Higurashi: When They Cry (2020) Episode 17

IdiomaticLynx

Student Council President
Seeing as no thread was created for this episode, I took the liberty to do so now. Now I am curious what others thought of the episode, as I really needed some time sorting out my thoughts. This is the first episode that really provided some answers, and while I really wanted to like it, this is by far the worst episode. :(

For me the selling point for Higurashi and Umineko is their layered nature. It's not superficial or purely symbolic, but actually well integrated and events often have meaning throughout the various layers. With Higurashi I would say you have the narrative that is formed by having the arcs in sequence, within each arc you have the things that happen (as presented to the reader) and the things that actually transpired, and behind all that there is the meta story (again spanning across the arcs).

Expanding on this is no easy feat, which is why I think arcs like Saikoroshi don't really feel integral or even to "the same standard". That doesn't mean that they are bad, giving new insights into the story's universe is perfectly fine (and also welcome). The problem with Higurashi Gou is that as soon as it became clear that it wasn't a straight up adaption and contain more than "some tweaks/changes", it signed itself up for showing an equally well constructed and layered story. Up until this point that was all very possible, but now I'm almost convinced that it won't deliver. Of course, I could be wrong, but then I'd still argue that the show failed in presenting the story in this particular episode.

Since this will likely turn into a wall of text again, I'll break it up in "layers" of disappointment. Here goes:
The episode itself starts off pretty okay. We see Takano confiding in Rika and making clear that she planned on killing her and her friends, but deciding against it. This goes against what we know of her, but it's safe to assume her strong will isn't present in these fragments. That was pretty much what I already thought and while they didn't really become "allies" they pretty much are on the side of Rika.

Then we get to see what transpires with Okonogi and Irie. Here we also learn about the batch of H173 syringes. While not confirmed, this seems to be a logical explanation of how some many different people ended up reaching L5.

It's here that the episode becomes really weak. Rika is wondering why this world is so different. She realizes that there must be another looper (got that right). Not sure if it was intended as a twist, but it didn't really work as one. And then they stupidly decide to show a scene between Rika and Satoko right after. The framing and the things Satoko says basically confirm she is the looper (I also assume that this is the point Rika started suspecting her).

And then on to the worst part of the episode: the "reveal". Rika has secretly been planning a way to trick Satoko into revealing herself. She does this in a very convoluted way. I assume because this way Satoko wouldn't catch on and she could ensure it took place where everyone would be present? But Rika's plan didn't make sense to me at all. Perhaps it's just me, but Satoko had an insane overreaction to the box. Now the icing on the cake is that Rika actually replaced it with a gift. This is needed to convince the others as well that Satoko is looping. But couldn't Satoko easily brush it off by claiming that she discovered the "trap" while settings up traps of her own in the classroom? In that case it doesn't matter that Rika changed it only the day before. (Although Rika could counter that again by stating that it was a lie that she only changed it the day before, but that it has always been a gift. Such a battle of wits, would've been a bit more interesting to watch).

So we get a far-fetched setup to get Satoko to expose herself. What makes it worse is that I really dislike this "back-reference" to Rika using that box. It feels like it tries to be smart, but even in the first arc it felt a bit out of character of Rika to do that in the first place. I'm fine with the scene in it's original context, but using that as an actual plot element just makes it weaker IMO.

And then we see Satoko silently reveal that she is the looping, eyes flash red and she points a gun at Rika. This scene had no shock value at all. At the half-way point we already knew it was Satoko. Besides, what is she going to do? Shoot Rika? It would've been more shocking had she pulled that sword (a real danger) or somehow revealed the source of her looping power ((evil) Hanyuu? or another entity, or something else entirely?). Though that could still come in future episodes of course.

All in all, a very weak episode, but it gets worse IMO (see other spoiler blocks).

Assuming Satoko is the culprit behind it all we're left with a very disappointing explanation to all of the arcs.

Onidamashi
Basically Satoko doesn't have to do anything other than perhaps instil paranoia in Rena near the end (if that actually transpired). I doubt any syringe was needed, but that's also an option. And then murder Rika and commit suicide.

Watanadamashi
There's a bit more going on here, but Satoko could have drowned Rika in the septic tank. The rest could've mostly taken place as normal, or she did intervene. At the very least, it seems that Satoko went to the Sonozaki residence to possible shoot Mion and then herself.

Tataridamashi
Here Satoko possible just endured the abuse. When Ooishi came to the house she likely trapped him. While a bit unclear how/what, it does explain why Satoko herself would report the good news to the others. Anyway,

Akasaka, Akane, Kimiyoshii, Keiichi
Pretty self explanatory, she somehow gained access to the H173 syringes and used them on someone capable of killing Rika.

Nekodamashi
And the loop where Satoko killed Rika on the 12th is very easy to explain. It's most likely even a lie that she already killed all the others.

Now the above most likely isn't entirely correct, but in broad lines it seems plausible. And that's the problem, from a technical point it can all be explained without all too many issues. Sure, there are plenty of questions like: how did she acquire the syringes of H173, but those questions don't really matter a lot. The only big questions that are still open would be the motive and the source of the looping powers. But something tells me that the answer to these questions lie fully on the meta-level.

Now the motive still seems to be revolving around Rika and to some extent causing her as much despair as possible. But diving more into this is for the next spoiler block.

Let's first start with her motive. From everything we've seen, it's really focussed on Rika. But if that is the case, some discrepancies show up:
  • In Onidamashi the deaths of Rika and Satoko seem separate from whatever transpired with Rena and Keiichi. You'd even wonder if either of them actively observed it. If so, why would it even matter if it took place or not? If Satoko really caused Rena to go L5, she must've had a motive besides Rika
    • That being said, for some reason Rika states that "things still ended in tragedy" about this loop (ep 14). The visuals show the bloodbath between Keiichi and Rena. Either Rika did have a way of finding that out or she was referring to herself dying as the tragedy?
  • In Watanadamashi this is even worse. Most deaths seem to take place after Rika was drowned in the septic tank
    • Funnily enough in episode 14, Rika simply states "I was still killed" about this loop, seemingly unaware of the actual killings.
  • In Tataridamashi she actually went out of her way to get Keiichi to her home. This again has no bearing on Rika's death. In fact, did Rika even know that that took place?
The other loops all neatly seem to end after Rika dies. The second problem we have, is how Satoko gains her knowledge:
  • She must've somehow known about the finite amount of attempts Rika gave herself. Why else would it so neatly match what she was doing?
    • To some extend I can believe Satoko being able to grasp the mental state of Rika and tune the fragments to that. But I wouldn't buy that this magically matches the moment Rika started counting down up until her final attempt.
  • Assuming Satoko killed Rika in both Onidamashi and Watanadamashi, it's a strange coincidence that she no longer killed Rika in any of the later loops. Because from that point onwards Rika gained the ability to remember who killed her. How did Satoko know this (evil Hanyuu??)
And finally the source of her powers. I honestly have no other idea other than an evil Hanyuu. It's quite clear that Satoko's looping ability isn't tied to Rika's. It actually seems to be the other way around. Does make you wonder what would happen if Satoko dies before Rika. (Which seemed to have happened when Keiichi went L5 in Angel Mort (though Satoko could also just be unconscious).

There are two ways in which the story needs to progress:
  1. Telling us how certain things took place or are done (most importantly: motive and source of power)
  2. Resolving the current conflict
The problem I have is that I don't have the feeling we've gotten enough information to be able to form a solid idea of the first one. So what I suspect will happen is that both will develop at the same time. My fear is that both the motive and source of power will be fully on the meta-level. Unlike Takano's strong will, which was actually rooted in the story itself (her backstory, her fascination with the history of the village, her notebooks, her mysterious yet consistent death).

But focussing on how the conflict could develop and be resolved. It seems Rika is in real big trouble:
  • Satoko can kill Rika on the 12th once she awakens. Would she repeatedly do this, Rika literally has no means of escaping.
    • So either there is some limit or restriction to Satoko's power.
    • OR this would go against her goals. Rika might literally loose her mind in such a case, but Satoko might actually want Rika to suffer eternally (which works best as long as Rika clings to some hope) or getting Rika to gain a certain insight(???)
  • Someone has the sword, I assume it's Satoko. This is a very strong weapon. Even if Satoko could not pull of the previous point, I think it's safe to assume that she can get access to the sword easier than Rika (who needs to get to the tool shed first)
    • I also assume Satoko isn't aware of the fragment, and might be under the assumption that only she possesses the sword.
    • Alternatively it could be that Satoko destroyed the sword in order to make sure there is no escape at all for Rika
  • There doesn't seem to be a "win condition" to these loops. For obvious story reasons there must be one, but thus far it seems that Rika is in no position to resolve the loop. She most likely has to ensure a certain condition applies for Satoko and not for herself. But honestly, if her demise/despair is part of this condition, that leaves her with no way out.
In any way the most logical path would be:
  • There's a weakness/limit to Satoko's power
  • Rika is tempted into turning that sword fragment against Satoko
  • There's actually another entity behind it all (evil Hanyuu, perhaps?)
  • Somehow everyone comes together, Satoko becomes herself again and they fight against this entity
(Run of the mill story, but seems quite probable)

Now, if I tone down my pessimism a bit, I see some interesting elements that could potentially redeem the show:
  • Keiichi playing a larger role than before. Most post-Rika-death things do in some way revolve around Keiichi. It is possible that Satoko actually intended for Keiichi to die in the first three loops for some reason, failure in doing so could spell her downfall. We all know that Keiichi is capable of remembering things from other fragments and tearing through fate, so perhaps we get another main character switch back to Keiichi?
  • The 17th-22nd range still has some relevance? Are Satoko's loops getting smaller?
A lot of people also seem to be hoping on a strong connection to Umineko in some way. I might be in the minority here, but personally I think it's better if any link is left (mostly) implicit. I'm fine with expanding on a single aspect or confirming some things, but that should be the extent of it.

Honestly, a turnaround would be great, but I'm now just here for the ride trying to enjoy it for what it is (not for what it could've been).
 
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