“If you’re wondering what I mean by ‘miracle’, it’s simple: a miracle is a shift in perspective from fear to love.” –Gabrielle Bernstein
2020’s Higurashi GOU and this year’s Higurashi SOTSU very quickly became entangled in controversy after revealing that Satoko had been the architect of Rika’s renewed suffering after her efforts to fit into life at St. Lucia were met with failure: on a reunion trip to Hinamizawa to meet up with Keiichi, Rena and Mion, Satoko declines an invite to go to dinner with the others, and instead, wanders the village, which is slowly changing as a sign of the times. Upon coming upon the ceremonial shed behind the temple, Satoko finds herself transported into another dimension and determines that she would very much like to take a shot at changing things in her favour. Now armed with the power of the gods, to live in loops, Satoko returns to old timelines and digs up old fights with the singular pursuit of utterly crushing Rika’s spirit. Higurashi and its sequel, KAI, had decisively wrapped up the series in 2007, so to see a sequel series appear some thirteen years after the originals had ended was a bit of a surprise. Viewers were even more surprised with the directions and outcomes that GOU and SOTSU have taken – the results were widely deemed unsatisfactory, and in the aftermath, some viewers raised the question of whether or not GOU and SOTSU should have even existed to begin with. This is a rather expansive topic, and certainly one that I am not going to be capable of adequately answering on my own.
- This latest collaboration between Dewbond and myself actually began during the Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend, a short ways after SOTSU drew to a close. These discussions are always enjoyable, and it is fantastic to be able to get a fresh set of eyes on things. While our conversation this time around might not be as lengthy as some of our previous collaborations, I’m certain readers will find things interesting. Before Dewbond and I continue with our party, I will stop to briefly mention that five years ago to this day, I convocated from graduate school to earn my Master’s of Science in Computer Science.
Within minutes of finishing SOTSU, it became clear to me that to tackle the topic of these Higurashi sequels, it would be wise to get another set of eyes on things. I thus welcome Dewbond of Shallow Dives in Anime back for our latest collaborative discussion. I do not mind admitting that, this time around, I’ve actually got no idea where things will begin: Dewbond, it’s great to have you back, and I turn the floor over to you!
Thanks for having me back once again Zen. I knew once SOTSU and the Higurashi sequel as a whole finished up, we would return to this topic once more. I’m glad I did, because while we briefly discussed this last time, we can now really dig into it with everything said and done.
I will say that I have not been surprised at the reception towards this series. Higurashi is a beloved and popular anime series, which means any attempt to cash in on a sequel wasn’t going to work. It never has. Very much like the endless loops, the idea of a sequel to a beloved property has never been successful. Gundam SEED, Code Geass, Inuyasha, all of them are examples. Higurashi had really no chance, especially when its story, a masterful transformation from ‘horror of the week’ to ‘fantasy/conspiracy thriller’ was so bloody well told. What chance did GOU and SOTSU really have?
This is made further clear, with the way that GOU seemed to play with people’s expectations. Many believed that it would be a full on remake of the original series, which it was, until it wasn’t. That turned a lot of people off. But what do you think Zen? What were your expectations going into Higurashi GOU?
My expectations upon hearing about GOU were practically non-existent. As you’ve noted, Higurashi and KAI had presented such a masterful twist, and wrapped things up so decisively that sequels were simply unnecessary: Rika got her ending, and even Miyo found a way to liberate herself from her curse.
After watching the early trailers, I decided I would give things a go: going purely from these, I too imagined that GOU would be a sort of HD remaster, of re-telling familiar stories with updated visuals, and perhaps, a bit of foreshadowing to show off small details that might’ve not been present. I certainly wasn’t expecting things to head where it did! How about you, Dewbond? At GOU‘s onset, was there a direction you were looking for the series to take?
I first expected it like you, to be an HD remaster of the series, or a top-down remake. However it didn’t take long for the series to be something else. A small change there, a little difference here. The fact that the show was so similar at the start probably rubbed people the wrong way. I went into it after my second re-watch of the series so I was a little bit more grated.
I think Higurashi GOU/SOTSU‘s biggest thing was that there was a clear lack of understanding of what it is. Most of that was because there was a brand new mystery to solve. Had that been brought up at the start, it might have gone down with viewers better.
With it all done as I said though, I enjoyed where the story went. And let’s save a bit of time and assume viewers know the general jist of the series, and get into the big changes. Zen, what were your thoughts on Rika being tossed back inside the loops, and the idea of Satoko being behind it?
I have mixed feelings about having Satoko being the architect of Rika’s renewed suffering. On one hand, Higurashi had ended on such a conclusive note that it felt gratuitous to bring things back to where they’d been before Rika begn actively working to overcome her curse. It’d be equivalent to winning a gold medal fair and square, only for the medal to be redacted for an arbiturary reason. On the flipside, viewers were indeed stuck in Hinamizawa during the first season and KAI: until GOU, we’d never actually saw what sort of life Rika had been yearning for. Seeing her survive through the Cotton-Drifting Festival, graduate from middle school and gain admittance to St. Lucia was a rather exciting direction, and I was quite fond of how the series portrayed the widening rift between the two close friends.
Having said this, subjecting Rika to the unending, gruesome fates that resulted from Satoko’s interventions was a bit of a shocker, and my gut reaction was that this seemed to stand against what Higurashi and KAI intended its themes to be. The Satoko of Higurashi and KAI had been instrumental in helping Rika, so it felt illogical to see this change of heart. It’s honestly something that I’m torn about, at least until I had a chance to read the excellent points in one of your posts about Satoko’s fear of change, of losing Rika, as driving force behind why she is driven to such extremes. In fact, it feels like the reason why things get as out-of-hand as they do sounds like it is a consequence of Rika and Satoko being so close to one another: is it fair to say that the closer these two were, the more inevitable that we would get what we saw in GOU and SOTSU?
I think you are right on the money. The one thing I do think GOU and SOTSU get full marks for, is the story they wanted to tell. Satoko and Rika’s conflict is a logical place for the story to go. Instead of trying to go back to the well of usual antics, it instead tries to tell a story about how characters change and involve. Just because Rika solved her predicament didn’t mean her life was now perfect. Life goes on, and new problems come. The push and pull between what these two characters want became that new problem, and Higurashi asks a new question: What is Satoko Hōjō without Rika Furude? And what is Rika Furude without Satoko Hōjō?
Rika and Satoko only had each other, and being the only two characters close in age, had a deep bond that can only come from two children growing up. They were each other’s world, and for Satoko, the only real positive and constant force in her life. The idea of that going away, and being removed from that safe space, its the biggest fear she ever has. Because just what is Satoko without Rika? Can there even be a Satoko, or would she become consumed by the traumas that had haunted her life? What did you think of this Zen?
The sheer strength of emotion driving Satoko to the lengths that she did in order to break Rika’s will reminded me of Mark Frost: “there is no light without darkness”. This bit of poetry spoke generally to the idea of Yin and Yang, of things that necessarily exist because the other exists. Satoko’s own life is no picnic, and considering that her friends had been her source of comfort and support, it was only natural that she would seek out the path that she believes would provide her these things. Rika, similarly, had lived lifetimes of suffering, and through it all, Satoko had been unequivocally there for her, too. Neither can exist without the other, and Rika’s sparing Satoko at the end of their fight speaks to that; no matter what comes between them, there are more important things yet.
The way things panned out in GOU and SOTSU creates a bit of a tragedy: it is so easy to fall onto our own values and think of Satoko poorly for her actions here, but looking back now, it turns out that Satoko’s resorting to increasingly extreme methods was a consequence of her own despair. At St. Lucia, she is isolated, and as she takes on the power to live in loops, she becomes even more alone. This in turn is what lead to GOU‘s most infamous moment, when Satoko bisects Rika with the implement. We humans are wired for companionship, and oftentimes, those around us guide us from poor decisions. Satoko does not have this luxury in GOU and SOTSU, so having had a chance to sleep on things, I think that the series did make a brave effort to portray this side of their friendship, and how far things can go if people are trapped in their own thoughts. These themes certainly answered my question of what led up to Satoko tearing Rika’s internal organs out in GOU. That particular moment had been quite shocking indeed, but otherwise, GOU and SOTSU was a bit inconsistent, even restrained for a series known for its graphic portrayal of violence. Dewbond, I’d love to hear about how this changes up the look-and-feel of GOU and SOTSU compared to their predecessors
This is an interesting question, because in a way you can’t really answer it. If you want a straight answer then no. The violence on display does not hold up to the original. I mean, perhaps for a new viewer, but if you came into this series from the first one, then what you see doesn’t hold a candle. There is just no equivalent of something like Shion’s breakdown, or Rika’s “You lie!”, moments that remain in the minds of an entire generation. The janky animation at the time, while you can laugh at it, actually adds a layer of creepiness and horror that surprisingly still works. Do I think the sequel looks better? I do, but there was something missing as well.
You can’t recreate that feeling, that shock of seeing what Higurashi actually is for the first time. But that doesn’t mean GOU/SOTSU doesn’t have some good moments. While they don’t hold a candle. While the hoe scene is probably the most iconic moment of the sequel, things like the smash cut of Rika being happy, and then dying on the floor was a great moment. As was the death montage that followed. Anytime a baseball bat is used is great, and the final fight where Satoko smashes Rika against the wall is fantastic. It is still a gory show, no question, but it doesn’t have the same “holy shit” feeling, probably because you can only feel that once.
The older visuals definitely had a more uncanny vibe to them: to be honest, I too like the general aesthetics of GOU and SOTSU, but for unsettling us, the classics hit harder because of how abrupt the changes were. There was also another piece that the originals did a little better: if memory serves, Higurashi and KAI struck a balance between outright showing the more graphic moments, and concealing things by shifting the camera angles, and then allowing sound to do the rest. By showing us things implicitly, the mind is allowed to wander, and this greatly contributed to the horror present within the original: I’ve always been terrified of scenes where people continue to desecrate a corpse long after the victim is dead, and it speaks to just far gone everyone was.
Conversely, GOU and SOTSU were a bit more explicit. This occasionally did work in the series’ favour: on top of Satoko bisecting Rika, GOU and SOTSU do have a few moments that were quite disturbing (such as Keiichi’s rampage through Angel Mort in one of the realities), but other moments were a bit gratuitous. Because of how the violence was presented in GOU and SOTSU, it feels more of a visual metaphor for Satoko gradually losing her humanity the longer she keeps at trying to roll the dice in her favour, being less of a shocker to keep viewers guessing. This also does lead to the question: Satoko was only able to resort to the means that she did after accepting Eua’s powers, but in the original Higurashi and KAI, the gods only had a minimal role, leaving Rika and her friends to resolve their own problems. Here in GOU and SOTSU, the gods seem to have a much larger role. What do you make of this, Dewbond?
I think this was a good idea to keep GOU/SOTSU from being too much of a re-hash. Like I said before, I think it was the right idea to get as much distance from the governmental thriller storyline and Miyo’s revenge as possible. We didn’t need to go back to the well, and it would cheapened what was a fun and good conclusion to that story.
So that left us with the idea of the witches, and I think this is where GOU/SOTSU both works and falters. The idea of the witches, and the author’s tying everything into his later visual novels is a cool piece of trivia and lore for deep Higurashi nerds, but for others, it might have been a little strange. Sometimes not everything needs to be explain or expanded upon. There is joy in letting some mysteries remain mysteries, or some concepts unexplained. I never really once questioned the idea of looping and witches, it all just made sense because the story was so good.
With the sequel, it was the same thing. Despite the focus on the supernatural aspects of the story, it didn’t overwhelm or distract from the plot. The character interactions and Sakoto’s desire to keep Rika and that conflict was far more interesting. It was a tool, and the best tools don’t take away attention from the story said tool is being used for.
As someone who’s unfamiliar with the 07th Expansion universe, I am in the camp who found things a little strange at first. Higurashi had established that the gods were indeed a presence, and that their power was very much a part of the world, so it wasn’t out of left field to see the story shift over, but the idea of Hanyū being a “failure”, and Eua’s familiarity with everything did come across as a bit unexpected. Once the initial shock wore off, however, the interaction between Eua and Satoko did become more interesting to watch: while ostensibly an antagonist, Eua doesn’t do more than grant Satoko the power she desires to pursue Rika and egg Satoko on to keep things, in her words, entertaining.
In retrospect, it makes sense that Eua and Hanyū’s remain enigmas – while I usually like seeing how all facets of a given story tie together, GOU and SOTSU‘s decision to leave the gods’ world unexplored is probably a hint to viewers that there are things that go on out there beyond our comprehension. This suits GOU and SOTSU just fine, and given that things aren’t terribly distracting, it works well enough for people like myself; I don’t feel that it is strictly necessary to do a little reading on Umineko: When They Cry in order to see what GOU and SOTSU are going for.
Do you need to read Umineko to enjoy this sequel? Absolutely not. It’s more of tidbits and fanservices for die-hard fans of the series, and really about confirming long held fan theories. I didn’t know much about it, and I still found GOU/SOTSU to be a very enjoyable affair, with a touching ending that even the original didn’t really capture.
So, with all of that said. Zen, do you feel that Higurashi GOU and Higurashi SOTSU were a worthy follow up to the original, putting aside fan expectations?
For me, GOU and SOTSU proved to be unexpected in many ways – the direction was unexpected, as were the outcomes, and when everything wrapped up, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. Having now had a chance to sit down, digest things and give everything some thought, I feel that GOU and SOTSU succeeded in bringing us a new experience. The themes were different than the original, and the series cast off some limiters from the originals, allowing us to see more “what if” scenarios.
While GOU and SOTSU are unlikely to displace the originals in terms of impact, I am quite happy to give credit where it is due; GOU and SOTSU end up with a different theme than did the originals, conveyed a sense of mystery in its beginning that brought back memories of the originals, and looking back, the only real quibble I have is that things dragged out for a little longer than I would’ve liked. All told, I would likely amend my initial impressions of SOTSU and say that yes, GOU and SOTSU together as a whole do add something new to Higurashi in a worthy manner.
Having said this, GOU and SOTSU have been a bit more polarising, and some folks have counted the series unnecessary as a continuation and unwatchable, amongst other things that are a little less civilised. GOU and SOTSU does feel like a series where mileage will vary depending on the person, but where provided with the opportunity, Dewbond, what would you have to say for viewers who do not see any merits on GOU and SOTSU?
I would say this to those fans who do not see any merits to the sequel.
Every follow up to a popular series has to answer the one all consuming question: “Did we need this?” So far, the resounding answer all around has been no. GOU and SOTSU do not change that equation. They are unneeded sequels to a show that pretty much ended perfectly. They are unable to re-capture the feeling of watching Higurashi for the first time, and even the most impressive blood and guts can’t bring that feeling back.
That being said. GOU and SOTSU try to do what few follow ups try to do and move the story in new directions. Instead of running back to the well, they take a few risks and let the characters grow. It is a story about change, the inevitability of it, and how growing up means growing apart, but not the destruction of friendships and yes, love. If you go into the series with an open mind and not expecting to be thrown back to your first experiences, then you might really enjoy it.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Dewbond. As you’ve stated, GOU and SOTSU is a sequel that took risks and has its own unique rewards. Especially now, where anime can become divisive very quickly, I would think that at the end of the day, people should make their own call as to whether or not something like GOU and SOTSU is up their alley. For me, I fall into the group who enjoyed seeing where things headed overall – having now had a chance to reflect on things a little, I am happy to put GOU and SOTSU in the “enjoyed it” column.
With this being said, it’s hard to begrudge those who disliked the series; perhaps this is an outlandish comparison, but GOU and SOTSU is to Higurashi what Halo 5: Guardians is to Halo as a whole. Mechanically, Halo 5 was excellent and advanced the franchise, but the story left folks quite divided, too. At the end of the day, I remain quite glad to have watched GOU and SOTSU to completion for the experience, and I am doubly happy to have you back to share a discussion of how this continuation fits into the Higurashi franchise!
Thanks for having me as always Zen, and I’m sure we’ll be talking again real soon.
- I’ll wrap up this talk with Satoko waving at Mion, Rena and Keiichi in SOTSU‘s final moments. Dear You begins playing, and longtime viewers will be familiar with the song know it as being used to embody the character’s feelings, as well as the overall themes and motifs within Higurashi itself. I disagree with the prevailing sentiment about how using this song was “undeserved”: this was a pleasant way to wrap GOU and SOTSU up. Similarly, I will note that Kenji Kawai’s incidental music are solid. The compositions he provides has a very distinct Ip Man character about them, and this really helped to augment the emotions of a given moment.
I’m confident that I’ll be hosting Dewbond again in the near future. With our latest collaboration in the books, Dewbond has certainly helped me to clear up some of the lingering thoughts on my mind after Higurashi GOU and SOTSU ended; GOU began running last October, and then SOTSU picked up during the summer of this year: with thirty-nine weeks of stuff happening, watching both series as they aired proved to be no mean feat, and the series certainly did offer things to consider. The conclusion that we reach after stepping through both GOU and SOTSU should not be particularly surprising, as we indicate that credit should be given where it is due. Our discussion is an instance of why I’m fond of hearing out differing perspectives on the series: on one hand, Higurashi GOU and SOTSU were indeed extraneous, but simultaneously, and perhaps contradictorily so, GOU and SOTSU also does end up offering something new to the Higurashi franchise. Having an extra set of eyes on things means I can take a step back and understand what this sequel’s aims were, as well as appreciate where it did things well. Collaborative posts are always fun to write, and I will remark that I am open to such conversations: if readers are interested in collaborating, please let me know in the comments or on social media. In the meantime, I have not yet forgotten my promise to Dewbond about Fate/Zero: folks have suggested that the anime’s main themes are about how sacrifice is required to ensure peace, that one must always be critical of the social structure and to this extent, must resort to any means necessary to create one’s own vision of society, even if it comes at a great cost to others. In order to dispel any misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding my first impressions of the series, it is only fair to watch Fate/Zero myself and make my verdict after I’ve got a full picture. That could be a solid topic to review with Dewbond, and until then, I hope folks have enjoyed the conversation Dewbond and I have shared concerning GOU and SOTSU, and if our conversation here has kicked off an interest, both Dewbond and I have readers covered.
Dewbond’s Higurashi GOU and SOTSU Posts
Infinite Zenith’s Higurashi GOU and SOTSU Posts
Missed the earlier Higurashi collaborations between Dewbond and myself?