It’s difficult coming into a comic series when it’s more than halfway done and expect to bond with the characters and their tribulations. This is especially hard in a murder mystery manga, but Higurashi: When They Cry proves to be the exception. Higurashi is a manga based off a Japanese light novel/computer game, where users click through the story and try to discover the murderer. The game involves several story arcs that follow the path of several characters and their perspective on the game’s events. The manga takes a similar approach as it’s divided into various arcs each focusing on a different character and his/her own storyline and how it winds into the bigger picture. The last two story arcs: “Massacre Arc” and “Festival Accompanying Arc” revolve around intriguing characters.
The manga is about the small, rural town Hinamizawa and show each year during the Cotton Drifting Festival someone is brutally murdered. No one can figure out why a person is killed each year, but it might be linked to a rare, neurological disorder that only affects people in the town. The disorder causes the afflicted to become paranoid and go on a murdering spree, though no one understands its root cause. A large massacre took place in June 1983, but instead of forward the town has been stuck in a temporal loop until someone can discover the murderer.
The “Massacre Arc” follows Rika Furude, the last living descendent of the Hinamizawa’s priests, as she struggles to stop the murders and break free of the temporal loop. She’s the only person in Hinamizawa who is aware they have been living the same events over and over for years. She’s also one of the murder victims and must live through her death each time. Rika realizes if she doesn’t solve the mystery soon she will truly die and never live past June 1983. As she uncovers clues to the massacre’s cause, she is shocked and determined to stop death in its tracks.
Describing the “Festival Accompanying Arc” in full detail would require divulging major spoilers. In lieu of ruining the story, I will only say that it reveals who the murderers are, their motives, and humanizes them to the point of pity. Justice does prevail, even though there is still a loss of life.
Higurashi is best read from the beginning, but f you pick it up during the start of any arc you become absorbed in the world and the characters. It does take a few chapters to get your bearings with the characters and the mystery, but what is not understood only adds to the intrigue. The characters are the manga’s strong suit, because without them the mystery would read like a videogame script that it’s based on. The addition of internal monologues allows you to get into the characters’ heads and see all the details that were left out of the game. The biggest drawback is the indomitable, optimistic spirit that haunts all manga, though mostly children’s comics. It’s the spirit powered by the belief that if “we try our hardest, band together, and don’t stop believing we’ll pull through” and it’s so corny that you have to laugh in it’s face. Higurashi employs it for all it’s characters to the point of unrealistic, because as they see their friends and family being murdered they’re steadfast top that belief.
Overall, Higurashi is thrilling light murder mystery with it’s ties to the gaming evident in the narrative and a few oddball scenes, but it’s won over by the complexity and intelligent plot.