The fictional town of Hinamizawa is not new to those familiar with the Higurashi series. Fans will know that this town is filled with many mysteries: from its storied past to the mysterious deaths and disappearances that happen during the Watanagashi Festival. What makes Higurashi an intriguing series is that it raises more questions than answers. As the title suggests, I will look at how Higurashi can be read as a feminist text through its use of strong female characters and subversion from society’s expectations of women. For the purpose of this article I will refer to each arc in the series using their original name. For example, Chapter 1 will be referred to as Onikakushi, Chapter 2 will be referred to as Watanagashi and so forth. Note that this article will also contain spoilers so please read at your own discretion.
We are first introduced to the world of Higurashi through the perspective of Maebara Keiichi, a young boy who moves into the town of Hinamizawa following an event which forced his family to move away from Tokyo. Keiichi quickly becomes friends with four girls at his new school: Sonozaki Mion, Ryuuguu Rena, Houjou Satako and Furude Rika. Because the events of the series are initially being told through Keiichi’s perspective, the audience is forced to take his account at face value, yet also question what is going on. This ultimately limits us from finding out what is actually happening, until the story changes perspective later on.
It is interesting to note that Keiichi is the only male lead character in the series. Despite this, he is mostly powerless against the women in the series. In almost all the club activities that the characters take part in, Keiichi loses and has to take part in a punishment game. When we get instances of Keiichi’s ideas for punishment games, they are mostly comprised of sexual fantasies, such as dressing his female friends in skimpy outfits. These fantasies never come to fruition and Keiichi is usually the one that ends up wearing those outfits. This is one of many ways in which Higurashi subverts the portrayal of female characters by presenting them as human beings and not as objects of sexual desire. Even though the harem trope comes to mind (a group of girls fighting for the affections of the guy), Higurashi subverts this by making each character equally important and focusing more on the theme of friendship rather than romance.
At the center of Higurashi is the theme of violence. Subsequently, violence is what essentially drives the plot forward. If we look at Onikakushi, for example, the arc begins and ends with violence. Keiichi believes that his friends, Mion and Rena, are out to kill him because he is an outsider and becomes paranoid soon afterwards. His paranoia becomes so great that he kills Mion and Rena and then claws his throat out as a form of suicide. From a gendered perspective, we can interpret Keiichi’s violence against Mion and Rena as a way for him to reinforce his masculinity. Girls, in a traditional sense, are expected to be passive and non-threatening, yet the thought of two girls coming to kill him is too much for Keiichi to bear. This is not the only time Keiichi uses violence to solve his problems.
In Tatarigoroshi, Keiichi and his friends feel powerless to help Satako due to the fact that her abusive uncle has returned to Hinamizawa. After finding out that Child Welfare cannot help Satako, Keiichi – in a fit of rage – decides to take the drastic step to kill her uncle. Keiichi tries to act like a “big brother” figure for Satako and believes that his murder of Satako’s uncle is justified in that sense. However, Keiichi’s reasoning soon becomes obscured when Kuraudo Ooishi, a police detective, and Miyo Takano, a nurse at the local clinic, become suspicious of him. He then wishes to kill them in order to cover his tracks. Ultimately, what seemed like a noble cause turns into bloodlust for Keiichi and he is shunned by Satako after he confesses to her that he killed her uncle.
Subverting Societal Expectations of Women
Alvina Lai (2015) writes that:
the [female] protagonists of…any [anime] genre in general, have relatable but sometimes simple personalities: innocent characters, tsundere characters, the kind and helpful characters, the cute and oblivious characters, and so on. Sometimes, this can lead to a development of strong, admirable female characters with interesting development, but it can also lead to oversimplification, sexualization, and objectification as well.
This is true, to a certain extent, but Higurashi’s female characters are more complicated than that. In each arc we learn something new about each character. Meakashi, the answer arc to Watanagashi, reveals that Shion, not Mion, committed the killings in hope of bringing back her lost love, Houjou Satoshi, Satoko’s older brother. In this case Shion could be described as a yandere character; someone who seems kind and gentle at first, but can easily turn psychotic. Rena can also be described as a yandere. She seems cute and girly most of the time, but there are also times where she gets into a fit of rage, mostly when people speak ill of Oyashiro-sama.
One of the biggest subversions in Higurashi is the portrayal of Oyashiro-sama. Throughout the series Oyashiro-sama is described as a “he,” yet it is later revealed that Oyashiro-sama is actually a “she” – Rika’s ancestor, Hanyuu. Given the fact that rural Japanese towns are usually conservative in their ways, Oyashiro-sama’s portrayal as a female deity subverts the traditional notion that deities are usually male, such as the figures of Jesus and Buddha. Though some of the residents of Hinamizawa refer to Rika as “the reincarnation of Oyashiro-sama” the series downplays this fact in the beginning in order to not give a lot of information away.
Rika is also revealed to be the main protagonist of the series. Rika, who is a descendant of Hanyuu/Oyashiro-sama, has been reliving the events of June 1983 for more than 1000 years – this explains why Higurashi retells its story through different plots/arcs. Despite these different versions of Hinamizawa, Rika is always killed following the Watanagashi Festival. Later, it is revealed that Takano is actually the antagonist of the series and the one behind The Great Hinamizawa Disaster, in which the entire village is wiped out by a disease called “Hinamizawa Syndrome”. In order for The Great Hinamizawa Disaster to take place Rika, who is seen as the “queen carrier,” has to be killed. Relating back to the point that Higurashi’s females are complex characters, Takano’s reasoning behind the extermination of the village was to fulfill her grandfather’s research on the disease, which people initially shunned. Rika’s objective in the series is to prevent The Great Hinamizawa Disaster from happening and to achieve a happy and peaceful future for Hinamizawa.
Rika ends up being quite mature for her age, despite seeming cute and innocent in the beginning. Near the end of the series Rika becomes disillusioned with her objective and starts to accept her fate. Keiichi, however, encourages her not to give up and starts to change certain events in history, such as giving Mion, rather than Rena, the doll he won in Watanagashi. Later, Rika discovers that Keiichi is able to remember some of the events from other “Hinamizawas” and this is what causes him to change the events from the previous arcs. Despite Rika being the main protagonist of the series, Keiichi is still a very important character as he is the one who causes the changes to occur in the storyline, ultimately leading to the series’ happy end. From a feminist viewpoint this illustrates that both men and women can play an equal role in how events can play out not only in a series, but also in society.
Higurashi can be seen as a feminist text through its portrayal of strong, active female characters and the subversion of gender roles in society. The series is first introduced through the perspective of Maebara Keiichi, but once the audience becomes more familiar with series, the perspective then changes to Rika, who is the actual protagonist. Higurashi’s female characters are also complex characters, with new layers of each character being revealed in different arcs. Keiichi never sees himself better than his friends because they are girls, rather he respects and cares very much for them and sees them as equals. Higurashi also shows us that men and women can work together to achieve a common goal and that the efforts of many can accomplish great things.
07th Expansion 2002 – 2006, Higurashi When They Cry, video game, PC, MangaGamer, Japan.
Alvina Lai. 2015. Looking At Female Characters in Anime and Manga Through a Western Feminist Lens. Available: http://www.themarysue.com/female-characters-anime/ %5BAccessed 6 August 2016]
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (Chiba TV, 2006 – 2007)