The Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU anime caused a stir when it was revealed that it was not a remake but a completely new story set in the world of Higurashi. As the Higurashi: When They Cry – SOTSU sequel anime approaches its conclusion, Ryukishi07 spoke to ANN about how the new anime reinvents the franchise.
We’re finally returning to Hinamizawa for a new story. How did the decision to return to June of Showa year 58 (1983) come about and what is it about the Higurashi series that makes it intriguing to create?
The biggest reason why I decided to revisit the June of Showa year 58 (1983 in the Gregorian calendar) is because of something that was in many of the fan messages I’ve received: “I want to erase my memory so that I can experience that shock for the first time all over again.”
It’s been around 20 years since Higurashi was first announced, and in that time I’ve been constantly hearing that opinion from a lot of fans. So for a long time, I’ve thought that if I were ever given the chance to give back to those fans one day, then I would like to grant their wish. When the opportunity to make an anime came upon me, I thought about taking all the previously established rules of Higurashiand making an entirely different “New Higurashi.”
To me, it’s been an utter delight to create—because using my work to take all the readers by surprise and shatter their expectations is my greatest idea of fun.
Make people think it’s a reboot and then surprise them by revealing that it’s an entirely new anime. Make the story superficially resemble the old one while something completely different goes on behind the scenes. I think I was able to enjoy the experience that the fans have talked about of “erasing” their memory to experience Higurashi for the first time again.
The story of Higurashi GOU and SOTSU hinges on the point of view of Rika and Satoko. Rika has had a very prominent role in Higurashi, but GOU and SOTSU are the first to put Satoko in the spotlight. What made you decide to focus on her this time?
I intended to put a spotlight on almost all the characters of Higurashi so far, but Satoko hardly appears in the Curse Killing Chapter despite being the focus character of it, and I’ve always wanted to delve a little deeper with her. I was finally able to grant my wish to create a new story with Satoko at the heart of it with the GOU and SOTSU anime.
GOU shows that even when the Hinamizawa kids reach an ideal ending, Satoko faces new struggles and becomes the “pull-wire behind tragic events”. Are there factors in Satoko’s life prior to Showa year 58 (1983) that you attribute to her path in GOU/SOTSU?
Satoko and Rika are in similar circumstances in the sense that they have both lost their biological parents, and they had a close-knit, co-dependent relationship. For these two girls on the cusp of puberty, they might have had a wonderful and deeply affectionate relationship, but that excessive love was also tying each other down. However, Higurashi is a story about unity, so I decided not to cast the spotlight on the hidden side of that relationship.
In the story of GOU and SOTSU, I was able to birth a new world by setting up the love and hate between the two of them as the core. In that sense, you might be able to say that Satoko and Rika are faced with a promised “trial” that predates Showa year 58.
The discord between Rika and Satoko is central to GOU/SOTSU’s plot. I think you can see a disconnect between “Rika’s idea of her own high school life” versus “Satoko’s idea of Rika’s high school life” in the St. Lucia period of the Village-Destorying Chapter What were you conscious of when you were depicting the disconnect between the two?
I was conscious of the “arrogance” of their belief that their feelings would completely get across to each other. Unlike the village she was trapped in for 100 years, Rika is experiencing a novel, European-style charm in St. Lucia.
And she is convinced that Satoko, who has also spent her entire life in Hinamizawa, is just as charmed by the newness of it all. That’s because she also believed in her “arrogance” about understanding Satoko more than anyone else in the world.
For her part, Satoko thinks that for Rika, the life they spent together in Hinamizawa was the pinnacle of their existence, and she is convinced that Rika’s fascination with St. Lucia is nothing more than a phase. That’s because she also believed in her “arrogance” about understanding Rika more than anyone else in the world.
Spending her days at St. Lucia, Rika one-sidedly believed that Satoko would also enjoy its vibe. And Satoko one-sidedly believed that Rika, who should have “realized” that Satoko could not get used to the academy at all, has abandoned her and won’t come to help her.
Because they have blindly accepted that they are special to one another, they have come to hate each other more than anyone. This decidedly unhealthy relationship causes a certain kind of tragedy, and I’ve been trying to portray it in the Higurashi style of tragicomedy.
In GOU/SOTSU, Satoko’s feelings towards Rika appear to take on a twisted form, perhaps because of the influence of the power of “looping.” What do you think of the salvation and redemption of characters who have committed sins in the story? Do you think there’s ever a point when a character is beyond redemption (not exclusive to the Higurashi series)?
One of the themes of Higurashi is that “there is no sin that cannot be forgiven.” So I think that it is important to show in the story that every character, no matter who they are or what sins they’ve committed, have a path or a world in which they can be forgiven. Thus, in the world ofHigurashi, I think that there is no such thing as a character who is absolutely irredeemable.
That said, in the real world there are of course sins that can be forgiven and sins that can’t. So I think that it is possible for me to write about irredeemable sins in the context of a fictional world outside of Higurashi.
However, the question is the extent to which a sin is unforgivable, and where would it start? Is it an obligation or a right to forgive or be forgiven? Is it a matter of virtue or acting under peer pressure?…It’s a very difficult theme. It has enough depth that one could create an entirely new story focusing on just that as the main theme.
Prior to GOU/SOTSU, the Curse Killing/Massacre Chapters of the original Higurashi visual novel focused on Keiichi and the Hinamizawa group’s attempts at rescuing Satoko from her abusive uncle, Teppei. Much of the story deals with government bureaucracy to get child services to intervene for Satoko; it felt like a very realistic portrayal. In a previous interview, you mentioned that you have a background working in a government agency. Did your work at your past job give you any insight into issues facing children in these difficult scenarios?
I once worked as a civil servant at a government office in Tokyo for 10 years. I was shuffled around in many different departments, and because of that I was privy to a variety of the problems faced by citizens. Higurashi draws a lot from my invaluable experiences of that time.
If I didn’t have that experience as a civil servant, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to write Higurashi.
One of the appeals of the Higurashi series is how it incorporates diverse elements that transcends genre, such as the “Tokyo” conspiracy, supernatural entities such as Hanyu, and the use of Hinamizawa Syndrome as a biological weapon. Are there any new elements in GOU/SOTSU that haven’t existed at all in the Higurashi series thus far?
There are new elements, of course. As I mentioned before, I wanted people to experience the feeling of a new Higurashi from scratch by introducing a “mystery” where one’s previous knowledge of the series doesn’t apply. Because of that, new elements are woven into the story. The story might resemble the older Higurashi on the surface, but the truth takes an entirely different form. I hope you can enjoy the strange and experimental appeal of GOU and SOTSU.
Satoko is called a “witch” in SOTSU. The word “witch” has many different connotations, but what do you think makes a character a “witch”? Also, what kind of influence do the “witch” characters in your work exert over the story and the other characters? Is that influence a positive or a negative?
“Witch” differs in its meaning from work to work, but in most cases, I think it indicates a person who doesn’t occupy an individual’s position but is instead a god-like figure that can see the world and the situation from above.
Writing stories is something like arranging the pieces on a large game board. They all move individually and birth stories by crashing into each other. I think of myself as someone who writes down what happens when the pieces collide. As a result, there are times when I find myself seeking the opinions and feelings of the “players” who can look down at the game board and at the game’s situation with a birds-eye view. They do not have the opinions of a pawn, and they can move pawns around. I get the feeling that I’ve been assigning the name of “witch” to characters who occupy that kind of position.
In the same way a player’s hand moves the pieces, the witch moves the other characters in a way that makes the story mysterious. In other words, the witches may be the tricksters of the Ryukishi07 world. Alternatively, they might be kaleidoscopes, which have a beautiful pattern that appears at random. There is no distinguishing good or evil in those individual shapes; they are neither a positive nor a negative. The witch simply turns the wheel out of a desire to see a beautiful moving pattern. Basically, the influence of a witch can perhaps be likened to “the whims of a god.”
Going forward, if I spot an interesting theme, I’d like a witch to observe it from above and turn it into the “seed” of a new story.
Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU and Higurashi: When They Cry – SOTSU are streaming on Funimation.
Thank you to Kim Morrissy for translating this interview.
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