A solid opening arc.
Halloween is fast approaching, and what better way to celebrate the creepy season than a horror manga? From the same creator behind Umineko, we venture forth into a creepy village in the middle of nowhere for the first story arc of Higurashi.
It’s June 1983 in the small village known as Hinamizawa. Keiichi Maebara has moved into the community with his parents, attending a school so small that there’s only one classroom and one teacher that teaches all the grades at once. Despite the size, the young man has gained some pretty cool and crazy friends who love messing with him and making every day interesting. However, one day, this ideal world is broken when Keiichi meets a freelancer photographer who lets it slip about the village’s bloody past. A past that just so happens to connect to the local Cotton Drifting Festival, a former dam project, and all of his friends…
The Initial Impression
I initially discovered Higurashi almost a decade ago at my local Barnes & Noble when I was just checking out and trying different series at random. It’s a series that really stuck with me, especially after a strong first story arc, which is what we’re focusing on for this review. The manga ultimately led me straight to Umineko as well and I’ve been a big fan of the creator ever since. So, coming back to this particular manga after several years, I was looking forward to seeing how it held up. And there’s certainly plenty to say about its quality.
Abducted By Demons is a solid, if flawed opening to the Higurashi series. On a story level, it’s an engaging and mysterious tale of paranoia and distrust as our focused protagonist, Keiichi, learns that there’s a disturbing history to his new home and friendships. We slowly watch as our character unravels over the course of two volumes as things are revealed, new angles are shown, and something sinister brews. Whether or not a lot of it is truly real, since we are seeing it from the perspective of someone slowly losing it (or if there’s a conspiracy or supernatural entity work), makes for a truly uncomfortable and eerie feeling almost from beginning to end. It’s a story that keeps you guessing in the right ways, especially in the second volume when Keiichi is on the defensive and is pushing people further away from him. The conclusion is haunting and downright disturbing as well, leaving many questions unanswered (though the creator does say the answers are somewhere in the pages), but in a good way that leaves the story lingering in your mind.
However, as strong as the story may be or how powerful the horror and tension there is in your friends plotting against you, there are some serious tone and pacing issues. Much in the way of how Umineko is a story that is constantly hitting the brakes to dump a load of exposition, there’s a similar issue here, but worse. The manga can get incredibly cluttered and slow as characters dump exposition about backstory, the history of the village, and more on you for several pages. It’s not the exposition itself that’s bad as it’s certainly interesting to read, but the story really slows down at points. Then there’s the tone, since this series REALLY likes going for cheap fanservice early on and it just clashes horribly with the dreadful, uneasy atmosphere the manga builds. I find how the story is able to turn on a dime from comfortable and peaceful to horrific and creepy to be rather well done (like Rena’s shift in personality), really building up the protagonist’s paranoia, but the fanservice really doesn’t serve the story particularly and feels even skeevier than Umineko at times. In fact, it feels more crowbarred in and fits less with the story, such as Keiichi at a maid café.
Our protagonist and viewpoint into this series is Keiichi Maebara, a new resident to Hinamizawa, who acts as the everyman and a normal teen boy. At first, he’s kind of bland and most of his character is about being friends with some of the local girls. But over the course of the story arc, we watch as his character slowly unravels and falls apart, growing more and more paranoid about the past murders and what his friends may be hiding from him. He becomes more isolated, irritable, and prone to lashing out at others, making his collapse hard to read as he tears and snaps at his friends. The ultimate culmination of what happens to him in the end is incredibly bitter and mysterious, making us wonder what really happened in the end. While he doesn’t have much going for him personality or backstory wise at first, Keiichi is a very fascinating character to watch as he falls, leaving us wondering how we would react if we were in his situation.
The horror of young romance! Be afraid!
Of course, he isn’t the only person in this tale with problems. There are two of his friends, Mion Sonozaki and Rena Ryugu, who both have their own dark secrets. Mion is the “leader” of the friends and loves causing trouble and messing with Keiichi, either mentally or physically. She’s absolutely loyal and pleasant, but then you peel away at her past, revealing hostility and clashes with people who threatened her hometown. Things take a darker turn from there and given her fate at the end, we’re left in the dark about her true intentions for the moment. Same goes for Rena, who is far more off kilter it seems. A girl who is cutesy defined and with a huge obsession with things that are adorable, Rena is one of Keiichi’s closest friends and the easiest person to talk to. However, like with Mion, she has a much darker side and given what we learned, it’s either due to mental issues or being cursed by the village’s deity. Either way, when she snaps, she really snaps and shows a completely different side that’s far more vicious and violent in her behavior and mannerisms. Of course, given the viewpoint from which we see this series, how much a change there is in her personality is suspect.
As for the other characters, there’s not a whole lot to them at the start. There’s the other two friends of Keiichi, Rika and Satoko, and both of them have very interesting backstories and histories… revealed and dived into in future arcs. Here, they are just side characters who have nice chemistry with others and occasionally subtly hint at future points, like Rika’s chilled reaction at the very end. Keiichi’s parents are just generic parent characters who don’t really do anything other than leave him alone at inconvenient times. There’s Detective Ooishi, who is probably the most normal and down to earth character, a person who has been investigating the crimes and deaths in Hinamizawa for years. While he puts Keiichi in some tight spots, he’s ultimately nice and tries his best to help him, even prepared to hold back information so not to worry him or to affect his friendships. The only other characters are the photographer Jiro Tomitake and Nurse Miyo Takano, but they mostly serve as exposition dumps for the audience and Keiichi at this point in the series. So right now, the supporting cast isn’t fleshed out much unfortunately, so you won’t really get to see what makes them either shine or so fascinating for now.
The art for the arc is by Karin Suzuragi, who has a very chibi, Moe style. It’s incredibly cutesy with soft linework and similar looking faces that work when the story is more about silly shenanigans between the characters early on. Like with artists who’ve contributed to the Umineko series, Karin is able to turn their style on a dime to depict incredibly creepy and very unsettling moments. Some of the most striking and uncomfortable parts are when Rena snaps, especially later on, showing just how twisted she can be with her body movement, how the panels are angled, and her facial expressions. The art is just excellent here, but unfortunately, it really only works in styles on the opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s great at capturing creepiness and super adorable moments, but showing the more casual and uneasy feel, or even some of the sad moments, doesn’t click as well as it could since the art style leans far more to cute and silly than it should. The layouts can be a bit cluttered at times, but they get the job done and other technical elements of the art fare just fine. In the end, Karin does well enough in some areas of the art, but doesn’t succeed with flying colors either.
Higurashi: When They Cry: Abducted By Demons was a solid opening arc to begin the series off on, taking us straight into a world where nothing is as it seems, many questions are left unanswered, and something dark is bubbling just below the surface. It’s at times an engaging tale of paranoia, mistrust, and horror, but it does grind to a halt and the quality of storytelling and art can fluctuate at different points. In the end, Abducted by Demons was an enjoyable, uneasy ride and next time, the story will only grow worse and more twisted as the mayhem begins all over again in the Cotton Drifting arc.