Management: This essay is an analysis of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei (the last, serious installment) of the (original) animated Hirgurashi franchise, specifically Saikoroshi, or the Dice Killing Chapter, which comprises Episode 2 to Episode 4. While my opinion of the show is positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes.
An Offer Too Good To Resist?
It’s a bit maddening that people either dismiss or adore Higurashi for of its supposed under-aged bloody psycho girl spectacles. That isn’t to say that label isn’t applicable to some degree, but it’s rather reductive about a series that’s, foremost, one grand narrative about friendship. Friendship, of all things. And while I suppose dismissing Rei, the last serious sequel to the TV series, as third-string material for its Episode 1 and 5 silliness and lack of gore is understandable, it’s nevertheless saddening when it’s the series, specifically Saikoroshi-hen, or the Dice Killing Chapter, at its most philosophically dense.
While I wouldn’t be one to discourage more shows approaching friendship as something integral to their thematic base, friendship’s still a rather common theme, and one that, in a sea of shows inundated by this subject, it takes a lot to separate it as something special from the fold. While Higurashi seeks to do just that for its first two animated installments, Rei addresses another theme that, in my opinion, is rather ambitious to present in any way to audiences in general ever. The Dice Killing Chapter asks Rika Furude and its audience an existential question. Between worlds perfect and not, which one is preferable?
The answer seems self-explanatory. It’s got to be the former. It’s got to be perfection. After all, if perfection is something that is possible to achieve… No no no, let me rephrase. If perfection is merely something that can be chosen and adopted, then this shouldn’t even be a matter of debate. Of course, unless there’s a catch.
What’s constitutes perfection, according to Higurashi? What constitutes imperfection? We want to make sure we don’t make any Faustian bargains.
Here and Back Again
Fresh from breaking the cycle of fate of dying over and over, as demonstrated in the past two seasons, she gets herself killed, supposedly, out of reckless stupidity.
She wakes up to find that she supposedly died (again) and was revived (again) by Hanyuu, as per her abilities. Frantically, thoughts race in her head over whether she’s stuck in the cycle of fate and has to look forward to the prospect psychotic Rena Ryuuguu (again), among other things. But, as she gradually discovers, not only are her friends this time around unaware of their efforts in the previous iteration. The personal problems that her friends had that inevitably lead ultimately to Rika getting killed, or at least letting Rika get killed, were nonexistent in the first place. Keiichi Maebara never preyed on students back home with his pellet gun, which lead to him moving to Hinamizawa. Satoko and Satoshi Hojou are living relatively tension-free lives with the other villagers and their not deceased parents whom Satoko did not push off a cliff. Shion Sonozaki never decided to escape the private academy her family placed her in, out of deference to her sister, Mion, and thus, never met Satoshi. Rena never left with her family to the city in the first place, which prevented her parents from splitting up.
According to Rena the Hinamizawa Murders seemed never to have taken place at all, which suggests that Miyo Takano, the mastermind behind Rika’s previously consistent and guaranteed death streak, never lost her parents in the bus accident that lead her to be adopted by Dr. Takano in the first place. Hinamizawa Syndrome might not even exist at all.
In fact, while we were treated to seemingly suspicious and sinister cinematic shots of Rena’s facial features and abrupt moments of emotionless utterances or hysterical outrage or cackling in the face of others, like Keiichi, asking her prying questions, that may or may not be overly exaggerated to the audience of previous seasons due to the distorting effect of unreliable narrators, the Dice Killing Chapter plays with Rika’s expectations of Rena like she tends to do with questions revolving around the Hinamizawa Murders before revealing that they were all in her head.
Hell, even Rika’s parents are alive. The world was pure. It was sinless. It was perfect. This begs the question… Was there a catch then?
It was a world she considered settling down in permanently, but ultimately, she decided to quit for her old one. How, exactly? It involves doing something so sinful that the world boots one out for committing it. According to Hanyuu, it involves killing her mother. A mother that, while incredibly fussy to the point of over-protective about her daughter, wishes nothing for the best for Rika. A mother that Rika ends up giving up on saving in the cycle of fate as death she deemed was impossible to prevent.
A mother that, apparently, she realizes she still loves back. And she wakes up. And she believes she did it. And she ends up crying.
Flowers, Candy, and Gods
But not for long. Her friends of the imperfect world she supposedly exited by accident for the perfect world she purposely left behind show up and inform her that, rather than getting her face run over by a truck earlier, she merely ended up in a coma. Still horrified about what she thought she did and whether or not she supposedly made the right call coming back to this world, she voices these concerns to them. Her friends and their doppelgangers in the perfect world were both happy, after all, and the latter didn’t need to suffer to get there.
Rena initially believes Rika wishes to undo some sort of trauma she’s undergone in this world. Rika made the right choice choosing this world over the other one. Reason: This world, this impure, sinful, imperfect world, is the world Rika and friends fought so hard for, “fought” being the operative word. Life should be given worth not by its goals, but rather, by the journeys taken in order to achieve these goals, and she makes this point using an analogy of flowers, a flower grown in a greenhouse and a flower grown in a field. Both sprout into pretty little things, but there’s just something about the flower in the field that that’s more… there than in the other.
A flower that’s braved the elements, wind, rain, cold, and heat, and yet remains, fully bloomed, ever beautiful, yet something more profound.
While her mother’s divorce ended up being incredibly hard on her, she doesn’t regret it happening, and she wouldn’t change it for the world. She’s even thankful for her hard life, because without it she wouldn’t be what she now is, stronger, wiser, more mature, and she’s proud of that. And so is Keiichi with his. And Satoko with hers.
This isn’t to say that the life of a denizen of a perfect world, or a more fortunate upbringing in general, is inferior to a resident of an imperfect world, since such worlds are isolated from one another to the point where they are effectively hypotheticals. After all,
“We’re all flowers. We do our best to grow regardless of where we take root and try our best to produce the best flower we can.” ~ Rena
What if, sampling both worlds, like Rika, decides that one world was better than the other? Then one would be justified agonizing it, right? Rena picks this Rena replies, and I paraphrase… Sure, if one were a god who can travel between these two worlds and gain the insight to make that judgment call, to which she is not. She’s only human.
She goes off on another analogy using candy. Rena presents Rika with two hands and has her choose between them.
Rika picks one, and Rena unfolds her hands to reveal a piece of candy, to which she promptly gives to Rika.
Rika’s certain she chose the right one, and happy because of it, until Rena unfolds her other hand to reveal two pieces of candy.
Did Rika choose the wrong hand?
Perhaps not. Rika was perfectly happy with the earlier hand she chose, and, if left knowing just that, she’d remain content. It’s not like there was any deceit to it either. The first hand she chose, she chose on luck. The world, the family, and the upbringing she was born into was chance, and to speculate on hypotheticals, or dreams like perfect worlds, just brings suffering on the human who’s immature enough to think in terms of what could have been.
People aren’t as fortunate, or, perhaps, unfortunate to able to view these hypotheticals on the ground like Rika was able to.
Between Worlds Perfect and Not
While Hanyuu confesses to Rika towards the end that this perfect world she saw was a dream she induced in her while she was knocked out, the lessons she drew from it were real. Actually, that’s not entirely true… Rika stayed for quite a bit of time there with her mother, and believed she had a choice in the matter of escaping back to reality or escaping from it, and, so long as Hanyuu kept her unconscious, it ultimately make a difference, perception-wise, whether or not the perfect world was fantasy.
But it’s no good. It’s got to be imperfection.
She chose to return to the imperfect world because it didn’t feel right to her not to. To abandon the imperfect world that she and her friends fought so hard for, that made her and her friends who they are.
While Rika was able to travel between these worlds, she is not a god, and, as such, ultimately confides in Hanyuu that unlike Hanyuu, it is not Rika’s place to play as one, which started probably after the first few times Rika was murdered. She learns, after relegating her as a mere afterthought, to appreciate her mother by killing her. She gives relying on Hanyuu to save her, and decides to live her life happily, without regrets, one that isn’t cut short by doing something reckless and stupid.
So there’s no contracts with furry mascots of dubious origins. There’s not even much of a catch, really. But the show asks of us not to escape ourselves, no matter how much of “ourselves” may hurt to look at. We are not gods, after all. We can’t even travel back to the past. However. We can learn from our traumas. We can to become stronger, wiser, and more mature as a result. We can be happy in spite of living in an imperfect world. We’re humans, after all.