Higurashi: When They Cry (2020) Episode 16

IdiomaticLynx

Student Council President
What an episode, though I'm really conflicted about it. On one hand I think this is the best episode thus far, on the other hand there is a lot "wrong" with it. In a way it manages to encapsulate all that Higurashi is about. We have the stark contrast between dark/horror and light-hearted SoL. The narrative operates on multiple layers; Satoko's words makes sense within that (very short) loop, while also relating to Rika's arc. And personally I liked the directing and stylistic choices in this episode. Though I do expect that there's more to things than we're currently seeing. If it turns out that isn't the case, I'd view this episode a lot less positively.

The problems I have with this episode are more in how it presents a few things. Having the cast in swimwear isn't a problem per se, but some directional choices (esp. regarding Satoko) weren't needed IMHO. Though the bigger issue is how they handled Rika's realisation and resolution. It almost felt as if Rika was at fault for wanting to leave Hinamizawa and was being punished for it. This doesn't sit right with me as everyone can agree Rika did nothing wrong by leaving the village once escaping that loop. It would've been a slightly different story if Rika was clearly apathetic to her friends and only focussed on escaping again. While true to some extent, she still cares for them, even if only in the fact that she doesn't relax the constraints for trying to find a perfect world.

I think the message that it tried to convey was a lot more nuanced (at least I hope). It wasn't so much Rika being disrespectful by leaving, it was staring to hate the village in the process. After being trapped for a century she wanted to leave, which is completely understandable. This (strong) desire to leave the village turned into a feeling that she had to distance herself from the village and not just physically, which she likely justified by focussing on the negative parts, resulting in disliking it as a whole. This episode she realized that even while trapped, there were both good and bad times and that she never really disliked the village at all. (I think subconsciously this has always been the case throughout this series, since if she would really hate the village, there would've been more approaches she could attempt to escape the tragedy instead of looking for a "perfect world" where all dice are in her favour). The clumsly representation in this episode was perhaps to enforce the link with "leaving the village", which has always been closely tied to Oyashiro's curse.

While this realization seems to directly result in a loop where nothing goes wrong (thus far), I'm fairly certain that this is only part of the story. If it really was the key, this would've been the last episode of the arc 😉. We still have to see what Takano is/has been up to.

Anyway, back to theory crafting. I did really want to write things down before this episode, but simply didn't have time for it. While I will incorporate new findings, I'll try to keep clear what the new additions/changes are, though I won't blame you if you don't believe it.😅

Given this episode, it's quite clear that this, to some extent, seems to be true. But my main reasoning before this point was as follows:

To have these loops closely resemble prior loops, yet diverge after everything seems to be going okay, requires intimate knowledge about these loops. Rika being the "victim" makes it hard to suspect her, but she does have the required knowledge. Before I was mostly thinking about external, but closely related, entities (Hanyuu, split off Rika, Frederica Bernkastel, etc...). But it could also be Rika herself. The most probable way would be by unintentionally causing these alterations.

This theory became more likely to me after the previous episode (15), as we see four additional loops from the perspective of Rika. Rika ends up being killed long before the festival, which is in contrast to the first three loops. This change seems directly related to the mental state of Rika. She is now contemplating suicide and has given herself a limited amount of retries. She also seemed to have lost hope that she could find a happy outcome just using her prior knowledge, and acknowledges that this isn't the same Hinamizawa as before.

One question is, what in Rika is causing a change to the loop? In the first few loops, it seems that a false sense of security (after preventing the trigger of a tragedy) could result in a change. Yet in the later (short) loops it seems having lost hope has something to do with it. I didn't really have an answer for this, but with this new episode I might be able to make a guess.

Additions
Whenever Rika hates the village the dice no longer seem in her favour. In the first few loops she had confidence in escaping, but as soon as she prevented the impeding tragedy, she starts thinking about her life after leaving the village. She likely associates leaving the village with hating it (see my reasoning above). It's at these points that things take a turn for the worse. After the third loop her approach changes. Chances of escaping in the same way as before seems slim and she starts lamenting her situation and thinking about her life before she was pulled back. These thoughts now occur from the start of each loop, resulting in way shorter and "stranger" loops. At the end of episode 15 she's basically in the mindset of "hating the village, hoping to wake up in her life at St. Lucia Academy". The very next loop is over before it even began, with no way for Rika to prevent that outcome.

A second question would be: what mechanism or power is performing this? Is some antagonist responsible for this or is Rika also causing this herself. One thing I keep wondering about is how does Rika loop? I always assumed it was Hanyuu looping Rika, yet with Hanyuu gone, Rika still seems to loop. Let's imagine that Rika is the one looping and in effect picking the fragments. Could her mindset have an influence in the fragment that ends up being picked?

And finally, is this mechanism or power also responsible for pulling Rika back into this looping tragedy? Or are these two event separate? If they are separate, then something pulled her back into it, yet she is not faring well due to her own doing. This makes more sense to me, as the trigger for all of this must be something more significant IMO.

One of the theories that continue to become more and more likely in my opinion. We see Hanyuu early on (a good mystery introduces all possible culprits early on) and she meets a lot of the requirements. She is capable of pulling Rika back into the loop and she knows the ins and outs of the previous loops.

From the OP we see some shots that hint at some mysterious and evil figure. The presence of the horn and hair seem to align with Hanyuu's, but it's not clear:
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How would an evil Hanyuu match with the interactions we see between Hanyuu and Rika. During those Hanyuu seems to be on Rika's side and very weak to the point that she wouldn't be able to pull any of this off. There are two possible ways:

It's not the same Hanyuu
The Hanyuu that is causing this isn't the same Hanyuu that Rika converses with. This might explain why Hanyuu has very limited power and can't interact with Rika during the loops. Furthermore it would explain why Hanyuu directs Rika to the sword despite it no longer being there.

At the same time there will be a different Hanyuu that is orchestrating all this. Possible removing the sword to ensure there is literally no escape for Rika (but missing a small fragment). This would also explain why we don't see the stolen sword in action in any form, as that Hanyuu never intended to use it, but only prevent it from being used.

The motive of this evil Hanyuu is still a guess. Everything seems to point at causing as much grief to Rika as possible. But we might also not be seeing the full picture. She might actually be toying with someone else. This could be Rena (see below) or even Takano for all we know.

Hanyuu is playing a game
The weakened Hanyuu, could also fake being weak and simply not appear in front of Rika during all this. Interestingly enough this is something she has done before in Saikoroshi-hen. Though she had a clear goal for Rika to learn/understand. If that would be the same this time around, it seems the lesson could've been to not hate Hinamizawa, but also remember and treasure the good parts. But honestly, it's a disproportionally crude way of doing this and unlike Saikoroshi-hen doesn't feel like a good or justifiable approach at all.

A theory that I'm not too sure about, but does have some interesting points to it. In the same way that I became suspicious of Satoko for dying in mysterious ways, I'm starting to become suspicious of Rena for surviving quite often. (Satoko is IMO considerable less suspicious after this episode).

Surviving often is not enough evidence to suspect her of looping (or perhaps only remembering previous fragments), but there are other clues as well. Interestingly most of these clues are in the first loop and relatively little afterwards (that I could find). But this could be deliberate to shift our focus away. Here a list of things I did find in chronological order. Mind you, some of these are pretty "normal" in that they can happen in any case.

Onidamashi
  • Spaces out in the classroom after the club activity (13th, ep 1)
  • Looks omnious at Keiichi with the cleaver (evening 13th, ep 1)
  • Standing behind Keiichi lifting the cleaver (evening 13th, ep 2, basically continuation of the above point)
  • Remembering(?) Keiichi killing her and/or Mion from another fragment, while Keiichi is freeing Kenta-kun (evening 14th, ep 2)
  • Looking spaced out/sad right after freeing Kenta-kun (evening 14th, ep 2)
  • Rena looking at Keiichi from behind the trees during the festival (festival 19th, ep 3)
  • Uso da!! (afternoon 22nd, ep3)
  • Evesdropping at Keiichi's house (evening 22nd, ep3)
  • (And let's also not forget that Rena made enough food for the five of them, despite only planning on picnicking with Mion and Keiichi :p)
Now I know that a good chunk of these are likely due to the paranoia building up in Keiichi. However, the very first point is remarked by Mion in the presence of everyone and not by Keiichi.

Watanadamashi
  • "Some people are the complete opposite of how they look" talk between Rena and Keiichi (ep 5)
Rena doesn't make a lot of appearances in this arc. And when she shows up, they are pretty normal. This actually makes perfect sense if you want to shift the focus from Rena and onto Mion/Shion. She did make a point of the fact that Keiichi didn't do the "cotron drifting", which could indicate that Rena is concerned about the consequences of missing out. Though this also fits perfectly in her normal character.

Tataridamashi
  • Doesn't look too happy when Keiichi starts talking about Satoshi (afternoon/evening 12th, ep 9)
  • Asking Keiichi what kind of weird dream he had (camera doesn't show Rena's face during this question) (morning 13th, ep 10)
  • Rena clearly states to Keiichi that "if they all work together they can make a miracle happen". Wording is IMO a bit strange. It would've been different if Rika or Keiichi worded it as such, but normally you'd not think you'd need a miracle if you believe you have a strong and clear case. (ep 11)
  • "We can't wait. Satoko-chan doesn't have that much time! Don't ask me how I know, I just do!" (ep 13)
  • "I thought we'd never get these happy, fun times back..." (festival, ep 13)
  • Final scene where Rena tells Keiichi about what happened (ep 13)
Obviously the last few are ambiguous as they seem to refer to the events within the loop, but could equally apply to a broader struggle from Rena. Assuming Rena does loop and/or recall things from other loops, this would be the first one where all six of them survive after resolving the major conflict/tragedy, hence the shock to Rena.

Nekodamashi
  • "Nobody want's to live in this world. This is all just a bad dream!" (ep 15)
The biggest problem with this theory is where this would lead. Rena definitely doesn't appear to be the bad guy (perhaps unintentional). She might end up as an ally to Rika? The thing I find appealing about the theory is that it does open up an interesting way for the story to progress. In the original we have Keiichi as the protagonist and Rika as basically a hidden/true protagonist. It's easy to assume the same applies this time around. In fact the story seems to unfold the same way thus far (only introducing Rika as protagonist earlier on). But if Rena is able to remember things from other fragments (like Keiichi) or loop (like Rika), the focus could shift to her in the coming episodes.

Saving my most promising theory for last.

There's one thing that bugs me about Akasake and how Rika helped him save his wife and daughter. Why would he believe her warning? And how is "someone fell down that stair that day" convincing enough for him? Quite simple, it isn't! Akasake didn't believe Rika, and got the experience the terrible fate that awaited him. As a reaction he travelled back in time to hurry back and save his wife and daughter. The story how "someone fell down that day" is just a means for him to explain it logically.

Now this also gives us insight in how his ability works. He can only travel backwards in time!

The next strange thing is how easily he agrees to Rika's request to stay in Hinamizawa. We've just heard that he's quite attached to his wife, yet without much struggle he cancels his own plans. The reason is simple, he does owe Rika and can quite easily stick around to see if something would really happen. If not, he simply goes back in time and continues his plans as normal (knowing that Rika will remain safe).

But his time-travelling abilities aren't something new. We also see it in Himatsubushi. How does such a young man win a game of Mahjong against Ooishi? We do know Ooishi is good at it (mostly through cheating). What likely transpired is that Akasake tried everything over and over, but could never win due to Ooishi's cheating. Learning how to cheat at Mahjong wasn't something he could easily do (even with his time travelling abilities), so instead he figured out the right moment to "knock over the wall", losing some points but stopping the cheating in its track.

Obviously it's important to note that his time travelling is something different than looping. As such the sword will likely not work to kill him. I'm quite puzzled why he went L5, since he's also (part) alien. Up until this point his alien traits only seem to come to expression in his regenerative powers and skill set (sharp shooting, instinct, etc...), but it was quite clear that he was not susceptible to the Hinamizawa syndrome. We probably need to adjust our theories and consider him "immune" to naturally contracting it, meaning going L5 was clearly induced. This also hints that the Ooishi, Akane and Kimiyoshi were likely also induced.

A final addition to this theory. I'll admit it's a bit sketchy, unlike the base theory which is practically certain. The alien origins can be traced back to Hinamizawa. He is actually a descendant from the village. This connection allowed Rika to appear in front of Akasaka during Matsuribayashi in the same way Hanyuu appears before Rika. Do note that this isn't the origin of his time-travelling powers! He is part descendant of Hinamizawa (oni/alien) and part time traveller, after all. (Though time travelling could just be a skill and not inherited)

Now we can speculate all we want whether the fact that he didn't age in five years is due to his alien descend or his time-travelling powers. But the real question is, why doesn't he resolve all problems in one loop? My own pet theory is that the time-travelling and looping do interfere. Despite operating independently, there is some cross interaction between them. The time-travelling of Akasaka overwrites the events that already took place. However, this doesn't happen instantly, but requires time itself. For anyone observing it, it would feel instant as memories are logically also overwritten. But in case someone loops, the point of looping could prevent some of these overwrites from taking place. As a result the looper will experience the world only in one way, with some, but potentially not all, rewrites done by Akasaka. This in itself creates temporal anomalies, which we finally got to see in episode 14!

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At the start of the episode we see Rika awaken in shock. The calendar clearly reads 21st, yet a few moments later it's shown that it now reads 12th. During episode 14 the "hide and seek" game takes place where Rika finds the fragment of the sword. Since Rika doesn't terminate the loop in that episode, it simply progresses into episode 15. And guess who shows up? Akasaka. This clearly shows that the temporal anomaly took place. Any time keeping device has been very reliable to pinpoint dates and times, so this definitely isn't a mistake or oversight by the animators.

The painful thing is, the calendar isn't on the 21st for no reason. We don't have a clear indication when Akasaka goes L5, but I now think that it would be the 21st. Instead of succumbing to it, his regenerative powers ensures he survives the sea of flames, regains his sense and travels back in time to prevent this from happening. But due to the interference between Rika's looping, she only experienced this one version of the events and goes on to the next loop. I'm sure Akasaka would've brought it to a happy end, but poor Rika simply wasn't destined to experience this 😢

On one hand I quite like that Akasaka's powers are understated in the show and not used as a solution to everything, but would've loved seeing it play a slightly bigger role. Nevertheless, happy to see it in action again and this really helps solidify the theories surrounding Akasaka.

(In case it wasn't clear already, this one is a joke)

Other things I think have significance, but not sure how yet:
  • We don't know who killed Rika in the first two loops. Chessboard thinking: if we would know who killed Rika in the first two loops, we would probably uncover something.
  • The sword was gone with only a small fragment remaining. Hanyuu didn't seem aware of it being stolen, otherwise she wouldn't direct Rika towards it. When Shion and Keiichi entered the toolshed, the statue was already broken with the sword removed, indicating it was stolen (long) before. In fact in the loop where Rika goes looking for it, which was on the 12th, it was already gone in the evening. So it must have been stolen before the evening of 12th. (Though likely somewhere in the past year, as the lock was changed to a weak padlock around that time).
  • What's up with Rika's red eyes? I disliked the effect in the first episode, but I'm starting to think there might be more to it, since we see it inconsistently used at certain moments.
Anyway, really curious what the next episode will bring. For some reason it really feels like Takano, Tomitake and Irie didn't play any role till this point. Now obviously they could act in the background and what we're seeing being indirectly caused by them in some way or form. But it doesn't really feel like that is the case, as I find it very hard to connect the events. At best they would trigger someone to go L5 every loop, but honestly not sure what the motive or reasoning behind that would be. In a way I think we'll see them become (sort of) allies going forward. I'm assuming some other force is causing these loops and as such Takano's strong will isn't so much a factor in it all this time. How this will translate to in-universe events, I'm not sure yet.
 
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