip. As he is leaving, he runs into his father-in-law, and they chat a bit. Akasaka says he knows this is a big sacrifice for Yukie, but his father in law seems to understand the situation and how prestigious his position is.
The next couple of sections send Akasaka through three different police bureaus as he gets drawn into the Construction Minister Inugai’s grandson’s kidnapping and the unrest over the dam project in Hinamizawa. The section titles are “Tokyo, Kasumigaseki Area, The Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Safety Bureau,” “ XX Prefecture, Prefecture Police Headquarters,” and “XX Prefecture, Shishibone City, Okinomiya Police Station.” Okinomiya is the largest city closest to Hinamizawa and plays a large role in the series in other story arcs. Mostly these sections provide some technical background to the investigation and again ground it in the real geography of Japan – Hinamizawa is of course a fictional town.
I’m not going to get bogged down in the details here since this is mostly skipped over in the anime version, but there are a few noteworthy things to mention. In Tokyo, they mostly discuss the Minister and the criminal gang they think snatched his grandson in a very kanji-packed segment. This is the part where Akasaka is first told he will be going to investigate in Hinamizawa and the dam project’s connection to the Minister. I guess this XX province is not close to Tokyo, so Akasaka can’t just come back easily when his wife has the baby. The name of the group that he is given to investigate translates to “The Demon’s Abyss Defense Union.” Hinamizawa’s old name was Onigafuchi, “The Demon’s Abyss,” and the legend was that demons had emerged there from the swamps, though this is not explained here and comes up in other the story arcs’ ample conspiracy theories.
Next, Aksaska heads to the Prefectural Police Headquarters where he is briefed on this opposition group and some sort of murder case, and they tell him about a list of the opposition group’s members. They discuss the group in terms of “violence doctrine groups,” which I guess just means they aren’t dedicated to using only peaceful means to get what they want. The opposition group has attacked the construction site, broken equipment, and set the construction office on fire. They also made a lot of threats toward and attacked anything related to the dam construction. This is why the police are now questioning their connection to the abduction of the construction minister’s grandson. A question comes up as to whether the group is yakuza, which leads to a mention of the village head’s son-in-law, but they don’t linger over this theory. Akasaka is also made aware that the kidnapping case has been kept under wraps, and he realizes this will definitely keep him from his wife.
Akasaka heads for Okinomiya deep in the remote part of the mountains. He arrives at the Okinomiya Police Station, where he meets Detective Ooishi, who is a major character in the entire series, so now things will get into full swing with the story. Here is another mention of the connection between the yakuza and the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union. Detective Ooishi is introduced to give Akasaka details on the S name, which refers to the Sonozakis, one of the prominent three families of the village connected to the Demon’s Abyss Defense Union. They list the officers of the village: the head of the village is from the Kimiyoshi family, the vice-president is the head of the Furude shrine, the Sonozakis are the village treasurers, and someone from the Makino family is village auditor. Two other positions with odd titles are also mentioned: the united front manager is a Kimiyoshi, and the public relations head is a Sonozaki.
By page 40, Akasaka finally arrives at his destination in a long section titled, “XX Prefecture, Shishibone City, Hinamizawa.” He talks at length here with Detective Ooishi again and another detective named Hondaya. By the end of the chapter, Ooishi regales him with the legend of the village being the home to man eating demons who spirit away people, how it wasn’t named Hinamizawa prior to the Meiji Era but was called “Demon’s Abyss,” Onigafuchi, implying that the Minister’s grandson might also have been “demoned” away and eaten! Hondaya and Ooishi spend a fair amount of this chapter laughing gregariously and joking around.
At one point in this segment, they drive off the main road onto a gravel road, passing a number of flags with slogans about the dam on them. The anime screenshot I’m posting below shows some of these, but there are some interesting ones noted in the novel that are a bit different: “The Hinamizawa Dam Project Resolution Repeal,” “Shame on the Puppet Prefectural Governor! Overthrow him!” “Protect the Village from the Unscrupulous Dam,” “Malice! Oyashiro-sama’s Curse!” Let me note at this point that Oyashiro-sama is the Shinto deity honored at the Furude Shrine (though in the anime, the statue looks oddly like Jesus), and the curse becomes a huge part of the conspiracy storylines in just about every story arc. Akasaka is non-plussed to see all of this, while Ooishi just smiles. Oiishi talks with Akasaka at length about the three families, particularly the Furudes who control the Shinto shrine since the shrine has become the center of the opposition defense union’s activities.
Four brief chapters come next in a row, each with different fonts, too, perhaps as a way of breaking up the text more dramatically. First comes “A Telephone Call with Yukie” that is a fairly mundane call between Akasaka and Yukie. Second is “Visitor Greeting Appointment Notes,” which is a short section addressed to the Prefecture Chairman and an assembly of people directly and is about a twenty five year anniversary of the founding of the prefectural assembly. I wonder if this one is some sort of exhibit A in understanding the dam project since the project is mentioned in a few paragraphs.
The third section titled “Gears, Fire and a Taste of Honey” is way too surreal for me to make heads or tails of. It seems to be talking about two unnamed people. Finally, the fourth short segment is “A Trunk of Young Birds” is another short section with a different font that begins with a car stopping, and an elderly man opens his trunk and finds young birds, which may be a reference to the kidnapping, but again, as with the previous section, the character is unnamed. Both of these seem rather surreal, though I didn’t study them too carefully since we have a lot to cover.
A major chapter division comes next with “June 17th, Saturday .” At this point, the story shows Akasaka getting around Hinamizawa. He is at his hotel, and Akasaka is feeling homesick thinking about his wife in the hospital. When he goes out, people think he’s a newspaperman going sightseeing. He explains to them that this is his first visit to Hinamizawa. In the next section, “Hinamizawa Sightseeing,” Akasaka actually goes sightseeing in Hinamizawa and ends up at a bus stop where he encounters a sweet little girl who appears to be sleeping. When she wakes, they laugh and joke a little over the girl’s silly expressions, but she is eventually introduced to him as Rika Furude. Akasaka notices how the older man who is showing him around the village addresses her unusually with great respect and is puzzled by it until he realizes she is connected to one of the three head families in the village. She goes along sightseeing with them. Here is a scan of one of the handful of illustrations in the book showing Rika at the bus stop.
I took an anime screenshot of the scene, too.
Since this introductory post is getting kind of long, we’ll pick up with their sightseeing activities in the next post. Ryukishi Zeronana has a very playful, experimental style that comes out more in the novels than in the anime, and of course the reader gets to sink into more details at a leisurely pace in this format, such as focusing more on how many cigarettes Ooishi smokes while he talks to Akasaka, so it’s worth the effort if you can read some Japanese. He also uses some of the illustrations in the books as clues for the mystery in other story arcs, such as a handwritten police report or the note from Keiichi Maebera, which is a nice touch. It should be a fun ride as we finish it up next time.
Part one of a two part series.