wOct 3, 2008

Male Anxiety in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

In the beginning, there are only sounds, something beaten hit repeatedly, making a wet sound.

Then, images. Blood splattering, and two girls being beaten to death by a boy.

Then, a cut to the opening sequence. Bright flowers in kaleidoscope views. Intermixed with the vibrant nature scenes are flashes of people - characters with an extremely cutesy design. But still with disturbing images...a girl walking on broken glass, a candle going out, a butterfly with its wing torn off. Of course, all set to a gorgeous and foreboding song, in my opinion. Anime series often do a fantastic job with their opening sequences, but I really do like Higurashi's a lot.

I have blogged about the first episode of the anime series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry) before in this post, but did not fully analyze it. Last Sunday, I watched the first 2.5 episodes at Geek.Kon and found myself taking notes, so I'll try and explain what I thought here.

Higurashi is unique in that the series is divided into 4-episode arcs. Each arc opens with a horrifically violent scene. The opening credits play, and then four episodes are spent explaining how the original, violent scene came to be.

In the first mini-arc, a boy named Keiichi has recently moved to a small, rural village in Japan, in the year 1983. His school is a small one; in one room, 15 children of varying ages form small "classes." As the teacher is often off helping others, Keiichi teaches the two girls in his grade, even though Mion is both older and the class president.

Keiichi receives help from his female classmates, who offer to help him navigate their village. He ends up spending lunch with four other girls. In a normal anime, this set-up would be referred to as a "harem anime," one in which a nondescript and unremarkable male protagonist is surrounded by beautiful women - all of whom are interested him in a potentially romantic way. Of course, this anime seems to be bending that trope until it breaks....literally.

In the end of the first episode, Keiichi and one of the girls, Rena, walk past a garbage dump. Rena wanders amongst the garbage while a freelance photographer walks up to Keiichi and reveals to him that a man was mutilated in the village a year ago.

After the photographer leaves, Rena tells Keiichi that a dam was being built in the village. Keiichi asks her about the rumored accident, and Rena says, "I don't know." The background music stops and her eyes disappear - an animation technique often used to make it clear that a character is employing a poker face (or revealing a studio's limited budget!).

At school, Keiichi is shown having harmless, cutesy fun with the girls at his school. He is invited to their "game club," where he is told that their "complex games will put him at a disadvantage." In their first card game, Keiichi realizes that all of the girls are cheating because they have memorized the scratches and stains on every single one of their deck's old cards. Keiichi is disturbed by the advantage they have over him, and calls them evil. Rena remarks that they are being unfair to Keiichi, but Mion says, "It's okay; he's a man." It's meant as a joke, but I really feel like it does a lot to point out the way the girls are subverting the power that Keiichi would have in a normal harem anime.

As the next few episodes progress, Keiichi learns more and more information, eventually learning that the entire town rose up against a proposed dam project that would have literally put them under water. It seems as though Mion and Rena were the ultimate perpetrators in the murder and mutilation of one person each year, who was connected to supporting the dam project. Keiichi is contacted by a local investigator, and Rena starts stalking him, creeping uninvited into his house, listening to his personal conversations, etc.

I haven't seen through the end of the fourth episode, but I'm guessing that Keiichi grows so disturbed by Rena's and Mion's increasingly disturbing antics (especially when laid side-by-side with their seemingly innocent high school girl life), and snaps, beating them to bloody pulps like he did in the brief, violent prelude.

I know that the entire series isn't necessarily like this. For example, I know that after the first arc resets, and the second 4-episode arc begins with two of the girls fighting, one of them stabs herself in the head with a knife until she kills herself. So what starts off as male anxiety in the first arc might turn into a simple anxiety about power, and who has it. I would have to continue watching to see what happens.

Still, the specific "male anxiety" was an interesting lens to use for watching the first mini-arc of the series.

I would like to continue watching this series (available in the U.S. on DVD, and on Netflix). It's strange for me in that I grow really, really bored with the cutesy, innocent scenes, and am more in it for unraveling the mysteries and watching the characters go crazy. It'll be really neat to watch everything reset every four episodes as well, and see if any patterns develop.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 10:42 PM

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