Saccharine characters convincingly hide the evil lurking behind the guise of a sleepy mountain village.
Writer/Artist: Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi
Translation: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Adaptation: Alethea and Athena Nibley
What They Say
Keiichi M'bara has just moved to a new and seemingly peaceful new town. He's making new friends and generally enjoying his life until one day he learns of a grisly murder that took place in the little village. His friends won't tell him any of the details which only adds to Keiichi's uneasiness. After learning at the town's annual festival that a death has occurred on that night every year for the past four years, Keiichi is drawn into a web of intrigue to help unravel the mystery of these murders. Things only get more dangerous when he learns that some of hi new friends may be involved!
The front cover of this volume does an excellent job hinting at this book’s theme. The cute Rena is standing in front of a black background. A closer look shows blood splatters behind the book’s title and Rena is holding a wicked looking cleaver behind her back. The mixture of moe and horror becomes apparent by the end of the book’s first chapter. This is a great release from Yen Press as they really put in extra effort to produce it the right way. The front has glossy color pages like many books released by US publishers, but what really impressed me was the inclusion of four glossy color pages in chapter three. The two-page color panel powerfully depicts Rena in a creepy fit of rage, which black and white would never be able to do justice. The only reason this book didn’t receive an A+ was due to the pages being crimped close to the spine, making it tough to comfortably read text near the spine. Extras include afterwards by both the author and artist.
The art is average throughout this volume. Backgrounds are sparse and sometimes characters seem a little clunky. Female characters are all designed very cute with huge eyes. While a common style in manga, ultimately there is a reason behind these eyes. Drawing the girls with large eyes magnifies the creepy factor when their dangerous side floats to the surface. When the protagonist says something he shouldn’t, any given girl becomes glassy eyed, even shifting to snake eyes when enraged. All of these contrasts well to the normal happy-go-lucky feeling of the art.
The translation reads smoothly and I didn’t notice any grammar problems or misspellings. Honorifics remain and the original Japanese SFX remains unmodified with small transliterations placed alongside or in the nearby gutter. The SFX are also translated into English and placed in the gutters, so overall there is very little modification to the artwork. I definitely prefer SFX translations in the manga I read because I’m paying for an English translation. Along those lines, I like seeing both the original art of the SFX and the English translation nearby, because if it is at the back of the book it is a hassle to flip back and forth.
Contents: (Oh yes, there may be spoilers)
Keiichi is a big city kid that has just moved to a sleepy mountain town, Hinamizawa. This town is so small that the only school has one classroom with the whole student body being fewer than ten. Despite the small size of the school, life is good for Keiichi. All his classmates are cute girls with very different personalities, and they all treat him like a brother.
The first chapter of this book is so happy it is almost nauseating. Everything is too good. People are too nice. The whole situation seems fake, but that doesn’t bother Keiichi. That is until the end of the first chapter when Keiichi meets a photographer from out of town. The man tells Keiichi of a mysterious murder from four years earlier, one in which the victim was dismembered and one arm remains missing. When Keiichi asks his classmate, Rena, what happened four years ago her eyes glass over and she claims she doesn’t know anything. The complete shift in her normal moe demeanor shocks Keiichi to his core. In an instant Rena shifts right back to her bubbly self and continues like nothing ever happened.
This incident is the first time Keiichi questions the kind of people living in his adopted town. As he tries to pry information from the other kids at school, they all respond in similar ways as Rena. Either their eyes glass over and they claim to know nothing, or their eyes become predatory and they deny anything ever happened. Keiichi eventually stumbles onto old newspapers detailing the murder four years earlier and confirming the photographer’s story while casting doubt upon his classmate’s motives for lying to him. Apparently, the village was going to be buried under a lake formed by the construction of a dam. The village fought the government and eventually won after the vicious murder of the dam construction manager.
Things only get stranger when Keiichi learns the truth behind the town’s Cotton Drifting Festival. Ever since the original murder, two people have fallen prey to the curse of the village. Each year on the night of the festival, two people that formerly supported the construction of the dam fall victim. One dies mysteriously and the other disappears to never be seen again.
Eventually, Keiichi begins to question whether his friends are involved in the yearly murders. This is only magnified when an out of town detective asks Keiichi for his help to find the killers. Keiichi’s friends cannot know he is helping the detective or they may never speak to him again. But what if it is worse than that? What if his friends try to kill him to keep their secret? They all seem very cute and innocent, but there is no denying the odd way the react to questions of the past.
I have seen a couple volumes of the anime version of Higurashi and really enjoyed them. Originally, the Higurashi story was a visual novel game before receiving a manga and anime adaptation. The cool aspect of this manga version is that the original creator worked with the artist to accurately portray the original story. This worked very well as this manga sucked me right in by the end of the first chapter.
The majority of this first volume is almost silly how happy all the characters seem. However, as Keiichi discovers more about the murderous past of Hinamiza village, the creepier the girls at school become. By the end of this volume, the story has become a game of cat and mouse. As Keiichi learns more about the murders over the last four years, the more his school friends seem to withdraw from him. Outwardly, they are just as friendly, but they never give him a straight answer to his questions and seem to talk more behind his back. This only ratchets up the danger factor when Keiichi learns many of the murder victims were originally outsiders like himself. Add to that the knowledge that a boy Keiichi’s age used to go to his school before disappearing mysteriously and Keiichi may be in big trouble.